Fuck Suburban Propane

I currently rent a tank from Suburban Propane. Because it’s a rented tank, I must also buy the propane from that supplier.

They’re changing me around $5.00/gallon. Current market price is about $1.50/gallon (I’ve checked). So I’m being charged over three times the market rate. Avarice, anyone?

On top of the $3.50/gallon price premium, I’m of course charged a yearly tank rental fee (even though the tank should be free, given what a cash cow monopoly pricing is for them).

Add it all up, figure in my average consumption, and I can expect the new tank to pay for itself in under 2 years, and possibly after a single year. So it’s basically a no-brainer.

When I called Suburban up to begin arrangements to terminate my tank lease, they of course mention their far cheaper rate for customer-owned tanks, as if I’m going to reward them for their past extreme greed. Fat chance of that.

The only worry is my current apparent inability to find an even remotely compatible employer. My superstitious side worries about jinxing things in favor of being compelled to relocate to someplace more affordable in the near future. That is merely a superstition, of course, but it still gnaws at me.

One Final Eclipse Post: Journal Entries

Evening of 20 August

The eve of the Big Show. Or will it be the Big Cloud-Out? There has been a disturbing trend towards more cloudiness over the past few days. Weather forecast for tonight is “mostly clear” and “sunny” for tomorrow, but that has been the general word in forecasts for the past few days.

Oh well. Traffic woes make any location change impractical. “You stakes your claim, you takes your chances” — as I have said for the past month or more.

21 August, 9:11 AM

Skies clear. First contact noted. Probably started a minute or two ago.

Traffic on road, which has increased by a factor of 20 or more in the past week, is strangely absent this morning. Other campers are doing what we are — awaiting the big show.

9:34 AM

High thin clouds are becoming evident. Bah. (Sun still visible.)

9:42 AM

Dimming becoming increasingly evident. Still less than 50% obscured.

The feeling of anticipation before it (first contact) began was virtually palpable. The quietness of the road added to it.

9:54 AM

50%, maybe more. It’s not getting warmer any more. At this stage on a normal morning, it would be. Actually it seems to be cooling.

10:03 AM

Horns [of solar crescent] now at halfway point. Estimate 65 – 70% obscured.

10:04 AM

Several aircraft audible. Air traffic is way up today. Balloons being released from the other camp for the past 20 minutes or so.

10:08 AM

Birds are in “evening chorus” mode. Feels more like 7:00 PM than 10:00 AM. 80%? Dimming is very evident.

10:15 AM

More than 90% gone. Really darkening fast now. Very eerie atmosphere. Getting cooler and cooler.

10:18:30 AM

Just a thin sliver left. Not taking pictures any more. Just focusing on the experience.

Shortly after Totality

Totality lasted from 10:21 to 10:23. Darkness came very fast. Quite cool now. Saw diamond ring. Missed Baily’s beads [wrong; see below]. Clouds thinned [then vanished near the Sun] just before the show.

10:32 AM

Nighthawks came out shortly after totality.

10:42 AM

The exodus is underway. Two cars so far….

10:48 AM (estimated)

Sunlight is starting to feel warm again.

11:37 AM

Basically over. Like it was at 9:11. Tiniest bite. Aircraft all gone.

I Did Actually See Baily’s Beads

I recognized totality was ending because I could see the landscape backlit by the Sun on the Moon’s trailing edge. That is how I interpreted the scene in my mind, not as “Baily’s beads,” because it looked so very much like just that.

Of course, that is exactly what Baily’s beads are. The impression was so strong in my mind that I didn’t even associate what I had seen with the common term for it until well after totality had ended.

Think about that for a moment: the eclipse allowed me to view, with my naked eyes, for a brief fleeting moment, the topographic relief an alien landscape that wasn’t even fully mapped until the Space Age. We’re talking about a relief of perhaps a kilometer or two at a distance of about 385,000 km.

More on the Eclipse

If there was one theme to the whole experience of the trip to see the total eclipse it would be one of the pace of events gradually but persistently accelerating from slow to fast.

I arrived at the site (selected based on extensive study and a carefully drawn-up list of criteria) a week early. I had initially planned on six days early but moved that up by one day due to the Malheur National Forest ranger station in John Day informing me that the day I was going to arrive would be one of their biggest arrival days; I did not want the site I had selected taken by someone else.

Nobody was in the general area when I arrived; it was the same quiet, out-of-the way part of one of the nation’s more remote and least-visited national forests that it was back in early July when I surveyed it. Nobody passed by on the road for the first 24 hours.

In the next 24 hours, a few cars did. A few more in the next. By Friday and Saturday, that formerly almost-unused road was quite busy. I was glad to be camped somewhat away from all the clouds of dust being kicked up by the vehicles traveling it. Sunday was busy, but distinctly less so than the preceding two days.

Monday, the day of the big show, comes. Absolutely no traffic on the road whatsoever. Everyone is in place, viewing the Sun.

There were four of us on this camp-out, and our nearest neighbors were at least a half mile away. We had an entire meadow, perhaps five acres in size, to ourselves for viewing the sky. Despite all my planning, I had neglected to print out and take a timetable of the major events of the eclipse (start of eclipse, start of totality, end of totality, end of eclipse). I knew the eclipse would start sometime after 9:00 and totality would be some time around 10:20 or 10:30, and that was as specific as I could remember.

So we made regular checks using eclipse glasses, No. 14 welder’s glass, and the image of the Sun as projected by my cheap thrift-store binoculars onto a piece of paper. At about 9:08 someone other than me reported that there was now a small bite taken out of the Sun.

That bite grew larger very slowly. It took a long time for the ambient light level to be perceptibly affected, and then the light level decreased only very slowly. Then the pace picked up a bit, then a bit more.

The temperature, which in that semiarid climate had as normal been rising rapidly after a chilly night, stopped rising, then began falling.

The clouds played tease. The first few days, there were none to speak of. Then, high clouds became more and more evident. By Sunday, the entire sky was covered by a thick and worrisome layer of high clouds.

The weather forecasts promised clearing, and it happened overnight. Despite the forecasts, I kept nervously awaking every few hours and looking up to verify the stars were still clearly visible.

The day of the eclipse dawned clear, but thin high clouds came in almost as soon as the eclipse began. I could still see increasingly eclipsed disc of the Sun through them, but they promised to compromise the view during totality. Then, about ten minutes before totality, they almost miraculously parted.

The final bit of crescent Sun disappeared astonishingly quickly. I quit taking pictures of dappled shade and binocular projections when I estimated totality was 10 minutes away, opting to just be in the moment and watch the show. It turned out that totality was at that point only 3 minutes away.

I lied down on the ground and alternated between looking at the Sun through my welder’s glass (purchased decades ago as a teen for eclipse-watching purposes) and looking at the now rapidly darkening world around me. The light was now perceptibly declining from moment to moment.

The final thin green arc in my welder’s glass rapidly shrank to a point. I glanced around me and saw the “platinum print” effect that Anne Dillard spent paragraphs waxing eloquent about in her essay in The Atlantic Monthly. It lasted about twelve seconds; far less time than I took to read about it in her essay.

The point disappeared; nothing but darkness was visible through my welder’s glass. I put it aside and beheld a world utterly changed in a moment. I looked at my watch. 10:21.

No photograph does the corona justice. It was irregular and multi-limbed, far larger than any photograph shows. The longest limbs were at least twice as long as the diameter of the Moon. It had a unique bluish-white color, and a three-dimensionality to it.

It was cast against the firmament of a sky of the darkest blue, but still blue and not black like the disc of the Moon. All around the horizon, there was a point where the sky rapidly graded into the colors of the sunset. Mercury, Venus, and some of the brightest stars were visible overhead.

I then notice some extremely brilliant white areas on the trailing edge of the Moon. Baily’s beads. Then, diamond ring. Look through the welder’s glass and see a rapidly growing crescent. It’s over, after what feels like a mere 30 seconds. I glance again at my watch. 10:23. It was probably the shortest two minutes of my life.

“It’s over,” I write, yet there’s more than another hour of partial eclipse to go. But, really, it’s over right there and then. As a friend remarked to me today, the difference between a 99% partial eclipse and a total eclipse is the difference between night and day.

The exodus soon begins on the gravel road. Everyone else thinks “it’s over,” too. The four of us stay to avoid traffic and mostly spend the rest of the day talking about what we just saw. As I wrote earlier, the experience was so otherworldly and brief that it was hard at first to believe it actually happened.

Back from Totality

Executive summary:

It started slow, then sped up. The changes in ambient light were really slow at first. It was just like a normal, partial eclipse that you have to use equipment to look at the sun safely with to verify there was indeed an eclipse in progress. The pace of change kept inexorably increasing. I quit taking pictures when I estimated it was 10 minutes to totality; it turned out to be 3 minutes. The final bit of crescent vanished astonishingly fast. While that happened, you could see the light level (at first) and color quality (final moments of light) change from moment to moment.

The most noteworthy thing were the colors. Inky-black disc of the Moon, bluish-white corona, deep midnight blue (not black) sky above which abruptly graded to the reds and yellows of the sunset across the entire horizon.

The corona was far larger (and a different color) than I had expected. It had five limbs, three of which were long, the longest at least twice the diameter of the Moon. As mentioned, its color was an astonishing (to me) bluish-white. No photograph I have seen accurately reproduces either the color or the full size.

Totality was so otherworldly and brief that it’s hard to believe I really experienced it. It’s getting easier to believe and integrate the short memory after watching other videos and photos of the event, particularly one probably taken within a mile of where I viewed it from.

Nuclear War: Now Ten Seconds to Midnight

This Is Not a Conspiracy on Trump’s Part

Pretty much everything that’s observable about Trump is consistent with the thesis that he is not some sort of evil, brilliant, right-wing mastermind. He’s an intellectually immature adult child who is almost solely concerned with his own self-glorification, nothing more.

This Is Still Exceptionally Dangerous

Even though there isn’t an organized conspiracy to start a nuclear war, there is still a very good chance, probably about 50%, of one starting within the next 12 months. Anyone saying otherwise, no matter how prestigious their voice, is telling lies that amount to whistling in the graveyard.

The Stalinist monarchy that rules North Korea has long been irresponsible and unhinged. That danger was traditionally mitigated by the United States being at least somewhat reasonable. Now we have two unhinged people leading two adversarial nuclear-armed nations. You take it from there. Again, anyone arguing that this is less than a grave existential threat to civilization is telling lies that amount to whistling in the graveyard.

More than Likely, Trump Is Being Played

Played by the fascist right, that is. It’s doubtless fascists like Bannon and Gorka that are egging him on. Trump likes those fascists because they do a good job of stroking his childish ego.

Being fascists, they don’t care how many deaths they cause in the name of creating a fascist state. The ends will always justify the means. If some millions or tens of millions of Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Americans, or others must die to achieve their vision, so be it.

What Is Justified to Stop This? Pretty Much Anything

I’m not going to enunciate just what that anything might be, but you get the idea. Needless to say, the least extreme measures that can promptly achieve the necessary goal of stopping nuclear war should be used.

That in Itself Is Another Danger

It is so because it might lead to the danger of Trump proving in the long run to have been a phantom menace that paved the way for authoritarians to use extraordinary means to neutralize the Trump threat, and after having legitimized such means, then using similar ones to create an authoritarian order of their own.

Personally, I’m Strategizing Ways to Leave the Seattle Area

We’re the most likely target on the US mainland, because we’re the closest metro area to North Korea. Living outside the city, like I do, is no guarantee of safety, because North Korea’s missiles are likely to not be all that accurate. They could easily miss by ten miles or more.

Most likely strategy is to spend an extended amount of time at my parents’ place in New Mexico. The big question I’m now mulling through is how immediate the threat is. North Korea might not be able to strike Seattle yet, so they may opt to go after Seoul, Tokyo, or maybe even Guam first.

Coleman 425E Experiences

No “Liquid Fuel” Stove Works Like Your Kitchen Stove

You have to go through a process to light them, because they don’t actually run on liquid fuel: they boil their liquid fuel, then run on the resulting vapors. That’s because it’s difficult to directly burn a liquid fuel cleanly and efficiently.

But a cold, unlit stove can’t boil any gasoline, so it must be briefly operated directly (and inefficiently) on some sort of liquid fuel (typically its own gasoline) to heat it up to the point where it can boil its fuel and get running normally. The exact procedure varies a great deal from model to model and manufacturer to manufacturer.

That only takes about a minute, and Coleman actually came up with one of the best such procedures, but it does still take a minute. You don’t just turn on the gas valve of a cold “liquid fuel” stove and have an instant clean flame ready to go. Worse, it looks strange to the uninitiated, who often tend to worry that the stove is about to cause a conflagration of explosion when in fact it’s just acting normally for a cold start.

This was not a surprise to me, but I figured I’d mention it, just in case some random person unaware of it happens to read this post.

The 425E Is Even Less Like a Kitchen Stove Than a One-Burner White Gas Stove

Not only is there a lighting process to go through, but the burners don’t operate independently of each other. There’s a main burner (whose heat vaporizes the fuel) and an auxiliary one (that piggybacks off the vapor made by the generator and main burner). For flame control, there’s a valve that controls the fuel going to both burners, and one that controls the auxiliary burner only.

If you want only one burner on, that has to be the main burner. If you want one burner on high, and the other on low, it’s the main that must be the one on high. Upshot is you often end up swapping pots around instead of (or in addition to) just adjusting the burner flame level.

All of Coleman’s multi-burner gasoline stoves are like this, not just the 425E. None of the above is a surprise, because I remember how my parents used such a stove decades ago.

It Does Simmer, and It Is Stable

The tippiness and the limited simmering ability of my one-burner Coleman 440 were the main motives for wanting an alternate liquid fuel stove.

No More Annoying Wasteful Canisters

What are the annoyances of propane canisters? Let me count them:

  1. There is no legal way to refill a canister. You throw the empties away.
  2. Recyclers typically don’t take the empties. They go in the trash, not the metal recycling bin.
  3. Don’t want to take a partly-full canister on a trip? Too bad; see point No. 1 above. Either suck it up and take it, or add it to your growing collection of partly-full canisters and take a new full one.
  4. A canister is a declining source of power. The emptier it gets, the worse its performance gets. Below 1/4 full, performance is seriously impacted if the temperature is below 50°F/10°C. Which of course is precisely when you most want a nice, hot meal.

I’m Still Keeping the Propane Stove

Why? Revisit the first two sections. White gas stoves intimidate many people, particularly when first lit. That’s a minus on group camp-outs, where you want something simple that won’t surprise or startle novice users. The other 95% of the time, however, I’ll be using white gas from now on.

All in All, It Seems to Be a Good Deal

For one quarter the price of a new one-burner MSR Dragonfly, and one-half the price of a used one in unknown condition, I got a reconditioned, known-good, Coleman two-burner stove. The Coleman stove was also approximately one-quarter the price of the necessary hardware (tank, hose, adapter) to run my two-burner propane stove from a refillable tank instead of those annoying and poor-performing canisters.

The only real downside is the vastly greater weight and size of the Coleman stove compared to the Dragonfly. Since I only very seldom backpack, that’s a minor issue, and basically countered by having an extra burner to cook on. I already have two stoves suitable for backpack use, anyhow.

Russia Reset, Kompromat, Etc.

First, Trump’s Russia Reset is Dead

Trump’s possibly treasonous Russia collusion backfired, bigly. It was too galling even for most members of today’s Republican Party. With its sanctions bill, Congress has hobbled Trump with respect to Russia.

It’s somewhat surprising that Trump didn’t decide to force the issue with a (doomed) veto. He’s certainly immature and short-tempered enough to do just such a thing. His handlers probably had to argue with him quite a bit to get him to acknowledge the inevitable, and accept today’s humiliation of having to sign a hated bill into law rather than tomorrow’s humiliation of an overwhelming veto override.

Onward to a New Cold War?

In the short term, definitely. Even through the medium term, quite likely. That really sucks, but with the successful (and unrepentant) Russian interference in the US (and other nations’) political systems, non-sucky immediate-term outcomes simply don’t seem possible.

Of the sucky outcomes possible, a new Cold War seems to me the least sucky. It exerts consequences on the Putin regime, whose domestic economy is quite weak already and which was counting on a Russia reset in the West to end sanctions, create domestic economic growth, and boost the regime’s popularity.

Now all Putin gets is a short-term opportunity to rally Russians around the flag while he copes with a long-term set of economic constraints that will act to undermine his regime’s popularity.

Karma Has Bitten the West, Too

Don’t think Russia is the only nation hoisted by its own petard for interfering with other nations’ politics. The West interfered with Russian politics in a huge way by backing Yeltsin’s 1993 coup against Russia’s constitutional government. That coup created the imperial presidency that Yeltsin’s successor Putin used to create the dictatorship that ended up destabilizing the USA and other Western nations.

Kompromat? Probably None of That

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the alleged (and it was always alleged; there never was any hard evidence of it) extreme dirt Putin had on Trump probably doesn’t exist. US/Russia relations are now totally in the doghouse, so Russia has every possible reason imaginable to retaliate against Trump with every diplomatic weapon in its arsenal. If it doesn’t come out in the next week or two, it’s safe to conclude the kompromat simply doesn’t exist at all.

Deals Galore in Mount Vernon

Last fall, I took my old single-burner Coleman stove camping. It was the first time in decades I had used it, but I knew how badly canister stoves acted when temperatures were in the forties, and this was a trip to Wyoming, where lows could be expected to be in the twenties each night.

The pump didn’t pump well when I tried it. After some research with a search engine, I fed it a couple drops of household lubricating oil and waited a few minutes. It pumped perfectly. I filled the tank and did a test firing. The stove operated just as I had remembered it from years back.

And it was very nice to have a stove the just belted out the heat, no matter how chilly it was. Gone forever was the “tank is only partially full, so performance sucks in cold or even cool weather” syndrome. But it was tippy, vulnerable to the wind, and difficult to make it simmer reliably.

I had been lusting after an MSR Dragonfly, but those are way too spendy to rationalize on my presently limited budget. So I’ve been keeping an eye on the local Craigslist instead. Most of the Dragonflies there were still $70 and up. Then I spied a Coleman two-burner car-camping stove on sale for $35, about $10 less than the norm for such things, in the “items available in nearby areas” section. Its picture showed it in very good condition, atop a stack of other such stoves, and the ad mentioned the seller being hard of hearing. Ah, thought I, a fully checked-out and restored stove from a retired tinkerer with a hobby business to pass the time. Probably every bit the deal it appears to be.

It’s not lightweight like the Dragonfly, but I seldom backpack anyhow. My Dad had (still has) one and used it for years on camping trips and (when burn bans were in place) picnics. It never let him down. It was not tippy. It simmered easily. It performed acceptably in the wind.

But it was for sale in Mount Vernon. Add the ferry tolls and gas and it’s totally not a justifiable expense. Except that I was going to Lopez Island this weekend, and Mount Vernon is essentially on the way there. So I contacted the seller and said that if it was still available Sunday (today), I was interested in buying it. It was, and the seller was basically as I had sussed him out. He demonstrated the stove worked, we chatted a bit, and I left with it. It set me back 1/4 the price of a new Dragonfly.

My ride partner had asked to be dropped off downtown, so he could visit a used book store he liked. While the proprietor was ringing up my friend’s purchases, I remembered a highly-regarded (and out of print) book on mosses I had been wanting for some time. I asked where the botany section was and darted off. And there it was, priced at $9.95. It sells for $40 and up on Amazon. It followed me home, too.

Tech Work and Alternate Plans

Well, chalk up another blown interview. I’m not sure if it’s just age discrimination at work (and deliberately creating impossible hurdles as a pretext) or just trends moving in ways that I am fundamentally incompatible with (so much of the “agile” trend might more accurately be described as “give software developers as little privacy and personal space as possible, and maximize the number of interruptions they are subject to”).

Whatever the reason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that today’s tech workplace is probably not for me. I could make yesterday’s work, but that was yesterday, and yesterday is gone.

So I’m increasingly thinking it’s time to move on to something else. The big question is what.

Sodium Sesquicarbonate, the Best Floor Cleaner?

Some years ago, I was renting a room in a house. In the utility room was a box of a product called “Dirtex,” which could be used for, amongst other things, a floor cleaner. Because I needed to clean a floor that day, and it was handy, I tried it. It worked wonderfully.

A glimpse at the ingredients showed that it was mostly “sodium sesquicarbonate,” a compound new to me at the time. It’s basically a double salt of sodium carbonate (a.k.a. washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda).

I couldn’t find that product after I moved to Bainbridge Island, but the grocery store here sells both washing soda and baking soda, and I have a gram scale. So it was a simple matter to weigh out 286 grams of washing soda (being a decahydrate, it has a high molecular weight) and 84 grams of baking soda, and mix the two.

No, that’s not making true sodium sesquicarbonate unless I dissolve and recrystallize the result, but given that I’m just going to be dissolving it in a bucket of mop water, it makes no difference to the resulting solution. And yes, I’m sure there’s a little bit of variation as the powders separate and settle, but mopping the floor isn’t a precision science. It works well enough.

Which, to the best I can recollect, is about as well as the commercial product worked, which in turn is quite well indeed.