Tire Rotation? Car says no

2023-10-05 11:57 - General

My last post was about some scheduled maintenance I did to my car. Slightly ahead of schedule, because I don't know its history from before I bought it. Better to waste a tiny bit of money doing maintenance early than a big amount when something goes wrong thanks to poor maintenance. One of the items on the list was a tire rotation. This should be a pretty easy job.

I got my "childhood" (late teenage of course, if true, but there appears to be a sticker on the box from a few years too late for that) car tool kit from Mom's house last month. It's got a pair of jack stands and a hydraulic jack which are perfect for this. I actually jacked the car up first, forgetting my order of operations. Put it back down and proceeded to loosen the wheel nuts with the wheels on the ground. I had a little trouble at first (we'll get back to this, later), on one of the rear wheels. Front wheels I've gotten all the nuts off "no problem", and re-installed them to torque spec.

Well, actually: I did have some problems with the nuts. I got lucky that I found a breaker bar around Opa's workbench which was long enough to give me enough leverage to budge some of the nuts which the four-way tire iron couldn't. But in ½" drive, I only had 12 point sockets of this size, which probably did not help! But after this point I got everything off that I tried to get off, though I had to put so much force that I shook the whole car.

Why did I have problems? First, an almost-definite contributing factor: auto shops with huge air impact guns over tighten lug nuts, making them extra difficult to remove. But apparently also: Ford's swollen lug nuts is not only a known problem but there's been a lawsuit about it. (Which was dismissed, but still evidence that this isn't a rare issue.) They've got a structural nut, plus a softer (and prettier?) metal layer wrapped around that. The second layer can shift and swell, making it hard to get a socket on and hard to remove the lug nuts. (For more, see the YouTube video Easily remove swollen lug nuts on Fords — that method is just cutting the softer outer layer off! The video clearly shows both the before and after view of this.) I didn't know this when I started. At least one nut, I stripped/rounded it a bit. Since then, I got a bolt extractor kit. This morning, I forced that extractor on the worst bolt.

And I heaved, and I huffed and I puffed, and I could not get it off. I put my impact driver on it. Nothing. So finally I found a pipe to act as a cheater bar. Unfortunately the extractor I could get locally has only a ⅜" drive, so I didn't have a very big wrench attached. (The extractor kit has online reviews, one of which mentions removing a 135-lb-ft spec nut. My lug nuts' spec is 100-lb-ft, so the extractor should handle this! But who knows how overly-tight some shop might have made this in the past?) The wrench bent before the nut came loose. At this point I was worried: I hammered that extractor on the nut (which as I understand is typical use for an extractor). But the nut didn't come off, so how will I get the extractor loose? I certainly don't want to drive around with it on.

The carnage after I failed to remove a lug nut.

Well, remember how the nut actually has a weak (very probably aluminum) outer layer? What I managed to do was not loosen the nut, but to rip holes in that outer layer. Then the extractor was loose enough to pull off by hand. As best I can tell, what it was gripping on is now gone. So it's off. And that nut is surely still on there. Hard to get a good picture, but you can just see the outer and inner layer of the damaged nut.

So I guess I'm fine for now, but I'll pretty definitely need to hire someone to get all the lug nuts off, at which point they can probably do the tire rotation for me too!

First Car Maintenance

2023-10-02 22:19 - General

Last year I got a car. It's just reached 90k miles, and I have no idea how it was maintained by the prior owners. So I've elected to do some of the 100k-mile scheduled maintenance now. So I: Did an oil change, with filter. Replaced the air filters (engine and cabin), and replaced the spark plugs.

The engine air filter and spark plug replacement both require removing a plastic cover from above the engine, which houses the air filter. Some of the screws holding the air filter in are not accessible when this cover is in place, and the cover completely blocks the plugs. I looked into this cover, and all the things attached to it, first. But then I did the oil change, and stopped with just that for the day. Started the engine to check it afterwards, and oh no: it was not running right. After a little extra time checking how/why it was running poorly I realized it was the easy/obvious problem: I didn't plug a sensor back in, while investigating removal of that engine cover. Plugged it back in, all is well!

Both air filters and the spark plugs had clear Ford branding on them. They're either original and never changed, or likely changed at a dealer, with official parts. The engine filter had a very poor quality date code looking thing that would imply it was never changed, but only if I read it to say that it was four years older than the car, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .

I plan to do a tire rotation as well, but that turned extra complicated. So it's not done, and I'll talk about that later!

Air Conditioner Support Bracket

2023-05-22 09:33 - Making

When I moved in here, the house still had the original single pane windows from the 40s installed. Not only did that merit attention, there was historically only a single air conditioner in the whole house — installed in the one window that had been replaced with a more traditional double-hung arrangement, to fit the A/C. And since it was responsible for the whole house, it is a big unit! Very early this year, we had all the windows replaced. That means they're "replacement" windows. Rather than being built into the house (i.e. "new construction" windows) they're designed to fit into the existing opening. Which means some of the structure of the window moves inward, to what used to be window opening. So, this one important window opening is now in a slightly different place, and the existing support structure won't hold up the existing A/C correctly. Given that it's such a big one, I wanted to be sure that we can hold it up well. So I came up with a design.

My design, in SketchUp, for a wooden bracket to hold the existing air conditioner in the new window opening.

It starts with a 2x4 cut into a complex shape to fit around all the bumps and tabs in the window frame plus a bit at the bottom of the A/C which sticks down. Attached to that is another which sticks straight out, two to brace it, and then another which sticks down. This final one has both a triangle brace and an extra foot to reach around the brick window sill down to the main exterior wall of the house.

Newly built A/C support bracket, exterior view. Newly built A/C support bracket, interior view.

Here it is. It was built from reclaimed wood which used to be a bench. It's not the prettiest, but it will be underneath the air conditioner, so it doesn't need to be. It's full of extra holes, but that's OK. It's also wood from a product meant to be outside. I'm not sure what kind of wood, but it's reddish. I could believe cedar, either way it should stand up to the elements OK. Some of the building was done a bit freehand, but with the key sizes measured it came out extremely close to my original design. I can pretty well hang myself off it, so I'm sure it will hold the A/C up just fine.

(Don't) Fix the Colors in SuperMicro IPMIView

2023-04-26 21:55 - Tech

A while back I set up a home server (and a remote backup server at my Mom's) with one primary goal: Proper KVM-over-IP, so that complete remote support and repair is possible. I ended up building around used SuperMicro server motherboards, which include IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) for remote management, including KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) control and remote virtual USB media (boot from an ISO image located with/controlled by the IPMI client).

I ended up with oldish boards, to make them cheap. Oldish but "enterprise grade" is plenty for my needs! There's a catch though: newish IPMIView clients and oldish servers aren't 100% compatible. Reference some good community documentation at Reddit titled Fix X9DR Supermicro IPMI Colors Broken / Glitched (Archive) which even links to the official SuperMicro support page (Archive) — both of which instruct you to download some files from the IPMI device's built in web server, and replace part of the IPMIView client.

I did that, years ago at this point I want to say. More recently, I was trying to manage these servers, remotely. No matter what I tried, I would always get an error message "Session ID is Expired" when attaching the virtual media to boot from. (And I couldn't find this message documented anywhere online!) Generally to verify that if I reboot, I'll be able to do so from rescue media. But at least once, I really needed to do so. And I couldn't!

I tried lots of things over lots of time. Eventually, I could get it working in a completely blank virtual machine, with just IPMIView installed. Most of the time I did this, I instinctively patched the client files to fix the colors: I've known to do this, and done it as a matter of course, for years. At least once I must not have and after a while I figured out that's where things were working.

It's much more important that my lightly-used rescue environment works than that it looks pretty, so I've reverted the documented patching in all of my IPMIView clients, for now. (Though of course this kind of "for now" turns permanent pretty quickly.)

Weekend Project: Wireless Power Control

2023-04-16 19:51 - Making

An X10 PalmPad remote. An X10 CM19A RF signal transceiver. A Sonoff S31 WiFi enabled power switch.

As I mentioned recently, I'm working on "smarting up" power control at home. Back in my co-op apartment I had a fully X10 based system, and I still have many of the parts for it. An important one is the HR12A PalmPad Remote Control. For those I've looked at, remote controls are either missing or terribly expensive for modern "smart" home systems. The link shows that a still brand new one from X10 is only $17, and it has both on and off buttons for eight devices, plus a switch to control another eight, plus a dim/bright control. The closest thing I can find (they're hard to find!) is an YoLink Remote which only controls five devices and costs $30 (and probably only works with their proprietary system).

This pairs with the CM19A USB PC Transceiver which can both receive and send RF X10 signals. I previously used this to send X10 signals, via my home server. I've reworked that now: it's only receiving. The PalmPad remote sends signals when I press buttons and the server receives them via the CM19A. It then generates network requests. So far to the fan/light control I mentioned earlier and to the last thing pictured: A Sonoff S31 "smart switch".

Since they're cheap and I already have several: now it's easy to leave one PalmPad by the couch, one by the desktop computer, and one near my bed. If I'm planning to head to bed? I can turn the light and/or fan off in the living room, and the light on in the bedroom. Without extra trips back and forth, and without fumbling around in the dark. And I've got five more buttons to assign, without even flipping the switch! I can send the same controls from a computer/tablet/phone through the little web app running on my home server. I've barely had it a day and I already greatly appreciate being able to easily turn the ceiling fan on or off as I please, without getting up.

Smart Switches and Existing Wiring

2023-04-01 15:51 - General

Back in my studio apartment, I had remote control of my lights and some appliances. I used X10 devices for this, a design originally from the 1970s to pass data over power wires. Slightly newer devices also could use radio signals. The great thing is that they're very cheap, being old technology. Since they want to use the power lines to transmit the data, compatibility can be limited in a whole house scenario. (The data doesn't cross the two phases, so won't reach the whole house easily. Which part of the house is which phase can often be rather arbitrary.)

Sketchy temporary install of my first "smart" switch.

So I've been looking for a newer "smart" switch type of device I could adopt. I still want it to be inexpensive, but I also want it to work ideally over WiFi. What I don't want, however, is for it to rely on some random "cloud" service. After all The Cloud Is Just Someone Else's Computer. And that someone else will eventually stop giving you access to their computer. Examples are many: Insteon shut down their service in 2022, Nest dropped support for some of their devices in 2016, and Amazon shut down some Alexa devices in 2022. (That's just a few easy examples.) I want my devices to be network-addressable, not Internet service dependent (or even connected, to be honest).

Pictured above is a Treatlife DS03 combined light dimmer and fan control switch. It is not local only. But depending on the hardware revision, it can be converted to use either Tasmota or OpenBeken — two very similar open source "smart home thing" replacements. This very sketchy and very temporary installation is my very first test device. I have it installed and running: all the buttons do what they should do, but it's also connected to my "infra" WiFi, which is firewalled to have no Internet access. (And the regular switch on the left controls the porch light.)

Installation didn't go perfectly. Behind that switch before I changed anything was one wire running through the dimmer, for the light in the ceiling fan, and a second always-hot wire for the fan with pull-chain control. I got this device and used that second wire for remote control of the fan, and everything seemed to work great. Later I discovered that an unrelated light upstairs stopped working. I've now become confident that this light was fed from the same "always hot" line which also powers the fan. This took me some time to figure out, with a few lucky breaks along the way.

The first diagram I made while figuring out the failed light.

We're talking about the upstairs hallway light. It's on a three way switch: one each at the bottom and top of the stairs. One day I went upstairs, flipped the switch, and got no light. I think this was at least a week since installing the new test smart switch, and for quite some time I didn't make the connection. The first thing I did was take this diagram pictured above. After removing the fixture from the ceiling and both switches, this is what I could see behind them, and it was a big lucky break: Some original-to-the-house style cloth wrapped wires, plus some romex-style wires — some with white and some with black jackets, so I could tell them apart! The fixture had one end and the upstairs switch the other end of the only white jacket, so it was safe to assume those are connected. Then there were three other black sheaths, probably at least one connection. And some cloth, with no immediately clear pattern.

The second wiring diagram I drew, trying to figure out what already exists.

So armed with that information, I started trying to figure out how the wiring was laid out, to aid with diagnosis. The image above has one guess at top, crossed out. The second form at the bottom felt a lot better, and I'm now convinced it's accurate. At its left is the line with "cb" and "cw" (cloth wrapped white and black conductors). That, in the light fixture, goes either through a link or the lamp to the "wpb" and "wpw" (white plastic sheath, black/white conductors), which goes to the upstairs box with the switch, and so on. The pattern makes sense for a three way switch, assuming that the cloth conductors on the left are the line/supply. With nothing hooked to them anymore besides my multimeter probes, I can use the network addressable switch downstairs to watch them go from no power to full line power, as I turn the fan on and off. I also found more of the other wires, visible in the unfinished "attic" space, including where the newer romex style wire joins to the one probably original to the house (and thus, probably already there, perhaps as part of a single leg switch later upgraded to be three way) cloth wire.

The plan for how to revamp the upstairs hall light

So now I've got a plan for what to do! It starts with capping off the old supply line shared with the fan: I'd prefer to keep the new four-speed control of the fan with no pull chain dangling in the middle of the room. Instead I add, in the mentioned attic space (which already has a light and outlet for me to pull the supply from) a new feed. It goes into the upstairs switch box, which backs into this space. The switch loop remains mostly the same, with the supply being injected at the upstairs switch, rather than at the light fixture.

Presto! I actually lucked out quite a bit to have a neutral wire in the switch box, as the smart switch needs it. This house is from the 1940s and apparently this wasn't typical until the 80s or so. I haven't actually checked all the other switch boxes yet: see the sketchy temporary install of this one switch. I've decided I like this line of switches, but I haven't completely planned out how many I want, and of what type: they come in standard on/off switches plus three way compatible variants of that, dimmers and three way compatible dimmers, two different button designs for each kind of dimmer, and the dimmer/fan combo I've got (at least!).

Bedsofa Riser

2023-01-02 09:57 - Making

A while ago I made "The Bedsofa", a sort of headboard designed like the back of a sofa, for comfortable sitting up (and reading) in bed. When I made it, I was living in a loft apartment, and it was designed to work with the mattress sitting right on the floor. (The loft was around four feet high, no room to put the mattress up on a real bed, there.

A simple riser to make the bedsofa headboard line up with the mattress, now that the mattress will be up on a bed.
The riser I've designed, plus an "exploded view" to plan how many boards will be needed to build it.

So this is the plan: a simple little frame, to raise the bedsofa the same amount that the bed frame will raise the mattress. Almost. My original design didn't work out perfectly so the cushions hang a bit lower than intended. Raising the bedsofa a little bit less than the mattress will make those sit up where they were originally intended. So this will be ten inches tall, while the bed frame is twelve.

I've still got the rest of the material I upholstered the bedsofa with, so this riser should blend right in. Now I've just got to figure out the best way to get some two-by-four boards home!

New DIY Closet Rod Hangers

2022-12-31 21:38 - Making

Lots of t-shirts, now hanging from a closet rod.

The first board cut to length, with the curtain rod cut-out planned. Both boards fully cut and painted. Both boards installed.

I moved almost exactly a month ago. The bedroom closet has a unique closet rod situation: self made hangers, from 1x4 lumber, around the perimeter of the closet. Since the closet is shallow but wide (I guess), they were installed to allow either two front-to-back closet rods on the sides, or one across the width. But the long closet rod in there isn't long enough to reach the hangers on either side, and the width is much more than double the depth. I'd like to use the long closet rod, but I can't as-is.

There's also some pipes feeding the radiator upstairs, tucked on one side. So the solution seemed to be to build a new hanger in the right position to support the existing closet rod, plus avoid the area with the heating pipes at the same time. I started by cutting a board to length, and finding the right shape hole to match the one already in place. I cut a second board the same length, to be a backstop so the rod can't slide and fall out.

Once cut, the boards were painted white to better match what already existed in the closet. Four "toe-screwed" screws support the main board, with the cutout, from each corner. Two screws go through the face to support the backstop board from there. Once installed, you can see the preexisting hanger already along the wall, which the rod couldn't reach.

Plug-in Hybrid Range

2022-11-08 12:56 - General

As mentioned, I recently got a plug-in hybrid vehicle. When new, e.g. Popular Mechanic's review tells us that the plain Hybrid has a 1.4 kWh battery while the plug-in Energi instead has a "... lithium-ion battery pack pumped up to a big 7.6 kWH ... can travel up to 21 miles ... in pure electric mode." So the plug-in portion might be as much as 6.2 kWh of capacity. Tiny by modern EV standards, but of course this car still has a gasoline engine, too.

When turning off the car, it gives a summary of the trip (i.e. since it was turned on). Online I've read about using this summary to measure your battery capacity: it gives a direct read-out of both gasoline and electricity usage. Charge up to 100% and start a single trip, then watch for the EV mode to end with the car switching to hybrid operation. I managed to do this yesterday, coasting only once the switch to hybrid happened to a place I could pull off the road and shut down.

Trip summary of pure EV operation of my C-Max Energi.

The picture was bad because it was very sunny and I was hurrying (this summary display doesn't stay around for very long). But it tells me both that I have 5.2 kWh of usable EV capacity in my battery, and I managed to go 19.7 miles with it. That sounds like a missing kWh, but a very favorable electric-only range compared to the as-new specs of 21 miles for a roughly nine-year-old car. I don't know exactly what "3.6 regen miles" means.

I also re-charged the battery after this, and spent 7.1 kWh to do so. That makes for roughly 75% charge cycle efficiency. I've heard that 240V charging can be more efficient, and this makes me want to experiment with it, somewhere that I can measure/report on how many kWh went into the charging.