Friday, November 27, 2020

A Fishing Expedition

When we last left our hero, he had installed an ethernet jack but was foiled by a crawlspace too narrow to pass through. A truly unfortunate situation, but not one without hope.

I decided that the most logical way forward would be to cut a hole in the rim joist of the floor perpendicular to the wall I was installing the ethernet jack in, and use that access to fish the wires through from the furnace. This presented some challenges, but none of them proved to be insurmountable.

But first things first, I needed to gain access to the rim joist to cut a hole in it, so I set to removing the trim. First, the edging, which was stuck down to the tile with possibly a bit too much construction adhesive (which caused some of it to ooze out at the edges and collect a bunch of ugly dirt).

Once that was off I could start removing the snap-together flooring that had been used to cover up the old, ugly trim that formed the riser between the slab floor and the raised floor.

The secret to removing trim pieces like this is to get behind it with a flat bar, find the nails, and then hammer the flat bar against the nails to bend them out of the wood or shear them off. You don't want to pull them back through the trim as they'll usually make a mess of the surface when they pop back through, assuming you can even get them out that way in the first place.

With the second piece removed we've gained enough access to the rim joist, and also the remains of the orange shag carpet that was apparently covering the floor in some distant past. Lovely.

A hole saw theoretically would have made quick work of going through the trim board and the joist. Theoretically. It went through the trim board just fine, but when it came to punching through the rim joist I noticed it had a fatal design flaw: the hole saw was just a bit less than 1.5 inches deep inside. So it only made it through about 90% of the 2-by-whatever joist.

Thanfully 90% is close enough, and I was able to finish the job by just smacking the plug through with a hammer.

Unreachable corner of my crawlspace, reveal your secrets!

Ok, not many secrets there. The thing in the foreground that looks like a huge turd is just the slightly rusted bolt holding down the framing to the top of my foundation wall. It'll be fine. We can also see the lovely fir floor joist here, as well as a register box and flexible heating duct that was contributing to making this area almost impossible to get through.

Also cobwebs. The spiders are having a real party down there.

So, in goes the fish tape.

And by some miracle and a lot of swearing, out comes the fish tape!

I bent a piece of romex into a hook to be able to fish it up, since the access through the floor into the furnace room here was a bit less than what I might need to fit my arm through. The fuel hose pliers also really came in handy.

Here's a wide shot of both ends of the fishing. The jack I'm trying to wire into is on the far side of the wall to the left.

The heating vent in the floor there is actually the second one in a row, the one visible through the hole I'm fishing through goes to the riser to the left to heat/cool the addition space.

Needless details aside, once the fish tape was through, getting the ethernet cables pulled to this point was a piece of cake.

Pro tip: label both ends of your cables before you start pulling them.

Now we have to turn the corner, this is going to be the part where we need to get lucky. In goes the fish tape.

And with a bit of swearing and cursing and somehow reaching around both ends at once I managed to get it out the other side.

The bent romex and fuel line pliers were again the MVPs.

So a bit of tape and a quick yank and the cables finally reached their destination.

I snapped them into the back of the keystone jacks and popped the faceplate back on. But the job isn't done yet, the riser still needs to be reassembled!

The flooring was easy enough to nail back up with my shiny new 18ga brad nailer fresh from the wilds of the Amazon. Likewise I used an appropriate amount of construction adhesive to stick the edging back on, after cleaning off the old rubbery goo from both the edging and the floor.

Do I even lift, bro?

It's worth noting that I also glued the puck of trim board back in to close the access hole I cut. The hole in the joist remains, though, as the plug was lost within the murky darkness of my crawlspace and I saw no reason to cut another from a scrap board to stick in its place.

Speaking of edging, when I moved in the piece of edging intended for the door into the car hole wasn't installed, and was just left on one of the hantavirus-covered shelves. Since I had the glue out I decided to finally give it a home.

I didn't fix the drywall that the previous owner's dog clawed through though. That's a project for another day.

For now, I'll just enjoy a job well done.

And the new hard line does, indeed, work. Here's Wifi vs Ethernet:

I have to say that Ookla's math seems a bit suspect. I'm not sure how 250Mb is faster than 90% of the US when 350Mb is only faster than 89% of the US. Either way, it's fast enough.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Park Hopping

As I'm taking the week off, it's traditional that I get in at least one nice big bike ride, weather permitting. This time I decided to try stringing together a few sections of dirt on BlackBirb, my XC bike.

The distance wasn't any particular challenge, I'd ridden out that far a few times before. What would end up being a struggle was making it up and over Almaden Quicksilver twice in one ride.

I always somehow manage to underestimate that park. Maybe because it seems smaller than it is, or because it's surrounded by much higher mountains. Either way it's really quite brutal.

Thankfully there's at least some interesting sights to see at the top, while slowly poisoning yourself with centuries old mercury residue.

The ride ended up taking a bit longer than I expected and by the time I was rolling home I'd run a bit low on food and was quickly running out of both daylight and the warmth that the sunshine provided. Luckily that only happened once I had crested Almaden Quicksilver for the second time, so it was pretty much just all downhill from there.

I did enjoy my ride out and back on Ohlone Trail, which I did for the first time on this ride. The trail was mostly non-technical with some rude grades here and there, but I found myself underwhelmed by the scenery it offered.

Anyway, once the ride was done there wasn't much left to do but shower up and eat a very late lunch. This was a bit tricky because by the time I was out of the shower my blood sugar had dropped pretty low along with my blood pressure, and the combination of that with some mild hyperventilating ended up making me pretty nauseous right when I needed to cram food into my belly. Not ideal, but I lived through it and feel fine now.

Filling that hole in my... door

So the door to my furnace dungeon has a bit of a gap at the bottom. This is partially due to the floor sloping down a bit from left to right, but also due to the floor sloping down a bit from out to in. Since the door is a right-hand out-swing, this means that filling the gap between the door and the frame with more door is not an option, thus I instead am left to fill it with more frame.

First, the state of the world as it was: A previous owner in some far distant past had nailed down a small strip of wood over what I can only assume is the last remaining remnant of the original asbestos linoleum the house was built with. It was not a good strip of wood, and did not even remotely do the job it was intended to do.

Also it was ugly.

Truly hideous.

Anyway, it was easy enough to remove, and I grabbed a reasonably decent chunk of scrap fir 2x4 and went about carving it into the shape of a threshold. I planed down the faces, cut the length, routed the rabbet, and then glued an extra piece to the backside because I needed to make up more than an inch and a half on the tall side.

I trimmed the bottoms of the door stops and slid it in, and let me tell you it looks better already.

But I was far from done, of course. Next up was filling a few nail holes, drilling some screw holes, and painting it up with some semi-gloss latex.

A couple coats with some blow-drying in between and it was looking pretty slick.

Still fits in the doorway despite the extra thickness of the paint, so that's a bonus.

And it even fills the gap at the bottom of the door. Truly this day is blessed with miracles.

The door sure is ugly up close, but you don't notice it from a few feet away.

Finally, the last step, using up the last of a tube of caulking to fill the gaps left to allow for a little movement between the various different materials.

The gold screws on the white painted wood add an extra classy touch, I think.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Locking It In

So my portable generator came equipped with a 30a 120v outlet, as is common with generators supplying more than 2400w. I didn't think much of it at the time, figuring a 30a outlet is a 30a outlet, and the model I picked came equipped with a TT-30 socket.

Turns out the TT-30 sucks.

You see, as the name implies, the TT-30 was designed for travel trailers. In particular, it was designed with rather short blades, such that if a hung-over camper pulled out of their spot on a dreary Monday morning after a weekend of booze-fuelled hijinks, the electrical plug would simply pop loose from the socket without severely damaging either end.

Unfortunately this meant that the plug retention was bad enough that just the weight of my 10ga extension cord was enough to lever the plug out of the socket. Not ideal.

Turns out the other standard for portable generators is to use an L5-30 socket. As implied by the 'L' designation, this is a twist-lock design, and definitely does not have any issue at all with plug retention. Had I been paying more attention, I might have noticed that my generator is offered in an alternate configuration where it is equipped with an L5-30 outlet from the factory.

But mine did not.

Thankfully this situation is not impossible to rectify, so with a few Amazon purchases and a bit of fabrication, I gave my generator the L5-30 outlet it always deserved.

No more loose cords for me!

As a bonus, the 10ga extension cord I had purchased actually uses an L5-30 plug natively, and so this saves me from having to use the L5-30 to TT-30 adapter to plug into the generator.

Annoyingly I did have some trouble starting the generator after doing all this work. The spark was fine, the compression was fine, but the fuel just wasn't going through the carb. I had run the carb dry after my initial test firing a few months ago, but apparently there was enough gas in the carb or in the lines for it to go bad and gum things up. Thankfully giving the carb a few blasts of carb cleaner was enough to wake it back up and get things running smoothly again.

Less Milky

Even though the finish on the sound bar mounts looked not awful in photos, it bugged me looking at them in person. So, not being one to leave well enough alone, I sanded the finish back to bare wood and started over.

This time I began by applying a few coats of gloss oil based poly. This did two things: one, being an oil based finish it worked a lot better to soak in a bit and bring out the "wet wood" colour, and two: being gloss meant it didn't have any matting agents to make the finish cloudy as the layers were built up.

I topped it off with a finish coat of the satin water poly to knock down the shine, and the result is a much, much nicer looking piece.

Definitely much better.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

You Can Never Break The Chain

 So BlackBirb managed to wear through its first chain after just 1000 dusty miles. That dust is basically what did it in; I'd often find myself out on a long ride only to hear the chain start to sing a dry, grinding song of its people due to the dust having stripped away the chain lube, even though I'd just given it a fresh coat before heading out.

But still, 1000 miles isn't bad for a mountain bike chain. It's also not amazing, so for the new chain I grabbed the SRAM Eagle XX1 chain, which has been tested to last a really absurdly long time compared to most other chains on the market. And it damn well better, given it was $80 vs maybe $25 for the chains I usually get.

There's a couple colour options at this price level, because of course there are. Gold, copper, oil-slick or black. I was tempted to go with the oil-slick because it's needlessly blingy, but BlackBirb has a nice murdered out black/red colour scheme going and I didn't want to throw too much chaos into that, so I went for the black instead.

Oddly all four chain colours come with an oil-slick coloured quick link. So I get a little hint of chaos, just enough to keep things spicy. As a bonus, I managed to not accidentally install the quick link backwards this time, like I did on Purple Haze (it doesn't actually make much difference, it's just a little embarrassing).

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Playing With My Wood

When it came time to not use the god-awful built-in speakers on the 42-inch TV I bought shortly after moving to California, I made the obvious choice and got a 2.1 sound bar and sub combo. This worked quite well and the audio quality was pretty nice, but since I didn't opt for wall-mounting the TV, placing the sound bar below the screen meant that it interfered with with the TV's stand in an annoying way.

So fast-forward to when I got my 3D printer, and I solved the problem by designing and printing a pair of brackets that sat on top of the screen to hold up my sound bar there. Neato. Problem solved.

But now I have found myself replacing my 42-inch set with a 65-inch panel, and the profile of the top of the screen is different enough between them that the old bracket won't work on the new TV. I had considered modeling and printing a new set of mounts, but since I now have a workshop-in-the-making I decided instead to carve a set of mounts out of wood.

Through a highly technical CAD modeling process (cardboard-aided design), I traced out the profile of the top of the panel and transferred the shape to an off-cut of european beech I sliced off of one of the planks for my workbench top.

I then fired up the band saw to cut it out and somehow managed to destroy a blade while setting the tension. Well, it's a good thing I have a spare I guess.

Anyway, I made a rough cut first to separate the two pieces, then stacked them on top of each other with some double-stick tape and made the finish cut that way to ensure that they were as close to identical as anything gets in woodworking.

Some finishing with some rasps, files, a card scraper and some sand paper smoothed things out, and then it was time to lay on the finish.

I went with a satin water poly, since I happened to have a tub of it, and unfortunately ran into some clouding problems. Apparently this is a thing that can happen with water poly, and while there's a few different suggestions sprinkled around the internet for how to avoid it, I'm not sure any of them strike me as particularly scientific. Either way, I pressed on with the finishing and decided that the finish being a bit too blonde and milky wasn't going to be the end of the world. However, in future, I'll probably pick a different finish for european beech to bring out more color in the wood.

With an oil-based finish it should turn a nice peach color rather than just looking like generic pale wood. It's also possible that the color might just darken with age after a while, I suppose I'll find out eventually.

With that taken care of, it was time to put the brackets to use.

Very nice.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Feeling Frosty

 Well I suppose I got my furnace fixed up just in time, as I woke up this morning to a bit of a frigid scene outside!

But it's cozy and warm inside, and that's what matters.

Saturday, November 7, 2020


 So Tyler dropped by today to borrow the Pedovan in order to bring home a new fake xmas tree and a shiny new OLED TV. In payment for this vital service he dropped off his old TV, which, at 65 inches, is a fair upgrade from my 42 inch set that I've been rocking since, I dunno, sometime in 2012 or 2013.

The perspective makes it look less dramatic, but it is in fact a decent size upgrade.

Crawling In My Crawlspace

 So today I finally decided to get around to putting in an ethernet jack next to where my computers are, rather than relying on wifi for connecting to the wild world of the internet. Not that wifi has let me down at all, it's been rock solid reliable and very fast, but nothing beats a hard line.

Step one, mark out the location for the jack.

I used the location of a light switch on the far side of the wall to make sure I wouldn't end up cutting a hole right into the middle of a stud, and that plan ended up turning out quite well.

Now, despite the fact that this wall looks an awful lot like an interior wall, it is in fact an exterior wall. Or at least it was up until the addition was built. For whatever reason the builders decided to not take down the exterior stucco and instead just skim-coated and textured over top of it. That meant I had to somehow cut a square hole through over an inch of stucco.

Boschammer to the rescue.

I was able to use my rotary hammer to basically perforate an outline of the hole I needed for the low voltage drywall ring, and the remaining plug of stucco in the middle luckily just popped right out without any fuss, leaving a remarkably clean hole. Perhaps not as clean and accurate as I would have gotten using a drywall saw in drywall, but the situation did not allow for that.

Now that I had a hole in the wall, I needed a hole in the stud bay. Curiously, one was already provided for me.

This hole is a bit of a mystery to me. It seemed to be positioned and angled almost exactly to supply a box right where I had cut into the wall. But, oddly, the cavity it opened out into didn't seem to lead into the crawlspace, and instead appeared to terminate between two rim joists, at least as far as I could see with my borescope. So, that wasn't too useful. Luckily I was able to drill a second hole a bit further back, and that one did break through into the crawl space.

Poking this hole through the stucco ended up dislodging quite a bit of material, and for some reason there was also an odd metal bracket at the bottom of the stud bay. Curious.

So all that was left was to go crawl under the house and fish the wires up through the new hole I drilled. Easy task, piece of cake.

Except, not quite.

You see, when I bought the house it was noted that the crawlspace was not the code-specified 18 inches minimum height between the dirt and the floor beams. In fact it was more like 12 inches, or less, under the beams, and where the ductwork went across it was more like, well, zero.

I did my level best to try to find a way to crawl around and under it all, but in the end I had to simply give up and crawl back out without making it over to the far corner where I needed to run the wires. Very sad. I'll need to figure out an alternate plan for this later.

Of course, I couldn't just leave a hole in my wall, so I popped the drywall ring in place, adding some construction adhesive to stick it to the stucco since the stucco was too thick for the usual plastic tabs to grab onto.

Then I topped things off with the cover plate and keystone jacks.

So it at least looks nice and finished. But it ain't.

An interesting side-note: The outlet right beside where I put the new jacks actually lands directly overtop of a stud. Whoever put it in decided to chisel out a bit of the stud to fit the box in place, which is a curious way of doing things. But, I suppose it worked, so yay?

Anyway, I have a few different options on how to proceed from here. I could try digging out a trench in my crawlspace to allow me access past the heating ducts, which would be an awful lot of unpleasant work. I could also see if I could remove some trim from an adjoining wall, drill through the rim joist, and see if I could fish the wires in from that angle without having to go into the crawl space. I could maybe see about coming down into the stud bay from the attic, though with the low roof angle it's really, really tight along that wall.

I've got options, I just need to figure out which options suit me best.

Bamboozled No More

 So, I had been quite sure that the source of my furnace problems was the high limit switch. I checked the voltage downstream of the high limit switch when the failure was occurring, and I saw only a small trickle of electrons. I pulled the connector off the upstream side of the high limit switch and measured a full 24vac. So it's the high limit switch that's gone wrong, right?

Wrong. After putting in the new high limit switch, things appeared to be working, but later on I got the same symptoms showing up again, and this time I did a big more debugging. I found that when the furnace was in fault mode that, in fact, there was an unusually low voltage (on the order of 2 or 3vac) on the entire loop, and disconnecting any part of the loop resulted in full 24vac on one side and 0v on the other.

There's only three things that could cause this to happen.

  1. The furnace controller board is bad and has a high resistance in the supply for the high limit switch loop.
  2. Somewhere in the loop there's an intermittent short to ground, somewhere upstream of the furthest-upstream connector I could probe.
  3. The furnace controller board is bad and has a low resistance in the sense line for the high limit switch loop.
Given that 2/3 of the possibilities were a bad furnace controller board, I popped onto Amazon and found an exact replacement for about $100. Naturally I slid right into Jeff Bezos's DMs and had him send one over.

A few odd shipping delays in Texas later, and I had a shiny new controller board in hand.

Swapping it out was a pretty straightforward matter of unplugging the old one and plugging in the new one, and once that was taken care of I fired up the furnace and, so far, everything seems to be working. Let's hope it stays that way this time.

While I'm waiting to see if the furnace dies again, have some shots of the old furnace controller, showing some rather suspicious heat staining around some resistors.

A little suspicious looking if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Feelin' Hot Hot Hot

 Heating season has begun here in sunny California, which means I am once more faced with my loud, obnoxiously unreliable furnace being loud and obnoxiously unreliable.

The loud part has a number of causes, one of which is the direct-return installation where the furnace uses a single central return vent plumbed directly into the blower plenum, which means that there's exactly zero ductwork on that side of things to absorb the noise. But it's also partly caused by the flue gas blower fan being bent and rubbing against its enclosure. Keep this in mind, we'll come back to it later.

The unreliable part came in the form of the furnace lodging itself in an error mode, blinking a code indicating a high limit error. What this means in theory is that the yellow loop that goes through the high-temp limit switches and the thermal fuses was going open-circuit, which you can see in the diagrams below. What this means in practice is that the furnace would randomly refuse to put out heat.

Now a noisy furnace will still keep me warm, but a furnace that won't put out heat is failing in a fairly fundamental task. So, time to diagnose!

I whipped out the multimeter and traced around the yellow high-limit sense loop. 24v goes in, 24v goes out, 24v goes in, 0v goes out. Well there's your problem. The issue was the burner-area high temp limit switch. It was supposed to be normally-closed, but was, in fact, only normally-mostly-closed, which doesn't really cut it.

So a replacement is ordered, personally delivered overnight by Jeff Bezos himself, and out comes the old switch.

And in goes the new switch.

The switch didn't come with the fiber gasket, so I reused that from the old one. Easy-squeezy.

So after everything is popped back into place, I set the thermostat to char-broil and...

I have created fire! Stolen from the gods themselves, tamed and domesticated by mankind.

As a bonus the furnace is a fair bit quieter now, since I also took the opportunity to pull out the flue gas fan and bend the squirrelcage back into shape, as well as giving the bearings a little squirt of oil. It still makes a lot of blower noise through the cold air return but at least the metallic schff-schff-schff-schff of the flue gas fan is gone.

A job well done, if I may be so bold as to pat myself on the back.

Update: those back-pats may have been premature, the problems continue...