Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Day Before Christmas Eve!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Story Time!

(LOL -- And no :-) It's doesn't mean anything.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dreadful Mistake

I'm starting to make the disastrous mistake of writing posts that are too long. Blog readers seem to have an attention span of one paragraph per multimedia item. :-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Car

As most of you know, I have to go to Hoover Dam for three months starting sometime in January. My group at work sends new employees out to a power plant for an extended period of time as a learning experience. I'm glad I get to go to Hoover. It's actually close to somewhere unlike most of the dams that are in the middle of nowhere :-) Just think! I'll be within driving distance of Death Valley!

Since I'll be gone so long, I needed to finally buy a car. I've been putting it off as long as possible since I knew it would just be an endless money pit. First, you have to pay for the car. That's only the beginning. That initial purchase just gives you the privilege of paying for insurance, gas, maintenance, etc. (I now feel so privileged. :-)

I've only gotten to drive it three different days so far, and already, I'm beginning to think it's pretty cool and not all that bad. It must be some chemical manufacturers use in cars. Makes you forget how much it cost and how much you don't want to pay for it.

I had a rather limited time to shop, so Dad and I looked at tons of cars every weekend for the past few months while people like Steve have had to answer tons of dumb questions. We finally found something that looked good from Carflex, a little one-man outfit near DIA. I ended up with a 2002 Toyota 4runner, 78,600 miles, for $11,600. It seemed like most the other ones we saw had at least 100k miles (many had 200k+ miles) and were priced way above the KBB value.

It's in really good condition, has brand new tires, etc. When Dad went to pick it up, the guy knocked another $100 off the price because there was a dent in the passenger interior door panel (which he pretty much fixed). (I don't know why. The guy would only drop the price $200 even with a "walk-out.") The next day, the dealer called Dad again and said he'd decided to buy us new mats for it since the old ones were dirty. Yahoo! Rubber dealer mats! They fit and they're easy to clean!

I'm really starting to like the thing. It has some toys (like sunroof, rear air, etc.), but is still a "heftier" vehicle. 2002 was the last year before Toyota turned the 4runner into an ordinary car. Sure, it only has a V6 3.4L, but it's not horrible.

Here's a picture Mom took when they picked it up: (I was at Grand Coulee)

(Yeah, boring silver. I know, I know... if only it were lime green with hot pink and bright yellow accents like Lisa Frank : ) I'll have to fix that...

I took it out on the icy streets today to see how it handled and was thoroughly impressed.

First, I punched the gas on an icy stretch and started turning to try to get it to fish-tail. The traction-control kicked in and started beeping at me, telling me that I was out of control. I started to fish tale and eased up on the gas and was going straight again before I knew it. Pretty sweet.

Next, I had to do it again after shifting into 4-wheel. That was cool. I made it to 30mph up an icy hill in about 250ft. Sure beats the old '72 Chevy pickup with bald tires and "Denver Broncos" mudflaps. (Yeah, I miss it, too :'( I don't know how many times I had to find alternate routes to avoid hills with that thing. I don't miss feeling like an idiot for flooding the engine all the time, but I enjoyed it.

Now for the anti-lock breaks. I've never been all that impressed with anti-lock breaks, but I was really surprised with these. They work -- Really well. Sure, I have some good, brand new tires, but it was still pretty impressive. Hopefully this means no more sliding through the stop sign at the bottom of Quail on snowy days :-)

(LOL -- And, no, I don't normally drive like that :-)

Anyway, I'm really pleased with the thing. Yeah, it was about 30% more than I was originally going to spend, but I think I'll be happy with it for quite a while. Plus, 4-runners seem to hold their value pretty well right now. Craig's list is full of old 4runners with 120-200k miles for $8k-$10k, all in bad condition.

With the recent snow, I needed an ice scraper. A normal, every-day ice scraper wasn't good enough for me, so I opted for the telescoping scraper/snow broom, complete with a shock-absorber to make it easier on your wrist. (I.E. A Sam's Club special! YAHOO! :-P)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Back Home

Turns out our 7hr day of travel took 10.5hrs. We drove from Grand Coulee to Spokane in our lovely Dodge minivan. Things went fairly smoothly. The rental car company didn't charge us for the dents I put in the floor of the van with my knees while moving heavy boxes. They didn't even charge for the scrapes our pelican cases left on the interior. It was rather nice of them.

We went through security and sat down to wait for our flight. Well... The plane needed a new tire and that took a while... a long while. After an hour, people with connecting flights started getting re-booked. It made 10 people from American Idol late for something, so heads were rolling. There was a guy being a complete moron while shouting all kinds of names at the ticket agents. There were a lot of angry people. Then there was the rest of us... All sitting, looking at each other, and laughing at the angry people. It was great fun.

There was a 7-month old baby, too. That was cool because it's been like forever since I've seen little kids.

Eventually, us mere mortals without connecting flights got re-booked for a United flight. With 45 minutes to make the transfer, Jill (my coworker) and I ran to get our baggage, checked it in at United, ran to the security line, were opted for the special screening, waited forever even though there was practically no line, and ran to the terminal a couple minutes before they started boarding. Somehow, Jill got a random carry-on bag check at the gate and got searched again.

I boarded the plane and sat and stared for a long time.

When I woke up, I got out of the plane, got my bag, and headed out for the bus. The government will pay for a taxi, but after taking one out there and watching the fair go up $0.25 every four seconds on I-70, I decided the bus was a better option. Plus, I was sick of calculating tips, so I was glad to get a reprieve. After sitting a while, I got on the bus and sat and stared until I got to Cold Springs. My dad picked me up there and it was all good.

I miss Elitches. Sure, the people and noise are rather annoying, but it's so relaxing to sit and watch fairly advanced electrical/mechanical machines operate. (NERD ALERT!)

Why am I posting?


That and this:

This and that:
I decided to take at least a week off around Christmas.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Coulee -- Days 7, 8, 9, and 10


We tested batteries in seven sections of Grand Coulee Dam: the Third Powerhouse, the Right Powerhouse, the Left Powerhouse, the Pump/Generator Powerhouse, the 115KV (15,000KV) Switchyard, the 220KV Switchyard, and the 500KV Switchyard. Finally... All those batteries... DONE! It felt so good to bring our 13 shipping cases to the warehouse to be shipped back to Denver. The cases averaged somewhere around 70lbs, and frankly, I was getting tired of hauling heavy equipment everywhere, setting up, cleaning up, filling out reports, standing, sitting, talking, wishing I could leave, etc. :-)

Here are some of the tasks we performed for each battery test:
1) Visually inspect the batteries. These batteries have clear containers so you can see inside to check for cracked plates, sulfur buildup, deposits, etc.

2) Take the specific gravity of each cell. This task seems to take forever. First, you have to put on PPE to protect against the horribly dangerous battery acid that doesn't hurt for a while if you get it on yourself. Then, you have to go to each cell, remove the flame-arrestor, stick the digital hydrometer tube in the cell, take a reading, yell it to the guy across the noisy room who's recording the values, and then put the flame-arrestor back on. It gets long... especially since you have to lean over the bank in an awkward position for an extended period of time.

3) Using a micro-ohm meter, measure the resistance of the connection between each cell.

4) Hook a computer up to each cell. We have a bunch of little spring clamps one must use to connect each cell to the computer. 58 cells is typical for a bank, and it takes around half an hour to connect all the cells if you're doing it by yourself.

5) Connect the battery bank to the load units. Basically, use 2/0 wire to connect the battery bank to some big heaters. These heaters put out a ton of heat and can make the work miserable.

6) Connect all the backup batteries in series. If you're lucky, a plant electrician will do this for you.

7) Wait for the electrician to hook the backup battery into the main battery panel.

8) Call an operator to come flip the main battery breaker to bring the main battery bank offline.

9) Start the test.

10) Wait

11) Wait..

12) Wait... Our tests ranged from three to twelve hours in length. (OK, ok... One test was fifteen minutes long because the bank failed almost immediately. :-)

13) Clean it all up, take the backup battery off the DC panel, etc.

Saturday and Sunday, we tested the batteries in the Pump/Generator plant:
Each pump can pump up to 500 bathtubs of water per second. They're used to bring water over to a canal for some irrigation projects.

Yesterday and today, we tested batteries in the switchyards. Here's the control room from the 500KV switchyard:

It's kind of impressive... this is JUST a switchyard with disconnects and breakers and it has that big of a control room :-) Oh, they get rattle snakes under the removable floor in the summer :-)
Here's some things I've learned:
1) I don't like restaurant food for very much anymore.
2) I don't like living in a hotel very much.
3) The casino on the nearby Indian reservation is the only place with food after 8pm.
4) The one radio station in this area is annoying... My coworkers listen to it in the car. When you get out of the car and go into a store/restaurant/some parts of the plant/etc., you'll hear the same station right where it left off.
5) I hate Lead Zeppelin. Simply put, it's thin, ugly, cheesy, and old. (They had a Lead Zeppelin Marathon for several days here.)
6) It's hard to concentrate after a while with continual radio in the background.
7) There's about 4 restaurants in the nearby 3 cities
8) I don't care for Safeway's deli sandwiches. They're kind of weird.
9) Engineers drink a lot of water during the day.
10) People in the trades make a lot with their double-pay overtime.
11) I dreamt I couldn't graduate from college because I reached the end of the last semester and realized I'd forgotten to go to one of my class all semester long.
12) I'm tired of being gone and am not looking forward to going to Hoover for three months.

I'm excited to go home, though!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Coulee -- Days 5 & 6

Hello, all! Today was really cool because we got off at 4:30!

*edit from today since the laptop battery died yesterday*
Today was even cooler because got off at 3! Short 8hr days are fun!

I came out here to Grand Coulee with Nate and Jim. (Supervisor and coworker.) They left to go home today (Friday) and Jill (another coworker) came to take their place. What's cool is she's planning on working shorter days, so I won't be as tired. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the laptop charger from the dam, so it will be a shorter post. (Oh... Wait... That's not such a bad thing :-)

See that big, round thing? That's the core out of one of the smaller generators. They have the entire thing taken apart right now. I also borrowed a nicer camera to take a few pictures, so maybe someday I'll actually get them up :-)

Here's some pictures for you all: (Click on the picture)
Grand Coulee

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Coulee -- Day 4

MEH! That's all I have to say.

Now I'll expound:
Every *cough* muscle *cough* in my back is sore.
My feet are tired of being stood on for 11-13hr days.
The two guys with me were excited about tomorrow being the last day of work... I have to stay here for another 6 days.
I honestly couldn't figure out what day of the week it was.
I'm sick and tired of complaining.

Ok, it's not nearly that bad. I would enjoy going to bed right now, though :-)

One picture for you all:

You thought your UPS was big? Check it out! The three double-height shelves you see in the picture are the backup battery for a computer system UPS. Each of those containers is a single cell. You know your car battery? It has 6 cells inside of it. These cells aren't all that huge -- probably only 1/2 the size of a forklift battery :-)

So, is it fun? Yeah. I've gotten to see some amazing stuff... Stuff you only see in movies. I found out today that a lot of movies have been filmed in dams. Nate (my coworker) said he was at Hoover Dam and watched a movie on TV when he got back to his hotel. All of a sudden, he though, "HEY! I know this hallway!"

Battery 6 of 14 complete! (We're doing the big ones first, so it's slower right now.)

I don't know why I'm still posting. There's nothing new to say. Hope ya'll are doing ok!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Coulee -- Day 3

I'm back... For some strange reason, I feel like it's been weeks since I got to Grand Coulee. It must have something to do with working long hours in a concrete building from dark sky to dark sky. :-)

Today we finished battery 4 of 14. I think we're on schedule, so that's a plus. So far, every battery we test is getting worse and worse. The first two were easy. Nice, big rooms, plenty of space, etc. The third and fourth batteries felt like they were in an old Sunday school room. The only thing that was missing was an old, clunky piano. The Fifth, sixth, and seventh batteries are all in a somewhat crowded room, one floor above elevator access. Guess what that means? Lots of stuff to carry up stairs. We put 1,000 amp car batteries in service when we take the main battery off-line in case something happens. Guess what that means? 30 heavy car batteries up the stairs. I can't wait until this is all over. I've eaten enormous meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and still get hungry between meals.

Oh, that's a new experience for me -- spending money for breakfast. I guess our Per Diem covers up to $40 in meals per day, but spending $7 for breakfast still seems like a lot. :-)

I can't think of anything too interesting that happened today. We blew up one of our meters... That was fun. I'm just glad it wasn't my fault.

OH! I finally remembered to wash my safety glasses today. We're required to wear safety shoes, FR clothing (Fire Resistant), hard hats, and safety glasses at all times in the plant, so they were getting pretty dirty.

Let's see... What other piece of worthless information can I impart to my bored readers... I washed my clothes tonight. I only have one pair of FR pants and two FR shirts. They were getting kinda dirty, so I washed tonight since we got back earlier.

Man... boring, hu? Ok, bed :-)

Maybe someday I'll get some pictures up :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Coulee -- Day 2

Hi! Bye! I'm going to bed. We worked 13.5hrs today and I'm tired. I know that's nothing for a lot of you out there, but I'm tired.

We tested 3 out or 14 battery banks today, so we're ahead of schedule. One of the three banks was a 125V battery that's well over 1,000 amp-hours. Each cell is almost as big as a forklift battery.

I saw some really impressive sights today. I got a short tour of some of the largest hydro units in the world and was pretty amazed. Just to give you a rough estimate, the shafts that turn these generators are around 12' in diameter. I have a lot of bad cell phone pictures, but those are going to have to wait. If I get a shorter day sometime (Sunday is supposed to be 8hrs), I'll put my bad pictures up :-)

Hope you all are doing ok!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Coulee -- Day 1

Man, that was a mistake. Don't ever say "Day 1" because that implies you'll be posting more.

There's not much to say:

1) The Spokane airport is bigger than I expected.
2) I don't like Ford SUVs. (Rental)
3) Grand Coulee Dam is about a mile long.
4) The power plants look pretty small until you go into the buildings. There's 3 power plant buildings and one pump building. We worked in the Left Powerhouse today and I was amazed at the size. I haven't gotten a tour yet, but from what I saw, it's pretty impressive. You know how the florescent lights look in Walmart? If you stand at one end of the store and look down the row, it looks really long? The Left Powerhouse looks longer than Walmart.
5) The security here is really tight. They grumbled about giving us unlimited access, including weekends. I just thought the person was grumpy... well, that's what I thought until I saw a guy patrolling the plant with a bullet-proof vest and assult rifle. Rumor has it they're training all plant personnel to carry heat. (Grand Coulee provides more power than any other plant in the U.S. 7GW), so wiping out Grand Coulee would blackout a good portion of the U.S. power grid.)
6) Although the city of Grand Coulee has around 1,000 residence, there's no cell phone reception to be had.
7) The city of Electric is close to the city of Grand Coulee.
8) There's a nice hotel here, especially for the size of the city.
9) I'm really tired and we're supposedly going to work a minimum of 12hrs tomorrow.
10) I'm going to bed.