Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Harkness reunion in Accord
Wednesday, August 23 2023
Due to all the draining (both accidental and deliberate) from my solar hot water heating system yesterday as I installed the new expansion tank, this morning I had to pay attention as the system was activated by the sun. I would have to add lots of fluid at the top to eliminate the many bubbles introduced into the system, bubbles that make the fluid come to a standstill, refusing to circulate and then heating up hot enough to boil, eventually to be released as vapor through the air release valve (which only makes the bubbles bigger, a positive feedback loop of hot water collection failure). I managed to get everything working only to then experience a problem that sometimes plagues the system: resets that seem to happen the moment the circulator pump comes on. These resets make it impossible for the hydronic fluid to circulate, since (due to logic that prevents the pump from being turned on and off rapidly), there is something like a two minute wait once there is sufficient heat (detected after the reset) and the pump turns on. And if the system is reset every time the pump turns on, that means the pump is almost never on. I haven't been able to figure out what is causing these resets. They might be related to transient spikes in the power supply or to some malfunction in the various watchdog systems (which automatically reset the system if it takes too long for something to happen). I was down in the basement for hours trying to make these random resets go away, sometimes by removing things (such as eight-pin AT Tiny that behaves entirely as a hardware watchdog) and sometimes by reflashing the firmware of the master Atmega328 (which does most of the system logic) or the slave Atmega328 (which provides a menu system on a little 20 by 4 LCD screen) to disable their internal watchdog logic. Nothing seemed to work, and, worse still, at some point the menu system stopped working and nothing I did revived it. I was thinking I might have to slap together some emergency replacment for the whole digital control system (which, at this point, is incredibly complicated and handles conditons I've forgotten I needed to handle, though it could probably be implemented much more robustly if it had a Raspberry Pi at its core instead of an Atmega328). But then I sucessefully reflashed an Atmega328 with the slave code (the menu system) and it started working again. I also discovered that the resets that were driving me crazy could be stopped if I just switched the onboard switch so that the outgoing serial cable connected to the slave and not the master. (I haven't been using that serial interface anyway, so that was no problem at all.) [REDACTED]
I'd hoped to do more work on cleaning out the garage today, but after all that distraction, I was only able to work on it for about an hour.
This evening Gretchen and I drove with the dogs down to Accord (pronounced "AK-ord") for a dinner engagement. We drove on unfamiliar roads east from US 209 a little south of Stone Ridge, directly towards the ever-stunning Mohonk Mountain House atop the Shawangunk Ridge. The landscape everywhere we drove through was gorgeous, but in the lowlands west of Mohonk it was especially so.
The dinner provided us an opportunity to visit an old college friend named SH, who was vacationing in the Rondout Valley with her husband and three year old baby (they otherwise live in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC). Also invited to the dinner party was our friend Kristen from New Paltz (where Mohonk appears as a mirror image from how it appears in Accord). At some point all three of us were together in Oberlin's Harkness Co-op, though SH wasn't all that memorable; I recognized her face but couldn't recollect a single story involving her from back in the day. SH and family were staying in a small but nicely-rennovated barn adjacent to the house of its owner, who was mixing concrete when we arrived.
Gretchen and I had been curious about how it was possible for SH to have a three year old child given that she is now in her late early 50s. It turned out that she'd actually given birth to the baby (named A) in April of 2020, that is, near the peak of the first wave of the covid pandemic. Somehow she'd overcome the odds and managed to get pregnant at the age of 50. Her husband P is somewhat younger than her and an immigrant from Cameroon who does IT work. He'd lived for a time in Lexington, Kentucky in his childhood during the Reagan administration and remembered thinking Ronald Reagan was a great president just because that was the consensus of his peer group. (I was living in the Shenandoah Valley at the time, where Ronald Reagan was also much loved, though I maintained my minority hatred of the guy, who seemed like a vapid buffoon and likely to be the worst president ever.)
Gretchen had made a big bowl of pasta salad full of green beans and cauliflower from our garden. We'd also brought the three beers we'd found in our refrigerator, which came to two Stella Artois leftover from Powerful's last ill-fated house sit and a Crisp Little Thing (a lager from Sierra Nevada somewhat related to its other "...Little Things" products). Kristen said she doesn't usually drink beer but was in the mood for one today, so she had the Crisp Little Thing while P and I each had a Stella Artois. Gretchen suggested someone make a beer run if we wanted more, but we were of the demographic to be perfectly happy with three beers to split between six people (though, admittedly one of these was only three years old). In addition to Gretchen's chonky pasta dish, SH had made a simple spaghetti peanut sauce and Kristen and brought peaches and a bunch of ears of corn. Kristen, who is reliably funny on all occasions, remarked that the "dish" she'd brought was something she had no idea how to cook. I figured out how to get the gas barbecue working and then SH and Gretchen managed to cook the corn on that, some of in the husk and some of it not.
Meanwhile the little kid A kept coming around with a basket of skinny wooden blocks painted in various primary colors offering them to us under the fantasy that it was either birthday cake (for which he was singing the birthday song to nobody in particular) or icecream. We would each dutifully take a block and say thank you, only to have him come through again later to collect the blocks in preparation for another round. At one point he appeared from inside the house carrying the basket while wearing tiny oven mitts because, well, the "cake" was "hot." That was kind of adorable, though for the most part his constant intrusions were mildly annoying. Overall he was a well-behaved kid, though he was prone to throwing easily-triggered and highly explosive fits if he was ever denied something he wanted, a behavior that his father seemed to encourage by then negotiating a compromise.
A is being raised with fluency in three languages: French and English (both of which his father speaks fluently) as well as Spanish (he attends a Spanish immersion preschool). "You have no idea how lucky you are," Gretchen exclaimed on learning this. At that point I couldn't help myself and said, "Well, he was also born into a post-apocalyptic hellscape," I said, referring to the ongoing climate emergency (and other crises). Gretchen, who of course had been thinking the same thing, was nevertheless horrified that I would say such a thing in front of friends who had decided to bring a human into the world under existing conditions. But I didn't care; I didn't feel the need to offer the parents the satisfaction of believing believing I'd thought their childmaking decision had been a correct one.
Over dinner we had a number of interesting conversations, including SH telling us what it was like to give birth in the crazy world of the early covid pandemic, when nobody knew how bad the disease was and it was common for spouses to be denied the ability to be in the room with the one giving birth (this didn't happen with SH and P, however). We also talked about my layoff, which reminded Kristen that her son was laid off from his solar installation company, though he was quickly by another. She talked about how hard it is to fire a teacher, and that there's usually a lot of warning (for example, you never get fired without first being put on a performance improvement plan, aka PIP, but once you've been put on a PIP, it's almost impossible not to get fired. We spent a fair amount of time finding similarities between P's experience in the United States and that of Kristen's Senegalese husband Tafa. Both occasionally experience racism, but neither allow it to upset them that much, since it's always a sign of ignorance; when people don't know you, they then draw on the models in their brains, which are often deeply racist (mine included!). (The key to not coming across as racist is to know when to suppress such thoughts, which is almost always.) Kristen says her step son in Georgia, the one who does solar panel installation, says that he actually prefers the kind of racism he experiences in the South, since it's usually all or nothing. Here in the north, the racism can sneak in and bite you before you're even aware of it.
At the end of the meal, there was a course of cookies and ice cream. Then little A fell asleep in his mother's arms, and eventually Kristen, Gretchen, and we all said goodnight and headed to our respective homes in the beautiful Hudson Valley.

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