Pandemic Journal, Day 676

We replaced our furnace and ducting about 10 years ago – PG&E was offering a special program for “energy upgrades”. We also replaced our water heater, pipes, and air conditioning at the same time; it was a major project.

Recently, I noticed an odd behavior when the furnace cycled on – it would start, but after a few seconds, the fan would stop for about a minute, then it’d start up again and stay on long enough to bring up the temperature to the desired point. I called the company that had installed the furnace, but they’d vanished in the last 10 years, so I started looking for someone else.

My neighbor across the street had just had some emergency work done by American HVAC and was very pleased with the company and the tech, Rudy. So I called and asked if they could send Rudy to look at my furnace – no hurry. He was at the house in less than two hours!

I told him the problem and he went into the attic, returning with pictures and bad news.

We’d had a 95 AFUE single-stage furnace installed as part of the energy upgrade; high-efficiency furnaces like that need plumbing to get rid of the condensation the furnace produces, and ours had started leaking – into the heat exchanger, among other places. And there was corrosion and mold all over the place because of the leaks.

It’d be less expensive to replace the furnace with a mid-efficiency two-stage unit (80 AFUE) than to replace the heat exchanger, and having a two-stage system would even out the temperature swings. And there’d be no plumbing problems.

He also said that the static pressure in the system was high – adding another return would help that. And it would increase airflow, which is an issue in part of the house.

I was hoping for a simple repair, but it seems unlikely. I’m going get a second opinion before we do anything, of course.

Pandemic Journal, Day 675

I’m very glad my Toastmasters meeting this morning was on Zoom and not in person, even though it meant my speech for the “Effective Body Language” project was less effective than I’d’ve liked. We had sixteen attendees. Two of them had had the worst headaches of their lives this week. One of them was Covid-positive, and the other was waiting for PCR test results; we also had at least one member who was unable to attend due to a sudden health issue.

After the meeting, we took our usual walks, and then I tackled the Traeger grill. Replacing the fire pot was easy after I watched the videos on this page; the igniter looked like it was in good shape, so I plugged everything back in and fired it up. My infrared thermometer showed the igniter heating up well over 250F within just a couple of minutes, so I added pellets – and nothing happened.

So I took it apart again to replace the igniter. The official instructions tell you to remove the control panel and the pellet hopper, but the unofficial video I watched suggested taping the wires of the new rod to the old one and using the old one to fish the wires through the holes as you remove it. I couldn’t make that work, so I followed the official instructions and removed the hopper – it took less time than I’d spent trying the other method. And it let me vacuum out a ton of pellet dust from otherwise-inaccessible areas, too.

Finally, I buttoned it all up again and turned it on; this time, the igniter got up over 500F, so I put in the pellets and let it rip. A couple of minutes later, I had fire in the hole!

Not only did today have fire, it had ice. Well, Björk liqueur from Iceland – we’d bought a tiny bottle from the duty-free shop at the Reykjavik airport on our way home, and we decided to have it tonight. It’s made from birch syrup and sugar (and alcohol!); we were surprised to discover a little birch twig in the bottle, too.

It was odd and rather sweet. I’m glad we only bought a 5cl bottle. It’s not the last Icelandic delicacy left from the trip – we still have a few chocolate discs, which are pretty good (even if they are milk chocolate). And Cost Plus had some Icelandic chocolate bars the last time I looked, but that was a few months ago. We may just have to plan another trip!

Pandemic Journal, Day 674

I am pleased that I didn’t have to deal with any airlines or shipping companies today. Instead, we took a 5k walk on the Campbell segment of the Los Gatos Creek Trail with the South Bay Striders, enjoying the beautiful weather (though we need rain).

This part of the trail has a few pedestrian bridges over the creek as well as an underpass to get walkers and bikers beyond the bridge that carries the San Tomas Expressway over the creek. You can see some of the other walkers in the group and a reflection up ahead of one of the pedestrian bridges we crossed on the walk.

I was really surprised to see a poppy in full bloom already – they’re usually not out for another few weeks. There will be more poppies soon, but it was nice to see this one today!

Pandemic Journal, Day 673

The opportunity to reschedule our departure to Cape Town to get a better fare was going to expire today, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, put on headphones, and called British Airways. Their voice menu was mercifully short (only two questions, each of which only had three options), but then they hit me with the dreaded statement that “wait times may be longer than usual” and began playing BA’s theme music, the Flower Duet from Lakmé by Léo Delibes.

After about 30 seconds, a voice interrupted the music to remind me that wait times may be long, and then the music resumed for another 30 seconds. After a few cycles, I took off my headphones and put the call on speaker so I could work on editing the minutes from last night’s Shir Hadash Ritual Committee meeting.

I was still working on the minutes when, a mere 75 minutes after calling BA, I was connected to an agent. I explained what I wanted to do (fly a day earlier and get a refund for the difference in price). She set off to work on my request, putting me on hold while she worked. I got to hear a lot more of the Flower Duet, occasionally broken up by her reporting on progress or asking me questions. I did more editing while I waited.

It took another hour, but she delivered most of what I wanted. Our flights have been rebooked but not yet re-ticketed (that will have to be done by the Reissue Department), and we’ll get a voucher for the difference in price – almost $1500. The voucher is good until the end of September 2023, so there’s a decent chance we’ll get to use it before it expires. And if not, we’ll be no worse off than if we’d stayed with our original flight schedule, so I’m fairly happy with the result.

After the call ended, I finished up the minutes and sent them out; it sure was a lot easier to concentrate on them then.

Pandemic Journal, Day 672

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Iberia Airlines. Their system recovered overnight from the attempts I made yesterday to book flights; when I looked today, the fare and seats I wanted were available again.

I proceeded through the booking process, entered my credit card data, and pressed “Purchase”. A screen popped up: “We are processing your payment. Please wait.”

10 minutes later, the site said I’d been idle too long and threw me out – when I went back, the seats and fare I wanted were locked up again.

A few hours later, today’s failed purchase had cleared. I tried again using a different browser with an empty cache. It made no difference – the process still froze after I entered my payment details.

I called Iberia for help; after 10 minutes of “our agents are busy”, their system hung up on me. I sent a DM to their Twitter account asking for help; it’s been seven hours with no reply.

But their Twitter account came to the rescue – by accident. I looked at some of their replies to other complaints; one reply asked “have you tried clearing your cache or using our app?” Clearing the cache hadn’t worked for me, so I downloaded their app and was able to actually book our tickets, pick our seats, and make the purchase with only the usual amount of hassle.

We’re set! Finally. I hope.