Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Hate Gutters

I'm thinking of creating a new series of sporadic posts about things I despise. No one but me will find it interesting or amusing, but what the heck. If you can't talk to yourself on the Internet, where can you? I'll start with:


There must be something better than gutters, as there certainly can't be anything worse. It's pouring rain and the water is streaming down your roof, carrying with it dirt and debris, leaves, and who knows what else. And what do we do with all this water and its payload? Here's an idea: let's funnel it into something that will catch all that muck and clog up, forcing water to go in new and unusual directions in the process.

We're in the situation of having gutters on multiple levels of roof. In addition. some of our gutters are effectively under a deck, making cleaning - or even seeing - them a challenge. During a recent storm, we had one gutter get stopped up and overflow. Because the water was no longer going down the proper downspout, it slammed into a second gutter under a deck. The unexpected deluge and accumulated gunk caused a backup there too, which overflowed and came down on the inside of a sliding glass door. I spent an hour getting things back into shape, and though I don't think any real damage was done, it was very irritating.

To be clear, I do understand the point of gutters. Having the water drip off the eaves can cause problems of various sorts, the most obvious of which is getting soaked when stepping out the front door during a rainstorm.

But they cause other problems too. Ice dams are a nasty issue in cold climates, and plants can actually grow in gutters. Even more fun, in the summer they make a nice place to catch both things that burn and flying embers to get them burning. That's great fun in fire country.

So, all you inventors out there, please help. There must be an alternative to gutters that works without causing problems. Something that cannot clog up, needs no maintenance, and still keeps me dry when I walk under an eve.

Anyone got an answer? If so, leave a response here so I can get rid of the gutters that make my life miserable every chance they get.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yes I'm Still Working

It's 1.5 weeks since I started working full time again. My thoughts on the experience are a bit muddled at this point. That's all thanks to the difficulty of the schedule adjustment, and probably to the reduction in exercise.

I used to sleep in - something my body is much happier with. Now I get up right when the alarm goes off and get moving.

I used to get 2.5 miles or more or walking in each day. Now I get to drive 40 minutes each day instead.

Please don't misunderstand me. These aren't complaints. I chose to go back to work, and I'm lucky to do so in this economy. But it's going to be a while before the adjustment to a regular schedule is done and I'm back fully in the swing of things.

This weekend I will be taking a class on driving fire engines, all day, both days. That should be fun, but it will keep me busy on a weekend when I should be doing other things, like carving.

Oh well. There are other weekends coming, and I'll get things done as time allows.

I hope you're all doing well, whatever adjustments are going on in your lives.

Mountain Living - Water Part IX

The water heater is finally working again.

No, you haven't missed any earlier articles about the problem. I've been pretty busy of late, as this came to light as I was getting ready to go back to work.

We have an all electric house, so (of course) our water heater is electric. Years ago we replaced a standard unit with a non-metallic one, as that keeps the sulphur bacteria from growing in the tank. I like that choice, but may get a tankless unit later. Time will tell.

In any event, things got interesting with the water heater a couple of weeks ago. It stopped producing hot water, and eventually I found that it was tripping the circuit breaker at odd intervals.

Eventually I determined that one thermostat was bad, as it was only passing 120 volts (instead of 240) to the lower heating element. I ordered replacement thermostats - both upper and lower - installed them, and found that didn't solve things. Additional research convinced me that the lower heating element was also bad and shorting out. Then my friend Alan figured out that the new upper thermostat I'd been sent was bad too.

While I waited for parts to arrive I disconnected the lower heating element to avoid the short, used one of the broken upper thermostats, and turned the water heater on with the circuit breaker only when we needed it. That wasn't exactly an approved - or convenient - solution, but it worked. Thankfully we didn't have to do it for long.

In the end - two heating elements and a replacement for the replacement thermostat later - I've finally got it working properly. It turns out the lower heating element had corroded to the point that it had sheared off entirely inside the tank. That caused the short that tripped the breaker, so all the obvious failures are explained now.

A less than obvious thing is also explained. For some time we had a lot of air in the hot water lines. I couldn't figure out why that was, but now I know that the broken heating element was turning water into hydrogen and oxygen gas right there inside the tank. Exciting, eh?

At this point I can assure you that a functioning water heater is a very good thing, and I'm glad to finally have one again.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Someone Beat Me to This Post

My good friend Ducky writes a blog that I read. Her topics vary, like mine, but tend to the more technical at times, which is OK with me. She also comments on politics, and this morning - before I could write almost the exact same words - she had this simple post up.

Since she said it so well, I'll have to say something else. Sadly, that is to point out that in California, prop 8 is probably going to pass, and that's terrible. Where, exactly, is the threat if gay people marry? How is this a problem for traditional marriage? And what gives anyone the right to dictate who can marry and who cannot?

I'm happy Obama got elected. It's a bit of history and I'm glad to have been around when it happened. But the very idea that there are enough bigoted, short sighted, small minded people to pass prop 8 in California just sickens me. I hope something happens at the federal level to make the California law invalid. The sooner the better.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The New Job

Today was the first day at my new job.

Well, technically, it's my old job. Sort of. I'm once again working at Concentric, part of XO Communications.

I can't tell you what I'm working on because if I did I'd have to kill you. No, not really. But I'm not going to talk about that sort of thing here. It's not relevant to this website, and it's not something I should be talking about anyway. Besides, it's all technical mumbo-jumbo, and that's probably not why anyone reads this blog. if anyone reads this blog.

But I'm grateful for the chance to go back to work in this lousy economy, even if it will be a huge adjustment for me. And I thank everyone who's commented about it.

In other news, as I write this post, election day is just 1.5 hours away in my time zone. I hope you'll all go vote, if you haven't already.

Finally, if the weather is clear this coming weekend I have to get working on another garden sculpture, and I should do some driving practice on the fire engines before the training class a week later. With all of that and work too, I'm pretty busy right now. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Crazy California Ballot

It's time to express a simple, easy opinion about the CA ballot: It's stupid!

Why do we insist on allowing initiatives? That process gets us the most awful legislation imaginable, written by anyone with a vested interest in something and enough money to setup an organization with a nice, bland name - something like the "Committee for Continuing California Progress", oh, wait, that would be the CCCP, and I doubt that would fly, but you get the idea - to drive it home.

Oh, I know the claim: "Our legislators aren't doing their job, so we have to do it for them." I say that's crap. If they haven't found a way to deal with it in Sacramento it's because the problem is difficult and the people are split about how to handle it. That's a time for discussion and - yes, I know you'll hate the word - compromise, not for some billionaire from out of state to come in and force the issue onto the ballot by hiring people to stand outside of grocery stores conning voters into signing things they haven't read and don't understand.

The initiative process is the dumbest way to make legislation, and it causes no end of problems, but the issues with the California ballot don't end there.

Why do we insist on enshrining every stinking thing into the state constitution? Why are the specifics of how to fund a high speed rail project in the constitution? Why are the sentences for various crimes in the constitution? What on earth is going on here? Printed out, the California constitution must be 950 pages long. No one can read a ballot measure and understand its impacts because the various bits are spread out all over a huge document that no one fully comprehends.

Wouldn't it make more sense for the constitution to contain a few guiding principles - things we think are core to what makes California the unique place it is - and put the rest of it into laws? Laws that our legislature could simply vote up or down and be done with? (Can you think of any examples where we do this? Hint: here's one place where the Federal goverment is way ahead of the curve.) If we want our legislators to do their jobs, we shouldn't be voting on every single thing they have to do every couple of years, as we have to if it's in the constitution. Instead we should be voting on what they did by putting new legislators in place if we don't like the outcomes.

A related point is that the average voter can't be an expert on everything on the ballot. This time around I need to know about farm animal treatment, high speed rail funding and usage patterns, and ten other subjects. Excuse me? How the hell should I know about these things? We hire our legislators to do this work for a reason: it's not simple. It takes time and effort and research. Our legislators, in turn, should consult with (or hire) experts in various fields to gather enough information to know how to vote intelligently. I don't have the time - not to mention the spare cranial capacity - to do all of that for every issue on the ballot, which again argues for keeping things out of the constitution and instead putting them into laws that our legislators can vote on and change as needed.

Another point about the California ballot is that we're addicted to bond measures. Back when the governator was put into office, there was all kinds of hubbub about how we had too much bond debt and we weren't going to get more credit as a state. Things were near panic. But the debt was refinanced in various ways and life went on. Well, now, here we are again with a boat load of bond measures on the 2008 ballot, and there were bunches in previous elections as well. When do we say enough is enough? Aren't we mortgaging the future of the state to pay for these things now? An occasional bond I can understand, but this state seems to feed on bonds in a way that has no basis in fiscal reality.

And speaking of fiscal reality, let's talk about a way in which we, the voters, have tied the hands of the legislature to keep them from doing their job: fiscal restrictions. So many initiatives have passed that require certain percentages of the state budget be devoted to specific things that there is no way the remainder and accomplish anything useful. Sure, schools are a good cause, but are they always the best place to spend money? Maybe not. Maybe we need to move money around and hire more fire fighters some year, but the budget is so tight we can't.

Any cause can be painted as right and noble. Many truly are. But the state budget is a balancing act, and the legislation that requires specific funding percentages for schools, roads, and shoes for the children of orphaned lumberjacks who don't wear flannel is just ludicrous. The legislature needs to be able to control the majority of the budget. I'd prefer to see them control it all, actually, but for the moment I'll take what I can get.

Here's a thought, people: we have to cooperate, and we can't spend more than we have. If you want to put more money into <your favorite cause> we have to either spend less on <someone else's favorite cause> or we have to take in more money from somewhere, probably taxes. It's not hard to see when spelled out that simply, but getting people to realize that and act based on those simple principles is tough.

In all seriousness I suggest you consider the following when you go to the polls in a few days: vote no on everything at the state level. Yes, you may think that some of the ideas in some of those ballot measures are good, but ask yourself: were they put there for the right reasons, and in balance with everything else going on? Do they cost more money than we have? Will lawyers earn millions as they go through the court system? Could we live without them just fine?

Seriously. Give it some thought.