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!

Monday, July 2, 2018

All is fine, folks...

All is fine, folks...  We have not disappeared from the face of the earth. :)  Things have just been a bit hectic.  Here's a quick update; more on everything mentioned here later...

Most important event: Tim is ever so much better!  He was in the hospital for a few days this week, and it made an enormous difference to him.  He's eating (though food still doesn't taste good to him), his important blood indicators are being monitored carefully, and he's under treatment for all the issues they found (worst problem: blood calcium levels spiked way up).  His sense of humor is back, as is his color, and he's walking around without having to stop every five feet to rest.  He came over to visit us for an hour or so this afternoon, and ... we had the old Tim back.  It was so wonderful to see him looking so much better!

The granite folks were back on Friday to finish the granite installation on our grill cabinet, and we hooked everything up on Saturday.  Debbie cooked some salmon on it – and it was great!  The cabinet looks wonderful  When we get the drawers done, we'll have a real showpiece there...

On Friday my new mower was delivered, and what a magnificent beast it is!  It's by far the nicest mowing machine I've ever used – soft, sprung-and-shock-absorbed seat, smooth controls, flawless cutting.  It's also built like the proverbial tank.  Before I had two hours of use on it, I got a flat tire.  Hyrum Tire fixed that for me today for $12.97. 

Our lawn guys were here today with an infernal machine called a “core aerator”.  Basically it drills holes in our yard about ever 6", and spits the dirt “cores” out on the top.  It's supposed to improve the health of our grass, but it looks more like a grass torture machine to me...

On Saturday we had our driveway resealed, an all-day operation by a three man crew.  In order for them to do that, I had to clear everything off our pavement on Friday – and that took me the entire day.  I was exhausted by the time I was finished.

And momentarily our friends Jim and Michelle B. shall arrive for a week-long visit.  We can hardly wait!  Because of their visit, my posting will be intermittent again...