Monday, November 05, 2012

Taphophile Tragics: Kaua'i Cemeteries

One of the things I write about on my Oakland blog is history. And one way to learn about history is by studying cemeteries, where you can learn about all sorts of people who made and lived history. K and I recently took a trip to Kauai for a family reunion for my parents' 50th anniversary, so I have some non-Oakland posts to write about.

To paraphrase Pascal, "the present slideshow is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter." As a farewell and thank you to Julie, who's been running the Taphophile Tragics meme for almost a year, I included a bunch of cemetery and memorials from my trip this summer to Kauai.

There are three formal cemeteries represented; a traditional burial site for Hawaiian chieftans; and a memorial from a local beach. The cemeteries are at St. Raphael Church, the oldest Catholic church on Kauai near Poipu; the Koloa Cemetery, a public cemetery (featured back in September); and Christ Memorial Church, an Episcopal church in Kilauea. The valley is Honopū Valley on the north shore. The beach is one of many out-of-the-way public beaches on the north shore. I wish I had more time to investigate the stories of the people behind all of these.

Lots more pictures of the Kauai cemeteries:

Monday, September 03, 2012

Taphophile Tragics: John Doe 13

One of the things I write about on my Oakland blog is history. And one way to learn about history is by studying cemeteries, where you can learn about all sorts of people who made and lived history. K and I recently took a trip to Kauai for a family reunion for my parents 50th anniversary, so I have some non-Oakland posts to write about.

I dragged K along to examine a couple of cemeteries during our recent trip to Kauai. Initially she was being nice and tagging along, but she quickly discovered why cemeteries can be interesting places to visit. While exploring at the Koloa Cemetery, she discovered this small, plain marker. There were a number like this; some were generic markers where no one had bought or made a headstone, but there were a surprising number of "John Doe" markers. In the U.S., John Doe is used as placeholder name for an unknown or unnamed man; similarly Jane Doe (or Roe) for a woman, and Baby Doe for an infant. It can be used in a legal document, but is also commonly used to refer to unknown people.

I couldn't find out much about the Koloa Cemetery. It's outside of town, marked by a small sign. It seems to be the public cemetery for the area. A nearby Catholic church has its own cemetery, and there are other cemeteries in other towns across Kauai. It's a relatively small cemetery, but has a variety of markers from the 1920s to the present, and being in Kauai, is in a beautiful setting.

Visit Taphophile Tragics for interesting posts about cemeteries around the world.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

repairing our front-loading washing machine

broken shock absorber

We've generally loved our front-loading Kenmore/Sears washing machine. It doesn't use much water or electricity, gets clothes cleaner, and leaves clothes dryer than our old top-loading machine ever did.

But for a while, it's been behaving strangely. It was vibrating a lot during the final spin, occasionally spilling water from the hose, and sometimes making a whomping noise audible in the rest of the house. Still, it was getting clothes clean, so I didn't worry about it too much. Then last week it stopped in the middle of a cycle—it had tripped the GFCI breaker, and resetting that didn't do any good.

That meant I actually had to do something about it—at least after some hours at work, then taking the half-done laundry load to the nearest laundromat to wash. I took the front panel off and immediately noticed the broken shock absorber-type thingy that connects the drum to the frame. There wasn't a great puddle of water or anything else obviously wrong that I could see, so I let it sit while I got some replacement parts.

After it sat and dried for a couple of days, I tried it again, and it was ready to go. My theory is that it splashed itself during one of its violent episodes. So I unplugged the washer again, and set to replacing the shock absorbers. The old ones were challenging to remove, and the new ones almost as challenging to put in. Fortunately the parts came with instructions which helped, but it still involved a lot of awkward reaching, grunting and pushing and pulling pieces to get done. I ended up taking the back off, too, which helped get access to the plastic pins that hold each end of the shock absorber.

I also took the opportunity to clean out the water inlet filters. The hot water (which we don't use much) was pretty badly clogged. It was also interesting to note that there's a lot of empty space and some cement blocks (attached to the drum, to reduce vibration) inside the washer. And interesting to note that the replacement shock absorbers use a different design—I don't think we're the only ones to have this particular breakdown.

In any event, $35, some banged knuckles, and a test cycle later, the washing machine is back to its wonderful self.

Monday, June 20, 2011

solar in California

There was potentially big news for solar in California. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decided that PG&E and other utility companies have to pay homeowners for excess solar power. In the past, it's been simple net-metering, and any excess was used to offset their bill. Now PG&E has to pay a market rate for the excess. In theory that means solar panels can be paid off sooner, and eventually even make money.

Why isn't this huge news? Because the price was set based on daytime wholesale electricity rates paid to power plant owners, which fluctuate daily based on market conditions. That means when supply is low and demand is high, all is good for power producers. But much of the day and much of the year, California has an excess of electricity available, which means low prices, sometimes even negative.

Part of my day job is writing software for a small power plant, one piece of which is a program to monitor the energy price through the day. The price is set by the California ISO (CAISO), and is affected by supply and demand, loss, and transmission costs. After deregulation, companies like Enron gamed the market, resulting in power shortages, rolling blackouts and high prices. CAISO is designed to hopefully eliminate that possibility in the future, in part by always making sure there's more than enough power to meet the demand.

This year in particular, prices have been relatively low in part because demand has been low due to cooler than normal temperatures (until last week), and in part because of higher supply. Why not just dial back production if there's too much? Some generation is hydroelectric, and generates 24x7 depending on water flow, which has been higher this year. Even fossil-fuel based plants that can be adjusted up or down usually can't be adjusted that quickly, so there's generally a large excess.

The other factor is that solar is still a tiny portion of the power generated in California. Yesterday, for example, solar in California accounted for 4,142 MW hours of power, mostly between 8AM and 7PM. That's out of total system demand of 602,261 MW hours, or less than 0.7% of the total. A residential solar install is going to be a tiny fraction of that tiny fraction. All that means that with prices set based on market rates, the payment amounts are going to be very small.

As noted in the article, some people think this is fair, while others think the price paid should be higher to encourage further solar development. What's the right answer? I don't know, but in the short-term this doesn't change much, even for most solar owners. We still don't have solar power, but now that our neighbor's big tree is gone, it may make sense.

Monday, May 02, 2011

gardening with a sawzall

pampas grass

We're still getting used to the absent tree. The additional light in K's office is nice, and I'm loving having fewer pine needles to clean off the roof and the front walk. And I've still got some work to do on the stairs from the carport. But all those improvements have made some other things more clear.

One is the ugly mound of pampas grass that's been growing near the base of the stairs since forever. The plumes may look pretty when it's blooming, but the main mound is full of dry, yellowed leaves, and the green leaves have a nasty sharp edge to them. K has been wanting to get rid of it for a while, so today after I dropped her off at the airport, I came home and set to work. On Friday I'd purchased a machete from our local hardware store, and between that and judicious use of my sawzall to cut off the dense central clumps, I managed to get rid of 2/3rds of it. I filled our green bin, so after that's emptied on Wednesday morning I'll attack it again.