Thursday, May 31, 2018

Random blog post alert!

Random blog posting alert!  From tomorrow morning through June 18th, Debbie and I will be on the road.  We're not sure whether our lodgings will have WiFi, and we may well be pressed for time – so blog posts for that period are highly uncertain.  Photos in the blog posts are even more uncertain!

Getting ready to go on our trip...

Getting ready to go on our trip...  We spent most of the day scrambling about on last-minute errands, stocking up pet supplies for our dog and cat sitter, etc.  We did take some time to have lunch out, at Herm's Inn.  Oh, my, that was good!  The photos below are of my club sandwich and the fruit I got instead of potatoes.  That sandwich ... was the best club sandwich I've ever had, and by a large margin.  The bread was Crumb Brothers sourdough, pan-toasted in butter.  The turkey was roasted, tasted just like Thanksgiving leftovers.  The ham was superb.  The bacon was Daily's – the same kind we buy for home.  The cheeses (Swiss and cheddar) were both the real deal, excellent quality.  The tomato was bursting with flavor.  The mayonnaise tasted like Duke's.  The lettuce was crisp and fresh.  Just wonderful!  And the fruit plate was (as always) all perfectly ripe.  Even the iced tea was great!  Debbie had a steak salad which she disappeared, making nommy-nommy noises the whole time.

Later in the day I filled my bird feeders, and noticed several pine siskins that stayed on the feeder even when I got within a couple of feet.  One of them, the fellow at right, stayed there even when I reached up and touched him!  I stroked his head a few times, which he didn't seem to like but he didn't let it stop him from eating.  He never stopped eating, the whole while I was there (maybe ten minutes).  I shot that photo with my iPhone about 4" from him.  My best guess is that he was exhausted and starving from a migration, though it seems a bit late for new arrivals.  Eventually, after I left, he flew away to perch high in our pine.

We leave for our trip to Maine bright and early in the morning.  First stop: Cheyenne, Wyoming...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A really nice visit...

A really nice visit...  From my old friend Mike B., that is.  One of the few things he actually asked to do on his visit was to drive my tractor and operate the backhoe – so naturally, that was one of the first things we did.  The very first thing we did with him is to grab lunch at the Red Iguana in SLC.  That's Mike at right, digging a harmless hole in our field. :)  He seemed to greatly enjoy that!

I first met Mike while we were both in the Navy, in 1974 or 1975.  He was a Master Chief Electronic Warfare Technician, a much higher enlisted rank than I had (Second Class Petty Officer) and a completely different rating (I was a Data Systems Technician).  His training was all in analog electronics, radio and microwave.  Mine was entirely in digital technology, though I had also been a ham radio geek and knew a fair amount of analog and radio electronics.  Mike had gotten very interested in some of the earliest hobby computers (specifically the Imsai and Altair computer kits) and was seriously considering buying one – but the whole notion of programming was completely foreign to him, and he was looking for help on it.  Neither of us can remember at this remove exactly how he got introduced to me.  Our paths would normally never have crossed on the ship, but somehow he found out that there was a decidedly not squared-away DS (me) down in the bowels of CIC who actually knew something about programming.  I was self-taught, but was at the time doing some reasonably difficult programming for the NTDS system that I also maintained the hardware on.  However it happened, Mike and I started talking about hobby computers.

It's no exaggeration to say that that introduction changed the course of my life.  I've no idea what would have happened in my career had I never met Mike, but I'm certain it would have been very different.  Because of our friendship, I got (heavily) involved in the hobby computer scene.  In short order I was designing and building not only general purpose computers, but also specialized systems that incorporated early microprocessors like the Z80 (especially), 6800, 6502, and 1802.  That hobby experience (including writing the associated code) led very directly to my professional career in electrical engineering and software engineering, which started even before I mustered out of the Navy.  Because of that, I never went back to college (as I'd once intended) – instead launching directly into the kind of work I'd thought I could only do if I first graduated from college with an engineering degree.  A cascade of interesting life experiences derived from that career course.  Knowing Mike most definitely changed my life!

Mike now lives in North Carolina with his wife and a slew of relatives-by-marriage.  That's sufficiently distant that I don't see him very often, though we're in touch on nearly a daily basis.  This visit of his was the first vacation he's taken in 15 years from his job as a full-time truck driver.   He hasn't been west of the Mississippi in an even longer time.  He hadn't flown on a commercial airliner since the '80s (though he is a fixed-wing, helicopter, and gyrocopter pilot).  This trip was a big adventure for him!

After the tractor play, we took Mike on a slow drive through Blacksmith Fork Canyon, just seeing the sights and looking for wildlife.  The rugged and geologically young mountains were a treat for him – I thought he was going to hurt his neck as his head swiveled around.  :)  We went in our Model X, which Mike really enjoyed.  Like most people, he was surprised by the power, quiet, and grand view.  He was also surprised that we'd take that car on a rough dirt road. :)

Later that afternoon we had my brother Scott over, and we all had a steak dinner that Debbie made.  Salad, asparagus, steak, and baked potatoes – about three times as much food as any of us could eat (though Mike somehow managed to eat his entire steak).  After that we basically all fell asleep.

The next day (yesterday) turned out to be a grand adventure.  The first stop was a 100 year old hydroelectric plant owned by the city of Hyrum.  The plant supplies a half megawatt of power, tied into the grid.  We toured this plant last year (but not with Mike) when it was down for a long time for maintenance.  This time the plant was operating, with newly updated control systems that we'd never seen before.  Mike, of course, had never seen any of this before.  Even better, on this tour it was just Mike, Debbie, and I – and our guide, city employee Heath C. (in the last two photos below).  Heath owns a piece of land just a short distance from our home, and we've gotten to know him over the past year or so.  He was a great connection to have!  The first photo shows the pipe bringing water from higher up at a dammed-up pond.  If you embiggen that photo and look closely at it, you can see the feed line heading off to the right, and above it a vent (to prevent ram pressure from a sudden valve closure or clog from bursting the pipe).  That vent is just above the height of the dammed pond, which appears to be roughly 50' higher than the power plant.

The next five photos show the interior of the power plant.  When we walked in, Heath shut down the plant (stopping the turbine) to make it quiet enough to hear each other.  The fact that he shut down the plant just for us really impressed Mike. :)  In the first of these five photos you see the half-megawatt AC generator.  The second of them shows the turbine.  The radially-arranged levers control the “wicket gates” that allow water into the turbine blades.  Their position is constantly adjusted by the control system to keep the speed of the turbine constant (the right speed to produce a 60Hz output).  The third of the five is a closeup of the brushes on the AC generator.  The fourth shows both the AC generator (the big cylindrical device) and the 10 KW DC generator (the smaller cylindrical  device to the right of the AC generator).  The last of them shows all three units: left-to-right, turbine, AC generator, and DC generator.  All of them share a common shaft.  Mike and I spent more time on the DC generator than anything else, as it had more mysterious construction.  We finally figured out that its' many-bladed commutator was basically a mechanical rectifier – this thing was so old that solid-state rectifiers didn't exist at the time of its design!  We also figured out a modern addition – a tachometer that worked by using a Hall-effect sensor to count the teeth on a now-disused gear.

The last thing we did in the plant was to watch as Heath restarted the turbine, got it up to speed and synchronized with the general electric grid, and heard the big “clunk!” as a relay engaged and brought the plant back on line.

After that we followed Heath up to the dam (a quarter-mile or so upstream on the river) as he went to do the daily grate maintenance.   The geological survey marker is on the top of the dam, which as you can see is at 5,231 feet altitude.  The last three photos show the grate that filters the water entering the top of the pipeline that feeds water to the turbine.  Heath told us that someone is up there daily to clean the grate off, using a homemade tool that's basically a garden rake with a long handle.  There was quite a bit of plant life stuck on that grate from just the prior day.  Heath tells us that it's not uncommon for them to find fish and animals stuck there as well.

After that we followed Heath down to the remains of a lower dam, one that was demolished some time ago.  From what we could see, it appeared to be considerably bigger than the remaining dam.  The old pond bottom is now covered in lush growth of grass and willows – quite pretty.  At that point we said a hearty “Thank you!” to Heath, and he took off to spend some time with his wife and two boys. 

After that, Debbie remembered that the little Paradise Museum was supposed to be open on Memorial Day, so we wandered down there.  In our four years here, we had somehow managed to miss the times it was open – it's within easy walking distance of our house, be we've never been there!  A couple of local ladies were there to answer our questions, which we had lots of – as quite a few of the artifacts in there we couldn't identify.   For instance, in the second photo below, the wooden-cased device on the right turned out to be a mechanical corn husker.  Mike knew what the left hand device was: a cream separator.  I had no idea!  When it was obvious how interested we were in all these things, one of the museum ladies offered to take us on a “secret tour” in the basement, which of course we took her up on.  There were several interesting things down there, but to me the most interesting thing was the basement walls: hand-dressed stone, competently laid.  The building that houses the museum was formerly the bishop's tithing house, built in 1902.  We also saw a Victrola in working order, but with a broken wooden lid.  I offered to mend the lid for them, and they took me up on it – so sometime next month I'll fix that up for them.  The basic problem is that the piano hinge for the lid has all its wood screws stripped out of the lid.  I'm going to drill those holes out, plug them with walnut plugs, then reinstall the original screws.  It shouldn't be very hard, and it should fix it right up.

After that we headed out on a meandering drive through Young Ward (to see the bison there), then up through Newton, up to Clarkston, and over the mountains to the west.  On that mountain drive we saw some good flowers (below).  Then we headed down to The Grille restaurant where we knew the meat-heavy menu would appeal to Mike.  It did – Mike was goggle-eyed as he read over the menu.  He eventually settled on a “Cabo burger” with chipotle sauce and roasted jalapenos.  Debbie had a pulled pork sandwich, and I had a pulled-pork burger (basically a pulled-pork sandwich on top of a burger).  Excellent in all cases.  Stuffed, we meandered our way over to the Aggie's creamery with the intent of getting an ice cream cone.  The line was out the door and halfway to the parking lot, so we abandoned that idea and headed instead for Macey's grocery store where they sell Aggie's ice cream in boxes (and no lines!).  Mike was awed by the size of Macey's – which doesn't seem that large to us.  We headed home where Debbie served us up around a quart of ice cream each, after which we painfully headed for bed – early, because we had to get up at o'dark-thirty to take Mike to the airport for his trip home.  That we did this morning, with 90 minutes of fun conversation before we tossed him out the door.  As I was writing this post, I got a text from him: he's in DFW, with a one-hour layover before the last leg of his trip home.

We miss him already.  We're hoping he can make it out for another visit one of these fine days...

Friday, May 25, 2018

A hard day's work...

A hard day's work...  Yesterday morning my brother Scott came over, and a little later a couple of his friends from Newton (Tammy and Cheryl) joined us.  The four of us worked all day long toward the end result of planting 14 baby (bare-root) trees in our back yard.  Each of the trees got four T-posts pounded in around it, and chicken wire strung up to keep the dogs away from the trees.  These 14 trees were just a few of the 140 bare-root trees I had purchased a few weeks ago, so the rest of them needed to be bedded down.  We put them in two yards of potting soil spread out above a piece of weed cloth, all under a big willow in our back yard.  That potting soil all had to be moved from another location (tractors are so handy!), smoothed out, and then holes dug for all the trees.  Then we had to water it all down really well.  Debbie served us up a delicious lunch of homemade chicken salad sandwiches – we had a bit of trouble moving after that. :)

In the photo at right you can see the little T-post enclosures we made.  Inside them are an assortment of trees, including Nanking cherries, elderberries, lilacs, cotton-less cottonwoods, western red cedar, and a couple others I've forgotten.  All the plants looked nice and healthy.  You can also see my “lawn” there – sod laid down late last fall.  The tracks you see running directly away from the camera were made by my ATV when I was spraying.  We cannot figure out why these tracks appear in our back yard but not in the front yard.  The shriveled-up plants are the remains of dandelions killed (or seriously dinged) by the spray.  Obviously we have a lot of work to do on this.  Our front yard, by contrast, is quite lush with beautiful dark green grass.  Same sod, laid at the same time.  Weird!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Grill cabinet progress...

Grill cabinet progress...  I made a start on installing the cedar sheathing yesterday (photos below).  Each tongue-and-groove piece is glued and screwed in from the back side.  I'm not happy with the screws; they're not gripping well in the (relatively soft) cedar.  Starting this morning, I'm going to nail them in the conventional fashion (nails hidden in the tongue section). 

In the second photo you can see one end panel completely sheathed.  It looks great already; should look even better after sanding and varnishing.

A fellow from our granite vendor came out yesterday morning to “template” the countertop.  Basically that means making a very precise measurement of the surface the granite will sit on.  First he measured the flatness of the plywood top, using a laser tool.  If the top wasn't perfectly flat, they'd need to either flatten the plywood (using a belt sander) or match the contours by grinding the granite's bottom (expensive!).  My cabinet top was so flat that no corrections were needed at all – something he told me happens only once out of 20 or so cabinets he measures.  Nice!  Then he used a fancy tool that measures the exact dimensions of the actual countertop.  This becomes the template that they use when fabricating the actual granite.  We're scheduled for delivery tentatively on June 25.

I have a busy day here today!  Along with hopefully making more progress on the cabinet, I have to go buy some T-posts and fence wire, a Tesla technician will be here to repair some broken brackets in the luggage area, and contractors will be here to work on our landscaping, on our lawn, on my office air conditioning, and on installing the natural gas feed for the grill.  Lots of balls in the air!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Beautiful Indian paintbrush...

Beautiful Indian paintbrush...  On a drive out toward Ant Flats yesterday afternoon I spotted a group of spectacularly crimson Indian paintbrush – perhaps 20 individual plants scattered over a few square yards.  Most of the Indian paintbrush around here are far paler than these.  The photo at right will give you some idea (click to embiggen)...

Grill cabinet progress...

Grill cabinet progress...  The photos below show various points in the construction of the three bottoms.  The first photo shows what turned out to be the most challenging bit: fabricating “rails” for the bottom to sit into.  These rails hold the entire weight of the cabinet, so they have to be nice and strong.  I glued them and put screws every three inches – they shouldn't be going anywhere!  :)  In a couple of the photos you can see the creating clamping I needed to hold the bottoms onto the rails while the glue set up.  I finished the third one just before I wrote this post; it's now glued up and creatively clamped.  All that remains to do before the granite template guy shows up tomorrow is to flip that last cabinet right-side up, and bolt it back onto the other two.  Almost there!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Galton boards, lilacs, and cabinets...

Galton boards, lilacs, and cabinets...  I recently bought a Galton board (from Amazon).  You can read all about it, and see video of it in action, at the preceding link.  This is definitely a most geeky gadget: a mechanical device that demonstrates (beautifully!) a normal distribution.  As one whose nickname (“six sigmas”) is related to the normal distribution and standard deviation, this was irresistible to me. :)  I've yet to work through the math to understand why it works, but watching it work is positively mesmerizing...

Just north of our house, in a field on the east side of State Highway 165, there is a gorgeous group of lilacs.  We stopped yesterday to take these photos of it (below).  The scent was very intense just downwind, where I stood when taking all of these photos.  After standing there for a minute or so, then re-entering our car, the car smelled downright bad!  :)

I made more progress on the cabinets as well.  I've now unbolted the units so I can work on them separately, and I'm fabricating the bottoms.  These are made of 3/4" birch plywood (really pretty stuff) with a 3.5" high “pedestal” constructed of redwood 2x4s underneath it.  This pedestal provides a “toe kick” at the bottom of the cabinet, to make it more comfortable to work right at the cabinet edge.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Grill cabinet progress...

Grill cabinet progress...  At right is the current state of the cabinet: all frames completed, all 1.25" thick plywood tops installed, and the three units bolted together.  The fit of the three units together was practically perfect – I needed a little sanding on some overhanging plywood, but that was it.  The three units are held together with 8 bolts (3/8" x 2").  My plan is to finish all the woodworking part of them in the shop (including finishing them with marine spar varnish), then move them into place on our deck.  At that point I'll assemble them and call the granite folks to come install the countertop.  I think each unit is going to be around 120 pounds, maybe 150 for the longer center unit.  That's quite enough to have to move around – no way I'm moving them with the granite installed!

Yesterday morning I took the two units with cutouts over to our deck to test fit the grill components.  To my vast relief, they fit perfectly.

The first two photos below show how I cut the plywood tops (from ACX plywood).  You have to look close to see that I have two sheets of plywood clamped together there: one 3/4" piece and one 1/2" piece.  The two together get me the 1 1/4" thick plywood the granite countertop requires.  The saw is a battery-powered Makita circular saw.  It's not merely convenient – it makes a very nice cut with just a 1/16" kerf.

The third photo shows how I attached the bottom sheet to the frame (the same way for each frame).  I put screws every 3" where the frame touches the plywood.  Before I screwed it in, I put down a coat of wood glue on the frame top.  That piece of wood isn't going anywhere! :)

The fourth and fifth photos show the glue-up for the top piece on the two units with cutouts.  That used a lot of clamps!  For the third unit, with just a big flat countertop, I had to do some tricky clamping to make sure the center of the two pieces of plywood was under pressure.  Then of course I forgot to take a photo of it.

The last three photos show views of the three units aligned and clamped together, before I drilled the holes for the bolts that now hold the units together.  That was the first time I had tested the fit of the three units to each other – I was really happy to see that they fit so well!

My dad...

My dad ... would have been 94 years old today.  It's been over four years since he died, but I still miss him every day.  Happy birthday, dad...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Grill cabinet update...

Grill cabinet update...  Bottom line: progress!  As I write this, all three frames are complete and test-fitted to the grill components.  Everything fit, proving once again that measuring actually works! :)  I got delayed a bit yesterday by the need to mow down about 2.5 acres of weeds.  That was made worse by the fact that my mower died about 3/4 through the job – had to borrow my neighbor's mower to finish the job.  This morning I ran that broken mower up to the service facility and  bought the remaining lumber I need for the cabinets – along with about a zillion screws and two gallons of marine varnish.  This afternoon I'll be putting plywood tops on the cabinet units: first a 3/4" thick top, then a 1/2" thick piece over that.  The 3 cm thick granite we bought for the top requires this much plywood as underlayment.

The photos below show work from yesterday and the day before.  The first photo is at the request of a reader who wanted to see the pocket screw hole jig in action.  Once I clamp the board into the jig, I just drill down until the stop on the drill bit hits the jig, and voila! – the pocket screw hole is done.  In the second and third photos you can see what those holes look like.  The fourth photo shows my original clamping technique for installing the 45° braces – and the next photo shows my slightly more refined (and much better!) current technique.  Finally there's the last two frames after I finished them.

Now I'm headed down to cut plywood for the tops...