Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tree down follow-up

You may remember a previous post in which a tree fell and no one heard it. (It did, nevertheless, happen)
It had heart-rot, which, according to my arborist, Jerry, starts in the root and follows the root up the trunk into the heartwood.
As this tree fell, it clung to its roots, pulling the ground open on the loose soil of its hillside. It created a vulnerability to the coming rains of winter and the erosion of the hillside, leading to unpredictable consequences. (Any metaphors you may wish to draw from the preceeding outline are free for the taking. Apply at your own risk.)
Because this hillside is just a few yards below a state highway, it seemed prudent to detach the fallen bulk of the tree, which was hanging at a 60 degree angle downhill from its roots. Gravity comes into play in such a scenario, and as water flows down hill, so do heavy things. I figured if I could simply detach the tree from the root/stump, I could eliminate the added gravitational pull and also mitigate any surface water entry into the open earth-wound.
Further complicating the equation was the proximity of said highway, the location of a large photo-op turnout on the highway overlooking our tree, the notoriety of the estate we are on and the scrutiny it entails, plus the fact that road work is already ongoing on the stretch in question, which could involve some jurisdictional oversight, blah, blah, blah! Ergo: I decided to apply for a "tree removal permit" before allowing any work to be done on the tree.
Of course, once any piece of the tree falls down over the precipice into the "ocean", other jurisdictions come into play. Ever hear of the "Coastal Commission"? Let's not go there. And please don't force me to delete this post and all references to it, based on what is to follow.
My application for a tree removal permit was granted, after numerous pestering phone calls on my part, based on my repeatedly e-mailed photos and faxed documents, granting me permission to take care of my own stewardship based on certain stipulated conditions that stretch out over the next year or so and the previous umpteen years involving the entire documented history of the assessor's parcel number on record with the county and all of the outstanding tree removal permits, the conditions of which were never satisfied, involving planting new trees, etc. etc. etc.
But only for the ONE tree, not the other tree that was also taken out by the unwitnessed falling that allegedly took place on the night in question.

Witness the additional personnel and extra ropes and safety gear...

- to be continued -

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Seals in paradise

I took a potted white bird of paradise outside today from its usual place inside the house to wash off a soft scale infestation. The mist setting on the water pistol works really good for this, gentle, but effective and non-toxic. I set the pot on a lower step, under a stone arch, wrapped a plastic bag around the base of the plant, covering the soil and the top of the pot, and leaned the pot at a 45 degree angle so I could wash the leaves without flooding the pot, or dumping out the soil.
As I worked, I looked out across the cove and noticed how low a tide it was. Something else caught my eye. I went to get the binoculars and took a closer look:
Yeah, I thought it was a seal. I worried at first that this 'beached' seal was dead or in distress.
Then I noticed another whitish blob:
As I put the camera up to the binocular lens, I saw them each nudge around
to find a more comfortable fit on their seaweed perches,
 and the second one had a smug grin on its face.
They were still there two hours later when I returned from other errands to bring the plant back inside.
The sea was calm today and the sunset was gorgeous.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

box of worms

Lest I leave the impression that the lack of blog posts are due to the possibility that I have gone fishing, allow me to show you 'behind the curtain', so to speak ( ;-) ) ...what I have been up to. I have been fishin' for a troublesome electrical problem that volunteered to show up some months ago. A certain light fixture that is situated at the bottom of a dark flight of stairs leading to 'the facilities' decided to go on the blink, literally, and then completely went dark, also literally. Having witnessed the erratic circuit-popping behavior of the electrons passing through this portal, I know there is something amiss within.

When guests occupy these quarters, and nature calls at 3 a.m. there is no (appropriate) alternative but to descend into these catacombs. Without a sentinel light along the path, it can be, I would imagine, disconcerting in unfamiliar territory, if you can't throw a switch and shed some light before heading down a curving staircase in the night. I have my own path memorized, so I can do without electricity in the middle of the night, but if I was in unfamiliar surroundings, I'd probably need to commit to waking up a bit more, grabbing a flashlight or using the Braille method.

A switch is located at the top of the stairs, which is where the box pictured above is located, as well as at the bottom of those stairs. Such a switching arrangement (a switch in two locations) is called a '3-way' switch.  Not sure why. Maybe because of the 4 wires that connect to it. A light or series of lights controlled by switches in three locations is called a '4-way switch', of course. In the box pictured above there are three 3-way switches and one 4-way switch. There are also other wires, lots of other wires,  just passing through, going who knows where! This looks COMPLICATED!

I initially just called the electrician who did the original wiring 10 years ago and asked him to come 'fix it'. After a couple of hours scratching his head he left with a cheerful promise to return with notes and drawings and get things working. He must've gotten busy with easier or harder projects, becasue I haven't seen 'r heard from him since. I'm still waiting for him to return my call.

Not liking the feeling of being in the dark, I've finally decided to take matters into my own hands.
I am proceeding on the theory that careful, step-by-step progression of disassembly, labelling and identification of conductors at their origin and destination and trying different stuff will eventually lead me to the cause and solution of the problem, as well as give me a better comprehension of the layout of the wiring in the building.

After the first day of puzzling and head-scratching I made my first breakthrough, and have begun to track the course of each conductor that enters this box and where and why those conductors enter and leave the several other boxes scattered throughout the building.

Things worked properly at one time. Then, trouble cropped up, unbidden. (It does do that, doesn't it, though!?) The bafflement is discomforting, and I struggle with a stubborn resistance to tackling it. But the solution is there, isn't it? If the problem exists, its removal is just a matter of perception and interdiction. The bafflement slowly gives way to persistence and applied problem-solving. Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle begin to coalesce into a comprehensible big picture. The nascent apprehension of this fact has, from past experience, taught me to trust in the process of TRYING. Often, resistance to taking action is the most time-consuming phase of problem-solving. As progress begins to build, so does my enthusiasm and faith in the ultimate satisfaction of conquering the unknown.

I'm still fishing, but I've got some nibbles on my line, so I know the fish are biting. Eventually, I will get a strike, and when I do, I will reel it in, close up my box of worms and head back to shore to enjoy my catch.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The gate latch saga

Here is the gate latch at the main gate to Searock; deceptively innocent and simple looking, but actually a complicated affair involving telephone lines, electrical solenoids, springs, buzzers, and a delicate balance between a positive closure and a heavy wooden gate that sometimes slams (too often) and sometimes stops short of closing (also too often.)
A solenoid built into the latch receives an electrical impulse of about 26 volts when someone enters the correct code on the keypad outside the gate. With a loud buzz, a plate is pulled back within the latch by the solenoid, allowing the latch to swing freely out of the way when the gate is pushed. After ten seconds the voltage is cut and the plate snaps back to prevent the latch from allowing the gate to open.

After a recent flurry of guests (about 50 in one afternoon) the latch stopped stopping! The gate would just bounce against the stone when it slammed, and the gate could just be pushed open at will, even by the wind, and then Gideon
would be out on the highway trick-or-treating.
Having repaired this same latch almost 5 years ago, I wasn't all that excited to take it apart to figure out what was going on, but I could tell things were askew in there and that 'surgery' was indicated. Here's how it looked then, in December of 2006:
After I chipped away the mortar holding the housing in place, got it on the bench and opened it up, I removed the latch/solenoid mechanism and put it in the vise.

The solenoid is in the upper section, the latch in the lower.

The latch is supposed to pivot on a pin when the solenoid pulls the plate back. You can see the head of the pivot pin at the right, protruding out from the side of the assembly. At first, I thought I'd found the problem: the pin had slipped out of its port on the left side of the assembly, causing the latch to sit askew in the housing, eventhough there is an allen screw locking the latch against the pin. It must've come a bit loose. I had to loosen it more, though, to push the pin back into place. When I pushed the pin all the way in, things straightened up nicely. But it didn't look likely to stay, what with all the banging and slamming that the gate undergoes, so I decided to pull the pin and replace it with one I could make stay. Of course I had to also decide I would be able to get that little spring in the middle wrapped around the pivot pin back in place around a new pin. So I pulled the pin, and made a further discovery:
The latch itself was breaking around the pin! in two places! And the pin was bent from the repeated stress of the gate banging against it. So now, instead of just putting it back together, I had to have a new latch. I didn't want to put this one back in service just to have it break again in the near future.
Fortunately, I had a new latch/solenoid assembly with which to replace the whole unit. Unfortunatley, the new unit was in a housing of an entirely different shape and size.

Fortunately I could fabricate a hardwood block into which I could mount the new latch assembly that would allow for future servicing by being removable and yet sturdy enough to hold up to rough duty at the gate.

Things were going well. I took the new assembly out to the gate to test and mount it.
I hooked up the wires and pressed the code into the keypad. "Buzz", said the latch, and I physically operated the latch with my finger to prove it was released by the solenoid. I then proceeded to mount the assembly.
But when I finished and stood back to test it again, unfortunatley it didn't work, no buzz, no nothin'. Partial disassembly and tried the code again..."buzz", okay, we're in business! Reassembly, but then, no buzz, no work!
After removing the assembly once more, I measured the voltage at the gate wire to be 25.9 volts. Checking the rating label on the new solenoid latch I saw this:

"16 to 24 V.AC"
Okay, so I must've burned up my new solenoid with too much voltage. I wonder if I can mount the old solenoid in the new housing?
Fortunately, the old one was still functional and I was able to fit it into the new housing by cutting away some of the steel plate on which the old solenoid was mounted.

The new, burnt-out solenoid is on the right, the old, modified one is on the left; the blue tape is the pattern I used to make the cuts.
The picture further above of the opened new latch assembly is actually the new housing with the old solenoid fitted into it. After remounting the whole thing back onto the gate post, I am pleased to report that it has never worked, or looked, better!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lizard pup

I met this little lizard this morning.
I was watering plants in the greenhouse and I thought he was a little dry leaf.
He was feeling kinda out of place, so I scooped him up and handed him outdoors, where he happily scurried off. I was lucky to catch it with my iphone, so I thought I'd see if I could even upload it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

revisiting the dry stream bed

The work laid down last year proved inadequate. This year's new & improved version involves mortar and metal lath.  After digging out the impacted streambed of dirt-encrusted river rock, I excavated an additional couple of inches deep for shelves on either side of the deeper drain trench. After placing an edge of wet mortar and a cut sheet of expanded metal lath on the shelf with additiional mortar then placed atop the lath, river stone is placed into the wet mortar in a fluid pattern:
The pattern fills in and forms a swale in the path that diverts rain run-off in a less erosive manner.
A couple larger granite stones are used to block out drainage ports in the trench...
They can be pulled to provide direct drainage to the trench.

Some stepping stones are left in the bed for footing and reinforcing. After initial washing, the contours of the stream bed are revealed...
...after another washing
later tonight, the stream bed will be finished and ready for the rainy season, to see if it sheds the rain and stops erosion along the path.

I can hardly wait to see what the unintended consequences will be.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tree falls in the forest, no one hears it!

We were walking with some guests over towards the south side to look back at the house when I noticed a downed tree along the trail. It hadn't been down the day before.
It just toppled over in the night, taking two other trees with it.
It was not a small tree. About thirty feet of the top broke off and landed in the surf at the bottom of the cliff.

There had been no sign of distress in the tree itself that we were aware of, and there was no significant wind to speak of, but it evidently was rotten at the core, and down it went, taking a couple of smaller neighbors with it.
Its time had come...

Time Out!

We were priviledged to host a group of men who had been attending a conference in Monterey over the weekend. What a wonderful group of earnest, engaged young leaders and older mentors all interested in "making a difference"! In the photo above, a tech industry ceo and mentor talks about "truth telling" and making ethical decisions in business and personal life.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kitchen hearth part 4

The new lintel is in place, the columns on either side are set and the pieces missing from the top border are being set.
Time to lay up the back wall:

Once the back wall is layed up, the plaster repairs begin to the wall surrounding the fireplace.
There's also the large crack on the mantle to patch. Into this crack and the crevices in the stone work under the damaged plaster, I injected an epxoy compound made for masonry.
While we're at it, I am patching the flashing around the chimney to prevent the intrusion of water, the culprit that started this whole project.

A primer coat goes on...
...and a top coat.

With everything back in place, it  looks just like an old fireplace. Perfect!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kitchen hearth part 3

Replacing the lintel
Getting the brick columns set
Laying up the back brick
Back brick layed up and scratch coat on plaster
Masking off crack for final filling after injecting with epoxy bonder

Kitchen hearth part 2

We also found the throat on the smoke shelf mostly missing...in it's place was a pile of rough old cement fallen from upper courses lain long ago. We used the remnant as a model and cast a new throat block, and cleaned out the old mortar.

the cleaned off smoke shelf without throat block