Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fixing Kenmore

In the morning of Sunday, March 28, on my way out for my weekend exercise, I noticed that our Kenmore dryer was running . Apparently that it had been running the whole night. I opened the dryer's door, the laundry was not even warm.

Dryer runs but no heat

Upon checking, we found two problems, the timer malfunctioned, it stuck at 2 minute mark, and something was wrong with the heating unit. The dryer has been in use regularly for about 10 years now, so Lily and I agreed that we would not have it fixed but replace it with a new. However I did not want to give up just yet since the motor could still run; the problem might not be serious and I might be able to fix it myself, .

Checking manual, it says that for the situation the most likely problem is that either the thermal fuse was open or the breaker tripped. The questions then were: What is the thermal fuse look like? Where is it in the dryer? There is no answer to these simple questions in the manual. I searched - found no answer either. Then I did a broader internet search - quite a few people had similar problems - an answer on the Internet said that the thermal fuse was above the fan wheeler, one needs to open the back panel, then remove the duct around the lint filter.

Moving the dryer to a open place, taking out my tool box, I used a a wrench with hex nut to remove the screws on the back of the dryer, opened the back panel, there was a fan right there, but I still followed the internet comments to take down the duct around the lint filter, I saw no fan above it, but did see tremendous amount of dirt/lint. Lily and I cleaned the whole thing - hoping that we would fix it eventually. By the fan there are several parts, I did not know which one was the thermal fuse. I searched internet again, found website, which showed how each part look like - there is a picture of the thermal fuse there. also sells appliance parts.
There it mentioned that there can be 4 possible reasons for the motor running, no heat situation - 1) open thermal fuse, 2) broken heating element, other reasons do not apply to my case. I found the thermal fuse and the heating element. So now the problem became how to check if either part failed.
Diagnostic test
To test, a electrical test meter was needed, and I did not have any. So on the way to shopping, Lily and I stopped by at Home Depot to purchase a electrical meter. Upon a lot of comparisons I picked a professional grade meeter. At home Depot, we also went to the appliance department to ask the salesperson about where to buy the parts locally - and got names of two stores.
When I tried to use it to test the thermal fuse at home, I found out that it did not have a continuity function. Since I did not want to work on a live circuit, I returned the meter and purchased a much cheaper testing pen which has a continuity function. The thermal fuse was found out to be good. A little disappointed, I put the dryer's back cover on without testing the heating element. When I remembered that I needed to test the heating element, it was late already. We decided that we would test it later and if heating element was good as well, then we would buy a new dryer, otherwise we would replace it.
It was a week later, the next weekend that I tested the heating element. There was no continuity from one end to the other end. Lily came over to double check, then I took the heating element out, and saw the heating wire broken at one place. We finally found a cause for the failure. Checking internet the price for the heating element was about $55 plus handling and shipping fee. I called The Colony Appliance Guru - one of the store the Home Depot salesman recommended, the price there for the heating element was $72. Eager to fix the dryer right then, taking the failed heating element with me, I drove to the store to purchase the replacement. The salesperson at the store had the part and invoice ready when I got there. He asked me if I knew that I needed to take the thermostat off the failed heating element and put it on the new one, I did not, he offered to help. In five minutes, I left the store satisfied and pleased, with a functioning new heat element.
The dryer was fixed
Even though I did not remember the wires connection, installing the heating element turned out to be fool proof. The three wires connecting to the heating element can each only fit one socket. After the installation, it was time to take Nick to his soccer game, so I left the house without testing if the fix worked. Lily called at the end of the first quarter, the fix worked - the dryer could dry laundry again!
This is the first major appliance we fixed successfully. I was very pleased and satisfied - felt like solving a very difficult problem in my research - the process was challenging and fun, the end result was sweet.

1. the dryer was not totally fixed - because the timer still is not working. Instead of replacing the timer on the dryer which would cost over $100, we decided not to fix it, but to use a stand alone timer in its place. - two weeks later - the timer works again on its own!
2. The pictures were taken before I was about to install the new heating element - quite sure that I would fix it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Pause in Life

In the morning of April 9th, Friday, our blinking answering machine brought us the sad news that a long time friend passed away the previous night. Even though we knew her medical conditions, we were still deeply shaken and saddened.

The surviving husband is a friend of mine for 24 years, dating back to our graduate school years together. I met and got to know the deceased friend from then. From Beijing, China to Pasadena, California, to the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, their life and ours have intersected many times, and the two families have many common friends. As the obituary spread, emails and phone calls poured in from around the country and around the world to her husband. Some contacted me, because they could not get through to him, or they were afraid that they would cry if talking to him directly, or they just wanted to know some background information before talking to him. From near and far, they expressed their shock, their sorrow for the loss and their concerns of the surviving young children.
Their relatives, his close friends and hers, paused their life to come to him to provide help, sympathy and support. A friend rushed to Dallas Friday afternoon without going home after work, local friends came after dinner. By that evening, a roomful of relatives and friends surrounded him in his living room.
We chatted, and sometimes we just sat there in silence comforted by the presence of each other. During the conversations, reminiscent of her last days, he recited to us what she told him: " I have had a good life - a loving husband, two beautiful children. It will be very hard on you when I am gone....." His voice cracked, tears flew down his cheeks. I padded his shoulder. The second time I saw him cry was on Sunday morning, when one of his closest friends arrived at his house, shook his hands, pulled him closer to embrace him.
I was moved and inspired by the sympathy and friendship his friends showed.
We extend our hands to friends in need, we also should lean on our friends when we are in need. I wished that my friend had done the latter more. To the first generation immigrants - friends are families.
During the pause of life in that 4 days - from the day after to the day of funeral service, I pondered a lot about human sympathy, friendship, love, and life. Cherish our families, cherish our friends, cherish love and cherish friendship. Love and being loved greatly enrich our life.
Now when I go to work in the morning, I hug Lily tighter and kiss her longer than before.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drive to Work

Daily commute could be tiring especially when the commute is over 30 minutes. My drive to work is about 16 miles. It takes me 30 minutes to 45 minutes to drive the distance depending on the time I leave home or work. As more and more new homes built north to where I live, the traffic has been getting heavier every year.

Finding optimum routes

Since driving 1 hour or more is a daily activity, it is worthwhile to optimize my routes to and from work. I studied local map carefully, and talked to long time residents to select several routes to try when we first moved to north Texas. Eventually I picked one route for going to work and a different route to come home. In the years since I also identified a few alternate routes in case of major traffic jams on my main routes.

There are 26 traffic lights along my route to the work, and there are 27 traffic lights on the way home! I usually need to stop at one quarter of them or less.

Occasionally I do doubt that if the routes I chose are optimum routes, but each time I changed route, I found out that it took longer time to get to my destination.

Recognize Traffic pattern

To have a smooth drive, it is very important to identify or recognize traffic patterns at different times and locations. At certain times leaving home or office just a couple minutes later or earlier could add a few minutes drive time.

For example, on home bound route, there are two school zones, if I leave work at 4:20pm, I will encounter heavy traffic due to after-school rush, adding 4 to 5 minutes drive time due to the traffic jam than leaving at 4:30pm.

Usually the earlier you leave home, the lighter the traffic is. Not always so, there could be mini traffic jam at early hours as well. I found this out recently. One day I left home shortly after 7am, when I reached Preston/Legacy intersection, I found out that the length of south bound traffic was very long, as long as usually seen around 7:40am or so.

Traffic lights at different time of the day and different locations have their patterns as well. Before 7am traffic lights change quickly when sensing a car is coming, and "stop" is short, after 7am, traffic lights at major intersections have a fixed program to change per sensors' signal. Identification of the patterns helps one to minimize or even eliminate idle times at traffic lights - sometimes you need to slow down just a bit, other times you have to speed up.

One day, on the way to work, I turned right to Parker road, driving slightly below speed limit, a BMW following me , sped passing my Odyssey at about 50mph, it reached and stopped at the next traffic light, about 10 seconds ahead of me, when I got there the light turned green just in time, I passed the BMW at 35mph! The BMW sped up again, just to stop at the next traffic light :(, waiting for me to pass it again!! This happened 3 traffic lights in a row. I was amused by the situation, the BMW driver on the other hand was apparently annoyed by the way the BMW was accelerated.

Of course traffic flow pattern and traffic light patterns vary slightly day to day. Traffic light patterns can be easily changed temporarily by the signal jamming of emergence vehicles or police cars . Be observant of traffic flow around and ahead of me, pay attention to the next traffic light, all can help me to minimize idle time and have a smooth drive.

With minimum idle time, my Odyssey's efficiency remains at ~ 21mph local - just as good as it was brand new.

Defensive driving

Keeping space. The car in front of me can have a sudden stop, my mind could drift momentarily though it rarely occurs, I usually keep a three car length distance from the car ahead of me at 40mph - allowing about 2 second reaction time. I stick to my rule no matter being tail gated or not. Typically a tailgater will change lane to pass me. A consequence of doing this daily turns out to be that the car behind me usually follows the 2 second rule as well - creating a safe driving bubble.

Don't insist on right of way. I let aggressive drivers pass or cut unless I can safely block them. For obviously erratic drivers, I always let them pass and keep a safe distance. One morning on the way to work, I noticed that a station wagon in front of me could not stay in a lane, I slowed down to have a safe distance from it, but I was still right behind it at next intersection, because both the wagon and my van were to make a left turn. I made a slow left turn following the wagon, the wagon was driven on to the curb into the sidewalk after the turn. Because of the space I kept from it, I safely avoided it.

Avoid potential risk factors. This helps to significantly reduce probability of accidents. Due to development a new office park at Hedgecox and Preston, a short cut street is formed - making driving distance about 0.1 mile shorter and avoiding the major intersection. Initially I used the short cut daily unless the weather was not good. Using the short cut can let me beat two traffic lights at two major intersections on Preston, saving me 2 to 3 minutes. After a while, I found that it was too risky, there is no traffic light at the left turn, the traffic north bound has been increasing, even with rush I could not beat the traffic lights half of the time. So I stopped using the short cut, instead I do not drive at this section of Preston at full speed after the left turn traffic light and minimize the idle time at the second traffic light.

Enjoy the drive

I used to listen to audio CD of novels for quite some time, and i also listened to classical music on CD. Now I just listen to radios since there are enough choices on the radio - NPR 90.1FM for news, 101.1FM for classical music, 99.5FM for country, 91.7FM for variety of current musics.

The routes I take, run east to west more than half of the time. That, along with the wavy road, provide many good opportunities to watch Moon set in the west sky in the morning, and Sunrises in the east sky from rear view mirror . Over the years I saw orange full Moon, light yellowish full Moon and of course the white Full Moon in the mornings many many times. The best time to watch Sunrise is early spring - a few weeks ago - when Sunrise is around 7am, and the best place to watch on my route to work is on Park Road between Midway road and Marsh lane.

Occasionally I saw spectacular lightnings during thunderstorms, rainbows are treats from sunny summer afternoons right after rains. One day I drove home in a heavy rain, but the Sun came out when I was close to home, I saw a huge rain bow in the northeast sky, it was still there when I got home, gradually fading away.

Another occasional entertainment is to observe impatient drivers changing lanes frequently, accelerating and braking frequently without gaining much, like the BMW driver I mentioned earlier.

However accidents on the road do happen, traffic lights malfunction unfortunately not too rarely, then optimum route is not optimum any more, traffic patterns are gone. I take whatever I get on the road, take it easy, enjoy my drive to my destinations - office and home.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mom in the Candle Light

My mother passed away more than 10 years ago. This short essay is written in memory of her on the occasion of memorial day in lunar calendar.

When I was very young, ~ 7 years old, my father passed away. My mother was a widow ever since raising her three young children by herself. When I was in high school, the song "Mom in the candle light" was very popular, especially so in my home. Every time we listened to the song on radio, mom teared up. I did not quite understand what caused such a strong emotional reaction then, I do now as I am about her age then. I tear up every time I listen to the song now because of its tune, lyrics and its connection to mom.

I knew I was her favorite child, but I was the one who moved away from her. I went to college thousands miles away from home, I went even further for graduate school, then I crossed the pacific ocean for my PhD. She wanted me to be close to home, but she always, always encouraged me to pursue my dream.

When I was in college, I had an American English teacher, a young man from Utah. He played the song "country roads" in the English class, that was the first time I heard this song. I loved the song instantly because it helped me to express my homesickness, my longing to hometown while marching on in my own life journey, the melancholy and the slight sadness for being so far away from mom. There are many many great songs expressing homesickness, this one ranks at the very top.

Even though "Mom in the candle light" and "Country road" are my most favorable songs, I did not remember the full lyrics of either songs. I searched Internet and found both songs and their audio recordings today. Reading the lyrics, listening to the songs, tears streamed down my face - all the memories, all the emotions came back just like the days mom was still with me.

Her expectations and pride for me, her kindness and encouragements, and her unconditional love are alive with me.

Mom in the Candle Light 烛光里的妈妈


Note: this Chinese song describes a grown up daughter's emotional reaction to her observations of her mom's grey hairs, hunched back, and aged eyes, and her love to her mom.

Take me home, country road

Songwriters: Danoff, Bill;Nivert, Taffy;Denver, John;Deutschendorf, John

Almost Heaven, West Virgina
Blue Ridge mountains
Shenandoah River -
Life is old here
Older than the trees
Younger than the mountains
Growin' like a breeze

Country Roads, take me home
to the place I belong
West Virgina, mountain momma
Take me home country roads

All the memories gathered round her
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine
Teardrops in my eye

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

I hear her voice
In the mountain hours she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And drivin' down the road I get a feelin'
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads
Take me home, country roads
Take me home, country roads