Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ditzy gizmotronics

Lately I've experienced a rash of failures in basic electrical equipment which really ought to be bulletproof at this point in history:
  • The Honeywell Winter Watchman line voltage thermostat locked on and overheated the root cellar after I changed the light bulb.  The thing rattles a little when you shake it and it may be sensitive to the angle at which it's resting.
  • One of the two Stanley Heavy Duty outdoor timers which are running the deicing cables in the septic line keeps forgetting its programming.  It's never really worked.
  • The compost bin vent fan quit.  I suspect the power pack.  It's putting out 24v and may have fried the fan.
These may be examples of quality fade.  That is when your overseas supplier cuts one percent cost out of the product every week until the product life drops to zero (one of the unintended consequences of globalization.)  Here's a good article about it.  

A lot of the commentary in the media these days assumes economic growth will soon be back on track, led by the developing world (BRIC.) This is commonly taken as an independent variable, an exogenous driving function. I don't know about Brazil or India but in the case of China this is clearly turning out not to be true. Because their growth was export-driven and those purchases were debt-financed, they were living in the same house of cards as us, next room over. Lately I've been noticing other articles about troubles in China:

Monday, December 15, 2008


So it got a little stormy there over the weekend, snowed about a foot.  I slept in Sunday morning so it was about 10 am by the time I noticed the potato emergency - the wind had blown the lid off my root cellar and the wireless thermometer was reading 8 F.  Supposedly the flavor of raw potatoes changes if they freeze. I brought them inside and thought "I'd better go ahead and cook some of these up,"  so I made a big batch of garlic mashed potatoes.  I decided to try using the pressure cooker, but that ended up taking even longer than boiling them.  It was almost an hour before it even got up to pressure, and then there was the cool-down time.  I can't tell for sure about the flavor change because I accidentally added way too much salt, like tablespoons instead of teaspoons.

Mostly the potatoes still seemed okay after they warmed up, I mean they didn't turn to mush or anything, so I put the whole thing back together today.  I changed the warmer to a 50-watt rough-service bulb (from 25 w), and put a rock on top of the lid.

It was clear and sunny today.  In the morning we had those whatayacallem, sun dogs or icebows on either side of the sun.  I went for a walk down the grocery store to test my winter wear.  It was about -10 F with a wind chill of liquid nitrogen.  The bike shop never did call back about the studded snow tires but I do have the neoprene face mask, and I thought the conditions might be good for a sort of dry run with a view to winter cycling.   I had two layers on my legs, three on my arms, and four on my chest.  From head to toe my kit was:

Blaze orange "Radar" cap
Positive mental attitude
Neoprene face mask
Long-sleeve flannel shirt
Polyester fleece sweater
Down vest
Short "redcap's" jacket
Polartec gloves
Heavy weight long johns
"Relaxed fit" jeans
Medium weight wool socks
Cross trainers

The idea was to try and stay warm enough while keeping arms, legs, and peripheral vision free. The "radar" cap is nice because it covers your ears and shades your eyes.   This outfit was more or less okay for my two-mile walk, but I could have used one more layer on the legs, like a pair of sweatpants.  (Also for cycling my feet would get a lot colder and I would have needed insulated boots and maybe electric socks.)

So I walked into the grocery with my black face mask and canvas bag, and Mr. Fellow Customer was like, "is this a stick-up?"  No, just heading for the dairy case there.

But that's not the funny part.  The funny part is, technically it's not even winter yet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Root cellar energy use

I just checked the wattmeter on my outside aboveground root cellar, which is heated with a 25 watt bulb controlled by a thermostat set for 40 degrees.

It has used 11.75 kilowatt hours over 725 hours (30 days), or 16.2 watts on average (55.3 Btu/hour).   During this period the average outside temperature was 21.4 F, so the average temperature difference inside-to-outside was about 20 F.  The heat loss coefficient "UA" of the box is therefore about 55.3/20 = 2.76 Btu/h-F.

If I calculate a U value based on the outside surface area of the box, U=UA/A = 2.76/150 ft2 = 18.4e-3.  The R value is 1/U = 54 in English units (h*ft2*F/Btu.)  This is pretty close to the nominal R value of the SIP panels I made it out of.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Solar Water Heat, Phase Drainback

The piping connections to the solar collectors needed some teflon taping.  

Contractor needed some copper pipe upside the head. ;-) (I can pay you next week I swear, just a little cash flow problem you know how it is...)   

The circulation pump for the solar loop is a Grundfos UP 26-99 F.  The rotameter-style flowmeter (and sightglass) is a Blue-White F-451002LHBSN.  It is made of polysulfone and needs to be protected from ultraviolet light.  Don't let me forget about that.

Here's J sweating atop the tanks.

My camera has developed a bad habit of forgetting the date and time, so here is a photo of the astronomical conjunction (or whatever) of the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter, to prove to future archaeologists that this photo was actually taken yesterday, 1 December 2008 AD, and not in 2000.