Friday, April 8, 2016

I Guess I'm not Really Annoyed at the Raspberry Pi

But, I just spent three days recovering another one. Almost exactly a month later than the last failure of one of my Pi's, the one serving as a house controller lost the SD card as well. Not terribly surprising, since I replaced the card at roughly the same time as the one that failed last month, but man it's annoying not being able to update the device without getting the latest OS (Jessie).

My whining last month (link) was because there was no way to do the update, upgrade cycle without Jessie being installed. This time I expected that, but I didn't expect them to have changed the way the USB handled USB serial devices. Took a few hours of poking around to figure that out, and of course, it was relatively simple to take care of.

In the interim, my Pi 3B came in and I got it running. That little thing is a whole lot faster than the preceding generations. It almost runs like a laptop. Boot up into the Xwindows system is pretty quick and it works exactly as expected. I didn't experiment with the blue tooth and wireless yet, but they seem to work just fine; the wifi connected to the house on the first try. I don't like wifi for controlling things around the house; the reliability just isn't good enough, but it's nice to have available. Blue tooth is a waste for my purposes, but it makes the boards sell better, so who am I to complain.

I didn't install it as my house controller because that would limit how I got to play with the new board, so my house is still running on a version 1B Pi. I hate the form factor of that board though, so I'll definitely be upgrading it to the Pi 3B to get the better form factor. Especially since I've already gone through the pain of upgrading my software to Jessie.

Lessons were learned. It was really inconvenient having to turn the darn lights off myself. My bedroom was dark when I went to bed; I actually had to turn on the overhead lights all by myself. I'd forgotten how to run the control panel on my pool and had to hunt down the manual for a couple of things. I couldn't check the garage doors from my phone and actually had to drive home once to be sure it was closed (it wasn't). Stupid water heater wanted to run during peak period.

The only thing that didn't drive me nuts was the house thermostats; they're mostly autonomous, so they took care of themselves.

Obviously, I depend too much on a single device. I guess I'll split functions to different devices and do things like have a default configuration for the water heater that always shuts down the electric element during peak periods. The pool will have a dedicated device that makes sure it doesn't run during peak periods. This will be easy since each piece has it's own code that has been made independent of what machine it runs on; I've just been complacent about setting up such a system.

Yes, it will mean more little machines that will have to be backed up somehow so that failures aren't hard to fix. There will also be problems with the stupid power supplies failing. Most of my power supplies have failed at least once; the manufacturers just don't understand that we need a good supply for these things at a reasonable cost.

Speaking of Pi power supplies. I just got a couple of these from Gizmo Junkies.
It's a real power supply that was actually designed to power one of these little computers. It actually supplies 5.3V and can slam out well over an amp of power without getting hot. I haven't pushed it to the limits to see what happens, but they do things like supply a REAL usb power cable so you don't get a huge voltage drop over the cable. I got mine on Amazon (prime shipping), but they're cheaper on the Gizmo Junkies site. I might just save up some money and get a few of these to scatter around the house. They only take up one plug on a power strip and you can change the cable and power Arduinos off of them as well.

Sorry about the randomness of this posting, but I'm still a bit frazzled from trying to remember all the packages I had installed on the Pi to make it work.

I think I'll rebuild a tractor hydraulic cylinder or fix the fuel system on my gas string weeder (again) to recover.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Woodpeckers and Destruction

I don't really hate woodpeckers, but it gets real close. These winged engines of destruction are everywhere here, and constantly work to annoy and dismantle things. It's early spring here and the males are all out looking for girls. They do this by perching on my chimney caps (aluminum spark arrestors) and peck away in a particular rhythm.

Some woodpeckers sound like a machine gun, others peck 6-7 times then pause and repeat. Some do the three shot shuffle over and over. It appears that each chimney cap artist has his own riff and is very proud of it. All of them scared me at first, entertained me for a day or two, then just became annoying. Every morning begins with the staccato drum beat of some girl hunter seeking attention. I much prefer the neighbors rooster.

The noise of my chimney caps being pounded by a woodpecker carries a long way, and the jerk doing the pounding hopes it will attract a good looking gal woodpecker for amorous intent. If they do attract a female, then they get busy which leads to needing a place to nest. My winged pests are Gila (pronounced hee la) woodpeckers and often (too often) nest in holes in my precious Saguaro (pronounced saw wa ro) cactus. They actually drill holes in the side and move in; laying eggs and nurturing the next generation of annoying little flying cretins.

Sure, a BB gun and a little practice could lessen the impact, but not only were they here first, they are protected. Not sure why they are protected, there's about a hundred around here and more next door, but who's going to argue with a game and fish officer holding a ticket book? Someone told me they are classified as migratory and fall under some treaty or other that prohibits killing migratory non-game birds. Mine don't migrate any farther than the neighbors house; they're here all year. To be honest though, I have taken an air-soft gun and done a little target practice from time to time. Those things (air-soft guns) are horribly inaccurate at any distance and I never managed to hit one. It did teach the woodpeckers to fear me; when I walk outside, they're gone; off into the trees to screech at me to leave the area.

The little pests even hang off my hummingbird feeder and chase the hummingbirds away to keep the sugar water all to themselves. I had to stop putting bird seed out for the quail, dove and cactus wrens because it also attracted the woodpeckers. Once they got to hanging around the house, they decided to eat it.

I have vigas (pronounced vee gaa) sticking out of the house as decorations. They simulate the building techniques of the native builders of hundreds of years ago. The Spanish that came later adopted the same techniques and having logs sticking out of your house became something cool. The problem is that the woodpeckers began to drill holes in them. Once the holes penetrated the finish layer, the wood dried out and made the vigas sound hollow. When the woodpeckers hear a hollow spot, they assume there are bugs inside and drill away, which makes more spots dry out. Yep, a vicious cycle of destruction that leads to a viga that is full of cracks and holes eventually causing it to fall apart. I've repaired them several times over the years; once actually taking them down and filling all the cracks and holes with recommended wood repair materials and then putting them back up. I used really good elastomeric paint heavy caulking to keep the weather from eroding them.

Totally wasted effort, the woodpecker attacks destroyed them. Take a look at one of them:

Yes, all that damage was caused by the protected Gila woodpeckers around my place. Let me show you another one:

Notice there's no log end sticking out of the hole? That's because it finally dried up enough that the fasteners wouldn't hold it any more. It's on the ground broken and looking really sad.

Obviously, I'm losing my battle at protecting my vigas. I decided that wood just wasn't going to cut it; I needed some other solution. I considered forming sheet metal into a cylinder and putting that up, but I couldn't find a sheet metal shop that was cheap enough to do it, and the metal would look like ... well pipe sticking out of the house. Maybe I could cast them out of concrete and put that up. When I looked into that the mold became a nightmare of complexity. That kind of project should be left for something large and beautiful. Besides, concrete is really heavy. Then I went looking on the web for someone else that had this problem and it turned out there was a product that looked perfect.

This is a fake viga cast out of polyurethane foam. It looked like the perfect solution: Sun survival is relatively good, and excellent if there is a good paint protecting them. Light weight. Hollow so a mount can be put inside. They don't dry out. They look like wood if you are a few feet away. The only problem is they are a bit pricey and shipping is a factor because they are pretty big.

I ordered and received two of them to try out the idea. Of course, the first thing I did after unpacking was to flip one over to look at the insides.

The hollow interior is just perfect for making a mount. All I had to do was chop up a piece of pressure treated wood and mount it to the house, then slide the fake, er uh, faux viga over it and drive in a couple of screws.

After cutting out a bunch of debris from the hole, removing the sealing caulk from the edges I put my newly made mount in and shoved the faux viga into  the hole over the mount. A couple of weather proof screws later, it was mounted.

I still have to caulk around the edge and do some painting, but it worked. Based on experience, painted plastic lasts essentially forever in this desert, so the replacements should outlast me. If a woodpecker does poke a hole in it, I'll just fill it with silicon seal and paint over the spot. A simple once-a-year inspection should keep me from having this problem again. They won't mold, rot, attract termites; GREAT!

I still have the other one to install and then I'll order two more. My plan is to spread the cost over time replacing the worst of the originals with each order until I'm done and can stop worrying about woodpeckers destroying this part of my house.

Until the next battle with the vermin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My Weather Station is Back Online

Yep, I got it working. About a week ago my weather station Raspberry Pi died, and predictably, I couldn't get it back up without major work <link>. It's all better now running on a Raspberry Pi model B. Yes, I know that isn't the latest of the Pi series, but I had it already, OK.

The Raspbian Jessie booted to a graphic user interface directly, not to a command line. This was a bit of a surprise because I usually bring up the Pi's I have headless so I don't have to hunt down enough equipment to bring them up on my TV. But, since I had the stuff handy from trying to get it working before I gave up and just reloaded, it came up and I configured it, then stopped the GUI. Loading the GUI makes the boot sequence much longer and I usually just use putty on a laptop to control these machines, I don't need it.

Contrary to many posts out there, the configuration screens worked just fine. I was able to assign a static IP address and finish the configuration easily. There was a little hunting through the various menus and icons to find things, but that's part and parcel of any first time installation.

But installing my stuff turned out to be somewhat harder than I expected because, as usual, every piece of supporting software had changed and I had to hunt down what I needed. I used the latest (as of the date on this post) version of libusb, it was 1.0.20, which was several versions later than the one that I would get from a normal apt-get on the Pi.

This version worked well and had a few 'gotchas's' in it that I had to stumble through to get it to work. There was enough documentation and forum postings out there that I found to help me through the process.

I also used the latest rtl-sdr. It was pretty easy as well, but also had a couple of things that I had to chase down. Then I loaded the version of rtl_433 that I had set aside so I wouldn't have to keep making my changes in that code. With the poking around I did in libusb and rtl-sdr, this piece was super simple.

I hooked them all together by starting things on the command line and it worked well. I was able to read the weatherhead RF signal and save it off to my database. The interface I have to move the data around for viewing worked just as it had before. The only thing left was to implement start up  and restart using systemd instead of upstart.

For those of you that wonder why I needed all this, let me describe what's going on a bit. The usb implementation on the Pi is kernal based and not easily modified by the user. That means I had to get libusb and install it. libusb is a user space interface to the usb capabilities on Linux. Then, I had to be able to read one of those sdr radios so I could find the RF signal from the AcuRite weatherhead. I posted about this earlier <link>. Now that I had the signal, decoding it requires rtl_433 which is a piece of software that was developed to decode the signals of many of the wireless devices available such as thermostats, temperature sensors, door bells, weatherheads, etc.

So, it's software piece piled on software piece piled on ... Sure, I could have incorporated all the things I needed into one piece of software and just ran it, but that's not what leveraging software is all about. You use the piece that does the job you need and add special tweaks specific to your implementation. That saves time and doesn't cost much if anything.

With it working and the only piece left being restarting the processes, I dived into systemd. First though, a tiny bit of background. Unix (and linux came from unix regardless of what people say) has to have something to get it going. This used to be the init process. Init would load the various pieces of software and handle how they interacted. Over time init was replaced with various other things that had more features or less bugs. As is rampant in unix and its derivatives, everyone hated something about each of them. Raspberry Pi uses an operating system called 'Raspbian' which is Debian modified to work specifically on the Pi. There are a ton of other operating systems and the choice of which one to actually use is totally up to the person that installs it. I chose to use Raspian because it was the one the folk that produced the Pi chose to supply. I figured it would have the most support and documentation of various forms over time.

The Raspian that I installed with my first Pi used Sys-V init. This system five init is really old and complex to use. I hate complex, so I replaced it with the clearly superior init process call 'upstart'. Upstart is cool and easy to use once you install it. However, the Debian folk decided that the init process 'systemd' was better and moved to it. Raspberry folk went with the trend and moved to it as well.

That was the decision point that caused me to have to rebuild the weather station Pi from scratch. Upstart wouldn't allow the Pi to boot up at all with the new Jessie level OS that you will get when you update your Pi. But, I did all that and now I faced the dreaded systemd configuration. I looked at about a hundred web sites that discussed how to use systemd to handle starting and restarting a process, and quite honestly, was about to give up because everything was too complex and peppered with 'try this' to give me enough confidence to dive in.

At this point I want to mention that following Linux questions on a forum is so predictable. Someone has a problem and asks for help with it. The first response is to ask for more information about how the system is set up, what they saw that wasn't mentioned in the question, and usually some test or other that can't be run because the problem won't let them. Then a response asking them what they are doing. Then a response that says they should be doing it another way because that way is so much better. Then several posts about how it should be done regardless of the original intent. Lastly, the thread ends with no resolution because the discussion has wandered off into never, never land.

I saw that over and over. I finally stumbled across a blog posting (love blog postings) that whittled all the crap down to something amazingly simple compared to what I had been clicking through for hours <link>. Neil cut all the crap out and just showed how to handle a simple case. I didn't have to dredge through long discussions of 'units' or 'forking' or relative merits of daemons; I could just take his example and use it. It worked first try for one of the processes and third try for the other.

Then I configured logrotate to handle the log files I use for debugging and I was done. Finally.

I still have to back up the SD card and store the image on my NAS, and I'll probably back up the other Pi's just to be somewhat safer (obviously you can't actually be 'safe'). I'll also update my github repo for the various things I changed along the way, but that won't assure me of no problems the next time, just make it somewhat easier to recover.

What will really make it easier the next time is what I learned this time.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

I Wanna Talk About My Neighbor and a Big Hole in the Ground

As I've driven you nuts with in the past, this is Arizona USA, and it gets hot here. That pushes our electric bills through the roof for about half of the year. Some of us are taking measures to lower this expense and still maintain a good standard of living. Doing this isn't cheap in the short term, and most of us that pursue lower costs hope to live long enough to recoup some of our outlay.

It's not likely, but it gives us hope.

I have a neighbor that is going for it in a big way. He's working on geothermal cooling for his house. Sure he could have hired a company to come out and destroy his property and put in some half-baked system that he didn't understand, but instead he bought a backhoe and went to work. In this description (I have his permission) I'm not going to mention how close a neighbor or give any directions to his place. I'm also not going to name him, we'll call him George for this discussion. It's not his desire to have a bunch of people stopping by to look at his work or some government official taking credit for it.

So, George got the idea when he put in a well without a well bottom pump. Instead he used air pumped down the hole to percolate the water a few hundred feet up a pipe into a storage tank. For those of you that understand this, that means no moving parts at all in the well; nothing to break or have to be removed periodically for maintenance. Slick and it works like a charm. He had a little trouble intially with the ground level compressor, but it's all worked out now and runs every day. This was a big win and will pay for itself (the pump part, not the water well) in a short time.

First, he has a huge obstacle to overcome - the heat. The hole can't be six feet deep and cool anything because, like the cold country, the surface temperature reaches down that far. He decided to go deeper and wind the hose that will carry the cooled fluid into a big pit. He'll then pump the cooling fluid up to a heat exchanger of some kind transferring the cool to potable water that can be used to condition the air in some fashion. Current thinking is to just use a swamp cooler and circulate the water with the geothermally cooled water.

His backhoe is bigger than mine and he started the project by digging a small area a couple of feet deep. If you've been a reader of mine, you know what the soil is like here. It's basically rock held together by caliche with a shallow layer of extremely sandy organics for a surface. I did a post about a simple one cubic foot  hole I dug and what I got out of it that you can look at to illustrate the situation <link>.  This led to changes in his technique, modifications to the backhoe, and tons of debris (literally tons).

Here's his backhoe and the really cool rock screen he made to separate the rocks from the finer material (can't call it soil). For those millennials out there, the backhoe is the thing with wheels. To use the screen he dumps the material he dug out on the far side and the small stuff falls through leaving the rocks behind. Then he takes the rocks and piles them somewhere out of the way. The small stuff he'll use to refill the hole.

This is the beginnings of the hole. Notice what I was writing about the composition of the ground: a tiny layer of sandy organics and rock bound caliche the rest of the way down. Ever wonder why the desert doesn't have trees? Now you know.

There was a big granite rock over there that had to be dug around.

And, sometimes, bad things happen to the equipment. This took some time to fix, and wasn't the only time the machine broke down. From the beginning of the project to now, he has rebuilt most of the digging parts of the tractor. Only minor problems with the motor, hydraulic pump, and such, but everything that came in contact with the dirt had some time wasting problem or other.

But, let's look at the hole again. Here it is a little deeper.

And, here it is finished.

Notice that it has a ramp leading down into it? That's so he can actually get the backhoe down into the hole to dig, and then get the dirt out. Also notice how the dirt layer seems pretty deep on the far side; that's where the rain washes down and carries some mud with it. This project has been going on for months, so some weathering is expected. Here's a shot of the bottom on the hole, he back filled it a little to cover the rocks.

Eventually, he'll install coils of flexible pipe in the hole, protect them to some degree and then fill the hole back in. Pumping water down into the pipe will circulate it through the cooler material down there, and then he will transfer the cool into his house. This will work to warm a house also, but not much need for that here. Bet you're wondering where the rocks I talked about are.

There's several piles like these; here's another one.

No, not all energy saving projects taken on by individuals are small. Sometimes to have an effect, you have to think bigger than a tiny computer and some wall switches. The beauty of doing this kind of thing is that your skill set increases exponentially. It makes you understand the reality of what can be accomplished.

I'll be following this project over the next months, more later.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How Can I Possibly Be Annoyed at the Raspberry Pi

Yes, they're all over the place and my Google news feed keeps telling me about how wonderful they are, but I almost threw one across the room today. The story is that my weather station Pi lost its SD card; they do that sometimes due to the heavy usage the cards aren't designed for. I've had it happen before, and thought I was prepared this time. You guessed it, I wasn't.

Yes, I have backups of the system, and backups of the software; the problem is that I didn't expect the folk that control the Raspberry Pi software to close some doors on me. You see, after I decided to update and upgrade the OS on the Pi, it wouldn't boot. I like to stay reasonably up to date on my stuff, but often wait a while to get the latest OS and tool changes. With the other non-technical projects I've been working on, it's been a few months since I took the time to update the little machines. During this period Raspberry Pi went from Debian Wheezy to Jessie.

Besides the usual wondering who the heck thinks up these silly names, I thought now would be a good time to update my systems. That was my first mistake; my second was when I didn't read ALL about the changes in Jessie. You see, they decided to use 'systemd' as their default init process and I switched to upstart quite a while ago because it was better. There's a few hundred pages out there on what's best and why, but I don't really care about that; I just want something that works, and I can keep updated.

Fine, I'd switch to the default for the Debian Jessie, but you can't update over a Debian Wheezy that has upstart on it; that makes the machine unbootable. To add insult to injury, this all happened when I was trying to update Wheezy. They don't update Wheezy, they switched me over to Jessie and just left me hanging.

Literally. Yep, hanging on a console message with the machine unable to boot.

I know how to get out of this mess and catch my machines up to the latest, but I really hate having to do it. At least it was my weather station and not the control system for the house. So my plans are to update to Jessie, then load all the packages I use to run this stuff, and finally to update my startup scripts to use the init they want me to use. Probably about three or four days of fooling around for the weather station, then I get to do it all over again for the house controller.

I want to be up to date with the latest because, eventually, the Pi Zero will be back in stock and I really want to play with it. No, I won't worry about updating something that will become a control part inside something else; I'll just use it like some other chip. I'll have to be careful to isolate any code on one away from the OS and come up with ways of starting processes that don't involve the OS, essentially treating them like little black boxes. At $5, I won't much care if they fail and have to be replaced. Sort of takes some of the fun out of them though.

The very next iteration of my devices will NOT use the unix facilities to start and stop processes or to monitor what they do. I'm going back to basics and working out ways to handle it that don't rely on some programmers data politics.

Subject change. A few folk have expressed disappointment that I haven't been posting about my tractor rebuilding, dog door, trenching, culvert, and other projects for the last few months. When I told them that the projects weren't technical, they said, "So?" I didn't have an answer because I've written about rattlesnakes, dogs, shades on the patio, etc.

Sorry tech weenies, I'm going to go back to my old ways and talk about surviving in the desert with a bunch of technology included. It just may be hydraulics, water flow, pruning techniques and such as well as little tiny computers and hacking into strange devices. Heck, I may well post about the technical aspects of using snake shot to control the varmints that try to kill me, as well as my continuing war with woodpeckers.

But my Pi 3B is already on order.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Battery Operated Temperature Sensor: The Batteries Died

The previous entry on this project is here <link>.

I worked on this project earlier this year and put it into daily service back in April. The batteries died last night (this morning) at 4:00 AM, earlier than expected. They lasted 5.5 months and had the same rapid decline to 2.7 volts that I saw when I was running it in accelerated mode to understand how to do this.

Basically they coasted along dropping a little over time and then just dived, relatively speaking over a couple of weeks to a level where it wouldn't work anymore. This seems to be the normal behavior of alkaline batteries, so nothing new.

I am disappointed that it took less than six months to die though, but it died two days after my TV remote control died and I changed those batteries around the same time as this device. I remember because of the coincidence of having the remote need batteries around the same time as I started the long term test on the sensor. Could be the life of the cheap batteries I'm using.

The device was set for 115 seconds off and 5 seconds on and I can easily change that to a much longer off period if I need to, but I'm not sure I want to. Having the temperature available at two minute intervals is nice and fits with my longer term plans for temperature control in the house.

On the reliability front, this thing has worked day after day without a hiccup. I use it to turn off the bedroom and outside lights when I go to bed every day and sometimes just to show it off. Never gave me a problem unless the controller it talks to was having problems because I changed something there. It's still a bunch of components on a proto board though. I couldn't find an enclosure to fit it that I liked and decided to wait until I could buy a 3D printer to make something for it.

My tractor and the terraforming work around the house ate up the money I was setting aside for the printer and that has been postponed until I finish that stuff. Keeping flood water out of my house and repairing ruts in the driveway will always take precedence.

I put some more of the exact same batteries in it, and it's beside the bed again doing exactly what it's supposed to. I'll check on it from time to time and see what develops over the next six months or so.

Maybe by then I'll have an enclosure for it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Yes, I'm alive

I've been suffering from blog withdrawal, and folk have contacted to make sure I'm still alive. So, I thought I'd at least write a bit about what I've been doing recently.

I've been doing things that aren't of a technical nature. I've dug some trenches and holes with the new (to me) tractor, and put a lot of money into my other tractor to get it running again. Here's a picture of my agricultural fleet:

I got the little tractor when I first moved out here and have been fixing things on it over time. It died recently because the fuel pump wore out. If you're familiar with diesel engines, you just cringed a bit. Diesel engine fuel pumps are expensive, and some of them are a real pain to replace because they set flow with shims and timing with various techniques. Fortunately, this is a three piston pump with each piston supplying an injector so there's no timing needed. I did have to set the flow with shims, but I guessed right the first time.

The pump cost me $535 and then I had to replace other stuff as well since messing with the old hoses and things broke stuff. All in all I have another $650 or so invested in it, but I need the little tractor to fit in places that the yellow monster can't get to. When I was all done, it started when the first cylinder hit the compression cycle; perfect.

Now the little tractor is off the to-do list, the trench is good enough to keep the flood waters from getting to the house, so I'm moving the big tractor into the garage for some work. Someone before me decided to fix the dashboard on it and got in over their head. None of the gauges work, and I want to know the oil pressure and temperature at an absolute minimum. I couldn't care less about the total hours, but it would be nice to know the battery is charging. I guess I get to learn all about monitoring tractor vital statistics next.

And yes, i can fit the tractor into the garage. I have an empty RV garage that I built with the house, but then couldn't actually afford to keep the RV on the road because fuel prices went totally out of sight. I sold the RV and use the space to set up tools for various projects. It's really nice to be able to set a table saw beside a band saw and move from one to the other as I build something.

A man can't ever have a big enough garage.

I really haven't done squat on the technical aspects of the house. Yes, I keep experimenting with MQTT to understand more about it and I'm very slowly converting the various devices to use the toolset, but progress is slow because I keep thinking about hydraulic pressures and depth of culvert openings to handle water flow.

I'm easily distracted.

Speaking of culverts: The driveway to my place kept getting a deep rut dug into it by the monsoons here. See, we don't get much rain, but when it does rain, sometimes it comes down in a real torrent. We sometimes get three inches in twenty or so minutes and that causes flash flooding. I'm well away from the most dangerous areas for this, but as last year would attest, I'm not invulnerable to water coming down a hill and making a mess:

You should be able to see how high the water got on the house in the picture. When I realized I couldn't keep the water out of the house, I just opened the doors on the other side and let it out. That left me with about a half inch of water in the house and my wet vacuum was able to clean up the mess in a couple of days. I have tile floors, so all I had to do was mop up and everything was fine. It took about three weeks to clean out the pool though. I got seven wheel barrows of mud out of it before I was done.

Anyway, back to the culvert. When I did some digging around the rut in the road, I found caliche near the surface. That limited the size of culvert pipe I could put in, so I used three 10" pipes instead of a single 18" pipe. Metal culverts need some sand in the bottom and then a covering with something that didn't have rocks and could be compacted. The sand I had in abundance, but I had to get 30 ton of aggregate to fill it back in. It turned out nice and the 16" rut is gone from the drive. The driveway services four houses, so I did a good deed for the neighbors as well.

I want to admit to something though; I didn't use my yellow tractor to dig the culvert channel. The big yellow tractor was brand new to me and I didn't have a clue how to use it. I begged a neighbor for a favor and got him to bring his big ol' Cat backhoe over and help out.

Then another neighbor from down the road came up to watch and brought his skip loader with him. I had an entire crew of folk out there messing around with the road. I totally love my neighbors! It took all day because we dug up a telephone line (mine) and had to wait for them to show up to advise us. Yes, they were responsible for it because I called in advance and had the lines marked and they missed it. It really does pay to follow the rules when your digging with a machine; if I hadn't had it marked, they would have made me pay for fixing the line.

The before picture:

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the right hand side of the rut is over 16 inches deep. It made for an interesting drive for people with normal cars; they had to pull way over to the side and go very slow. The paint marks are where they marked the various lines for power and phone. They missed.

That gray thing in the hole is what's left of the conduit and MY phone line. It was a good eight feet from where they marked it should have been. The picture below is just before I was finally able to cover the pipe. It took them over a week to decide who was going to come out and fix it. I finally got them to do something when I told them it was just a matter of time before someone drove into the hole and decided to sue because of the damage to their vehicle. I think the idea of lawyers was enough for them to actually do something.

Just before I was finally able to cover it:

The folk among you that have done something like this are wondering what I did with the dirt and rock I dug out of the hole since I refilled it from other sources. I used that dirt to fill in the channels on my lot that were carved by the rain. I still need some more, but that will have to wait until I have some more money. With the new trench to divert the water, I don't mind buying some fill material to spruce thing up a bit and cover some of the rocks. Yes, I used my own tractor for this with a little help from the skip loader neighbor; I can work a front loader just fine, it was the backhoe that I needed to learn about.

Looks like a normal road now:

The rocks on the right are to keep people from driving into the intake hole, there will be more rocks moved in to define the road better when I get around to it. I didn't want someone trying to cut the corner driving into the hole there. Now, they'll slam into the rock and have only themselves to blame.

Folk in apartments in town wonder why people like me live out here and put up with this kind of thing. Frankly, from time to time I wonder myself. Me and Barkley, my dog, have killed three rattlesnakes so far this year; the desert toads have been going through their breeding season and the screams they make actually hurt your ears; there have been several weather alerts for sand storms; only one scorpion sting so far; and I had to clean the septic filter yesterday. But, sometimes you get something like this:



and think, "Maybe this isn't so bad after all."

Remember back in school when the teacher wanted an essay about "What I did last vacation?" Well this is mine.