Saturday, September 24, 2016

Air mattress

From the "got to laugh to keep from crying" files... something to add to the list of universal truths along with "water flows downhill" and "you can't push rope"... add a line for "mattresses are not aerodynamic".

Generally, transporting anything on top of a car is something to be done carefully, with consideration for general principles of physics including, but not limited to: gravity, inertia, and friction.  Ignoring any of the above WILL result in possible outcomes including embarassment, property damage, personal injury and DEATH.  Car-top-carrying is an occupational hazard of DIY considering that the average homeowner has not made the wise investment in a box truck or sizable trailer to carry large, aerodynamically-challenged loads.  Large furniture, sheets of building material, big-screen TVs ... all are top candidates for generating sufficient lift to overcome the forces of gravity if strapped to the outside of a moving vehicle.  A pickup truck is no panacea; I've hauled 16-foot dimensional lumber on the roof of a Subaru Impreza, and in 8-foot pickup beds - hint:  it's a heck of a lot easier (and safer) with the Subaru, though I'd argue a good pull-behind trailer is the best bet of all.

So let it be understood that, done properly, the top of your car can provide all the utility necessary to transport significant quantities of oversized building materials between the local big-box store and the construction staging area in your backyard.  "Done properly" implies that proper consideration has been given to physics as noted above, and appropriate safety measures have been employed including bundling, load-balancing, tie-downs and that all of the above has been done with considerations for load limits of roof hardware, and without impeding visibility for the driver.

Just for the record, and in case this wasn't clear, "done properly" never, and I mean NEVER, involves getting your buddy to sit on the roof to hold something down.

Enter 20 year-old Sidney Zelaya Gonzalez, of Culpeper, Virginia, and the driver of the mattress-topped van upon which Ms. Gonzalez did ride; and who, together, provide us with a cautionary tale to the consequences of ignoring a little phenomenon known as air resistance.

The conversation probably went something like this:

"I need to get this mattress to meemaws but it won't fit in the back."

"Just put it on top of the van."

"I tried, but it flew off as soon as I started moving."

"No problem, let me get on and I'll weigh it down."


The rest is history, and in the bylines of a news story that would be comical if the consequences were not so tragic.

WASHINGTON — A 20-year-old woman who was riding on a mattress on top of a van in Haymarket, Virginia, died early Friday morning after she and the mattress fell from the roof of the moving vehicle, Prince William County Police said.
Police believe Sidney Zelaya Gonzalez, of Culpeper, Virginia, and the driver of the van — a 41-year-old woman who has not been identified — were attempting to transport the mattress a short distance when Gonzalez fell and hit the pavement, police said.
“This was not a joy ride,” Nathan Probus, a public information officer with Prince William County told WTOP.
Were these ladies trying to pull some ridiculous stunt to post on YouTube in the hopes of landing a guest spot in Jackass 4, one could be forgiven for tactless comments about Darwin awards and the such, though it's clear that some people in online comments sections have no compunctions about doing this anyway.  The tragedy is in the fact that they were simply trying to get a job done, and took the initiative to try to get it done themselves, but for whatever reason lacked the initiative, knowledge, or common sense to take even rudimentary safety precautions.

The lesson here?  DIY can get you killed if you don't do it right.  Some people just need to hire it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tip of The Day - An easier way to screw in eye hooks

Lag-style screw eyes and ceiling hooks (which, out of pure laziness, I collectively refer to as "eye hooks") are great for creating a quick point for hanging stuff from.  But even after pre-drilling a properly sized pilot hole, they can be a real pain to fully embed in the base workpiece if you're dealing with larger-diameter hardware.  Doing it by hand can be a near impossibility.

Some people get around this by drilling a larger diameter pilot hole so the threads don't have to work through as much material - but this weakens the connection with the wood.  For eye hooks designed to hold heavy loads or safety-critical applications (hammocks, porch swings, punching bags, and so forth), you don't want to sacrifice strength for convenience.  The pilot hole should be no bigger than the inside shaft diameter of the eye screw.

Another workaround involves first getting the eye screw hand-tight, then inserting a screwdriver or rod into the "eye" and using that as a lever to complete the turns.  This works, but can be inconvenient in tight quarters and may require constantly removing and re-inserting the lever piece to complete the turns.  It is also difficult to get the screwdriver approach to work with "ceiling hooks", which have an open end (as shown in the video) that prevent getting proper leverage with the assist.

A small socket wrench, however, will make quick work of it:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Honda Odyssey side door won't close

Our 2005 Honda Odyssey has been a faithful companion since we purchased it new nearly 10 years ago.  And apart from an elective upgrade to performance brake rotors, body repairs after falling victim to a library parking lot hit-and-run, and routine maintenance, we've had no problems that weren't covered under warranty.  But with 10 years and 90k miles under her belt, it's not surprising that some bits aren't functioning quite as crisply as they once did.

Case in point - the power sliding doors on either side of the vehicle.  While being one of the coolest and most functionally beneficial features ever offered on a family vehicle, they are packed with lots of mechanical bits and electronics under regular stresses as they lug a 100-lb door open and closed.  So, after about 20,000 open-close cycles it's little surprise that this is where something finally went wrong.

Under normal operation, the side doors can be opened or closed with a button on the dash, a button on the key fob, or a quick yank on the handle that actuates the power operation.  Presumably the power operation feature can be switched off, though it's not apparent that you are ever completely independent of some degree of power assist, since even when closing the doors manually there are some internal mechanics that kick in to complete the final "seal" (one sees this if they look alongside the side of the car as the door closes.  Once the door slots into place after completing it's back-to-front sliding motion, there is a final electronic whir as the entire door appears to get "sucked" into place.  I think of it like a Rubbermaid container lid - you can rest it on top of the container and it looks generally OK, but it needs that final action to complete the seal.

One day, something finally went wrong...
In the past few years, we've had occasional problems with the sliding doors - particularly in cold weather - where that final process of latching shut doesn't complete properly.  The power operation works fine to open the doors, and will also get them most of the way closed but it looks like it's just doesn't get them closed quite far enough to get the internal latches to complete that final seal.  In the past, we tried just opening and closing them again which seemed to get it to work the second (or third) try.  Then one day, that didn't work at all.  We were stuck limping home with a partially closed side door and the "door open" buzzer blaring at us the whole way.  No fun.

The solution - "Reboot" the Door:
Fortunately, there is an easy fix to this that is doable by anyone and costs absolutely nothing.  Put simply, this involves resetting the door so that it "forgets" that you already tried to close it.  This resets the mechanism that operates the latch so they operate correctly the next time you try to close it.

Here are the six easy steps :
1.  Turn off the power to the side doors.  There is a switch on the dash next to the interior buttons that operate the sliding doors.  Switch from "ON" to "OFF".  As I mentioned before this doesn't completely shut off power to the doors but it prevents the power mechanism from taking over when you pull the handle.
2.  Open the side door as much as it will easily go.  Pull the handle out and back and the door should follow, up to a point.  Do not force it past this point.  You will want to do this on level ground (or at least not with the nose of the vehicle pointing downhill) or the door will slide back closed.
3.  Pull the fuse for the power sliding door.  Open the fuse box (on 2005-2013 models this is near the floor to the left of where the pedals are, near the gas cap and hood release).
4.  Wait 30 seconds then re-insert fuse.  This time is sort of arbitrary, but it ensures that the power system for the door completely resets.
5.  Turn on power to side doors.  Flip the dash switch from step #1 back to the "ON" position.
6.  Use button to close the doors.  Using one of the buttons on the dash or key fob, press the "Close" button.  The door should slide closed and latched completely.

Sometimes the internet does not lie.  This worked for me as well as it apparently has for others, and I hope it works as well for you.  Let me know if it did and if you learned anything more about these doors in the process, since these are one of the more confusing pieces of automotive hardware I've ever taken the effort to troubleshoot.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Ground Rod Installation: Pulling a Half-Sunk Rod

<<< PREV: Installation

This worked great for the first rod at the corner.  But with the second rod, I hit something solid with the rod still about 18" out of the ground.  Being as it was very close to the foundation, I assumed I hit the footer and no amount of pounding was going to accomplish anything but bend the rod.

I was left with the following possibilities:
  1. Abandon the rod, cut it off below grade, buy a new one and try in another location.
  2. Hack off the top 18" of the rod and beg forgiveness from the County Electrical inspector.
  3. Pull the rod and try again.
I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind to just go for #2 and maybe hope the inspector wouldn't be picky about it.  But even if they let it slide, I would always know that my grounding was just that little bit less then what code (and good practice) would call for.  For me, that was unacceptable.  As was #1, which though it would have done no harm and been a minimal cost it just grated me on principle.

So the challenge was removing a ground rod that was six and a half feet in the ground.

I tried pulling with hand to no avail.  Friction is an amazing thing.  I considered prying it out, but those rods are real smooth and there was nothing on the rod for the claw of my pry bar to grab on to.

The Solution
Pulling the ground rod out of the ground required three items:
I used a size 016 worm screw clamp for this.  This is about
as large as you can use to clamp securely to a 5/8" rod.
The nut takes a 5/16" hex drive.
  1. Pry bar - I used a 24" wrecking bar.
  2. Piece of wood - I used a short length of 2x10 that I had left over from some deck framing.  Any solid piece of material would work for this, so long as it can be easily positioned near the ground rod and withstand the stress of being a point of leverage for the pry bar.
  3. Worm screw clamp - these come in numerous different sizes but the key here is simply that it needs to be small enough to clamp securely to the ground rod.
The steps to removal are as follows:
  1. Slip the clamp over the top of the ground rod and to a position about 2 inches above the top of the wood.  Just need to have enough space there to let the claw of the pry bar grab the screw housing on the clamp.
  2. Set the claw end of the pry bar (that's the short end of the "L") under the screw housing on the clamp. You'll be pulling on the long end to give yourself maximum leverage.
  3. Pry up against the clamp, using the wood to keep the bend in the pry bar from sinking into the surrounding earth.  Since the screw housing on the clamp is pretty small, you'll only be able to pull a little bit before you'll lose leverage.  Chances are the rod will twist and you'll need to reposition the clamp occasionally.  The hard part is overcoming the initial "grip" that has the rod stuck in the ground (an effort that will be dictated by how difficult it was to get it buried that far in the first place).
  4. Keep at it and you should notice the rod coming out of the ground an inch or so at a time.  You may need to disengage the clamp and drop it a couple inches to get your leverage back after you've noticed some movement.  If the clamp is slipping along the rod, it's not tight enough.
  5. Repeat #4 until the rod starts coming out more easily.  Check the rod occasionally by pulling up on it by hand.  Eventually you'll just be able to pull it out of the ground.
Next time, I tried pushing the rod into the ground a couple inches out farther from the house.  Once I had the tip about 6" deep, I pushed the exposed rod up against the house so the end going into the ground was bent about 10 degrees away from the foundation.  I pushed down on the exposed end of the rod while holding the high side against the house to maintain the angle away from the foundation.  Once pushing by hand became too difficult, I used the hammer to send it home.  Success!

Granted, I was extremely lucky to be working with such soft soil and this approach might not be as effective in more difficult soils.  But if you find yourself stuck with a half-buried ground rod like I did, give it a shot.  Worst case, a plea for leniency to your local Electrical Inspector (followed by a messy session with a hacksaw) is often a plausible Plan B.

Ground Rod Installation: Installation

<<< PREV: Gather Your Materials

Various techniques for installing ground rods are all over the internet, all employing a variety of tools from sledgehammers to small jackhammers with special attachments.  I was very lucky that where I live the soil is soft and silty, which meant that I was able to push them in by hand for about the first five feet.  A 3-lb engineers hammer was then sufficient to pound the rod to within six inches of complete burial.  At this point, I connected the 6 AWG bare copper grounding conductor, and then finished off the job with the hammer.

Good luck!  But if you get stuck half-way and find yourself banging until the top of your ground rod resembles a small mushroom, you've probably hit something that no amount of banging is going to get out of the way.  Put down the hammer, step away from the ground rod, have a refreshing beverage, and read on...

NEXT: Pulling a Half-Sunk Rod >>>

Ground Rod Installation: Gather Your Materials

For my situation, code requires two 5/8" copper ground rods, eight feet long, set into the ground at least six feet apart.  Even though my existing electrical system was already properly grounded, consultation with the County Electrical Permits office clarified that I was going to need to install two new rods.  They don't last forever, and being that my house is 30 years old who knows what shape the old rods were in, so for the marginal cost for two copper plated aluminum rods (about $11.50 each) I was happy to make sure that my new panel had new, fresh grounding.

Properly installed, a ground rod will be completely buried in the earth.  This is important for three key reasons:
  1. Depending on location, a protruding ground rod can pose a safety risk due to tripping or, worse, minor impalement if you manage to fall on it.
  2. A protruding ground rod will be subject to damage if you hit it with a lawnmower or weed trimmers, not to mention potential damage to the ground rod itself, along with the crucial conductor back to your distribution panel.
  3. While uncommon, it is not impossible for the ground rod to carry a charge, especially if there are undetected shorts somewhere in the household electrical system.  Exposed copper + electricity = BAD.

How To Install a Ground Rod

Grounding is a crucial part of a residential electrical system.  Simply put, proper grounding provides a path of least resistance to discharge rogue electrical surges that would otherwise pose an electrocution hazard to people coming in contact with electrical appliances, switches, or even water lines in a house.  Such surges in a residential electrical system could occur from lighting or short-circuits in electrical appliances or in the household wiring itself.

Proper grounding is, of course, a standard procedure in installing new electrical service when a house is build and not something that the average homeowner has to mess with.  But we here at cater to the non-average homeowner that does things like upgrade their electrical distribution panels themselves.  In such cases, you'll want to replace your grounding.  Ground rods don't last forever and if your panel has been around long enough that the time has come to upgrade it, chances are your ground rods aren't exactly in prime condition anymore, either.  Upgrading residential electrical service while using old ground rods makes about as much sense as keeping the tires from your old car to put on your new one.  Even if your local electrical inspector doesn't require you to upgrade the grounding, you'd be well served to do it anyway.  It may be a little extra work, but the cost is minimal, and the safety of having fresh grounding will give you the peace of mind that the job is done right.

NEXT: Gather Your Materials >>>

Air mattress

From the "got to laugh to keep from crying" files... something to add to the list of universal truths along with "water flows...