Liquid Refreshment

I have another T&S gig starting Thursday, which means a lot of back and forth across the plateau and up their mesa. This morning’s Monday water run was my last chance to gas up for it…

…so I poured my remaining gasoline into the Jeep and brought all the empties to town. Gas has come down .50 here from its peak, but filling those four little cans still mortally wounded eighty bucks. Hopefully T will take that into consideration when they get back from their trip, as remuneration for this particular gig tends to vary depending on his finances. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some of it on the bike, which is still wounded but at least working, though that means walking up and down the mesa which is not my favorite thing.

It has become almost traditional for the Jeep to break down – or at least somewhat break – just when I need it for this gig. And of course it always happens either in January or the middle of Monsoon, which can make the Jeep kind of essential. I’m hoping it got the breaking down business out of its system with the recent power steering trouble.

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Power management and temperature control off-grid

It’s been a remarkably cool not-especially-hot summer so far, what with Monsoon having gotten such an early start. So it’s not that big an issue so far that the Secret Lair can get awfully hot and stuffy in the afternoon and evening. But it’s still summer in the high desert so the Lair gets kind of hot and stuffy in the afternoon and evening.

I handle this in the old school manner: Open windows, ceiling fans, a window fan sucking air inside when the sun goes down, and a sit-down with a beer on the covered porch. The Lair’s battery bank is quite small, four T-105s, so leaving electrical draws on all night is not a thing I’m all that willing to do. Fortunately the 12-volt bedroom ceiling fan draws so little juice on lower settings that I can make an exception in its case, and that has made a huge difference in sleeping comfort. Plus a stick-built cabin just naturally cools off overnight anyway. Even if it’s an exceptionally warm evening, sooner or later it’ll cool off enough that you can get some sleep.

Not so Ian’s Cave.

Thermal mass, they said. It’s your friend, they said. And we went with that, back in 2009, without sufficiently thinking things through. If we’d really seriously planned the project we’d have paid a lot more attention to ventilation.

Ian’s Cave is a concrete dome buried under I don’t know how many tons of sand. It holds heat very well in the winter, and takes a couple of months to get uncomfortably hot in the summer. But once it does, there you are. The good news is that the first couple of months of winter won’t pose much of a heating problem. But in mid-summer…

…my thoughts always turn to “how can I cool this bitch down, just a bit?” I have to work in there. I deeply regret that we didn’t put some ventilation ducts and fans through the back of the dome before we shotcreted and buried it. Too late to worry now.

I can get the overall internal temperature and humidity down a couple of points by running that big fan on a timer overnight. But I have a strong emotional resistance to doing things like that. And Ian’s batteries…

…while much more substantial than mine, are also ancient by battery standards. At twelve years old, they’ve already lived more than twice the standard lifespan. I attribute this entirely to clean living: They have a caretaker who takes loving care, and they’re seldom stressed. Basically, most of the time they run a refrigerator and that’s all.

So when I start doing things like running big fans overnight, I always feel like I’m committing at least a venal sin and I pay attention to what it’s doing to the batteries.

And I always – reluctantly – come to the conclusion that I’m not really breaking any rules. The bad thing about a big battery bank is that replacing it costs multiple thousands of dollars. The good thing about a big battery bank is that it’s pretty hard to really stress if you’re not neglecting it.

In this case, every single morning without the fan running the battery charge sits pretty at 90%. Every single morning with the fan running, it’s at 82%. Which tells me I should really just relax.

But I’m deep in the ranks of the poors, and relaxation isn’t my default state. Basically I treat batteries the same way I treat puppies – I’m something of a worrywart.

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It’s like a lawn. A sick, patchy, nasty lawn.

We’ve only had six and a quarter inches of rain year-to-date but the grass really took off as soon as it started to fall, no doubt riding on its many successes during last year’s very wet Monsoon. And the grass patches and weeds in front of the Secret Lair got so high I had to take a string trimmer to them. And when I was done…

…my yard, which normally consists entirely of dirt, now looks almost like it has a sad sick lawn.

It’ll all be dead in another month, but still. With any luck the field to the west of the cabin will fill up with high, waving Blackeyed Susans again. That’s always nice to see.

Every time something like this happens I remember back when I took a job in the Texas panhandle. This was many years ago. It was my first time in life away from trees and grass, and it was a bit surreal at the time. My new boss was showing me around in his pickup: I was staring out the window going quietly mad as I contemplated what a godforsaken desolate wasteland I’d landed in when he enthusiastically crowed from the driver’s seat, “It’s not normally this lush this time of year!” ‘Lush’ is a subjective value…

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So yesterday afternoon I went to the Palace of Food…

…as I’ve been doing every other month or so, lately, with D&L. Was running low on hamburger so I bought a couple of biggish packages of the good stuff. This morning after morning walkie I had a bunch of chores to do at Ian’s before it got hot – starting off by squeezing all that hamburger into patties, wrapping and freezing it.

And Tobie, my bestest and mostest helpful buddy, wanted me to know that he was there for me. Any time, Uncle Joel. Just ask and I’m there. Or, you know, turn your back on the counter for just a second and I’ll be there too…

This dog is seriously the most shameless counter surfer I’ve ever personally lived with. Turning my back on five pounds of hamburger with him in the room was not remotely an option.

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The ebike is fixed! Electrically, anyway…

I’m working with two different flavors of headache this morning, because last night my always-suspect shower chair…

…decided to fold its legs and dump me on my geriatric ass. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except a millisecond later the back of my head made high-velocity contact with the tiled wall, and…

Then just to be really smart while commiserating with myself I stayed up too late with a bottle of bourbon, and so we’re not hitting on all cylinders here at the Secret Lair. My head isn’t as bad as I deserve but my neck is killing me. But it’s happened before – in the course of a long life some shots to the head will land – and it’ll pass.

Anyway, one of the morning’s assigned tasks was to get the ebike’s electrics sorted out. And I did!

Monday, I think, somebody suggested that Radpower actually has a video on how to string a replacement harness through the frame. They make it look easy, and it really is much easier than I expected… Continue reading

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Okay. Now I’m annoyed.

See, this is (only about reason #56,724,968 for) why I became a hermit. You just can’t depend on people.

See this?

This shouldn’t be here. This should be parked with a gunsmith in the big town about 50 miles away. The one with office hours tues-fri 10-3:30. The one I gave up an entire morning to go see, bumming a ride with S&L, so he could clean out the yoke screw channel on my beloved S&W. The one I spoke to last week to confirm his hours.

The one who decided to take today off.

And now I’m back. And so is my broken pistol.

I don’t normally hate humanity. Not hate, exactly. But MAN it can be hard to get people to do their frickin’ jobs around here…

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Note to self: Don’t try the BMX spinny-fork trick on an ebike.

Good news! I figured out the electrical problem on the ebike!

As quite a number of people suggested and I myself suspected, it was really only a separated connector.

Bad news! The connector is nonsensically located inside the bike frame.

And I will be damned if I can figure out how they ever fished it in there in the first place, since the wire on one side is potted to the charge controller and the wire on the other side is part of a bundle that couldn’t possibly fit through that space. I’m missing something obviously, I mean they did do it so probably I can too.

Once I removed the grommet at the bottom of the frame, a little very light tugging made it immediately obvious that something that should be attached … wasn’t. When I took my relatively high-speed header in the mud on Tuesday, the front fork spun in a most un-ebike manner and a couple of minor connectors were pulled loose at the handlebars. So another disconnected connector didn’t surprise me, though I couldn’t find it until I plumbed the depths of the frame itself. I never would have been able to firmly diagnose the problem if Radrover hadn’t sent me all those free parts two years ago including a replacement harness. Once I had everything electrically connected, the display and motor worked perfectly. So that’s good.

But right now it’s just an oversized bicycle with a whole bunch of wires hanging everywhere. Getting it properly back together is going to take some patient thought. Still, I feel much better about the whole thing knowing I can fix it one way or another.

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New Earpro: Uncle Joel enters the 21st century.

I bought my first pair of offbrand noise-cancelling earmuffs as soon as the price came down to where I could kind of afford them. When they wore out I saved my dimes and bought these. Which are wearing out.

But all the time I’ve lived here what I really wanted was something I wasn’t even sure existed: Noise-cancelling earplugs. Naturally I carry a package of earplugs with me wherever I go, because why wouldn’t I? I carry a pistol wherever I go, and it’s loud, and if there’s time I stick earplugs in before shooting it.

What I really wanted was that thing my Peltors gave me: I could wear them and still hold a conversation that didn’t consist 70% of “What?” And in a hot environment, earmuffs have an obvious inherent disadvantage.

So I did some research a few years ago and of course learned that electronic earplugs are indeed a thing – but at a big price for such tiny things. I did what I usually do in such cases: I bought the cheapest Chinesium crap on the market, telling myself it was only a proof of concept.

And I’ve carried them every day for something like 3 years now…

And they work…kind of. They don’t fit well, any wind at all blasts noise right in your ears, they don’t really amplify sound well at all – important when you’re getting to a certain age and the loudest thing in your life most days is tinnitus. But they did kind of work, and that made them marginally better than a package of foam earplugs.

The Peltors have pretty much worn out, as earmuffs will, and recently I decided it was time to take the plunge. Got my new earplugs a few days ago…

They don’t have a single button on them! And given that they have various functions, that was daunting for the boomer hermit: You have to tap or hold or slide your finger on the mike boom to get them to do this or that, in a sort of code I still find confusing but that actually does work when I do it right. And they’re way better and a lot less uncomfortable than the Chinesium plugs.

The only disadvantage is also kind of an advantage. Instead of a flat little nylon bag they store in this plastic coffin…

Which is clunkier in a pocket but which also has its own battery that recharges the earplugs whenever you’re not using them! Which is cool.

Look at me, all 21st century and stuff!

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Sometimes just a quick change of bait does it…

…and buys an obnoxious mouse a broken neck and a quick flight off the cliff in front of Ian’s Cave.

She avoided her well-deserved fate for a couple of days – but fell prey to the allures of peanut butter.

I seem to be having one of those summers, rodent-wise: I killed a mouse and then (judging from the results) the rat I was gunning for on my porch, but when I set the rat trap again just to be sure it got its bait cup cleaned out without tripping, which says I probably have nocturnal mice there as well. Glad I have a couple of new mousetraps. But the one that got this girl is going back to the reloading bench. Just to be sure. The “Please Don’t Piss on the Precision Measuring Devices” sign didn’t seem to be working.

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Random Gulchy Moments

One reason I can’t get along very well without a functioning 4X4 is chickens.

At present there isn’t any water source on what used to be Landlady’s ridge, which is where the chicken house is. Part of my duty toward the chickens is supplying water, and my strategy for that varies as situations change but it always involves moving multiple 5-gallon jugs relatively long distances. They’re heavy. I’m not going to carry them (a minimum of) half a mile over rough hilly country.

The war with that family of mice that’s determined to befoul my reloading bench into uselessness has gone into extra innings. I got what I took to be the main culprit fairly early on, and things got better. But the next one – its mate? – is starting to make me question my conviction that humans are the smartest mammals on the planet. Look at this…

This mouse proved very good at stealing bait without triggering the trap. So I stripped the stuffings out of some 550 cord for really tiny string and tied the bait down. Mind you I didn’t tie the string around the paddle, no: I went through the hole. And I thought, the only way the mouse could win now is not to play. Right? Uh huh. That picture was taken less than an hour after I set the trap. I’m going back to peanut butter: brought the trap home to bait it, and I’ll be resetting it later this morning.

On the erosion front: I’ve been trying to stop the sand from washing out from behind Ian’s cave by building a small porous dam across the channel the runoff water had dug. This picture was taken yesterday, after a couple of rainy afternoons…

And this one was taken this morning after yesterday’s gully-washer.

It’s having some effect, in that sand is starting to pile up behind the dam. In front of the dam, the water is undermining my work so I have to shore up what I thought was the irrelevant side of the obstruction. But it is kind of working. Meanwhile…

I want it on record that I hate volcanos. Never had much of an opinion about them before I moved here, but since then I’ve learned that half-million-year-old ash makes the worst mud there is. And it keeps flowing downhill through inconvenient parts of my yard every damn time it rains. Which, lately, is almost every single day. Places where I just have to walk, I keep covering it up with sand and clay dug out of the front drainage ditch, which keeps silting up pretty much daily. Which means I have to dig pretty much daily, at least enough to point the water away from the cabin.

For all that, this hasn’t been an unusually wet Monsoon. Not unusually dry, either: My rain gauge shows 5.88 inches year-to-date. And it’s safest to assume we’ve got another good month to go before it ends.

The good news is that, since it started early, this has been the coolest summer I remember. Temperature hasn’t gone over 100o even once so far. And that’s almost worth the mud.

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Poor Tobie

I’m washing dishes with the daily storm building-and rumbling- outside my window. Looked over at Tobie’s bed and found it empty. Looked back toward the bedroom…

When the storm actually breaks he’ll be in the closet, as far from dangerous windows as he can contrive to get. He’s tired of Monsoon, too.

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I need professional help.

No, not that kind. It’s been tried, I’m far past hope.

But both modes of my transport have taken it into their collective head to fail simultaneously. Granted one has been coming on for a long time and one had a lot of help.

The pressure hose on the Jeep’s power steering system has been marking territory for over a year. I should have had it fixed when the Jeep was in the shop over the winter, but they’d already taken so long on the transmission and anyway it’s only a hose: I should be able to fix that.

I even have the hose. But it was bound to be an unpleasant job so I kept putting it off, and when the hose failed almost entirely and I was forced to get off my ass it turned out not to be something I could reasonably fix in my (very muddy at the moment) driveway. On some Wranglers, allegedly, you can just barely get to the hose fitting on the top of the steering gear: That does not happen to be the case with my Wrangler. Okay, heavy sigh and annoyed grunt, I know how to drop the gear. Except that the skid plate under the gear will not come off the Jeep. Far as I can tell, the welds broke on a captive nut and one essential bolt just spins it. There is physically no way to get a wrench on that nut, which is why I assume it must have been spot-welded before the frame was assembled. Forced to it and in the absence of a cutting torch I suppose I could curse and sweat for hours while I hacksawed the bolt, I’ve done it before. That was on the order of forty years ago, though. I don’t bend so good anymore. And a hoist would help.

So I’m forced to admit that I must take the Jeep to the shop in town. Which took months last time. Of course last time was a transmission rebuild.

Unfortunately, just as I’m driven to that conclusion my ebike broke down.

Tuesday we hit some unexpected deep mud and took a bad spill. I wasn’t even scratched but to my horror the bike was totaled.

Electrically it stopped working entirely and I haven’t yet figured out why. Something like this happened two years ago and it turned out to be a cold-solder joint in the battery tray that shook loose for no reason. I have to say, Radrover was great about it: I sent them a short video explaining the problem and they sent me – free – ALL THE PARTS that could possibly cause my problem. I was seriously impressed, and I guess I’m going to end up doing that again. If the bike is still in warranty, which I’m a little afraid to check. Anyway I didn’t learn for sure about the cold-solder joint until I unpotted the battery tray looking for the specific problem, after I already had a new one in hand. I still have all those other parts.

Then there’s the matter of the derailleur…

…which doesn’t appear to be bent but is certainly misaligned. In any speed lower than third the chain now rubs the tire and eventually hops right off the gear and locks between the gears and the wheel. Probably a bike shop could clear that up without breaking stride but I can’t even see specifically what’s wrong.

Which, since I already have to take my best pistol to a gunsmith in the big town about 50 miles away, makes me wonder if I shouldn’t research bike shops in the same town – there’s bound to be at least one – and bring the bike along in the pickup when I can finally go. I’m not convinced I can fix it this time.

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Not okay, dammit. Not okay.

I can barely get out of a chair this morning for my aching knees, and this dumb thing is giving me “ok” smiley faces…

Tired of Monsoon now. Though I have to admit the relative cool is nice.

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George Orwell, call your office…

I heard on the Jeep radio yesterday that the US government was not declaring the national economy to be in recession, despite two consecutive quarters of negative growth, for reasons apparently related to their redefinition of the term “recession.”

This morning I learn that this development makes logical sense, from a certain point of view…

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“So…we’re not stranded, then.”

Went to town with D&L this morning. And I’m not telling this story to make fun of anyone, other than maybe myself. Just saying: Getting old ain’t for sissies. And part of my ordeal is that I’m about half deaf.

I was in the pitiful hardware section of the local pitiful market, vainly searching for some Pex fittings for a revision I need to make in Ian’s Cave. So I was longer in the store than I wanted to be and only started throwing groceries in my basket as I saw D&L checking out. I finished up quick as I could and just as I got to the checkout counter D came back in, said something I couldn’t hear to the cashier, and then started looking around the floor.

L came in, also very interested in the floor. I asked what was going on. L said she misplaced her truck key, and (I swear she added) D hadn’t brought his.

Which was, of course, very bad. At this point, once I’d checked out and stashed my groceries in the truck, I joined in the search with a will. We went over every square inch of this rather small store. Turned their groceries inside out. Looked through her purse, her pockets. Under every seat. Then we did it all again. This went on for a really long time.

At last all options were spent. The key was gone as if it had never existed. L had vainly gone back into the store, D and I were on either side of the truck, front doors open. D said, with what I took to be hopeless irony, “I always keep my key here,” patting his pocket.

I said, “Well, at least we have phones. I wonder if (the other neighbor L) is home. Maybe we can send her to your place. Do you know where you keep your key?”

He gave me a strange look. “Yeah. I keep it here.” And he reached into his pocket and withdrew his key.

After perhaps 3 seconds of silence, I replied, “So…we’re not stranded then.” Because I have to tell you, I thought all the sturm und drang was about us being stranded 10+ miles from home. They can get another key.

And then D went off on a story about a time when L had locked her key in their car and he was afraid to leave it because then somebody would break a window and steal the car. And I realized that what this was really about was my OCD friends being OCD. Like somebody was going to find the missing key and then trek the desert to find and steal their truck out of their locked garage. Which is attached to their heavily-armed house.

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Goodies for hermit and dog…

Generous Reader Terrapod sent me coffee that’ll last me well into 2023, at the current rate of consumption…

…and Big Brother sent a little something for Tobie…

Best-fed living dog in the Gulch, that one…

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You had more than fair warning, dude…

There’s been a big rat leaving piles of – well, leavings – on my porch every night for over a week. I don’t know why. I do know it grew tiresome.

The nice thing about rats? When they annoy you, you don’t have to feel bad about just flat out murdering them.

So I dug out my last functioning rat trap, and the first night it very messily killed a mouse that was clearly too small to be my culprit. And oh by the way the little cup of peanut butter was empty and it’s a safe bet the mouse didn’t last long enough to empty it, so…

You’d have thought that would be enough of a hint for the big guy. Often, unfortunately, it is. Oh, they won’t go away like you want. But thereafter they’ll avoid the trap.

But not this guy. He apparently decided he’d earned that peanut butter.

That sort of attitude always has a price.

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Getting intrusive with bikes and dogs…

The last time I had trouble with one of the ebike’s tires, Big Brother sent me a bottle of this puncture-plugging slime you’re supposed to pump into the tubes. I didn’t use it, because I’ve seen balance trouble with car tires that used something similar. But the more I thought about it the less it seemed to matter, and even if there were some balance issues they surely can’t be as bad as a deflation five miles from home, caused by one tiny goathead thorn.

So this last time, I squirted the goop into the tubes…

…and this morning I learned that at least my worries about balance were unfounded. The wheels work as well as ever. Hopefully the goop will have an effect on the frequency of my tube replacements, but I think I’m also going to end up investing in one of those anti-puncture liners.

Went to town to pick up some goodies I’d ordered. Among which…

I don’t think I mentioned this on the blog but Tobie started having issues with gooey discharge in one of his ears. At first I thought it was a bad infection but apparently it’s just earwax. Bless his heart, it turned out he didn’t really mind me sticking my finger deep in his earhole with a wet rag or we’d have had difficulties. There kind of was the matter of “It’s too hot” or “It’s too cold,” though, and since apparently this is going to be a regular item of dog maintenance I did some research on whether there’s a product for this sort of thing. Never had the problem with any of the other dogs.

And yes, of course there’s a product for this sort of thing. In fact there are all manner of products for it. Tobie is turning into quite an opportunity for education. So now he’s got his very own tub of ‘ear wipes for dogs,’ which certainly seem to pick up the goo. Little Bear and Ghost would have fought me to the death over this sort of intrusion but Tobie seems to like it. No accounting for taste.

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I like this one…


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The spider did it.

Just another day. I unlocked Ian’s place coming back from Tobie’s afternoon walkie, took the leash off, grabbed a beer from the fridge and took a slug while making my way to the dark musty bowels of the cave. Time to check the water infrastructure before stripping down for my shower.

I checked the water softener display, which is when I met this KAIJU living under the lid…

You’d think I’d be used to this by now. The high desert is home to approximately all the spiders, and most of them don’t particularly freak me out. But I hate it when a big one sneaks up on me, y’know? Anyway, during the ensuing struggle to the death the water softener’s lid may have, um, accidentally contacted the control panel just a little.

I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I mean, other than expostulating over “the size of that thing,” there was nothing much to be said. Just another day.

But it’s the things you don’t know that get you. And what I didn’t know was that it wasn’t just necessary for that control panel to be intact and fully plugged in: It also had to be locked in a very specific position over this weird primitive mechanical wheel that controlled the operation of the backwash gear. And yesterday, a few days after the spider incident, I noticed that the regular scheduled backwash hadn’t happened. So I started one manually – and got an error message.


Dug out the manual. Which told me to … check the control panel position? What the hell difference could that make?

Turned out to make all the difference, which was kind of weird but whatever. My job is to keep the stuff running, not to have an opinion about how it runs.

Hey. Watch your language around me or I’ll swat you again.

And also to battle the occasional mutant spider.

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