New Honeywell Round Thermostats Suck: Do Not Buy

I ordered one to use as a mechanical, low-voltage thermostat for my electric heating after I converted it to low-voltage control. It came up on my Amazon product search, and had what seemed to be a decent rating of 4.2 out of five stars. That, plus the appearance of familiarity with the product (I have lived in homes with older versions of them before) prompted me to choose it.

Big mistake! Turns out it’s not a mechanical thermostat at all; it’s an “intelligent” (I use the term very loosely here) electronic one, complete with a printed-circuit board hidden inside. It’s just disguised to look like a traditional mechanical thermostat.

If Honeywell had properly engineered such a design, there would be no problem. But they did not. Look at the actual written reviews for it on Amazon’s product page and you will see something unsettling: a large number of one-star reviews, with those bad reviews rated as being the most helpful.

For further amusement, go to the HVAC-TALK site, feed “Honeywell CT87” into the search box, and you will be rewarded with some archived discussions of this model by HVAC professionals. The general consensus is that they are junk and should not be installed.

The main problem is apparently how the firmware emulates a traditional mechanical thermostat’s anticipator (a tiny electric heater inside a thermostat that “anticipates” the tendency for heating systems to overshoot past the set temperature). It assumes a fixed and unrealistically rapid rate of temperature increase when the heat comes on. It works OK if it’s barely cold enough to need to run the heat, but as the outside temperature drops, it gets less and less accurate; you have to set the thermostat ever higher to get the same inside temperature. This has apparently even caused frozen and burst pipes for some homeowners!

To make a shitty product even worse:

  • They have an internal, undocumented lithium battery that will die within a decade, degrading performance further.
  • They have an undocumented power-stealing design that is incompatible with some systems.
  • The case design, in contrast to the traditional Round case, has poor air circulation which makes for poor sensitivity.
  • The temperature-sensing thermistor is mounted directly on the circuit board, making its sensitivity to air temperature worse yet.
  • Their circuitry is unreliable and prone to failing entirely within a year or two.

Honeywell Round thermostats didn’t used to suck; in fact, they used to be the most popular thermostat out there, and would last decades. That was when they were mechanical. But that design used mercury switches and ended up getting banned*. Instead of choosing to go with a mechanical magnetic snap design, Honeywell chose the electronic route, and badly botched it.

* For good reason. Mercury is toxic, so old mercury thermostats should be recycled. Instead, they generally end up in the trash, causing toxic waste problems.

What’s infuriating is that this has been a problem for most of a decade, and Honeywell is still selling these defective-by-design pieces of junk, apparently because I am not the only one suckered by their retro appearance into believing they are simple, mechanical, and reliable.

Caveat emptor!

Victory in Bolivia, but Will it Hold?

So, the coup that the Right used to seize power in the wake of the popular rebellion against a caudillo-in-the-making has failed. As expected, once the right-wing caretaker government was compelled to hold a free and fair election, MAS-IPSP won it handily.

This is really about the most optimistic thing that could have happened: popular rebellions against first a left-wing leader who got addicted to power, then against the right-wing usurper who tried to take advantage of the first rebellion.

Now we shall see if the new order holds. I have long had a measure of optimism about the revolutionary process in Bolivia that is rare for me, and that Bolivia just managed the rare feat of repudiating left-wing authoritarianism without reverting to right-wing rule shows this optimism is not entirely misplaced.

The biggest peril now is what happens when Morales returns to Bolivia, as he almost certainly will. Will he settle into a role as an elder statesman, or will he try and continue to conflate the social revolution there with his person, and attempt to regain personal political power?

What Biden Should Say about Court-Packing

I am not going to go through the effort of drafting a speech in full, but what he says should mention the following points:

  • During the Obama Administration, the GOP acted to frustrate not just his Supreme Court appointments, but his judicial appointments in general.
  • As soon as Trump took office, the Senate eagerly enabled his administration’s filling of the resulting backlog of empty seats.
  • The Trump regime has aggressively screened its nominees for ideological correctness, and much more so than any previous administration.
  • Add that to the judges appointed during the George W. Bush administration, which also lost the popular vote, and a huge chunk of Federal judges, at all levels, have been appointed by administrations without popular consent.
  • Therefore, court-packing is not something the Democrats wish to do; court-packing merely represents an undesirable status quo.
  • All of this has been done legally; no laws were broken in doing it.
  • Likewise, the law (specifically the Constitution) gives the President and Congress the right to set the size of the Supreme Court. That there be nine justices is mentioned no place in the Constitution. The size of the Court has been changed before, and it can be changed again.
  • That said, changing this number is a drastic step, and doing so might well be expected to increase the already dangerous level of polarization in this country.
  • Given that downside, it is therefore not a step to be taken lightly, and hopefully a step that can be avoided.
  • Whether or not it can be avoided depends on the conduct of this administration, the Senate, and the Courts.
  • However, if a Court, the majority of the justices which were appointed by administrations operating without the consent of the governed, legislates from the bench to further thwart the will of the governed, my hand may be forced.
  • For example, I am not willing to see health care taken from millions of citizens with pre-existing conditions, and will do everything legally within my ability to prevent this. I consider this to be the only decent and moral stance I can have on this issue.
  • To reiterate, I hope it doesn’t come to this.
  • But, over 250 years ago, our founding fathers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”
  • While I hope I will not be compelled to change the size of the Court to preserve the principle of consent of the governed, my dedication to this principle means that I cannot unilaterally relinquish all possibility of using that tool, either.
  • If Republicans are concerned about packing the courts, the single most important thing they should do right now is to put Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination on hold, and not let it advance unless the winner of the coming election approves of it. No other step could do more to preserve the integrity of our courts.

Karma Comes for the Orange Buffoon

Some thoughts, in no particular order:

    • It is no surprise, given what we know of how the virus is spread and how little Trump believes in taking precautions against it.
    • That Trump has persistently refused to take such precautions undercuts his own claim of being a germophobe, a claim that he famously used in an attempt to delegitimize the alleged existence of the pee tape.
    • Trump has multiple risk factors for the disease, particularly age and obesity.
    • Trump is already experiencing symptoms, which were profound enough for him to be hospitalized. Therefore he is not amongst the lucky subset that cruise through an infection with no or only very mild symptoms.
    • Despite the secrecy surrounding his condition (and the resulting uncertainty), Trump does not appear to be seriously ill at the present time, given how he is still appearing in videos.
    • The first week is usually not the worst in severe cases, so while he may eventually prove to only have a relatively mild case, only after a week or two will it be safe to conclude this.
    • Even severe cases now typically survive, due to advances in caring for the disease. Plus, Trump has access to the best care available. Therefore he will probably survive.
    • Severe cases are still typically lengthy and incapacitating. Therefore a period of such incapacitation, where Pence has to assume presidential duties, is a very real possibility.
    • I do not think it will be possible to predict in detail how any of the above will affect the campaign, other than it will certainly affect it.

Will the Supreme Court Help Trump Steal the Election?

Short answer: maybe, but probably not.

First, like all institutions in society, particularly powerful institutions, the number one priority for the Supreme Court is to preserve itself and its power. Justices know that a second Trump term would complete the descent into authoritarianism, and that it would result in a dictatorial executive branch arrogating virtually all power to itself, at the expense of the other two branches.

The most extreme thing any Democrat is proposing is to expand the size of the Court, and the Democrats probably won’t even do that, because they are possessed of an institutionalized Stockholm syndrome and value weakness; they neurotically think that being weak will help make their opponents like them. Biden has, true to form, already tried to throw cold water on such proposals. The Justices are not stupid and this is as obvious to them as it is to any intelligent observer.

Therefore, they can reasonably expect that a Biden presidency will conserve their institution’s power, just like they can reasonably expect that a second Trump term will turn their institution into a meaningless empty shell.

Second, the very act of ruling against Trump (despite the current ideological makeup of the justices) would itself furnish hard evidence in favor of the contention that the Supreme Court is an independent, nonpartisan body, further acting to increase the power and standing of the Court as an institution.

Third, the Justices all serve life terms. Unlike Republican congressmen, they have nothing to fear from Trump or the sheep that follow him.

Conservative Supreme Court justices have already ruled contrary to Trump’s wishes more than once. It is therefore not naïve to entertain the thought they might do so again.

Trump will have appointed three of the nine justices. Of the six conservatives, he will have appointed half. Justice Gorsuch has already demonstrated his independence by ruling against Trump the most of any justice he has appointed. The two ones to worry about are Kavanaugh and Barrett. To them can possibly be added Justice Thomas, who has proved himself to be a party hack more than once.

Maybe Justice Alito rules Trump’s way, too. Let’s be pessimistic and imagine he does. Roberts and Gorsuch have already demonstrated their independence, and I just don’t consider it plausible that they would make a legally-strained ruling in Trump’s favor. That makes for a 5–4 ruling against Trump. And this is with making generous assumptions for Trump; the exact margin is therefore likely to be wider.

A 9–0 ruling is in fact not out of the question! Suppose that Kavanaugh and Barrett are inclined to support their führer, but they can see which way the wind is blowing. Why cast a meaningless pro-Trump vote, which can only harm their personal reputations, when stabbing Trump in the back can better preserve it?

And yes, I know about Bush v. Gore. That was in a different era, with different particulars. A Bush presidency did not carry the plausible risk of reducing the Supreme Court to an empty shell.

I must reiterate that this is not a certain outcome, only an extremely plausible one. An important variable will be how much Constitutional compulsion there is to rule a particular way. For example, if it comes down to the Court ruling on whether the House gets to select the next president on a per-delegate basis, it is going to be very hard to rule against that, because the Constitution is so explicit about it.

Mind you, it will still be important to get out into the streets and demonstrate that a government without the consent of the governed is intolerable. That will in fact help motivate the Supreme Court to rule against Trump as a way of calming the unrest.

To sum it all up, I’m not saying that Trump will lose in the Supreme Court, only that he probably will, assuming it comes to that. An election dispute that ends up in the Supreme Court is not necessarily the slam-dunk for Trump that many seem to think it is, even in a 6–3 Court.

Game Over

Biden is giving away the store. It’s a 6–3 court.

Unless it is paired with the threat to expand the size of the Supreme Court if it is not adhered to, Biden’s request is meaningless. Any request to the Republican Party to do something just to be nice, given the last four years of GOP behavior, is not merely naïve: it raises naïveté to an entirely new level. It creates a whole new universe of naïveté.

This was in fact always the most likely outcome; the Democratic Party has a long, sad tradition of bringing knives to gun fights. I refrained from predicting it earlier because I decided to give optimism a little whirl.

Also do not expect much, if anything, on Biden’s wish list of campaign promises to pass. You think he won’t kneecap any effort to reform the filibuster, just like he’s kneecapping the political hardball necessary to save the Supreme Court right now? Think again. There is absolutely no evidence that Biden can change his ways and cease being so craven.

He’s a septuagenarian, after all, and while there are exceptional individuals who remain flexible and open-minded into their later years, most people are by that age firmly set in their ways. There really is something to the adage about an old dog and new tricks.

Voting for Biden is merely harm reduction, and is unlikely to do anything substantive to halt the ongoing decline of the American empire. It is hitting a reset button so that the current fascist gets ejected from office and the left can better prepare for responding to the next fascist to win it (which, in the wake of the inevitable failure of the Biden administration, will happen).

If you were expecting something other than shit from this shitty system, revise your expectations.

RIP RBG

So, the inevitable has happened. The octogenarian cancer patient (not just any cancer, pancreatic cancer, one of the worst kinds) is no longer among the living.

What happens next is that Trump will nominate a replacement, and the Senate will promptly commence the process of approving the nomination. No other scenario is even remotely plausible, sorry.

In response, Democrats need to announce a plan to unpack the Supreme Court that Trump has packed*, by expanding the number of justices on the Court, and to announce that they will put this plan in motion should RBG’s seat be filled before Inauguration Day.

Mind you, the most likely result is that the Republicans will fill the seat anyhow. If so, well, the Republicans can’t say they weren’t warned.

I must reiterate that all of this is not the path of least resistance, which is for Democrats to pitifully plead for the Republicans to be nice, the Republicans to give a middle finger in response, and for the Democrats to refuse to play hardball in retaliation. The Democrats will only do the right thing reluctantly, if compelled to by massive pressure; their specialty, and their natural inclination, is to bring knives to gun fights.

* And yes, this is how it should be phrased. As unpacking the court. Not packing it. Reject the Republicans’ narrative and put forth our own: A court with three justices nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and has never once been above water in the opinion polls is a court that has been packed.

So, No Pushback

It’s not quite a fortnight since Labor Day, but at this stage it seems pretty clear that the pushback I speculated about last month is simply not going to happen.

Not only has the clock mostly run out, but also there have been not one but two new damning revelations about Trump: about his lack of respect for the military, and about how much he deliberately downplayed the threat of COVID-19.

And yet, silence. Trump’s enablers remain Trump’s enablers.

Face it: if by this stage there has not been a peep of opposition, there is simply not going to be any opposition to Trumpism from within the GOP, at least not until Trump loses power.

Everything I wrote in that earlier analysis still holds. Absent the pre-election opposition, Trump will attempt to prevent a free and fair election, and the preponderance of available evidence indicates he will probably be successful in this goal.

In order to have any confidence of prevailing in such circumstances, the Democrats must have an overwhelming lead. They don’t.

The polls all show Biden ahead, but he’s not ahead by much in key swing states (in fact, margins tend to be narrowing in them), and as usual the Democratic Party is doing an absolutely horrible job of campaigning: refusing to set narratives to counter Trumpist ones, refusing to distribute free yard signs, neglecting the power of social media, failing to do sufficient outreach to key constituencies such as Hispanics, etc.

There is, therefore, no reason to expect a big Biden victory, or even a Biden victory at all. It’s basically a toss-up.

None of the pundits are saying it’s a toss-up, but none of the pundits are taking into account that it’s probably not going to be a free or fair process. They’re so blinded by their tunnel-vision of specializing in the detailed analysis of Establishment electoral politics that they can’t see the bigger picture.

Converting a Line Voltage Thermostat to Low Voltage

Holes in wall, with wires coming out of them, during upgrade to low-voltage thermostat.

During installation.

Completed installation, showing new thermostat, cover plate, existing heater.

After installation.

Thermostats come in two basic kinds: line voltage, for control of electric heaters, and low voltage, for everything else.

I have electric heat, so my condo naturally came with line voltage thermostats. That has allowed me, over the past heating season, to be reminded that line voltage thermostats generally suck, for two basic reasons:

  • There is not as much a market for them, so their makers basically don’t care very much about quality and accuracy. If you have electric heating, you probably have line voltage thermostat, and you are stuck with the limited selection of generally lousy options. Sucks to be you.
  • Electric heaters draw a lot of current, and that tends to make line voltage thermostats heat up after they close. A thermostat that heats up will tend to open and cut the heat off before the room has reached the set point. How much, depends on the wattage of the heater and how much heat loss there is (i.e. how cold a day it is).

You might think that a line voltage thermostat rated at 22A could easily switch 14.6A of current (which is what the 3500W of heating in my main living space draws) without appreciably heating up, but revisit Point No. 1 above. Neither the one that my unit came with, nor the one I replaced it with, could properly do that.

It was so bad I had to crank the thermostat all the way up to its 90°F setting just to prevent the heat from cutting off prematurely on frosty cold mornings. Once I left fairly early and that day I ended up wasting energy and money heating my home summer-hot for a few hours because I forgot I had turned the heat all the way up. So the status quo was not just annoying, but wasteful as well.

Naïvely replacing a line voltage thermostat with a low voltage one will lead to failure at best and catastrophe (i.e. a fire) at worst. Thankfully, there are combination transformer/relay devices like this which enable one to use a low-voltage thermostat to control electric heating.

I had done that at a previous home where this issue plagued me, but there I had the benefit of a crawlspace with a large electrical box to bolt the thermostat relay onto. Not so here. Initially, I gave up, because the electrical box the existing thermostat was mounted on was too small for me to bolt the relay onto, and I didn’t want to replace it with a double-gang box, because that would make for a large, ugly double-gang cover plate.

Then I realized that the thermostat and one of the heaters shared the same inter-joist wall space, meaning it was possible to remove the 12/2 cable running from the box to the heater, replace it with 12/3, mount the relay on a spare knockout on the heater enclosure, and use the extra wire to feed the switched current back to the box (where I could then connect it to the other heater).

Of course, with existing construction, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. In this case, there was a staple on the old cable which at first prevented me from removing it, resulting in my lying on my back, sticking my arm most of the way up into the inter-joist space, and probing around blind with a pry bar until I could locate and remove the pesky staple. Then there was the unexpected structural member inside the wall. I could only assume it was load-bearing, so as much as it would have simplified my life to cut a notch out of it, that was an absolute no-no, and the resulting extra bit of fiddliness caused by the unexpectedly tight clearances easily added another hour to the project.

No matter; it’s done now.

P.S. Yes, I used a simple, mechanical thermostat, not a fancy computerized one with lots of setbacks. Why? Two main reasons: 1) I don’t work a regular schedule, so don’t really have any sort of regular thermostat program that makes sense, and 2) I prefer to keep it easy, simple, and un-computerized; complicated systems tend to be unreliable and unpredictable systems.

Back from a Long Camping Trip

Well, long for me. I don’t normally go camping for more than a couple days at a stretch, particularly not since the pandemic has made travel increasingly risky.

However, the condo complex I presently reside in is having every building re-roofed this summer, my building’s turn had come up, and the idea of living in a construction zone really does not appeal to me. So a camping trip it was.

I had been confining my camping to about a 50-mile radius this year, but the urge to visit the dry east side of the mountains had gotten just too great to resist, despite the risk. Part of it is that most of the free camping within 50 miles of me is at higher elevations, and these areas can be surprisingly chilly, even in the summer. I even had frost overnight one time last month. So Okanogan County it was.

I figured (correctly) that if I brought the right mix of perishable and non-perishable foods, my ice would last long enough to get me through most of the trip, and the last day or two I could get by well enough on dried and canned things.

That left buying gasoline for the trip home as the only business transaction I would have to make in what is one of Washington’s more infected counties on a per-capita basis. I would just pay at the pump and sanitize my hands afterward. No entering of public indoor spaces at all required.

It all worked out pretty much as planned, and it was nice to be someplace where it actually felt like summer at my campsite. It was very dry; many things were literally dried to a crisp. Not surprisingly, there was a strict burn ban on. Pleasantly surprisingly, I saw no idiots trying to flout it.

Then I return home, only to find that it was taking significantly longer than anticipated for my building to be finished. So I ended up making another, more hastily-planned, trip to a location much closer to home.

The first night of that second trip made for a nice counterpoint to the warmth and dryness of the east side, beginning as it did the same day a weak front brought some showers. The mountains make their own weather, so those showers ended up being a significant overnight rainfall at camp.

It had been some time since I camped in rainy weather, several years in fact, so it was actually nice to experience it again. Camping in the rain is no disaster if one is prepared for it, as I was. It was quite meditative to gradually fall asleep to the pitter-patter in the deepening dusk.

It ended by meeting some friends from Seattle for a short alpine hike near Mt. Baker, which doubled as a blueberry-harvesting trip. There wasn’t the bumper crop of berries that there was last year, but it was still easy enough to come back with enough berries to make a batch of jam (which I will be doing later today).