Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The King of Somewhere Hot

The water heater circuit board came today, and I spent a couple hours putting it in tonight. The rubber foam I got to put behind it wasn't going to work out because it held the big transistors away from their heat sinks. So I fashioned a shield of sorts from a ziplock bag, poking holes in it where wires needed to go through. Also needed to re-shape some of the connectors that had gotten stretched and wouldn't grip tight to the contacts.

Vicki went out and got Oki Mama's for dinner, so I stopped and ate that (it was very good, thanks, sweetie!)-- then went through one final check, and ran through the circuit board matching instructions, and bam! Hot water.

I'll always appreciate hot water coming out of the tap from now on. After 12 days without it (except for the camp shower and whatever we heated up on the stove)... a full, real shower in the morning will be nice.

Ryan and I went on walkabout on Sunday. This time we got video of starting a fire with a fresnel lens. It's 47 megabytes so I won't post it here ... until I can shrink it down, anyway. It had snowed about 4 inches. That pretty, sparkly cold, dry snow that blows around. So it was a nice hike in. On the way in we ran across an interesting print in the snow. It took a couple of seconds, but it was obviously the landing spot of a turkey, and you could see his tracks away from it. The tail feather imprint gave it away.

The cold has broken for now. We've been way below normal for about the past 5 weeks. This week it's going to be in the upper 50's and maybe low 60's during the week. We've had some sleet and/or snow on the ground for pretty much that whole period. Most of it's gone already except for the piles pushed up by the plows.

Been playing with the doubler on my Digital SLR with the Tamron 28-300 and my old Vivitar screw-mount 75-260. I'm going to have to try it with the tripod. I've had mixed results. I don't think it's going to do well with the Tamron past about 260 or so, though. I'm not finished experimenting, though.

All this talking with Megan has me kind of psyched about photography again. Don't think I'll ever make a living at it like I'd like to, but I'd at least like to be a good amateur someday.

Speaking of amateur, I'm doing as well as I'd ever hoped with the guitar. Not great, not even really good, but good enough to sit and have fun and pick things out -- simple things - pop, rock, folk, a little bluegrass and country stuff. Still strumming and pattern-picking chords with a few walks and flavor-fingering, and I'm still going to Lee Ruth and he keeps me honest and makes me practice better technique. Thumb joint on my left hand hurts a bit. Think I'm going to have to start exercising it.

Oh, and the rest of me. I think my elbows are healed. The excuses are gone.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Purple Ball

Saturday evening was the Elks' Club Purple Ball -- I guess it's a Valentines day thing. We called it "Prom for the Elks". Vicki bought a stretchy velvety black dress with a kind of a sheer lacey mini-jacket. I rented a tux -- and we went. Even danced some. I really need to learn to dance. Vicki loves to dance, and I frankly suck at it.

It was nice to see everyone dressed up. We don't really do that anymore in middle class America. There's rarely a reason to. Had dinner in the dining room -- good filets prepared ala Jack's Coronado. The local band Brothers' Image played -- they do a lot of classic rock and oldies, and they're very good.

Imagine this -- I neglected to take pictures before we went. There are a couple of pictures of us that were taken at the ball -- but not on my camera. We'll get copies eventually. I did take some of Greg and Georgeanne for them. I should've had someone take a picture with my camera.

Anyway, we had a really nice time.

Weekend Walkabout

Ryan and I went on walkabout Sunday. It was quite treacherous - the trail was still mostly ice and quite slippery. We had to tread very carefully.

When we got to the famous "waterfall" that I always stop and take a picture of, we were in for a treat. Whereas last time it had been warm a few days before and the temerature dropped to 5 or so degrees the night before but the water was still running from the previous days' snowmelt -- this time that water had had a chance to freeze.

When we got to the Cedar Creek crossing to "the hotdog spot", the water was much lower, and the day was much warmer -- so we were able to cross on some rocks that were barely or only partially submerged.

And we started our first flint and steel (with tinder) fire. We used what I call "cedar down" ... stringy bits of cedar bark. The oils in the bark and the thin fluffiness of it make it almost ideal tinder.
We tried it a couple of times with the sun and our freznel lenses, and that worked, too.

Ryan brough a can of chili, so this time we had chili dogs. We tried rigging up a bow and drill set but I don't think by that time our hearts were in it. But after lunch I decided to try it with dried grass. We were able to get it to work. Then leaves, all crumbled up in your hand.

Your hand. We discovered the best way to start a fire with any tinder is to do it in your hand, especially a sunlight/magnifying glass fire. The reason, I guess, is that you can control the density of the tinder. You want it fairly dense (so you squeeze and pack) with a flat surface to focus the light on to get a tiny coal started. Then you ditch the magnifying glass and start to blow on it. As you blow, you slowly loosen your grip on the tinder, allowing it to expand in your hand. You should see more and more smoke each time you blow. Finally, at some point your hand is open with the tinder sitting on top and one final puff will get it to burst into flame. They you quickly set it down on something you don't mind burning (ie, not your hand) -- probably more tinder or kindling -- and start your fire.

Pretty friggin' cool. We should've taken a video of one of our many successful attempts.

(note: this shot is here to link to in my profile -- gotta put it somewhere on the web)

Water heater saga, continued

To expand on last night's quick post, Seisco told me they'd ship me a new circuit board for freight -- the catch being that there were none in the warehouse and probably wouldn't be until... today. Then they have to be inventoried. And I had them second-day it to me, so he said it should be here by friday.

The worst thing about not having hot water is showering.

You can now buy Bosch electric tankless hot water heaters at Lowe's for a little less than you can a Seisco. Nice thing about the Bosch's is that they use copper pipe instead of the special plastic that Seisco uses. It's the plastic that has caused all of my problems. After about 3.5 years it started developing stress cracks. I noticed that the plastic they sent to replace it is a different color -- so I wonder if they've changed the formulation. I asked if they had a run of bad plastic, and they said "not in your serial number range." At any rate, if it were going to cost too much to replace the circuit board, I was going to go to a Bosch. Since they'll ship it for freight costs, I decided to save the money. $745 vs $35. Only no hot water for a week in the middle of a cold winter....

I talked to Ryan about it -- he had once mentioned that we could hook the wiring directly to the heating elements with the breaker off.... then if we wanted to shower we could turn the water on, go turn the breakers on, take a shower, leave the water on, go turn the breakers off, and then turn the water off. Theoretically, that should work.

However, we decided that if we were planning on using the water heater and not replacing it, that could be a bad idea.

So I went to Bass Pro and bought a Zodi camp shower. It runs on propane, and produces just enough of a hot water stream to take a shower in hot water. Well, I do let the bucket of water sit all day and adjust to room temperature, which helps. And the stream of water is less than 1/8 of the stream of a regular shower, and not excactly a lot of pressure, either. So while the water is hot, you get cold, because you're wet and not enough warm water is compensating for the evaporation off of your body. It also takes longer to rinse. Still -- it's waaaaaaay better than a cold shower.

There is carbon monoxide to worry about, but a couple of 5 minute showers doesn't produce enough to cause us any harm, plus just to be safe we leave the door open and turn the exhaust fan on. (note: if you do this, don't sue me for carbon monoxide poisoning. The packaging clearly states it's for outdoor use only. Do it at your own risk, etc, etc. I understand the risks and that they are my responsibility when I take them myself)

One more thing... you gotta love the girl on the package - now wouldn't you like to run in to that in the middle of the woods! Nothing between her skin and the trees but the water.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Seisco comes through

The good news: Seisco is going to ship me a new circuit board for freight.

The bad news: They can't get it to me until friday.

The ugly -- it's February and hot showers are nice. The water out of the tap is like 55 degrees.


So ... the temporary solution is: this

I wish I were kidding. More later.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Water Heater Update - the culprit

I got in there this morning to see what was up -- and to document what happened. (you should be able to click on the pictures to see larger versions).

I detatched the circuit board to photograph the inside. As you can see, quite a bit of carbon was splashed about, painting one section of the cylinders black, and coating the back side of the circuit board.

Last night Ryan and I saw what we thought was a drop of water where the limiter screws in to the cylinder body. Wasn't sure if that was it or not. Well, closer inspection this morning reveals that it very likely was (I feel like I should go on CSI or something). You can see the drip of water up by the limiter, and another spot below it when it dripped down. The arcing occurred right vertical with this. This, combined with the fact that the heater had not yet been attached securely to the wall mount yet (until I was sure that it worked) so the unit wasn't completely vertical front-to-back, allowed a drop of this water to fall on to the circuit board and short out 240 volts and ... well, at least 40 amps.

I was trying to be sure I didn't tighten the thing too much like the instructions said. Guess I should have made it a little tighter. A little drip like that. It's a good argument for epoxy-coating the back of that PCB, no?

Anyway, need to call Seisco and see about a new one.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Water Heater Troubles, continued

The part came in a couple of weeks ago, but I hadn't had time to install it. It involves taking pretty much the whole water heater apart.

Well this morning, I heard the leak alarm going off, and I went down to check. It was leaking from the top of the third cylinder, in the other cylinder pair (the one I hadn't ordered a replacement part for). I stayed home to address the issue.

I took it apart and, not surprisingly, what I found was yet another crack in the plastic had developed, this time through the threads where the heating element plugged in. I talked to a tech at Seisco so I could order another part. I asked him a few questions, like whether they'd had a bad batch of plastic. He said "not in your serial number range".

I decided to replace the worse leak with the new part, since the leak in the other one was controllable and away from electronics. Which is what I ended up doing. I ground a little grove into the crack on the less-bad leak and patched it with epoxy, and I cut a gasket the size of the whole bottom plate to cover all the bases. By about 4:30 I had it all put back together and hung it on the wall. Turned on the water. No leaks. Cool.

Turned on the power and went through the matching routine. Everything tested fine, and bang, we had hot water! Success!

I could hear it clicking on and off as Vicki used hot water upstairs as I was cleaning up. About 6:30 I was putting stuff away that I had removed from under the stairs to do the work when I heard a loud pop and a saw a blue flash.

Not good.

I tested it a few more times and couldn't tell where the flash came from -- finally, I decided it had to be from behind the circuit board. Really not good.

I took the circuit board off. A big square black mark over part of the two cylinders behind the circuit board was revealed. There was a big black smudge and a huge bit of PCB burnt out on the back.

The circuit board is toast. Some water must have gotten on it. Probably happened when I was turning on the water -- a few drops dribbled out of the intake pipe. I quickly tightened it and it stopped. I didn't see but a few drops of water, and I dried those up. I flashed a flashlight around to see what I could see. I should've checked harder. I figure the ruckus of me putting stuff back in the stair-hole where the water heater was ... dehumidifier, vaccum cleaner, carpet cleaner .... caused some drop of water to ooze its way down to a bad spot, and POW!

So we have no hot water tonight -- and we probably won't have it until Saturday at the earliest.

I'll call Seisco in the morning and see how much they'll charge me for a new PCB. They were second-daying me another 4 cylinders -- that was $25. I think it'll be $35 to overnight the PCB + whatever they'll charge since this wouldn't be covered by warranty.

There's no way to fit a standard water heater under the stairs anymore since we drywalled it off. I mean, one would fit, but you couldn't get it in the door past the furnace. This is why we bought the tankless to begin with.

My other option is to go buy a PowerStar at Lowes. Not quite as advanced circuitry, and slightly less wattage.... but local replacement is a possibility, and I think the cylinders are made of metal instead of plastic. I'd also have to re-do the sub panel with 3 40 amp brakers and pull some new wire ... though not much. The water heater is right there. But we're talking about $650 with tax, plus probably another $55-$60 in breakers. It depends on how much they want for a new PCB from Seisco.

So anyway, that was a wasted day off. Not that I didn't learn something. Actually I learned a lot. But to go from "Whoo-hoo, I did it" to "B-U-M-M-E-R" in such a short period of time....

I'm bummed. I hope I can sleep.

Lord knows, the cold shower will wake me up in the morning.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bears and Birthday Bashes

Well, what's gone on since our last episode?

I married in to a Chicago Bears (and Cubs) family, and the Bears made it to the Superbowl. I had made the boys and Angela Bears T-shirts for the occasion. We went over to Ken's last night -- he had a Superbowl party on a big screen, flat screen (like 60") and Kevin & Angela and Brian and Kristin were there along with Vicki and myself. Sam and Deb even dropped by.

Of course, after some initial excitement, things got ugly and the Bears never hit a stride. So the evening did not end on the happiest of notes for the big Bears fans. But hey, my football Cardinals never made it to the Superbowl, when I was a fan (when they were in St. Louis). The Bears have been to two in relatively recent memory.

Went down to Mike & Lois' house for the 25th anniversary of our first mutal birthday party. We tried to make the food part as easy as possible. We brought sandwiches for Saturday lunch and stuff for eggs and snoopy waffles in the morning. Mark grilled up dogs & burgers Saturday evening -- and that pretty much covered it. Vicki brought a Germann's Chocolate Cake, and we had a good time talking, pretty much, and not much else. Which is the way we like it. Mark and I broke out the guitars and mando for a bit.

Let's see, I got an oilskin coat from Outback Saddle Supply ... the "Copperfield" -- for an outdoors, woodsy jacket that will stand up to the abuse of trees and thorns and rocks and rain. It smells like horse tack, which brings back pleasant memories from my childhood. Plus it goes great with the leather hats.

Well, lookie there. If I'd've waited a week I could have gotten it for $40 less! That would have paid for the fleece liner for it I was thinking about getting. Oh well. That's the way life goes. I see they made sure to mention it doesn't apply to previous purchases.*sigh*
Got my whole Cokin filter system for my camera, part of Mother's birthday money (along with the Nikon CoolPix)... and I think I'll get a doubler as a cheap way to turn my Tamron 28-300 lens into a 56-600. That's a 900 eqivalent in 35mm land. That's .... significant. So I can shoot grizzly bears from a safe distance. Well, safer than last time.

Next weekend is the Purple Ball -- it's like Prom for the Elks. And we're going. Vicki got a nice formal dress and I'll be renting a tux. Should be fun.

And that's about all I've got for now.