8gig Google Fiber upgrade

File this under ‘further adventures in pointlessly fast home internet.’

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I noticed on a billboard that Google Fiber was offering new 5- and 8-gigabit speed tiers for their home internet. I absolutely did not require an upgrade, as I was already on an unusably fast 2 gigabit plan, but that has never stopped me in the past. Just ask my parents, whom I enrolled in the beta testing programming for Road Runner cable internet when I was a tween in the nineties.

I hopped on the Google Fiber site and signed up for the next available appointment, one week away. A couple of days before then, I got a call saying we’d need to delay for 10 more days so they could ‘upgrade the fiber in my neighborhood’ (?)

I knew that I couldn’t take advantage of this new speed without making some gratuitous home networking upgrades, so I got to work on that to pass the time.

I already use a Unifi ‘Dream Machine’ SE (UDM SE) as my home internet gateway, which supports a 10Gbps WAN connection via SFP+. My existing Fiber Jack, model GOGP220C, had an ethernet port that will train at 1, 2.5, or 10Gbps, and so I started out by plugging in a generic 10GBase-T SPF+ module into the UDM SE WAN port and verifying it came up as 10Gbps.

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Next, I needed to upgrade the connection to my home server to 10Gbps. It sits in a media closet separated from the gateway by a ~20ft run of CAT6 going through the crawlspace. So, used another couple of the above SFP+ ethernet adapters and placed an inexplicably cheap switch that had 2 10Gbps SFP+ ports (and 4×2.5Gbe ethernet ports, all for $50, how?) next to the server, using a cheap direct-attach copper cable between the switch and a basic 10Gbps SFP+ PCIe network card based on the Intel 82599EN chipset that unRaid supports out-of-the-box.

A week later, the Google Fiber tech arrived and upgraded my Fiber Jack to the newer GOXP330C model that supports speeds higher than 2Gbps. It’s slightly bigger than the old model, and requires a 1-amp (vs. 1/2-amp) power supply. He didn’t touch the fiber drop to my house, which was a relief, because I have rerouted the entry into the house into my back utility room using my own armored cable that I carefully installed and didn’t relish the idea of redoing. It turned out the ‘fiber upgrade’ was actually a card installed in the neighborhood’s fiber hutch to support the higher speed.

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The tech was immediately able to pull the full 8Gbps symmetric to his laptop, but I was only getting about 3.5Gpbs down and 6Gbps up. A bit of research revealed that the UDM SE can only handle 3.5 when doing ‘deep packet inspection. After I disabled that I was able to get the 7.9/6.6 you see at the top of the post from the Speedtest CLI running on a VM on my NAS box.

I guess now I just have to wait until we break into the double digit gigabits!

refinishing an ipe deck

When we moved into the new house last year, one of the things we inherited was a big back porch and deck, built around 1999. It was impressively sturdy for something over 20 years old, but it was gray and dingy and I assumed we’d have it replaced, because 20 years seemed like more than a reasonable lifespan for a wood deck.

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Then I was trying to put a screw in a post to mount a light, and the screw just snapped as I tried to drive it. The wood was incredibly hard and dense, and after some googling I concluded it must be a hardwood, probably ipe, also known as an ‘ironwood‘ because it sinks in water. This wood can last for generations and I wondered: could I restore it?

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The side-deck test

The was a small landing and stairway on the side of the house made of the same wood that I decided to use as a test. Here’s the deck in the middle of stripping–probably unnecessary given how little finish was left.

side_deck_stripping

What was really amazing is when I started to sand it. Just getting a tiny layer off was a lot of work–this wood is harder to sand than anything I’ve ever encountered, eating up 80-grit sandpaper in just a few minutes. But it revealed brand-new looking wood underneath:

sanded_vs_unsanded

And then adding a layer of hardwood oil (Penofin) really made it pop:

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Wow! I got pretty excited by this result and went ahead and sanded the rest of this small side deck, steps and railing. I was pretty happy with the result.

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So I decided to undertake refinishing the entire deck. Given that this small side deck took me about 10 hours to sand, a wiser man would at this point hire a professional to take over the job. But there is something about this kind of work I actually find incredible soothing and satisfying, so I decided, what the heck, I’ll do it myself!

The tools

I decided to start my work on the main deck with the railings, which needed to be sanded with a hand-held sander. I alternated using a 5 inch random-orbital sander:

orbital

But this was too big to fit between the slats of the railing, and it couldn’t reach into corners. For that, I had to use a sanding attachment for my multitool:

multitool

And there were many places where neither of these fit and I just had to sand holding the paper in my hands. I went through approximately 200 of these 5″ sanding pads, before even touching the main decking surface.

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The main deck

I started out giving the same wash, sand, and oil treatment to the stairs leading down into the yard.

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I even had some help with the many, many hours of sanding. You see me using an industrial-grade sander that I hoped might be faster on the ipe, but it was no better than the battery-powered Makita.

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Here’s the fully sanded stairs

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And oiled

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So. Many. Railings.

The railings took the bulk of the time with their vexing tight spacing and so many surfaces. But I loved the results.

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The main event

Once all the railings were done, I gave the main deck surface a final power wash, and it was ready to sand.

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I finally, I had an area that I could use a big commercial sander on, so I rented one from Home Depot for 24 hours, and I was off to the races

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I sanded until dusk, with pretty satisfying results. Not as good a finish as if I had used the hand-sander, but in 1/100th of the time, it seemed.

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Finally, we oiled the main deck. You have to put the oil on after 2 days of no rain, and when there won’t be rain for two more. It was hard to find that magic moment with spring weather and school schedules, so the Sunday I wanted to do it we had friends coming over. To my surprise they were totally game to help with the whole process, along with Annie 🙂

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The finished product

Here’s a shot of the deck I took today, about six months after we finished the job. Ipe is some pretty amazing stuff! I also have to give credit to the original deck builders, whoever they are, for making it so sturdy in the first place.

 

deck_finished

 

diy front yard electric vehicle charger

The problem: we need a street-accessible EV charger

We moved into our new house in April, and it’s been great: all the additional space we need, an office for both of us, etc. One thing it doesn’t have is any off-street parking, which is no big deal except for the problem of how to charge my car. At the old place, there was a driveway that went by the side of the house, and so we had a professional install a charger there.

At our new place, the curb where we park the cars is about 50 feet away from the electrical service box on the side of the house:

charger_diagram

I had a couple of bids done on installing an EV charger at the location marked. One came in at $3300, the other at $4000, both excluding the cost of trenching and the charger itself. Considering that I paid only about $1500 at the old house including the charger, and got half of that back in a rebate, this was high enough to trigger my DIY project impulse.

Electrical requirements

Obviously adding a high-amperage outdoor electrical circuit is something you should not do unless you’re a licensed electrician. Then again, this is basically the same thing as adding a circuit for a hot tub in your backyard, and that’s definitely something I’d be willing to DIY. So off I went learning enough about electrical code, conductors, and conduit to understand what the physical parameters of the project.

  • Distance: the ground distance from the electric service to my intended location was 45ft. I figured I should get 60ft worth of conductors to be safe–it turns out this was barely enough. I would measure more carefully for bends and rise heights next time.
  • Circuit amperage: 60A (48A useable). My Chevy Bolt can only use 32A, but this gives me headroom for the next EV. Our house has 200A service with plenty of headroom–there was a 40A circuit previously dedicated to a jacuzzi bath that’s now unused.
  • Conductors: Three 60-ft 4-gauge THHN for two hots and a neutral plus one 60-ft 8-gauge THHN for ground. This gauge/jacket/length is actually good for at least 80A and probably more. Although the neutral isn’t required for charging, it allowed me to put a 115V outlet on the post as well as the charger, which I can use to plug in a vacuum for cleaning.

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  • Conduit: to accommodate the super-fat 4-gauge conductors, I selected 1.5 inch PVC (schedule 80/thick-walled) conduit. The use of PVC meant I needed to bury the conduit 18 inches below grade, as opposed only 6″ required for metal. Although this had big implications for how much digging I needed to do, it felt safer to have the conduit far below the surface. Even though according to a conduit fill calculator I had plenty of space, it turned out to be pretty tough to get all the conductors through even with lubricant. Because the hole I dug would have been the same size, if I did it again I would have selected 2″ conduit instead.
  • Subpanel: I decided to install a subpanel on the charger post. It’s not necessary. For safety, you’d at least want an A/C disconnect on the post to quickly cut off the live circuit. What the subpanel buys is another circuit breaker (that also provides disconnect functionality) as well as receptacles. I chose the GE1LU502SS, with both a NEMA 14-50 (50A) and traditional 115V, 20A receptacle. This allows me to connect the charger as well as an appliance at the curb if I want.

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  • EV Charger: I went with the Chargepoint Home Flex because it can support up to 50A, I like their app, and I had a good experience with a similar model installed outdoors at my old house.

Setting the post

I selected a 6×6 rough-milled cedar post to mount the charger on for aesthetics and durability. Unfortunately, I could only find 10ft lengths of 6×6 so I had to go back and fetch my handheld circular saw to cut the post in the Lowe’s parking lot.

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I massively overbought concrete but still ended up with 2ft+ of the post underground–it’s not going anywhere.

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Digging the trench and laying conduit

The biggest challenge by far with this project was trenching from the electrical service on the house to the post where I installed the charger. This was about 45ft up a gentle grade, and to meet code I needed to bury the conduit at least 18 inches below grade. The trench only needed to be wide enough to fit the 1.5″ wide conduit, but it’s hard to make such a narrow hole.

CALL BEFORE YOU DIG! You never know what underground water, electrical, or gas lines might run through your property. Luckily with just a couple of days notice to 811, you can have all of them marked for free. I used this service to have my gas line marked (it was on the other side of the yard) and to confirm there were no other underground lines in my planned path.

You can buy a power trencher for this kind of work, which is basically a chainsaw that cuts dirt. I considered this, but without any experience using one I was worried about safety and tearing up my yard. So, I decided to hand dig. This was really hard work, and it took me about 10 hours spread across two weeks to finish the job. I used a post hole digger to cut down through dirt and roots and a trenching spade to remove spoil.

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I dug in about 15 foot sections, laying down 10 foot sections of bell-end conduit with nylon string already threaded through. I used standard PVC primer and cement to weld the sections together, then backfilled the section with dirt and kept digging.

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The trickiest part was getting the conduit under a small retaining wall an then through a 90-degree bend to meet the post.

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Finally, Marc and I used a heat gun to put two gentle bends in the conduit so it would rise as close as possible to the post while giving room for the concrete footing.

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Pulling the wire

The next step was to pull the four conductors (two poles of 220V, neutral, and ground) through the conduit. I had fed 250-lb test nylon string through it as I buried it, so the next task was to attach the conductors to the string as securely and smoothly as possible. This is called making the ‘head’ in electrician lingo. Not pictured: I wrapped this all in gaffer’s tape.

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Marc then fed this head down through the conduit at the post while I pulled on the nylon string from the electrical service box. To ease the way, we liberally smeared the wires with wax-based pulling lubricant.

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Pulling was much harder than I expected. The conduit wasn’t that full, but we had two 90-degree turns plus a couple of gentle bends. I also think there was a significant amount of dirt in the conduit that ended up getting caught up against the ‘head.’ In retrospect I wish I had used 2″ conduit, but in the end we got the head to pop out at the service box.

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Although I thought I budgeted for about 10 spare feet of conductor, we barely squeaked by, with less than two feet left to pull on the post side. Phew! I would definitely overbuy on length here and/or do a more careful estimation of how much length there really was to cover including the rises at both ends.

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Wiring up the charger

Before even connecting the circuit to the house service, I installed the charger subpanel. The red-marked conductor had only a few inches to spare, but we got lucky. The 50A NEMA 14-50 receptacle includes a neutral, but it is not used by the EV charger, which just uses the two poles of the 220V circuit.

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The finished subpanel mounted to the post:

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The final and scariest part was to connect the subpanel to a new 60A circuit on the main house service. The routing these huge wires was beastly; it’s pretty crowded in there. You can see the new 60A breaker on the left, opposite the 100A breaker for the subpanel in the addition.

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Finally, I wired up the charger itself. I used the NEMA 14-50 receptacle for ease of routing, but if I ever need more than 50A, I can hardwire as well.

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It’s been installed for several months now and has weathered rain and heat just fine. Seemingly everyone asks about the possibility of someone stealing watts by charging their car on my charger, sitting as it is right there by the road. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, although there’s nothing to prevent it. I’ll let you know if any EV owners are either so entitled or so hard up that they try such a thing 🙂

In all, I saved at least 50% over a professional installation, and I got to learn a bunch about the electrical code and pulling wire through conduit. And also lots of exercise digging a trench!

goodbye, sous

Sous-chef Hall-Klingner, our dog of  14 years, died on 17 March 2022. She was a loyal and loving member of our family. She escorted us from Berkeley to Oakland to Austin, welcomed Annie and Paul to the pack, and delivered us safely to our new house.

Sous took me on thousands of walks and runs. I owe to her my adult relationship with the outdoors. I promised to care for her for her whole natural life, and I feel lucky that I got to keep that promise.

She’d been slowing down for years, but still made the half-mile walk with Annie and Paul to elementary school most mornings. Finally, she just got too tired, and she needed to rest, so we let her go.  Goodbye, Sous. We love you.

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remembering the stroller years

Sometime around April of 2017, before Paul was even a year old, we bought a B.O.B. Revolution Flex Duallie Stroller on the recommendation of a neighbor. It was tough and great for running, he said. And so began an intense, four-and-a-half year relationship that would cover (by my rough estimate) between 1500 and 2000 miles of strolling.

Here’s the first picture I could find of the stroller, from late April 2017

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We took the stroller on long walks, most usually a 4-mile loop from our house down to the trail boardwalk, through Auditorium Shores, then back up to our favorite breakfast taco place, Mellizos (RIP). Here’s a Strava track of a typical walk

We joked that the stroller is like an SUV: huge, unwieldy, aggressively inconvenient to fit places and park. But so convenient, with huge cargo capacity. We trained our kids to sit in it for hours while we engaged in all sorts of activities and in all weather. Caught in the rain with the Crowders and their own double-BOB on the trail, June 2017:

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Attending some light protesting for health care on the UT campus in the early Trump years, with my parents gamely pitching in:

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I ran behind the stroller a lot. By my estimate, at least 1000 miles with me jogging as I pushed–a great way to boost the effort. Here’s a shot from a trail run near my parent’s condo in Tabernash, July 2018:

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Here’s an example of extreme cargo capacity as we return from the neighborhood pool, July 2019:

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A key activity in later Stroller Years was the Donut Run, where Dad, eager for Sunday morning exercise, would bribe the kids into an hour and a half of sitting in the stroller by stopping at Howdy Donut (later Master Donut 2) on the way to a ~6 mile trail run. Here’s we are on a representative donut run from October 2019:

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Trail of lights, December 2019:

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One of the stroller’s great assets was its tube rubber tires that could cover lots of ground. You did have to occasionally add air or replace a tube, but no problem with help like this (July 2020):

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One of our last great adventures in the stroller came this summer when Dan walked the entire length of the Hike and Bike trail with me on a very hot summer day. Here we are crossing Barton Creek about 8 miles in, June 2021:

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To commemorate all the good times on the trail with the stroller, we donated a brick to at Lakeshore Park, which was installed in June this year:

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We decided this summer that, at 6 and almost 5, it was time to focus on getting the kids to move their own bodies around, rather than continuing to rely on the stroller for our adventures. We quit cold turkey in July, and after a few months of sitting idle, I decided this morning was the day to give away the stroller. A bittersweet moment! I had the kids climb aboard one last time, November 2021. Farewell old buddy.

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diy home backup generator

During the Great Austin Snowpocalypse earlier this year, we lost power at our house for several days. It got really cold (single digits) during this time, and even though our house has gas heat, we couldn’t use it because we had no electricity to run the furnace blower / air handler fan. So, it got colder and colder in our house until we had to leave to stay with family who still had power and heat.

During the cold, I had a friend who managed to jury-rig the output from his solar panels to run his furnace blower during the day, keeping his house warm. It got me thinking that I really didn’t need much power to keep our house livable. A small gasoline generator would probably do the job. But the idea of running an extension cord from outside into the house and into the attic to hot-wire my furnace blower didn’t sound great.

Through some research, I learned of the existence of load transfer switches, which let you place some or all of your home’s electrical circuits on generator power in the event of a power failure. This sounded like the perfect low-cost solution to make the house livable for a day or two in the event of another extended power outage. Here’s how I went about it.

The generator: Honda EU2200i ($1200)

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My goal was to provide 24-48 hours of backup power for critical systems. I decided to go with a small, quiet gasoline generator from Honda. Why?

There are a lot of “battery generators” on the market now that use lithium-ion batteries to provide up to a couple of thousand watts of power, but at this output, they last only a few hours at most. You can go crazy and get something like a Tesla Powerwall for bigger energy storage capacity, but this will be a major installation and set you back tens of thousands of dollars. The energy density and cost of batteries just can’t compete practically with fossil fuels, and for a once-in-ten-years emergency power backup, I figure it’s okay to go with internal combustion.

The Honda generator doesn’t look great on paper next other options. For one, it only supplies 1800 watts of power. But, this is plenty for me to run my furnace blower, refrigerator, internet/wifi equipment, TV, and a few lights and outlets. The only major additional thing we might consider is the AC compressor, but this alone consumes more than 3000 watts and would take us into another realm of size, noise, etc. And it’s hard to see air conditioning as a critical system we couldn’t live without for a few day. The Honda is also only 120V (single phase), so you can’t use it to power any other 240V loads like an electric oven or dryer.

The Honda only runs on gasoline, while many competing options will also run on propane or even natural gas. Assuming our gas service was uninterrupted, that could mean endless generator backup time! But I have no outdoor gas outlets, nor a gas grill that gives me any other reason to keep propane around, and gasoline is the most energy dense of these fuels.

The number one thing that drew me to the Honda is its outstanding reputation for reliability: it will start up when you need it to. When reading about cheaper Chinese options, there were always concerns about reliability, especially when the generator spends most of its time sitting in storage. It also has a mode to run it just until the carburetor and fuel lines are empty of fuel, which does a lot to reduce gummed-up lines that may threaten reliability. Finally, the Honda is really really quiet, so much so that I would not feel bad running it in my urban neighborhood for two days.

The load transfer switch: Reliance Controls R306A Pro/Tran 2 ($300)

R306A DoorOpen WithKey

There are a lot of options to consider when choosing a transfer switch. They range from manual switches controlling a single load to whole-house, automatic switches that are intended for big diesel generators.

Because I have no permanent backup generator installed, a manual switch was the obvious choice. Reliance Controls seems to be one of a few big players in this market. I chose the R306A because:

  • It’s outdoor rated, and my service panel is outdoors.
  • It has enough circuits for my use case (6).
  • (this is big) It comes pre-wired with a NEMA power inlet, breakers and all the wiring you need to install it on your service panel (see below).

Installation and testing

Armed with my generator and load transfer switch, all I needed was to find an electrician to do the installation for me. Online research indicated I should expect to spend about $200-300 to get this done. In reality, I got two quotes for this work, with one coming in at $1200 and the other at $1600, for something like 5-6 hours of work. Which was just too much for me to stomach. What to do?

It turns out that Reliance Controls has a really nice YouTube video series explaining how to install their transfer switches. After watching them, I felt pretty confident I could handle the install myself. Let me say that of course you should not even consider going near your electrical service panel or even giving it a lusty glance. Leave that up to highly trained and paid electrical professionals, OF COURSE. But maybe, just maybe, imagine that in a parallel universe, I did install my own load transfer switch by following Youtube videos. How would it have gone?

It actually took me less than an hour start to finish, including time to test that the switch worked properly with my generator. The great thing about the pre-wired switch was that it comes with exactly the wires you need to introduce the loop between your circuits and the electrical service that passes through the transfer switch. You don’t have to touch anything inside the switch, just pull out the load wires from your breakers and use wire nuts to patch them out–see the videos for details.

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After getting the switch installed, I plugged the Honda in using a household 15-amp  to L14-30 NEMA adapter, and shut off the city power service to the house entirely. I started up the generator, and turned on my heater.

Here’s the generator app reporting power load with my refrigerator, TV, internet, lights, and heater all running. About 800 watts steady. No sweat!

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Maintenance / disaster prep

Armed with the knowledge that my setup would work today, I wanted to take a little care that it would work in the event of an emergency when it might be hard to find gasoline, motor oil, etc. So I laid in a supply of gas in a separate tank, and put fuel stabilizer in it that is meant to last a year. I set a reminder to start up the generator once per quarter and run it under load. I set another reminder to replace my gasoline once per year (I guess I’ll just pour the old gas it into the CR-V)

In all, this project set me back about $1600 plus a few hours of research and lots of time waiting on electrical bids that did not satisfy. What I get is ~2 days of heat, refrigeration, and internet for the next snowpocalypse. Not bad, I’d say!

goodbye, old friends

very well-loved Chacos
Today, it finally happened–my 8+ year-old Chaco flip flops finally had a fatal blowout in the right toe strap. These things are vintage at this point, as Chaco’s manufacturing quality has declined and they no longer even offer thin, flexible flip flops with “outboard” straps like this. These things were used as full-blown hiking shoes on our rafting trip down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon, hundreds of miles of Austin walkin’, and even served as pretty good running shoes chasing after Paul on his bike. I have some serviceable replacements, but they’ll never live up to these guys.