My Observatory Odyssey – Part 6

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

Ed, my son, and I carried one half-wall up that steep hill and decided that one was enough.

May 11, 12:32 PM. I convinced my athletic son to come along on the next trip. The time was changed from 8:30 am to 10:00 am due to factory issues. My wife, my son, and I arrived on time, and the two installers from Tuff Shed were there. I had talked to them about helping with the dome installation on their last visit. Once the walls were up, we had to install the trusses and braces before adding on covers, the dome support ring with rotation wheels, and the dome itself.

This time, the walls were in halves. Ed, my son, and I carried one half-wall up that steep hill and decided that one was enough. One of the installers carried a similar wall piece up alone — at 6,200 feet altitude! He was a bit winded after this exertion. Within an hour, the walls were up. To me, they were beautiful. They spent some time with the trim and touching up the paint. On to the dome!

The observatory walls.

We had many holes to drill as well as various bolts, nuts, and screws to install. It took hours, and we decided to call it quits around 5pm. We paid the two guys cash, including a nice bonus. They really were worth it. Everything was up except for the dome itself. Our future included lifting 180 pounds of dome and attached equipment eight feet onto the top of that shed. I definitely had some trepidation regarding this effort. How many people would be necessary for the lift? Would we incur any damage?

My local excavation and foundation contractor was able to bring three strong men along with him for our next trip, but we had to finish the installation of the other stuff first. My son, who is brilliant and impetuous, had been directing the previous operation. Several straps were not fastened. The covers were not properly in place, not fully screwed down, and not caulked. I climbed up a ladder on the inside, leaned out over the covers and proceeded to remove the few screws on three of the four covers.

The screws from the dome company were not all long enough. I substituted some stainless steel deck screws I had from a different project and was able to fasten the covers securely. I then began to do the caulking but found that the caulking from the dome company was, at two years, too old to use. A trip to the local hardware store fixed that problem.

Having completed the repositioning of the covers, securing them to the shed and caulking them, I climbed down, ate a brief lunch with my wife, and prepared to call my contractor when he showed up with his three helpers. Perfect timing!

While the dome raising was not trivial and required a couple of adjustments to our plan, it really went quite smoothly. Four people (including me) were sufficient to the effort.

The observatory with the dome on the shed.

That was enough work for that day. The automation work could be postponed to another day. If you have the impression that I tire readily, you are at least partially right. I have a long, 95-mile drive to my current home and wish to reserve some energy for that. Installing the automation devices has to be easier than what we have already done.

4 Responses

  1. Great to hear about the progress recounted in this episode. It brings courage, vision and light into our locked-down ‘limbo’. Well done .. the team!

  2. Harry, apologies once again for the long delay in publishing this episode of your observatory series. I’ve learned, firsthand, to appreciate all that you’ve gone through to build it. In comparison to yours, the scope of my project pales, but it’s been a learning experience. For most of this year, besides teaching full-time, I’ve been working with contractors to upgrade a small condo.

    From the get-go, it’s been one snafu after another. The time frame for completion was easily ten times what I had anticipated. Much of the problem was in delays in shipping and contractor scheduling. I’ve lost track of the number of trips I made to the site and to home improvement stores.

    The final phase was the purchase and installment of appliances. Delivery wasn’t much of a problem, but installation was. It literally took months to get them squared away. I tested the washer/dryer combo yesterday, and it’s working great. The other appliances seem to be fine.

    I was not prepared for the amount of hands-on work I would end up doing. For example, the range hood couldn’t be installed against a wall. It was made to fit under a cabinet. I had to build, from scratch, an overhang to attach the hood. I also had to install the wiring, which required cutting a hole in the back of the range hood.

    Another example. I finally decided to do something about my bike’s missing, backfiring, and poor idling. I took it to three different shops. The first cleaned the carburetor, but the problem persisted. The second simply refused to work on it, claiming it was too old (2005). The third kept it overnight and said they couldn’t fix it. I’d just have to live with it.

    On my own, I had already replaced the plugs multiple times and the air filter. I decided to see what I could do. I examined, once again, all the parts very carefully and found a crack in a small rubber hose. I special ordered and replaced it. Didn’t help.

    While handling the spark plug cable on the right side, I’d felt a small crack on the underside of the plastic cap but didn’t think it mattered. None of the mechanics ever mentioned it, too. Anyway, I decided to tape it over with electrical tape.

    Bingo, the missing and backfiring disappeared. The idle was still too slow, so I simply turned it all the way up and slowly stepped it down to the point where it was running smoothly.

    I ordered new ignition coil cables to replace the cracked cap, but the ones that arrived looks fragile. So, for now, I’ve decided to stay with the tape fix. The bike is running smoothly now, for the first time in over a year.

    The lesson here is that, in the end, we often need to be able to troubleshoot and fix problems that we hire others to fix.

  3. In these reflections by JimS, I am reminded of “Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig (circa 1974). Quality & value are often found along many of life’s paths, some of which may be uphill and quite steep.

    • Anthony, apologies for the long delay in approving and replying to your comment. I haven’t had much time for ETC Journal the last couple of years, but finally got around to it when two of my students submitted papers that I published today. In the process, I checked the comments and found many that were pending and needed approval. I usually receive a notice from WordPress re pending comments, but I don’t recall receiving any. I’m wondering if this service has ended.

      Re Pirsig’s book, I’ve had a copy of it (green cover, green dust jacket) on my shelf for years, among other keepers that feel kindred to me. DIY has always felt natural to me, as long as I can remember. But I’m also lazy and will gladly pay others to fix or build things. When I can’t find anyone, if the cost is prohibitive, or if it’s simply more convenient, I DIY.

      I believe much of teaching falls in the category of DIY. There are few if any off-the-shelf goods or services that can be bought or borrowed to do the job effectively, at least, as far as I’m concerned. And this is especially true as we grope our way in the world of online instruction. What’s available, I hate to say, is scarce, rudimentary, and designed primarily to sustain the face-to-face teaching/learning environment in the online world.

      Zoom is a prime example of this effort to maintain the old medium (F2F instruction) in the new (online). In this and similar cases, the medium is not the message. Instead, the message is the old medium of a teacher in a classroom with her/his students in real time.

      This leaves the entire dimension of anytime/anywhere online instruction wide open for DIY. The problem is: How to achieve a sync between medium and message? How to achieve a teaching/learning environment in which the medium IS the message?

      For some instructors, this is DIY pedagogical heaven since there’s nothing on commercial shelves to buy or no one out there to hire to create a working model.

      In any case, my final fall grades were submitted on Monday, so I now have time to do what I love best, and that is to write, which is basically a DIY activity with various degrees of difficulty. Toward the more difficult end, writing is creative model building, and this is where the fun is. Haha.

      I’ll work on an article that takes off from where this reply ends.

      Thanks for the kick. And Happy Holidays! -Jim

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