Saturday, August 09, 2014

Kansas Hasn't Shrunk

The worst part about a trip to Colorado is Kansas.  Now don't get me wrong.  I find Kansas fascinating.  I've said before I'm a geology nut, and the changes from central Missouri to central Kansas is interesting to watch.  The fields of giant windmills are awesome.

It's just that there's so ... much ... of it.  I think like 480 miles or so of I-70.  The group "Missouri" did the song "Movin' On" that says "that road goes on and on into the sunset"....

Maybe it should have been Kansas.  Missouri doesn't go on and on like Kansas.  Oh well.  Nothing for it.  Carry On My Wayward Son.

About any time of year when I'm travelling west on I-70 a voice inside me will suggest "you know, you could just keep going...

"The mountains are calling, and I must go."  - John Muir

Ole John and I have something in common.

But we got through it, and into Colorado, and we could see thunderstorms brewing in Colorado.  They started to hit by Burlington.  We were only getting about 17 mpg going uphill, against the wind, 75 MPH, and hauling a trailer that I think should probably be more leveled out.  I think we need more of a drop on the hitch.  The front is high, and the back is low, so I think it acted sort of like a parachute.  And in the west, you don't have a gas station every 20 miles.  I knew I needed it before Limon.  Found a gas station and filled up, and that's about when the rain started.

After Limon, we got into some heavy stuff.  And around Limon, there's another large stretch of giant windmills.  At one point, I wondered aloud what happens when lightning hits one.

Without hesitation, Vicki responded "it probably goes, 'Whoooooooo!'"

I don't think we stopped laughing for at least 5 minutes.  Yeah, Kansas is a long state.  Everything is funny after you cross Kansas in one day.

A couple of years ago when Mark and the kids and I went out to RMNP, we took an alternate route that took us around the entire Denver metro area by jogging through the country and hitting the mountains through Longmont and Lyons.  It adds about 20 minutes to the trip ... maybe.  Depends on the traffic.  Certainly cuts down on stress.

National Guard engineers from several states are still working on US-36 from the flood damage.  The Little Thompson River really did a number on it during the flood.  But they were opening a big gravel section of it on weekends so people could get to Estes Park and RMNP, and it was saturday, so we were able to drive right up it.  Almost a year later, you could still see some devastating flood damage through the canyon.  Homes filled with mud and debris, and some debris still left just scattered about -- piles of trees, and you can see where they've had to repair the road and where they're still working on it.  It is impressive.  Mother Nature is powerful.  Try not to get in her way.

We pulled into Estes Park about 7:00pm.  Going to catch Brad Fitch was pretty much out at this point, but I kinda knew that by the time we left McDonalds in KS.  We had a couple of other opportunities.

We checked in to the Columbine Inn ... a quiet, reasonable, clean, and serviceable ... even a bit nostalgic motel I'd stayed in with Mark and the Kids back in 2010.  Went to eat at a Mexican restaurant next door, and turned in early.  We hit the park in the morning.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Colorado 2014

We were going to go to Colorado last September.  I really didn't get a good mountain fix on our Utah/Colorado trip in 2012 (much as I enjoyed that trip), and I thought it'd be nice to go out to Rocky Mountain National Park and just park the camper for a week and explore.

Well the weekend we'd planned to go was the one after the week they got an insane amount of rain in just a few days and washed all roads from the east side of the front range out.  You couldn't get there from here, and they actually closed the park.

So this may I  reserved a site in Moraine Park for a week ... the earliest I could do that was for early to mid August.

We'd been out camping a couple of times this summer.  Once with Trenton and Scott & Maggie and their two little ones Drew and Kate.  Drew and Trenton are very close in age, and the three of them had a blast up at Long Branch Lake near Macon.  And then we went on the summer float trip with the gang at Alley Spring.

Every time we take the camper out, we think of another tweak or two.  The main ones this time about were to drill holes in the other side of the A frame poles for more precise adjustment of the frame, and a water tank I'd been kicking about that I would bolt to the side of the camper.  I'd seen a PVC tube with caps on Scott & Maggie's popup, and he said he'd added a water tank and pump to the camper, and I assumed that was it.  Brilliant idea, I thought.  Anyway, it turns out that is just the pole storage.  But the gears were already turning.

Their water pump is a little noisy.  When I was researching to buy one, I read that unless you want to spend a lot, they are a bit noisy.  And I don't want to disturb my fellow campers late at night or early in the morning.  So I thought ... air pressure.

Our water tanks in our houses in the country basically operated on air pressure, albeit pressure created by the water compressing an air bladder inside the tank.  The well pump would pump water into the tank, compressing the bladder, and then the compressed air in the bladder would push the water out when you turned the water on.

I could use an air tank.

A bit further research told me that this is how RV water tanks worked until about the mid 1960's anyway.  And Briar Jeff said he had a 1 gallon tank I could use for air.

I put a tank together out of PVC and put some quick-connects on it, and made a faucet out of a valve and a piece of copper pipe I zip-tied to a short shepherd's hook.  Unfortunately, I did a bad job on the PVC gluing job (I thought it was pretty hard to do a bad job on that, but apparently not) and it leaked air.

So I ended up bringing a 5 gallon soda keg along with us for the water tank.

We also got some leveler blocks and a handle for the stabilizer jacks I'd put on the bottom of the camper a couple of years ago.

At any rate, we packed up a bunch of dried vegetables and rice meals, a few cans of chicken and beef, dried vegetable protein, dried fruit, jerky, apples, bread, peanut butter, jelly, pancake mix, that milk you don't have to refrigerate .... a few beers, some 1792 ....backpacks, cameras and headed out for ...

Olathe, KS.

Good chance to visit some of our best friends, godchildren, and cut a couple of hours off the trip.  So Vicki said "yeah, this time we shouldn't stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning talking" like we have so often on Friday night trips to Olathe.


We really like hanging out with Mark & Cami.  Had a few drinks ... and the next thing you know Cami offers to layer Vicki's hair.  And she does.  Which eventually has a happy ending, but let's just say it took a little weight off of her head for a week or so.

Vicki and Mark stayed up late playing cards.  Like until 3 or 4 ... Cami and I both turned in around 1:00.  And Vicki and I left about 9:00 am for Estes Park.

We had about a 40 minute delay getting breakfast at a McDonalds that didn't have it all together to put it lightly.  But ... eh. That's how we roll.  No strict plan.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bike Wreck

I'm riding my bike to work and back these days to get back in decent shape. It's working. Slowly. But it's working.

On Thursdays, I have a guitar lesson I drive to over lunch. I don't carry my guitar on a bike, so I go ahead and get up early, ride my bike to campus and back, and drive in. Which is what I was doing this morning.

On my way back, just before the long uphill stretch home, I made a left turn onto the shoulder of Providence. But another cyclist was coming the other way. I didn't see her until the last second because a yield sign blocked my view. When I saw her, I knew I would hit her if I didn't do something fast. Turning fast would have thrown me right into the yield sign, or I might have wiped out ... right into her, taking her out as well. I hit the brakes to slow down so I could make a better maneuver ... but I hit the front one too hard. Went right over the handlebars onto the pavement, road-rashing my left arm, and the left side of my face hit the pavement.

I got a good gash under my left eye, and smaller ones in and near my left eyebrow, and three big scrapes down my face ... and a gash in my ear just for good measure. Nothing broke. My knuckles are scraped up, my right wrist is strained, and I have a little road rash on my left knee.

I was going to go to my normal clinic to see if I needed stitches (I thought I probably would on the one under my eye). Had to wait until they opened at 8 to call. They said they don't do that there so go to urgent care.

The receptionist suggested I might want a "plastics" consult, and for that we'd need to go to the ER. So I told her I'd let the urgent care doc evaluate that.

They cleaned me up pretty well. Got a piece of gravel out of the hole under my eye. And said I might want to get a plastics person to stitch me up.

So we went to the ER. Where a lovely (seriously, lovely - woah!) young woman from plastic surgery came down and stitched my eyebrow, the gash near the eyebrow, AND the one under the eye ... about 21 or so stitches.

By this time it was 1:30 and we were starving, so we went to lunch, then I went to my guitar lesson ... and the day is a wash.

I look ... awesome. Probably will for several weeks.

It's actually healing up some already.  Most of the swelling is gone.  The bruises around my eye are leaching and making the skin all around my eye yellow.  The stitches itch.  And I have a Don Johnson beard that has ... quiiiiite a bit of grey in it.  Stitches come out Thursday.

I got a helmet.  And I rode in today.  I didn't Friday ... I was concerned about my wrist.  It's definitely sprained, not broken.  So I put a wrist brace on, and away I went.


More Camper Mods

After our Longbranch trip and the subsequent float trip, finally figured out what needed to be done to the camper so that we can put it up and the two sides lean out slightly like they're supposed to.

See ... the middle A frame poles are only adjustable on the right side.

Well ... WERE ... until this weekend.

I used the holes on the right side to make a template with blue painter's tape and a felt marker .... and taped it under the tab for the one-hole attachment point on the other side, and drilled new ones.

Now no matter how I adjust it, I can keep the ridge in the center of the camper, allowing me to adjust the poles that hold the sides up so that they both tilt out (helps with water shedding in the rain).

I also patched a hole in a seam where the top had been stretched to much from me trying to adjust it the way I want it.  Got a full sized broom to pack in the camper for cleanup, and re-packed the "this'n'that" box into a newer, slightly larger box.  It holds things from gloves and playing cards to emergency fire-starter and repair equipment.  Even spare bearings for the camper wheels.

I'm also working with brother Jeff on a PVC running water tank.  It'll only hold 3 gallons.  It will "run" on compressed air.  It'll attach to the side of the camper, and I'll be able to fill it from a hose, and just hook a tank full of compressed air (with a regulator) to it and a little faucet, and voila.  Running water for brushing teeth or rinsing dishes.

Monday, June 09, 2014

A Change in Plans

This past weekend was supposed to be the Williams' annual family and friends float trip down at Alley Spring on the Jack's Fork River.  We've been going with them for what, 14, 15 years now --- and the tradition really goes back to Kristie's childhood.  But for the second year in a row it has been postponed due to heavy weather.  From early June to July 4.

But we had planned a camping weekend with Trenton, and Scott & Maggie had planned a camping weekend with Drew and Kate. Last minute change in plans?  We've got this.  That's how we roll.

Other circumstances meant Ryan and Kristie couldn't go along with us -- but  the six of us headed north instead of south to Long Branch Lake State Park to take our chances with the weather.  There was rain in the forecast, but nothing severe.

Besides, I kind of wanted a dry run with the camping equipment for the year.  Hadn't used the Coleman stove since the re-build, and we hadn't tested out the camping experience with the new SUV.

We packed the rubber raft, just in case, got everything loaded up and headed up through Moberly & Macon.  We stopped for lunch in Moberly at McDonalds, every kid's favorite lunch spot, and met Scott and Maggie at the lake a bit after 1:00pm.

The area wasn't at all what I imagined.  Ryan and Scott have both been up there and said it was nice, but in my mind northern Missouri is just one huge prairie with some spotty trees, so I imagined this big reservoir out in the prairie with a few trees around it.

Nope, where we were it was hardwood forest.  Oak, hickory, and black walnut dominate the campground.   It really is quite a nice area.

Trenton was interested in how the camper went up.  We have a Coachmen Viking mini-popup - the one we took on our trip west a couple of years ago.  Any time he asked if he could help, I said sure and found something he could do to help whatever I was doing at the moment.

And once we were set up ... the kids started playing.  Tag.  Baseball.  Stomp-rocket.  Scott looked over at me and smiled and said "Gee, I wish they would get along...."

I was a little concerned that two six year old boys would play together and leave 5 year old Kate out, or worse, torment her.  But no.  Kate had a little pink Super Hero outfit on. Mask, cape, shield, and magic wand.  She calls herself "Exploder Girl" in that get-up.  You don't mess with Exploder Girl. We set up the ladder ball game and they all had a good time with that, too.

I should mention I think Kate is the cutest little girl in the world.  Big, beautiful eyes and thick, long eyelashes and an otherwise adorable little face.  I once told Maggie if Kate ever went missing they just MIGHT have to check our house :-).  Trenton was playing with her at least as much as he was with Drew.  And more than once she made a point to sit next to him, once even saying "I want to sit next to Trenton!"   Vicki and I mused that they would eventually get married and we'd have the most beautiful great grandchildren.

I about lost my drink while they were making s'mores that evening when Trenton noticed Kate's marshmallows starting to smoke and said, "Kate!  Your marshmallows are so hot!"

Saturday morning I pulled up the weather on my phone and looked at the radar.  They had predicted some rain in the morning, and off and on during the day.  But the radar showed a giant area of steady, moderate to heavy rain moving our way.

We had a fairly dry morning until about 10:00, so we got breakfast in and prepared for the coming rain.  I lit my old-school Coleman white gas stove for the first time since I refinished it and replaced the pump and generator.  And the flame wouldn't settle down no matter what I did.  Well crap.  I had replaced the generator because while it worked before the flame wouldn't adjust.  It was either off or on full-tilt-boogie.  But at least it was otherwise a normal gas stove flame.

Something was definitely wrong with the new generator.  There are usually some bigger orange flames for about the first 30 seconds until they heat the generator up and then it's just like any gas stove after that.  But the orange flames would not settle down at all. So we had to use Scott & Maggie's stove to make coffee.

It started to rain about 10:30 and continued until after 3:00pm.  The kids watched videos in our camper, then after lunch all moved to their camper and watched more.

Fortunately, Scott and Maggie had brought a big easy-up canopy to put over the picnic table which kept things pretty dry except in the very heaviest rain where the drops splash back up off the ground and create a bit of a spray -- but not too bad if you stayed away from the edges.

All of the adults but me took a nap.  I busied myself making new stays for our camper awning from red rope to make them stand out more so people will be more likely to see them and less likely to trip over them or run their faces into them.

Not ... that that's .... ever happened to ... me ... or anything. :-)

After that was done I grabbed my little 3/4 size acoustic guitar and sat under our awning and strummed and picked away quietly while everyone slept and the kids watched their videos.

A bit after three, bam.  Rain stopped.  From the radar, I knew that was it.  The sun even came out.  We decided to head to the marina to try a little fishing while the campground drained a bit.

But when we got there the clouds were back ... not rain clouds, but a good solid deck of them, and we were out of the protection of the trees and the wind was pretty brisk.  We hadn't brought jackets, so it was pretty uncomfortable.  Not a bite, either.  Meantime on the other side of the dock was this slightly burly farmer looking dude who was all business, fishing with a purpose -- not at all the relaxed activity one normally thinks of while fishing ... only he was hauling in a fish every time he cast.  Crappie.  Vicki's favorite.   Scott said one time he threw out and apparently had two hooks on the line and pulled in a fish on each.

Guess you can't argue with results, but I wonder what he knows that I don't?  I have always sucked at fishing.

The ladies took the kids up to the other side of the parking lot where there was a pavilion and a trail ... and mud.  And kids.  And mud.  Magnet.  Steel.  Especially Drew.  He must have slipped and fallen.  We cleaned up our respective kids and headed back to camp.

The kids played tag and played with the stomp rocket and ladderball ... and with leaves and twigs and whatever they found that looked interesting around the campsite.  Win.  Perfect.

We did brats and dogs and pulled pork for dinner, along with veggies we brought and potatoes that Scotty cooked.  No s'mores that night, but we did go through 4 bundles of oak on the breezy, chilly night and put on the magic colored flame fairy dust for the kids before they went to bed.

Drew was sick to his stomach and feeling pretty bad so Maggie had to stay with him in the camper.  8:30-ish Drew and Trenton went to bed as well as Vicki who wasn't feeling so hot, either.  Scott & I stayed up around the fire until we finished off the wood around midnight and the hit the sack as well.

At this campground, checkout time is 2:00pm.  Sunday was Kristin's birthday, but we knew Brian was taking her to the winery at Rocheport on the Missouri River bluffs and wouldn't be back until mid to late afternoon.  So there was no problem having a leisurely breakfast and sat around and talked while the kids played.  While we were talking I was munching on some grapes, and I thought ... hey ... have these things fermented??? No, they were fresh and they'd been in the cooler all weekend.  The cooler was plenty cool.  And then it hit me.
"Vicki.... eat a grape."
"Why, have they gone bad?"
"I don't think so ... but ... just ... eat one."
"They taste ... "

Ok, so I'm not crazy.
We've been using dry ice in the food cooler for the last few float trips ... mainly because it doesn't leave everything wet and 20 lbs lasts 3 days the way we do it (I put it in an insulated zippered bag and leave the zipper open ... bag in the middle, food on either side).  It might cost a little more... but maybe not since we don't have to replace it every day like you have to do with ice.  I don't like water getting into meat and then touching fruits and vegetables.  The dry ice just pretty much rocks for me.

At any rate, it occurred to me that dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide.  And when it melts ... or more accurately, sublimes -- it turns into CO2 gas.  So the grapes, sitting in a grape bag with holes in it -- had basically been sitting in a cooler full of CO2 gas for two days.  And that gas permeated the skin ... carbonating the grapes slightly.   Vicki had noticed something similar with the cantaloupe the night before.  It didn't taste bad (not to me, anyway) ... the resulting carbonic acid imparted a slightly tangy taste, and it kind of felt very slightly "carbonated" on the tongue ... kind of like eating tart grape soda.  Something to keep in mind for sure.  (The grapes were back to normal after they sat in the fridge at home for several hours).

The rest of the morning we took our time supervising kids playing (they didn't really need that much that morning) while we broke down camp.  We had them help with a few things but mostly left them to play with each other.

Everything was ready to go by just after noon.  Kate and Trenton were still playing in the dirt and didn't really want to leave.  ("Score!", I thought). We slowly coaxed them away from the sticks and leaves and dirt and said our goodbyes.  Took Trenton to McDonalds in Macon for one last treat for the weekend.  He was leaning against me and being very snuggly -- so I knew he was very tired.  He slept in the car in the hour-long drive back to our house, which went very quickly.

We had him make a birthday card for Kristin when we got home, and he laid down and watched Nanny McPhee II until it was time to take him back over to their house. I took the leaves he had collected and put them between wax paper taped to a piece of cardboard to send home with him.  Kristin and Trenton had been apart for a week because she had to work a camp in St. Louis last week.  He gave her the card, and she was so happy to see him and had gotten a big hug and wanted more .... but Trenton saw a bee in the clover in the yard.

"A BEE!", he said, and squatted down to watch it.  Six-year-olds...  he was home, so all was well, but dammit, there was a BEE!  But on the way over there, he told me he was so excited to be going home (after three whole days) and when we pulled up he said he almost forgot what his house even looked like.  So yeah, Momma.  He missed you.  Honest.  But, I mean, there's a BEE!  You gotta understand.

Yeah, we need to get him out in nature more.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

It's a Hit!

Trenton got what I believe was his first official hit off a pitch in "t-ball" (weaning them off the tee). It was a pretty solid ground ball between shortstop and third base.  He was so proud. We went back to Mommy & Daddy's and practiced more and he socked about 8 more -- the last one getting stuck on the roof.

Mommy was leaving for Hemophilia Camp, St. Louis this week and had to leave after the first inning. Trenton saw her going and spontaneously ran from center field to give her a hug. It was toooo sweet. They won't see each other for a week.

Motorcycle Hill

I had to change it to 1970's
A friend of mine posted this pic.

Reminded me of when we lived on a corner in Brownsburg, Indiana when I was in 3rd & 4th grades where Jefferson Street dead-ended into a field which was about 4 feet higher than the end of the street. There was a natural dirt ramp (two, really, side by side, one steeper than the other). We called it "Motorcycle Hill".

We would ride our bicycles on the dead-end street as fast as we could at the steeper portion and have contests to see how far we could jump our bikes.  More than once bike and kid separated mid-air or upon landing, sending the bike flipping in the air and the kid in the dirt.

It was awesome.

The field's gone today. I think there's a library there now, and I Jefferson is a thru street today.  Looking at a map it does look like they preserved some of the meadow, though.

We caught fireflies, got scratched by thorns, and bitten by mosquitoes and chiggers and a tick or two in that field.  My little 8 year old brain was fascinated by the flora and fauna.  Got me the nickname "nature boy".

We walked to school ... it was maybe a mile or so.  We'd "pick up" kids as we traveled  and they'd walk with us.  On really cold days we'd stop at the post office to warm up along the way.  Older brother Tom was responsible for keeping us moving along.  He'd sing this song:
"Hurry, hurry, hurry  for your scurry, scurry, scurry or I'll kick your butt - right in the middle!"
He might have gotten it from Boy Scouts -- or he might have just made it up.  It worked.

But one spring day when I got to school apparently a bit earlier than usual (we showed up before school and played on the playground largely unsupervised until the bell rang), one of my friends said, "Phil!  You're early!  Did not you stop to examine every blade of grass you saw?"

I should really write about the Brownsburg days.  Some of the most fondly remembered childhood memories happened there.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Front Range Sunrise

Speaking of music ... on a snow day last winter, I recorded this version of an original song I wrote last year.

So it's been a while

For various reasons, this blog has been severely neglected the last few years. I'd like to rectify that to some degree.

So first thing's first ... let's catch up a bit.

I'm a grandad again.  Andrew Zane Marema was born July 13, 2013.  We were there.  Vicki and Kevin and Marken's Mother were actually in the delivery room for the whole thing.  Ken and I hung out in the hallway.  There were computers in the hallway ... we figured out which graph was Marken, so we watched the progression of labor "scientifically" from outside.  It was kind of neat.  Of course, we weren't the ones with the contractions and a wall separated us from the grueling work going on inside.

He did not look like a wrinkly newborn.  He looked perfect as soon as they cleaned him up.

He's 10 months old now, and he's quite possibly the cutest kid in the world (see picture near the end of this post).

Vicki's mom fell sometime I think right before Thanksgiving.  Low blood pressure and dizziness.  Partially due to dehydration, partially due to blood and heart medications needing some adjustment. She actually cracked a vertibrae in her back.

She had to stay in the hospital for several days, and we took her to our house where she spent more time in bed.  We did get her up from time to time.  But after a week or so she fell again, for the same reasons -- this time in Vicki's arms so Vicki broke the fall.  At which point she had to go to rehab for most of December and half of January.  Took her a while to get back to where she was before, but I believe she is there.  She has a walker now and actually (due to the confidence it gives her) walks significantly faster than she used to.

She just turned 95 last week.

Brian came with Ryan, Scotty and me on our winter walkabout this year for the first time.  Be cool if he can make it a habit.  I think he had a good time.  Just an overnight camp in the woods middle of winter because we can.  Yes, we're nuts.

After our trip west a couple of years ago we realized we wanted a compact SUV to pull the camper -- mostly for the convenience of not having to use a trunk to hold the extra camping equipment.  One in our price range practically fell in our laps late February this year, so we now have a red 2007 Ford Escape. Only had 40,500 miles on it.  Gets a couple miles to the gallon less than I'd hoped ... about 4 less than the Taurus did.  But ... it'll do the job.  And I guess I'll be driving the Escort for at least another 5 years.

Trenton continues to grow and change.  He's still my little buddy.  We have him overnight tonight while Mommy and Daddy have some fun with some friends.  He's in Tee Ball again.  Last year he played on the Cardinals team (much to Papa's happiness ... but not so much to Daddy's and Nana's  since they're Cubs' fans).  This year he's on the Red Sox.

Parents or grandparents can have lunch with their kids occasionally, and I've gone to the school a couple of times and had lunch with him and usually a friend of his he is allowed to invite to sit at the Parents' table.  It's kinda fun.  The teachers all say he's extremely well behaved and a very sweet kid.

Well we knew he was a very sweet kid ... he does need to transfer some of that extremely good behavior (always doing what he's told and listening) to home and Nana and Papa's houses.  And probably Grandpa John and Grammy Pammy's house, too. :-)

I missed my mountains last year.  We were going to go to RMNP last September, but the weekend before we were going to go is when they got that massive rain and all the roads washed out.  So we do have plans to go this year (and reservations to boot!).

I have not been out and about with my camera much at all.  This is bad.

And since Vicki retired, I haven't been playing my guitar as much at home, especially not singing.  I need to do something about that.  Still going to Lee Ruth, and I'm getting better at some things but sloppier at some of the things I used to be better at.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Mark, Lois, and I ("The January Club") celebrated our 50th birthdays this January.  We were all born within a week of each other, and have been celebrating off and on since ... oh, man ... what is it, 30 years ago?

As far as the water heater goes ... we ended up replacing it with an EcoSmart 27.  It has M-E-T-A-L chambers that won't crack.  It works great. But it does make our breaker box buzz when it's running.  Still trying to trouble-shoot that.  Might be I need twisted wiring between the panel and subpanel.  This one varies the energy transfer by modulation... not as sophisticated as the Seisco ... but it won't crack and leak like the Seisco did for 10 years.

Got in touch with my college friend Sarah again ... actually she got in touch with me this time.  We bat vacation stories back and forth every year. We are both Rocky Mountain nuts, and she and her family have spent a lot of time on the Front Range ... and are responsible for my meeting and friending Brad Fitch.  She has also probably been the person who has most encouraged me to keep pressing on with my limited musical abilities.  Anyway, they're headed out to RMNP in a week or so.   We get Christmas cards from them every year.  Always pictures of their kids and never of them.  But thanks to daughter Jessie (whom she put me in touch with when asking questions about camping in RMNP), I saw some photos through facebook.  Gotta say, Sarah still has one of the most photogenic faces I've ever known :-)  Really need to drop by and see them in KC sometime soon.

Vicki's cousin Andi and her husband Todd dropped by on their way to their daughter's K-State graduation this past week.  We had Ev over that night.  Always good to catch up with family.

I hear Vicki's cousin Ben (first cousin, once removed) is touring again with Barry Gibb this year.  He did several tours with the Bee Gees a decade or so ago playing keyboard with them. You'll see him on their "One Night Only" concert DVD. They call him. Now there's only one Gibb Brother left.  I have one Jazz EP of Christmas music he recorded for Christmas 2003.  Good stuff.  It gets played every year.  We usually get to see his dad Jim and wife Carol once a year as well.  They're the ones we visited in Vegas and Murphy NC (search the blog for 'em).

Float trip coming up.  That's always fun.  Hit the mountains later this summer.  Can't wait.

What Would McGyver Do?

So, I got a new phone a bit ago.  A better smart phone -- a Galaxy S3.  I know, I'm two models behind. But our plan is a "buy your own phone" plan, and I have a set budget.  And the S3 is a great phone.

I wanted it mainly for the superior camera.  The screen size doesn't hurt given my 50 year old eyes are suffering from 50-year-old disease.

At any rate, the original battery just wasn't cutting it.  It'd typically drop 10% in the first hour, and that's with no GPS and no Bluetooth.  I like a phone with a good 24 hours time on it before I think it needs recharging (this one would give me about 12 or 14 before it was getting down close to half empty ... sometimes emptier.)

I want to be able to use it -- use the features -- and not really worry about being a battery miser and calculate when and where I could get my next charge.  So I started hunting around for a better battery.  They make them... but not MUCH better... unless you want to go bigger.

And you can.  There are double capacity batteries.  And there are triple+ capacity batteries.

Turns out the way ZeroLemon does the triple capacity battery means the phone won't be thicker than with a double-capacity, and so I went with that one.  It's thick.  The phone was originally about 1/4" thick.  With this battery it's just about 5/8" thick.  So it's a bit of a brick.  Almost 3 times as thick and probably about three times as heavy -- I even changed the startup sound to the intro-flute riff to Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick".

BUT ... I had also installed a Qi wireless charging card in the phone and bought a base for home and one for work ... because of the battery life issues I had with the original.  Don't want that investment wasted.  But the new battery is basically a big battery that covers most of the inside of the phone piggy backed on a battery the size of the original  (it has to to fit in the well and hit the contacts ... but this means not only will the contact tab on the wireless charging receiver card not reach the contacts on the phone, I actually have battery in the way.

So What Would McGyver Do????  (WWMD?)

I went to Westlake's Hardware and bought a packet of brass shim stock.  There were varying thicknesses.  One was almost foil  ... so I picked the next thicker. I marked the side of the battery to show the position of the two contacts it covered, and  I cut two strips of that shim stock and used double-sided tape to tape it to the battery.  Two parallel strips.

Before I taped them and cut them to size, I rolled up one end of each so that they would stick down into the holes where the contacts were for Qi charging.  Ended up cutting about a 1/8" strip of foam to attach to the bottom of the battery to push them down into the contact wells.

I then filed down the contacts on the Qi receiver card to about 1/32 of an inch to keep it from bulging the silicon back too much, taped it down with some packing tape, and put the back on.

Wireless charging works like a charm.

I used the phone rather more than I typically do after a full charge ... as a test, and after 64 hours it was down to 50%.  I don't like getting lower than say about 25% ... and with a lesser capacity battery, probably more like 40%.

I charged it fully last night, and this morning I turned both bluetooth and GPS on and I've used it to play music in the car and otherwise used the phone as I normally would.

12 hours later it's at 89%.

This is what I want.

I want to be able to use the darned phone however I feel like using it and not have the battery so low I worry about conserving it so I can make or receive a phone call if I need to.

So I'll charge it up every night, and just use it.  That's the ticket.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hot Water ... Again

Let's see, when did we buy this water heater?   Looks like April, 2003.  ~10 years ago.

It's been a bit of a saga.

This is our tankless, continuous, on-demand water heater, a Seisco RA-28.  When it works, (which it has just fine except when it has sprung leaks) it works well.  The problem has been the leaks. The plastic has been prone to hairline cracks after 3 or so years.  And the circuit board is not protected from leaks.  When it's not working it doesn't just not work a little.  You need to shut it off to protect it.  And the danged thing cost $600+ in 2003, and it's $800- $1000 to replace today.

The plastic is something Microtherm developed with DuPont specifically for this application.  It's a special kind of nylon that is supposed to stand up to the rapid temperature fluctuations inherent in a unit like this.  But a while back they apparently had some quality control problems with the plastic.  It was being formed outside the country and imported.  Last I talked to them they said they built their own manufacturing facility right in their back yard in Texas and that those problems had gone away.

We had a leak in May 2006, Jan 2007, and I want to say again in 2009, when I replaced both two-cylinder chambers with new plastic.

The worst of it was in February of 2007 (read, COLD in Missouri), when we were without hot water for about three weeks.  We'd had a leak, I got a new part, installed it, and one ... single ... solitary drip dripped onto the circuit board and *BANG*.. so I had to order a new circuit board.

Now the service department was very responsive, and shipped stuff fast ... except the circuit board came in four days later than expected (not sure why that was), and warrantied the parts.  I just paid for shipping on most of it.  They even put me in their database as a tech, so I get to real live people who know stuff when I call.  As of 2007, I was the only guy within 150 miles who had any experience with them.

When I replaced the circuit board, I slipped a Ziplock bag around it and screwed it back on to it's mounting point, with small holes to run the wires through ... to help protect it against future leaks.

Well last Friday I got a call at work.  Vicki said there was a strange buzzing noise coming from the water heater.  I knew right away.  It was the leak sensor alarm.  Dashed home, and there was a fine mist spraying out of the output pipe, which, other than the input pipe which isn't subject to the wild temperature fluctuations the rest of the plastic is subject to -- is probably the oldest part in the unit. Hairline crack. Just like the previous problems I'd had.

I tried patching it with Sugru, but it didn't stick well enough to the plastic to stop the leak.  I ended up wrapping a washcloth around the output pipe to catch the leak and force it to drip to the floor and into the floor drain in the furnace room instead of spraying on the wall.  Or the circuit board.  But I leave it turned off except for when we need it.  Called Seisco and ordered a new output pipe.  $50 plus shipping.  Ouch.  Since then the leak has gotten much worse, but it's still controlled.  I'm wondering why that output pipe can't be copper.

I've been thinking about just having some parts laying around so I can fix things as they come up with minimal outage time, but I haven't ordered parts.  So I thought ... hey, let's just see if there are any parts, or maybe used units out there.

Checked Ebay.   A store in Arizona had had five NEW RA-28's, and was clearancing them out for half price.  $400.  I bit the bullet and ordered the second to last one.

I've been turning the water heater on only when needed, and even shutting the water to it off.

This morning, the water didn't get very hot.  There is water leaking onto the output temperature sensor wire on cylinder 4 (or the input temperature wire on the output pipe.  Don't know if that's the problem.  But clearly it's not a happy unit.  The error code on the unit is "135", which the trouble-shooting manual is reserved for "future use", but also says bad heating element in circuit #2.

So I'll put the new pipe in when it comes, hopefully today.  When the new unit comes next week, I'll install it and keep the old one for parts.  That way I should have a new unit under manufacturer warranty, to boot.

So ... it hasn't been as stable as a traditional tank heater, and it's certainly been more expensive.  However, it is the best solution for our house.  We don't really have room for a traditional water heater anywhere, and we do like the continuous hot water.  It also saves on energy.  Hopefully this new one will have well-formed plastic and last us many years.