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sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets

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(no subject) [Sep. 22nd, 2018|04:26 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
New starter in the Spitfire. In theory this is the easiest job around: unscrew nut, remove battery cable, unscrew two bolts that mount the starter, remove starter. It's also right on the side of the engine where it's easy to get to.
In practice, Nissan decided to use a different bolt size for the bolt on top, that I can see, than the bolt on the bottom, that I can't see, so I remove the top bolt and can't get the socket to unscrew the one I can't see, that I've placed by feel. They did this for a decent reason: the top one is huge because it's the negative ground for the whole car, with the battery cable tab attaching to it. But it's a drag to spend a lot of time trying to figure out why the socket won't turn the bolt when it's clearly over the bolt head.
However, the car sure starts nicely with the new starter motor in place.

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(no subject) [Sep. 20th, 2018|09:26 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
My car has been just reeking of gasoline for the last couple of weeks. I'd looked around at the fuel hoses, because I just changed the fuel filter about three weeks ago, but everything looked fine. Today I stopped to get gasoline, and opened the hood to check the oil, and saw fresh gasoline running down the front of the engine, where it's dissolved all the oil that's usually crusted on the engine. From that I could tell pretty close to exactly where it was coming from, the fuel return line from the high pressure fuel rail, and when I bent the hose to see if there was a crack, it simply broke. It only leaks when the engine's running, which is why I couldn't find it previously. Luckily for me it broke right at the point where it pushes onto the metal fitting, so I popped off the clamp, removed the broken bit, unclipped the hose from the nearest guide clip so it could stretch over a bit, and put it back on.
This reduces the chances my car will suddenly catch on fire by like 95%.
It also increases my interest in owning an entirely electric car.

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(no subject) [Sep. 18th, 2018|08:20 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
My manager's in China, so I can be productive my way rather than his, and I don't feel like lighting myself on fire in front of the building.
We have a complicated test system to test a complicated chip. Among the problems: I wrote the interface software, and that took a while. It took us a while to figure out how to power up the interface, even. (The documentation said you plug in one cable, program it, unplug that, plug in the other cable, and off you go, but it turns out you have to unplug everything then plug in both cables because of an error in the circuit board hardware, that I was apparently the first person to discover. This kind of problem is a perfect prototype for the whole imbroglio.)
The main test system has some hardware problems. Those took a long time to figure out, and a lot of rewiring with fine wire to fix. The instrumentation that interfaces with it is fussy, with lots of hidden settings that have dramatic effects if they're not right, and the instrumentation interface software is full of bugs. The software package we use has funny rules for registering software functions with the overall package, and when we're rewriting broken drivers that still don't run, it's not obvious whether we fixed the driver but didn't register it right, or whether the driver is still broken. It gets worse when my manager tries to fix things in a hurry and mistakenly overwrites working drivers with ones that are broken in new and subtle ways, or when I manage to physically break one of the rework wires so suddenly nothing works. Oh, it's worse than just not working: our chip has what we politely call a poorly defined specification, where if it powers up but doesn't receive communications, it jams all the communication interface lines to ground, and the aforementioned interface board, trying to drive those lines, fries its outputs silently so it appears to still be working, but nothing's talking anymore. Since we have multiple chips in the system, I have to get them all powered up and talking in a short window of time, a fraction of a second, or else one or another of them will ground the communication lines and burn everyone else out. We learned today that rapidly varying the load on the chip will cause it to reboot, and that's right back into the same morass of burning out everything else connected to it. Same with rapidly varying the input voltage. I'm trying to write stuff that cushions the loads, but we're still not sure what the critical loads are, so I'm burning up a lot of stuff. The whole project makes me feel sick to my stomach, and I've been working a fair amount of extra hours, working in the evenings at home, and not sleeping so well as a result.

I drove the Spitfire to the hardware store the other day, to buy caulk for redoing the tub surround, because it was gross. When I came back out and tried to start the car, it went 'click' and nothing more. Generally that means either the battery is low or the starter solenoid is dying. The traditional treatment for the latter is whacking it with something robust, at which point it'll run another ten times or so, and repeating that with the revive interval getting shorter each time. Since the Spitfire's going to be my primary transport next week, when my usual car is in the shop for new head gaskets, I ordered a replacement starter solenoid today. But! one of the lovely things about that weird little car is that I didn't even have to open the hood to get home. I popped it out of gear, pushed it back into the parking lot, which has about a 1% slope, turned the steering wheel to point down, hopped in, and oh so slowly started rolling, then snapped the clutch in third, the car fired up, and I drove home. I went without a functional starter motor on the Subaru for about a week once upon a time, but it was a drag so this time I'm trying to be proactive about fixing the Spitfire BEFORE I need it.

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(no subject) [Sep. 7th, 2018|10:02 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
This was a terrible week at work, even worse than last week, both of them being worse than at any other point during the 14 years I've been working at this job. I'm frustrated with my job and my manager, he's frustrated with me, my coworker, and the software support team that's supposed to be helping us, and another coworker, who is trying to give us a mix of help and cat-help, is totally annoyed at all of us.
We went out for a work celebration, because the group as a whole managed to get two designs out in parallel, both more complex than anything we've done before. None of my team felt like going or celebrating anything, but our division manager made it pretty clear that we had to, so we went over, sat together, complained about the situation but not about each other, came back as soon as we could sneak out, well before the festivities were over, and got back to work, and actually had a productive afternoon less full of frustration and more full of creative problem-solving. So, maybe it worked.
Anyway. I have no motivation, I'm tired and irritable, and maybe I should go reread harry potter or something so I don't have to think or try to figure out anything difficult.

The next door neighbor's weird little bulldog appears to have messed with a skunk and lost. Everybody in the neighborhood loses.

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(no subject) [Sep. 5th, 2018|09:29 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
Man today was overwhelming.
Last night just after midnight a big storm came through, with a lot of rain. That segued into a lot of lightning and thunder, including at least two hits to the water tower in the neighbor's back yard. This upset Monty, who started pacing and trying to hide.
She may also have been feeling the aspirin we gave her for her sore hips after yesterday's hike, because after some pacing, she began throwing up, and after a bit of that, I got up and sat with her out in the living room. Her intestines would make horrible noises and then she'd throw up, and then she'd settle back down for fifteen minutes before doing it again.
That took up about two hours in the middle of the night.
I'm really tired.
Today at work we spent the whole time in the lab, desperately working on my project, trying to get it working. We discovered: the clock line from the interface to the part wasn't connected, because the person designing the center of the board gave it a different name than the person designing the outside of the board, and the person laying out the board didn't realize they should be connected; the interface software swaps the high and low byte silently; a problem in the silicon means unpowered chips latch interface pins to ground so nothing else on the communication bus can talk; and the hardware that signals a chip to respond is shared among multiple chips so they all try to talk at once.
That represents about seven hours of labwork.
But about half an hour before the end of the day, we got it working, which is the culmination of about a month worth of debug.
My next several days are going to be very busy, but they should at least be deterministic now.

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(no subject) [Aug. 30th, 2018|11:16 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
Local taco joint menu. Denver is now a gathering place for people interested in insect-based foodstuff. This is maybe a kilometer from the place [personal profile] rebeccmeister went to have cricket-based food when she was in town.

My evening. I got a program working in one language, so now I'm translating it to another, because it's what our automated test systems use. Neither is a decent language (by which I mean C.)

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(no subject) [Aug. 29th, 2018|09:41 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
You know that old thing about how as you get old you walk into a room and can't remember why?
I'm increasingly fighting the opposite problem. I feel so short on time that I do this optimization process: I should go downstairs and move the sprinkler line. But if I'm going downstairs I should take the trash bag down because it needs to go in the can and out to the curb anyway. But if I'm going out to the curb I should get the replacement turn signal bulbs out of my car. But if I'm going to get the bulb I should grab a screwdriver so I can pull off the spitfire bulb cover and replace it. But I don't have enough hands to carry all those things. And then I freeze while I try to reoptimize my path.
Is this better or worse?

My manager came in and tried to help me with my project. About two hours in he was clutching his head and saying "this is a nightmare." However, we did make a bunch of progress, because I started detailing every single step of what I was doing, including stuff that seemed really obvious, and it turned out what seemed really obvious was wrong. There's this board, that I have to reflash firmware onto, which I do by plugging the usb cable into the debug port. Every other system I've used, you continue with the cable plugged into the debug port, and nowhere in the instructions does it say to change that, but when I was detailing what I was doing to some other people via the phone, one said "wait, no, you unplug it after loading the firmware, then plug it back in again, and that sets up the comm port for that side, and then you unplug it and plug in to the target instruction side and interface from there."
I wish I'd known that a week ago. Or two.
ANYWAY. So I did that, and then the board didn't even show up: refused to enumerate as a usb device. I measured and it had no power. So I'm all "you SURE this is how this works?" and he replies "oh, you have to change a jumper setting so it gets power from that usb port." I do that, still nothing, he says "you must have something wrong, because it works for me" and then another person chimes in "oh, wait, I just tried it and it doesn't work for me." There's a silence, and the first guy says "oh, I have a custom firmware package that enables that, and I forgot."
That was one of the points where my manager walked out of my office without saying anything and just walked around the building for a while, as I dealt with talking to them.
So I plugged in both cables and ran the software I'd written almost a month ago and it ran just fine.

well, not just fine. I ran it, not paying close attention, just seeing what happened, and all sorts of errors showed up about halfway through, and I shrugged because I figured that was not surprising, and ran it again, and now the errors showed up at the second step, and that was surprising, and by then my manager was back and anxious about why that was messed up and why a program wasn't deterministic: it should run the same each time, right?
Except the first pass, it (invisibly, but I happen to know) allocates a block of memory as a buffer for communication, and because the program is crashing, it cannot deallocate that block of memory, so a subsequent initiation blows up because the memory allocation call fails.
I felt really clever to figure that out within about five seconds of it happening.
I'm hoping the experience has convinced my manager that I do know what I'm doing if I have accurate documentation, and that if I have some time, I can work around documentation that is missing things and expert opinions that are flat-out wrong. I think all he saw up until now was that I was spending days of effort and getting nothing, when I was actually getting a lot of experience on what should be happening and how it was likely failing.

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(no subject) [Aug. 27th, 2018|08:51 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
This weekend we went to see [personal profile] threemeninaboat's grandfather, who does not have a lot of time left.
Cancer sucks.

My car is ailing: the head gaskets are failing and a number of other issues are beginning to show up. I realized after the spark plug replacement last week that the likely reason the plugs failed was because oil leaking into the combustion chamber and fouling them, so it's going to chew through plugs until that's fixed.
There's simply no way I have the time or energy to replace head gaskets on a Subaru. On the Spitfire that's a three hours of hard work job. On the Subaru, that's engine out and entire front of the engine disassembled and multiple camshafts realigned project. I did find a slightly loose fitting on the fuel return line and tightened it in the hopes that would make my car smell less like a gasoline factory.
So, realistically, what I probably need to do is get the engine fixed and then sell it. It has almost 300,000 miles on it. That's a lot for any car.
I'm looking at used Nissan Leafs. I can get a 2015 for like 1/3 of the cost of a new one. They have ferocious depreciation. I don't even get that, either, because replacing the whole battery pack costs under $6K and is a quick easy project.
This turns into a sliding block puzzle, though, because to do that I should install a 220v charger, and to do that, I need a new electrical box/replacement mast for the electrical service.
Which I needed anyway for a new furnace, but ugh.
So with all THAT out of the way, I figured I'd better get the Spitfire fixed up to serve as my backup transportation while my car is in the shop.
Replacing the clutch master cylinder took maybe fifteen minutes. That car is so easy to work on. There aren't any fancy sensors, there's plenty of room: unscrew two bolts, loosen the clutch drain, push the clutch a couple of times to dump all the hydraulic fluid out the drain, unscrew the line, pull out the cotter pin that connects the clutch pedal, then reverse it to put the new one in. The car's so tiny and lightweight that I can bleed the clutch by pushing on the back side of the pedal with my hand while pouring more brake fluid in.
Figuring out why the left turn signal wasn't working was more complicated. I actually had to open the trunk. Oh, the light bulb fell out of the housing. Again. Time for some tape. I'm not saying quality manufacture, just that it sure is easy to fix compared to the Subaru.

Today at work, same as the last week. I'm doing great at all the small side projects we don't absolutely need finished, and I'm completely failing at the huge project we needed a week ago. This morning my manager sat down with me and went through what I'd done, clicked futilely on a couple of functions and stared at some code, and said "yeah, I don't know either" and called in a software strike team, that I'm meeting at 8AM tomorrow. I may get sent to Dallas for a day if this doesn't work. We don't have enough tools to diagnose what's failing. My program works, the other program works, but they don't talk, and the way they don't talk isn't exposed. I hate going into work right now. This has been totally frustrating and I feel useless.

But Monty hasn't eaten anything (or any dogs) she isn't supposed to in almost a week, so that's progress.

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(no subject) [Aug. 21st, 2018|11:37 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
I was going to try casting another form Sunday night, but got started too late, and burning out the 3d printed material from the mold took way too long. Last night I fired up the oven and completed the burnout. I've learned the mold should have no trace of melted plastic on it: it should be dusty brown where the material has vaporized.
Tonight I loaded the crucible with aluminum, fired up the foundry, then came inside and had dinner, and by the time I got done, the aluminum was molten and just ready to pour, so it took about ten minutes of actual time to go from start to finished. I'm getting a lot faster at every part of the process except for burnout time.
Lost pla casting is what it looked like right out of the plaster mold.
A little cleanup yielded this:
Lost pla casting
There is a casting flaw on the bottom because the wall thickness was too narrow (and possibly because the mold was cold when I poured: usually I pour when it's just come out of the burnout oven, which means the aluminum doesn't freeze quite as quickly.)
Lost pla casting
But the important part is the base and hemisphere. I can cut off this section, and machine a new one out of aluminum on the lathe, then weld it to the base.
Here's the part I really like: straight out of the investment, 3 out of 4 bolts go through and into the head, and the fourth doesn't because there was an air bubble in the investment that produced an aluminum lump which prevents the bolt going through the hole. That's okay. When I move to jewelry investment, that cures more slowly, I can vacuum it and not have to worry about air bubbles anymore.

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(no subject) [Aug. 19th, 2018|01:38 pm]
sprockets, sockets, grommets & gaskets
Yesterday I got up at suicide-o-clock and met up with some coworkers, whereupon we all piled into one big SUV and drove up to Alma, Colorado, who are in a fight with Leadville over which of them is the highest incorporated city in the US.
We drove up above Alma to Kite Lake and piled right back out of the car, with a lot of yawning.
Here's the trailhead at 6 AM.
Mount Cameron at 6 AM
The trail's a fairly short, 30% climb up to a saddle, where we got our last good look at the local scenery.
Clinton Peak and Bartlett Mountain
The intent was to go one direction from the saddle up to the top of Mount Democrat, come back down, go up the other direction, and climb the three big mountains over there in a tight loop, then descend back to the car. But just after we got to the saddle the clouds rolled right over us.

Mount Democrat, 3400 meters, in a cloud
Here some of us are at the top.
Summit of Democrat
It was too cold and windy to hang out there, so we ran back down to the saddle point and hid in the rock wall that used to shelter a house for some poor people who were living at 3100 meters elevation trying to mine gold.
Now the only thing that lives there is a very social pika.
Better pika picture

The clouds were solidly in around us at that point, so we couldn't see if there were thunderheads, and it was snowing somewhat, and we decided to head back to the car rather than doing the other three.
Drat, but on the other hand, just before we got to the car the rain came in heavily and it got worse as we drove away.

I came home and fell asleep, then got a text from [personal profile] threemeninaboat that the Spitfire had stranded her. She got it towed home. The hydraulic clutch line has started leaking, so I have to replace the master cylinder to keep it shifting.

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