Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Paradise ponders, massive burrito edition...

Paradise ponders, massive burrito edition...  The photo at right shows what you get if you order a carne asada burrito mojado from Los Primos.  I'm pretty sure I gained two or three pounds just by looking at that thing!  Somehow I managed to eat the whole thing.  I was hungry, so that helped – but still, that was a ridiculously huge (and delicious!) burrito...

The shower grout project occupied much of my day yesterday.  I will finish it all up today; only cleanup of excess caulk remains.  Then I have a couple other projects in the house to attempt.  One of them involves cracking a couple of nuts that are (a) thoroughly and completely “welded” to their bolts by corrosion, and (b) in an incredibly awkward place with the opportunity to break an expensive fragile object.  Should be great fun!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Paradise ponders, “I am grout!” edition...

Paradise ponders, “I am grout!” edition...  That title is a nod to Guardians of the Galaxy, which many who know me might be quite surprised to find that (a) I've actually watched it, and (b) that Debbie and I thoroughly enjoyed it and the rest of the Marvel series it's a part of.

We just finished watching (on Blu-Ray) another series that I have a very different reaction to: The Hobbit, in three parts.  This is the preface, basically, to the Lord of the Rings.  That's also a three part sequence of movies, just as there were three books.  The Hobbit, in book form, is a single slim volume – far shorter than any of the three volumes of Lord of the Rings.  When making the Lord of the Rings movie, much material from the books had to be eliminated.  When making The Hobbit movie, apparently Peter Jackson felt the need to add a lot of material – including large quantities of stuff that Tolkien never had in any of his books.  The result, for me, was that I was almost constantly experiencing mental disjoints as I watched the movie.  Parts of the story were changed almost beyond recognition, without any reason that I could see.  The added parts were often distractions from the relatively simple and direct story line in Tolkien's original.  At times, especially in the last film, it seemed like the movie was mainly a vehicle for the (admittedly spectacular) computer-generated special effects – and I wanted The Hobbit, dammit, not someone showing off their render farm.  Call me a Tolkien snob if you will, but I was profoundly disappointed with The Hobbit as a movie.  I have some complaints about the Lord of the Rings movies, too, but they pale into insignificance compared with those I have about The Hobbit.

Oh, well.

So, “I am grout!”  Today my big project was fixing the grout in our shower.  This has been a thorn in our side for three years now, ever since we remodeled our master bathroom.  The tile was originally grouted with a modern grout that is based on silicone, rather than old-fashioned mortar.  Our contractor insisted on using it, telling us that it was far more durable in an application like a shower, where it would frequently get wet.  That sounded great to me, until (after a few months) pieces of the grout on the floor (and only the floor) turned soft and came out.  We had holey grout until we got the contractor back in to redo it.  A few months later, we had holes again.  The poor contractor (whom we really liked) came back again, refused to charge us, and redid the entire floor.  A few months later (you guessed it), holes again.  At that point I basically gave up, and figured that when we got enough holes to really upset us we'd re-grout the whole thing with old-fashioned mortar-based grout.  I'm pretty sure that wouldn't turn soft!

Well, when we had the sun room and mud room tiled last month, I asked the craftsman about the shower.  He recommended a silicone-based sanded caulk (not actually grout at all), used only after thoroughly drying the floor with a hair dryer.  I ordered that caulk (found it on Amazon, in the same color as our grout), and it arrived a couple days ago.

So today I spent a few hours with a linoleum knife, poking and prodding all over the shower floor to find all the soft spots in the grout, and cutting it out.  I can see no pattern that would explain why certain areas of grout turned soft – it looks totally random to me.  About 5% of the floor's grout turned soft; the rest was in perfect shape.  Weird.  Anyway, with a hair dryer, linoleum knife, and vacuum, I got all the soft grout I could find removed.  Then I applied the caulk, which took only 30 minutes or so.  I have to let it cure for 3 days before using the shower.  The color match isn't perfect, but it's good enough.

Hopefully this was good advice, and the caulk will work where the grout didn't.  If not, my next step will be to find a contractor to remove the new-fangled grout and put the old-fashioned stuff in instead...

National Security Council changes...

National Security Council changes...  Here's a good example where Trump has done something that worries me.  He's changed the membership of the National Security Council in three ways:
  • The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has lost his seat.  That means that our military no longer has direct visibility into the information and decision-making of the National Security Council.  They still have indirect representation through the civilian, politically-appointed Secretary of Defense.  In general I'm in favor of reducing meeting attendees, especially by pruning those of little or marginal import.  This position does not seem like one of those to me.
  • The Director of National Intelligence has lost his seat.  Never mind that I can't read that title without laughing out loud.  This is similar to the previous bullet: the intelligence agencies no longer has direct visibility into the National Security Council, but the civilian, politically-appointed Director of National Security Advisor does.
  • The Trump-created post of Chief Strategist, occupied by Steve Bannon, has gained a seat on the National Security Council.  Bannon scares me.  I have the impression of a low-information thug who is all too delighted by the exercise of power – as well as being such a Trumpkin that I can't help but think of historical fascists and their sycophantic enablers.  Any move by Trump that gives Bannon more access and power is going to scare me.  
Some of Trump's other moves (example: appointing Mattis as SoD) I applaud, and I find comforting.  Other moves, like this one, disturb me.  It's impossible to put a single number on how good or bad each of them is, but if I tried and then tried to analyze them, at the moment I think I'd come out with something like this:
  • the sum is approximately zero
  • fear of looming negative numbers (bad) is high
  • anticipation of looming positive numbers is low
I sure would love to be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

Because we have so many LDS people here, our grocery stores prominently feature displays of food that can be stored for long periods of time.  I'm paying more attention to those displays these days.  I might even start buying some...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Paradise ponders, snowy drives edition...

Paradise ponders, snowy drives edition...  A day without snow plowing!  It's a miracle!  Today dawned cold (5°F), clear, and snow-free.  Woo hoo!

Debbie and I took a drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon, and then later down to Porcupine Reservoir.  We saw quite a few deer, a few elk, and two mooses.  All looked fat and healthy given that it's late January.  We also saw something unusual: a flock of about a dozen turkeys perched about 20' high in a box elder tree.  It was weird to see those big black things sitting way up there!  Along highway 165 we saw a bald eagle flying; we also saw one yesterday in the same general area.  It must be wintering over here – probably comes from somewhere really cold, like the northern Yukon.

The highlight of the day for me, though, was spotting an American dipper in the stream in Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  It was in the stream, much like the one in the photo (not mine) at right, dipping and bobbing in their characteristic way, looking for bugs to eat. That implies that there actually are bugs in the stream, which given that the temperature there was 0°F is pretty amazing!

That got me to wondering why streams don't freeze solid in weather like this.  That canyon has been below freezing continuously for about a month and a half.  How is it that the water is still liquid, when the air and the ground surrounding it are well below freezing temperature?  I did some googling on the subject and discovered no explanations that I'd call authoritative.  This makes me wonder whether anyone has studied the question.  I did run across two perhaps plausible explanations (examples here and here), oft repeated.  The first says a stream will only freeze if heat is removed from the water faster than it's added by the water replacing it in any given spot along the stream.  That made me think of this: suppose you could follow one cubic centimeter of water as it flows down the stream.  If the air is colder than the water, would it not continuously lose heat and then eventually freeze?  The second reason I can't poke any holes in, but I also can't prove it to my own satisfaction.  Basically that says that as water falls (as the stream loses altitude), kinetic energy is continuously being converted to thermal energy (through turbulence, etc.).  So long as this thermal energy is added faster than it's being removed by the cold air, the water won't freeze.

We have a beautiful, large icicle on our garage right now.  It's actually threatening the structural integrity of our gutter:

Friday, January 27, 2017

“We will not accept what might have been...”

“We will not accept what might have been...”  An awesome speech today by Mia Love, U.S. representative from Utah.  She's not the representative from our district, but ... I kinda wish she was.  Something to note about her: she's unabashedly conservative, and yet she won against a Democrat in one of the most liberal districts in Utah (Salt Lake City and nearby areas)...

Paradise ponders, magical XPK01Z edition...

Paradise ponders, magical XPK01Z edition...  Our weather forecast for last night had a 0% chance of precipitation.  Guess what it's doing right now?  Snowing!  So far there isn't enough accumulated to compel me to plow and shovel again, but I've no idea when this might end.  Or if it might end!  I may well be on snow removal duty again today!

Over the past few weeks, the door from our kitchen to our new deck has been getting increasingly tight.  The problem's cause is easy enough to determine: the door has been wet from snow melt, and at the moment is frozen solid, so the wood has swelled a bit.  From inspection I could see that the top of the door needed to have something like 1/64th or 1/32nd of an inch removed.  I first tried sanding, but after a half hour it didn't feel like I was making any useful progress.  The right tool for that job is a plane, and though I have a fairly well-equipped woodworking shop, a plane is not something I ever invested in.  Why?  Mainly because I have a planer, a big piece of equipment that makes short work of flattening boards.  But you can't put an entire door through a planer.  This job calls for a hand-held plane.

So I went looking on Amazon to see what was available these days.  I haven't purchased a plane in decades, so I didn't know what to expect.  In my head was an old-fashioned hand plane, like the one in the photo at right.  When I did my usual sort of the available planes (and there were many!), a different tool altogether popped out on top: battery-powered power planes.  I have a collection of Makita battery-powered tools, so I immediately gravitated to their version: the model KPK01Z.

That's a photo of it at left (click it to go to the Amazon listing).  I'd never even heard of a power plane before, so I did some reading up on them.  The more I read, the more I liked – this looked like absolutely the right tool for the job.  So I ordered it, and it arrived late yesterday afternoon.

This morning I read the manual (something I usually do for a tool I'm unfamiliar with).  It's easy to use this thing; the only slightly tricky bit was how the safety power switch interlock worked.  I opened the tight door, took the plane outside, and less than 60 seconds later the door was fixed.  Total calories expended: about 0.1.  I may build a shrine to this tool! :)

I also installed my replacement Nest thermostat, the one they reluctantly sent me after I proved the battery in my old one was dead, and I got snippy with them about their initial offer of a 20% discount on a new thermostat.  The replacement went in with no trouble at all, and is working just fine.  Now I have to send the old, dead one back, but that's no problem at all...

Well, that was much better!

Well, that was much better!  At the suggestion of reader Richard C., I bought myself some “breakout boards” to make it easier to work with the tiny little surface-mount integrated circuits so common today.  Many parts can still be purchased in (the much easier to prototype with) DIP packages, but some, like this one, cannot.  Most of the breakout boards I found were obnoxiously expensive, between $5 and $30.  When I'm using such a thing to mount a fifty cent part, I rebel.  But eventually I found this very handy breakout board package at Digi-Key.  It's from Texas Instruments, and it has six each of six different breakout boards – 36 in all – for $10.08.  That's just 28 cents each!

Yesterday my breakout boards arrived, and I put them to the test.  First I soldered the (tiny!) chip's six pins to the breakout board.  Once I got the first pin soldered the chip was held in place; then the rest of the pins were easy.  I'm going to try gluing the chip down next time, before soldering.  Then I soldered some double-male header pins in place, making this look like a six-pin DIP, form-factor-wise.  The perf board you see in the last two photos is only there to hold the header strips in place while I soldered them.  The end result?  A surface-mount chip now can be treated just like a DIP.  I can either solder the header pins directly (which is easy with their 0.1" spacing), or I can plug the whole assembly straight into a DIP socket.  Either way, that's way easier than wiring straight to that teensy little chip!

Several things other than the breakout board contributed to making this possible, and even not too difficult.  The circuit board vise (entirely visible in the last photo) is inexpensive and indispensable.  I have an excellent soldering iron (Hakko FX-888D) with a very pointy tip (just 0.05" diameter at the end).  Finally, I have a pair of Carson CP-60 head-mounted magnifiers.  These act like a low-power stereo microscope that I can use with my glasses on (so my astigmatism, which is quite awful, is corrected) – and they're automatically pointed wherever I'm looking. If you're wondering how I managed to take these photos with my iPhone, that's simple: I took them through a magnifying glass (except for the last one; that's straight up iPhone).  That's why you see the pincushion distortion in the third photo...

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Obamacare benefit #25,981...

Obamacare benefit #25,981...  In today's mail I received a 104 page bound book that contains a “Summary of Benefits” and “Outline of Coverage” for our new (for 2017) health insurance.  The text is mostly in 9 point type (I measured it).  Here's a representative paragraph chosen at random:
The policy is renewable at the option of the policyholder upon payment of the monthly premium when due or within the grace period, except in cases of intentional misrepresentation of material fact or fraud in connection with the coverage, our decision to cease offering the policy to individual policyholders, or our decision to cease offering coverage in the individual market.  No modification or amendment will be effective until 30 days (or longer, as required by law) after written notice has been given to the policyholder (except for modification of the premium, which shall not be effective until 45 days after written notification has been given to the policyholder), and modification must be uniform within the product line and at the time of renewal.
Got that?

Sheesh.  Who on earth would ever read this thing?  Or even refer to it?  Plus, as they tell me in the cover letter, it's all available on their web site.  So, one wonders, why did they send the damn thing to me?

Answer (found on the web): because they're required to, in order to be compliant with Obamacare.

Just think how many lovely trees that stupid regulation cost us!

Paradise ponders, jeez it's snowing again edition...

Paradise ponders, jeez it's snowing again edition...  There is just no respite from this non-stop snow!  Last night there was a small chance of snow in the forecast, for less than an inch.  This morning when I got up there was 2" of fresh snow on the ground, and it was falling hard.  The radar shows (again!) that the entire Cache Valley is free of active snow showers ... except for about a five mile diameter area centered on our house.  Sheesh!  So I'll be plowing and shoveling again this morning...

Once I get done with that, assuming I have any gumption left at all, I'll be installing the replacement Nest thermostat I received a few days ago.

Sometime today Debbie and I will be headed for Macey's (our grocery store) to pick up fresh ahi.  We got an email from the store's seafood manager letting us know that it arrives this morning.  Yum!  At least we'll eat well today!

The forecast for today and the next eight days has zero chance of snow in it.  I like the sound of zero!  But I wonder if there's an exception for the area right around our house...  :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Paradise ponders, beef soup and boot zippers edition...

Paradise ponders, beef soup and boot zippers edition...  Yesterday afternoon Debbie and I headed to Los Primos, as planned, for our lunch of beef soup.  That's my half-barrel at right.  Man, that stuff is great!  Someone there really knows how to make soup...

This morning I was up at the crack of dawn, snow plowing and shoveling.  We got six more inches of snow last night, and everything needed to be cleared again.  It was quite cold – about 10°F – so the snow was powdery and fluffy.  That makes it easy to plow, but difficult to pile.  Everything in life has trade-offs. :)  I was on the tractor at 6:30 am, and finished up with the last of the shoveling at 10:30 am.  Four solid hours of work, and now my upper body (especially my arms) is quite tired.

After I finished this work, we ran a few errands including picking up Debbie's now-repaired boots that we left at the cobbler's a couple weeks ago.  I'm happy to report that he did a very nice job of the repair, used a top-quality zipper (HKK), and charged a fair price.  We'll be coming back, for sure.  Talking with him today I found out that he's considering moving to Paradise.  That would sure be convenient!

Here's some photos I took today around the place.  Of some concern at the moment: the snow falling off my barn's roof is now piled 4.5' high - right up to the windows.  If it gets any higher, I'm going to have snow piling up against the glass – not good!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Paradise ponders, the overhang of doom edition...

Paradise ponders, the overhang of doom edition...  Yesterday afternoon I ventured up onto the roof of our deck, to shovel off the massive piles of snow that had fallen on it from the second floor roof.  Most of the second floor roof was completely clear of any snow, as it had all fallen off – but there was one section about six feet wide that was still loaded up, almost all the way to the peak.  The photo at right shows what this looked like from the deck roof.  For scale, the soffits there are 18" wide.  Some of those icicles are over 3' (a meter) long.  The reason the snow shelf can stick out so far is that there's over an inch of solid ice on the bottom of it.  Yikes!  While shoveling 18" or so of snow off the deck roof, I carefully avoided getting directly under that shelf.  About an hour after I finished, it came down with an enormous “whomp!” that shook the entire house (and knocked some snow off other parts of the roof in the process).

This is now the third time I've shoveled off the deck roof this winter.  In between these clearings, the resulting snow piles around the deck have never fully melted.  As a consequence, the piles are now 5' to 6' high, and nearly solid ice at the bottom where they have been compacted.  The dogs, when taking off for a run in the yard, have to jump up to get to the snow piles, and then down into the yard. 

I'm ready for this snow to be done. :)

And speaking of snow...  Last night we got another 4" of powdery snow.  It's powdery because it's cold, and getting colder all day today.  The 10 day forecast doesn't have us getting above freezing for eight days and nights.  At left you see the weather radar for northern Utah as of about a half hour ago.  The light blue areas are where it's snowing.  Basically it's snowing in the Wasatch mountains (a good thing!) and on Paradise.  Seriously – that little plus sign with a circle around it is where Paradise is, and that's basically the only place outside the mountains where it's snowing.  Sheesh!

So this morning I will be out plowing and blowing and shoveling again.  After that, though, I should have a snow removal respite for at least a week.  Looking forward to that, I am...

And today is soup day!  Los Primos has beef soup today, and Debbie and I are planning our lunch there...

Trump and trade...

Trump and trade...  Well, he promised during the campaign that he would deep-six the TPP, and he did.  It's challenging to assess what that really means, given the hysterics both sides are spooning up to the press.  There's precious little actual analysis out there, though there is some if you look hard enough.

What are my thoughts?  Well, I'm a committed proponent of free trade.  As in total free trade – I think the world would be much better off if there were either no import/export taxes or other barriers, or if they were fixed and constant (think VAT) across all countries.  But I know that's a fantasy, one that I'll never live to see.

But the TPP never was a “free trade” agreement.  It was, instead, an agreement to reduce or eliminate trade barriers in certain cases, with boatloads of exceptions for various countries that wanted to protect certain internal industries.  It was more like a gigantic and unwieldy conventional trade agreement than it was a free trade agreement.  I suspect it was doomed to fail in the long run even had it been approved here in the U.S.  I'm not sure (and I doubt anyone really is, despite the proliferation of firmly held opinions) whether the U.S. was a net winner or loser under the agreement.  I don't have strong feelings about it either way.  I'm ok with it being trashed.

Actual free trade, or movement in that direction, is another story altogether.  On that front, Trump's rhetoric is rather depressing to me.  He hasn't actually done anything yet, so we don't really know for sure if his actions will match that rhetoric.  It's possible (he says, trying to be optimistic) that the rhetoric is mainly staking out a bargaining position, and that in the end he'll negotiate something more to my liking.  NAFTA promises to be an early “tell” – he's already announced that he's going to renegotiate it.  All the sober analysis I can lay my hands on says that NAFTA is a huge win for the U.S. (and our trading partners – it's not a zero-sum game).  Where we end up on NAFTA will foreshadow Trump's trade policy, I think, so I'm following that avidly...

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paradise ponders, lots of wet, sloppy snow edition...

Paradise ponders, lots of wet, sloppy snow edition...  I didn't post earlier this morning because I was out doing snow removal at first light.  Overnight we got 12" to 14" of snow, and the temperature at 7 am was already 32°F (0°C) and going up.  That meant that if I didn't get that snow off our driveway, it would partially melt.  That sort of partially melted snow is particularly difficult to remove.  The snow piles around our driveway were still fairly large, as we haven't had much melt over the past week.  That meant I had no good place to put all this snow I removed, so I had to sacrifice about 400 sq. ft. (about 40 sq. meters) of driveway as a snow pile.  I just finished the snow blowing and snow plowing a few minutes ago.  This afternoon I'll tackle the snow shoveling.  Sheesh!

The forecast has more snow for today and the next two days after that.  Temperatures are forecast to go below freezing and stay there for a week, with several nights having lows in the single digits (-10° to -15°C).  We leave for Hawai'i in about three weeks – I think I'm going to be ready for that!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Well, that was disappointing!

Well, that was disappointing!  A little while ago I got a notification that the software upgrade on my Tesla Model X had completed.  Yay!  Time to go out and take it for a spin and try out all the new features!  Auto-driving here I come!

Oops.  Not so much.

First I read through the release notes, on the car's center console.  This isn't the all-singing, all-dancing upgrade I was thinking I'd be getting.  It is, instead, a small step in that direction.  This upgrade gives me traffic-aware cruise control (in other words, it won't crash into the car in front of you), some very limited auto-steering (apparently only on restricted-access highways, which we only get onto when we travel to Salt Lake City), and a few other things.  There was also some language about the need for calibration, which might take a day or three of driving.

So, expectations set down, we drove it out for a test.  I tried to put it in cruise control, and ... got an error display and a chime.  Huh?  Turns out even normal cruise control is disabled while the camera is calibrating.  So right now my Model X isn't even working as well as it did before the update.


I'm a little worried that “calibration” might take a long time out here where we live, as many of the roads have no painted lines at all, or only the center line.

Double dang...

Paradise ponders, plentiful moose edition...

Paradise ponders, plentiful moose edition...  I spent most of the day yesterday snow-plowing and working on our paperwork, but Debbie and I did take a nice drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  For most of the drive we were in a snow storm, occasionally with very heavy snow falling.  We saw a lot of wildlife, though we're not sure why.  I lost track of the number of deer and elk we saw, including the group of does right next to the road in the photo at right.  We also had four separate sightings of moose, some of which were also quite close to us. 

This morning I had a notification from Tesla: the long-awaited HW2 update for my Model X is now available.  Yay!  It takes almost two hours to install it, and I just started that process.  A little later today I'll take it for a spin and see if I can tell any difference.

Now back to paperwork I go.  Likely I'll be shoveling and plowing later today, too...

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?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Paradise ponders, frozen air edition...

Paradise ponders, frozen air edition...  This morning when I let the dogs out for their morning run the temperature was -4°F (that's -20°C for my European readers).  Cold!  I was out before daylight to haul firewood into my office in the barn and into our house.  My breath froze in my mustache and beard, and I noticed that through the house lights I could see ice crystals in the air.  After the sun rose I could see that the air is full of gently falling ice crystals, which in the perfectly still air are coming gently to rest on whatever surface they happen to fall onto.  The photo on the right shows some of these crystals resting on an ornamental plum twig.  The relative humidity is high (about 90%), so I'm assuming that the ice crystals are being formed from the water vapor in the air around me.  The sky is clear, so it can't be precipitation.

My office was so cold this morning that my document scanner refused to work.  The scanner software actually reported that the temperature was too low!  I discovered through some googling that the problem is the paper-handling rollers: they won't operate properly when the temperature is so low that they get stiff.  That's a first for me!

My friend Mike B. and I were texting about the amazing low prices of disk drives today (including SSDs, which really aren't “disk” drives at all!).  One of his texts:
It's amazing...  My Mom was born in 1903 and got to see aviation got from gliders to the moon landing.  You and I saw the technology go from simple flip flop circuits to being able to go to the "store" and buy 6TB drives for next to no money.  We can say we were there from the start !!  Boggles my mind....
This is a phenomenon I ponder quite often, especially after reading some twit proclaiming that mankind has stopped inventing revolutionary technology.  My start in electronics was using vacuum tubes, something that electrical engineers in school now don't learn about at all, and may well not have even heard of – and yet, they were state-of-the-art (especially for radio) when I got my start in electronics in the '60s.  The first computers I worked with (early '70s) used discrete components including germanium transistors (then the speed kings) and magnetic core memory.  Even though I lived through all these electronic advances as a part of them, I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the sheer scale of the advances.  Mind-boggling indeed...

I'm in my office now, listening to a performance of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, by Teodor Currentzis.  This version is notable for the use of period instruments in the orchestra, and for the energy of the performers.  I bought it after reading about it here.  I'm enjoying it, which is unusual for me – opera is not usually something I find tasty.  I find myself wishing I spoke Italian like my friend Doug W.; as I don't, I have to think of the voices as musical instruments, rather than as carrying a dialog...

Ah, my fire is starting to warm my office!  Perhaps I'll be able to run my scanner soon...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Paradise ponders, multitude of mooses edition...

Paradise ponders, multitude of mooses edition...  Well, Debbie and I are finally having that less-than-harried day.  It feels really good!

Yesterday I did manage to finish (re)installing all our Nest Protect alarms.  I thought there were twelve, but I was wrong – there are actually thirteen of the darned things.  I mentioned yesterday the annoying problem in their user interface, wherein the number of names the things can say (verbally) is limited and doesn't match the rooms we actually have alarms in.  Well, it turns out that the list of “sayable” names is exactly thirteen long!  That means that we have to use every single one of them if we want a different verbal cue for each alarm (and I do!).  So we have several that are ... much less than intuitive.  For instance, our mechanical room is verbally our “den” (because we don't have an actual den).  That's something I'd really like to see Nest change, though I suspect limitations on CPU power or flash storage are the source of the issue, and fixing it might require new hardware.  It wouldn't be such a limit in a smaller home, but for us, with our big house full of small rooms, it's very much a real limiting factor...

A couple days ago we picked up a nice-looking chunk of sea bass from our grocery store, and yesterday afternoon Debbie cooked it for our dinner.  She found a recipe that had her simply bake the fish, but then slather it in a sauce made with olive oil, capers, and lemon.  She put it all over rice, and it was superb!

Just after we finished that wonderful meal, our friend Michelle H. came over with her daughter Lizzie and her husband McKord.  They brought some lumber over to build a short set of stairs, and they needed the tools I have in my shop.  I spent the next few hours working with them (mainly with McKord; the girls went into the house to talk with Debbie) to make a “stairs kit”.  McKord knows all the types of tools we used (woodworking bench and vise, table saw, band saw, chop saw, and router), but naturally he didn't know my specific makes and models.  So my role was basically to show him how to work the particulars on the tools, and he did all the actual fabrication work.  It was quite enjoyable for me, and McKord was having a ball with the tools.  For instance, my chop saw paints a laser line just to the left of the kerf, and he really liked that.  Another thing he really liked was the woodworking vise – he'd never seen one before, and he loved how easy that made it to use the router (we used that to put a bullnose on the stair steps).  When we were all done, they piled all the cut-up wood into their car and took off back for Michelle's house, where presumably they assembled the stairs down into her newly-finished garage (now a play room).

This morning we took a leisurely drive up Blacksmith Fork Canyon, the mouth of which is just four miles from our house.  We were hoping to see some wildlife and some pretty scenery, and boy howdy did we.  Last night we had a freezing fog, and as a result the trees and weeds and everything else (even the elk!) was frosted, and in the early morning light it was just gorgeous.  We didn't see any deer at all on the trip into Hardware Ranch, but we did spot four moose – a mom and a yearling, and then another mom with a much smaller yearling.  Both of them were quite close to the road, and we remembered to bring our binoculars, so we could (literally!) count the hairs on their tails and in their beards.  One thing we saw that we'd never noticed before: the tips of their tails (all four of them) was white.  Somehow I'd never noticed that before.  The second photo below shows the mom-and-yearling pair with the smaller yearling.  On the way back out of the canyon, Debbie spotted a beautiful buck with three does; the third and fourth photos show them.  The rest of the photos are some of the scenery we saw.

Debbie had a brilliant idea as we were driving home, to wit: to drive up to Herm's Inn and get one of their cinnamon rolls to go – then go home and have it along with a nice cup of tea (for me) and decaf coffee (for her).  We did exactly that.  Herm's cinnamon rolls are (a) gigantic (about 7" in diameter), and (b) absurdly delicious.  They are made doughy, buttery, and chock full of cinnamon – and they come with a cream cheese based frosting that you can slather over the top.  One of them is more than enough for both of us even when we're hungry.  With some of the excellent beverages we have at home they were even better than at the restaurant.  Yum!