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Sunday 31 March 2002
Some yard work was done Saturday. After mowing front and back I discovered that my lawn edger had a broken recoil starter. This meant a trip to the library to find out more about small pull-start gas engines. It is an old Brigg's & Stratton engine and the pull-start clutch isn't engaging the motor for some reason. There is also one broken sprinkler head, and several that just don't "pop-up" far enough - the lawn has raised several inches since it was installed, partially due to all the dust and sand in Lancaster I suspect. The end result is dry spots in the lawn. So its a matter of unscrewing the old 2" pop-up sprinkler heads, and screwing on new 4" pop-ups. All not very exciting, but sort of a pleasant chore on a nice spring morning.
Taxes? Well, I started. It's hard to get enthused about indoor chores on such a nice weekend. And by tradition Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, right?

Monday 1 April 2002

My sister Ann's birthday is today, April 1st. That must have been occasionally annoying for her...
Working my way through the taxes: can't find a couple of things - I imagine they can fax them, or I can download them. We'll see. Usually I do OK with the "box" method, just throw all the years' stuff in a box and fetch the out as needed later. This year a couple of pieces of paper just aren't there.
While at H&E buying sprinkler heads I saw some hoes on sale. Which are exactly what I've been needing - my old hoe fell apart a couple of years ago and I've been using a shovel and mattock instead, which is overkill. So a nice light long-handled hoe (not the articles on sale, they were far too heavy and short handled) and the work went a lot quicker. Of course it was the hottest day of the year so far, 87 Fahrenheit, so I drank a lot of ice tea from my Mr. Coffee Ice Tea Maker.
My Dad had the fan belt break on his car this last weekend - luckily he had a cell phone in his car and was able to call for help. I would encourage anyone who doesn't have a cell phone to consider getting at the least a "Tracfone" and a $100 1 year prepaid calling card. Put it in the glove compartment and forget about it, except for monthly recharges.
My old truck broke down last fall out here in the desert, and even with a cell phone it was three hours before the tow arrived. Water and some sort of emergency ration - something you won't eat unless actually starving - are also really good ideas.
I've been using Netscape Composer for these pages, and it has the really annoying habit of replacing my relative links to images with global links - which are afterwards incorrect on the unix server I upload to. I understand that Microsoft Outlook has the same problems, but it has so many security holes that I can't bring myself to use it anyway. So, each editing session with Composer is followed by a pass through the html with WordPad. Hmmm. I have some Redhat Linux boxes, I wonder what Composer does on them? If nothing else I could set up an account with the same absolute path I suppose. But there is no functioning modem right now on those boxes. Bah.

Tuesday 2 April 2002

The tax returns are mostly done - I just need to go through them again and check things. This year I am getting a bit back - usually I try to come out near to zero, but a couple of extended vacations without pay seem to have dropped the gross enough to throw off my calculations for last year. Some people like to get big refunds, but I don't see how loaning my money to the gov't, without interest, serves me in any way. I'd put it in a bank account or the market and try to make a bit on it myself.
My internet provider, Antelecom, has been a bit flaky of late. It's hard to log on, slow, and you often get logged off. Often even when connected they can't even find their own mail server. Which is too bad - they were the best I'd ever known when I started, and I'd tried four or five before settling on them. It was nice to call up and get Mike, the owner (or Georgia - his mom) when you had a problem or question. They claim that it's just a server upgrade issue - but it's a first for them to be AOL bad. We'll see - life always has it's rough spots. There is always satellite. No broadband in my neighborhood.
It's getting close to new car time for me - and I've been considering electric cars. My commute to work is 70 miles, round trip, and is often against Antelope Valley headwinds, which can average 30 MPH (50KPH). And in the winter it is a headlights-on trip, both ways. Most vehicles seem to be 40-60 miles range, depending on driving conditions, and just wouldn't suit. I wouldn't be comfortable with less than about a 100 mile range. The General Motors EV might do that I think. But they are costly and (I have heard) hard to find.

Wednesday 3 April 2002

I drive a great deal, and a reliable vehicle that can take me hundreds of miles at a time is essential. So maybe I should just concentrate on reviewing existing gas powered cars. The Toyota Camry is probably the best car ever made, but it's boring. Kind of a staid 'Stepford' car. The BMW 530i is also very good, rated as the best car Consumer Reports ever tested, but a bit pricy. I do tend to baby my cars and get a great deal of use out of them, which brings down the cost per mile, but still....
An alternative might be to build an electric vehicle just for the commute alone, perhaps out of my 85 GMC S-15 pickup.  I have a reference to "Lead Cobalt" batteries that I haven't really tracked down yet, but it is suggested that they have 150% of the power of an equivalent standard Lead Acid battery.
I could add a small generator to charge the vehicle while parked in the lot. As an engineer of sorts (mostly I program) that seems to me to lack "elegance".
Perhaps a solar panel array - but you could only fit about a 500-750 watt system onto the back of the pickup, and it probably wouldn't recharge the vehicle enough to get home. And the complexity of having two charging systems, one at home, one built into the car is going to affect the cost, weight, and reliability. Hmmm.

Thursday 4 April 2002

What I need to do is to make up a little table of electric cars and such, for a side by side comparision. I can see if anything meets my needs, compare costs as well. With the pure electric vehicles there may be some tax advantages as well. I am considering a 1KW photovoltaic system for the house here, and it certainly would.
Here's what the kitchen table looks like at tax time:

To get the full effect you have to imagine a couple of cats laying in the middle of the paperwork as well... Yes, that's the light that knocked Phoebe off the table last week - you can just see the monitor on the floor to the right of the table.

Friday 5 April 2002

It was just another day at work - not much to talk about. In fact, they don't want people to talk, because it's considered "Open Source Intelligence". So you can assume I was working hard, even if I don't say so... I wonder if my boss would go for that?

Since it's April, a little quote is in order:

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote...
Thanne longen folks to goon pilgrimages."

One thing that has always struck me as interesting is that Chaucer is actually readable, with a little work. It was hundreds of years ago ( the mid 1300's I think ) and yet one can make sense of most of it. I seem to recall from school a position that the rate of change of a language slowed once literacy became common. Of course, what I remember best from that class is that Chaucer somehow got a pension of a bottle of wine a day from the king...

In local news, some "Christian" folk decided to harrass the local "Wiccans", driving up to their ceremony, yelling, shouting, blaring out their Christian music on their car stereos. There is a lot of "they did this", "did not", "did too" going on between the two groups. The local Los Angeles Country Sheriff's Department were called (Lancaster has no police force of it's own), but didn't show for five hours! This is par for the course, unfortunately they seem to be very understaffed around here.

So, my quote for the day:
"Why can't everyone just get along?" - Rodney King

Saturday 6 April 2002

I was on the road today, so there isn't a lot to say. The I-5 wasn't as busy as usual, and the weather was nice - lots of fluffly white clouds in a blue sky. It can be a terrible strain driving on that road, but the cars and trucks were reasonably well behaved. Most people seem to drive 75-80 mph, about 5-10 over the speed limit, and most trucks about 60-65, again 5-10 mph over the speed limit. I was passed by one truck doing about 75-80, but that's unusual.

Picture of the Week

Canal Boats tied up outside a Pub, Chester, England, UK
Notes on the photo: On a trip to England in late summer 2001 we spent a day in Chester. At first I didn't care for the place, but it grew on me, and I was sorry to leave. We stayed at a hotel that was across the street from a canal, so in the early morning I walked along the canal path and took this shot. These are "narrowboats" and apparently you can tour the country in them, which might be a little less nerve wracking for Americans than watching cars and trucks come at you on the wrong side of the road!

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