Shocking development…

Well, not really shocking but certainly annoying. Perhaps some indication of my cognitive decline?

Last night I noted that our TV and amplifier (which drives our sound system, and serves as output for the TV, our Roku, AirPlay, and Bluetooth, etc… was off. It usually sits is a “sleep” state as modern electronics do, but they each have an LED somewhere that tells you they are still “on”. Well they were off. I had a look at the power strip behind the furniture where they plug in and toggled the switch. No juice. Went out the garage to check the breakers and sure enough, one has tripped. It is labeled “lights bedroom” which is unhelpful, so I went back in after resetting the breaker and everything was “on” again. I popped my head into the back bedroom which is now my office and the room where the wine collection is housed. Everything seemed fine. I stepped out and thought I’d poke at Netflix and see if something I’d been wanting to watch is available. I find the thing and it is doing that annoying Netflix thing where it auto-plays under the display screen and “pop” the TV & Amp (and Roku, AppleTV, et al) turn off again. I poke my head in my office and sure enough the light switch just flips. No light. OK, so the label is half right. Clearly the bedroom in the NW corner is on this circuit, but so is the wall it shares with the bedroom. My laptop is still running on battery but all the external HDDs have been unmounted because the power is out, so I know my nightly backups are going to fail if I allow this situation to continue.

I slip into troubleshooting mode.

This setup has been running just fine for over a year. I haven’t added any additional load to this circuit. Perhaps some component has a fault and is causing the breaker to open? That’s my theory so I first find some extension cords and power strips to run from other parts of the house to the items on this circuit. I head out the the garage and grab a few (I also stumble upon the power cord for my time-lapse rig in a box out there! Happy dance! I love little coincidences like that. I’ve been wracking my brain to locate that item for over a year!) I reset the breaker, which I note is a 15 amp one, and head in to start unloading the circuit. I start with the TV/multimedia setup. I run a power strip to relocate all of its plugs. Shortly after I power them all up the circuit breaker opens again. I know this because the bedroom light goes off and I hear the wine cooler shut off. A metaphorical light bulb goes on above my head and I think “maybe the compressor of the wine cooler has gone bad?” Thankfully it is closing in on Winter and my office is wine cellar temp anyway, so I wander in with a flashlight and pull the wine cooler’s plug, head out to the garage to reset the breaker. Back in my office I’m already starting to unplug all my external hard drives to get them off the circuit when the lights go out again. I’m getting frustrated. It takes a few trips back and forth from my office to the garage (at opposite ends of the house) to get the whole of my desk and its devices onto an extension cord coming from the bathroom.

Several attempts continue to the point where I’m CERTAIN there is nothing on this circuit but the ceiling light fixture, and the breaker continues to open at random times. Now I’m angry. Well, perhaps exasperated is a more accurate term. I finally give up, leaving the wine cooler unplugged and head to bed, now a full two to three hours later than I usually head to sleep.

This morning, after sleeping on it I’m mulling over in my head what might be going on. There is a sharpie mark right next to the 15 amp breaker in the garage so I’m starting to suspect that this breaker has a history with the previous owners of the house. Two other breakers have similar marks, so it’s turning into an “oh crap, I’m going to be hiring a professional electrician to sort this out at some point aren’t I?” scenarios. Ugh.

As I’m wrestling with all the data, troubleshooting, and theory around in my brain I’m making myself my morning hot cocoa. Linda walks in and tells me “The water for the red mares* is all frozen over this morning. The tank heater you installed yesterday isn’t working.”

OF COURSE! I used an extension cord from the water feature off our back patio out to there pasture where *Linda has been fostering two horses for a local animal rescue operation. They have been quarantined away from our barn and her other animals, so we have rigged up a temporary enclosure for them. It has been impossible to keep their water from freezing so I went to a hardware store and ran a cord from our backyard to run a tank heater. The tank heater is a borrowed one and it strong enough to keep our pond from freezing. Overkill for a 200g tank for sure, but what we had available.

I noted a 20 amp breaker in the panel in the garage labeled “water fountain & Xmas” which I assumed was you know… for THE WATER FOUNTAIN! (and some outlets under the eaves clearly for Christmas lights) Obviously the labels on our panel are a series of lies and misinformation! I step outside and sure enough, the water feature is silent and mostly frozen. I never thought to check it last night, because I foolishly believed what the labels on the panel said. Sigh.

I walk out and unplug the tank heater from the outlet that runs the water feature’s pump, then go close the breaker and of course the everything comes on again. The most important bottles of the wine collection are now safely resting in their temperature-controlled little world again.

Today my to-do list includes finding a lower-power-draw tank/bucket heater for our temporary equine residents. We only need one that pulls a few amps, as opposed to the borrowed one that can warm a pond.

And of course undo all my troubleshooting extension cord mess.

What were they thinking?

Engineering Idiocy. I know I’m late to this particular party, but I had not encountered this until today. Several years ago, after picking us up at the Houston airport, Linda was riding in the rear seat of my father’s BMW 535i, and casually said “Charlie, I love your car. If you ever think about selling it, I’ll buy it from you.”

Long story short, we bought the car from my mom not long after he passed away last summer. We drove it home last autumn, where it spent most of the winter parked in my shop as it isn’t really an ideal winter car. For that we drive her old Subaru.

This 5-series is several years old, but has very low miles. We literally doubled the odometer driving it from Texas to Oregon. It is likely overdue for an oil change in time more than distance. I looked up the oil required and bought two large jugs of it yesterday. I had stocked up on filters from BavAuto (R.I.P.) soon after we bought it. I opened the hood in the shop to be presented with…

NO DIPSTICK!

I recall lots of complaints in Roundel (the BMWCCA magazine) about this issue back when BMW started doing this, but I didn’t give it much thought.

So I was sort of stuck. The owners manual doesn’t list the engine oil capacity(!) and everything BMW presents you with basically says “bring it to the dealer for oil changes”… grrr.

I’ve been changing my own oil since I was a teenager. It was the first thing I learned about automotive maintenance. For me it is almost a therapeutic action. It is good for the car, it is good for me. I drive away with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. But now I’m just confused.

Thankfully I have the Internet. The Internet tells me I need 6.5 Liters of oil for this engine. Typical of how I’ve always done this I’ll fill it a bit short of what should be “full” and then top it off in small increments to avoid overfilling the engine.

However without a dipstick, there is no way to actually do this. To measure the engine oil you have to be in the car and use the onboard computer. Not only that, the car has to be on level ground, engine on, and UP TO OPERATING TEMPERATURE. ????

This is sort of stupid. I let the oil drain out overnight. The engine is cold. In fact it got below freezing last night, so the engine is about as cold as it will ever be. I feel stupid starting a cold engine with at least a half a liter short of the correct amount of oil… then letting it idle for long enough to warm it up.

The dipstick is a perfectly adequate tool for this task. It takes seconds to measure oil levels with a dipstick, and it poses ZERO risk to the engine to use it. While I’m not really scared of damaging this car, doing this for the first time ever does make me feel… mild trepidation mixed with annoyance for some engineers in Munich.

So here I KNOW I shorted the amount by 500ml, so I expect the car to tell me to add that after I perform the check…

…and…

Now I’m REALLY annoyed. How can I trust this thing? It’s like those temperature gauges they program to stay right in the middle unless something really bad is happening. I know I’m 500ml short, but the car tells me “I’m at 100%” (note the lack of actual measuring units).

I guess I’m going to have to check often to see if it changes.

So happy that all the other engines I care for have dipsticks.

Revamp completed.

OK, go ahead and pay attention to the man behind the curtain again.

I hope you like the new version of my website. Does anyone still read blogs anyway?

I had been using the original default WordPress theme here since day one. Sure, I had tweaked it just a bit to make for a wider main column, and a few other HTML/PHP/CSS tweaks to make things work around my preferred image widths and whatnot, but it had grown old and couldn’t support a lot of new WP features and some other things I like. So here we are.

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Three, the actual Cannonball part)

Yesterday’s drive wore me out, and after a Mexican combo plate dinner weighing my gut down, I fall into a deep slumber instantly upon laying down in bed. Unfortunately, I bolt wide awake around 4 am. Sunrise is still hours away and I want to experience some daylight for the first stretch of road. US Highway 50 west of Delta, Utah into Nevada is a mind-blowing place. The very first time I drove it was on the aforementioned Cannonball Classic with my father in 1999. It is an enormous, austere, and desolate landscape unique to the American West. LONG stretches of arrow-straight asphalt, flying off to the distant horizon. Very little flora, and almost no fauna. Mountain ranges rising as if to block your path, and then the road rises directly into them, and snake through, over and down again into the expansive basins, only to resume the arrow-flight westwards. The experience is visceral and very visual. Driving there is a challenge and an adventure. I long to do it again, which is precisely why I chose this route. I could have continued north on US 6 and Utah 36, on to Tooele (a section that remains UN-highlighted in my atlas), but US Highway 50 is beckoning me back. Night driving is unsatisfying however. When your vision is limited to only what your headlights reveal your world shrinks to that minute speck. It is just asphalt, stripes, reflectors and roadsigns. Without those wide open vistas there is nothing at all special about any road, much less US 50.

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Three, the actual Cannonball part)”

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)

So I’m alone, in Albuquerque, with a nice car and no co-driver. Our plans have gone awry, and I have a few choices of what to do next. One is to just continue on to SoCal and visit friends. I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, so no need for that side trip. Another option is to drive straight home by the most direct route. It’s between 1200 & 1400 miles, depending upon which “direct” route I choose. But here is where I have to admit a personal quirk: I like to drive on roads I’ve never driven on. I’ve been wandering all over this continent in a car since I was a kid, and it never ceases to amaze me at the wonders one can find by taking a road you’ve never been on before.

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part Two, the actual Cannonball part)”

An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)

My brain is fogged. I’ve been driving for two days straight with minimal sleep, after two previous days of driving as well. I’m only ~250 miles from my journey’s end, but I really felt the need to get out of the car.

So here I am, sitting in a Burger King somewhere west of Boise, Idaho, sipping on a cold coke zero, munching on some terrible onion rings, and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to just give my brain a rest. How did I get here?

Continue reading “An impromptu solo mini-cannonball. (Part One)”

Thoughts while driving home at sunset…

Late today I had some errands in Bend, and did not get back on the road home until right around sunset. It has been rainy and grey all day, but just as the sun set behind the Cascades, a break in the clouds appears in the lee of the mountains and bathes Central Oregon’s high ground and low clouds with a reddish golden glow. My route from Bend to home is the Powell Butte Highway… a highway in name only. It is a narrow two-lane through Juniper and Sage. For some odd reason tonight it is utterly devoid of vehicular traffic, save me. Back in 2010-2013 this road was my daily commute, and after decades of Seattle’s stop-and-go it was a pleasant change of pace, and most of all I relished the drives home heading into the setting sun. Tonight takes me in the opposite direction, allowing me to soak in the light reflecting from the hills, the clouds, and most interestingly, from the windows of every home on the butte, including mine. These reflections were so strong as to appear to be very bright electric lights, as if every home was wearing its Christmas best finery.

Between the light show, and the absolute absence of any other cars on the roads the whole experience begins to take on a dreamlike quality. My mind starts wondering why I am so alone. Is something happening of global importance that I am blissfully unaware of?
But still, the amazing light show keeps me enthralled as I drive. Pulling through the penultimate corner and up the steep hill going up the butte I can see the light is no longer blazing off the windows and I put my foot into the accelerator to try and get home a few seconds faster to watch the last of the dying sunset…

That’s when the full-grown Mule Deer prances onto the asphalt about 15m in front of the car.

Reverie vanishes in an instant. Full on the brakes and horn simultaneously. The deer stops(!), rotates back around and bounds back to the right. Following it with my eyes, I see the inevitable herd (there is NEVER just ONE deer!) One of them is just off the road, just outside my passenger window.

I feel like an idiot for not seeing them earlier. The groceries (including a dozen eggs) are remarkably intact given that they launched off the seat, off the dash, and onto the floor.

Self-medicating with a vintage Bordeaux as we speak.