Thursday, October 4, 2012

Rough Days

We have three dogs:
  • Leah: a 13 year old, spotted, mix breed.
  • Danno: an 8 year old, Siberian Husky.
  • Skookie: an 8-ish year old, Shepard mix, who moved into our house because it was better than her previous home.  Really.
Skookie is in good health as far as we can tell.

Leah, being quite a bit older, has been panting a fair bit for a long time.  Even when it is cool and she's been doing nothing.  She doesn't always pant, but it definitely happens more than should be required.

And something like four or five weeks ago, Danno, our big Siberian Husky started showing unexplained pain on occasion. He would just stop what he was doing and start howling like he was being stabbed. Huskies aren't notoriously stoic about pain, so we didn't take this too seriously in general, but we always went looking for a cause and never found one.

As it happens, we had plans to go out of town for a week to see family, and the dogs were going to be kenneled while we were away.  We decided to take them to the vet to be sure they were OK before we left, rather than deal with surprises while we were gone.

Sometimes it seems it is better not to know.

Leah's panting is almost certainly something called Laryngeal Paralysis.  As some dogs age the larynx gets stiffer and won't open easily to let air in and out of the lungs.  These dogs have to work harder to breathe over time, and thus pant a lot.  The diagnostic tip is to listen for a deep resonation while they are panting, and Leah has that.  The actual diagnostic requires sedating the dog and observing the larynx at work, but we aren't doing that to her just to confirm a diagnosis.

This condition is essentially fatal, but it takes a long time.  Leah could have months or years left with us, and is in no immediate danger.  The only available treatment is to tie half the larynx open surgically, which makes breathing easier, but can allow them to aspirate things into the lungs.  Pneumonia is a relatively common result, and our vet says she probably wouldn't do that surgery on her own dogs.

So we let Leah's situation play out.  We have to keep her walks short and keep her out of the sun, though, because she has a hard time cooling off given this condition.  Otherwise, we wait and keep her happy.  She's in good shape and still has plenty of energy, so nothing here is all that urgent.

Danno's situation is much, much worse.

Sparing you all the diagnostic details, it turns out he has cancer.  Probably two tumors, one affecting the neck and another the brain.  The impact of these tumors hit so hard and so quickly that we were stunned.

Just a couple of days before we were to leave town, Danno was unable to drink any liquid.  He'd just cough up a bunch of clear, viscous, phlegm after each drink.  He was dehydrating as a result, and he wasn't eating either.  His right eye was turned in - something called Horner's Syndrome - and the right side of his face collapsed in as well.

But two days of overnight care with IV fluids, antibiotics, and (most importantly) prednisone helped quite a bit.  He could eat and drink again, and while none of that was going to fix the underlying problem, his quality of life was back to the point that he was enjoying things again.

We discussed surgery, but decided it is not an option.  Given the expected location of the tumors, they would not be fully removable, which means they would just grow back, and quickly.  Recovery would be long and painful - for a dog that actually screams when he stubs his toe - and the specialist vet told us that even after all that, he might live another six months.  The cost for all of this proposed treatment was astronomical as well, but that wasn't what made up our minds.  I wouldn't want that kind of treatment for myself given the probable outcome, and we won't do it to Danno either.

As I said above, prednisone gave relief from the pain and let him drink and eat again, to the point that we went on our scheduled trip.  We came back late on Friday, and picked all our puppies up from the kennel on Saturday morning.

Skookie and Leah are as they were - though Skookie really wants her big, white friend to play with her again.

Danno was as good as could be expected, but is clearly on a relatively quick decline.  Despite the prednisone, he is still coughing up phlegm regularly after a few days, losing weight, and some coordination.  I fear he has only days - perhaps a week or two - left with us, before we have to make the final choice.

These things are always hard - awful, in fact - but we've had great times with our 85 pound furball.  He's brought joy - and an overwhelming amount of hair - into our lives, hearts, and home.  We watch over him carefully, doing our best to make him happy and comfortable, knowing it is our responsibility to keep him from suffering.

In some ways, these are dark days in our home, but Danno is still with us.  He still loves laying at our feet, begging for most any vegetable that we're cooking with or eating, and being petted as much as possible.

And we remember all the good times he has given us: the unconditional love and trust,  the need to lick everyone's nose just to show he's completely submissive, and the complete friendliness towards every human and dog he's ever met.

The vets all tell us he has an unusual disposition for a Husky.  Apparently some members of that breed aren't all that nice.  Danno is amazingly friendly, even now in his decline, and no matter what happens I will always think of him as our canine ambassador of good will.

The last chapter isn't written yet, but there isn't that much time before it is.  He's asleep behind my chair as I write this, and even now I smile when I look at him.

You're not a good dog, Danno.  You're a great dog.  And you always will be.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If You Read This, You Will Probably Be Offended

I've been asked for my political opinions of late, which just goes to show that some people don't have nearly enough to do. In any case, here's a list of things that influence how I will be voting in the coming election, and what I think about politics in general. There was no way to keep this short enough to read if I justified even a single item, so I gave up on that. It's just a list. You will almost certainly disagree with at least some of it. Don't say you weren't warned.

You might consider looking at pictures of cute kittens instead. You will stay calmer, and sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

  • By the time anyone is running for (or being appointed to) high office, I assume they are totally corrupt. No exceptions.
  • Politicians and their campaign staffs will - deliberately - take anything their opponent says out of context in an attempt to make him or her look bad. I call this what it is: lying.
  • No politician - of any party - will be able to reduce the deficit. They will never be allowed to stop spending. Both will get bloodied by their constituencies if they even try. Don't even bother listening when a candidate claims otherwise.
  • The only way to shrink the deficit is to get the economy moving again, and then avoid both increasing spending and pay down the deficit while times are good. Yes, that is highly unlikely, but it is the only approach that could work.
  • Just how important is the deficit in the short term? I honestly don't know. But if it is as bad as some make it out to be, why is the rest of the world loaning us money at about 2.6% for 30 years as I write this? That doesn't even cover inflation. We must look like a good bet, or everyone else looks really bad. Right now, at that interest rate, borrowing money isn't all that big a deal. Heck, simple (low) inflation will pay the interest and even some of the principle.
  • In the longer term, the national debt is unsustainable. That has to be fixed over time, and the fix will require several things:
    • Stop spending money on pointless wars. Get us out of the ones we are in now.
    • Stop spending money on pointless military weapon systems.
    • Reduce the size of the standing army.
    • Reduce the nuclear arsenal stockpile in a big way.
    • Phase in cost savings to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That probably means gradually increasing the age at which people can collect, and gradually introducing means testing, so the wealthy collect less, or not at all.
    • Increase taxes on the wealthy.
    • Here's a big hint: we cannot solve the nation's fiscal problems with only spending cuts or tax increases: nothing is ever that simple. Nothing. Current tax rates are at record lows and spending is at a peak. Changes to both things must be part of the solution. A growing economy would help too.
  • Despite stating above that we have to make changes to our social programs, there is an iron clad, real, need for a social safety net. It must remain, and probably be made even more effective in the process, given the number of people who are falling through it now. To remove or reduce what we have in any substantial way is immoral and repugnant.
  • In any system - government or business - there will always be people who cheat and take advantage of it for personal gain. This is not a good thing, but pointing the finger at government corruption without admitting that the problem is just as big in industry - or vice versa - is missing the point. Reducing corruption is a good thing, and the way to do it is openness and accountability in all transactions, both public and private. Until we get to that - or at least closer to it - there will always be corruption, regardless of which system you prefer. And that corruption hurts us all, regardless of where it occurs. Don't be so narrow minded as to think that business is better than government on this front, or the other way around. Humans are the real problem.
  • Not all regulation is evil. More regulation and monitoring of the high risk mortgage and derivative markets would have been a good thing back before 2008, and we are still suffering from that lack. That said, regulation can be overbearing and stop things that are actually good if it gets out of hand. The trick is to walk the razor's edge, and it is hard to do. Mistakes will be made - in both directions - and need to be corrected without going too far the other way and causing significant new issues.
  • Unions aren't my favorite thing. There was a time when they were required - in certain industries, at least - to offset serious abuses. I get that. And there may be similar problems in places now. But every union is made of people, and people cheat, work systems for personal gain, and so on. Unions are just as corrupt as business and government. It has to be that way thanks to the human element. Besides that, unions simply cannot be universally good. How does a great employee shine in an environment where she cannot ask for a raise or get promoted more quickly than her peers because of union rules and agreements? Waiting for everyone who was hired before you to be promoted, quit, retire, or die is not good for anyone's job or position in an organization. I don't think unions work well with human nature because of this issue.
  • Personal responsibility should be a bigger part our our culture. People need do much more on at least these fronts in my opinion:
    • Save for their retirement.
    • Save for their own health care.
    • Keep their debt down.
    • Defer instant gratification in favor of longer term stability and financial security.
    • Stop suing everyone for every little thing.
Such things would let phasing in changes to our social programs be simpler and more effective, among other things.

  • Health care in the US is all screwed up. The wrong incentives are used to pay too much for the wrong things. In addition, the legal system creates additional, perverse incentives that drive prices up as well. The net result is that we pay way too much for comparatively poor health outcomes.
  • Insurance companies are evil. Give me a single payer system any day, but remember that the wealthy should pay for more (or all of) their health care themselves, probably by reimbursing the single payer system for some or all of their care.
  • Anyone who thinks his religion trumps our (man made) laws is inherently unfit for office.
  • Anyone who thinks forcing his view of religion on others is acceptable is also unfit for office, and is pretty much unfit in general.
  • Anyone who discriminates on the basis of religion, creed, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, etc. is unfit for office - and generally - as well.
  • Abortion is for the woman (or the woman and her partner) to decide upon, not the government, which should stay out of it entirely.
  • The war on drugs is lost. Decriminalize most of it and tax it. Release - at a minimum - anyone in jail for charges solely related to drug possession (for use) and who has no history of violence.
  • Mandatory sentencing laws are, in general, idiotic.
  • Marriage is a loaded term. We should stop using it in any legal way. Instead, all states and the federal government should recognize contractual, civil unions. Anyone of age should be allowed to specify who their partner is - regardless of gender - and all the things that currently go with marriage (hospital decision making, visitation rights, child custody, inheritance, etc.) should be based on that contract. If you want to get married - in the eyes of your church - that's fine, but it should have no benefit as far as the government is concerned. You can set that up with your church and do whatever you want there.
  • Assuming that we cannot get to a strict civil union setup, it is important to note that your marriage is in no way threatened by the marriage of a gay or lesbian couple. Get a grip on reality and let them be happy together, in the eyes of the law such as we have it setup now.
  • What consenting adults do in their bedroom is no one's business but their own. Butt out. As an aside, I'd bet that anyone who disagrees with this would be very uncomfortable if someone started digging into their private lives in the same way. "Don't mind me... I'm just setting up a bunch of wireless video cameras in your bedroom and, oh heck... your whole house. Just go about your business. You'll never know you're being watched if you have nothing to hide."
  • Personal liberty - which I will inadequately define as freedom of expression and the avoidance of pointless, intrusive surveillance - is critical, and must be supported. In passing I note that ever since 9/11 the entire US population is so terrified of its own shadow that any government from any party has no problem passing just about any law that claims to make the population safer in some way, no matter how idiotic said law might be. And those laws are places where all kinds of abuse can hide.
  • I like clean air & water. Regulation is needed to avoid pollution because humans are weak and stupid and some of them will do the wrong things. And pollution doesn't keep to state or other boundaries... it moves around. We're all much better off since the EPA was created. It - and a few other organizations like it - need to stick around. But always with that pendulum in mind. If any organization gets too nasty and causes more problems than it fixes, it needs to be reigned in.
  • Global warming is real - very real - and humans are causing it. Get over your pointless disbelief and let's work to figure out what - if anything - we can do to mitigate the problem. I worry that it is already too late, but I don't have kids who will suffer. You might... let's do something about that.
  • I like markets that are fair. Capitalism may be the most efficient way to move goods and services around, but it is subject to the same thing I have been harping on: people are weak and stupid and some will cheat if they can. That cheating, when it happens, can affect millions of us, and regulation is needed to reduce the chances that it will happen, and to correct the problems when it does. Again, though, the caveat about pendulums and keeping both regulations and regulators in check is key.
  • Do you remember the saying: "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent"? Well, guns are the very last refuge of the most incompetent. It is just barely possible you could be the 1 in 100 (or whatever... it's a tiny number) who happens to have his firearm handy sometime in his life when it can be used to save a life or stop a crime. Statistically, though, you're much more likely to have it stolen, or worse. The wild west is (thankfully) long gone, and we don't need firearms around all the time anymore.
  • The death penalty is dumb. Remember, people are weak and stupid. Prosecutors and police will sometimes make things up, or just get something wrong. People will confess to things they didn't do because they don't know what else to do, or they are browbeaten, tired, and confused. Lawyers can give bad advice. Juries are notoriously inaccurate as a gauge of the truth. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable. And nothing will bring back the dead, not even killing someone who might have committed the crime. We should eliminate the death penalty entirely and stop stooping to the level of state sanctioned murder. We already know we get it wrong from time to time.
  • If you are wealthy, you owe more to society. It's really that simple, and it is a key part of the compact that keeps us going. You may be very smart, or have created something new and wonderful that everyone wants, but you stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you, and who did or created things you depend upon. Much of that stuff that came before is now in the commons: roads, bridges, etc. Be generous and willingly pay for your share and use of such things. That's the right way to live. Taxation is the general way such things are paid for, and that's why taxes on the wealthy are higher. It's fair that way, and makes everyone's life better, including that of those paying the taxes.
  • Health care for the poor and indigent benefits the wealthy. The reduction in communicable disease is one direct way. The increased output of the economy is another that is less direct. Letting people die when they could be treated is counter productive as well as immoral and unethical. It's also stupid.
  • That said, there is a population problem, and more people isn't always better. While we may not yet have reached the maximum capacity of the planet, we will one day. And it will get ugly. The single biggest thing it appears we can do to keep the population under control is educate girls everywhere. Once they start school, they take control of their own reproductive future, and birth rate goes down. That's a good thing, and should be encouraged.
  • Communism sounds great on paper - to me, at least - but it will never work in reality. Humans aren't wired like that, and no matter how many times a heart surgeon listens to John Lennon singing Imagine, he is always going to expect to be paid more than a ditch digger, and there will always be people that cheat on their taxes, or find ways to game a system. Sadly, they tend to wind up in power, and then you have serious nastiness.
  • Superstition is not an alternative to science, no matter how you sugar coat it. Move on. Science is our best hope for finding the truth, and for saving our species from disaster.

As you might guess from this list, I am a cynic about human nature, and probably a hypocrite about a few things as well. Such is life. I also think the chances of changes I like are vanishingly small, which means I am unlikely to be happy about American politics for the foreseeable future.

So how will I vote in this election? Nothing is certain, but examining the issues I see the following:

  • Since I don't think either party will make any headway on the deficit - short term or long - I discard that as a reason to choose one over the other. Mind you, both parties will claim they are going to fix it, but they aren't telling the truth, and the American people won't let them fix it in any case.
  • Both presidential candidates will do just about anything to get into (or stay in) office. As a result, neither has a lead there. Honesty would be such a nice change, but neither side has shown it in the heat of the campaign.
  • On issues relating to privacy and personal liberty, neither party has an advantage either. Both stink.
  • On the ongoing wars and related foreign entanglements, once again neither party has a particular lead. Obama hasn't exactly gotten us out of Iraq and Afghanistan faster than I think a Republican would have, and he may even have delayed our exit as I see these things. Then again, confronted with the situation, McCain might well have kept us in longer than Obama will in the end. No way to tell, and thus I cannot lean one way or another on that.
  • That more or less leaves the social issues, and I there come down more on the side of the Democrats. They aren't a perfect match but the Republicans - with their overwhelming religious intolerance, bigotry, and war on women - are actually repugnant, so here the Democrats really do have a lead with me.
So unless things change - and they might, I am not a registered member of any party, and I don't think any of the parties accurately represent my view of things - you can pretty much guess which way I'll go. Those who know me will not be surprised, even if individual items above might surprise (or more likely disappoint) them.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Yellow Jackets Are The Worst

My wife found a yellow jacket nest the hard way this afternoon and was stung three times.  She's fine, but I am keeping an eye on her.

And I will be putting up traps in an attempt to reduce their population.  Nasty things.  I hate them.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Friday Night Interrupted

I just sent the following to a local email list... a list of residents of my mountain area.   Figured I'd post it here too, just because someone else might see it and think it over.

Just throwing this out there for others to think about...

Back on Friday night my wife and I were at home, watching a movie.  It was warm-ish, as you may recall, so we had a bunch of doors and windows open.  At about 10:15pm we both just about levitated out of our chairs because we were suddenly overwhelmed with the smell of smoke.  Fresh smoke, not stale, perhaps with some chemical overtones to it.

We checked all around the house, both inside and out.   It was definitely outside, and it was probably coming down the hill from somewhere above us.  We could see no visible column, and there was no wind, so whatever was burning probably wasn't all that close or that large, and it wasn't going anywhere quickly.  I dithered, but I have been explicitly told to call these things in by a Cal Fire captain I trust who used to work at Burrell station.  So after I was sure I had no more detailed information I could report, I did just that.  I hoped the dispatcher would just log the information and see if anyone else called in.  (That way they would have at least one additional data point before sending people out.)  But that isn't what happened, and on thinking about it, they probably aren't allowed to do that.  Get out and find it if you can is the rule, I'm sure.

So at 10:30pm they dispatched the volunteers and Burrell crew to do a smoke check, that is, to go looking for the source of smoke that someone reported.  When I was on the VFD these kinds of calls bugged me a lot.  Not because they were called in - that's fine and good - but because they are difficult to handle.  Even in daylight smoke can be a very hard thing to locate, when you can see it at all.  At night, though, it is much more difficult to find something that has only a smell and almost no way to pin down a visible source.  Still, I was doing what I was told back when I responded to these things, and so were the folks who went looking on Friday night when I caused their pagers to go off.

Burrell station and Loma Prieta both responded.  Two engines crawled the neighborhood for over 30 minutes each.  There was radio traffic saying they smelled it, but they never found the source, and it dissipated over time.  In the end, 5 people from LPVFR and the full Burrell crew both reported it UTL (Unable To Locate) and went back to their normal Friday evenings.  And I am really sorry I dragged them out of whatever they were doing at the time to go on a wild goose chase, but again, that's what I was explicitly told to do.

So why bring this up?  Because something, somewhere, was actually burning.  Someone was using a fireplace, or an outdoor fire pit.  Possibly that someone put something a bit odd on their fire that created the acrid odor.  Whatever the case, that smell caused my wife and I to wonder exactly what was happening, and to call it in.  It was a very strong smell in our house that night at 10pm.

What I would like to ask is to please be considerate of your neighbors in the summer months.  If you do not have to start a fire, please don't.  Smoke drops down to near the ground once it cools off, and it runs downhill, pooling in hollows and valleys.  It definitely doesn't disappear.  If you start a fire, someone below you will be wondering exactly what we were wondering: what is on fire and where is it?  And if there is any wind at all, the worry level only goes up.

Frankly, the same goes for fireworks.  Last night at around midnight I heard a bunch of firecrackers go off somewhere.  While our weather has (wonderfully) been a bit cooler than usual, we're still in high fire danger season, and fireworks of any sort are a serious risk.  Every year I am reminded just how much I hate the 4th of July as things go boom, or even worse, I see colored lights above the local trees.  I know this is obvious, but forest fires kill people and destroy property.  And I know people love fireworks, but this really isn't the place to be setting them off.  Common sense is required.

A quick google search indicates that something on the order of 75% of forest fires are started by people or their equipment in one way or another.  75%.

I'll keep calling these things in when I have to, but I would really like it if that didn't happen when things were dry and the weather is warm.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Rain Gauges... What Works And What Doesn't

A while back I posted about rain gauges as we started testing some new ones with the goal of figuring out which one(s) we liked and thought were accurate.

Now I have final data for the 2011-2012 rain year I can present my conclusions.  To help with that, here's the original picture of the gauges in question:

From left to right, here's what I measured with each gauge last year and what they are called:
  • 32.86" - A Stratus gauge, 12" capacity
  • 32.15" - A 6" gauge
  • 33.02" - A wedge shaped 6" gauge
  • 35.20" - Our ancient, yellow, plastic 5" capacity gauge
  • 75.81" - A decorative, glass 8" capacity gauge
I think they were all close enough together for the test that they should have read about the same total rainfall over the season, but clearly there are some obvious differences.  Going through them one at a time, from left to right again, here are my thoughts:
  • The Stratus gauge is far and away the easiest to read if the amount of precipitation is less than 1".  The central tube holds 1" of rain and is easy to read in linear 0.01" increments.  None of the other gauges were nearly as easy to read, nor were they as accurate (as far as I can tell).  That said, however, if the amount of rain goes over 1" it overflows into the outer tube, and the reading process gets more complicated and error prone.  Still, this gauge works very well, and after having used it for a season I trust it.  It's also the standard in use by anyone doing anything serious with the weather as far as I can tell.  There are many places to purchase it.  Here's one, for example:
  • The 6" gauge read about 2% less than the Stratus gauge.  It is difficult to read in amounts of less than 0.1", so the fact that it was that close is probably due to my rounding readings off in opposite directions enough to even out the error.  There is a fundamental design problem with this gauge, though: it slides into a support that is screwed down, but the wind could blow the gauge right out of that support in some cases.  While I never had that happen, it got close a couple of times.  As a result of those issues I cannot really recommend this gauge.  You can find on, though, if you are interested.
  • The 6" wedge gauge presents a mixed bag.  It read only about 0.5% more than the Stratus gauge - essentially the same - but it is hard to read because the markings are small and faint.  Any condensation on the side of the gauge and it is nearly impossible to read without wiping it down, holding it up in the light, and squinting.  It is also the case that the scale isn't linear, so the more it rains the less accurate your reading will be.  And it has only 6" of capacity, so if you're getting a lot of rain you'll be out in it, emptying out the gauge before it overflows.  This is the second best gauge here, though, and for some it may be more than adequate.  It can be purchased from several online vendors, or directly from the manufacturer: Tru-Chek.  It's not particularly expensive either, so consider it if the Stratus isn't to your liking.
  • The yellow 5" gauge is really old, and was a hardware store special back when we bought it 20 years ago.  It read about 7% higher than the Stratus, and though it is heavily embossed and thus easier to read than the wedge, it is marked only in increments of  0.1".  It isn't quite linear either, with a slight taper to the shape.  And finally, the 5" capacity is too limiting if you get heavy rains.  Despite living with it this long I really cannot recommend it, but you can find something essentially identical at if you really want one.
  • The butterfly gauge is essentially worthless, having been created by someone who thought they knew how a rain gauge works but actually got all the details wrong.  This gauge read 2.3 times the rainfall logged by the Stratus gauge.  Yes, really.  It's supposed to have 8" of capacity but the impossibly bad design means you actually have less than 4" if you want to bother correcting for it.  I could write a tome about all the things they did wrong with this product, but I'm not going to bother.  Just don't buy it.  Here's a link to a very similar product from the same maker that you can ignore unless all you want to know is that it rained.  (You certainly won't have a clue about how much water actually came down if this is the only gauge you use.)  In short, give this one a wide berth.
So what happens next with our rain gauges?  Well, that's a question...

I need to move the Stratus gauge about 40 feet from its current location.  There are some oak trees nearby that are going to start impinging on the rainfall in particularly windy conditions, so I need to get it out of that area.  But when I do that I don't know how much the new location will affect the totals.  40 feet doesn't seem all that far, but I suspect I need to prove it actually isn't important.

I think what I will do is move the Stratus gauge to the new location and leave the 6" wedge gauge where it currently hangs.  The idea is to use the wedge to cross check the Stratus and see if they continue to read about the same or not.  If I can get through one more year and remain convinced that the 40 foot move hasn't affected things, then I will be done and have only one gauge to work with again.

The other gauges will probably be discarded.  None are worth passing on in my opinion, so I will recycle them.

I'll update rain data on my web site - see the links to the right - as things happen in the new rain year, but I'll probably only record the numbers from the Stratus unless I see big differences between it and the wedge.

A New Rain Year Dawns

Here in California - or at least the bay area - we track our rain annually from July 1 through June 30. That's because our rainy season falls in the winter and spans the new year. If you are trying to figure out how much water the farmers, watershed, reservoirs, and/or water table is going to get, you need to track it around when it falls, rather than splitting it across an artificial date like January first.

So, July 1 marks the start of the 2012-2013 rain year, and the end of our 20th year of collecting rain data at our home.

This year I tested a bunch of rain gauges, and have revised the way I record and display data. I'll write another post about the rain gauges shortly, but first, here are links to the data I have available:
Those pages hosted on my personal web site, where it is easier to make this work than here on Blogger, where column widths make displaying this stuff something of a challenge.

I will provide links to those pages in the right side navigation bar as well, so you can find them in the future without having to find this post.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions from the data. I stress, though, that rain fall amounts vary widely over even small distances, and we have nothing like a statistically valid sample to analyze anything over the long term. We use this data mostly to try and assess how our well will perform over the coming year. If we have less rainfall we can bet we'll our well will low on water before the next rain year gets going and the aquifer can be recharged.

Another thing this data helps us understand is our local fire danger. Rainfall that is well spread out in time keeps the vegetation moist and thus less likely to be a problem. 2011/2012 was the first time I recorded actual rainfall amounts by the day and kept them, so we still have a lot to learn here.

I hope this data is interesting and useful to someone other than me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Downsizing The Entertainment Gear - part 2

Those who read my earlier post about the entertainment stuff know the situation.

What has gone on since then is pretty simple, really.

I followed through on the HK equipment and got a set of freestanding Elfa shelves to use as a new rack for it and the few things I am keeping.  The rest of the old gear has been hauled off to a place in San Jose that will go over it, fix what they can, and sell it all on consignment.  No idea what I will get for it all, but it is out of the house and we have much more air and floor space as a result.

Other than the HK receiver requiring that the TV be on when you change input sources (I guess it has to tell you it is doing something via the screen, even though the front panel notifications are more than adequate) it works perfectly, and sounds great.

I did a lot of digging on wall mounts for the speakers as well, and that is a project coming soon.  There will be a picture in the end, I suspect.  More when I know it.

One From The Collection - Kaki King

The other day I posted a link to a performance of Comfortably Numb from Roger Waters's tour of The Wall to my G+ stream. That got me thinking about writing more posts about music I like.  In fact the thought kept me awake for a while, plotting what I might write about.

I'm not going to re-post that video here.  Please chase the G+ link above if you are curious about it (and you should be... it was a historic occasion, and the song is amazing).  Instead I am going to post something else I like.

Here I introduce you to Kaki King.  I think I heard about her some years back on NPR, but I am not sure of that.  Regardless, her work is amazing, and she is an astoundingly talented artist.

She's justifiably famous for her guitar playing, and there really is nothing to do but to listen to her playing something all by herself on an acoustic guitar to understand it.  She has an amazing style.  I guess you would call it finger percussion, but she plays the fretboard from above or below as needed, and she slaps, taps, and otherwise uses the body of the guitar as a percussive instrument.  Her style is generally upbeat and her first couple of albums were just about all instrumental songs.  YouTube can show you many of her works and give you a good idea of how she plays.

Her later work has included electric guitar, drums, and vocals, and I have enjoyed that just as much as her acoustic stuff.  The song I link to below is from her 2010 album, Junior, and while it is an instrumental, she performs it on an electric guitar.  It is titled My Nerves That Committed Suicide.

The gentle opening shows only a bit of her amazing skills, and avoids all the fret board flash that she is justifiably known for.  The song builds, though, and it gets loud.  It's simple, but powerful, and I really like it.

Here's a link to the original album version that I found on YouTube.

It turns out that she plays with this song a fair bit in concert, though.  Here's a link to two tracks: Doing The Wrong Thing  and  My Nerves That Committed Suicide, performed at Cat's Cradle Carrboro, NC 4/30/10.  As with many amateur concert videos the audio quality isn't stellar, but you definitely get an idea of how she performs this one live, as well as the energy she puts out on stage.

Kaki King has several albums out and she is in the process of producing another one even as I write this.   I encourage you to listen to her work and see if it is your thing.  If so, please support the artist and buy the songs in some way.  I'm old fashioned and want the CDs in my hands, but you can buy from whatever source works best for you.  Just so the artist gets some support and can make more music.

Finally, please leave a comment here and let me know if more posts like this would interest you or not. Thanks!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Downsizing The Entertainment Gear

As per my previous post from sometime back in the dark ages, we are remodeling our kitchen.  In fact, we are almost done, and the results are great.  But, of course, once you start something like this, you discover a slew of other things that need doing.

This post is (I think) the first in an ongoing series of posts about a very specific problem... making a big, ugly, but reasonably nice entertainment system much smaller and nicer, without blowing the budget too far out of the water.

For that to make any sense, you first need some background.

I was an audiophile at one point in my life.  While I never spent thousands of dollars on most of my gear, I own reasonably nice stuff that dates back to the audio equivalent of the Cretaceous period: aka the 1980's and 90's.

Well, that over simplifies, because not everything I have from then still functions or is used.  I long ago gave up entirely on vinyl.  (Why it is making a come back I have no idea.)  I never wanted or liked tubes either.  (Distortion is distortion.  If you like the way your tube amp sounds, that's fine with me, but I don't really care about it.  Solid state amps might sound a tiny bit different than tube amps - particularly when pushed hard - but at my age, and with my ears - the idea that I will hear any difference is laughable.)  Tape is dead, too.

Digital is the way to go, and I remember the days when people were happy to buy albums that were recorded on digital masters.  Now no one talks about that era... and everyone who cares about high fidelity is doing vinyl and tube amps and (maybe) putting green marker on the edges of their CDs (Google that one if you're too young or your brain is failing an you no longer remember it. is a good place to start.) and other things I think are bogus.  Just give me reasonable quality gear and simple lamp cord to connect the speakers.  That's all I want.  (No, really.  Anyone buying high end speaker wires, power cables, or power conditioner boxes is being ripped off.  A fool and his money, you know.)

Anyway, despite going digital, life is more complicated now, particularly in the area of video, which isn't something I have had to mess too much, but that is changing.

Enough rambling.  Here's what we had in the big pile of entertainment gear when the kitchen remodel started:
  • A Rotel receiver.  About 100 watts per channel (only 2 channels).  Irritation: stand by mode (rather than being totally off) and an annoying pop that is emitted to the speakers when you first power it up from being fully off.  It's done that since it was new, alas.
  • A Marantz 5 disk CD changer.  (I have chewed through and spit out so much Sony gear, particularly CD players that whine after a year or two, that I will never, ever, buy anything made by Sony.  That is irrational of me, I know, but I simply won't go there.  Every single thing I  have bought that was made by them has irritated me in a big way, except a phone answering machine that we finally ditched because we wanted to avoid the tape.  Yes, really.)
  • An LG blu ray player.
  • A Philips DVD player.  (We keep this only because somewhere in our DVD collection there is one disk that causes the blu ray player to choke.  Everyone tells me I am crazy and that should never happen, but it does.  The problem is that we don't know which disk it is now.  We might just ditch the DVD player and the problematic disk when we find it, but that hasn't happened yet.)
  • A Nintendo Wii.  We are not big gamers, but some of what is available for this machine is fun.
  • A Philips 32" somewhat high def CRT TV.  1080i was the best it could do.
  • A Sanza Fuze mp3 player.  (I have a long standing hatred of all things Apple because they have hacked me off in a manner similar to Sony, as mentioned above.  I don't buy Apple gear as a result, and thus will not and do not own and ipod or an iphone.)  For the Fuze I also have a dock sort of thing that will let me connect it (via 3.5mm or RCA jacks) to a stereo device.
  • A pair of KEF 105/3 speakers.  These were the biggest single investment in anything audio related in my life.
Note that I have spared you the ancient separate integrated amp, the separate tuner, the turntable, and the cassette player.  All junk now, and all gone (or going).  And you can learn more than you want to about me by noting that I never bought a separate pre-amp and power amp(s).  Could have.  Didn't.  Money has always had better uses for me.

So, the first thing that happened during the remodel is that we had to move entirely out of the upstairs for a week while floors were being refinished.  That meant that the TV had to move too, and being a CRT it was big, heavy, and did not fit on top of the dresser in the bedroom.  Too deep to go there, and there was nowhere else to put it.  That meant we got rid of it and replaced it with a Samsung 40" LED TV.  Low end Samsung... this isn't expensive stuff... I think it cost $600 or something.  Cheap in the modern world.  Amusingly, though, the Samsung has a very narrow bezel, and the old CRT had a very wide bezel.  As a result the new TV is only about 1" wider and 1" taller than the old one, but increases the viewing area substantially.

We are happy with the new TV, which has worked, looked, and sounded just fine (to us) so far.

Next up, the floor refinishing ended, and we moved things back upstairs.  Very quickly we determined that things had to change up there.  (Remember, we're tearing up the world, and change is a given.)  The first thing that was obvious to us was that the TV had to be wall mounted so we could get rid of the TV cabinet that had been under the old CRT.

I researched for a while and selected a Cheetah mount that gives me 26" of extension, so I can move it a fair distance, and mounted up the TV on it.  Not bad, but now the sound quality is poor.  Dialog in movies is hard to make out.  (Note, we aren't running the sound through the stereo... just using the speakers in the TV.)  It turns out that when the TV was on a stand and sitting on a dresser or TV cabinet, it sounded good, but when hung from a wall mount nothing deflects the sound towards the listener, and the net result is less than ideal.  Grrrr.

In addition to that problem, the KEF speakers, while they sound wonderful, are way too frigging big for us anymore.  We barely use the stereo as such, and having those huge things taking up floor space and looking gigantic is just not what we want.

Time to downsize.

The first step was to do a ton of digging, looking for ways to simplify life.

Every manufacturer has moved to HDMI these days, which I guess makes sense, but neither the Wii nor the old DVD player have HDMI outputs.  Now, depending on the choices we make as we go forward, the DVD player could just disappear, but the Wii we'd like to keep.  That means making it cooperate with the new TV setup, however that works, and that is something of a challenge if we put an AV receiver in the mix.  (Most AV receivers that cost less than, say, Greece, don't do video upscaling or convert non-HDMI inputs to go out over the HDMI cable. So you wind up connecting everything from the source to the receiver, and again from the receiver to the TV, creating a rats nest of wires and having to tell the TV to change input sources every time you change input sources on the receiver.  PITA.)

Looking at this logically, the first problem was the Wii.  How to make it talk simply is step one, and today, finally, I found a cheap answer.  I hope.  There is a Chinese company named Lenking that makes inexpensive video conversion equipment.  Among other things they make this Wii to HDMI converter.  It plugs into the back of your Wii and gives you an HDMI port.  No power supply, nothing funny, just convert the composite video and RCA audio outputs of the Wii into HDMI, and upscaling to 720p or 1080p.    Reviews on Amazon vary about how well this works and how well made the device is (or isn't), but for the $21 I just paid, I will give it a try.  (Most amusing are the reviews from people saying that the converter from company X failed, so they tried one from company Y. They are all clearly made by just one original source, folks:  Lenking in China.  The US distributors merely silk screen on a logo and sell the things.  Get a grip.)

Anyway, assuming that Wii converter works when it arrives, then the next step will be to replace the guts of the world.  At the moment I am leaning towards replacing nearly the entire setup (receiver, speakers, blu ray and DVD players) and going with this blu ray AV receiver from Harmon Kardon.  This would do everything we need and has AUX inputs for the CD changer and mp3 player, so it may be the answer.

If we go that way I also need three adjustable shelves on the wall below the TV mount, but that is trivia.  I'd need to arrange to attach the center channel speaker to the TV mount, which should be possible, I guess, and wall mount the left and right channels.  The entire thing is much smaller than the current setup, and should be much nicer to look at, while still having reasonably good sound quality and all the features we need.

I think.

But one step at a time.  First we try the Wii adapter to see if I can make it work, which means I can avoid AV receivers which to video upscaling, which is good.  Then I reassess the world and see where things stand.

If anyone reading this has any comments please feel free to leave them.  I know I am out of my depth here, and any information is appreciated.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How to Mess Up Your Life

This is simple... just remodel a kitchen.  Really.

If it goes smashingly well - as ours has so far - you will still find yourself out of your kitchen and with strange people crashing around in your home for a minimum of 5 or 6 weeks.  Add a dog or three that cannot be allowed near the construction area because there are always doors that are left open and distracted workers there, and suddenly you have a routine of doing nothing but making sure progress continues unimpaired because anything else is impossible.

In other words, I am still here, just distracted.  For a while longer.  Whee.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Privacy Matters

The recent hubbub about the iPhone app Girls Around Me has me thinking a bit more than usual about privacy, and about what it means in the real world.

There's been some fear mongering about it, and some statements that it represents the future. In the latter camp I even saw an article by someone from Forbes in which she claimed that perhaps the people with open profiles on Facebook and open access to their FourSquare data chose to set things up that way.


Here in the USA, where people cannot name their elected officials with any regularity, where evolution is not a fact, and where we care a lot more about American Idol than we do about the real questions facing us, do you really want to suggest that the average person has a clue what their privacy settings really are in Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, and who knows how many other systems?

I wouldn't make that claim.

I'm a software engineer, and I can assure you that the privacy settings on Facebook are hard to find, default to the wrong values, and are very often difficult to understand in any depth.  I assume FourSquare is similar, though I have to admit that the very idea of checking in and announcing my presence away from my home seems crazy.  It's an invitation to a robbery, at the very least, so I have never signed up.

But let's run with that theory.  Perhaps some of the women who showed up on Girls Around Me really did want to announce their presence in that way, and perhaps most of the people using that app weren't rapists, muggers, and so on.  That's fine, and it might be true, but stop and think about your friends list for a bit.

I suspect most Facebook users have friended individuals they barely know, or don't know at all.  Are the people checking into places being certain to navigate Facebook's fiendishly complex privacy settings so that only friends they actually know and trust are seeing their location?  I seriously doubt it.

Geolocation data has a whole slew of downsides when applied on a personal level.  There is, I will admit, some upside to this data when properly controlled, but what we are seeing with Girls Around Me - and any number of current or future apps that do similar things - is the use of that data in ways that many aren't comfortable with.  (And don't even get some of my more reactionary friends talking about the dangers of geolocation data in the hands of the government.  No, really... don't go there.)  More interesting, to me anyway, is that most of us have no idea the data we give to Facebook and other services can be used like that.  If we could control our data more easily, this would be a non issue.

And in my opinion, it is the fact that control of our own data is so hard that is really the problem.  To pick on Facebook - because they are an easy target, though they are far from the only offender - your profile should default to being visible to friends only.  You should have to make individual bits of profile data public one at a time, and geolocation data should never be shared publicly.

If I ran the zoo, when you friended someone in Facebook (or any other service) you would have to assign a level of trust to each person, and if you didn't pick something different the default would be "no trust".  People you don't trust get very little in the way of data from you, including almost nothing personally identifiable. With just a few levels of trust, you could get all the way to your spouse and/or anyone else you would give a blank, signed check to.  And levels of trust would be used when posting your status or checking in, defaulting to only the most trusted group every time, but letting you broaden the recipients as needed (by allowing less trusted people to see the post).

In a nutshell, these systems should default closed - to avoid unexpected sharing - but allow broader sharing when the user specifically chooses to do so.

In general, people don't think about privacy and consequences when they post.  The vast majority of the time they don't even bother worrying about who should see a post, which is why we have so many stories about bosses and employees sharing inappropriately on Facebook and elsewhere.  Given that, claiming that many people want to be as exposed as Girls Around Me makes them doesn't seem right.  I'd bet most of the people who were that exposed would react negatively to finding out just what they were subjecting themselves to.

If the author of the Forbes piece wants to make herself available publicly, that's fine, and the various platforms are welcome to support that.  But it should always be a conscious choice with every post to make that kind of information available, never the default.  That's were the current systems get the design wrong.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's Not That SImple

This post has been around for some time.  I wrote some of it a long time back and then sat on it.  Then I read this post by Phil Plate and was inspired to complete it.  Then I let it sit again, just because.  Today I am tired of seeing it in my list of unpublished posts, so it gets kicked out of the nest.  It's still accurate and timely, particularly given the rhetoric of the presidential campaign.

Modern politics really bothers me.  It's full of people who only see things one way.

Is the only fix for our current economic situation to get the government out of the way of business?  Or is it that there isn't enough regulation in place to keep things under control?

More importantly, why do so many people I know - and so many pundits and candidates for office - fall into the trap of thinking like that?

Let's start with something obvious.  Governments and businesses share something: they are composed of people, and people inevitably do stupid things.  Whether it's the federal government writing regulations no small business can possibly follow, or wall street bankers creating derivatives no one can possibly understand, the results can be disastrous for all of us, and there are always unintended consequences.

Does anyone honestly think that any given government here in the US is actively trying to stifle business and thus harm the economy?  By the same token, does anyone actually believe that businesses are inherently more honest than any other group of people?

It seems to me that governments and business are both tools.  Sometimes one tool is better than another for a given task.  Arguing over which tool to use may be fine, but suggesting that we should throw one or another tool out of the toolbox entirely is short sighted in the extreme.

There are things that only a government can reasonably be expected to handle, and there are things that business is better off doing.  At any given point in history we, as a nation, are attempting to strike a balance between these two things, and that balance is constantly changing thanks to external influences.

If you're going to argue that the government cannot possibly pay for everything it has to do, fine.  You and/or your elected representatives, though, must make rational suggestions about what to cut and where.  You must be honest in detailing what those cuts mean, and you need to be fair about how the pain of those cuts is apportioned.

Similarly, if you think that businesses of some sort must be reigned in, you need to be honest about your expectations, and forthright in your statements about what needs to be changed or regulated and why.  The results of those regulations must be anticipated as best as possible, and the consequences understood and accepted by all of those affected.  Regulations should not be needlessly burdensome, and limited as best as possible to affect only those things desired.

Note, though, that any change - on the side of business or government - will give rise to unintended consequences, and unexpected behaviours on the part of people somewhere.  None of us can see all the repercussions of our actions in that depth.  The systems we're talking about are far too complicated and variable to allow for accurate predictions.  (If any of this was easy we'd already have agreed on and implemented a fix, don't you think?)

And humans definitely do not always act in their own best interest, even when they know what that interest is, which, frankly, isn't all that often.

For me, the upshot of all this is simple: an opinion about some complicated political issue is just that: an opinion.  You are welcome to it, but none of us can be declared right or wrong until all the data is in, and probably not until well after we're dead.  Until then, polite discussion and compromise are required.  Of all of us.  All of us.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

When A Well Pump Dies - Part 2

Sorry... just realized I never told people what happened with the pump.

About $1200 and several days later we had a working well again.  (Those of you who think that owning your own well is an inexpensive proposition should consider that number carefully before committing to it.  Well maintenance is not cheap.)

The best guess at the problem is that the slime (seen in the pictures from the earlier post) built up on the pump to the point that it loaded down the motor.   That might make more sense if you understand something about how at least some well pump controllers work:
  • A float switch in the tank indicates that the tank needs water.  (Our tanks are big - 5000 gallons each - and in theory it takes a bit of a drop before the float switch says the level is low.  In parts of the country with colder weather they don't use storage tanks, but they'd better have good wells that can keep up with demand in that case.)
  • The pump controller turns the pump on via a relay.
  • The pump controller monitors the current drawn by the pump, which starts at one value and changes substantially when the pump runs the well dry.  When that happens, the pump is no longer under load, the controller detects it, and turns it off.
  • Alternately, if you have a good well, the float switch hits the high water mark in the tank and the controller turns the pump off for that reason.
There are other complications, of course, like a timer to let the well recover before the pump is turned on again, but they don't really matter for the purposes of this discussion.

In our case it appears that the slime on the pump made it look as if it was under load - and moving water - even when it had pumped the well dry.  That meant the controller didn't turn the pump off, and since the water is the coolant for the pump, it wound up getting really hot and melting the pipe as previously documented.

The fix mostly involved cleaning the pump.  They bench tested it and found it was still OK, which is good and saved us a lot of money.  We also installed 40' of stainless steel pipe just above the pump to add more heat sink should this ever happen again.

I also get to put chlorine (in the form of bleach) down the well a couple of times a year now to kill off the bacterial slime that builds up and (hopefully) avoid this in the future that way too.

Such fun.  But we have a working well again, and the power bills are back to normal.  (Well, they were back to normal, but then a technician misread our old analog meter while installing a new smart meter, and I'm having PG&E look into that mess, but life moves on.)

May your water always flow.

I Hate Call-In Radio, But I Am Obviously Un-American

I absolutely despise call-in radio shows that try to tackle issues or inform about topics.  Without exception they are awful.

When I am trying to gather information about some topic I do not solicit the opinion of the man in the street.  Never.  The average American is invariably both uninformed and opinionated - the worst possible combination.  And those that call in to radio shows are the most extreme specimens of the breed.  I have no patience for their ranting.  And yes, I am ranting here.  Feel free to to read something else if you so desire.  I won't mind.  I hear the Internet is full of pictures of cute kittens, so go knock yourself out.

The alternative, of course, would be for news media to talk to people with actual expertise, those who have studied the topic at hand, or worked in the field.   Such people are sometimes present on call in shows, but they have to deal with the biases of the host(s) of the show and respond to the uninformed gibberish the callers spit out.  It's a waste of time for them and for the listeners who might be trying to learn something instead of just having their opinions validated.

Americans, of course, place very little value on knowledge and intelligence as a rule, so none of this should be a surprise.  We grow up on a diet of TV, video games, and associated crap.  We want our politicians and our corporate overlords to tell us that there is a simple answer to every problem, and we know that anyone who disagrees with our preferred answer is not only wrong, but actually evil and Un-American.    Frankly it's a wonder any of us can string together an understandable sentence, let alone spout an opinion on some complicated topic over which even experts may disagree.  (And we're expected to vote about those issues too... go figure.)

In any case, I avoid all commercially supported talk radio regardless of its point of view.  The combination of ads and blow-hards pontificating in response to grossly exaggerated controversy and the guttural grunts of those calling in would probably cause me to die of an aneurysm in short order.

Even NPR has succumbed, though, and there are many awful call-in shows on that network as well.  We have locally and nationally produced examples on our local NPR affiliates that cause me to run for the hills, but the worst has to be a show called On Point out of Boston.

Like the worst of the commercially funded call in shows, they drum up controversy in every topic I hear them cover.  They ask idiotic questions of their guests trying to manufacture argument and discord if needed.  And everything is VERY IMPORTANT!  You can hear the capital letters as they "discuss" whatever they are covering, and they do their level best to keep the pacing and tone right up there with the work of Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk.  Into that mess come the callers, and though NPR supposedly has a more intelligent audience than that attracted to commercial radio, I am inevitably appalled.

Commercial TV is just as bad - if not worse - of course, but I am thankfully without a signal source for that in my life, so I am not exposed with any regularity.  When we wind up somewhere with a functional TV, though, I am always happy to leave.  Any time spent watching TV leaves me feeling like I desperately need a shower.

How did it come to this?  Why does all media seem to devolve to the lowest, slimiest form?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I Was Going To Write About...

Yesterday, for the umpteenth time, I thought about writing up a blog post thanks to what I'd been doing.

It was to be titled "90 MPH Dog Poo" and discuss what happens when you take a string trimmer into a not quite completely cleaned up (despite your best efforts) dog run.

But I changed my mind.

You can all thank me now.

Have a nice day!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

When A Well Pump Dies - Part I

Apparently our well pump stopped working a few weeks back.  It takes a while to notice this, though, at least for us.  I have to note the water level in the storage tank dropping.  Also, in this case, and elevated PG&E bill was a giveaway too, though I didn't know that at the time it arrived.

I called our preferred well guy and had him do some diagnosis.  I had already verified that we had power getting to the top of the well and that the pump should have been running, but no water was coming out.  He was able to duplicate my results and noted that the current flowing in the wires meant the pump was probably running.  He bypassed the pump controller and the problem continued, so whatever the issue was it was in the well pump, 380 feet below ground.  Oh joy.

Today he came back with his truck to pull the pump and find out what was going on.  These pictures document that little voyage of discovery.

First, here's what the well head looked like before things got started:

The line on the right (with the gray box) is the electrical supply that drives the pump.  The line in the middle going into the ground is the water discharge.  That goes off to our storage tanks.  The strange looking plastic pipe on the left is a home made sulfur discharge vent, since the old metal one corroded and goobered up the threads it was screwed into.  The first 50 feet of the well is surrounded by concrete to keep ground water from contaminating the well.  Most of that 50 feet has only a couple of inches around it, but the cap has a much wider pad to protect the well head from lawn mowers and the like.

And here we see what it looks like with the well seal opened up and the first couple of feet of pipe extracted:

The electrical was disconnected, the sulfur vent removed, and the union in the water line opened up.  At this point all 380 feet of pipe are hanging from a cable on a truck designed for this purpose.  It looks like this:

That picture was taken a bit later.  You can see a 20' length of schedule 80 PVC pipe hanging from the rig.  The pipes are threaded and attached with brass couplings.  An odd looking device is used to clamp the pipe in place while the section above is disconnected and set aside.  Here's a closer view of that:

The metal thing sitting crosswise at the bottom is the above mentioned clamp.  The technician is using the lift to pull the pipe up.  His assistant is pulling the electrical wires and a safety rope off to the side to keep them out of the way.  (Note that those wires and rope are taped to the pipe at regular intervals, so the tape has to be cut and removed as each pipe is pulled up too.)  Also as the pipe comes up the technician wipes the accumulated slime off of it.  And in our case there is a lot of that slime.  Some combination of iron and sulfur bacteria make for a nasty thick layer of gunk all over everything.  (And there will be a better picture of that later.)

As the end of the 19th section of pipe comes out of the ground, we see the well pump emerge, and just before that, a surprise:

OK... this may not look like much to the uninitiated but that's bad.  Most of the PVC pipe above the pump is 1" diameter.  The last two sections are 1.25" for some technical reason, but they do NOT bow out like that.  That's bad.  That's very bad.

What it means is that sometime a month or more ago the pump ran, pumped all the water out of the well, but then did not turn off.  As it kept running it got hot, since water is the usual coolant for the motor.  As the pump got hot it heated the pipe above the pump got too, and the plastic softened.  Eventually it got so hot - despite there being water inside the pipe - that a hole opened up in the pipe and the water drained out.

So that bowed out area just above the pump is a bad thing.  It means that something is wrong with the pump, the pump controller, or both.  Now, as it happens, we had a long brownout or two just over a month ago during a big wind storm.  For one of them I was home and awake and ran around turning off breakers, though I honestly don't remember if I got the breaker for the well pump or not.  I should have, but who knows.  The other brownout, if it affected us, hit while I was asleep, or so I gather from a neighbor.  The first was something like 20 minutes long and I have no idea about the other, but either might have caused a fault that could result in this sort of behavior.

Or there might be other causes.  Time will tell.

Here's a picture of the entire well pump sitting on the pad around the well:

The top half is the impeller, the bottom half is the motor.  Water enters through the grid in the middle and we can see that isn't too blocked up.

Here's a closer view of the slime from the well and the bottom of the pump.  I hope you haven't eaten recently:

Yeah.  Sorry about that.

And finally, here's the pipe from the well laid out ready to go back in once the problem is fully diagnosed:

The bulge in the last pipe is pretty obvious there.  The large, black, football shaped thing two pipes over from the left is a torque arrestor, to keep the pipes from twisting and banging around when the motor kicks in.  It fits just inside the six inch plastic pipe that lines the well.

My well guy took the pump and controller off with him today.  He will clean up the pump, bench test it all, and find the problem.  If the controller is bad he will replace it.  In addition - since this is the second time we've seen that pipe bulge up due to a hot pump - he may replace the last 20' section of PVC with stainless steel, to reduce the chances of that happening again.  (Of course, if it does happen the stainless will conduct heat better, and it might just move the problem, or it might cause the pump to burn out once it has run too long.)

Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to tell me exactly what failed, and we can start looking to avoid the root cause of the problem.  That may mean trying to find some way to protect our entire home from brownouts.  We already have a whole house surge protector installed, but nothing keeps a brownout from crippling us.

More when we know it.  Whee.