Sunday, February 18, 2018
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Friday, February 16, 2018
But then a few weeks ago, the problem suddenly stopped. WTF? Three separate clocks having a problem, and all of a sudden they all work? How could this be??
A few days ago I had the first thought of a possible explanation. The clocks all started working about the same time that the power company fixed the top part of our power pole (blogged here) – could that be what fixed my clocks? I didn't know exactly what they did beyond replacing the top crossbar. So I called the power company, hoping I might get some answers. And I did! Turns out they keep good records of what was found and what was done – and one of the notes they'd made on that day said “heavily corroded HV connection”. The “HV” means “high voltage”, the input into the transformers for my house and my barn – and those two transformers shared that same HV connection. Ah ha! Now there was a possibility! A heavily corroded connection might exhibit intermittent connections when, for example, the wind shook the power pole a bit.
So I rigged up a bit of an experiment with one of the clocks. I wired up an outlet whose power came through a wire that I cut, stripped, and then bound together with a rubber band. Then I tried wiggling that joint. Lo and behold, I was able to replicate the peculiar behavior. The clock didn't lose power, but it did pick up the intermittent connection as though it was additional cycles to be counted – and the result was the clock gained time, just as we used to observe.
I'm left with the mystery of why the problem still happened with a clock connected to my UPS. I think the most likely explanation is that the intermittent connection issue was transmitted through the UPS as coupled noise – which is certainly disappointing. The UPS works fine if I switch off its primary power, so I know the inverter it contains is working properly. I see no glitches on its output (using a 'scope) if I flip its primary power on and off. Nonetheless, the clocks malfunctioned when running on it prior to January 11.
I have to conclude that for our entire time in this house, up until the repairs on January 11, we've had flaky power and didn't even know it! The clocks have been rock-solid now for over a month. I'm very glad to have the problem fixed, but I'm still amazed that we didn't even know we had a problem!
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The towing capability was one of the things that attracted me to the Model X in the first place, but we have never tried to tow before. The hitch receiver in the Model X is removable, and I've been carrying it in the car's “frunk” ever since I bought it, over a year ago. Yesterday the trailer folks helped me install it – except that we couldn't! We thought at first that we were doing something wrong, but then we found a YouTube video demonstrating how to do it – and it became clear that there was something wrong with my hitch receiver. Dang it! So I ended up just putting a deposit on the trailer to secure it, then I contacted Tesla with a request for assistance. A few minutes later, I had a service appointment for the next day (this morning) – both for the hitch issue and for my annual maintenance.
So this morning Debbie and I headed down to SLC and the service center. We got there in plenty of time. We were given a loaner car, but sadly it wasn't a Tesla – it was a Cadillac SUV and since I can't say anything good about it, I won't say anything at all. We were given an estimate of half a day for the service, so we went to lunch at the Red Iguana (spectacular, as usual), and then spent three hours at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium, 15 miles south of SLC in Draper. This turned out to be a lovely surprise – it's an incredibly great aquarium, though I think that name is a misnomer. It's more like a zoo with an aquarium attached. In addition to all the things you'd expect an aquarium to have, they also had two otter exhibits (with different species), a clouded leopard exhibit (with a breeding pair), great bird exhibits, and even some plants (palms, mostly). There's lots more there, too. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and we'll be back for sure.
Then we headed back to the Tesla Service Center, where we got some good news and some bad news. The good news: they found the problem with the hitch receiver - some welding flashing that was preventing the receiver from fully inserting into its socket. A bit of careful grinding and that was fixed. The bad news: the estimate we'd been given for the routine service was badly off. Instead of a half day, it would take a day and a half. That meant we had to drive the Cadillac back home tonight, and we'll have to drive it back down to SLC tomorrow. Driving that conventional car 70 miles back home was ... a really downer experience. I am so completely spoiled by my wonderful Model X! The Cadillac's two-chipmunk engine got the car to 80MPH, but it took a couple miles to get there, instead of the 200' or so that the Model X takes. The ride was so mushy that I was afraid there was something badly wrong with the suspension – but apparently that's intentional. Going uphill in Sardine Canyon required keeping the accelerator to the floor to stay at 65 MPH – and all the while the engine is making alarming noises. Then the Cadillac's “auto-stop” feature was constantly making me think the car had died. That feature is intended to save gas – a laudable goal – but it does it by shutting off the engine whenever the car stops moving. Even at a red light! The engine automatically restarts when you take your foot off the break, but of course there's a brief hesitation before it can actually apply power to the wheels. It's such an awful driving experience after being used to the Model X!
Sunday, February 11, 2018
But recently we discovered that “los primos” actually means “the cousins”. It seems that three cousins started both the restaurant and the related grocery. Nothing wrong with “the cousins” as a name, but it doesn't have quite the same cachet for us as “the best”! :)
We have eleven winter feeders all together: five sunflower seed feeders, two Nyjer thistle seed feeders, one platform feeder, one suet feeder, and two feeders dedicated to “no mess” seed. Except for three of the sunflower seed feeders, my feeders are all Droll Yankee products – I've found them to be more durable than any others I've tried; most last for at least five years and some we've had for over ten years.
In the summer we add several hummingbird feeders to our array of feeders. None of our hummer species winter over, so they come down for the winter.
We go through quite a bit of seed in the winter time, and drastically less in other seasons, though it never goes to zero. Right at the moment monthly seed consumption is about 120 pounds of black oil sunflower seed, 80 pounds of cracked corn (on the platform feeder and scattered on the driveway), 60 pounds of Nyjer thistle seed, 25 pounds of “no mess” seed, and 2 pounds of suet mix.
Except for the no-mess seed, my local source is Tractor Supply Company – they have the best prices locally, and the seed is all good quality. The “no mess” seed I have no local source for, so once or twice a year we head down to Wild Birds Unlimited in Salt Lake City and stock up. We don't get the “no mess” seed because it doesn't make a mess, though that's true. We get it because I'd read that in extreme cold temperatures the wild birds can more easily get the calories they need. I can't independently verify that, but I can tell you that the consumption of it is almost zero except when the temperature drops below about 20°F – and then the colder it gets, the more gets eaten. A working hypothesis is that the birds actually prefer the seeds au naturel, but when it gets too bitterly cold and they need more calories, they'll go for the avian fast food. We see all sorts of small songbirds on those “no mess” feeders; so far as I can tell there's no species that prefer it over the sunflower seeds.
The Nyjer thistle seed feeders are dominated by goldfinches (both Lesser's and American), though they are occasionally visited by chickadees and house finches. Woodpeckers, magpies, and flickers are the most common visitors to the suet feeder; the occasional chickadee can be found there as well. The scattered cracked corn brings hordes of juncos, a few pigeons and doves, and deer. Magpies and doves seem to prefer cracked corn on the platform feeder, along with a lot of chickadees. The sunflower seed brings many different species, but more house finches than anything else.
My mom would have loved to have seen our birds feeders, but she never got the chance...
a northern shrike strutting on a fence post roughly a mile east of Hardware Ranch, right along the road. That's not my photo at right, but the bird we sighted looked very much like this one. It's a migratory species, and this one was here for our warm winter! :) It probably came down from either Alaska or the Hudson Bay area. They're not a common bird at all, so I cherish the sighting of it. He popped up on a fence post as we were looking at some deer high on a hill a half mile or so behind him – it was just plain luck that we saw him at all...
Saturday, February 10, 2018
So not long ago we had the brilliant idea of replacing it with a nice big cutting board. With a piece of tempered glass to go over the cutting board when it wasn't in use, we'd be able to use the entire island as a counter-top – plus we'd free up quite a bit of space under the Jenn-Air that was consumed by the power source and a 6" diameter duct for the down-draft ventilation built into it. The challenge was where on earth would we find such an odd-shaped cutting board? I could make one, but I don't have a planer big enough to handle the 23" x 30.5" size we'd need. So I did some research on the web, and discovered this site – and good reviews of it in several locations. I queried them, and they had no problem at all making a nice maple cutting board to our specs. The actual maker was John Boos, a company I'd read about when researching some other kitchen things, but had never done business with. When I got the quote for the custom cutting board I was quite surprised at how reasonable it was: a solid maple board for less than it would cost me to buy the wood!
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
So one of my first questions about these new-fangled peripherals was: just how long would these batteries last on a charge?
Well, I now have the answer for one of them, the mouse. I recharged it last night for the first time since I received the system, when it reported being at 5% of charge. My keyboard is still at 70% of charge, after six weeks of frequent use.
For approximately the 37 billionth time, I am just in awe of the degree of advancement in a technology, within my own lifetime. Rechargeable batteries were basically non-existent when I was a kid. The standard was old-fashioned zinc-acid batteries, which are actually quite difficult to buy today – alkaline batteries have basically taken over the disposable battery scene, with capacities several times that of a zinc-acid battery.
The most significant advances aren't in the batteries, though – they're in the incredibly low power consumption of even fairly sophisticated circuits like a Bluetooth optical mouse. That's truly mind-boggling. The simple, inexpensive optical mouse on my desk has functionality that was either impossible (Bluetooth) or really difficult (the optical movement sensing). The latter alone would have taken a roomful of circuitry in the '50s, dominated by power-hungry vacuum tubes. A wild guess at the power consumption would be 5 to 10 thousand watts. My modern mouse can't consume more than a few thousandths of a watt at most. More likely it's an order of magnitude less than that.
And now we have an electric car headed to the asteroid belt! :)
Incidentally, both of these photos were taken with a hand-held iPhone X. The second photo is using the 2x optical telephoto. Both would look much worse without the image stabilization...
Tuesday, February 6, 2018
While we had lunch today (with our friend Michelle), we watched the webcast of the spectacular launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The image of the two side cores landing side-by-side looked like something straight out of a science fiction story. It occurred to me that the science fiction trope of a flying car has at last become reality, with Elon Musk's Tesla roadster now in Earth orbit (and soon to be solar orbit). That's not quite how I imagined flying cars would turn out, but ... it will do. It will do...
If you don't know about the Falcon Heavy, here's some background. Don't miss the animation on that page! Today's launch will be the Falcon Heavy's maiden flight, and Musk has been careful to set expectations low, saying there was a 50% chance the thing is going to blow up. Whatever happens today, I'm sure SpaceX will eventually get Falcon Heavy working reliably. When they do, it will be the world's largest (by payload to orbit) operational rocket. The qualification is because the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program was larger, but of course it is no longer operational.
More than simply being the biggest, it will (like it's smaller brother, the Falcon 9) be reusable. I'm old enough to remember when NASA told Congress that orbital booster reusability was impossible, and that the closest anyone could ever get to that was the Space Shuttle approach. For a tiny fraction of the Space Shuttle's development cost, private enterprise has done what NASA said was impossible – and as of today, with almost the same payload capacity that NASA was ever able to achieve. The launch costs for SpaceX are absolutely dwarfed by NASA's costs – a single Space Shuttle launch (including amortized development costs) cost more than SpaceX has spent for their entire development program and all launches combined. Yay, capitalism!
I will be watching in a couple hours...
Monday, February 5, 2018
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Saturday, February 3, 2018
About three months ago, we bought another quilt from Marlene, and this time we ran down to her place (in Roy, Utah, about an hour away) to pick it up. She runs her quilt business out of her own house. In conversation we discovered that she has 10 children – and 37 grandchildren! Her 7 daughters all occasionally help her with the quilts, but these days they're so busy with their own families that mostly she does the quilting on her own. She also told us that she was trying to use up her inventory of fabric, as she really didn't expect to be doing the quilting much longer – age is starting to limit her abilities.
Well, on our drive home that day, Debbie and I made up our minds to buy two more of her quilts for our bed. We love them, and she's willing to make them oversized for us (to cover our pillows completely, along with our thick mattress and box spring). We have no idea where we can get the equivalent, at any price – let alone at her prices.
So we ordered two more, for a total of four – we've got the seasons covered. :) Today we drove down to pick up those two; she'd called Debbie this morning to let her know they were done. This time we had a bit more conversation with her, and learned that she grew up on a wheat and potato farm near Burley, Idaho. That makes her the third person I've met who hailed from that little farm town – all LDS (Mormon), all good people, all hard workers. There's something in the water there, I think. Something good.
One of these days when I have my wits all together, I'll post some photos of these gorgeous quilts...
Afterwards, as I mentioned in an earlier post, we watched Groundhog Day. This was our first time watching it from Blu-Ray, a substantial improvement from the DVD – a much crisper picture and crystal-clear audio. We enjoyed it just as much this time as on our previous viewings (probably six or seven over the years)...
Friday, February 2, 2018
We had such a lovely day yesterday. For me it started with a good night's sleep, something that is an increasingly unusual (and therefore more cherished) experience these days. Astonishingly that was repeated last night. Two in a row ... I can't even remember when that last happened. Of course these days remembering even my name is starting to be a challenge...
I spent yesterday morning finishing up a major enhancement to my JSisyphus software: I added the ability to draw Bézier curves. I'd used Bézier curves many times before, in drawing programs such as Photoshop or GIMP. They'd always seemed kind of magical to me, and I had no idea how they were implemented. So I read up a bit on it earlier this week, and quickly ran into yet another concept I'd never seen before: parametric equations. This is a standard pattern in my programming experience ... in order to do something new to me, I have to learn something new to me. That's what I call fun! And this time, the outcome was surprising to me, as it turns out that parametric equations are actually a rather simple idea, and that Bézier curves are actually really simple to implement. My code for the Bézier curves is about half Java's verbose boilerplate and about half “meat” – and yet the total is only a screenful of code. The hardest bit turned out to be ensuring that I generated enough points over the line, as the rate of change varies over the whole line. In any case, it was easy, and the code worked on the second try (the first try failed because I made a mistake in transcribing the basic equation).
Shortly after I posted the Bézier curve changes, I got an email from someone who had downloaded JSisyphus and was trying to make it work. This fellow was a C++ programmer using Visual Studio, so his issues were really all about getting a Java IDE installed and learning a bit of Java. In under an hour, he had it going – my first JSisyphus user, I think! Later in the day I discovered that someone else had cloned it, too. Cool beans!
Around noon yesterday Debbie and I took off for Salt Lake City with plans for a purely fun afternoon with two stops: the Red Iguana, then Caputo's market for some cheese and chocolate shopping. The Red Iguana had two specials: a baby back pork rib in mango mole sauce, and seafood fajitas. Both sounded wonderful; Debbie ordered the ribs (first photo below – Debbie started eating before I could snap the pic!) and I got the fajitas (second photo). Both were just ridiculously good in every detail, as is our common experience there. Debbie took one bite of her ribs and decided that she didn't want to share (as had been our plan). After a bite of my fajitas, I didn't care! :) As always, I'm amazed at the attention to the little details there. The chips and salsa were fantastic, and the iced tea perfect (as always). My fajita vegetables were cooked to the perfect point, sort of al dente, and they must have put the seafood in toward the end of the cooking, as it wasn't overcooked as seafood in fajitas so often is. The salsa fresca and guacamole were heavenly.. Debbie couldn't manage to eat all of hers, so I got to taste the ribs, and I polished off her black beans. Awesome, both of them, even after I was stuffed full of my meal. And of course we had dessert to finish up. I'm not sure how we did it, but we both managed to eat an entire flan (regular for me, chocolate for Debbie) smothered with caramel sauce, whipped cream, and a half-cup or so of sliced fresh ripe strawberries. Oh, my!
Then it was on to Caputo's, which is but a short drive away from Red Iguana. There we got ourselves several nice cheeses (they let us taste them all before we bought), some sandwich ham for me, some pasta, and two varieties of chocolates: chocolate-covered candied orange slices for me, and chocolate-covered figs for Debbie. Both are outstanding!