King's Mall Stonehenge
Monday, July 12 2010
Some years ago I built a mechanism in the basement to automatically recharge the household antifreeze supply (which carries heat throughout all the hydronic systems, including the oil-fired boiler, baseboard radiators, basement slab, and the solar heating system). This recharge system behaves very much like the assemblage of components that pressurizes our household water system. It has an unpressurized five gallon bucket where antifreeze is added (analogous to a well), a pump, a check valve, a pressure gauge, a pressure tank (made from an expansion tank), a pressure relief valve, and a pressure-sensitive switch to turn on the pump when pressure falls too low. There's also a homebrewed weight-sensitive switch to turn off the pump should the five gallon bucket run too low on antifreeze (so as to avoid pumping in air). This system has allowed me to recycle ejected antifreeze whenever the hydronic network has experienced an overpressurization, and has also made it easy to add new antifreeze after leaks or expansions of the system. (In most households using hydronic antifreeze, recharging the system requires HVAC professionals with specialized pumps.)
Today I noticed the recurrence of a common problem with the solar heating system. Its fluid was moving too slowly to avoid being overheated by the sun, so it was boiling off through the air release valve at the top. Normally the Arduino controller is set to start circulating cold basement slab fluid if the hot water should get too hot, but this setting had been thrown into chaos by the need to change the hot water tank's thermistor. And once the system starts boiling over, it doesn't matter how much cold water is on the way up from the basement, it might never reach the solar panel. This is because a large bubble of gassified water can effectively throttle circulation to a trickle. The only solution to this problem is to climb up to the solar deck and add fluid to the top with a funnel. I did this today and circulation resumed. Then I set the controller to switch to slab circulation at a lower hot water temperature so as to avoid this happening again soon.
One of the contributing reasons for this problem is the fact that my antifreeze injection system has been partially-dysfunctional for nearly all of its existence. Soon after I'd built it, I'd discovered that the pressure-activated switch that turns the pump on and off is unreliable. This had led me to keep it disconnected most of the time, only turning on the pump when I was down there and noticed the pressure in the supply had fallen below 10 psi. Today, though, I decided to get to the bottom of why this switch wasn't working. So I took it apart and tried prying up the part whose rising should turn off the switch. But it was mostly having no such effect. I even tried swapping out the main spring against which the pressure pushes to activate the switch. Nothing worked; the switch was useless. I'd have to replace it, a job where I'd have to be both a competent plumber and electrician.
Over the past few weeks Gretchen and I have been entertaining the idea of perhaps switching from DirecTV to the Dish Network (there being no cable on Dug Hill Road). We've been DirecTV customers for years, and they completely take us for granted. All their new customers are getting introductory offers featuring free HD programming, months and months of free HBO and Showtime, and here we are paying something like $60/month for crappy standard-definition television and no premium channels. So the other day Gretchen got on the horn with DirecTV to say we were thinking of switching to the Dish Network and so managed to get a discount of $17/month for a year (as well as other perks). The lesson here is that old, established customers who are not under contract should always call the faceless corporations that provide their dispensible services so as to get a better deal.
But then the other day we got something in the mail telling us all the things we'd get if only we'd switch to the Dish Network. These included free installation, HD channels, and several months of premium channels. We're in the middle of Women's basketball season, and the prospect of being able to watch the games in HD was a little too much for Gretchen to resist. So then we'd started shopping around for a replacement for our household television, a 26 inch CRT that Gretchen bought 13 years ago. By shopping, I mean the sort of activities that can be done from a laptop at the kitchen table. The idea was to buy an affordable large-format LCD that wasn't too douchebaggy. Anything over 40 inches seemed excessive, so we'd focused on a few 37 inchers available on TigerDirect. But then Gretchen had checked Craig's List and found a $500 42LG50. It was 42 inches, but it was a lot cheaper than any of the alternatives. So we'd offered $400. The dude had come back saying someone else was offering $400. So we'd offered $420 (duuuude!). Maybe it was the shibbolethic nature of this counter-offer that had made dude accept, but now everything was coming together. Ray would be picking up our television from Astoria (Queens) tomorrow on his way back Upstate to our basement, and a guy would be installing our Dish Network tomorrow between the hours of noon and five.
Our old DirecTV dish is located on the highest part of our roof near the chimney, and when it's covered with snow or ice sometimes we have to throw snowballs at it to restore our reception. So for the new Dish Network dish (which would be somewhat larger), I decided we should install it somewhere on the solar deck (a convenient mounting platform with an unobstructed view of the southern sky). That would allow me to go up and clear it should our reception begin suffering during a snowstorm.
The placement of the new dish necessitated a new cable run through the laboratory, though not in any way that hadn't been run before. Still, I wanted to make things quick and easy for the installer guy tomorrow. So I decided to predrill the holes through which the new satellite cables would run. In the past I'd created a PVC-lined hole connecting the laboratory with the outdoors and had sized it such that I could run lots of cables through it. But it was now completely full of wires so I had to make a second such hole. I also had to make a similar hole connecting the laboratory to the teevee room. Both holes needed short pieces of one inch PVC to line them, and at some point I realized I didn't have enough. I also would need spray foam and that new pump pressure switch mentioned earlier. So I took the dogs on drive to Home Depot, taking advantage of the fact that it closes at 8:00pm.
After I'd bought the things I needed, I drove around the backside of the King's Mall (Kingston's dreariest 1970s-era shopping center) to see a low-rise take on Stonehenge that Ray had discovered when poking around looking for things to photograph. You can see it in this zoom in at 41.96565N, 73.98780W on Google Maps. Aside from the trash and graffiti, it's a pleasant little neglected triangle seeming forgotten during the over-commercialization of Kingston's motor mile. Evidently someone tried to build a garden here with the rocks and plantings remaining after the building of the Hudson Valley Mall, but now the only people who know it exists are teenagers trying to get fucked up.
In other news, I ate my first home grown tomato of the year. It was just a sad little cherry tomato, and I sliced it up and added it to a very complicated sandwich that also included a Bubbys Pickle, fake turkey, fake mayonnaise, lettuce, and red onion.
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