Monday, October 16, 2017

Paradise ponders: C programming and compressed air edition...

Paradise ponders: C programming and compressed air edition...  Debbie and I took a beautiful drive yesterday morning up Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  We saw a dozen or so deer – all fat and healthy looking, ready for the privations of winter – and the tail end of the fall color.  It's elk season, and there were hunters all over the place.  Some of them (a minority, thankfully) park along the side of the road and set up what is basically an ambush at the side of a field where an elk might come to forage.  On one stretch of such an ambush, about 50' wide, I counted eleven hunters.  Each had their binoculars up, searching for some elk to poke its head out.  There were four other such ambushes along the edges of the same field, though the others weren't quite so large.  Still, if an elk was dumb enough to stride out onto that field, probably over a dozen rifles would be shooting at it.  I wonder how they decide whose “kill” it is in a situation like that?  We also saw some beautiful effects of the cold weather (it was 15°F where the photos below were taken), around waterfalls and rapids.  The combination of low temperatures and high humidity meant that the fine spray thrown up by the tumbling water stayed in the air as a liquid (or ice crystal) for much longer than usual.  This produced wonderful “steam” effects, and also ice-coated twigs and grasses.  A few photos of some of the better ones:


We also ran a few chores, but for much of the remaining day, and also today, I've been programming in C again.  I greatly expanded the simple little program I wrote about in my previous post, to give me all the functions I could imagine needing for my NTP server.  I've also modularized it in a way that will make it relatively easy to add new features, should I need to.  I'm finding that I quite enjoy the process of programming in C.  It's a far simpler, smaller language that the Java and JavaScript world I've spent the last twenty years in; in that sense it's easier and cleaner.  On the other hand, some things that are easy to do in Java/JavaScript (mainly because of the ubiquitous high quality, well documented libraries) are much harder to do in C.  Then there's the fact that C is fairly close to the hardware and the operating system – not quite as close as assembly, but not too darned far from it.  I like that; it plays to my hardware background and my desire to tinker with little embedded systems (like the NTP server and my irrigation supervisor).  One thing I've come to realize: it's pretty easy to meld the two languages for everything (or nearly so) that I might want to do: I can handle the low-level, close-to-the-hardware stuff in C (where Java either couldn't do it, or would have trouble doing so), and I can run those C “helpers” as a child process under Java.  That's both easy and clean.  I'm doing a test project of that general architecture right now: to let a Java program interpret the NMEA protocol output of the GPS on my NTP server.  A little C program will echo that NMEA data to stdout, and my Java program will run that as a child process and consume its output.  Simple!  But Java couldn't do it on its own...

Our sprinkler contractor showed up this morning, towing a huge air compressor behind his pickup.  He used this compressor to blow all the water out of our underground sprinkler lines, so that when they freeze this winter (as they surely shall), it won't damage any of the system.  The photo at right shows what it looked like as he blew out one zone in our back yard.  The noise as he did this was quite impressive, and full of bass notes that I wouldn't have expected from rapidly moving air...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Paradise ponders: NTP adventures and old friends edition...

Paradise ponders: NTP adventures and old friends edition...  Debbie and I are both feeling a bit better today, but wimpy as heck.  Debbie's fever seems to have broken last night, and her voice is back.  I can tell she's feeling much better because she did the cat chores today, much to the delight of our feline contingent!

Last night our forecast called for snow, but we didn't get any.  We did get just a bit of a kind of fine-grained hail (photo at right), along with (I'm guessing) about a tenth inch of rain before the temperature dipped below freezing.

I got a real surprise yesterday: a colleague and friend, Ron N., from over ten years ago contacted me out of the blue.  I'm not quite sure how he located me, but he left a comment on my blog and then the two of us got together on email.  It's been interesting to catch up with him, though obviously we've got a lot more to do of that!  He tells me he'd like to come up here to visit sometime next year, which would be really fun...

Most of yesterday and this morning I've been consumed with trying to fix a problem with my NTP project: configuring the GPS to be in stationary mode, wherein it assumes the antenna is not moving.  This translates into more accurate time measurement (more on that below).  The problem I started out with was that the directions I was following for setting up my NTP server included a link to a program that just plain didn't work.  The specific problem was that the program hung when it tried to open the serial port for reading and writing.  I troubleshot it for several hours, but finally gave up because I didn't understand how it could ever work in the first place.

So I decided to write my own program instead.  That meant that I had to understand the rather complex communications protocol that the GPS chip manufacturer uses for the functions I needed, as they're implemented in a proprietary “UBX” protocol.  Then I had to dust off my (extremely) rusty C programming skills – the last time I wrote a complete C program was around 1983 (seriously!).  I've done lots of work since then in C++ and Java, but not in C – and if you're a C programmer, you know it's changed a lot since the '80s!  Finally, I had to learn something completely new to me: serial port programming on Linux. I did the development work on a Raspberry Pi, where the only development tools I had was gcc (the Gnu compiler) and nano (a text editor).  Somehow I managed to get my little program working, which, I have to tell you, was a very satisfying thing indeed – validation, of a sort, that I might have more than two or three little grey cells still working.  If you're geekly enough to be interested, here's my satisfying little program.

A couple of my readers wanted to know what the heck a GPS receiver has to do with keeping good time on my network.  If you don't know anything about how GPS actually works, I can imagine this is really quite puzzling!  The first thing you need to know is that each GPS satellite has an incredibly accurate atomic clock in it.  There are over 50 of these satellites in four separate systems (the US, Russia, China, and Europe each have their own independent system), so there are a lot of these awesomely precise clocks flying around.  The GPS receiver I'm using can listen to all four systems, and at any given moment it likely has 10 or 12 satellites “in view” (meaning that it can hear their signals). Once my receiver can “hear” at least four satellites, it can tell the time very precisely indeed.  In fact, its accuracy is very nearly that of an atomic clock, as if I owned one of these (very expensive!) things.  All that with a $39 GPS receiver and a $29 antenna!

With the success of my little program, I've now got my stratum 1 NTP server up and running.  It's working great, passing all the tests I can throw at it.  Now the only things left to do are to mount the antenna on my barn's roof (that might be a challenge!) and to make a case for the Raspberry Pi.  I've already got it in use on my network, though – even with the antenna just pointed out of a window in my office, it's much more accurate than any NTP server I can access over the Internet...

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Paradise ponders: finishing touches and beginnings...

Paradise ponders: finishing touches and beginnings...  I woke up this morning feeling pretty lousy – mainly because I was running a fever – but by the end of the day my temperature was nearly normal, and I was feeling ok.  Debbie is continuing to get better as well.

Today the special battery arrived for the alarm panel (part of the much-bigger-than-expected gate sensor project).  This was the last piece I needed to complete the whole project.  I installed it, expecting instant gratification, but I still was getting a low battery alarm.  Dang!  On the off chance that the battery wasn't shipped fully charged, I decided to wait a few hours before troubleshooting.  Glad I did!  About two hours after I installed the battery, my low battery alarm went away.  Yay!  Everything is now working properly – quite a relief after all the trials and tribulations it took to get the right parts.  Now I have a new skill: programming Ademco/Honeywell alarm panels.  For a geek, that's roughly the equivalent of an auto mechanic understanding how to rebuild a 1927 Ford's engine – interesting, possibly even cool, but pretty much worthless in the real world.

I also got started on my stratum 1 NTP server project, mentioned in an earlier post.  I configured a new Raspberry Pi 3b to run as a standalone server, then followed these directions to get a GPS receiver working and configured as an NTP server referencing the PPS signal put out by the GPS board.  That's all working, more or less on the first try, much to my amazement.  I'm having some trouble at the moment with a little detail: configuring the GPS board as a stationary GPS device, rather than a portable one.  In the stationary mode, the timing output is even more accurate, and it will collect a long-term average of its position that's more accurate than the usual GPS mode.  That little detail, plus mounting the antenna on the roof, is all I have left to get my stratum 1 NTP server into a usable state.  I'm going to make a wooden case for it as well, but obviously that doesn't affect its function...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Paradise ponders: urgent care edition...

Paradise ponders: urgent care edition...  Well, this morning it was back to the urgent care again.  Debbie's existing symptoms got even worse – especially her coughing and sore throat.  On top of that, she's developed an eye infection, and when she woke up this morning she could hardly open her eyes for all the gunk that had showed up.  We saw a different doctor this time, just as competent and nice as the last one.  This time, though, the treatment was more aggressive, mainly because the symptoms had worsened.  She got a chest X-ray (that ruled out pneumonia), a treatment on the nebulizer machine (to clear up her lungs), a steroid injection (to quickly clear up her lungs), and a whole shopping bag full of meds to attack the eye infection, the cough, and the clogged up lungs.  I'm writing this a few hours after we got home, and she's already feeling better.  Let's hope this trajectory continues!

Yesterday I installed the last major bit of my wireless gate sensor project: an RF repeater to extend the range enough to allow the furthest gate from the house to work.  I put it in my cedar shed pump house, and it all worked right away.  Imagine that!  Now all that's left is to mount the two gate sensors onto the gates that have yet to be repaired, and then that project is completely finished.

A few minutes ago, one of our neighbors brought over a big container of homemade chicken soup, a repeat from a couple days ago.  This stuff tastes really good to Debbie, and it's one of the few things she can reliably hold down, so this gesture is much appreciated.  What a great community to live in!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Paradise ponders: creeping crud and remote gate sensing edition...

Paradise ponders: creeping crud and remote gate sensing edition...  Poor Debbie is laid pretty low with some virus she most likely caught on her travels.   I took her to our local Urgent Care facility yesterday just to make sure it wasn't something truly awful.  The doc said it's just your usual virus, gave her a prescription for some codeine-based cough suppressant (seems to be working ok), and a backup prescription for antibiotics in case it was something more than a virus.  The doc practically begged us not to use the antibiotics, but to save us a possible second trip he gave us the prescription anyway, once he was sure that we understood his pleas.  From the manner of his delivery, I'm guessing that many people don't realize that (a) antibiotics are completely ineffective against viruses, and (b) that taking antibiotics when they're not needed has some undesirable effects.  You'd think by now, almost 100 years into a good understanding of viruses versus bacteria, that these things would be more generally known.  Apparently not...

In between caring for Debbie and the animals I've been working away on the remote gate sensing project.  Today I got the Tuxedo panel, the RF receiver, and the alarm panel all installed and working.  Furthermore, I got three of the five gate sensor installed and also working.  Woo hoo!  The remaining two gate sensors have to wait until my contractor has fixed the two gates they're going onto.  The only thing I have left to do is some caulking and painting of the cables running along the outside wall, which, weather permitting, I will do tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here's what the visible components of the system look like.  The first photo is the Tuxedo panel, which is installed in our kitchen, right alongside the door we use to let the dogs into the back yard.  It looks a bit like an iPad mounted on the wall.  The screen turns off after a few minutes of disuse, leaving a bland plastic slab visible – not exactly beautiful, but at least not obnoxious.  A touch to the screen lights it up again, at which point that green bar across the top means “All gates are closed!”   If that bar turns orange, one or more gates is open.  In that case, a couple of click on the touch screen will show the open gates, by name.  The second photo is the RF receiver, which I've mounted in the kitchen just above the aforementioned door.  It's particularly unobtrusive – you'd have to have an unusually observant person to even notice it was there.


An inquiring reader wants to know...

An inquiring reader wants to know: what's it like for one who drinks alcohol to live in one of the states most restrictive about selling alcoholic beverages?  For those who don't know: in Utah one can only purchase packaged alcoholic beverages at a State Liquor Store.  There's one twelve miles from our home, in Logan.  An alcoholic beverage is apparently defined as anything containing more than 3.2% alcohol, because “3.2 beer” is sold in every grocery store.  You can also buy alcohol at bars (which we never go to) or in restaurants who have obtained a liquor license and who obey the rather arcane rules surrounding serving food and alcohol together in Utah.  It is illegal to ship alcoholic beverages into Utah, so we can't use online vendors like this.

Between the two of us, Debbie and I drink wine, beer, and scotch, all in small quantities.  We like to get “the good stuff”; it's one of the perks of retiring with enough money to afford it.  So how has living in such a restrictive state affected us?  Bottom line: hardly at all, and certainly not to the degree we expected it to.  Mainly this is because the State Liquor Stores actually carry a rather nice selection of the beverages we enjoy – better, in fact, than most of the retail outlets we knew best in San Diego.  There's one particular location (in Salt Lake City, of course) with an especially good wine selection.  Our local store's wine selection is decent, too.  All the locations seem to carry a broad selection of top-drawer single malt Scotch.  And all the locations also carry a wide variety of the craft beers that Debbie loves – including some from local craft breweries (mainly in Salt Lake City).

About the main effect we've actually been impacted by is being sawed off from the online vendors.  That we really do miss.  There's a fairly easy workaround we haven't yet employed: we could obtain a PO box from a place like Mail Boxes, Etc. in a nearby Idaho town, and have it shipped there.  It would be about an hour's round trip to go retrieve it.  We haven't been so motivated yet, though that's still a distinct possibility...

Paradise ponders: missions to space...

Paradise ponders: missions to space...  I'm sitting here this morning watching the live webcast of the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, on my laptop in my kitchen (screenshot at right).  Watching this got me to remembering the first such launch I followed: the launch of Vanguard 1, on March 17, 1958.  I didn't see this on television; I listened to it on my crystal radio, the one my dad helped me build.  After that, every chance I got I listened to (on radio), watched (on television), and read (in science related magazines) everything I could, up through the Apollo moon missions.  Much of the detailed information about those missions came from books and magazines published long after the actual launch.

Now fast-forward nearly 60 years, and here I am in my kitchen.  I'm watching a high-fidelity, realtime presentation on the SpaceX launch, on my laptop computer.  It's connected by WiFi to the Internet, which is how the video is being sent to me.  It's in hi-fidelity, full-color, with great audio.  There is realtime video from the launch pad, from the first stage, from the second stage, and from the drone ship where the first stage will attempt to land.

It's a few minutes since I wrote the above paragraph, and now the first stage has successfully landed on the drone ship.  The second stage is in parking orbit, preparing to transition to a higher orbit where the Iridium satellites (ten of them) will be deployed. 

SpaceX is really starting to make satellite launching routine, in a way that NASA was never able to do.  So far this year they've launched 15 rockets to orbit, and recovered the first stage successfully on 8 of those flights (something NASA once declared “impossible”).  For me, the excitement I'm feeling today about SpaceX's efforts is that they provide a promise that commercial exploitation of space might just be possible.  Elon Musk has far grander visions than that, but personally I'd be satisfied with nothing more than igniting commercial exploitation – because then I know for sure that mankind's ventures into space will be better-managed, sustained, and successful...

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Attention!

Attention!  Debbie is home, safe and sound...

Paradise ponders: discombobulation edition...

Paradise ponders: discombobulation edition...  Well, of course everything went wrong with Debbie's flights home yesterday.  It's a long and uninteresting story, but the end result is that she's booked onto new flights today.  In fact, as I write this, she's in the air from Cincinnati to Chicago – and amazingly enough, that flight is looking like it will arrive early.  The poor lass ended up staying in a hotel last night, right next to the Cincinnati Airport.  Assuming her connection in Chicago works out all right, she should be on a flight to Salt Lake City in about 90 minutes, and arriving here at 11:15 am.  Yay!  In my last texts with her, though, I discovered that she's feeling like she's got a cold coming on.  Dang it!

With Debbie's change of schedule, our plans for yesterday got blown up.  I did get a coat of paint on the new trim work and siding where the new deck was attached to the house.  It already looks a lot better, though it needs at least one more coat of paint for completely coverage (I'm painting white over a dark primer).  I was also able to make progress on what has been an unexpectedly complicated undertaking.

We created a beautiful fenced back yard for our dogs about a year ago.  This back yard has five gates, three of which are not visible from the back door or deck.  On multiple occasions we've had people leave a gate open, including a couple of times after I put the nice little signs up asking people to keep the gates closed.  This is worrisome for us, as we're afraid that someday a gate will be open, we won't know it, and we let our dogs out.  They'd discover that open gate within seconds, and then they'd likely scatter to the winds – we have, unfortunately, seen this action before.

So I got to wondering if there was a way to put sensors on the gates and have an indicator of some kind in the house to let us know if they were open.  Wireless (radio) sensors of some kind would be the easiest to install, by far – running wires to all those gates would be a serious pain in the patoot.  So I started researching that, and quickly ran into wireless gate sensors (made by Honeywell) that were designed to be part of an alarm system.  I started checking that out, and I found online discussions about using a product called “Tuxedo” with them.  Some of those discussions mentioned how easy this was.  I liked that!  So I ordered five gate sensors and that Tuxedo.

When I received them, I unboxed the Tuxedo and a sensor with the intent of testing things out to see if they worked ok.  I quickly ran into a mystery: the Tuxedo had no power supply, or any obvious place to connect one.  WTF?  The only electrical connection to it was a 4 position terminal block.  I was forced to go read the manual – and in doing so, I discovered that the Tuxedo was actually just a peripheral unit (“keypad” in alarm-speak) for an alarm panel.  Said alarm panel was required in order to operate the Tuxedo.  Sheesh!  So after some research I located a relatively inexpensive alarm panel, the Vista 21IP.  I ordered it, all the while thinking to myself that I was being sucked into some kind of money pit.  I just want to know if my gates are all closed!

When the panel arrived, I sat down to do that testing again.  This time, the Tuxedo had power (after I wired it to the panel), and it booted up and started working.  The reviews rave about how easy the Tuxedo is to use, as a method of programming the alarm panel.  Something I failed to understand until I actually used it is that those reviews are rating it's usability in relative terms.  By any modern user interface standards, the Tuxedo's user interface is somewhere between horrible and criminal.  However, compared with the alternative – using the “standard” arcane and tortuous numeric code programming – it is wonderful.  The standard scheme looks like something out of the '50s, or transcribed from a medieval torture manual.  So I suffered through enough stuff (Googling often for help) to prove that the Tuxedo was actually working.

So at that point I broke out one of the gate sensors to see if they were working.  Here a misunderstanding on my part came up and slapped me in the face.  The discussions I'd read online about the Tuxedo raved about its “Z-Wave” (a wireless standard) capabilities, in particular how simple it was to make them work.  That's the part I really liked reading.  Those same mentioned how easy it was to make the Tuxedo work with wireless sensors, and mentioned the gate sensors.  So I assumed that the gate sensors were Z-Wave sensors.  They are not.  They use a completely different wireless standard, not even on the same frequencies as Z-Wave.  That means the Z-Wave receiver built into the Tuxedo can't receive the radio transmissions from the gate sensors I bought.  After a lot of research, surprisingly difficult in the Google era, I finally figured it out.  I needed another RF receiver, one that is a peripheral to the alarm panel.  The money pit vortex strikes again.  I ordered one of these.

Meanwhile, I tracked down two annoying “faults” that kept popping up on the Tuxedo.  Both of them, it turns out, were actually faults within the alarm panel being reported on the Tuxedo.  One of them was a “103 LNGRNG RADIO” error, and I figured out that this was related to the cell phone interface built into the alarm panel.  That interface is intended for reporting back to some central monitoring company (like ADT).  Of course I had no interest in that, since I'm not using this as a burglar alarm.  With some additional research, I discovered that if I entered a magic series of digits (“411280056**00*”  - I kid you not) on the emulated keypad, I could disable the cell phone completely.  I tried it, and (it's magic!) it worked.  One problem down.  The other error was the panel complaining about a low battery voltage – but there was no battery.  WTF?  Turns out that the panel requires a rechargeable battery for power backup.  So far as I could tell, there was no way to disable this requirement.  Naturally, the battery in question is a non-standard one, so I had to order one of those as well.

Yesterday the RF receiver arrived.  I connected it with some trepidation, wondering what new part was going to be required in order for this to work.  Once I had it connected, I researched how to “enroll” a gate sensor (all that means is to pair the gate sensor with the panel).  I expected this to be something like Bluetooth pairing, but oh, no, it's nothing at all like that.  Pairing on of these involves manually entering the gate sensor's serial number.  That involves strings of numbers that makes the disabling of the cell phone look like child's play.  It took me a half hour of frustrating interaction with what is surely a candidate for the worst user interface ever invented to get the first gate sensor enrolled.  But then, the good news: it actually works!  In under a second, any change of state on the gate sensor (open-to-closed or closed-to-open) gets reported back to the alarm panel and then to the Tuxedo.  Holy crap, this is actually going to work!

Now that my test is done, I have to wire all this stuff in.  The Tuxedo will go on the wall next to our back door, so it's convenient to check before we let the doggers out.  The RF receiver (quite small) will likely go on the wall above it.  Those two things can easily be wired together.  The giant, utilitarian-ugly alarm panel will go in our mechanical room, in the basement.  That means I get to run a four-conductor cable between the basement and our kitchen, while keeping the wiring completely inside the walls in the house.  That's gonna be a bit tricky, and I'm still working out how exactly to accomplish that.  The battery should arrive with a couple weeks, and by then I should have it all hooked up...

Friday, October 6, 2017

Paradise ponders: porches, homecomings, and sunrise edition...

Paradise ponders: porches, homecomings, and sunrise edition...  Our masons (Randy and Jeffrey) were here yesterday to finish putting the rock on our two porches.  They brought three dogs with them, all of them lovable beasts – but most especially Carl, the border collie in the second photo.


Debbie comes home tonight!  I'm driving down to the Salt Lake City airport to meet her at 10:30 pm – very late for me.  There will be a happy household here, round about midnight.  Yay!

Yesterday morning I was up at my brother's cabin south of Newton, hoping to install a new microwave for him.  That didn't work out so well (the new microwave was damaged in shipment), but I did get to see a beautiful sunrise!


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Paradise ponders: more fall color, crispy morning, and electronic pursuits edition...

Paradise ponders: more fall color, crispy morning, and electronic pursuits edition...  Yesterday around noon I finished all my bookkeeping and set off on a short trip to Porcupine Reservoir to see the fall color (photos below).  That was one beautiful drive.  Near Avon I passed the home of our friends Bruce and June N., so I stopped in to say hi.  Ended up talking to Bruce for an hour, catching up on all sorts of things.  June was away in California, so I didn't get to see her.  From their home, on a knoll, you're surrounded by some of the best fall color I've seen.  What a perch they have for this season!


This morning I was outside working at the crack of dawn, cleaning up the deck in preparation for caulking and painting.  It's cold – just 26°F when I first got outside.  Once the sun came up it (slowly) started to warm up.  The views were very nice, too.  The first photo below is looking to the southwest from our front yard.  If you click to embiggen it, you'll see the beautiful fall color on the sunlit hillside, and clouds amongst the peaks toward the left (due south).  The second photo is looking east at our (newly sodded!) back yard, covered with frost.  I had intended to catch the dogs playing in the sunlight there, but naturally when I brought up my phone to take a photo they all ran away and hid.  Communists!


Yesterday I read about the new iMac Pro, with lots more detail than I've seen before.  My basic reaction is: I gotta get me one of these!  They're due for release in December, so I think I know what my Christmas present will be this year!  A shipment I've been anticipating arrived yesterday, too: a GPS extension board for the Raspberry Pi 3b, along with a matching roof mount antenna with a low noise amplifier (LNA).  The parts to mount it are due tomorrow.  This particular GPS board has a pulse-per-second (PPS) output and uses all the extant GPS satellite networks, plus it has a stationary (base station) mode.  All of this combined makes it the perfect time reference for a stratum 1 network time protocol (NTP) server.  I have no actual reason to own a stratum 1 NTP server, but it's something I've always wanted (and actually, briefly, had a few years ago).  Having this server on my local network should give me computer time accurate to sub-millisecond levels on all the computers I own (about a dozen at this point).  What's that good for?  Not much.  But if you're a geekly sort, it's way cool!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Paradise ponders: electrical phenomena and gorgeous fall color edition...

Paradise ponders: electrical phenomena and gorgeous fall color edition...  Saturday evening, my brother Scott contacted me to let me know that there had been a lightning strike near his cabin (just outside Newton, Utah) and that he'd lost power.  By 8:30 pm, power was restored, so I wasn't worried.  Then on Sunday morning he contacted me again: he had no water and his refrigerator had died.  Yikes!  I grabbed my trusty DVM and headed his way...

The 30 minute drive to his place was spectacular: a mix of blue sky and rain squalls turning into rain near his place, views of the red and orange fall color that blankets our mountains.  As I drove, I listened to an NPR reporter trying her level best to get a Puerto Rican citizen to condemn the US (and by inference, Trump) response to the hurricane.  The citizen kept insisting that the response was good, much to the frustration of the NPR reporter.  It was a pretty clear example of media bias, though I doubt most listeners would even realize that.  It was a strange juxtaposition to the beauty around me...

Once I got to Scott's place, I did a little diagnostic work.  The refrigerator's circuit board was easily accessible (thank you, LG), and I spotted a soldered-in fuse on there.  A quick test showed the fuse was blown.  Then I started checking out the well pump (a fancy variable speed pump and controller).  The controller had no LEDs, not a good sign.  The cutoff switch was open, cover missing, and some quick testing there showed 240 VAC on the line side, and 0 VAC on the load side.  At first I couldn't figure out what the heck could be wrong with the switch – not much to go wrong on them.  Later I figured out what had happened: that switch was fused, but the fuses had quite literally exploded.  The explosion damaged some of the internal switch components and blew the door off the switch box (door and box made of sturdy steel).  Scott wasn't home when this happened, or that noise would most certainly have scared him! 

So off we went to get parts.  At home Depot, we bought a replacement fuse for the fridge, and a soldering iron to install it.  At Lowe's, we bought a replacement cutoff switch, fused.  Then we went to Herm's and had a great breakfast: carnitas skillets all around.  Man, those are great!  With properly fortified tummies, we headed back to his place to do the actual repairs.

First up: the fridge.   I soldered some brass wire to both ends of the replacement fuse, then soldered it piggy-back on the blown one.  We plugged the fridge back in and it worked.  Yay, fuse!

Then down into the basement, and I replaced the blown-up cutoff switch.  That was a straightforward exercise, and afterwards we turned on the power ... and the pump controller still had no lights.  Dang.  So I opened up the controller and looked for an internal fuse – no joy.  On closer inspection I saw char on the board, near the switching power supply transformer.  Looks like the controller blew up, too – the cutoff switch fuses must not have blown quickly enough.  Scott will be calling the pump folks this morning, and hopefully they've got a replacement controller in stock.  If not, Amazon has them.  For the moment, he's without running water.  At least he has food. :)

After that I headed back home, again treated to a glorious drive.  I drove all the way down to Wellsville on State 23, paralleling the eastern side of the Wellsville Mountains.  The entire length of that trip I had spectacular views of fall color up the slopes...

The last one...

The last one...  The last full portrait of Saturn taken by Cassini before it crashed into Saturn.  It sure is a beautiful planet...   Via APOD, of course...


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Paradise ponders: catch-up edition...

Paradise ponders: catch-up edition...  Just after dawn on the morning we learned that Debbie's mom had died, I walked out to our barn ... and saw what you see in the photo at right.  The sight of that flag makes me think of my mom and her love of all things crafty every time I see it.  I have no equivalent piece of memorabilia for Kate (Debbie's mom)...

Debbie arrived safely in Ohio yesterday afternoon.  Her sister Judy picked her up at the Cincinnati airport, then took her back to Judy's home near Oxford.  Debbie used gate-checking for the first time on her trip yesterday, and was very happy with the results: her luggage arrived in Cincinnati along with her. :)

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been working steadily on the deck project in between bad weather and all the other things happening in our life.  In the first photo below, you can see my clamping arrangement for one of the dowel-pinned butt joints I made in the rails (one in each of the four rails).  In the second photo you see one of the butt joints after gluing and sanding – they came out very well indeed, with an almost invisible joint.  Despite the good results, if I ever do this again I'm going to use a half lap joint instead – they're much stronger, though a bit more challenge to get perfect.  The third photo is of the cedar ceiling again, and the fourth is the finished redwood rails, after their last (of six!) coats of polyacrylic finish.  I used satin polyacrylic, lightly sanded with 600 grit paper between coats, and I'm very happy with the results.  Now I just hope it stands up to the weather as promised!  The fifth photo shows the (much less messy!) deck with the rails in place, and the last photo is a closeup of a rail and stanchion.  The color for the stanchion's finish was chosen by Abigail at Lazy K Wrought Iron – it sure looks good with that redwood!  Speaking of Lazy K, they're going to be making the metal framework for our deck stairs as the next project they do for us...


Yesterday when the sun broke out in the afternoon, I took a ride up Blacksmith Fork Canyon to Hardware Ranch.  It felt quite odd to do this by myself!  I didn't see a single animal, and only a couple of birds – but the fall color was just spectacular.  I had spotted the orange and red hillsides through the rain earlier in the day, but when the sun came out ... well, see for yourself:


I had about two hours of intermittent sunshine, and I made the most of it with the beautiful drive and several short walks.  I sure wish Debbie was here to see this – it's far better color than in the previous years we've seen.  Hopefully we'll see it again another year.  One thing I noted yesterday is that several species have yet to turn color – most particularly the quaking aspen, who have just barely begun to lose their green.  In another few days they should reach their peak – maybe Debbie will get to see them!