Repairing and Fixing

It’s odd to me that in this day and age, it is so much easier than ever before to troubleshoot, diagnose and repair various machines, appliances, and ‘things’ that we own. It is very easy to download a manual from the Internet for just about anything your might own. Yet at the same time, there seems to be less and less interest overall in repair. Many people see something breaking as an excuse to go our and buy a new one. I’m going to give two examples below of recent repairs I have done.

One morning I went in the bathroom and turned on the hot water. The water stayed cold. I went downstairs to the basement. The water heater was there, on, and connected. The LEDs seemed to show that it was ok. I looked up the model on my phone, adding some verbage like ‘will not heat water’ to the Google query. Up popped an article that said that the most common and likely culprit was that the heat sensor was dirty. So I followed the instructions to get to the sensor, and cleaned it for a minute with some sand paper. Turned the heater back on and it has been working flawlessly ever since. This was several months ago. It took me less than a 1/2 hour to fix, start to finish. If I had called service, it would have taken more than a 1/2 hour for them just to show up, and would have cost much more. (my cost was $0)

A couple of days ago my sister in law reported that her power recliner chair was not working properly. It would go up, but not down. I powered it off and on, reseated all the connections, no change. I looked online, and many articles said that the issue was  likely to be the hand controller. I took it apart and cleaned the contacts. It still did not work. Then I took the tip of a screwdriver and put it across the contact to lower the chair, and the chair went down. I cleaned those contacts again, still no luck. I came upon the idea of cutting a small piece of aluminum foil. I place it over the conductor for the top button part of the switch that was not working, and tucked it into a recess on each side to hold it in place. I put the control back together, and it has worked ever since. Again, less and $0.01 work of material saved $100s in either service or a new chair.

Sciatica, back pain, and mattresses

I have been dealing with sciatica symptoms for several years now. A few years ago, I decided to invest in a  Sleep number bed, thinking that I could adjust the mattress as needed to allow my back to heal. For the first year or so, I tried ‘dialing’ the bed (sleep number) up and down, trying to find that ‘Goldilocks zone’ that would be perfect for me. I never found it, and my back pain just kept increasing.

Last Spring, I saw a orthopedic surgeon to get a medical option. I went o Crystal Clinic, which is generally very highly recommended. After doing some physical therapy for a few weeks, I had an MRI. The surgeon showed me the MRI on a following meeting and she said it confirmed that I had degenerative disk disease. She said the only realy ‘fix’ would be a major surgery where they would remove and then fuse the vertebrae that was slipping/collapsing. This surgery would put me out of commission for 12 weeks. Doing my own research, the consensus was that this procedure was about 70% effective at reducing pain long term. I decided I would not elect this surgery until I could no longer walk. The surgeon did prescribe some anti inflammatory medications, which I took from time to time.

About two weeks ago (12/10/18), I decided that I would try sleeping on the murphy bed in the guest room. That bed had a memory foam mattress we recently purchased, that was lightly used. The very first night I found that when I woke up, I was not in pain. What a big difference! So I started to sleep a bit longer 7 to 9 hours vs 6 to 7. Then I started to notice that I had less pain during the day, particularly in the morning. And then I noticed that my flexibility was improving, it was less painful to put on socks in the morning, for example.

What’s of interest is that I had read and heard from many sources that the mattress does not make much difference with sciatica symptoms, it was all about the drugs, therapy, etc. Those accounts are  wrong!. Drugs and therapy may help, but the mattress you sleep on is critical. Also my assumptions about the Sleep number bed were wrong. I had thought that it was somehow the ‘perfect’ mattress. Just good marketing, I guess.

So my advice is, don’t just go out and buy a Sleep number bed (or any other ‘too good to be true’ mattress. Try a memory foam mattress first. They are inexpensive, and might just do the trick for you.

Maintaining stuff and software

When you are working on your ‘stuff’ – be it a computer, water heater, stove, lawn mower, etc. you generally need to be with that equipment to work on it. A cell phone or tablet is best to use to collect data on repairs for such equipment.

I have installed Google ‘Keep’  v4.0.411 on my Android. It’s a simple app for organizing notes.

When I worked on the gas water heater this am (dirty flame sensor), I added a note for the water heater with tools needed (t20 and 3/4″ wrench).

Kicked in the butt

The CIO of my company called me today to ask how things were going. I said they were going much better now. We discussed some of the recent events in our division. He went on to thank me for ‘kicking him in the butt’ on Saturday,  February 17th. I was taken a bit aback, but he insisted that he was grateful.

I guess somebody has to say what’s on their mind to the top of the management chain, to make things better.

Some Common Misconceptions

Here in the United States in the year 2018, there are a number of common, widespread misconceptions that seem to prevail with masses of the public. These misconceptions do not seem to be based on any particular evidence, but are rather cultural beliefs. I’m going to start by simply listing what I see as the major misconceptions, later I will discuss the evidence to back up these statements, and list relevant references.

  1. The United States is, will soon be, or could easily become, energy independent.
    1. Here is a good starting article: GOP Tax Law Bails Out Fracking Companies Buried in Debt
  2. All issues and problems of our time, not matter how large or small, have a technological fix.
  3. The stock market is like going to the casino, and only those ‘in the know’ can make money.

Motion/Occupancy Sensor switches – install

I purchased a Lutron Maestro MS-OPS2H-WHB sensor switch from Low’s to test and evaluate.

I tried it first for the stairwell, no luck. There is no proper grounding there since it is legacy wiring, circa 1947. Then I tried it in breezeway which has grounding, but realized it not a replacement for a two pole switch. This switch is model is single pole only.

Then I tried it in the guest room and it still did not work. That room I re-wired myself, so I know the wiring and grounding is good, and the switch is single pole. The issue is that I was switching through the neutral instead of hot. The switch requires some power for the sensor to operate, so hot must be going to it. When I switched the switching from neutral to hot, and wired it, it starting working properly.


Marvin McGraw

On December 4th, 2017, the world lost a great man. Marvin, or ‘Mac’, grew up in rural Alabama, to an Irish Father and Native American Mother.  He had 5 brothers and 3 sisters. It was a tough childhood with just the bare necessities. At an early age he quit school to help support the family.

What a privilege to have Mac as a father-in-law. He taught me that you can fix just about anything with whatever resources you have around you. He made me into a quite competent carpenter. He was generous to a fault, and almost always the optimist. Ornery is how he was often described, how he would chide  those that he loved. The outdoors was his place of comfort and beauty. It was rare that he was not familiar with a plant, tree, or animal in the wilds.

He will be greatly missed, his memories will live on.

Driverless Uber – Economic freedom for the masses?

We have seen in the last few years Uber and Uber style services take off. These services decentralize taxi; there is no dedicated taxi driver, nor taxi itself. Anyone (almost) can join up with Uber, working as much or as little as they want. One important innovation is the app on your smart phone. You can be walking down the street, and hail an Uber electronically. In urban areas, an Uber may pick you up within minutes.

Now imagine driverless, electric Ubers. Low maintenance, no range concerns (the Uber always comes fully charged), no driver needed. Plus the normal uber benefit of maximizing seat usage. This could really keep costs down and be extremely convenient. The stigma of the bus would be gone, as well as the high cost of the taxi.

In this environment, many that own cars in urban areas may desire to be car free. After housing, the cost of owning a car is typically the highest costs that a person typically endures. Without that cost, people would have much less stress, financially.

And this is not mentioning all the other benefits: Less traffic. Less noise. Less air pollution. Much less dependence on fossil fuels, with a pathway to fully renewable transportation systems. Roads would have less cars, and those care would share the road more efficiently, so much less roadways would be needed, which would greatly lower the costs to society, typically in the form of taxes. It would also have significant environmental benefits.

Improving weather forecasts and efficiency

I’ve been thinking lately about how much weather forecasts have improved in the last decade or so. It is not unusual for forecast daily highs and lows to be nearly spot on (+- 1 Deg F) up to two or three days forward.

We just had a major front pass here, and the temps went from the 40s and 50s F suddenly to the upper 80s F today. Now, if I did not have good forecasting available, the instinct would have been to open up the house when it hit the 70s. But since I knew it would get real hot, and stay hot for several days, we kept the windows closed, so the temperature in the house has stayed 5 to 10 Deg F lower than outside, keeping it comfortable for today, with no need for A/C.

It makes me think that smarter integrated HVAC systems, that have access to the forecast, could automatically make such decisions and save a great deal of energy, with no compromise to comfort. Well, sure, one issue is that windows would have to be mechanically controlled, which would be a large outlay of capital. But in general, there are great opportunities to increase conservation without loss of comfort, due to the steadily improving art of weather forecast.