January 11, 2018

Plugs and Beeps

I successfully tested my snowblower when I filled its gas tank the week after Thanksgiving. Then, when it started snowing in December, the darn thing wouldn't turn over for love or money.

I didn't spend much time working on it, because the first substantial snowfall happened right when my sister and her family came to visit, and who wants to be doing small engine repair when you've got company? And then when they left we were hit with weeks of Artic chill, and even with a garage to keep me out of the wind, I was in no mood to work in 3°F conditions. Plus it was so cold that the snow was only falling in an inch or two at a time, and little snowfalls like that are not troubling to just shovel.

Today, though, the weather was a glorious 55°F, and tomorrow there's a foot of snow forecast in the afternoon. Schools have already announced early closures. My wife's office is basically shutting down at 1 PM. So if I was going to get the snowblower fixed, today was the day.

Long story short, it needed a new spark plug. The old one looked fine and still had a good gap, but it just wasn't firing. I got a new plug from Wal-Mart, put it in, and the snowblower fired up on the first pull. Victory!

I figured I should let it run for a few minutes just to make sure, and also to let it get up to operating temperature, so I opened the garage door and let it run. As I came back upstairs from putting my tools away in the basement, I realized I could hear a loud beeping over the noise of the blower. The garage door wasn't sufficient ventilation to keep the garage's smoke detector from going off! I went back outside to turn the snowblower off and reset the alarm, and discovered that the neighbor from across the street was already walking up my driveway to make sure our house wasn't actually on fire. It's a good neighborhood, people here look out for each other.

Anyway, long story short, removing the snow tomorrow shouldn't be too challenging.

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January 08, 2018

Wiring Fun

So, we own a new house. Today I added a new outlet in the basement, to bring power close to our treadmill. There was an overhead outlet in the middle of the basement, which had a hanging florescent fixture plugged into it. The other three overhead florescent fixtures were plugged into switched outlets, but this one was always on. Unsurprisingly, the bulbs in that fixture were almost burned out, but I digress.

Before I began wiring I checked that the outlet I was going to pull power from, was properly wire. My tester showed all clear, including the ground. Excellent. I added the new box and outlet, ran the wires back to the existing overhead outlet box, unplugged the florescent fixture's power cord from it, opened it up… and discovered that there was no ground wire to be seen. Instead, a short shunt connected the outlet's ground screw to its neutral side. (Not even a neutral screw, the bare copper wire was plugged into the outlet's friction wire inlet.) This was mysterious. My outlet checker has three LEDs, had I failed to read them? Surely it wouldn't be fooled by a ground connected to neutral?

I made a new plan- I'd remove the ground-neutral shunt wire, ground the wire from the new outlet to the (metal) junction box, wire the old outlet's ground to the box too, then tomorrow head to the hardware store and get a couple of feet of insulated single conductor and a plumbing ground clamp. The ground in this house is the water inlet, and there was a pipe just a foot away. In fact, that pipe was what the florescent fixture was hanging from. I'd wire the outlet as is, and tomorrow connect the box to the pipe to ground everything nice and proper.

So I wired as planned, except as noted I didn't have the wire to ground the box. I closed it back up and turned the circuit breaker back on, then tested both outlets, new and old. As expected, both were good except for being ungrounded. Leaving my outlet tester in one plug of the old outlet, I plugged the florescent fixture back in so I could see better to put away my tools. As soon as I plugged the light fixture, the outlet tester switched to showing a proper ground.

I rubbed my eyeballs and scratched my bald spot. I unplugged the fixture and the ground indicator LED turned back off. After a little cogitation and I realized what the dickens was happening. That florescent fixture is hanging from the plumbing, you may recall. It was hanging by two lightweight steel chains. The florescent fixture's metal shell must be grounded, so when I plugged it's three-prong plug into the outlet, the whole system was properly grounded through the power cord to the fixture shell to the steel cables to the plumbing.

As you might imagine, this is shady as all get out and I'm still going to run a proper ground wire to firmly connect to the plumbing. But I'm now amused by the craziness that happens with older houses.

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December 04, 2017

Dumb Kitty

So I saw this clickbait article headline about how "Some study shows that dogs are smarter than cats!". Now I love my cat, but I confess, it sure seems true for me. Yes, there are stupid dogs. (Chihuahuas, pugs, basically tiny dogs.) But... I present my cat. She loves to play with a particular toy. When all the humans are asleep, she drags it around the house, usually ending up the bedroom so she can jump on us and steal our warmth while we sleep. Then in the day, she pesters me to play. But I don't know where the toy is, and she won't bring it to me. I feel like a dog knows that if it wants to play with a particular toy, it will bring you said toy.

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September 29, 2017

Kitten Anxiety

Today our baby is over with her grandparents for the day. It's lovely for my wife and I, we can get stuff done without the constant attention an infant needs.

But whenever  the baby is out of the house, our cat gets super anxious. She's normally an independent sort of cat, but when the baby is away the cat is constantly underfoot, literally.

I don't think it's that she likes the baby; rather, while cats aren't as domesticated as dogs, they still experience neoteny, a retention of immature traits in adults. Cat mothers occasionally switch dens, taking their kittens from the old to the new one at a time. (I've got a story about that from Afghanistan- I'll tell it sometime.) So our cat suspects that we are moving the den. We took the human kitten over already, so she's staying underfoot so we remember to bring her over as well. It wouldn't do to get left behind!

And of course this is related to us moving in a few weeks, but the cat doesn't actually know that.

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September 22, 2017


Ah, what a lovely warm spell in mid-September. The trees are turning colors, but the last few days have been gorgeously warm.

We met friends at an ice cream place downtown and sat outside. We arrived at seven, so we had great seats as dozens of hipsters showed up. It's a fashionable joint attached to a super-fashionable taco place, you see. And there we were with babies and unfashionable clothing, talking about a book published in 1951. What is best in life? That.

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September 12, 2017

Big Money

So, we're buying a new house! It's just across town, but it's larger, to suit our expanding family. The mortgage application process is a nightmare of document production. It took less paperwork for me to sign my life to Uncle Sam at the recruiter's office.

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June 23, 2017


There's a house down the street with a couple of grade-school age kids and a cherry tree in the back yard. Yesterday the kids and a friend of theirs picked the cherries, put them in mason jars, and went door-to-door selling them. The price was high but not unreasonable.

I don't like cherries, but there's no way to not buy some.

(Luckily my wife does like cherries.)

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June 14, 2017

Gift Cards

My father-in-law is a retired accountant. He hates receiving gift cards; when he does get one he spends it as quickly as possible, for fear that the store will declare bankruptcy and the card will be worthless. I found this behavior somewhere between "charming eccentricity" and "relic of a bygone era".

Two Christmases ago, by brother-in-law gave me a gift card to Gander Mountain, and outdoor-goods store. I shopped but found it overpriced, and there was nothing I needed at the time, so I held on to the card.

As you've probably guessed after reading the first and second paragraphs, Gander Mountain has declared bankruptcy. The card is now worthless. When I asked at the front desk they gave me a slip of paper with information on how to make my claim at the bankruptcy court. I guess I might, but honestly there's no chance that it'll get so much as a penny on the dollar. I'm a junior unsecured creditor behind basically everyone. I guess I'm senior to the shareholders but that's it. And everyone knows they're getting nothing.

Ah well, maybe I can put it aside for 50 years and sell it as a curio.

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April 26, 2017


It is with great pleasure that I announce the birth of my daughter. She was 8 lbs ½ oz, and 20.5 inches long. After a few days in the hospital, mother and child are both home and doing well. The cat is grumpy.

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April 06, 2017

Oh Poo

There were some fun times at work last week. A few blocks downstream from my office, a city sewer main collapsed. We're talking a 60" diameter pipe, so as you can imagine, it wasn't an easy repair. It took them four days to accomplish. During which time, my office building was open to "essential personnel only" as they was nowhere for our effluvium to go. Or rather, fluid dynamics being what they are, the effluvium certainly would have gone somewhere, but not where we'd all prefer.

About 1500 people work in the building, so 3000 kidneys converting coffee to... not coffee... would have been a problem. The building engineers thoughtfully provided two (2) port-a-potties by the smoking area.

It wasn't necessary to use them, as they also procured the services of a "honey truck" to empty out our building's own sewer pipe, so we were able to carry on using the porcelain fixtures as usual. That was quite a relief.

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