Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘problem solving

Simplest Solution

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I don’t know how many times I am going to face this lesson before I comprehend it well enough to no longer be fooled. It’s batteries. Apparently, I know just enough to fall prey to a key misperception. My understanding of electronics is deeper than many others, having attended years of technical school and working in high tech firms with engineers for most of my career, but batteries seem to be a repeating weak point for me.

The problem preventing the diesel tractor from starting which I had come to suspect was related to a missing safety interlock signal turned out to be the most obvious and likely cause of a bad battery.

Sure, the “fully charged” light came on when I connected a charger to the battery. Sure, the instruments on the dash lit up deceivingly bright when I turned the key.

It was all a facade. There was no “oomph” behind that initial twelve volts that allowed my ‘too smart for its own good’ brain to wander off after several much less likely possible component failures.

With essential assistance from Cyndie, who rose to the occasion to provide tenacious problem-solving brainpower and impressive muscle, we extracted the heavy battery from the very difficult to access front end of the tractor.

I’m particularly pleased with our simultaneous insight to use blocks of wood tucked under the unwieldy battery after lifting it just inches at a time in order to get it up where we could finally muscle it clear of the multiple obstructions.

After reversing that process to drop in the new battery, starting the tractor was easy. The afternoon project of chipping branches turned the area beside Cyndie’s new gardens into a lumberjack camp of cut branches, sawed logs, and flying woodchips.

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Turning logs into split firewood and branches into woodchips are two processes I find most rewarding for getting greater value out of the material left over after the initial project of needing to remove trees.

It isn’t necessarily a simple solution, but it is a wonderful achievement of making full use of our resources.

I can only hope that I will now find it easy to recognize future occasions of weak batteries being the simplest solution in my troubleshooting of equipment failing to start.

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Working Alone

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My high hope of building a footbridge in a single weekend fell victim to my need to accomplish all the tasks without a helper and also my being the sole entertainer for Delilah’s high-energy needs.

Add in the less-than-ideal windy and cold spring weather, plus the limitations of the batteries for my cordless circular saw, and my inability to finish by the end of the day yesterday was not all that surprising.

I resorted to two different solutions for supporting the long boards that I cut. That treated lumber is really heavy compared to the remnants of the old cedar deck boards I’m using for bracing.

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The pallets had a tendency to collapse, so I switched up to plan B on the second day: old moldy hay bales. That provided welcome consistency.

Because the bridge will end up being very heavy, I decided to build the frame right next to the washout I’m covering and then drag it into position.

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I was able to haul the boards down by the fence and begin to screw some of the cross-supports into position but quit when the time had passed for Delilah’s dinner. I’ll leave the finishing until next weekend.

Trying to screw the pieces together square and true proved challenging on the uneven ground. I want to give that the time and attention necessary to get everything precisely the way I want it. Then I plan to move it into position before screwing down the floorboards.

I’m not sure I’d be able to lift it if I waited until it was completely built. I mean, not without someone with a strong back to help me.

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Written by johnwhays

March 23, 2020 at 6:00 am

Saving Thousands

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If money was no object for us, I would have spent last night reclining in my easy chair with my feet up doing something pleasant, like napping. Instead, we are saving thousands of dollars by doing the work of replacing the rotting surface boards of our deck ourselves, along with the priceless assistance of our precious friend, Mike Wilkus.

That meant Cyndie and I were both out on the deck after I got home from work yesterday, manically striving to prepare as much as possible for today’s plan of installing the new boards.

We are going to keep the railing, so Cyndie has been sanding and wire brushing that wood to remove the lichen that has grown on much of it.

I worked to remove more of the old surface boards, prying up the original ones that were nailed and pulling screws from previous replacement planks.

It is one of those projects that shouldn’t be difficult but always includes unexpected challenges that suddenly bog down progress and increase frustration. Often, it has been a hidden screw that I missed, or simply one where the head is stripped and won’t spin out.

My hole-saw bit has been working wonderfully as a solution to free the old boards and leave problem screws behind to be spun out with a vice grip plier.

Most of the boards are coming up with ease, so I am growing more confident that the whole project is in reach of being as straightforward as we hoped. I’m thinking the bulk of work today will involve hauling new boards to be cut to length and then screwing them down to the joists.

All the while, I’ll be thinking about how much money we are saving by not contracting this out to any of those high bidders who recently quoted the job.

Our labor will be worth thousands.

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Written by johnwhays

October 4, 2019 at 6:00 am

Wild Interlopers

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Lately, for some yet-to-be-determined reason, we have been experiencing a distinct increase in uninvited wild visitors, some of whom seem interested in establishing residency. Some of them are cute and for the most part harmless, like the five young deer Cyndie spotted grazing in the back pasture last night.

Some are, unfortunately, all too familiar, like the mice and bats that Pequenita seems to view as mere house playmates for her ongoing enjoyment.

There are, as noted in two other recent posts, a family of raccoons and a suspected woodchuck making their presence known in broad daylight on separate occasions.

Yesterday morning, Cyndie sent me a picture looking out the egress window of the basement bedroom revealing a large mound of soil tossed up by one of several possible burrowing pests.

I’m leaning toward the woodchuck, based on the size of the excavation.

When I got home to see for myself, there were two frogs peering in the window from the top of the pile, and a mole napping off to the side.

My adventurous spirit is at a low ebb and I am struggling to muster any interest whatsoever in addressing even one of these wild animal pests, let alone all of them. Sadly, neglecting to deal with them now offers nothing but greater complications later. I’d rather not admit that it crossed my mind that we could simply sell the place, as is, and let the buyers deal with the pests.

Or, we could throw money at the problem and hopefully find a professional who is genuinely interested in tackling the challenges. I wonder if it would be possible to trap both a woodchuck and some raccoons at the same time?

I will happily watch the critters be driven down our driveway and off into the sunset for relocation at some magical forest that is over 25 miles away from everywhere, where all pest control companies release their captives to live out pesky lives in blissful harmony.

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Written by johnwhays

September 4, 2019 at 6:00 am

Cute Nuisances

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They sure look cute. All three of them, according to Cyndie’s eyewitness account, peering down at her from the great oak tree right outside our front door. I only count two in this photo she sent me yesterday while I was too far away at work to do anything about them.

I suppose I could have thrown a shoe up toward their general direction.

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If there are three young ones up there, logic suggests there is at least one parent also loitering in the vicinity. I’m happy to have so much wildlife wandering around, but we’d rather not have them choosing to reside so close to our home.

The way people around here deal with this kind of thing usually involves firearms, which we are more comfortable not keeping and bearing, regardless of any amendments.

Next choice, live trap, which involves transporting to a distance from which they won’t return at a location they are welcome.

Last choice, which we used when a mama raccoon had babies in the hay shed, pay painfully large sums of our hard-earned dollars to have someone solve the problem for us.

Out of sight, out of mind, out of cash.

As of this morning, I (we) have gone with my tried and true method of making no decision yet, while allowing time to provide a shove toward some solution the universe prefers. We left home and drove up to the lake for Labor Day weekend, taking Delilah with us.

Maddie, our most recent summer animal-care provider, is stopping by to tend to chickens and feed Pequenita while we are away.

Cyndie warned her to close the coop promptly at dusk and keep an eye out for the little masked bandits.

We’ll see what time brings.

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Written by johnwhays

August 30, 2019 at 7:58 am

Another Trailer

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Problem solved.

Enough said.

For the backstory, see “Sad Laughter.”

Cyndie financed the purchase of a replacement for the trailer that she mistakenly sold, and she found a way to have it shipped for free.

On to the next challenge.

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Written by johnwhays

June 24, 2019 at 6:00 am

Another Test

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My previous test to learn if I can create posts on my phone to achieve my desired result taught me a few things. Yes, it is possible, but it doesn’t match posts I create on my laptop. No, I haven’t found out if I can format the text as “justified.” My images appeared, but not as a clickable link to the full size, like I want.

So, I am trying again. I am importing a full-sized image that I successfully transferred from my camera to my phone over WiFi.

The app didn’t ask the size I want the image to appear, so I need to hunt for that setting somewhere.

I chose this image of my lock in case someone can offer advice in dealing with a forgotten combination.

(Oh, I also learned how to add text to my images.)

My idea with the lock was to start at 0-0-0 and spin in a sequence that counted up to 9-9-9.

That would hit every possible number combination.

It didn’t work.

Thinking it was possible that I goofed somewhere along the sequence, I tried a second time. I started at 999 and worked my way down.

It still didn’t open.

Am I missing something?

Too bad I can’t just click a link for a forgotten combination which would then allow me to reset it to a number I might remember.

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Written by johnwhays

June 11, 2019 at 6:00 am

Unbelievable Response

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Words you don’t want to hear when you are seated in an easy chair in the dwindling minutes before dinnertime:

“Honey, there’s no water pressure.”

What do I know about plumbing? Not much, but I know how to investigate. We cleaned the filter, but that didn’t seem like it was bad enough to be the problem.

I could see the pressure gauge reading confirmed Cyndie’s assessment of no water pressure. Next question was the electric control. I removed a screw and pulled the panel off.

Bingo! The capacitor had blown its top.

Um, now what? Who ya gonna call?

I asked Google. The first hit in the area was a well drilling contractor in River Falls that was listed as being open 24 hours. I don’t know how they can be open 24 hours, but I called and left my phone number and a brief message. I received a return call within about five minutes.

Words you want to hear when you have no water pressure in the dwindling minutes before dinnertime:

“I’m available to come right away.”

A half an hour later, the control panel was replaced, a new pressure gauge installed, and water pressure was back to normal.

Unbelievable.

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Written by johnwhays

April 10, 2019 at 6:00 am

Necessity Invents

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I was running out of options, in regard to clearing snow. In addition to the advancing drifts narrowing the bottom half of our driveway, we are facing the possibility of more heavy, wet snow this coming weekend. If I don’t open up some space, the next snowfall would really be a pain to clear.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I needed to figure out a way to open more width along the rise where the drifting occurs.

It was tedious, but using the most available tool –our Grizzly plow– I decided to make a series of 45-degree pushes in little “bites” to move the bank out wider. In the first 20 feet, I got stuck twice, and needed to shovel my way out.

Getting hung up like that was not going to cut it, if I was going to finish this project all at once. I needed to alter my technique.

I decided to skip ahead to focus on the narrowest section first. If getting stuck was going to keep me from getting very far, I should at the very least widen the narrowest portion of the plowed driveway.

I can’t say it was any particular savvy on my part, other than recognizing what was happening, but my switch to a new spot arbitrarily reversed my direction so that I was cutting into the snow bank from the opposite angle. In so doing, I ended up pushing first with the skinny side of the plow blade.

It quickly became apparent that this orientation facilitated backing out, while coming from the other direction was getting me hung up on the wide end of the blade.

I didn’t get stuck once finishing the rest of that whole southern stretch of the driveway.

John – 1; Drifts – 0.

I win!

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Written by johnwhays

March 6, 2019 at 7:00 am

Successive Challenges

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Never assume. Sunday night, I neglected to go outside to verify the degree of drifting in the driveway, after the day of strong wind. From the house, we could see the tops of trees swaying dramatically, but by afternoon, there was very little in the way of obvious snow still being swept up by the gusts.

We stayed in and watched the Oscars.

It turns out, drifts grow even when the blowing snow isn’t visibly obvious.

I got up at my usual work-day zero-dark-thirty and did my routine of planks and stretches, then dressed and headed out the door into the predawn darkness.

From the house to just beyond the hay shed, there was no change from when I plowed the day before. As I climbed the hill before the road, the cleared portion of driveway narrowed.

Drifts can be really deceiving. Driving toward them, it’s difficult to discern whether it will be soft, or packed solid. It can also be hard to tell whether they are going to be higher than the clearance of the car.

Since my Crosstrek has been performing so superbly thus far this winter, I forged ahead in hopes of breaking apart the drifts just enough so Cyndie would be able to drive her car out after me. She needed to leave early to lead some training for staff at a school in St. Paul.

It turned out that the drifts had grown significantly since I plowed, they were packed into a very firm density, and they were just tall enough to rub the bottom of my car. Cyndie would never be able to get out in her car, even if I broke through all the way to the road.

Didn’t really matter. I couldn’t break through. Near the top of the hill, forward progress stopped. I tried rocking forward and back, but the car-length I achieved backward only moved me deeper into the drift. I got the car stuck.

I would need to plow. Of all times to be forced to plow, this was really inconvenient. It was dark, I wanted to get on the road to beat traffic, and the air temperature was -5°F with a windchill around -35°F. I was dressed for work, not for being outside.

I intended to make this quick, but circumstances did not allow. The ATV wouldn’t start. The battery was sapped by the cold temperature. I popped the seat off and found the battery was covered by a mouse nest made out of pilfered bits of fiberglass insulation. Nice.

The battery charger was inside the frozen truck, so I had to wrestle with getting the doors open and trying to unwind the inflexible cables. With the jump, I got the ATV started and headed out to clean up just the bare minimum to get our cars through.

The drifts were too dense for the relative light weight of the ATV to push through. I ended up lifting the blade and “paddling” forward on the deep treads of the winter tires, just to break up the drifts. When I got down to the road, I could see that someone had driven by and smashed through a huge drift by our mailbox.

The road was almost as bad as our driveway.

I successfully made several difficult trips back and forth over the hill, each time trying to move a fraction more snow with the blade, but I was a long way from plowing it clean enough for Cyndie’s car to make it out.

Then the cable that lifts the plow blade broke. At that point, there was nothing else left to go wrong.

I blame the frigid temperature. It adds difficulty to everything you try to do. At least the sunrise provided an entertaining backdrop.

I was close enough to being done when the cable broke that Cyndie and I were able to shovel a path out of what remained of the busted up drift. The clearing we achieved was so narrow, I could hear the side of her car rubbing the snow as she drove through the skinniest section, but we both made it out in the end!

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Written by johnwhays

February 26, 2019 at 7:00 am