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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Nuclear War

During the recent presidential election, there was a great deal of Cold War-era rhetoric, and it un-nerved me a bit.  I wasn't worried about myself - I've had a reasonably long and healthy life.  I was un-nerved for our daughter.

I was hopeful that the belligerent words would calm down, and for the moment, they have.  But I suppose those that set them in motion might do so again.  Even so, there are often world events that are of concern.

Here's the thing:  The nuclear genie is out of the bottle.  I never dreamed a civilian nuclear reactor would melt down after the wake-up call of Three Mile Island.  Nevertheless we've now had Chernobyl and three of the Fukushima reactors contaminate large areas.  In fact, there is ongoing groundwater contamination at the Fukushima nuclear site...  That's plenty of contamination, even without intentionally detonating nuclear weapons.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I realize that many, if not most visitors to this blog are from outside the US.  I'm pretty happy about that, because it means that the topics I post about appeal to a wide range of people.  Welcome here, everyone :)

Today is a uniquely US holiday, Thanksgiving.  I don't pay particular homage to this holiday, nor to its traditions.  I frequently have to work on Thanksgiving, and worked this one as well.  Our family will pretend that tomorrow is Thanksgiving instead.

Below is the famous Norman Rockwell painting of a family having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.   The name of the painting is "Freedom From Want", and sadly that's not how a lot of families in the world today live.  This is also NOT how our family serves a Thanksgiving dinner.

There are only three in our family, so the traditions that we follow are watching the Macy's Parade and eating a pretty big afternoon meal.  I am crazy about the stuffing, and it's the only chance I get to have any.   Sometimes we watch (US) football.  More often we retreat alone to carry on with our individual interests.  There is nothing wrong with that either, although it's not quite as much family bonding as what you interpret from the picture :)

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Still here!

This is not a dead blog!  Just busy with mundane stuff and having a bit of writer's block :)  Hang tight!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Muscle Pain

I took vacation a couple of weeks ago, and had a lot of fun on it.  That was pretty cool, and I will probably soon make a post about that, and show some cool nearby places.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Four Stroke Engines: Overhead Cam Designs

We previously looked at Overhead Valve (OHV) engines.  In this post we will take a look at Overhead Cam designs, as well as another really unique means of opening and closing engine valves...

Monday, September 12, 2016

Still here...

Please have patience - I have a couple of posts in the works, but they need some more work before I would be willing to have them see the light of day :)

I will be doing a couple of more posts on engine designs and then returning to the hydro failure events - that have killed far more people than nuclear plant failures have.  Meanwhile here are some interesting pictures of these things!

Below, the 3.8 liter Jaguar inline 6 cylinder engine

Below, the remnants of the St. Francis dam in Los Angeles County.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Barbell Squats

I've been hitting the weights lately, and watching a few Youtube videos for tips, techniques and motivation.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Gemstone Mining

Recently we took a day and went mining for gem stones.  In particular, we were after Star Garnets, the official state gemstone of Idaho.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pike's Peak Race - On Board

This year's winner...

The car:
Norma 2014 pikes peak unlimited division

Drivetrain: Mid Engine, RWD
Engine: 2.0L L4 Turbo Honda
Transmission: 6 Speed
Power: 450 hp
Weight: 610 kg

The winner in 1988, before the road was paved.  Definitely a much more hair-raising experience.

The car

How about on a motorbike with a professional racer?  That's pretty hair-raising too!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Four-Stroke Engines: Flatheads and OHV designs

Flathead Engines:

An early and very common valve arrangement was the "flathead" engine.

Four stroke engines - basics

On the earlier post about Two-Stroke Engines, much of the focus was on the difficulty two-strokes have with exhaust gas and intake charge flow reversal and flow-through.  There was also some discussion of engineering techniques that attempt to overcome these issues.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

...about that diet...

In this post I mentioned how I go about diet and exercise.  At one point I mentioned that it's difficult to be on a ketogenic diet and perform strenuous exercise, particularly anaerobic exercises like lifting weights.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Exercise and fitness

I'm now a ways on the wrong side of 50 years old.   I've been weight training and doing light cardio for a few months now.  Progress is... not bad!  But it's also a bit slower than what I've experienced in the past.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

More LED lighting

A few years ago, I had four incandescent garage lights replaced with 7 fluorescent tube lights fixtures, for a total of 14 bulbs, each 4 ft long.  I have 6 fixtures above the car bays, and one fixture by the man-door alcove.  Each bulb is 32 Watts, for a total of 448 Watts.

Over the years, I've had to replace a great number of bulbs, and they aren't cheap.  They run about $4 apiece, and I seem to be replacing 1-2 every month.  I suspect it's reduced mercury content causing the failure to ignite after a short time in service.  Also we turn them on and off quite a bit, which is hard on fluorescent bulbs.

KH500 Refurbishment - Carburetors

Before and after...

Monday, May 09, 2016

KH500 refurbishment - May Update

The KH500 cylinder boring is done!  The cylinders arrived, along with the new pistons.  The center cylinder was scrap, so a replacement was found and bored to the same size.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Beer Labels

Update.  I'm working on a rather long post about four-stroke engines.  It's taking a lot of time because there's a lot of history and design to mention.

In the meantime, I've completed gluing down the beer labels on a sheet of 24"x36" acid-free paper.  I need to press it flat somehow, and then it will looks better.  There's quite a bit of color, shapes and artwork in the labels.  After I figure out how to press it flat, I will get a fiberglass resin coat on it for gloss.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Snow Skiing

Back in the day I was a pretty avid snow skier.  I would purchase season passes and then try to see how many times I could hit the slopes with that investment.  It was pretty easy back then.  After the cost of equipment and the pass, all you had to have was $2.00 bus fare to the slopes and $3-4 food money.  It would buy you a bowl of chile and a hot chocolate from the vending machine.

I didn't night ski very much.  It's god-awful cold at night, and the harsh shadows cast onto the moguls by the slope lighting don't lend themselves well to depth perception.  I found skiing down groomed slopes and through powder incredibly boring - I preferred to blast through moguls or find some jumps to fly off.  But the slope lighting really didn't favor that kind of quick-twitch technical skiing.

I currently have only one picture of myself on skis... night skiing.  An old high school friend just sent this to me...  Pretty sure I was on an upper groomed slope, on the way down to where the moguls were.  He does take a nice evening shot, yes?


Half-Life is a really fun shooter/puzzle-solving video game that was released in 1998 or 1999.  Below is a YouTube walk-thru of the entire game.  It's a pretty nerdy game for a first-person shooter - which is probably why I like it so much.

Half-Life is also a scientific term.  It's the time needed for something to be reduced to half its original value.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

15th Birthday of this blog

Today it has been 15 years since the first post.  I took a break from blogging for a bit - during the financial crisis (I was focused on financial news instead of nerd-blogging).  I was also offline for a couple of years afterwards, as my attention was diverted as our family re-settled to a new place - first, in Oregon, then Idaho.

In dog years, this blog is 105 years old.  Time to celebrate that minor landmark...

Good enough - I'm done celebrating...  Back to the cool stuff!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

"Vacation" spring 2016

I took another brief "vacation", one of those things I seem to do these days when I don't rest very much.  Actually managed to get quite a bit of down-time, but that was mainly due to bad weather.  Below is what I woke up to on the first day of vacay.  It didn't put me in the mood to go out and clear dead and fallen trees.

KH 500 engine update...

I had the spare set of cylinders for the KH500 bead-blasted, and shipped them off for repairs.  They needed an overbore to remove the gouges.  Turns out the center cylinder was damaged beyond repair.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Power Steering Pump rebuild

Taking a break from broken dams for a moment...
I recently did some work on the new (to me) little Subaru.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Hydroelectric failure #2 -Teton Dam

Here's a nice picture taken from a helicopter on June 5, 1976.  This is Teton Dam in Eastern Idaho, in the process of collapsing and killing 11 people and 35,000 head of cattle.
Image courtesy of wikipedia, Photographer/Maker: Roberts ID-L-0010,

Car alternator problem at high RPM

On the new little car, I had noticed an issue while driving, but it didn't give me much concern... until Friday morning.

What I had noticed was that the lights would noticeably dim as the engine revved higher, typically just before the car up-shifted.  It was not affecting the electrical system or my ability to start the car however, so I ignored it.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Snow Plowing

The first summer after we moved to Idaho, I bought a little tractor.  It's a 26 Horsepower, 2 cylinder diesel tractor with 4x4, a PTO and a hydraulic bucket loader.  It came with a 4ft rotary tiller and a back blade.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hydroelectric failure #1 -Taum Sauk

I think we will start small and work our way up on these dam failures...

Taum Sauk was/is a hydroelectric pumped storage facility located in Missouri.  Pumped storage facilities are used by electrical system operators to store power (in the form of water at increased elevation) when demand is low, and to generate power when it is needed most.

Pumped storage units will use their generators as motors, and their turbines as pumps, to pump water to an upper reservoir.  This is typically done at night or during weekends, which are periods of low electrical demand.  When peak electrical load is needed, the water is released from the upper reservoir to a lower one, through the turbine, which spins the generator for additional power.  The process repeats as needed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

New commuter car...

I had been checking Craigslist ads for about a year, looking for a decently priced All Wheel Drive car, preferably a tiny Subaru wagon.  I was shocked how much money people wanted for a worn-out high-mileage AWD car.  I mentioned this fact to a co-worker, who said that he was about to put his daughter's car up for sale.

Hydroelectric power

I've never done a post on hydro power before.  I find thermal power (regardless of the heat source) a bit more complex, and therefore more interesting.  On the other hand, hydro power and dams generate a LOT of power.  While most dams and powerhouses go along uneventfully, each is unique, and some have had *very* interesting events (by that I mean failures).  Some of the events are obscure and forgotten, and I think it will be fun to look at those.  But first, a little hydro history...

Hydropower is the energy that can be harvested from falling water.  Because water is so dense, even a modest drop in elevation can perform significant work.  Hydropower has been around since ancient times, most commonly by harnessing the rotary motion provided by water wheels.  The water wheel would then be geared to a grain mill, lumber mill, or textile mill.

Waterwheels could be arranged with water flowing over the top - "overshot", or dipped into a fast running current, "undershot".


With the advent electrical power, the waterwheel was eventually abandoned in favor of more efficient and controllable means of capturing the power from running water.

The mechanism that replaced the waterwheel was the turbine.  The first turbine entering widespread use was called the "Francis Turbine".  It was invented in 1848 for a textile factory in Massachussets.  This design is a reaction turbine with quite high efficiency, and it is still widely used today.

Water turbines develop greater power when there is more flow and pressure.  The flow of a river varies over time according to the whims of nature, but of course the water can be held in a reservoir and released as needed.  The other advantage of a reservoir is that a dam increases the height of the water behind it, increasing the pressure.  As the water level rises behind the dam, so does the pressure at the turbine inlet.  (In hydropower speak, this pressure is called "head") To maximize the head - the distance between the surface of the water behind the dam and the turbine inlet - turbines are located at the bottom of the dam, with a generators installed just above them in a large machinery hall.

Cutaway of the action: (Image courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers)

Below, the installation of a Francis Turbine at Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State, late 1930's.  This turbine drives a 125 Megawatt generator.

One of the larger turbines added to Grand Coulee in the 1970's.  This drives a 600 MW generator.  Grand Coulee can generate up to 6800 MW, making it the largest power station in the U.S.

Below, some of the generators at Grand Coulee Dam.

Below, a panoramic picture of Grand Coulee Dam.  The new powerhouse is at the left.

There are other, less massive hydroelectric power plants, of course.  Many Hydro power plants are called "run-of-the-river" plants.  They will have a dam, to provide a bit of elevation and increase water pressure, but they will not have a reservoir.  The output of these hydroelectric power plants is completely at the mercy of the flow of the river.  Here is an example of a run-of-the-river dam:

Notice that this dam does not impound a vast amount of water behind it, so when the river runs low, so does the power output.  This is not the case with a powerhouse with a reservoir of water.

This is just a brief overview of how hydroelectric power works.  If you are more interested, here are a couple of quick links:
History of the LADWP power projects
Everything you need to know about Hydroelectric Energy

I'm not that interested.  Hydro is pretty dam (pun intended) boring - except when it fails.  That's what I am interested in!  You often read about a fire, a meltdown or explosion at a thermal plant.  I bet you didn't know that hydro plant failures have killed more people than any other type of power plant.  We will look into that more in the next few posts...

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Summer and Winter Tires

On the post about my recent crappy day, I mentioned exchanging summer and winter tires on my truck.  For those who seldom deal with winter weather, it might not be apparent what I am talking about.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A really crappy day

OK, this day is far enough in the past that I am now willing to write about it and laugh a little.

We had a little snow storm...

It wasn't all that long ago that we experienced an epic wind-storm that knocked out power at our house for three days.  A few families went an entire week without electrical power, and a handful of people were without power clear through Thanksgiving.  If that were me, I wouldn't be feeling very thankful at all :)