Solar wear

in 2013 I bought this 60-LED solar-recharge security light on Amazon. This winter it failed and I took it down to see if it was the battery or not. It did appear to be the battery but I was unable to locate the exact replacement, a welded pack of five 1.5 volt AAs with an aggregate output listed at 6v on the battery wrap itself.

I thought I had found the correct replacement at Home Depot for about $15, a special-order item, but the unit that arrived appeared to be wired backward, either a manufacturing flaw or simply a battery with reversed polarity. I was kinda grumpy about a $15 battery anyway and just returned it.

Once I had determined that the battery was dead I pulled the wiring harness off and experimentally attached it to a 9v battery, and the light illuminated very brightly. What I don’t know is how many illumination cycles the battery might support, and of course finding a rechargeable battery would be even more preferable – the solar array is still producing juice without difficulty.

UPDATE: Sunforceproducts.com sells the part for $10, fee shipping. Ordered.

Taxes and COGs and online sales

I have started selling a few thrift picks on ebay. It’s going pretty good. I need to start keeping track of COGs and inventory of the picked goods, though, and probably need to enforce sales tax collection on the items, which is always a huge pain since online platforms don’t follow the destination-based sales tax rules that local municipalities and taxation districts have opted for.

At any rate. Some notes intended to guide me on this.

Personal used goods: treatable as a loss-sale, as in the instance of a garage sale where a used good is sold for a fraction of its’ new or replacement cost, and therefore not required to incur a COG line item. HOWEVER some sources say that a personal good can be converted to a sales good with a fair-market value assigned to the item at the time of the conversion, thereby changing the COG from zero to a positive number. This seems like it is most appropriate for items expected to be sold for a profit, that is, an appreciated good. Revenue from some appreciated goods can, it seems, also be treated as capital gains, which has a favorable tax structure and presumably exempts the converted goods from annualized inventory taxes.

Picked goods: items purchased for resale from a retailer, usually with sales tax associated and paid. There is a deduction for the sales tax that I forget how to account, but it’s there. The COG would be the full price including tax and then the sales tax paid would be treated as an offset somehow, possibly against federal taxes? I forget. Have to look that up again. At any rate the COG of the unit would be entered as the purchase price of the item (which is demonstrably a fair market value).

Deadstock: I have a bunch of deadstock that passed to me as personal property when I dissolved my S-Corp earlier this year in order to get out from under the annual grand-or-so in accountants and lawyers it cost to keep the licensing up. The dissolved corporation also incurred a personal loss to me of about 14k which I cannot offset personal income taxes against without keeping the corporation open. I think I can offset the losses via sale of deadstock, at least as far as I can, and therefore I don’t think I need to track COGs and inventory on these items (which already incurred their inventory taxes when owned by the corporation). I might be mistaken. At any rate the headstock will be selling for less than the cost of the items at wholesale and therefore represent a loss, so that would seem to place the goods in the least-accounted category.

A final puzzle is that while I have two eBay and PayPal IDs, one personal and one associated with my LLC, the personal eBay ID is a much more effective selling platform because it has such a large number of transactions. I think I need to convert it to the LLC ID and use the LLC ID as my personal ID from now on. I should have thought of and worked on this about a year ago, because ID changes take time to propagate and can cause record keeping confusion even at the programmatic level.

New Boots and Contracts

This past week or so of torrential rain preceded by snow let me to discover what I had already known, namely that my ten-year-old Docs are about as useful as a pair of sandals in keeping water away from my feet. It’s my own fault, I did not know where our show care kit was here in the house after we moved here for many years and by the time I got around to finding and restocking it the leather was thoroughly cracked and useless.

So I needed a new pair of boots! I had the idea of an appropriate price point for the boots, DM’s classic 1460, at $60-70 or so and was shocked and frustrated to find that the average best price for a standard-edition black version of this boot is about $120 and that the boots themselves appear to be in relatively short supply from independent sellers online, usually the best place to look for a MAP-controlled item such as these appear to have become in the last decade.

Even eBay has only a few merchants selling the boots new, although there are many individual and pro sellers offering a range of Doc Martens footwear both on eBay and Amazon. Buying direct, we see that the boots are offered at $135 + tax and shipping (with frequent free shipping offers).
eBay’s results are a mishmash of used and new goods. It was difficult to determine the correct pricing for new 1460s that met my specs. This is in part because DM has dramatically expanded the range of models of this boot. They range from high-end guaranteed for life and/or Made in England throwbacks to inexpensive non-leather canvas models made in China and Thailand. In the end, there are only a few new-in-box listings, with an offer point of about $115.

Amazon’s offerings are even more confusing. I think this is due to the platform’s stated policy of combining seller’s offers for a given SKU into one detail page. Sadly, they are not actually able to enforce the policy effectively. It’s nearly impossible to determine a set of prices for goods such as this, in which individually distinct products differentiated by style, model, materials, appearance, and size are randomly grouped together in detail pages aggregating seller’s offers both active and inactive.

It’s the functional equivalent of matrix pricing, which is the underlying economic mechanism driving spiraling healthcare costs and software licensing cost uncertainty. It unquestionably increases profitability on a unit-sales level for Amazon. Creating conditions of obfuscated pricing reduces consumer willingness to research and evaluate for cost, due to time constraints. The long-term effect is to increase the average price paid. However, in a consumer-goods environment, this may also cause lower overall volume as price-constrained consumers decline purchases, an option not available in medicine.

I was somewhat amazed to see this occurring because it inverted my consumer expectations for a shopping experience between eBay and Amazon. Amazon was once the most efficient place to locate a good, determine a fair price for it, and to purchase that good with a high degree of consumer confidence. Instead, although eBay has a smaller set of pro merchants selling the goods, I was able to find and compare those seller’s prices with DM’s full-retail price immediately. On Amazon, detail page selections changed apparently at random as individual seller’s stock levels fluctuated. Instead of a single price per detail page, each variation of an item was priced distinctly. It was the opposite of a smooth online shopping experience.

In the end, I made the inefficiencies of Amazon’s shopping model work for me by literally going through each 1460 listing’s detail page and selecting each instance of sizing that fit me and was in stock. I did not find any NIB black 1460 that fit me and met or were even close to my pricing expectations. I did, however, find two pairs in brown, one a new-fangled variation, each for about $75, each in low stock quantities and discounted by the merchants due to low demand.

Another possibility I did not pursue was locating and purchasing two pairs at a second-half-off price with the intent of selling the second pair NIB on eBay just under the $120 price point. I may actually experiment with that, as arbitrage is a pretty good online merchandising model.

UPDATE:

To my bemusement (and living up to my site slogan, “holy cow, did I write that?“) I appear to have predicted this exact outcome specifically for Amazon and in part due to attempting to shop for boots online:

I strongly suspect that the partial progress in place in Amazon and eBay to increase transparency to the purchaser will be eroded over time as these organizations seek in turn to emulate Google in its’ disheartening turn toward user captivity. …The end result of this will be to diminish, to some extent, the long-term shift toward online shopping, while at the same time increasing margins only for the largest merchants. And it will keep the process of shopping for women’s boots online a fruitless nightmare.

I was actually referring to Google and Apple (and eventually therefore Amazon and eBay) seeking to emulate Facebook’s walled-garden approach as a means to diminish price transparency. As it happens, that is not the mechanism by which Amazon has achieved diminished price transparency. but hey, whatever works. Or makes life harder for the consumer, at any rate.

 

noted for future reference

I installed a 200-lumen battery-powered dark-and-motion sensor spotlight with a 20 second cycle under the carport on Viv’s driver side. It’s all plastic, so we’ll see how it fare amidst the elements. I note the install date here via this post so that I will have a sense of how long both it and the 3 D-cells it uses last.

A deep draught

John Seabrook, Behind the Cellar Door, The New Yorker, January 23, 2017

I enjoyed this very much, as it refracted some aspects of my father’s relationship with wine, and my own, back to me.

In particular, parts of this passage:

The heavy door swung open, drawing the cool air of the cellar behind it. The viny scent of wine, cut with the stringent reek of strong alcohol, enveloped us. It was pitch black within, and, in the moment it took my father to find the light switch, I imagined a demon rat rushing past us and disappearing into some other part of the house.

Then the lights blazed up on a square room, about fifteen feet per side, filled from floor to ceiling with wine and liquor, resting in sturdy wooden bins stacked four high, stained dark brown and built around three sides of the room, along with a two-sided row of bins in the middle, forming two bays. It was like stepping into King Tut’s tomb.

My father began making wine before I was born and, I presume, collecting it as well. Seabrook’s family experiences with his father’s cellar are on a grander scale than that I share with my father, but that line about the scent chimes with early childhood for me, and by the time I was 16 or so my father built a special room in our basement dedcated to his wine collection, walls lined with bins, a table and notebooks there for recordkeeping, smells and all.

New friends

A few months ago I met our backside neighbors, the tenants of our other backside neighbor. He’s from Paris via Beijing, and she’s from Russia and the Ukraine via Moldova, Romania and Beijing. We like them very much and first fed them here in early autumn, spontaneously one Sunday evening when he’d dropped by to introduce himself.

They had us over last weekend for dinner and it was loads of fun, staying up talking and drinking wine until 2 am, getting to know each other better. He’s an aerospace guy at Boeing, ex-Airbus,  but frustrated by the salaryman aspect of the work. She won a scholarship to a university of Chinese traditional medicine in Beijing at 19 and spent 12 years there, completing her studies.

Our buddy Joe, who spent 8 years in Taiwan and China and married a Taiwanese lady there, invited us over for dinner on Saturday night. Joe and Lilian have a large extended social circle of Chinese and Taiwanese people that live in Seattle, many of whom are in international marriages, and it seemed obvious to me I should try to get our neighbors included in the invitation. In the end, he went, she didn’t, and a good time was had by all. Joe and Jason and I played some music together for the first time in more than a year and it wasn’t terrible and it was fun. Our neighbor kept shooting video with his phone, probably gawking at the Americanness of it all, in the midst of all the baiju and Chinese food.

So far so good

After some instensive digging around various Subaru fora and borrowing an OBDC II code reader from a friend, I still don’t have a good read on the car. The code reader did not show any codes recorded, which seems odd, but whatever.

Fora posts describe my car’s symptoms in similar cars but not the ’99 Forester. The consensus appears to be that transient loss of power accompanied by a front end shimmy is a cylinder misfire, likely due to a bad plug, a bad wire to the plug, or imminent failure of other associated parts. Which, great. Except I have actually experienced this and had all that both replaced and serviced within the last 3k. Furthermore, the shimmy I was experiencing was much less intense than that I had when the cap was failing. 

So possibly that indicates incomplete chamber combustion rather than total non-combustion?

Another possibility, which seems somewhat more likely as it has a possible causal tie to the recent oil change, is that Carter overfilled the oil reservoir. A few posts here and there (interestingly, the most informative one was from a Seattle-area owner who had taken his Outback to “the dealer,” presumably Carter, for an oil change) indicated that oil overflow into parts of the engine that did not need it could lead to power loss, and that this overflow could occur if the oil reservoir was overfilled. The dip stick is said to have fill marks for hot and for cold weather, the cold weather mark indicating a greater acceptable quantity of oil. 

Persons discussing this issue and possibility indicated that burning oil, blue smoke, would be expected to accompany the issue. No smoke has been noted. However, when I checked the oil level this morning it clearly exceeded the highest fill dot level. So presumably they did overfill the car. However others also note that moderate overfills are used in some situations to provide a safety buffer for a car in extreme situations, and this past three weeks might kinda qualify from a temperature perspective, so who knows.

The car had two runs today, each about three miles, and no shimmy or loss of power was resultant.

UPDATE: After subsequent power loss and a diagnostic visit to Scanwest on Greenwood, it was suggested that the ignition coil might be failing. The replacement was within warranty horizon, so I toot it to the initial shop that replaced it, Maddy’s on Aurora, and they verified the issue and replaced the coil without incident.

’99 Subaru Forester L, loss of power while driving

This last post to subaruforester.org concerns a current, ongoing issue that is unresolved at the moment. There has been no uptake on the forum and I presume this reflects the age of the car and declining consumer-use deployment of the car model.
The prior posts were regarding issues that developed on the car, respectively, at about 168k and about 173k. The car now has a mileage of about 176k. In addition there were some major service events to the car that I had not posted to the forums which I do note here.

After Scanwest did such a great and reasonably-priced job with the alternator replacement I had them do the 180k service on the car at 175k, and at some point either before or after the alternator replacement but after AWD did the seals I had a cylinder lose pressure while driving on Aurora directly across from the indie shop Maddy’s Automotive. I was able to drive the bucking vehicle onto their lot and they fixed the valve overnight. I will be digging out paperwork on that job shortly and will provide more detail on it when I have the info in front of me.

Overall the car is aging gracefully and as can be seen we only put about 1000-1500 miles on it annually. It even passed emissions inspection this most recent time right off the bat for the first time since we have owned it.

On Monday I took it to Carter for an oil change, fluid topoff and an eyeball once-over. They did not report any leaks or oddities, as expected.

Today as I executed a lane change into the clear left turn lane on Aurora in preparation for leaving the arterial the car suddenly lost power for a moment or two and dropped in speed unexpectedly. Traffic was light and I was able to get into the turn lane by gunning the engine after which normal feel returned to the car. The loss of power was fleeting but it felt somewhat as if one of the wheels had lost traction, I think the front right wheel. However it was very brief and felt more like the engine had lost compression for a moment. There was no concurrent shimmy or bucking, which I did experience with the bad valve.

I didn’t think anything of it and went about my errands. About an hour later another errand came up and I hopped in the car. The total mileage for the trip was to be about a mile. I had gotten only about 300 yards from my house when a slight shimmy was felt when the car went into idle as I slowed for a stop sign and awaited the car ahead.

As I pulled into traffic, I felt the car responding sluggishly and responded by gunning the engine. At this time I noticed the check engine light illuminate and then intermittently illuminate and turn off. In general, gunning the engine spiked the rpms for a moment and then the car would respond normally for a bit before losing power again. Eventually this evened out and the check engine light stayed off and I made it to my destination with no further difficulty, although the car feels reduced in power and still has a new, slight vibration in idle.

Obviously, the place to start is at the dealer, since this issue seems like it could be from a loose hose. I wanted to drop this out here in case anyone else has any possible thoughts or concerns about a possible more serious issue. I have not looked under the hood yet, as I had some scheduled activities that could not be moved around and wanted to write all of this up first.

I’ll follow up with more info on that Maddy’s valve job and with whatever I learn from looking around the engine.

UPDATE

Visual inspection under the hood did not identify a loose connection, darn it.

Additionally, I was incorrect in specifying that I had a bad valve. The issue was a bad ignition point, one of the spark plugs was not firing. Maddy’s replaced the coil pack, ignition wire set, plugs and fuel filter. I think this was prior to the new alternator going in. That ran about $450 total.

I also have had one other major service event on the car I missed above not previously covered in other posts here. In December 2015 we had a very short, quite harsh cold snap that dropped temperatures rapidly from the 50s into the single digits and in the cold morning my radiator failed. I noticed it as soon as I returned from the drive and was able to drive it in to Carter and get it done in a day for about $500.

After talking to Carter on the phone, an unsatisfactory interaction in which the person I was speaking with seemed defensive and harried, they suggested taking it in to them to get a diagnostic code read, as the Check Engine light had illuminated. They noted that if they cold not attribute the engine fault to the oil change work performed last Monday, the diagnostic check would run about $120.

In looking into the way the car stores error codes, it became clear that a code reader was a trivially inexpensive piece of consumer car gear, starting at about $20 on Amazon, and so I think it may be wise to obtain on a fiend has one and is bringing it for me to borrow tonight, but either way I think the correct course of action is to perform a code read myself and examine the error to determine if it is attributable or not to the oil change. It does seem unlikely that a simple oil change would be performed in such a manner as to cause a loss-of-power issue but on the other hand, Carter was the last pair of hands under the hood.

 

 

 

 

’99 Subaru Forester L issues, electrical problems

In 2014, I again posted to subaruforester.org concerning maintenance issues with the Forester. Here’s my local repost.

Summary: intermittent failure to charge battery accompanied by in-use electrical intermittency resolved by alternator replacement

After getting the seals done at AWD, I mostly took the car to the much closer Suburb Service in Shoreline and they have done some minor parts work, such as a headlamp and most recently a front axle. No issues with the quality and pricing of their work but their shop prefers an early-morning check-in and drop-off which just doesn’t work with my schedule.

Over the past year or so the car has exhibited occasional electrical issues, observable primarily when the car fails to start in the morning after being driven, with no apparent weather dependency at first. I replaced the battery about a year ago in an attempt to address this issue, which seemed to work for a while.

Then, as this summer (2014) has brought months of record setting traffic problems to the Seattle area, on several occasions I have found myself in stop-and-go traffic for several hours. On the first of the occasions, the day that a fatality accident closed Aurora southbound, I noticed some dash lights flickering when the car was idling. the flickering seemed to coincide with the engine running slightly rough on idle. the flickering also affected the a/c and the radio, which emitted static as the flickering was observed. given that traffic was not moving I thought, ‘huh,’ and without thinking about what i was doing, turned the car off.

Bad move, as the car would not restart. the starter turned over a couple of times but after that was flat. I was able to push the car into a parking spot which was right next to the place the car died, thankfully, and settled down to wait for the engine to cool down.

After about 30 minutes, I could touch the engine block with my finger and tried to restart the car. nothing. Then I realized i had a jump box with me and tried that. The car started immediately. I realized i was in the window at the end of the day to leave the car parked until my event was over, paid for parking, and came back to the car several hours later. the car needed the jump box again, but started fine and ran well all the way home. the next day it did not need a jump.

Over the next few warm days I drove it I experimented with the electrical load and determined that the a/c was most likely to produce the dash flicker and drained battery. I never took careful note of which dash lights were flickering except for the ‘A.T. OIL TEMP’ light.

I had a different ship than the one that suggested the battery replacement examine the car’s electrical performance and harness and as the first shop has found they reported the car as sound.

Finally, I made an appointment to get the car examined after I had determined that the a/c would drive reproducibility in the issue at Greenwood’s Scanwest, a mixed SSAB / Subaru shop.

They immediately diagnosed it as the alternator and performed the replacement with a rebuild, which has resolved the issue.

I’m happy with the resolution here and feel that Scanwest did great. They also replaced the shifter bulb for parts only, no labor; performed the diagnosis for free; and did this as a walkin overnight. so, great job.

The only thing I’m still puzzling over is this: ever since we bought the car at 70k, the transmission has always been hesitant to engage. As the car aged, it became even slower to engage, and developed a notable, distinct ‘CLUNK’ as the gearing set.

Now with the new alternator, the transmission’s hesitation HAS VANISHED. No hesitation. No ‘CLUNK’. The transmission operates as, I guess, automatic transmissions are supposed to operate, although as this is my first non-stick, I actually don’t know what to expect.

So here’s my question: how can changing the alternator have affected the performance of a mechanical part like that? Does the alternator play a documented part in the transmission? If so, why on earth didn’t a single experienced Subaru mechanic notice that issue and observe that the alternator might be the issue?

If it’s not the case that the alternator has a known role in transmission performance, should I ask the shop if they went above and beyond and turned a bolt or something in the transmission along the way? It’s definitely not on the statement I have in hand. Anyway, I’m definitely not complaining, just pleased and mystified.

There were no responses to the post. I no longer notice any difference in the transmission shifting behavior. The transmission is notable slow in going into reverse. I assume this is a symptom of wear in the transmission.

Subaru Forester L issues, seals

In 2011 I posted to the forums at subaruforester.org seeking guidance on getting the car’s seals redone, a typical midlife expense for Subarus. As part of my ongoing attempts to recapture miscellaneous posts I have contributed elsewhere on the internet I am posting my content from that thread here. I will follow up with the some procedure for the other two threads I have posted in that locale.

I have an automatic 1999 Forester L, 169k, cosmetically pretty good in and out.

However, the car has the following issues:

  • Oil leak
  • Strange engine sound, clicky
  • Hesitation in shifting
  • Measurable head gasket leak

I have two repair estimates in hand for the seal-related issues only, no transmission work, at 4k and 5.5k, each approaching the resale value of the car in good working order.

A quick spin thru CL shows non-running 99s on offer at 1.6-2k. This car still runs, but it will fail. I am having a hard time figuring out a fair resale value.

I also have a cosmetically rough, mechanically sound ’93 Camry SE manual v6, 107k. It is hard to find sale examples for this car but given the dings and scrapes I would guess the car would be fairly offered at 1.5 to 1.7k.

I would prefer to just keep the Camry and drive it to the bitter end, but my household has a nonnegotiable need for a hauler/ snow car.

If I could get the seals fixed for 2k I would do that and sell the Camry, but that seems unlikely. I am not a mechanic and can’t do any work on either car.

This community might be able to help me decide if the 4-5k estimates are market or inflated for the vehicle, and to help me set a proper resale offer price for the Forester, as well as thought on disclosures of the extant issues.

I am emphatically not looking for a new car or even a low-mile used car; any replacement car needs to come in at 5k so that the whole operation is a wash. I am sure folks here have faced this dilemma with regard to 98-99 foresters hundreds of times in the past. What should I do?

Posters on the thread criticized both the scoping and cost quotes from Carter and suggested getting it examined and estimated by All Wheel Drive on the Eastside, which is what I did. They suggested getting the seals done and quoted it at $2.3k. The work came in at $2.6. Additionally, the next time I brought it in to a shop, they noticed a minor issue with the install on one of the seals, and I took it back to AWD, who repaired the problem without any complaint or argument.