As you can tell from the photos I took today, fall is over and winter has started in Fairbanks. I didn’t get all my projects done, but this is one that’s been at the top of the list since I finished the shed. Because we’re so close to Goldstream Creek, we can’t have a septic field. Instead we have our own sewage treatment plant, built here in town by a company called Lifewater Engineering. It’s a great system, but we had some problems with our configuration last winter. Most notably, the discharge pipe partially froze.
The plant has three sections: a settling tank where the initial waste goes, a section with a substrate and air blower to foster bacteriological growth, and a final tank where cleaned water sits until it’s discharged. A float in the last chamber triggers a submersible pump to rapidly pump all the cleaned water up and out, through he discharge pipe, where it pours onto the ground. The discharge pipe is insulated, and because it’s got significant pitch and the discharge happens all at once, the pipe is supposed to stay clear all winter.
Unfortunately, the discharge pipe isn’t continuous; it’s three sections of ten foot pipe. When the pipe was hanging from a cable strung through the trees, it was very difficult to keep the pipes connected well enough that water didn’t build up at the junctions and freeze. Last winter we had to disconnect the last section of pipe, and most of the water wound up under our house.
To keep the pipe straight, and hopefully assist in keeping the water flowing downhill and out of the pipe, I built a 30 foot long trough by ripping a 45° bevel on the long edge of a series of rough cut 2x10’s. After offsetting the sides by five feet and nailing it together, I had a nice solid structure to support the pipe. I built the stands and intermediate supports today from 2x4’s and 1x6’s. This should make it much easier to work on the pipe if something goes wrong, and hopefully, it’ll keep the sections together and the water flowing.
There are a few more small projects left—like insulating the vent pipe as it passes through the attic, and working on the interior of the shed—but with the snow flying today, it’s time to sit back and hope that this summer’s work was enough to keep the house operational through the long Fairbanks winter.
A week or so ago we got a weather station (it’s the thing at the top of the pole on the left side of the dog yard fence in the photo) so we can keep track of the weather at our house. We’re one of the coldest places in the Fairbanks area, so we’re excited to see just how different our weather is. We’re sending the data to the Citizen Weather Observer Program where it’s ingested, analyzed, and disseminated by NOAA. I don’t know if they use it in their forecasting, but we’ve already shown up in a few Public Information Statements from the local forecast office.
Full details on the station, with some plots and other data reports (I’m still working on most of these…) are at http://swingleydev.com/weather/dw1454/. The station code is DW1454 and shows up in MADIS as D1454.
One of the more annoying things about Apple’s wireless routers is that there’s no way to shape the bandwidth. With two of us in the house, commonly using the Internet at the same time, and a limited 43 KB/s bandwidth, we wind up stepping on each other’s use fairly often. One bandwidth limiting tool is the Unix command trickle which allows you to control bandwidth on individual, command line programs. Something like:
trickle -u 20 -d 20 wget http://bigfiles.com/bigfile.mp3would limit the file download to 20 KB/second, about half our our bandwidth. Many commands like wget and rsync have bandwidth limiting built in, making trickle unnecessary for those programs.
These techniques don’t work when the programs don’t include limiting internally, and when you can’t run them from the command line. The program I use to download music from eMusic (eMusicJ) is an example. With my downloads refreshing in a couple days, I wanted to find a way to get my downloads in, without ruining the network for the next day and a half.
Since OS X is built on BSD, it comes with a super-sophisticated firewall, ipfw, that has traffic shaping built in. So here’s how I was able to consume only half of our bandwidth downloading music:
Start the download and use netstat -an to find the IP address of the download site (or do netstat -an before and after you’ve started the download to identify the new download IP Address):
$ netstat -an | less Active Internet connections (including servers) Proto Recv-Q Send-Q Local Address Foreign Address (state) tcp4 0 0 10.0.1.198.54176 188.8.131.52.80 ESTABLISHED tcp4 0 0 10.0.1.198.54175 184.108.40.206.80 ESTABLISHED tcp4 0 0 10.0.1.198.54142 220.127.116.11.80 ESTABLISHED tcp4 0 0 10.0.1.198.54136 18.104.22.168.80 ESTABLISHED
Set up a pipe for data coming from that site:
$ sudo ipfw add pipe 10 ip from 22.214.171.124 to any 00100 pipe 10 ip from 126.96.36.199 to any
Configure the pipe to limit bandwidth:
$ sudo ipfw pipe 10 config bw 20KBytes/s queue 10KBytes
After you're done, delete the pipe:
$ sudo ipfw list 00100 pipe 10 ip from 188.8.131.52 to any 65535 allow ip from any to any $ sudo ipfw del 00100
Major League Baseball is doing it’s best to ruin my baseball experience this season. I finally gave up on Gameday Audio after all my struggles trying to get it to play smoothly on my MacBook Pro (Windows Media format might work well on Windows, but it frigging sucks everywhere else). Once the piteous spectacle of the NFL started, my local AM radio station stopped broadcasting Sunday Night Baseball (and all the baseball playoff games this Sunday), which was the only opportunity I had to listen to games. And, the first round of the playoffs and half of the second round aren’t on regular television anymore (they’re on TBS).
Turns out that TBS is broadcast over the air on channel 28, but as you can see from the image, it doesn’t come in very well at our house. Despite all that, though, I’m watching and scoring the game. MLB hasn’t completely lost me yet.
Yesterday I got three dozen pencils from General Pencil Company, one of the few remaining pencil manufacturers that still make their pencils in the United States. My favorite pencils had been Dixon Ticonderoga’s, but they’ve moved all their production to foreign countries, including China. Most people probably don’t think much about pencils, but there’s a big difference between a good pencil and a bad one. The crap they sell at office superstores have uneven graphite, poorly centered lead, small erasers, thin paint, are commonly made in China, and probably don’t use sustainably produced wood for the case. Mechanical pencils stay sharp and are refillable, but they just don’t feel as good as a wooden-cased pencil, and I think the environmental impact of a sustainably produced wooden pencil is lower than all the plastic and packaging of mechanical pencils and their supplies.
I got three dozen “Semi-Hex,” #2/HB pencils (number 492-2/HB). I’d never seen a General’s pencil in the store, and never (as far as I know) used one, so this was an experiment to see if I’ve found an American-made replacement for the Ticonderoga. Since it’s baseball playoff time, I tested them out by scoring yesterday’s playoff game between the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year). In this year’s playoffs I’m rooting for the Cubs and Phillies in the National League and the Rays in the American League. But I’m primarily an A’s fan, so a loss by the Angels is always a win for this A’s fan.
The game was a good one (especially since the Angels lost), with a reasonable amount of scoring, and a very exciting ending. And the pencil was fantastic. The lead is very even, with none of the little hard bits you’ll find in a poorly made pencil, it makes a nice dark line, and isn’t so soft that it smudges easily. With the Ticonderoga, I’m torn between the #2 and #2/HB because the HB is just a touch too soft, and the #2 is too hard and doesn’t write well outside because the paper gets softer when it’s humid. The General #2/HB seems slightly harder than the Ticonderoga HB, so I was able to make it through the whole game on one sharpening. I think I’ve found a winner.
Hopefully when I’ve used all three dozen, General will still be making pencils in the U.S.