Friday, October 24, 2008

DISH Network Not Schmucks

A few weeks ago I posted that we decided that satellite TV wasn't working out for us so swell here in Bend. You can read that post here. One lingering question was whether DISH would play nice and agree that the arrangement sucks, be mensches and not charge us the $230 early contract termination fee--or whether they would be dicks. 

Well, we got the final bill and they waived the termination fee. Mensches, not schmucks, is the verdict. That counts in their favor if things should change and going satellite makes sense to us. 

For the time being, though, we're quite happy with Bend Broadband's HD service. And since we're using them for Internet access, it makes sense to bundle the two services. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pledge Drive at KPOV

I volunteered on Tuesday night over at KPOV's studios, answering the phone during their pledge drive. It was great being back in a radio studio. I used to do studio engineer techie work for KTYD-AM/FM in Santa Barbara back in the mid-70's, before it became corporate radio. Album-Oriented Rock was the format, it was all about the music. The jocks knew how to get out of the way of the artists, and while the station was a commercial station and had its obligations to the local businesses that bought advertising, it was always made clear that the music was the focus, not the spots. 

It was a joy being part of that scene. Even when we had to come in on Monday nights from midnight to 6 am because that was the only time the studio was taken off-line so we could do the major work that couldn't be done when the studio was in use, there was a sense of being part of a community effort. 

I got that same feeling when I was at KPOV. But here it's even more fun because it's volunteer operated, donation funded. No owners to suck up to and no sales department trying to coerce the progamming department to play safer music. (I was in sales at KTYD for a while. Hated it.) Just folk doing radio because radio is cool and fun. 

The station is having some issues with their equipment right now. The CODEC that gets the signal through the T1 line to their (present) 2 watt transmitter* (this mighty transmitter is located high atop Awbrey Butte--500 feet closer to the stars)  glitches every so often, causing messy and embarassing dropouts; and there's some issue with the signal path where one channel is lost somewhere in the studio. My studio engineering background is pre-digital, so I'm no help with the CODEC but I offered to lend a hand to Tristan when it comes to troubleshooting the latter problem. 

These are high-energy people who love what they're doing, and they're bringing great music and covering community events in Bend like no one else.

Support them. If you've ever lived in an area that is dominated by corporate radio you know what a fucking desert the airwaves are. A suckhole of commercials and bland, commercial music, where creativity and spontanaiety are stomped out in favor of the formulaic and predictable. 

Click here to support KPOV. They're just trying to raise $10,000. A commercial radio station blows through that much money in a week -- much of which leaves town forever into the pockets of the owners and stockholders. You can donate as little as $20, or as much as your love of music moves you. The drive ends on the 18th. 

* KPOV is presently a Low Power FM (LPFM) community station. Read more about that here

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Doesn't Suck Hard Enough

As I wrote in my post about this house's heating, the previous owners installed a wood stove insert into the first floor fireplace.  The darn thing billows smoke and ash into the room whenever the door is opened for reloading. 

I've been following the instructions: Before opening the door I fully-open the insert's air inlet and shove the outlet baffles out of the way. But even so, even after one week of operation everything in the room is getting ash all over it. 

So I had a chimney sweep come out and see what's up. 

Turns out that while the chimney flue's wide throat works well for a fireplace, which is inefficient and sends vast amounts of hot gases up the flue, it's far too fat for an insert. Inserts put out less exhaust, and cooler exhaust,  too, than a fire. This is because they are so much more efficient at getting the heat out of the fire before it goes up the chimney. 

As a result, they are unable to develop much draw in a fat chimney. The problem is exacerbated by how tall our chimney is: it rises two floors before climbing up through the crawl space then up above the roof. That's just too much volume of air to expect a fire in an insert to get into motion. 

Which explains why the fire and smoke billows out when the door is opened: it's probably easier for the smoke to go into the room than up the flue, especially when it's really cold outside or when wind is fluttering across the flue opening. 

The solution is to put a liner--essentially a stainless steel stovepipe--down the flue to the opening on the top of the stove. The sweep said it's a straight shot down to the insert so it should be an easy job. 

Seeking Used Mountain Bikes

"We sure have a lot of bikes," said Mrs. Elliott. 

She's right. We each have little road bikes, and we each have town bikes. The latter are more upright with shopping baskets and somewhat fatter tires than the "pizza cutters" on our road bikes. That's four. Then my son also has two or three bikes around the place. Adds a lot of clutter. 

But even so, we'd like a couple of entry-level mountain bikes for some of the easy trails around here. The town bikes just can't handle your fatter 26'' tires. 

So we're looking on craigslist for some affordable used mountain bikes. Problem is that both of us are small (I'm 5' 6'', she's 5' 2'') so we need small bikes. Most of the folk posting bikes for sale on craigslist don't say what size their bikes are so I email then and ask them to measure them. 

To make it easy for sellers to know what I'm looking for, I'm posting this information: 

Step 1. Adjust seat so that Dimension "A" (pedal at bottom to top of seat) is 33 inches.

Step 2. Measure Dimension "B" (handlebar to top of seat right above the seat post). Anything much more than 24 inches is too long for me. 

For Mrs. Elliott, Dimension "A" wants to be 31 inches, and "B" wants to be about 21-1/2 inches.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cost-Effective House Heating

The house was built in 1970. It appears to be fairly-well insulated. But still, it needs heating.

As originally-built,  most of the rooms were equipped with electric radiant ceiling heaters. Some of those work, and some don't. The ones in the bedrooms work, but the one over the main living area (dining room and living room) no longer functions. Repair is, I have been told, impossible. These heat sources spin the electric meter and only provide heating in the rooms where they are installed and work.

Many of the rooms have small Cadet wall heaters. When we bought the house they were inspected and are up to code. Earlier models were recalled, I am told, due to being fire hazards. The electrician (Alex Johnston) who did the wiring upgrades for my downstairs shop, and the electrician (Shannon, of Tomco) whom we hired to take care of some aluminum wiring issues, are both of the opinion that these wall heaters were retro-fitted into the house and are not part of the original construction. There is a wall heater in the living room, and one in the kitchen, and a few in the various downstairs rooms. These also are electric meter spinners. Noisy, too. 

Finally, there are two fireplaces: one upstairs and one downstairs. I'm no fan of fireplaces as a source of heat: they're inefficient (about 90% of the heat released through combustion goes up the chimney); the hot gases blowing up through the chimney create a partial vacuum in the house so cold air is pulled in through cracks and crevices, chilling the interior air; and after the fire has died in the middle of the night, cold air comes dumping down the chimney throat; and finally, they only provide radiant heating. If you're not sitting someplace where the fire's heat can illuminate you, you're not going to benefit very much from it. 

The previous owners upgraded the downstairs fireplace by installing a Lopi "Freedom" fireplace insert. These do a somewhat better job of heating than a plain fireplace. The fire heats the metal box both through radiant transfer and by passing the hot combustion products through baffles which transfer some of heat to the metal bits. The hot metal bits then heat the surrounding air through conduction, and heat items in the room through radiance. However, they still blow hot gases up the chimney, which draws cold air into the house unless they are provided with a separate air intake, which this installation doesn't have. 

The efficiency of an insert can be increased by adding a blower which sucks in room air, forces it around the hot metal box, and sends it out into the room. I bought one for this insert and mounted it last week. Seemed like an inexpensive way to get more heat per unit wood. 

Okay then. So the living room area has (1) a fireplace, (2) an electric wall heater, and (3) warm air from the downstairs fireplace insert which rises through the stairwell. Since this is where we'll be spending most of our free time, we'd like an efficient way to heat it. 

For several nights I experimented using a fire in the upstairs fireplaces versus no fire. Frankly, the room was warmer with no fire and the damper closed. The past couple days have been colder, so I've been seeing how warm the downstairs insert keeps the upstairs. The results suggest that while it does an exceptionally good job of heating the downstairs (which contains Mrs Elliott's offices and the shop for my business), it not so effective at heating the upstairs. 

The room with the insert is directly below the living room, and the previous owner put a small vent in the ceiling of the lower room so that heated air can rise into the upper room. Not much comes up that way, but I'll be rigging up a couple of computer-type muffin fans to increase the upward flow--we'll see how that works. 

So anyway. The house seems to be fairly well insulated. When I went to bed last night I put a couple good-sized pieces of wood into the downstairs insert, and choked the air inlet to "overnight" position for a slow burn. This morning the fire was out, the wood consumed (there is no hardwood around here for burning, only soft woods). With an outside temperature of 28 degrees F, the living room was an acceptable 63F, a 35F difference. But when it's, like, 1F outside, it could be 36F inside. 

That's pretty chilly.

So I'm exploring other options for heating the living room/dining room/kitchen area. 

We visited Bend Fireside to inquire about wood or gas inserts* for the upstairs, and while they have some lovely models, we're not talking low low prices: $3,500 to $4,000 for the insert and installation were the estimates. That said, I inquired about the price of an ash bucket, a simple metal can with a fitted lid, both painted black, and a handle for carrying. $80. Online the same exact bucket is $40 (+ shipping). Bend Fireside might not be the most cost-effective place to do my insert shopping. [Update: The same ash bucket is $20 at Home Depot. I'm all for buying local, but not if it means paying four times the price . . . .]

Less-expensive might be to install a free-standing vented wood or gas furnace in the living room and let the fireplace be merely decorative. But still, the cost to run the electric heater as needed for a few months might easily be a lot less than what it would cost for a new wood or gas stove upstairs, even if factored over several years. 

I need more information about our wall heater's power consumption and cost of electricity here before I can run the numbers. [Update: The plate on the appliance states that it consumes 2000 watts. Or 2 kilowatt-hours per hour of operation.  How much does it cost for a kwh? According to my August Pacific Power bill, the basic charge for a kwh is $0.036, add $0.002 per kwh for Oregon tax, then assuming that the power for the heater comes from the 2nd Block of Supply Energy, which adds $0.041/kwh, the grand total is about $0.08, or eight cents per kwh. Is that right? Well assuming that it is, and if we run the living room wall heater for, say, 6 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 months, it comes to about $1,000 for power.]

In the meantime, I have purchased six cords (real cords, 4' x 4' x 8') of seasoned and split lodgepole pine. It seems prudent to get more than less when how much wood this house will consume is an unknown. 

The last thing I want is a cold and unhappy Mrs Elliott. 

As they say: "Happy wife, happy life."

* The house has natural gas in the kitchen, and the electricians told me that there's a gas line up in the crawlspace, already stubbed off for future connections. 

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Trick or Treating for Wine, Cycling at Night

Halloween came early this year, we decided. Last weekend we had visitors from SoCal: one of Mrs Elliott's sisters and one of her friends--a friend since childhood. My guess is that they came to make sure that Mrs Elliott was doing all right this far away from home, in this foreign country. 

Of course, what do three women do on a weekend, especially when one is decorating a new house? On a Friday when the downtown merchants keep their shops open late, and when Bend has its Fall Festival and the streets are invaded by peripatetic festival gypsies who set up booths to sell trinkets?

Shop, of course.

And shop and shop and shop.

After about the third free cup of wine, they decided that they were trick or treating for wine. 

And after following them as they slowly poked through their third shop, exclaiming over every little item they found, after watching them group and re-group to discuss whether some candleholder or hassock or bit of fabric would look good in the house, I decided that I had wearied of the hunt. 

Taking pity on my male inability to work up any enthusiasm over the fiftieth wall sconce or some bejeweled shower curtain, they left me at that nice wine shop a couple doors down from Thump Coffee. What's the name of that place? Google isn't helping. Nor is my memory. [Update October 25, 2008: The shop, of course, is The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar. I have no idea how or why I was unable to find it Googling, but last night we stopped in for a glass of wine and Melanie Betti found it with a Google search in about 10 seconds. Anyway, I like the place and they do have an awesome selection of wines by the glass as well as 2 oz tastes.]

Anyway, I recall a nice dry Riesling, and an interesting Muscadet. There might have also been a Pinot Noir, but the memory is a bit vague about that detail. The shop had quite a fair selection of wines by the glass, both local and imported. The woman who was serving me (named Tammy, as I recall) said she normally doesn't work in the shop but the owner was out of town. 

Somehow I managed to end up at the Deschutes Brewery pub where the ladies found me. As it was getting colder and the booths were shutting down we decided to call it an evening.
Though they had driven into town in Mrs Elliott's little station wagon, I'd ridden my town bike and wanted to ride it back home after dark to try out its new nighttime rig lighting rig: a red strobe mounted on the seatpost and a Lowe's 3-watt LED flashlight clamped to the handlebars.

Nightime riding is a new adventure for me. One doesn't ride bicycles after dark in SoCal: drivers are never prepared for cyclists even during the nicest afternoons, and seeing one at night might cause a driver to accelerate directly toward the oddity. But Bend is far more cycle-tolerant, and cyclists are actually more visible at night than during daytime hours, as long as they are well-lit and reflectored. 

I figured that the two lights, plus pedal reflectors, a reflective vest, and reflective ankle bands would make me nice and visible to drivers, so I reckoned it was time for a trial run.

The rig worked great: the flashlight provided plenty of light for navigation when I was riding through Drake Park and across the footbridge, and because the cars coming from behind gave me a wide berth it's clear that they noticed the strobe and reflective bits.

Either that or it might have been my erratic weaving while singing Ninty-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall. 

Whatever the reason, I found the experience to be refreshing and fun and satisfactorily safe-feeling. 

So on Monday night my son and I rode to the Old Stone Church for a meeting, and last night I rode home from downtown after buying produce and cheeses (and a scone which is tempting me even as I write this) at this year's last Drake Park Farmer's Market, which was followed by an excellent meal at Staccato at the Firehall

Oh -- I almost forgot to mention: another of Mrs Elliott's sisters  along with her husband blew into town yesterday and they had dinner with us.  They're spending the weekend here and have rented a sweet little cottage on Riverfront Street, right on the river. 

My Magic 8-Ball is telling me that there is more shopping in my immediate future. 
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