Category Archives: General

Quarantine Lessons From Spaceflight

Thoughts on the similarities.

Meanwhile, we’re back home. As noted, we did drive up to Cambria (with the cats, which was…interesting — it was their first road trip, and Ember cried most of the way). It was relaxing up there, but a little weird, with all the restaurants being closed except for delivery or carry out, and most of the motels empty (we had a vacation rental across the street from the beach). We drove up to Ragged Point on Saturday (which was also closed except for gas and the general store), but no further into Big Sur, then perused the elephant seals on the way back to town. Not that many on the beach; it was just past mating season. A few week ago the beach at Piedras Blancas would have been full of them, fighting and fu**ing (I could have just written “mating,” but I liked the alliteration), and the mothers and pups trying to avoid being crushed by the bulls.

Did a three-mile hike Sunday on the bluffs above the ocean, and shot lots of pictures of breaching and fluking gray whales and their spouts as they migrated north. Very weird being up there on a weekend with so little traffic. I may post some, after we look at them to see how they came out.

Got back to Redondo Beach yesterday (the lack of heavy traffic on the 405 through Sepulveda Pass and West LA on a Monday afternoon was a little eerie), and now get to put the house back together after fumigation. The cats (who cried all the way back) are looking around and at each other like they’re wondering “Was that all some sort of weird dream?” Not infected, as far as we know (seems unlikely, considering that we were already hermits before this all started; it’s an introvert’s paradise).

[Update mid-morning]

One thing we saw up there that we never see in LA: Stars. We were across the street from the beach, and it was quite a dark neighborhood. Orion was very obvious, and I could easily see the Pleides naked eye. Milky Way wasn’t obvious, though.

Electrical Problems

We’ve got a circuit out (most critical issue: Patricia’s upstairs office). No breaker is obviously tripped. Guess I’ll have to open the box.

[Late-afternoon update]

I appreciate the comments, but have heard nothing I don’t know. Fun fact: When I was a kid we didn’t have breakers; we had fuse boxes.

And yes, I know that some wags will say that when I was a kid, electricity hadn’t been invented.

[Update Saturday morning]

Bad news: There’s voltage on all the breakers. Not sure how to trace where the line opens up. Don’t know how much an electrician would charge, but I might be able to buy some kind of tracer for the same cost.


[January 27th update]

Threw in the towel and called an electrician. It took them an hour or so to run down the problem; a bad neutral line in an upstream outlet. Buried behind oak cabinets that were earthquake strapped, of course.

Good deal, though, for $225, plus they fixed a couple other things that had been an issue for a while.

[Bumped again]

Home Improvement Follies

I had a bulb flickering in the over-the-sink fixture. It’s a GU4-style bulb with two pins that you twist counterclockwise or clockwise, respectively, to get it out or in. I picked up a new one (or, rather, three new ones, because they don’t sell singles) at Home Depot, and went back home to replace it. It was seemingly impossible.

They give you a suction cup with the light fixture to grab them, because they are flat, and recessed into the canopy. The suction cup grabs them fine, but it can’t transmit any torque; it just turns on the surface of the smooth glass. I eventually managed to get enough pressure on it with my fingers to twist the old one out, but the new one was even harder. First, you have to find the two keyholes to insert it into, by the braille method. Then you have to twist it clockwise to lock it in and make contact for the juice. I could. Not. Do it. The glass was just too smooth to get a grip on it.

I was also getting tired of standing on a step stool and reaching up to fight with it, so I ended up removing the fixture itself so I could work on it on the kitchen counter.

I put duct tape on on the bulb, in hopes that it would give me a better grip, leaving some extra on the sides for a handle to turn it with, but when I started to torque it, the tape just turned itself off the bulb face.

I put more tape on, and trimmed it to fit so it wouldn’t get caught on the inside of the canopy. After much cursing, I found the holes again, but I still could twist; the tape itself didn’t have enough grip with my fingers. Finally, I grabbed a pair of scissors, and put the points on the circumference of the bulb, which finally allowed me to exert enough pressure and torque to lock it.

I reinstalled the fixture on the wall above the sink, and finally my long national light-bulb nightmare was over. I spent at least an hour on it that I could have used for more useful things.

Anyway, consider this a tip for anyone else who has to do this.

My Back Problem

I had an appointment for an epidural on Monday, but after reading up on it, I decided to cancel. Seems like some risk involved, and I’m not in enough pain to bother. I really just need some strength training in my lower back. Unfortunately, the earliest appointment I could get for an evaluation for physical therapy is Boxing Day.

But I am feeling back to normal (that is, somewhat stiff in the morning when I get out of bed, but more limber once I start moving around, with little pain). I’ve been getting gradually better for the past couple weeks (it’s hard to believe that it’s been four weeks since it started). I managed a trip to DC this week with quite a bit of walking, including carrying a suitcase up and down stairs, and putting it in and getting it out of an overhead, so I think I need something more prophylactic at this point, so it doesn’t happen again.

Back Update

The bad news is that I can’t get an epidural until December 16th. The good news is that maybe I don’t need it. I’m no longer in back pain, though the problem has migrated lower into my upper thigh, making me a little gimpy. On the other hand, that’s getting better, too. At this rate, I should be back to normal this weekend. Now I have to start some strength training to prevent a recurrence.

Back On The Air

We drove back to CA from Colorado this past weekend, and tried to get in Sunday night, but as we approached the California border, we ran into a jam of people returning from Thanksgiving weekend. It took us an hour to get from Jean to Primm at the border (a few miles), so we gave up and turned around to go back to Vegas, which had cheap rooms on an off-season Sunday night (though infuriatingly, the room at the Luxor was only forty bucks, the “resort fee” took it up to seventy). Add in ten bucks for parking and taxes, and it was a hundred, but still a good deal for a luxury room.

Anyway, we drove home yesterday, getting in mid afternoon. My back is quite a bit better, and the painful spasms are gone, but now the problem has migrated to a pain on the inside of my right thigh when I walk, probably as a result of how I was walking when my back hurt. I’ll be going in for epidurals this week, and starting some kind of physical therapy, which will probably just be standard strength training, which I should have been doing anyway.

Of course, the new problem du jour is a furnace that’s not lighting, which apparently started over the weekend, according to our house sitter. Last time this happened it was a bad igniter, and I’m hoping that’s the problem this time as well, because it’s an easy and cheap fix.

But the fun never ends.

[Late-afternoon update]

As I suspected, it was a bad igniter. These things seem to be like light bulbs, in that they have no predictable life, and can fail at any random time. Of course, in a sense, that’s exactly what they are, in that you’re heating a filament with electricity, except not in vacuum.


I know that posting has been light, but this is the first real vacation we’ve had in a while. We’re in a vacation rental up above Estes Park, within walking distance of the park boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park. We’ve been pretty much house bound since the storm, but it’s OK, because it’s a very nice house, and we do have an all-wheel machine to go down the mountain into town if we want to.

Here is the view from one of the balconies.

That’s the continental divide, inside the park. I think that the pointy mountain to the right is Long’s Peak, the furthest-north fourteener.

But I want to give thanks for my health, which considering all the wear and tear of decades, is still pretty good. My back is slowly recovering, and I’ll probably be back to normal by next week. I’m also grateful to live in what I think is still the greatest country on the planet, warts and all, and despite the desires of some to “fundamentally transform it.”

I’m also grateful for my readers, and all of my friends in the space industry, and the ability to start to accelerate our progress in opening the solar system to humanity in the coming years.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.