Thursday, August 30, 2018

10 days off the blog (and on Twitter)...

10 days off the blog (and on Twitter)...  Results so far: roughly 10x as many views of my posts on Twitter (as compared with the blog), and the number is growing (as opposed to shrinking on the blog).  I've had just two blog viewers say they're sorry to see the blog go.

So far: Twitter is winning...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

I'm experimenting...

I'm experimenting ... with moving the mix of my posts more towards Twitter and less on the blog.  If you'd like to follow me on Twitter, here's my account. 

Why am I doing this?  Several reasons:
  • It is far easier to post photos and videos on Twitter than on Blogger, and it's clear from my blog's statistics (and about the same on Twitter) that those are what draw the most interest.
  • The vast majority of my blog posts are shorter than the new, expanded character limits on Twitter.
  • Searches on Twitter are faster and more reliable than searches on Blogger.
  • Twitter works well on phones and tablets; Blogger not as well.
  • It's much easier for people to comment on Twitter than on the blog, and I don't have to moderate the comments.  On the blog, if I don't moderate comments I get many spam comments per day – very annoying.
Some bloggers have moved entirely to Twitter, not only for the reasons I gave above, but also because they can also do longer postings with “tweetstorms” (threads of related tweets), and I'll be experimenting with that as well.   It's possible that I'll move entirely off this blog and onto Twitter.  It's also possible that I'll discover Twitter isn't the vehicle I want, and I'll abandon it. :)  For now, at least, this is just an experiment.

The blog will continue to have my tweets on the right sidebar, so you can still visit the blog and get both.  Future posts to the blog will always have a tweet that links to them, so you can also just follow me on Twitter and be sure you don't miss anything here...

Friday, August 17, 2018

At last, the digiscoping adapter...

At last, the digiscoping adapter...  If you're crazy enough to be a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember that I bought a very nice spotting scope some time ago.  My intent was to use a digiscoping adapter with it to let me take (fairly extreme) telephoto shots of wildlife using my iPhone X.  Such a great plan!  Unfortunately, Swarovski (the maker of the spotting scope) failed to cooperate by making a digiscoping adapter for the iPhone X.  Had I selected any other model of iPhone, they had me covered.  I've been waiting ever since for them to catch up with my iPhone.

A few days ago, I did my tenth or eleventh search for the adapter – and still Swarovski isn't making one.  But then it occurred to me that there might be a third party maker – and I found one right away!  Interesting twist: they're located just south of Salt Lake City, practically in my backyard.

So I ordered an adapter for my scope and iPhone X, and also a Bluetooth shutter release for my iPhone (so I wouldn't have to tap the screen and vibrate the scope to take a photo).  The adapter works great!  I went out this afternoon and did a little test shooting on our feeders.  Some of the results below.  On all of these photos, I was between 15' and 20' away from the feeders.  The second photo, of the yellow jacket, was at a range of 17' – not bad detail for that distance!  I like the fifth photo where you can see the goldfinch's tongue, and the last one where you can see how far down the hummer's beak extends...


The drone saga continues...

The drone saga continues...  This morning I successfully attached the new propeller motor to my drone.  However, as I started reassembling the dozen or so parts I had to remove to get to the motor, I managed to put one back incorrectly.  The result was to smash and slice the teensy coaxial cable for the antenna that's mounted inside the landing leg (one segment at right).  Upon discovering that fact, I'm afraid my language for the next 30 minutes or so was most inappropriate for the Mormon community that I live in.  I'm fairly certain that many of the words and phrases I used are completely unknown to these folks.  Fortunately, I was alone at the time.

My first thought was that I'd buy the replacement part from DJI (the drone's manufacturer) and just replace the whole thing.  Turns out there are two problems with that idea.  First problem: I'd have to disassemble most of the drone to do it.  I figured this out by taking the top off the drone to expose the wiring (at left).  That antenna cable starts as one of the four gold connectors at the right-center of the photo.  Then it's threaded through a braided protective sleeve, which is in turn threaded through the carbon-fiber frame.  I'd have to disassemble the entire left side of the drone to thread the new one in – and then I'd have to successfully reassemble the whole mess without breaking anything.  I'll avoid that risk, if possible!  Second problem: DJI won't sell me that part.

So where does that leave me?  Well, I discovered that the coaxial cable is a standard type called RG-178.  So I ordered a 15' length of that, and then I'm going to attempt to splice a couple of inches into the antenna cable to replace the part that I smashed and sliced.  This is going to be a bit of a challenge, as that cable is just 0.072" thick (less than a tenth inch!).  It will be microscope and fixture time, 'cause my hands aren't going to be able to do it. 

And if I fail with that repair?  Fortunately for dummies like me, DJI has a mail-in repair service.  I can throw the drone in it's shipping container and send it back to them to be fixed.  If I have to do that, I'm guessing I will be the source of the day's entertainment for the techs...

The rewards of direct charity...

The rewards of direct charity...  I've mentioned before that we've switched our charitable giving to direct charity – no organization like United Way in between us and the people or animals we're helping.  Not long ago, we funded some surgery on Yoda (a cat) that her owner couldn't afford.  Yoda's owner has no idea who we are (our desire), but she knew that the vets who did the surgery did know.  It turns out the owner is a talented artist.  As a thank-you to us, she painted this delightful little watercolor of Yoda, and a note giving a bit of Yoda's background. 

This isn't the first feedback we've gotten, and each time we get some it reinforces our commitment to this style of direct charity.  We know our charitable giving is going exactly where we want it to, because we know exactly what it's being spent on.   That's a vast improvement over what we used to do all by itself.  But even better, once in a while something like this happens and just makes our ability to help all the sweeter...

Debbie had a hankering...

Debbie had a hankering ... for Mexican food today, so we had lunch at La Unica, our favorite Mexican food restaurant in Cache Valley.  Debbie had the rolled tacos (one of their specials), and I had a carnitas burrito smothered in enchilada sauce.  Both outstanding, as always.  And now we're in a Mexican food coma...


Cache Valley geology...

Cache Valley geology...  Here's a (very) basic introduction.  The Lake Bonneville part is the most relevant to anyone trying to understand the landforms visible from the valley floor...

Thursday, August 16, 2018

So this morning we set out for Hardware Ranch...

So this morning we set out for Hardware Ranch ... with every intent of getting some drone footage of the beautiful canyon on the way there.  But when I got the drone out and started to set it up, I noticed that the propeller mount wasn't quite right – it wobbled alarmingly.  So we gave up on the drone (again!) and just did some wildlife viewing.  Didn't see much, though.

Once back home, I got the drone on the workbench and started poking at it.  I quickly discovered the wobble problem: the screws I'd just installed the day before were already working their way loose.  Loctite is required.  Worse, though, I noticed some more of the grinding that I thought I'd gotten rid of.  The more I tried rotating the motor back and forth, the worse this grinding seemed to get.  I must have a piece of iron shaving (from drilling out the screw heads) stuck in there, attracted by the powerful permanent magnets in the motor's bell.

That led me to a bunch of googling.  I found one guy – just one! – who took the motor apart for precisely the same reason.  He needed some snap ring pliers and a homebrew shaft press to do it, but he managed to get his motor apart, got the shavings out, and then put it all back together.  The surgery required, though, is pretty daunting, and I wouldn't be surprised if I broke something in the process.  I'm expecting a spare motor in today's mail, so I'm going to replace that motor altogether, then try disassembling and fixing it. :) I'll have to pick up a couple tools to do it, but if I can really fix the motor it's probably worth it as the thing costs $80. 

Meanwhile, I've removed the motor with the shavings in it.  That is quite an involved process all by itself!  Tomorrow, assuming I really do get the spare motor today, I'll install the spare and then I hope I'll be back in the air with the drone...

37 years...

37 years...  That's how long ago Debbie and I were married, in a pretty venue in Bonita, California.  We had just Debbie's mom and a few friends there, seven or eight people in all.  Went to the world's worst lakeside resort (at Lake Cuyamaca, east of San Diego) for our two-day honeymoon.  Burgers for dinner.  We loved it anyway.  Hard to believe that she stuck around all those years, through good times and bad.  But I'm very glad she did...

Even if she can't remember when our anniversary is.  :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

DEXA scan...

DEXA scan...  I went in for a routine medical visit on Monday.  In going through my medications, my doctor mentioned that she had recently read something surprising about people with Vitamin B12 issues (I have pernicious anemia): they have a higher risk for osteoporosis.  She referred me to our local hospital to get that DEXA scan, which will measure the level of mineralization in my bones.  This really surprised me, as on those few occasions in the past when I've had skeletal X-rays, the radiologist typically made some comment about my “elephant bones”, referring to how thick and heavy they were.  The last thing I ever expected was to be thought of as “at risk” for osteoporosis.

I won't have the result until next week sometime.

The tech who did the DEXA scan, a nice young lady named Lisa, first took my weight and height.  This was another shocking development.  Not my weight, as I keep pretty close tabs on that.  But my height!  I've been 5' 10.5" tall since somewhere in the '60s.  I've been measured a lot of times by a lot of people, most especially in the Navy (in the '60s).  I was always 5' 10.5".  This morning was the first time I've had my height measured in something like 20 years, though – and they measured it at 5' 8".  Holy shrinking bones!  I've lost 2.5" of height!  When the hell did that happen?

The most surprising part of that, to me, is that I had utterly no idea it was happening.

This article suggests that I'm losing height at a faster than average rate.  That doesn't sound good.  Now I'm a bit anxious to get the results of that DEXA scan!

So this happened yesterday...

So this happened yesterday...  We visited the Post Office to pick up our mail, and I climbed back into our car and handed the mail to Debbie.
Me: Look, Jim and Michelle sent us a card!
Debbie: Oh, what's it for?
Me: ...
Debbie: Oh, your birthday!
Me: Uh ... no.  My birthday is in September.
Debbie: Oh, our wedding anniversary!
Me: Yup.  Do you know what date it is?
Debbie: The 10th?
Debbie: The 21st?
Debbie: The 11th?
Debbie: The 12th?
Debbie: The 15th?
Debbie: The 17th?
Me: ...
My wife has no idea when our wedding anniversary is. :)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Well, that didn't work out quite as planned!

Well, that didn't work out quite as planned!  As I was carrying our drone to the car last night, I snagged one of the propeller mounts on a stair rail – and just like that, I was out of (drone) action.  I had spare parts (came with the package I bought), so I thought it would be a quick repair.  However, in no time at all I'd managed to strip out the T8 Torx-head bolts that held the mount on.  Dang it!

I put that aside and we went for our wildlife drive anyway.  We saw a bald eagle (likely the same one we've been seeing, as it was in the same place near the Hyrum Power dam), lots and lots of fawns (just now starting to lose their spots), a great viewing of a pair of Sandhill Cranes, and the best viewing of a flock of cedar waxwings that we've ever had.  Great!

Once I'd stripped the screws on the propeller mount, things got much trickier.  First I had to cut away the already broken propeller mount, which is made of carbon-fiber reinforced resin.  That took but a moment.  Then I drilled out the two screw heads – tedious, but not difficult.  However, in the process some steel chips worked their way into the motor, attracted by the powerful permanent magnets in them.  After that happened, the motor no longer turned freely.  Gulp.

I kept going, though, figuring I'd deal with the steel chips later.  At this point I had roughly 3/16" of bolt shaft exposed.  I got a pair of Vise-grips on that, and turned – and nothing.  No movement at all!  WTF?  Some research on the web reveals that DJI (the drone manufacturer) routinely uses red Loctite on these bolts (possibly others, too).  That stuff is like epoxy glue – no way are you going to turn that bolt, unless you heat it.  Now that I had the plastic out of the way, heating was a possibility.  I broke out my big soldering iron and heated one of the shafts up until the motor started getting uncomfortably warm.  Applied Vise-grips again, and ... motion!  I had to repeat the heat/Vise-grips cycle a few times, and this was tedious as heck, as I could only turn the bolt about 60° at a time because of other parts in the way.  Eventually, though, success!  Both the mounting bolts were out of the way.

Then I tried turning the motor by hand again.  There was scraping and grinding as I did so, from those darned steel chips that made it into the motor.  I put the new propeller mount in place, then I decided to try lighting off the drone to see if I could work the chips out by just running it for a while.  A few minutes later, I had the motor spinning – and making a gosh-awful racket.  But after about 30 seconds of this, it suddenly stopped racketing.  After that, the motor spun freely and all appears to be well.  Phew!

I have some foam rubber “booties” designed to protect those parts, and they will be installed from now on.  I don't want to go through that again!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A little catching up...

A little catching up...  On Thursday evening we went on a wildlife viewing expedition, sans drone – what a mistake that was!  Despite the smoke in the air (still very bad) and lots of traffic, we saw a lot of wildlife.  The first photo below was a real surprise for us: an osprey, perched in a dead tree right on the road's shoulder, about two miles from the mouth of the canyon (not a place where we've seen the osprey before).  Then just east of the holding pond, Debbie spotted a moose – a big bull (second photo), antlers in velvet, browsing on willow.  Later we saw lots and lots of does with fawns (mostly twins), several young bucks, a bald eagle, Sandhill cranes (last photo), kingfishers, about ten million swallows (up at Miller's ranch), kestrels, and probably some other critters that I've forgotten.  We're going to repeat the trip on Monday evening, this time with the drone.  Of course we'll probably see nothing on that trip. :)


Our purchase of our friend and neighbor's property is proceeding rapidly.  Closing is scheduled for next Wednesday.  The real estate people involved seem a little befuddled by how easy the transaction has been – no series of offers/counter-offers, a handshake (literally!) agreement on price, all cash, no seller incentives – they almost don't know what to do. :)  I have to line up a surveyor soon, to let us split up that lot into two pieces: one that we're keeping, and one that we'll be selling.

Debbie made us a memorable meal yesterday – we got fresh mussels from our grocery store, and she cooked them in a white wine, butter, and garlic base.  Damned fine, they were!  Next time we see them, we buy more – a pound between the two of us left us wanting more. 

Friday night we went to the Cache County Fair and Rodeo, and had a grand time except for having sore butts and backs from sitting on the stadium seating for four hours.  The barrel racing was again my favorite event – it was a very close competition this year!  I just ordered us some folding stadium seats, as we seem to be doing this four or five times a year...

Saturday was sod day – our yard workers cut out a bunch of sick and dead grass and replaced it with new sod.  They also prepped our “dead zone” – two acres of lawn-to-be.  They're getting ready for seeding it all in a few days, after the abject failure of the seeding last fall.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Porcupine Reservoir...

Porcupine Reservoir ... is located about five miles southeast of our home, and is the source for the irrigation water for us and everyone else for miles around us.  It's a beautiful spot, and this morning we took our drone over there and made some video...

One thing you'll notice around the shore line are what look a bit like the cliffs of Dover.  They're not – they're the barren sides exposed as the level of the reservoir drops.  The reservoir typically fills up with the runoff from melting snow in the mountains and the spring rains, hopefully being completely full by May.  All summer long we get little rain, so as the irrigation draws water from the reservoir, its level falls.  When the irrigation stops (typically in September or early October, depending on the weather), the reservoir will stop dropping and may even fill up slightly.  The following spring, the cycle starts all over...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

One good thing about getting really tired...

One good thing about getting really tired ... I can sleep!  I was out for 7 hours last night, which is really unusual except when I'm taking diphenhydramine.

The photo at right is from the north side of our deck, showing the two hummingbird feeders I put up a few days ago.  I found out about these a couple of years ago from my sister Holly.  I bought them back then, but we didn't have a good place for them until our deck was done.  Each of these feeders is 4' long, and has 44 “flowers” for the hummers to feed from. You might have noticed that there are no perches as are commonly seen on commercial hummingbird feeders.  Instead, the hummers keep flying while they're feeding, and the “flowers” are at just the right angle for them to do so.  This is how hummingbirds feed naturally – the usual commercial feeders require them to learn a new feeding behavior.  So said the blurb about theses feeders, along with the claim that the hummers would be on the feeders quickly.  They were!  Less than five minutes after hanging the first feeder, we had a female checking it out and feeding from it.  Now with both feeders up for the past few days, we have hummers on them all day long – as many as eight simultaneously, and the number keeps creeping up.  Win!

The engineer in me can't help but notice a significant design flaw, though.  The clear plastic tubing that forms most of the feeder is fairly thin-walled – and when the feeder is full, it bends in the middle.  Clearly this will get worse over time, too.  I'm going to purchase some sturdy metal to glue to the bottom, to solve that.  If I don't, I doubt these things would last a year...

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I am one tired hombre...

I am one tired hombre...  I suspect my brother Scott is just as tired.  The two of us “pruned” some branches off an old black willow along our irrigation canal.  Some of these branches were 20" or so in diameter!  We moved something like a ton of wood (brush and logs) from the tree to my now gigantic brush pile.  Some of the individual logs were right at the limit of what I can lift, probably 160 or 170 pounds – and there were quite a few of them.  Whew!  Glad to be done with that!

Debbie fixed us up with a simple but lovely meal: roast chicken, baked potato, and asparagus.  Yum!

After our meal we did a little drone work, including the first still photos we've taken with it.  This was because Scott wanted some photographs of our yard, to assist in his landscape planning.  The one at right is one of about 20 we took today.  The side of the house facing the camera is the front of our house, and that's Scott's first landscaping project.  There will be three trees in the front yard, and then the entire front needs landscaping.  We're eager to see what he's going to come up with.  Our directions to him are (a) don't be weird (in other words, no penguin-standing-on-its-head topiary), and (b) an informal English garden is the model. It's really exciting for us to finally be working on the landscaping after all the remodeling on the house itself...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The drone leaves home ... and we feast again...

The drone leaves home ... and we feast again...  Debbie and I ventured out to Blacksmith Fork Canyon this morning, and made two drone flights along the way.  Our skies are full of smoke from wildfires in California, Nevada, and Utah (see pollution report at right; click to embiggen).  That particle count is normally around 15 or 20 for us, and often below 5 – so the 132 reading is pretty bad.  Even at short distances of a few hundred yards, the “fogginess” in the air is quite evident.  Our eyes burned a bit, and I had a couple of coughing spells.  In the videos you'll see that smoke, where normally we'd have perfectly clear visibility.

We spotted a bald eagle perched near the pond behind Hyrum Power's dam.  As quickly as we could, we got the drone out, set it up, and attempted to capture some footage of the eagle – and we did!  We also flew up alongside the angled bluff above the eagle, and shot a little footage of the dam and the pond behind it, all just for practice.  The best parts are three short sequences at the start of the video.  After that there's a blooper reel of sorts, which would, I'm sure, amuse anyone who actually knew what they were doing with this stuff.

Further out, near Hardware Ranch, there's what looks like an old mining road.  It leads up to a couple of rock outcroppings – small bluffs, really.  We've long thought this was a pair of abandoned mines.  This morning we flew the drone over the road and the suspected mines locations to see what it really was – and now I think those are just rock outcroppings with animal trails leading around them.  No mines. :)

Our first impression of flying the drone around in the back country to take video?  It's going to be a lot of fun for both of us!

When we got home, Debbie whipped up a meal for us (at left) and my brother Scott, who's been slaving away pruning at our house. Oh, you should be so envious!  Those are fresh Oregon sea scallops, broiled with a lemon/garlic/butter sauce and topped with lemon rinds and garlic.  She's been making these for years, but it seems like every time she gets them even better than the time before.  And of course it doesn't hurt a darned thing that we're now able to get fresh (never frozen) scallops.  The vegetables are Brussels sprout sections and Bermuda onion pieces, coated with olive oil and seasoning, and roasted in the oven.  Heavenly, every last bit of it!  By the way, this (like everything Debbie cooks these days) is very low in sodium.  We've been a very low sodium house now for almost two years.  I've never liked very salty foods, but now after Debbie has got the spices-instead-of-salt down pat, I've gotten to the point where restaurant food tastes too salty to me much of the time – even places and dishes that I used to like just fine.  I've been spoiled!  And I'm convinced now that salt is just the easy way out – the “substitute” spices are superior to the salt! 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

First dual controller flight!


First dual controller flight!  This wasn't super-exciting or anything, but it did give us the chance to get our feet wet with dual control.  Debbie was controlling the gimballed camera for this entire video, and I was flying with the FPV camera.  If you decide to suffer through this video, you'll clearly see that we need (much) more practice – but we did actually manage to capture video as intended.  You just need to ignore all the bits where we screw up (and in future videos, it's likely we'll just edit them out anyway).  Mainly here you get to be amused at our feeble attempts to play wildlife  videographers.  :)

Tomorrow morning we're going to pile all the drone gear in our car and head out to Blacksmith Fork Canyon.  With luck, we'll find some deer or a nice bald eagle.  Even if we don't see any wildlife, there are still a couple of landmarks we can take some video of...

Zoom lens test...

Zoom lens test...  Yesterday I received a new lens for my drone's camera: a Panasonic Lumix MFT, 14mm to 42mm power zoom.  Of course that meant that I needed to fly with it and see what it could do.  The video at right shows three simple little demonstrations of it.  Bottom line: it's a great addition to my drone kit, especially the telephoto capability for our hoped-for wildlife videos and photos.

A key element of the wildlife photography capability is for Debbie to be able to control the camera independently of me piloting the drone.  This morning I got all the equipment required for that together, set it all up, and tested it out.  I had a bit of confusion trying to get it all linked up by radio, but once I did that it all worked just great!  Debbie's controller has a stick that controls the camera's panning (back and forth movement), and another stick that controls the its pitch (up and down movement).  She can tap the screen to set the focus and exposure for a particular place in the scene, and can use an on-screen “thumb wheel” to set the zoom level.  The gimbal on the drone keeps the camera perfectly pointed in whatever direction she left it, so if she let's go of the controls, the camera stays pointed correctly – even if wind is buffeting the drone, or I move the drone around.  Nice!  We'll try operating the drone together later today, and I'll probably take some video of that.  Unless it's laughably bad (not an improbable event!), I'll share it up here...

Friday, August 3, 2018

A (very) slight improvement...

A (very) slight improvement...  I just figured out how to add narration to my videos, so now you're going to be subjected to the annoying sound of my voice instead of just the amateur videography.  Here I got right behind Scott as he was raking our south field (but he never saw the drone)...

First drone video...

First drone video...  I won't be winning any prizes with this, but here it is.  There's no audio because my video editing skills are lame and I don't know how to do it yet. :)  The guy on a tractor raking hay into windrows is Scott Norman.  He leases our south field from us to raise alfalfa, and that's the field he's working on.  There's a scene where I fly over to an abandoned gravel quarry – that's roughly a half mile east of our house...

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Badgers and drones...

Badgers and drones...  We had a bit of excitement here this morning, involving the badger at right.  I heard the dogs losing their minds in the southeast corner of our fenced back yard, so I walked out to see what they'd found.  It wasn't hard to figure out – this fellow was about 2 feet from four dogs, with a fence between them, and he was hissing, charging, and basically acting very obnoxious.  When I approached him, as when taking this photo, he even charged me!  As Bugs would say, what a maroon!  I didn't have a gun at hand, but right nearby were some 10' lengths of 2" plastic conduit – just right for a badger bonker.  I gave him a couple of whacks on his thick-skulled little head.  He didn't like that much, but it got his attention – and then I used the conduit to prod him into the brush by our irrigation canal.  I heard him snuffling away, and he didn't come back all day.  If he does reappear, next time I'll greet him with my .22 rifle...

We had yard work going on the past couple of days, and I've been helping a bit on that.  Our lawn contractor was here, and that took a bit of time.  I also had a Tesla tech here both yesterday and today to finish up on some repairs.  In between all that, I managed to finish unpacking my drone and it's accessories (creating a mountain of cardboard and packing materials in the process), getting it all assembled, all the firmware updated (there are a lot of computers in that thing!), and actually flying it.  I've flown it for about an hour now, including about 20 minutes with the big, fancy, gimballed camera.  I haven't actually taken any photos or video yet, just practiced with the camera.  Even with a single controller it's not hard, but when we get Debbie on a separate controller to handle the big camera, it will be even easier.  The picture from the gimballed camera is remarkably steady even in gusty winds like we had today.  Oh, and I also made a distance test flight: about a half mile to an abandoned quarry, which I circled and then returned.  I was quite relieved when the drone made it back to my vicinity, but the truth is the thing worked flawlessly even at that distance – and the first person view (FPV) camera made piloting it a breeze even at that distance. 

I think I'll be ready to try flying it out in the boonies after just a few hours of practice...

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Nearly every day...

Nearly every day ... something happens that reinforces our happiness with our decision, five years ago, to move to northern Utah.  Yesterday there were several things:
  • I took one of my lawnmower's tires in to Hyrum Tire for repair.  One of the owners (two brothers) dismounted the tire, noted that it had been previously repaired (by them), and took it upon himself to apply a double layer of patching – both to the new hole and to the older one.  Then he searched for tougher tires that would fit the rims; unfortunately, none are available (naturally, I have a strange tire size).  Then he charged me $12.79 and insisted on carrying the tire and wheel out to my car.  Such a pleasant exchange, front-to-back!
  • I took my old lawnmower back to Ipaco for repair.  They had previously repaired it (in May), but when I got it home I discovered that it still had the same problem (blades stopped turning after about five minutes of mowing).  After a short, pleasant conversation in which they got full details of the problem, they told me that their repairs were fully warranted and they took the mower back for repair.  It should be done today or tomorrow.  No hassle, just smiles!
  • The Wild Birds Unlimited store in Salt Lake City called to confirm my address before they shipped an order I made online.  Ten minutes later, the store manager called me back to suggest that I save myself some money by joining a “club” they have.  That club costs $25 a year, but on just the order I placed it would save me over $30 – and it would save more on any future orders I placed.  She went out of her way to note the possible savings, call me, and get permission to do so.  Friendly and cheerful every step of the way, too.
  • The Tesla service center in Salt Lake City called me to let me know that some parts on backorder for my Model X had come in.  They wanted to arrange for their mobile tech to come out later this week, and needed to know what days and times would work for me.  This sort of call would usually be just a direct question or two and you're done, but the fellow who called was friendly and engaged in some happy banter.  
If we had never lived in southern California, we might think all this was normal.  But ... we did live in southern California, for many years, and we're still not used to having such nice, honest, responsible people all around us.  We are profoundly grateful for this, and so, so happy that we somehow ended up retiring to this community...

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Debbie and I...

Debbie and I ... made a trip this morning up past Hardware Ranch and part way to Ant Flats (our usual wildlife prowl).  I slept very poorly last night, as expected (see previous post), so I didn't feel safe driving.  We wanted to take our Model X because it's such an excellent ride for wildlife viewing, so ... Debbie drove it.  This was only her second time behind the wheel of the Model X, and she's still quite intimidated by it. :)  She did just fine, except that she flatly refused to back it into the garage upon our return.

We saw a lot of wildlife this morning!  We got off to a great start when Debbie sighted a fawn, still in spots, just 20' or so from the road's edge (photo at right).  Particularly surprising about this fawn was that it was all alone – no mom doe in sight.  It looked healthy other than having a slight limp, and it appeared to be old enough to graze (if it had to feed itself), so probably the main risks for it are cars and large predators (especially mountain lions, which are reasonably common up here). We're hoping the mom was lurking about somewhere, afraid to come out while we were there.

A bit further on we spotted two more fawns, this time with two does (though from their behavior, we think the fawns were actually twins belonging to one of the does).  Then on our way back out of Blacksmith Fork Canyon, we had a scare as a fawn crossed in front of an oncoming car, then in front of us – no more than 5' off our bumper.  Debbie slammed on the brakes when she first spotted it, and if she had been even a fraction of a second later we'd have hit it for sure.  The car beeped and booped, so we know it detected the fawn – but we're not sure if it braked before Debbie stomped the pedal. 

We saw lots of birds! 

On the way out toward Ant Flats, we spotted a bald eagle flying toward us at low altitude.  It circled three times over a pasture just to the right of our car, so we had some rather nice naked-eye viewing.  Later in the trip, as we drove up toward the generating station's holding pond, I spotted a flash of white above a rock maybe 40' higher than us and a couple hundred yards away.  I thought it was a small white bird of some kind, but when I got my binoculars on it I discovered that it was the head of another bald eagle, perched behind the rock so that I couldn't see its body.  We drove another quarter mile or so down the road and found a parking spot where we had a great view of its whole body.  We could see why it was perched there: the thing was soaked!  We hypothesize that it had dived into the holding pond to catch a fish (or perhaps steal one from another bird), got wet, and then flew up there to a nice perch for drying.

In addition to the eagles, we saw one cedar waxwing as it flew by on a journey, a mostly gray Great Blue heron, several belted kingfishers (including one with unusually bright and clean plumage), about a bazillion swallows, a lone northern harrier, lots of juvenile mallard ducks, and several Swainson's thrushes.  We'd seen the latter before, but today was the first day we were able to identify them...


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Trouble in diphenhydramine-land...

Trouble in diphenhydramine-land...  If for some inexplicable reason you're a regular reader of this blog, then you may remember that early this year I discovered the insomnia-destroying effects (for me, anyway) of diphenhydramine.  That's the active ingredient in the allergy medicine Benadryl, but for me it's been working great for six months as a way for me to regularly sleep through the night.  That's been a new experience for me, as I'd been an insomniac for my entire prior adult life.  After some experimentation, I settled on a 12.5 mg dose, which I've been taking every night, an hour or two before I go to sleep.

The last week or so this has not been working.  The logical conclusion, reinforced by some online reading, is that my body has developed a tolerance for the drug, and I'd have to increase the dose for it to continue being effective.  Of course, that's the first step of the classic dependency cycle, and I refuse to get on that particular train to destruction.  So ... last night's dose will be my last, at least for a while.  I suspect my insomnia will return with a vengeance in the short term, then after a few days or weeks I'll be back to my pre-diphenhydramine norm. 

This makes me very sad, as I've been greatly enjoying all the benefits of a full night's sleep ... and I don't know any other way to get that...

The downing...

The downing...  Last year the honey locust in our back yard was looking pretty bad, sick with something.  We were quite sad about that, as that tree was a favorite.  This spring it was clearly dead – we waited and hoped that some leaves would pop out, but there wasn't a one.  Less than 50' away is an identical honey locust, planted at the same time (around 15 years ago), and it is doing just fine.  We really don't know what killed the one in the back yard, though we suspect girdling by lawnmower.

Anyway, we finally decided it was time for this thing to come down, so on Thursday I set up my tractor with a 1" nylon rope to put some constant tension on it, so that it would come down away from the house.  The photo at right (click to embiggen) shows this setup.  The nylon rope is fairly “stretchy”, which is great in this application.  I could easily position the tractor to put something like 500 pounds of “pull” on the rope – plenty to ensure that when I sawed the tree off low on the trunk, it would fall at least roughly toward the tractor.  By the time the tree fell enough to release the tension on the rope, it would be headed down in the direction I wanted it to go.  This is far better than trying the same thing with something that didn't stretch at all, such as a chain.  That sort of connection would release the tension as soon as the tree moved even one inch – and then I wouldn't know what direction it was coming down at all.

When cutting down a tree that's been tensioned like this, there are still some ways for things to go horribly wrong.  The one that worries me the most (and which I've experienced once, unfortunately) is that the trunk snaps and kicks back in a random direction.  This snapping can throw the trunk straight at you while you're sawing.  Possibly even worse, it can throw the chain saw.  So whenever I do this, I am very careful and I cut very slowly so that I can watch the progress.  I also cut at an angle from the side away from the tensioning downward to the opposite side.  This angled cut makes it less likely that the trunk will kick very far backward.  Generally there will be at least a few seconds warning before the remaining trunk starts to give way, and that's enough time to get yourself and your saw out of the way.  I make sure I have good footing, a clear escape path, and that I'm well off to the side (as the most likely kickback direction is 180° from the direction the tree is tensioned.   That's what I did this time, and all went well as you can see from the post-downing photo at left.  I got myself and my saw out of the way in good time, and the tree fell almost exactly where I intended.  The rest of the job was just cutting up and hauling away, which my brother Scott and I did the next day...

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Willows, drones, and other things...

Willows, drones, and other things...  My brother Scott finished pruning the weeping willow in our back yard yesterday, and it looks much nicer than it did before (a couple of views below).  Now I can mow under it, and our little tree farm (visible in the second photo) gets a bit more light than it had been getting.  Also in the second photo you can see the irrigation going on the field to our north (the one I'm in the process of buying).  Our Paradise Irrigation Company water was off yesterday while they were de-mossing; today its back on and up to 40 psi – so we're getting lots of water down on the field today!


For several years I've periodically looked into the notion of buying a drone, primarily for photography and videography of natural landscapes and possibly some wildlife (especially nesting birds).  The main thing that's stopped me from buying one is really the fear of losing the entire investment when I crash the drone 30 seconds after unpacking it. 

I've had some experience flying remote-controlled airplanes, and I know first-hand how confusing it can be to control something when you're standing some distance away.  This is a big contributor to the fear-of-crashing.  I'd be much more confident in controlling a drone if it had a camera pointing forward, giving me a view while flying as if I was a pilot in the aircraft.  These have recently become available, even acquiring their own name in the process: a “first person view” camera.  Such a live video view, as if I were a pilot in the aircraft, is a big confidence builder for me. 

Another factor that looms large amongst the risks of owning a drone is the fear of losing the thing should there be a problem with the radio link, the battery running low, etc.  This is another area where the better drones have made fantastic strides.  Many drones now have a robust return-to-home feature wherein if something goes wrong, they fly themselves back to the point where they took off, land, and wait for you to come back.  Integral to that capability is the ability to avoid obstacles – and again, the better drones have amazingly good systems for detecting things they need to fly around.  Some of these detectors are acoustic (ultrasonic rangefinders),  some are infrared rangefinders, some are short-wavelength radars, and some are full-on optical rangefinders that use the same stereoscopic vision system that humans use.  Some drones have a combination of several of these.

Put all that together, and the result is that one can buy a drone today that is likely to survive a while.  I'm certain I could still kill it, but I'd have to try a lot harder than I would have just a few years ago.

There are even some drones available that have a separate, steerable, gimballed, vibration-isolated camera for shooting high-quality photos and video – while at the same time having all the safety and reliability features I described above.  Some of these cameras are very impressive in their own right, and a few of them use MFT (Micro Four Thirds) lenses – meaning there is a huge selection of high quality glass for them.

Yesterday Debbie caught me doing the check-out-the-drone thing again, and she told me to just go get one.  So I finally did it – I ordered a DJI Inspire 2 with the Zenmuse X5S camera option.  It should arrive within a couple weeks...

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Irrigation...

Irrigation ... is probably more challenging than you think.  That's especially so for a large pressurized system, which is how the irrigation for our home works.  We have 17 acres, 12 of which are irrigated alfalfa fields, and 3.5 of which are irrigated lawns.  I'm a shareholder in the Paradise Irrigation Company, as are all users of the irrigation system that supplies our irrigation water.  I've learned a lot over the past four years about how this system works, and I was quite surprised at just how complex it is.

The source of our irrigation water is the Porcupine Reservoir, located about 5 miles southeast of our home and 500 feet higher.  The Paradise Irrigation Company is just one of four irrigation companies that store and use water from Porcupine Reservoir.  All four of these irrigation systems are fed from a common “pond” at the base of Porcupine Dam, and this pond is fed from a manually adjusted gate at the bottom of the dam.  This gate is adjusted frequently, by hand, to keep the pond's water level roughly correct.  The consumption of water by the four irrigation systems is highly variable, so keeping this gate adjusted correctly is quite a challenge.  To an engineer like myself, this screams for automation – and yet such automation would add significant cost and complexity to the system, and would require ongoing maintenance, so it isn't done.  You would likely be surprised at just how small the budgets of these irrigation companies are – adding $100k or so for automation of this gate would be a huge increase.  So the gate is manual, and I suspect it will stay that way.

The common pond feeds four irrigation systems, but from this point on I'll be describing just one of these: the Paradise Irrigation Company's system.  It is fed from the common pond by a canal that runs a couple of miles to a point within the town of Avon, south of Paradise where we live.  The canal gets mossy in the bright summer days, and this moss can significantly impede the water flow – so two or three times a year the canal must be “de-mossed” – which is a chemical treatment that stops the water flow for a couple of days.  The de-mossing operation sends large quantities of dead moss through the system, which I'll talk about in more detail later. At this point the canal water passes through a large rotary screen to take out the larger chunks of junk in the water (and there's a LOT of it!).  This rotary screen is similar in concept to the drawing at right.  This screen only removes objects that are larger than about 1/2" in all dimensions – plenty of junk still makes it through, including some fairly large sticks and some very small mammals (like baby voles).  The slightly-cleaned water then passes through an adjustable gate (manually adjusted!) and into the high end of the pipe system for the Paradise Irrigation Company's system.  This intake is about 400' higher than our home, which means that theoretically the static pressure at our house should be about 190 psi – but we never see anything even close to that because of friction losses in the 4+ miles of pipe between that head end and our home.

Adjusting that manual regulation gate is the job of our company's “water master”.  People like to holler at this poor fellow when their pressure is too low, because most of them don't understand what an essentially impossible job he's got.  If all he had to do was to keep the pressure correct for one particular point in the system, it wouldn't be so bad.  But that's not what he does.  Instead, he's got a single point of adjustment where he's trying to keep dozens and dozens of users happy – and every one of them is getting water through different pipes with different volumes of water flowing at any given moment. I'm amazed that this works at all!  Just below the control gate, the Paradise Irrigation Company's system splits into three large pipes, each feeding large zones of a few square miles each.   The water usage between these zones can be (and often is!) hugely unbalanced – so one of those three pipes has far more water flowing than another.  All the people on the pipe being used more are going to have lower pressure from the friction losses.  All the people on the pipes being used less are going to have higher pressure.  There's nothing that the water master can do about that!  It's much, much more complicated than what I just described, though, because each of those zones are further subdivided several times.  The 6" pipe that feeds our place has four divisions (that I know of!) between it and the reservoir, and every one of them can be badly unbalanced.

The end result of this crazy system is that the water pressure in our irrigation pipes varies between 2 psi and 50 psi.  The pressure varies as users turn irrigation on and off in the hundreds of fields irrigated by the system.  The changes tend to happen in the mornings and afternoons (the common pipe-moving times), with large changes generally occurring over days rather than hours.  Our pressure is at 18 psi at the moment, but yesterday afternoon it was 40 psi.  Most fields are set up with sprinklers at 40' intervals, using nozzles that spray about 40' with 50 psi pressure.  This provides considerable overlap, which means that the entire field will still get watered so long as the pressure is above about 25 psi.  The lower 18 psi pressure we have right now means that there are portions of our alfalfa field that are not getting any water this time.  This happens on every field, and the farmers just live with it.

When I had the pop-up sprinklers installed for our 3.5 acres of lawn, I knew I had a more challenging situation.  I could only water this much lawn with the Paradise Irrigation Company water, as that's the only water I had the right to use in such quantity (water rights are real property in Utah, as in most of the western U.S.).  Those pop-up sprinklers are adjustable, but only within a fairly narrow range of pressure (such as mine, which are 45 - 50 psi).  Furthermore, the small pop-up sprinklers have quite small nozzles that cannot handle the up-to-half-inch junk in our irrigation water.  So I had a bit of a challenge on my hands to water my lawn using Paradise Irrigation Company water!

To my surprise, the local vendors who install and maintain irrigation systems did not have experience with this problem!  I ended up designing my own system, which has now been in place for a year and is working quite well.  I've had two irrigation companies come by to check it out, so they can use the ideas themselves.  I didn't really do anything all that innovative, it's really just that it's new to them here.  Paradise Irrigation Company water is connected to the inlet of an ordinary 5HP centrifugal pump with a synchronous electric motor, the kind that can survive moderate amounts of trash in the water.  This pump isn't directly connected to the power; instead, it's connected through a variable speed pump controller.  These have been available for about 20 years.  They work by converting the 60 cycle AC to DC, then back to AC but with a variable frequency.  The one I selected varies from 30 cycles to 75 cycles, which means the pump's RPMs can vary from 50% to 125% of it's nominal RPM (what it would have if connected directly to 60 cycle power).  Because the output of a centrifugal pump is not linear with respect to RPM, in the case of my particular pump the output can be varied from 30% to 120% of nominal – and that's plenty of range to let it regulate the pump's output pressure to 50 psi.    Finally, I run the output of the pump through a pair of screen filters (coarse/fine) so that everything larger than 0.05" in diameter is screened out.  These water filters are roughly 18" tall and 4" in diameter, and in normal use I need to clean them just a few times a year.  However, when the canal is de-mossed, the dead moss flowing down the line instantly clogs the filter completely, so I also have to clean them each time there's a de-mossing – and somehow that never seems to correspond with a “normal” cleaning.  :)

Now, isn't that at least a tad more complex than you thought an irrigation system would be?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A new toy...

A new toy ... and lots of work...  Yesterday I took delivery of a front-mounted auger for my tractor.  This thing is powered by a hydraulic motor that needs 6 gallons per minute (gpm) of hydraulic fluid flow.  My tractor can deliver 7 gpm, so it's just barely big enough to handle this thing.  There was a small problem at first – it was delivered with the wrong hydraulic connectors – but once that was fixed, it worked beautifully.  I dug a few test holes today; all worked just fine (photo at right was taken during the second drilling).  This auger is going to let me plant a bunch of trees, and place a few posts for various things I want to mount in the ground.

My brother Scott has been working at our place for the past two days, and will be putting in roughly half-time for a while.  He's tackling our landscaping (and that's a big job!) as well as some maintenance items like pruning.  He's plenty crazy enough to do this work for free, so I didn't let him start until he agreed to be paid a reasonable amount.  Yesterday he went to work on making measurements for the front of our house, which is his first project.  Today he and I tackled several pruning jobs (and there are lots more remaining!).

The past few mornings I've been moving pipe again, and this time Tim is working right alongside me.  His strength is back enough for him to pick up pipes and move them, but his arthritis is giving him fits.  His hands are the worst affected, swollen so much that he has trouble making a fist, and even more so applying any force.  To shake hands is agony for him; the slightest pressure triggers his arthritis pain.  Our mutual neighbor Nick S. is helping every morning, too.  He's 20 years younger than I am, and can move pipes twice as fast as Tim and I combined.  All Tim and I can do is admire and envy his strength and stamina...

Saturday, July 21, 2018

When I woke up this morning...

When I woke up this morning ... it was to the sound of a baler working in the field just to the north of us (the field we're in the process of buying).  The photo at right was taken a few days ago, right after the field was first mowed.  Tim had it mowed with very wide windrows, to speed up the drying.  Since then it's been raked twice to turn over the windrows, fluff them up, and let them dry thoroughly.  Then this morning was the baling.  It was just barely daylight, and that baler was making short work of the baling job.  Before the baler was even finished, there were two trucks with hay trailers out on the field, with 6 or 7 people working to load it all up.  By the time I finished with my tea (and homemade apricot/pistachio biscotti!), the field was clear and I knew Tim would want to get the water going.  So I walked out, met Tim on his way over to start putting down pipe, and the two of us got three strings of pipe up and running.  The arthritis in his hands is keeping him from gripping anything, but otherwise his strength is at least 50% of normal, maybe better.  Considering that two weeks ago he was down to about 5%, this seems almost miraculous.  He did about half the work of moving the pipe this morning, where when he's 100% he does about 2/3 (because he's stronger than I am, and can move two pipes at once).

I did manage to get a bit of work done on the grill cabinet drawers over the past few days.  I'm currently working on the two drawers for the center unit of the cabinet.  That's one of them at left, having it's bottom (1/2" birch plywood) glued on, with 25 lb. bags of lead shot as “clamps”.  In addition to the work on the drawers themselves, I also got the four cabinet half of the rails installed.  I'd made a jig for this on the first two shelves, and this greatly simplified the rail installation I did yesterday.  Hooray for jigs!

I sold some of our index-fund ETFs yesterday, in preparation for buying our neighbor's place.  Those ETFs were purchased in early 2014, over four years ago.  I was surprised by the capital gains on them – over a 100% gain on each of the three ETFs I sold.  The stock market has been very good to us in our retirement.  Well, so far, anyway...

Hoping to make some progress on those drawers this morning!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Had a busy couple of days...

Had a busy couple of days...  Our friend and neighbor, Tim D., (along with his wife Jeannie) came over to tell us that they have decided to move into a smaller house, nearby in Paradise.  We had a standing offer to them to buy their current place, should they move, because they have a 2.5 acre field adjacent to our property that a new buyer could build on.  We knew that Tim and Jeannie would never build there, as they valued that field as a buffer as much as we did.  But a new owner?  Who knows?

So I've been scrambling to do all the things one must do to buy a piece of real estate.  We've agreed a price with Tim and Jeannie.  We've engaged a realtor friend to represent us in the transaction, and to make sure the paperwork all gets done correctly.  We've consulted with the county to make sure that we will be able to “detach” that field from its current parcel, and merge it with our own parcel that's adjacent to the field.  The county treats this as a routine matter, so we're not expecting any trouble there, and the cost is quite modest (well under $1,000).  We do have to hire a surveyor, though, to make new legal descriptions for the two lots being modified.  We also arranged for a local hay farmer to lease the newly merged field from us, for a grass and alfalfa mix (horse hay).  Once the field has been moved to our parcel, there will remain a 3.5 acre property with a nice house near the center of it, and that piece we'll put up for sale. 

So many details, though! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A sonic mystery...

A sonic mystery...  Most mornings at home, I make a cup of tea for myself and a cup of coffee for Debbie.  We both use the same kind of mug: a 16 ounce double-walled stainless steel mug.  A long time ago I noticed something odd: tapping a spoon on the rim of the mug makes a distinctly different sound on the tea mug than it does on the coffee mug.  The tea mug sounds higher pitched and crisper; the coffee mug lower pitched and sort of a thud.

Why would this be so?

I've been trying various experiments over the past couple of weeks to try and narrow down the cause.  First I kept track of the mugs we used, and switched which one was for tea.  That made no discernible difference.  Then I compared the tea and coffee with no additives (cream, sugar, etc.).  This time the two mugs sounded very similar, though the coffee mug was still slightly lower pitched and not quite as crisp.  Then I added sugar to the tea – and the pitch went up (not what I expected at all!).  I added Equal to Debbie's coffee and heard no difference.  I added milk to my tea and the sound pitch went down slightly and got slightly less crisp.  Then I added collagen powder to Debbie's coffee, and the sound changed quite dramatically: lower pitch, much thuddier.  Ah ha!  Then when I added milk to her coffee and the pitch went down a bit more.

So ... collagen powder made the biggest difference.  Why?  What does it do to the liquid that affects the sound of tapping the mug's rim?

I have two theories.  First theory is that the collagen powder increases the viscosity of the liquid, and thereby increases the damping effect it has on the “ringing” caused by the tapping.  Second theory is that the collagen powder, when dissolved, changes the speed of sound in the liquid, which changes the resonating characteristics.

Do any of my readers have any knowledge of this phenomenon?

Monday, July 16, 2018

On precision...

On precision...  Do you know the best way to gauge the alignment between two pieces of wood?  This need comes up frequently in woodworking, and getting alignment wrong means (at best) a lot of sanding and (at worst) discarding a piece of work.  So what's the best way to determine whether two pieces of wood are lined up exactly?

Most woodworkers already know the answer, either from a mentor early in their woodworking efforts, or through hard experience.  I'm in the former camp, myself – my grandfather (father's side) taught me this simple technique.

Most non-woodworkers don't know this technique, and if asked to speculate, will usually come up with answer involving a known straight edge and squinting at how it sits across the joint that is supposed to be lined up.  That technique is difficult and quite error-prone – and isn't all that accurate anyway.  The best way actually involves no tools or instruments of any kind – just your finger!  All you do is run your finger across the joint to feel if there's a difference in height between the two pieces of wood.  Really!

A study five years ago determined that fingertips can detect surface details as small as 13 nanometers ( about 0.0000005 inches).  No instrument within reach of an amateur woodworker or cabinet shop can measure anything that small.

Your fingers are a marvel of texture-detecting design – better than anything mankind has ever been able to make...

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Tesla Model X...

Tesla Model X...  Our Model X is still in the shop, as the techs haven't yet figured out the source of one problem I reported.  That problem: sometimes as I start a trip, the cruise control won't work.  Also the center console isn't showing a picture of the road, with other cars detected.  I infer that the sensor system is therefore not working, as that's the source of the data for both observed issues.  A few miles after starting, both issues just go away, and everything works as usual.

The techs could not replicate this problem, of course (isn't it always like that?).  However, the Model X apparently has quite a bit of logging internally, and they were able to see the evidence of the problem in that log (and, incidentally, convince themselves that I wasn't some kind of nut).  So the techs kicked this up to engineering.  The first group of engineers to examine issue, late last week, couldn't figure out what was going on.  So they kicked it up to “zone”, which, I'm told, is internal Tesla-speak for “the real engineers, the ones who actually know what they’re doing”.  I'm told that escalation to “zone” is quite unusual.  It figures that such weirdness would be visited upon me!  The plan as of Friday was to wait out the day on Monday (tomorrow) to see if “zone” comes back with some kind of answer.  If they do, then they'll fix the problem and I can have my car back.  If they don't, then the techs will finish servicing my car and give it back anyway – and whenever “zone” finally decides to grace us with some feedback we'll decide what to do next.

Which means that we've been stuck with the Audi A6 since Wednesday.  I'm ready to find me a great big power hammer somewhere and squish the damned thing!

Last night...

Last night ... Debbie made Brussels sprouts and blue marlin (fresh from our local supermarket), photo at right is just before they went on the grill.   The marlin was very tasty, but Debbie and I agreed that it's one of those fish dishes that really needs a sauce.  The meat's texture, after cooking, is much like chicken – it's not an oily fish, like (say) salmon.  The Brussels sprouts were delicious, but I suspect not quite done in the middle, and my tummy rebelled.  Debbie's learning how to use our new grill, which is amazingly hot compared with anything we've ever had before.  Today she made chicken and roast corn, the former following some directions specific to our grill (she found them on the web).  The chicken pieces (thighs) were on the grill for just 8 minutes per side and they were completely done.  That grill is fast – but the high heat means that Debbie has to learn grilling techniques that are a bit different than what she's used to.  Tomorrow she tries a ribeye steak...

I started working on the remaining five drawers for the grill cabinet today.  It's almost a week since Jim and Michelle left, and I last worked on them – my time has been consumed with all sorts of other things.  I started two drawers today: the two that go under the wider middle sections.  One of those drawers is the shallowest I've made yet, which means the vertical pieces that tie the horizontal rails together are the shortest I've made yet – under 2" long.  That's so short that I can't have opposing pocket screws that line up with each other, as there simply isn't room for them.  So I resorted to a “trick”: I offset the screws just enough to let them clear each other.  At left below is the piece of wood with the pocket screw holes drilled, and at right is the installed piece.  It worked great!


Midway through this construction process, I heard an ominous rattle from my trusty Makita drill.  With a little investigation I figured out that it was the thrust bearing – quite an important piece of any electric drill (even when in screwdriver mode).  It still worked, but it seemed clear that it wouldn't survive for long.  So I decided to make a run to our local Home Depot (one of the few places open on Sunday here) and pick up a replacement.  I am delighted with that drill, which I purchased about seven years ago, so my intent was to purchase exactly the same drill.  This was not to be, as Makita has stopped making them.  There's a newer version, however, with all the same functions (drill, screwdriver with torque limiting, and impact drill), but with more torque, a brushless motor, electronic speed control, and smaller.  In the photos below, the all-black drill is the new one, the blue-and-black the old one.  I've long been impressed with Makita's battery-powered tools, but I didn't think they had much room for improvement on their drill.  I was wrong.  The new one is a bit lighter, substantially smaller, and the added torque is impressive.  The brushless motor with electronic speed control is really nice – the drill ramps up the torque as required to maintain the speed you've selected.  The old drill's trigger didn't select the speed, but rather the power – and often that meant the drill would run much faster than you intended when the load was light.  Not this one.  Another nice touch: manually tightening the chuck is much more comfortable with the new, larger, rubber chuck grip.  Nice one, Makita!


Saturday, July 14, 2018

An old friend of mine...

An old friend of mine ... Mike B., from North Carolina, mentioned to me that he had two GPS systems for his big rig truck that were broken.  He depends on these to do his job, and the loss of the more capable GPS was really making his life difficult.  In both cases the necessary repair involved soldering tiny little parts.  The more capable GPS had a surface-mounted mini-USB connector that needed replacing; the other a resistive touch screen that needed to be soldered (flexible PC to flexible PC).

I have the right tools to do the job, and perhaps hands that are a bit steadier.  So I had him ship the two GPSs to me.  Working yesterday and this morning, I was able to repair them both.  Some specialized tools really helped a lot.  I have a head-mounted pair of 3.5x binoculars (designed for surgeons and dentists, much like the ones at right); these gave me a nice, clear view of the work.  I'll bet I looked pretty weird while wearing these!  My Hakko desoldering iron (with built-in vacuum) nicely desoldered the old parts.  Finally, my Hakko soldering iron with a 0.03" diameter tip let me solder the new parts on.  I don't mean to say that it was all easy because of the tools, though – there might have been a bit of non-Mormon approved language as I struggled to get all the pieces in place and hold them there while soldering.  Removing the old mini-USB connector was a challenge mechanically.  My finest solder was twice the diameter of the work piece, making it a real challenge to get solder only where it belonged.  And both circuit boards had taken some hits, with traces lifted during both the current and previous repairs.  Those had to be repaired with wire jumpers. 

But in the end, I managed to get both of them working.  Mike was very happy to see this (I sent him proof-of-life photos of the GPS screen).  It felt good to be able to help a friend, and it also felt go to have proof that I can still repair delicate electronics.  Both GPSs are now at the post office, and he should get them next Tuesday or Wednesday...

Friday, July 13, 2018

We are laughing at ourselves for this!

We are laughing at ourselves for this!  Our Tesla Model X was due for service, and on Wednesday morning we made the 90 minute drive down to Salt Lake City to drop it off.  We made an appointment early in the morning (8 am) to maximize our chances of getting a Model S as a loaner (we knew they'd be keeping our car for a day or two).  We didn't get the Model S – they'd all been taken already.  So we got a rental: an Audi A6.

At any point in our lives prior to buying the Model X, we'd have been astounded at getting an A6 as a loaner.  By any conventional measure, it's a very nice car.  Plenty of power, handles very nicely, lots of modern conveniences, etc., etc.

But we are Model X owners.  We've driving 36,000 miles in our Model X.  We're spoiled rotten by the experience.  Now the A6 looks like a miserable POS to us.  We hate it...

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Some thoughts on giving back...

Some thoughts on giving back...  Nothing profound here, just some thoughts about our experiences...

Anyone who knows Debbie and I well will be unsurprised to learn that much of our giving back is aimed at animals.  Not all of it, by any means, but quite a bit.

For many years we gave modest amounts to carefully selected animal-related charities.  Over and over we learned to our chagrin that the beneficiaries of our largess were anything from outright frauds (ouch!) to high-overhead operations where too much (often most) of our contribution went to paying the officer's salaries.  We got fed up with this, and searched for a better way. 

Today we're making three regular animal-related contributions.  Two of these are through small, local organizations that we know personally.  Obviously we could still get surprised by these, but I think it's much less likely than with the contributions we've made to the larger organizations that actually market for contributions.  The third is one that we started about six months ago.  We met with the owners of a local veterinary clinic – people whom we know and trust – and arranged to create a fund that helps people with animals who need veterinary care that they cannot afford.  This was our idea, though we discovered when we talked with the clinic's owners that they already had a poorly funded version of a similar idea going.  The money involved is quite modest, but it has direct impact on local animals in need – and, of course, on their owners.  We make these contributions anonymously, but we learn about the animals (and owners) that have been helped.  It's been very satisfying to have direct knowledge of the impact of our contribution, and comforting to personally know those people who are (in effect) administering our contributions.  We like this general pattern much better than sending a check to a large, opaque organization and never knowing what they did with money.

We've also found a few ways to follow the same general pattern to help some local people in need.  I'm not going to get into the details on these, as in some cases these are done anonymously and we'd like to keep it that way.  The important bit, for us, is the combination of direct knowledge of how the contributions get used, and a trusted intermediary to administer them.

After a bit of fumbling with ways to do achieve this pattern of contributing back to our community, we've learned to be a little creative and a lot careful – and we really like the results...

Moved pipes this morning...

Moved pipes this morning ... in our alfalfa field, just north of our house.  I started before sunrise, finished just as the sun was peeking up over the Wasatch Mountains to our east.  In the middle of this effort, there was a moment when the eastern sky was bright along the Wasatch silhouettes, and the puffy clouds were all lit up against a gorgeous blue sky.  In the mountain foothills, the spray of dozens of irrigation systems was all backlit by the bright sky, jewels against the dark green carpets of alfalfa, oats, and other grains.  A light breeze rustled the leaves of willows, cottonwoods, and box elders along the irrigation canal 100 feet east of where I was standing.  Several hawks circled overhead, while dozens of other birds greeted the morning with a nonstop chorus.  I heard a few rooster crows, and a couple of our neighbor's dogs barked at who knows what.  What a beautiful morning in the 'hood!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Yes, I'm happy...

Yes, I'm happy ... with Trump's selection of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as the nominee to replace the retiring Justice Kennedy.  Very happy, actually.  And yes, overall I'm still unhappy and frightened by Trump's performance as President.

Why on earth is it so difficult for people to understand how both of those statements can be true at the same time?  Must we either love or hate any politician 100% of the time?

We're baaaaack!

We're baaaaack!  Our friends Jim and Michelle B. have, sadly, departed for their home in the high tax, underfunded pension headquarters also knows as Southern California.  As always, we had a wonderful time during their visit.  They were only here for a week this time, and that time seemed to just fly by – seems like we were waving goodbye the day after they got here.  Next year they're going to try to make it up at the end of August, and see Paradise's Trout & Berry Days.  This year they watched the Fourth of July fireworks at Hyrum with us, and it was just as good as it was last year.  We had lots of good talk, good food, and good times together.  Maybe they'll escape California someday and join us up here...

Jim and I built two (of seven) drawers for the grill cabinet while they were here.  The photo at right shows a nearly finished drawer, lacking only the handle and the spar varnish I'll finish it with.  There are an amazing number of parts in that drawer: 16 pieces of framing wood (poplar), 4 pieces of trim wood (also poplar), 1 piece of 1/2" birch plywood (bottom), 4 pieces of 1/4" birch plywood (sides), 3 pieces of cedar (front), 40 pocket screws, 2 slides, 20 wood screws (to hold the slides in place), 1 handle, 2 handle screws.  When you add all that up, that's 93 parts –  for one drawer, and I'm making 7 of them.  That's 651 parts in all!  Some of the steps in building the drawers involved gluing and clamping; a couple shots of those below:


Here's a nice sunset we shared with Jim and Michelle, enjoying it from our deck.  The weather here was hot every day they were here, except for one morning when we had a few scattered showers.  Every morning Jim and I went out at just after 6 am and moved irrigation pipes, along with our neighbor Nick S.  This is something I've been doing here for years, usually just Tim D. and I.  This year, as I've written before, he's unable to do it – it's a privilege to be able to help him, but I miss his company while we do it...

We got our new grill installed just a couple of days before Jim and Michelle arrived, but we used it several times during our visit.  Jim and Michelle have lots of experience grilling, and Debbie thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to get some tips and instruction from them.  I thoroughly enjoyed the results, such as the steak and grilled vegetables meal at right.  Yum!

Two days before Jim and Michelle got here, we had our once-every-two-years driveway resealing done.  We used Statewide Paving for the work, and this makes twice that I've been very pleased with the job they did.  The owner's son (Andrew) both supervises and participates in the work, and everyone works their butt off to get the job done.  Their attention to detail beats any paving contractor I've ever seen at work.  This time, for example, they found a place in my driveway where there were a couple hundred square feet with embedded soil (from where we had piled dirt during construction).  Rather than just coat over it, they took an extra two hours to power-wash that part off – and charged me nothing extra for that work.  If you need a driveway resealed, you can get Andrew at 208-317-4418.  Highly recommended.  Here's a few shots of them working away...


Another thing that happened this past week: our roofing contractor showed up to finish up some work started almost a year ago (seriously!), and to put gutters up on my barn.  The barn has 82' long eaves, so they bent up two 82' long gutters – quite a big piece of sheet metal to carry around and install!  The photo at right shows the metal as it came out of their automated gutter bending machine.

The contractor who works on my lawn, sprinklers, etc. came out with an aerating machine – a “core aerator”.  This is possibly the most evil looking machine I've ever seen.  Dave M. is guiding this beast in the photo at left.  The front end of this machine has dozens of “teeth” that dig down about 3" into the ground and pop out a round “plug”, leaving a little hole in the ground.  It also left my lawn covered with thousands of what look like small dog turds.  :)  Those, I'm assured, will disappear after a few waterings.  We'll see.

On the day that Jim and Michelle got here, I finished a couple of projects on my gas pumps that I shelved last year when it got too cold to work outside.  One was to replace one of the filter cups – that took just a few minutes.  The other was a bit more challenging: installing an electronic lock on the “gas station” door.  That's what you see in the photo at right.  It actually wasn't very hard at all to install, once I figured out the directions – they were harder for me to understand than such directions usually are, despite being written by a native English speaker (so far as I could tell).  One part I found challenging was that the directions were divided up into “panels” for each of the 10 steps they identified.  The panels were numbered, but the number wasn't particularly prominent.  The physical layout of the panels on a single large sheet of paper was really odd – they started about 1/3 of the way down the left side of the paper, went across to the right, then back to the left margin and down – and subsequently over three vertical columns.  Why would anyone lay out directions in such a confusing way?  Things like that really puzzle me.  Anyway, eventually I found the numbers on the panels and was able to do the steps in the right order, which turns out to be critical for success.  When I got all done, everything worked on the first try – even programming in my own codes.  Now our gas station has a lock, and (much more relevantly in our area) a latch to keep it shut when the wind blows.  Hooray!