Barrel o’fun. 

We have a new rain barrel out back.  Just in time for today’s rain.   Installed yesterday, and today it’s full!  Fyi, City of Austin offers modest rebates for rain water harvesting devices.  Check it out if you are interested, or see if your city offers something similar. 

Painted poppy. 

Ok, it’s not really painted, but a photo that I morphed with an iPhone app called Brushstroke.   The poppies came back this year out back. I love their deep red. Hoping for even more next year!

TV-free. 

We cut the cord last year.  And it has been ok.  Amazon Prime and a Roku streaming player give us lots of viewing options.  We also have a Channel Master DVR+ digital DVR with which we can record shows from over-the-air (OTA) channels, which is what we do 95% of the time.  It downloads schedule info for 2 weeks for each channel via a wifi connection to your home network, so you have a nice channel guide to browse what’s coming up. There are a surprising number of OTA channels which we can get at our house, the majority of them are HD.  You can enter your location at antennaweb.org and they’ll tell you what OTA channels you might be able to get where you live.

I can get my Seahawks fix by paying for Tune-in Premium month-to-month during the football season for live game audio broadcasts.  

It’s all good. 

But today we buried our TV.  It died a slow death.  I wonder how long it will take to fill this space. 🙂

Looking up.

Happy New Year!

Unlike last night, which was incredibly foggy, the sky was very clear tonight.  I went out back and took a picture of the setting conjunction of the waxing crescent Moon with Venus.

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It’s cropped a bit close, so that both are in frame, yet still able to see some moon detail.

Then I tried to get a shot of Orion, which had just risen on the other side of the horizon.

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Here comes Orion!

Baby, it’s cold outside!

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Saturday evening, right around 7pm, the predicted “artic blast” arrived with 30 mph winds in our part of Austin, quickly dropping temperatures from the upper 70’s (Farenheit) during the afternoon to an overnight low in the low 20’s in just a few hours.   Sunday stayed right at freezing at our place all day, and then temperatures last night again hit the low 20s.  Tonight will probably freeze again.   Things will warm up a bit before Christmas Day.  Then we can put away our woolies until the next cold front comes through.

A few years back we had an outside spigot and pipe freeze, flooding one of our back rooms and making a cold mess when the ice thawed.   This year, Monte designed a wooden box to house a 25w incandescent light bulb for each of our exterior spigots to keep them warm and avert disaster this time around.   He cut out the pieces.  I assembled them, while he wired a light socket and lamp cord for each of them.  They worked great!  We can put them away later this week, until the next deep freeze heads our way.

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Tread lightly.

Last week I was using my treadmill when the motor unexpectedly stopped.   In the days since then, I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about the inner workings of my treadmill (a 12 year old, well-loved Schwinn 845P).

The important bits under the cover include the digital display console, a hydraulic incline motor, a DC motor that drives the belt, a sensor that measures the speed at which the treadmill’s belt is turning, and an electronic board that controls all these things.

The symptom:  The motor and belt just stopped abruptly during a workout.    The console still works.  The incline motor works as well.   Any time I subsequently turn the treadmill back on, the console lights up, prompting for the usual inputs.  Then when I press the start button, I hear a “click” after which the motor used to start-up, but now doesn’t.  And after a few seconds the console just displays the message “Err LS” (looks also like “Err L5”) which apparently stands for Loss of Speed, which is an error message related to a number of different failures.   I had to figure out which component had failed, causing that error.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way suggesting you do this at home yourself.   I’m not an expert. 

The patient:

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The diagnostic process in my case:

  • No belt movement at all.
  • The circuit breaker next to the power switch has not tripped.  And, besides, electricity is able to power the console and the incline motor.
  • None of the capacitors on the control board appeared to be swollen or visibly failed.
  • All of the wire harnesses and leads seemed to be seated firmly – no loose connections that I could see.
  • The fuse on the motor control board is not blown.
  • If I move the belt with my hand, I can see the “SPEED” led on the control board flashing as it turns, meaning the speed sensor is not the problem in my case.  It appears to be working and sending a signal to the control board, which is receiving it and flashing the LED as the magnet on the drum passes the speed sensor.
  • I disconnected the (DC) motor (P/N KK 2566) power leads from the control board and hooked them up to the terminals of a 12V car battery to test it by itself, and the motor worked fine.  An inspection of the brushes also showed them to be in good shape.  The motor is just not apparantly getting power from the control board as it should be.
  • I can hear the relay click after pressing the start button, but the board is just not sending power to the motor, or at least not the right amount of power.   A multimeter showed 3 Volts coming from the board to the DC motor.
  • I googled “Err LS” and “treadmill” and read as much as I could find.  There are alot of problems that can cause an Err LS message.  I
  • I called Schwinn to got their take, and even though the treadmill is out of production, I experienced great customer service from Joseph as he talked me through things to check to narrow down the problem.

The consensus diagnosis:   Through process of elimination, the problem appears to be a failed control board (motor control board, actually).   Apparantly this is a very common failure on treadmills of all makes and models.

The fix:  I found a website called FitnessBoardsDirect, that carries such things.  The replacement for my motor control board (P/N QQ 2197) is a new-from-the-manufacturer item, not a refurbished one.   I called them as well.   A guy named Nick answered the phone and was very nice and helpful;  he confirmed the diagnosis and gave me a little more confidence that the item I would order might actually fix my problem.  So, I decided to shell out $225 plus shipping for a replacement motor control board.   Not cheap, but much less expensive than a new treadmill – a comparable new model retails for $800-$1000, depending on who you buy it from.

My replacement board arrived tonight and I installed it, and it worked.  I’m back in business!   🙂

Macs don’t bounce. 

I made an evening run to the Apple Store tonight for a service appointment with my MacBook.   *sigh*

On the way home I got a quick snap of the Christmas tree in front of Macy’s (tweaked with an iPhone app called Brushstroke).  ‘Tis the season!

A big-girl camera!

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Monte has nurtured my love of photography over the years; starting with the gift of my first 35mm film SLR camera – a Nikon FM10.   On it, I learned the basics:  how to manually adjust aperture, shutter speed, film speed, focus, depth of field, flash… everything.  It was the only camera we brought on our honeymoon, to capture all those once-in-a-lifetime moments – a bit risky since we wouldn’t be able to see how they turned out until we got home.   I was thrilled to see that they all turned out to be beautifully captured images after getting the film developed.

Then he got me my first digital camera – a Nikon Coolpix 7600 point and shoot.  It was his first experience w/ digital photography as well.

Once we started making regular sailing trips in the Caribbean, I bought a Canon PowerShot D10 for underwater photography.  It turned out to be such a great camera that it has been my main, go-to camera on land or sea, and it sparked my desire to start this photoblog almost 6 years ago.

In the last year or two, pure laziness has led me to use my iPhone camera for many of the shots I post here, though I still drag the Canon along everywhere I go.

But my wish all along has been to get a “real” and quality digital camera – a big-girl camera – one that might allow me to take my photography to the next level.

Last week, since I had a whole week off of work, Monte took me camera shopping.  He helped me pick out The One – an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II.   Along with two lenses, this is the latest (and best!) gift of photography equipment from him to indulge my hobby; for which I cannot thank him enough.

All of a sudden I feel like a real photographer!

The camera is amazing.   I am taking the time to study the 170 page manual to learn about each of its features in the range of all-automatic to all-manual operational modes.   I’m only taking practice shots for now, but with the rain and lack of sunny days lately, I haven’t yet taken it for a real spin outside.

I can’t wait to see what develops.  🙂

 

 

Quiero mejorar mi español.

In addition to my lifelong, ongoing quest to learn how to play the guitar well, I have been nursing my Spanish along for a the last 30 years.  In both cases, though, it just takes practice – which I never seem to be able to sustain for long periods of time.  My Spanish is ok, but I would really like to become fluent.   And that means broadening my vocabulary and hardening my grammar.  And practicing.

I have two Spanish novels on my bookshelf that I have started to read several times over the years, and with my spanish-english dictionary in hand, have made my way through a couple chapters.  It is hard work.  Not just for my brain, but for the manual back-and-forth effort of putting the book down to pick up the dictionary, then putting it down to pick up where I left off in the book.

So, for the umpteenth time, I picked up one of them again last week, a novel called Nada by Carmen Laforet.  I started at the beginning again.  After about 2 pages I paused and experienced a moment of inspiration:  wouldn’t it be great if I could read this book on an e-reader that would look up a word for me on the fly with the mere touch of a finger?  What a great idea, maybe someone has thought of that already!  😉

I have a five year old 1st generation Kindle Fire with a kindle e-reader built in.  So I downloaded a sample of the e-book version of Nada for free from Amazon and tried it out.  But, alas, the device only has an English dictionary built in.  I found a helpful document that explained that, unlike later Kindles, the 1st generation Fire does not support changing the default dictionary.   Strike one.

I also have a Kindle e-reader app on my Mac.  So I tried the same thing with it.  But switching dictionaries was also not possible in that scenario.  Strike two.

I understand the kindle e-reader for iPhone and iPad may support what I want to do, but I’m really not interested in reading a book on my phone – too small.  Nor buying an iPad – too expensive.

So, then I began to research whether what I wanted to do would even be possible with a new e-reader device, like the Kindle Paperwhite.  And it appeared to be.  There were two ways I could do it.  One requires being connected to wifi to look up each word, by using the built-in “translate” feature, but that was not what I wanted.  I don’t want to have to be online to lookup words.  The other method requires downloading a Spanish-English translation dictionary to the device, and then making it the default dictionary for spanish e-books.   Bingo.  Sounded like a plan.

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I am typically slow to embrace new technology and gadgets.  But when I find a use for them that is important to me, I don’t waste time!  So, I splurged and ordered the Kindle Paperwhite, which arrived yesterday.  And in a matter of minutes I was in business.   As of this morning, I am 10% of the way through the book.  And I can almost feel my brain expanding.  🙂  Home run!

By the way, this is the Spanish-English translation dictionary I’m using.  Seems to work great for what I want to do.  Even better, I downloaded it for free by using the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library perk that comes with my Amazon Prime membership.

I also found a great free app for my iPhone called Duolingo, which seems to be a very decent tool for practicing and learning.  I’ve even started trying to learn French and Irish with that app.   Now THAT’S going to take a looooong time, but what the heck.   Anyway, if you have any interest in learning or polishing your foreign language skills, check it out.

Little buddy.

Last year I went on a girls’ trip to Washington, D.C. and we walked EVERYWHERE!   One of my friends had a fitbit One (electronic fitness / health tracking gadget) which intrigued me, and I ordered one for myself before I even got back home.  I’ve been using it for almost a year now and I love it.

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As you can see, it is small, it clips onto your clothes (bra, waistband, etc) and Along with its dashboard tracks calories expended, distance walked, vertical steps climbed, sleep pattern, food (calories in), weight gain/loss.  I found it to be a good tool to incent, remind, and update me on where I am versus where I want to be.   It doesn’t work magic – when I don’t expend more calories than I take in, I gain weight.   But my experience has been that if i use it that way I’m supposed to (i.e., keep the food tracker updated and actively try to achieve my daily targets, every day) I am a better fit-izen  🙂

My 2 cents on why I love my fitbit:

  • Usability:  It is easy to wear and forget about.  I clip it onto my bra (sports or frilly) and it usually is undetectable.  It is very easy to keep continually on my person 🙂  I’ve even forgotten about it and worn it through a TSA checkpoint at the airport several times – without getting stopped.  I tried using the little wristband it comes with to wear the fitbit at night but gave up and now just clip it to what I’m wearing to bed.  I don’t even know it’s there.
  • Durability:  It’s water-resistant.  It’s definitely not bothered by lots of sweat.  It is not advertised as being water proof.   BUT it did go through the washing machine once and still works.  My washer is a High-Efficiency one wrt how much water it uses – maybe that’s why my fitbit thankfully didn’t drown.  But, you should have seen the number of steps I logged during the spin cycle overnight!
  • Battery life:  I have found that the battery lasts two weeks or more for me on a given charge.  It warns you when it is low.  And to charge it just requires using the short cord in the picture above – USB on one end, and attaching to the end of the fit bit with the adapter on the other end.
  • Ease and flexibility of uploading data from the device:   You can choose to sync the bits of data from the fitbit device to the dashboard for viewing by either (or both) of two methods.  The fitbit One can talk to/sync with the fitbit Connect application (that runs on your laptop) via the smaller USB wireless sync dongle thingie in the picture above.    And/or it can talk to/sync with the fitbit mobile app (that runs on your phone) via a bluetooth-enabled interface with your phone.  I use both.  I like that if i go on a trip where I don’t want to lug my laptop, I can still sync with my phone for the time I am gone and view the dashboard from there.   Syncing is where things might get a little less intuitive, but there are lots of FAQs to explain the ins and outs of syncing.
  • User interface:  The web dashboard can be accessed via either a web browser on a laptop, or through their mobile app.  Both are easy to use, customize, and display lots of info to glean. 
  • Customer service:  I have found most of my questions are easily answered by info found in fitbit’s online help, or the fitbit community forums.   I did have a problem recently where my wireless syncing dongle simply stopped working.  I quickly found the phone number online – it’s posted on their twitter feed(877) 623-4997.  (I’m old fashioned – there are online methods to get support here).  After less than 10 minutes on the phone with the support person I had an email in my inbox documenting that a replacement fitbit wireless sync dongle was on its way to me – free of charge.  I was back in business a few days later.
  • Value:  for me, it’s worth it.  I’ve worn it pretty much every day for almost a year.   I’ve actively used it the way I should for probably 75% of that time.  I fall off the wagon from time to time.   I think I paid a little under $100 dollars for my fitbit One.  But I struggle with my weight, and any tool that helps me stay on the path to fitness is worth it.  And that’s what my fitbit One helps me do.

Oh, one more thing….I did misplace my fitbit once.  I knew it couldn’t have gone far, though.   I googled online for an app that communicates with bluetooth devices nearby… and it was able to pick up the signal from my fitbit One and eventually zero in on its location under the couch about 10 feet away.  The free iphone app I used was called Bluetooth Smart Scanner, but there are others out there that should work as well.