Sunday, January 27

Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)

A rock song of 1988 by the same name sums up what happened to us. Saturday we awoke to NO INTERNET. That’s like NO COFFEE or the TOILET HAS VANISHED. It’s amazing how our lives have been altered by the Internet. Here in the boondocks we don’t have newspaper delivery. Our mail comes to a post office box over an hour’s drive away.

Our particular problem involves a satellite hookup to the Internet. The provider, HughesNet, has been very reliable with only a few hiccups in service. But Saturday our satellite modem lit only two of its five lights, Power and LAN. System, Transmit and Receive were dark. I used my computer to reboot the system, hoping to get it going. No luck. I tried over and over for a long time, then gave up and called their service number. After responding in my best computer-like voice to their computer-voice questions I was told to wait for the next human. Priscilla came on the line after a twenty-minute wait and told me that the company was doing maintenance on the system and was keeping everyone offline till 8:00 PM Eastern time, 5:00 Pacific. Odd, I thought, doing maintenance on a Saturday during daytime. Usually that’s an overnight task when everyone’s asleep.

By 5:30 Pacific time we still didn’t have service, so I called again. After the usual talk-to-the-computer interval, I got ahold of a human whose name I forget. He told me that their tests showed our modem to be faulty. Something about the transmit/receive function having a ground fault. We would have to get it replaced. I knew enough about electronics to have a strong suspicion that the technician was full of beans. Sure enough, after we ended the conversation the system rebooted and we had Internet again!

What was going on? We have been receiving literature in the mail from HughesNet about their spiffy new satellite’s capability. Generation 4 they call it. Ten times speed on downloads! It seemed miraculous and was competitive with the kind of connection you’d get from a local landline link. Were they trying to get us to upgrade? We were suspicious.

Today, Sunday, we awoke to no connection to the Internet. I tried the usual re-booting procedures to get the modem working. Nothing. So I turned it off. With no connection to the outside, we resorted to doing human things, like looking at the world right around us. Rocks, trees, clouds, that kind of stuff. We took a couple of long walks. We saw turkey tracks in the mud. Deer tracks too. The breeze was crisp. Hawks soared above. The air was refreshing; puffy clouds gleamed in the sunlight. The dogs romped and asked us to throw things they could retrieve. We talked and talked.

About 5 o’clock I turned the modem back on. All the lights came on. We were re-connected to the world!

Hooray (I think).

Comets, Chile, chili, solid and steady

Every day the first Internet site I visit is Astronomy Picture of the Day. You should too!
For years I have watched as less-than-able American writers have infiltrated the media: newspapers, magazines, advertising and especially the Internet’s innumerable outlets. It seems they are “learning” their craft in universities where the instructors themselves aren’t very well educated. Recently I read a newspaper article where a horse got tangled in a cattle shoot. My reaction was “Oh chute!” Instructions on my new coffee maker stated that the heating indicator would change from blinking to solid. Steady on, I thought. This morning on the radio a CBS News reporter said the Congress was loathe to take on budget issues. He meant loath.

Ten year anniversary. That one really rankles. Whatever happened to Tenth Anniversary? And if I see another recipe that calls for chiles, I’ll reject it; I can’t imagine the difficulty of incorporating an entire South American country into my meal.

It’s disturbing how these writers/reporters/commentators don’t know the difference between it’s and its. You’re and your make up the subject of a funny piece of Facebook wisdom I recently downloaded and printed to stick on Karla’s desk.

Not to brag, but I learned all this stuff in elementary school.

So what does this have to do with comets? The intrepid news media brainiacs have given an approaching comet the name ISON. It could be one of the brightest comets in history. The name they gave it, though, is the acronym of the organization that announced its discovery, not its real designation which is C/2012 S1. ISON is the International Scientific Optical Network, a Russian astronomy organization. I guess it’s simpler to say ISON than Comet Nevski-Novichonok C/2012 S1, so I'll begrudgingly grant them their point. Their still dummys tho.

Friday, January 25

Notes on a birthday

Today I got a bunch of Happy Birthday notes from my Facebook friends. What are those notices called? On Twitter, they’re called Tweets. On Facebook, are they Facies? Feces? I get a lot of those.
Many happy returns of the day? But it's foggy!
One of the writers wished me many happy returns of the day. I went outside to take a look at the day; it was foggy. It’s been foggy all day. Is this an allusion to my advancing-age mind? I don’t remember as much as I used to, but then I don’t think as much either. I’m still able to get through a day without messing up (I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong).
Fresh! Yummy!
Anyhow, to cheer up after getting an intimation of approaching senescence I looked around and came upon our two half-barrels that once held strawberry plants. They’re now brimming with miners lettuce, a tasty wild plant. The leaves were dewy from the fog.
They bring back memories. Better than eating the leaves from a…um-m-m…I forget.
 Eating them brought back memories of having eaten miners lettuce, so it’s cathartic I guess.

Garage rolldown door installed

Putting it together section by section
On Wednesday the two guys we hired through Costco drove down from Modesto to install our garage door. They made pretty quick work of it, having done this many times. When they were finished, we marveled at the new technology. Imagine!—at the press of a button the door opens. Press again and it closes. What will they think of next?!
The unique thing about this door is that it goes down, not up. Sure saves attic space!

Sunday, January 20

How to cut a four-foot-deep trench

The SierraTel people put in a phone line for us using only a Caterpillar tractor with a backhoe and three Caterpillar bulldozers. How simple!

The most impressive piece of equipment was the ’dozer with the giant four-foot-long ripper. It had to make four passes in order to bury a conduit pipe and a 6-pair wire cable. The first pass gets the ground accustomed to being rent asunder. The second pass widens the channel a teensy bit. The third pass is made with the cable/conduit laying attachment. The final pass smooths everything out and puts the earth back together (relatively).

I was mightily impressed with the driver’s controls to pilot the brawny beast. It’s all done with fingertips! A nice comfy seat gives the operator a good view of the surroundings. In the seat’s soft padded armrests are the controls for speed and steering. If you have thumbs and fingers, you can drive. Steering is done with your choice of the four fingers on your left hand; only two are needed to go left or right or you can use only one if you don’t mind moving it from one paddle to the other. You could steer it with your nose if you don’t mind not seeing where you’re going. Or your big toe if it’s warm enough to take your shoes and socks off. You could even steer this thing with your obedience-trained dog’s paw if you…oh dear—I’m getting too far afield here.

The pictures tell the story better than I ever could.
The mud-coated portion of the ripper is a whole four feet long
Here it is going down to gopher-land
Here it is fully down and ready to rip!
Watch out gophers, ground squirrels, worms, roots, coffins, alien UFO hiding places!
We're puttin' in a PHONE LINE!

Wrapping up

Over a period of a little over a week, we got the house wrapped and ready for the stucco guys to come and encase it in three layers of mortar. A double layer of tar paper went on first, followed by what looks like chicken wire. The soffits (the underside of the roof overhangs) got enclosed in really stiff expanded metal. Corners had special wire structures put on so they would be straight and make for sharp right angles where one wall’s stucco joins to the adjacent wall’s stucco.
The west end of the house is complete with tar paper, chicken wire, and corner pieces
On a chilly morning, Tim bravely staples tar paper onto the house
This job was originally estimated by the stucco contractor to take “maybe three days” using his crew of six or so men. Our crew of three or so men only took a little over twice as long. Not bad at all, guys! Our main contractor, Kim, showed Luke and Tim the ropes and together they made a very nice wrap around the house.
Tim and Luke attach a piece of expanded metal lath underneath a roof overhang
The two-level ceiling over the south deck is covered with stiff expanded-metal lath. When all this is stuccoed, we will probably be able to attach any artwork such as posters to the walls and ceiling with magnets!
Before the first coat of stucco gets sprayed and troweled on, we have to put up the insulation and wallboard inside the house. The stucco contractor, Kevin, doesn’t want any banging on the exterior walls to shake them and cause damage to the curing stucco. Once the first coat is on, we can wait a long time (like months!) for it to cure before the next two are put on; Kevin says the longer the better. The material he uses is a special mixture that is absolutely guaranteed not to crack. That is if we want to spend an estimated $2,000 upcharge. At least it isn’t an additional $10,000!


We had to put in a few hundred feet of trenches to hold the propane and electrical lines, and bring the water the remainder of the way to the house from the fire hydrant. The county requires that the lines be buried at least 18 inches. Most of our trenches were at least that, with some parts being as much as four feet deep. Our lead advisor had told us we were to lay the various pipes in a certain order: Gas line had to be at least a foot from electrical, and water was to be on top. We checked with the inspector and he said to just throw all the pipes in any old way. We did that and when he took a look at them, he approved the whole mess without comment, except to say “Good depth.” We knew that. He asked why we ran three-inch water line all the way to the house instead of something smaller. We answered that in order to get full effectiveness from the fire sprinklers in the house we wanted no restriction in the line since the pressure we had expected wasn’t quite there. We get only about 50 pounds per square inch instead of the hoped-for 65 psi. You don’t lose pressure in a fat pipe compared to a skinny pipe for the same flow rate.

Bundled up against the chilly morning, Luke handled the rented Bobcat as if he had done it all his life.
A nice, deep trench means you won't be running into the utility lines with ordinary digging around the house.
Here Tim, no shorty himself, illustrates the depth of some of the trenching as he cleans up the bottom before we put in the lines.
We rented a ditch digger which Luke manned with expertise. Then the propane people came and laid in their skinny high-pressure plastic lines. Then we laid in the last hundred plus feet of water line and various sizes of electrical conduit.

Then it rained.

And rained.

Some of the dug-up dirt put on a very convincing impression of chocolate pudding. We siphoned water out of the low spots and, using a neighbor’s tractor and backhoe, filled in most of the trench. Then the weather turned cold and the ground froze. This went on for a week or so, with the ground being hard as a rock in the morning, then when the sun hit it, thawing and being impossible to walk on because it had the consistency of a thick layer of warm grease.

With that job out of the way, it was time to start “wrapping” the house in preparation for the stucco contractor. Coming up next blog.

In case of fire…


One of the requirements in our building permit is that we have a 2-1/2 inch fire hydrant accessible to fire trucks. That explains why we have over a thousand feet of 3-inch water line, and ten thousand gallons of water up the hill.

I found out that a shiny new bronze fire hydrant valve costs over $200

I talked with the people at all four of the fire stations in our area. The ones in Bootjack,  Raymond, Ahwahnee and Oakhurst all agreed—if we start to burn, it will take at least an hour for them to respond. That is, if nothing else is burning in the area.

Oh, and to make us feel even better, California has recently imposed a $150 annual fee per habitable building on the property for rural fire protection. The money goes into the general fund, not to the rural fire stations. Isn’t that nice. At least the money should go to the Firefighters’ Marshmallow Fund since by the time they arrive, the embers should be just right for toasting them.

Saturday, January 19

Been awhile, huh?

It’s been a long time since the last blog entry. My mood level was falling, and it wasn’t a good idea to write when in a bad mood. But things are picking up as our house is getting closer to completion.

“They” say that building a house can make you crazy. “They” are right! Especially when you’re trying to build a house by paying cash as you go along. You start out with the hope that you can do the entire job in one long unbroken sequence until voila—you move in to a completed house. But then reality hits and you find out that all the estimates for the individual actions are a little off. Or maybe WAY off. Plus there are peripheral things that aren’t directly figured in to the cost of building the house. Like putting in a well pump, over two thousand feet of big fat pipe, and water storage tanks (just digging the trenches cost thousands). Years ago we had already spent about $20,000 for the well. But getting water out of the well and into the house cost another $30,000. Hm-m-m. Then there’s the septic system—a nice big tank and two nice big 12-foot-deep leach fields. Just another $10k or so. Then we decided to put in a two-car garage. Ten grand per car. Plus the nine-by-eighteen-foot roll-up door and remote controls. We got that from Costco at a relatively cheap $3,000. It will be installed next Wednesday. The local telephone company is burying a DSL line and a conduit pipe for future fiber optic cable all the way to the house from across the river and only charging $800 or so. They used a backhoe and three bulldozers and a week’s time to do it, so we feel we’re getting a bargain.

You’re probably getting the idea by now. Additionally we blame ourselves for doubling the cost of windows because we didn’t want vinyl frames, but rather warm and gorgeous Douglas fir. Doorknobs can cost ten bucks or they can cost $80 to $280 per set if they’re solid bronze with hand-rubbed oil finish. Dang, bronze sure looks good! And feels good to the hand.

Thousands of feet of electrical wiring went in. That really shocked us (pun intended) once we discovered that the wiring is not only in the house, but under it since we have so much potential basement space.

So we ended up putting some of the cost on credit cards. Fortunately, that’s a deep well, but we were getting anxious about how long this can continue. We cut part of our expense by hiring some of the people who work for us at the ranch and giving them room and board besides. Also we’re getting some nice input from son-in-law Luke. In exchange he gets experience that he can use at the high ranch.

As of yesterday afternoon we finished getting the house “wrapped.” A double layer of tar paper and thousands of feet of chicken wire adorn the exterior along with special steel corner adornments, ready for the first coat of stucco. The soffits, the horizontal spaces under the roof overhangs, now have expanded metal covering, along with the entire ceiling structure over the 14 by 34-foot covered deck on the south side of the house. We are hoping our work will reduce the $30,000 estimate for stucco coating by about $10,000. Maybe, maybe not.

We may end up installing the interior wall covering ourselves. Drywall is one of those things that everyone we know says “DON’T DO IT!!” Even our main contractor says to hire out at least the ceiling drywall installation. Gypsum wallboard is heavy and ceilings are the most difficult part. We have lots of recessed lighting fixtures and air-conditioning vents and county-code-required fire sprinklers all over the place and county-code-required CO2 and carbon monoxide detectors to work around when installing ceilings. Not fun.

Our 3,750 watts worth of solar panels sit in their carton in the garage, along with the inverters that will convert their energy to 120 and 240-volt power. We have buried all the conduit to move the energy from the panels to the inverters and from the inverters to the house. Our next big expense will be storage batteries. Our last batch of batteries at the old house came to almost $10,000, and we expect the new ones will be that much or more. Solar panels and inverters came to $13,700. Sheesh!

More tomorrow, with pictures. Stay tuned.