sat, 21-may-2011, 07:29
Back cabin, high water

Back cabin, high water

I started measuring the depth of Goldstream Creek a little over a year ago this week. Each morning I measure down from a particular spot on the bridge over the Creek to the top of the water or ice and report this (plus daily high and low temperature, precipitation, snowfall and snow depth) to the Weather Service. The following plot (if nothing shows up, click the following links to view a PNG or PDF version) shows the depth of the Creek at our swimming hole on the top, and the daily high and low temperatures on the bottom. The dark cyan line on the top plot is the height of the bridge (about six feet below the entrance to our house), and the dark cyan line on the lower plot is the freezing point.

At it’s highest, the Creek was just over two feet from the bottom of the bridge, the slough flooded into the dog yard about two thirds of the way across the lowest point, and the Creek seemed dangerously close to topping the banks. The photo at the top shows the back cabin during the high water event.

This year’s breakup was similar to last year: ground and meltwater from the surrounding area started flooding on top of the ice and over the course of a couple weeks, it eroded the ice below until the water level rapidly dropped to more normal summertime depths. One interesting note is that we seem to get a large pulse of water (the rise starting around March 11th) before the snow has started melting, which would seem to indicate that the first pulse is coming from groundwater sources. We don’t start getting afternoon temperatures above freezing until the beginning of April, and this is when snowmelt starts bringing the level up even higher.

When the level begins to drop, it’s pretty dramatic as we go from bankfull conditions to almost nothing in a week. This year we’ve still got wide shelves of ice hanging on the banks six feet above the level of the water.

The plot also shows the brief ice storm in late November where we got a couple inches of rain that froze on the roads and brought the Creek up slightly.

In the past, we’ve had more dramatic breakups where the initial springtime pulse of ground and meltwater breaks up all the ice in a couple days and sends it past our house crashing and grinding, but even the more gradual melting pattern of the last two years is impressive in how quickly the Creek rises and falls.

sat, 12-mar-2011, 13:44

Piper and Nika on the trail

Today is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to take both Nika and Piper out on the trails. For me, this is a turning point in a very long, stressful illness that Piper is still recovering from.

A couple months ago Piper got what we can only assume was an abscess inside her chest cavity. The result was that her chest filled with fluid and made breathing very difficult for her. The original diagnosis, made before she started having any real symptoms, was cancer, and we were preparing for the worst. Thankfully, Andrea didn’t give up on her, and several fantastic veterinarians in town didn’t either.

She spent some time in a hyperbaric chamber to get her oxygen levels up, and she had the fluids drained from her chest several times. Eventually, she had surgery to insert a pair of tubes into her chest, and we spent the next two weeks flushing her with fluids, every six hours. There’s a photo of the setup below. The procedure was to hook the saline bag to the input port on one side of her chest and put in 250 ml of fluid. Then we’d switch sides, and open the drain port on the side that had just been filled. Repeat until a liter has gone in and come back out again. The whole procedure took more than an hour, four times a day. At the same time, she was getting pain medication and antibiotics.

Flush setup

Flushing Piper’s chest, February 2011

In the beginning, even after we had a good diagnosis, she was so sick that I don’t think anyone had much hope that she could be saved. She was too weak to stand without help and had a head tilt that seemed to indicate she’d gone septic. But as soon as we got some of the fluid out and the antibiotics started working on the infection inside her she improved dramatically.

Throughout all of it, Piper was fantastic. She went up on the couch to get treatment, went into her kennel at night, and handled all the trips to the vet without complaint or struggle.

She still has to take antibiotics for at least six months to make sure the infection really is gone, and it’s been a cold couple months because her chest was shaved prior to the surgery, but it’s all worth it. Seeing her running around on the trails today with Nika was a pleasure, and I think she enjoyed it too.

tags: house  Nika  Piper  trails  walk 
wed, 19-jan-2011, 12:24
Time capsule12
MacBook Pro26
Linux server20
46" LCD TV50
Arctic entryway ventilation fan50
Circulating pump62
Boot driers71
Sewage treatment plant350
Jeep heaters640
Dakota heaters650
Water pump1,240
Bedroom heater1,500

A little over a year ago we bought a whole house energy monitor (The Energy Detective (T.E.D)). It’s got a pair of clamping ammeters that measure the current going through the main power leads inside the breaker panel in our house. This information is transmitted to a small console that we’ve got in the living room, as well as a unit that is connected to our wireless router and displays a web page with the data. I wrote a script that reads this data every minute and stores it in a database. It can also send the data to Google Power if you’re not interested in storing the data yourself.

The console that comes with it runs on rechargeable batteries charged by the cradle it sits in. That means that you can take the console with you to see how much electricity various devices in the house consume. You just watch the display, turn on whatever it is you want to measure, and within a second or two, you can see the wattage increase on the display. We’ve measured the power that the major devices around our house consume, shown in the table on the right.

The lights aren’t in the table. Much of the downstairs is lit with R40 bulbs in ceiling cans, in which we’ve placed 23 Watt CFLs. The most common lighting pattern in the winter is to have the four lights in the kitchen and the single can above the couch on, which is just under 100 Watts. We also have six motion sensing lights, four in the dog yard and one on the shed. Four of these are CFL bulbs (around 20 Watts), and two are outdoor floods (70 Watts). When the dogs are outside in the dark, we’re typically using around 180 Watts to light the dog yard, and the motion sensors also consume some energy even when the bulbs aren’t lit.

Of the devices in the table, we’re always running the sewage treatment plant, the time capsule and the Linux server (around 380 Watts). In winter the circulating pump is running all the time keeping the water and septic lines thawed and we use lights and various other heaters quite a bit more.

Here’s a series of boxplots showing the distribution of our power consumption, by month, for the last year:

Power consumption by month

Box and whisker plots show the distribution of a dataset without making any assumptions about the statistical distribution of the data. The box shows the range over which half the points fall (the inter-quartile distance, or IQD), and the horizontal line through the box is the median of the data. For example, in November, over half our power usage falls between about 480 and 750 Watts, with the median consumption just over 500 Watts. If that were the average, we’d use 12 KWHours / day (500 Watts * 24 hours / 1000 Watts/KWatt). The blue vertical lines extending from the boxes (the whiskers) indicate the spread of the majority of the rest of the points. The actual length of these is a somewhat arbitrary 1.5 times the IQD and provides a view of how variable the data is above and below the median. In the case of power consumption, you can tell that the distribution of the points is heavily skewed toward lower consumption values, but that there is a long tail toward higher consumption values. This makes sense when you realize that we’re almost never going to be using less than 380 Watts, but if it’s the dead of winter, our cars are plugged in and the water pump and refrigerator are on, we’ll get a very high spike in our usage. The orange points that extend beyond the whiskers are the actual data values that were outside of the box and whiskers. Again, for this data, we’ve got a lot of these “outliers” because those exceptionally high draw events happen all the time, just not for very long.

Cumulative frequency / density plot

Another way to look at the data is to divide it into summer and winter, and examine the kernel density and cumulative frequency distribution of the data. In this case, the dependent variable (power consumption) is on the x-axis, and we’re looking at how often we’re using that amount of electricity. Looking at the winter density data (the red, solid curve on the left), you can see that there’s a peak just under 500 Watts where most of our usage is, but there’s also smaller peaks around 1,200 Watts and 1,800 Watts. These are probably spikes due to plugging in the vehicle heaters in the morning before we go to work (480 baseline + 640 + 650 = 1,770). The 1,200 Watt peak may be due to just having one vehicle plugged in, or due to the combination of other heaters and the lights being turned on. In summer, there’s a big spike around 350 and a secondary spike around 400. I’m not sure what that cause of that pair of peaks is, but if you look at the monthly density plots, it’s a common pattern for all the summer months. My guess is it’s the baseline sewage treatment plant, plus turning on the lights in the evening. But there aren’t really any other peaks after the distribution drops to close to zero after 1,000 Watts.

The blue line is the cumulative frequency distribution, and it can tell you what percentage of the data points occur on either side of a particular usage value. For example, if you read horizontally across the winter plot from the 0.5 (50%) mark, this intersects the blue line at just over 500 Watts. That means that half of the time, we’re using more than 500 Watts, and half the time we’re using less. The difference between summer and winter is really clear when you look at the cumulative frequency: in summer 95% of our electricity usage is below 750 Watts, but in winter 20% of our usage is above that value.

There’s still a lot more that could be done with all this data. At some point I’d like to relate our usage to other data such as the outside temperature, and I know there are statistical techniques that could help pull apart the total consumption data into it’s individual pieces. For example, as I look at the console right now it’s showing 697 Watts. I know that the sewage treatment plant, stereo, time machine, Linux server, and my laptop are all on. When the ventilation fan goes on, the signal will jump by that amount, and remain at that level until it goes off. Given enough data, these individual, incremental changes in the total consumption should reveal themselves (assuming I actually knew what the technique was, and how to perform the analysis…).

What does all this data really mean? Well, I’m not entirely sure. The idea behind these devices is that they will cause people to use less electricity because they’re getting instant feedback on how what they’re doing affects their usage. The problem is that we’ve already done almost everything what we can do to reduce our usage. Even so, it’s nice to see what’s happening, and a sudden, unexplained spike on the console can let us know when something is on that shouldn’t be.

tags: house  power  TED 
sat, 20-mar-2010, 19:34

Piper and Nika on the new trail

Piper and Nika on the new trail

We closed on a new piece of property last week and I’ve been exploring it on the ground and with Google Maps. There’s already a well-established non-motorized trail along two side of it, and based on the satellite imagery, it looks like there’s a partial trail approximately through the middle. I found it on the ground yesterday, and today I made an attempt at figuring out a way to connect the two trails. There’s still a foot of snow on the ground, so it’s wasn’t easy going, but I did snowshoe my way around. I’d hoped my snowshoe tracks would have hardened enough to walk it in boots this evening, but the snow had turned to sugar instead. Hopefully it’ll harden tonight when the temperature drops.

I’ve been on and off carrying my .22 rifle over the past couple months looking for grouse and snowshoe hare (hares?). I haven’t seen any grouse since I started carrying, but both last week and today I’ve seen hares. So far I’ve seen three on our property, and each time I saw them, I wasn’t carrying my rifle or my bow. The hare I saw this morning may have been laughing at me. Hares have a very clever strategy for eluding predators: when startled they run a short distance through the brush, freeze for ten to twenty seconds, then run again. For predators that are focused on movement, I think the momentary pause allows the hares to disappear due to their excellent camouflage. For a human hunter it’s a challenge because just as you get the animal in your sights, it bolts. And since you’re looking through your sights or scope, it’s much harder to pick them up after they’ve left the view. Anyway, the hare today was 20–30 feet away, in plain sight, and showed no sign that it considered me a threat. It kept right on eating alder shoots, preening, and at one point even got up on it’s hind legs and looked around. It would have been an easy target for my bow.

Had I been carrying it.

sat, 13-mar-2010, 16:58

New pump

New water pump

Spent much of the day today getting parts and replacing our water pump. The old one wasn’t drawing water out of the tank very well, didn’t show pressure on the gauge, and couldn’t be primed without taking it off of the pressure tank. Earlier in the week we had a brief freeze-up of our supply line and I decided it was the last time I was going to drag the old pump off the pressure tank just so I could prime it.

The new pump is a Myers pump, Made in the U.S.A., and seems to be a little quieter than the old one. While I was doing it, I replaced a few more of the plastic compression fittings in the mechanical room with crimp-style fittings. The plastic ones are no longer sold because they eventually leak.

One remaining issue is getting the pressure tank and the pressure switch working well together. When I first hooked it up, I lowered the pressure tank to 18 psi (2 pounds lower than the low setting the switch is supposed to default to), and the pump starting rapidly switching itself on and off again. I tried lowering the pressure in the pressure tank until there was nothing left in it, and then started looking at the new gauge. Turns out the new switch was set to something like 15–30 instead of 20–40. After I filled the pressure tank back to 18 psi and adjusted the pressure switch to 24–35, everything works without the on-off-on-off problems. I’d like it to be closer to 20–40, but that will take some fine tuning of the pressure switch.

tags: house  pump  water 

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