My PG&E Smart AC unit shut down my air conditioner so I power cycled it.

cannon SmartAC unit

When our AC system was overhauled a couple years ago, we were enrolled in the SmartAC program with PG&E. I don’t remember doing this, but it doesn’t surprise me because I’m happy to participate in a program that can keep blackouts or brownouts from occuring.

Unless that means that my AC goes out on a day when the temperature is in the mid nineties, which is what happened to me recently and I assume it could happen to others too, so here’s how I got it working again.

After fiddling around with the thermostat, to no avail, I went out to look at my compressor and noticed that there was a red light on in the box mounted on the wall above the unit (a picture of one of these is on the top of this post). After searching Google for Cannon Technologies Air Conditioning, I saw that it was a controller used by PG&E in their SmartAC program. I went to their website and opened this page that talks about what the red light means and mentions that it is unlikely for this to cause an AC unit from not working. I tried calling PG&E at the number listed, but by this time, it was too late to get a live person on the phone and I was given the option of leaving a message.

Having no confidence that this was going to be valuable, I searched further and found this page on the SFGATE site, that talks about how these SmartAC units caused more than three thousand customers to lose their AC back in July 2013. So much for SmartAC units not causing problems. The article explained how a software upgrade did not work correctly, effectively taking the AC units offline. Apparently these units needed to be rebooted as part of the SW update.

Suspecting this was my problem too, I powered down the AC system at my circuit breaker.  Nothing happened. Hmm, I thought, so I tried again, flipping the circuit breaker and going to look at the thermostat and the compressor/SmartAC unit. It all looked good and the red light on the SmartAC unit was out. Great I thought, all I needed to do was wait a couple minutes and things would start working, right? Wrong.

Instead, the red light on the SmartAC unit came back on and the AC stayed off.  I pondered this for awhile and then decided to try again, this time shutting off the AC circuit breaker for 5 minutes or so. When I flipped the switch back on this time I went to the thermostat, reset the temperature again and heard the clicking of solenoids, the fan restarted and about a minute later, the starting of the compressor itself and cool air flowing shortly thereafter.

So there you have it, the SmartAC units are just like any other digital device that can get hung and need to be power cycled. FWIW, this all happened last week, which means the AC has been running for several days since then, so I think it’s more or less fixed.

One last thing, in all this, the programming on the thermostat seems to have gotten screwed up. Not sure why, but it was probably pilot error on my part because the thermostat has it’s own battery to keep it operating through power outages. That’s no big deal, but I can never remember how to program the damn thing. I guess I could get a smart thermostat that I could program with a phone or laptop, but I’m not that guy.

Go to Big Sur now for a unique experience


As you may have heard, there is a trail that the public can take to walk around the demolished Pfeiffer Canyon bridge in Big Sur. We took it recently and found that it works great, at least for people who don’t mind a short hike up and down a steep, well-built canyon trail.

Locating the trail head took a little time. We parked in the day use area (lot 4) of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and walked into the camping area by way of a small footbridge made out of two 2X12s.  In other words, there is no visible landmark that you might expect when you think of “bridge”.  My advice is to pick up a map from the ranger when you enter the park. We didn’t and we wasted a little bit of time getting our bearings, but it wasn’t a big deal. Signage in the park – at least in lot 4 – was minimal, at best.

The trail starts at campsite 31 with a gentle slope, but then quickly turns into an uphill march the rest of the way. It’s an excellent trail that is wide enough to let people easily pass going opposite directions. There are stairs and railings in all the places that seem to need them and the construction was well done. Don’t expect to be able to do it if you are not able to walk up and down several flights of stairs on your own.

The end of the trail is well uphill and comes out on a section of Highway 1 just below the Big Sur Center, which has the General Store, Big Sur Tap House, the post office and a few other businesses, including one renting electric powered fat tire bicycles. I recommend stopping at the store and the Tap House for a taste of Big Sur before making your way further up the road.

Who would think that walking on a road could be so enjoyable, but it was. Due to the lack of traffic from the bridge closure and the massive Mud Creek mudslide to the south, there were very few cars and no large trucks. There is a shuttle service and a few locals, but other than that, zippo. It’s like having the road to yourself for whatever you always wanted to do on a road, although there are other people walking and the few vehicles that you can hear well in advance. Walk at your own pace and take in the sights and sounds of California’s most iconic highway in a way that is impossible from the inside of a car.

After cresting the top of the hill, we descended down to Nepenthe and the Phoenix gift shop. There is no better spot on planet Earth for hanging out and taking life slowly. Watch the fog and clouds move in and out exposing and hiding views of mountain slopes, ocean and coastline, listen to and watch the birds above and below, soaring and flitting through the trees, see the moon come out from behind the mountains towering to the south, eat, drink, play chess or cornhole on their expansive patio. And for the time being, experience it without the noise and business of Highway 1.

The new Pfeiffer Canyon bridge is expected to be completed in the fall of 2017 and bay area travelers will be able to get to many of their favorite destinations throughout Big Sur, probably making it unsafe to walk the road. The Mud Creek slide is one of the largest ever to close a road in California and will take a lot longer than that to clear. The situation is definitely hard on the businesses there, but for tourists that want to see it at it’s most peaceful and restful state, this is the best chance you may ever get.

Visiting Norway: Thoughts about visiting Flam and doing the Nutshell

Visiting Norway: Thoughts about visiting Flam and doing the Nutshell

 

All the travel guides for Norway talk about the Norway in a Nutshell tour of the fjords. This section of the fjords, especially the Naeroyfjord (narrow fjord) should be seen if at all possible because of the stunning natural beauty, but there are a number of ways to do this that aren’t explained fully in most of the books and web sites. Read on to get a broader perspective and a few options.

The Flamsbana Railway between Myrdal and Flam

Most guidebook descriptions start the Nutshell tour with a railroad ride from Myrdal to Flam on the Flamsbana. It’s heavily hyped, but the route from Myrdal to Flam does have some amazing views like the photo below and is worth doing at least once.

The idea is to disembark one of the NSB trains running between Bergen and Oslo at Myrdal and then catch the next Flamsbana to Flam. As far as I can tell, the people organizing the various trips and tours make sure it happens, but I can see how this could get complicated during the peak of the tourist season. I believe if you book the entire nutshell tour that the Flamsbana tickets are already included, but you might want to make sure that they are. Otherwise, it’s easy to do without being on a tour – you just look for the person selling tickets on the platform. The day we were there the ticket office in Myrdal was not open, but there was an agent on the platform selling tickets with a portable machine that takes your credit card and prints the ticket receipt.

The cars on the Flamsbana do not hold much luggage, so the railway operators tell passengers to put their bags together on the platform where they are moved into a baggage car by employees for the ride downhill. They also unload and set the bags at the end of the platform in Flam where they are easily picked up. This all worked well and had the benefit of leaving a lot of room in the passenger cars to move around, from side to side to view the scenery without falling all over people’s stuff.

The train makes several stops on the way down from Myrdal to Flam, including one where everybody gets out to see one of the powerful waterfalls that seem to be everywhere in the fjords. If you are familiar with Yosemite National Park in the United States, you will find a lot to like on the nutshell tour with seemingly countless waterfalls fed by the show and ice on the much higher plateau above. The drop from Myrdal to Flam is somewhere in the range of 1000 meters, but the mountains above the surrounding area are much higher than that, which produces a spectacular drainage of fresh water down into the salt water fjords.

Option to mountain bike from Myrdal to Flam

Another way to get from Myrdal to Flam is to rent a mountain bike at the Myrdal station and ride it down the hill. There is a mountain bike rental shop at the Myrdal station that can outfit you with what look to be quality bikes that appear to be well maintained by the bike mechanics working there. I think they all had disk brakes, which could be important given the vertical drop.  The idea is that you ride down and drop the bike off near the station in Flam and employees take the bikes back up the hill on the train. I was sorely tempted to do this but wasn’t sure how it would work with the bags. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried because Gretchen could have easily picked them up.

This bike ride is part of a longer route called the Rallaarvegen that starts east of Finse, which is a stop on the NSB train and at a much higher elevation than Myrdal.  The Rallarvegen0529171238 is only an option in late summer (July – September) due to the heavy snows there. Our train passed through Finse on the way to Myrdal during the last week of May and I took the picture on the right as we were approaching. Biking would have been extreme, to say the least.

If you happen to find yourself in Flam and want to take a mountain bike down the hill from Myrdal, you can take the Flamsbana uphill and rent a bike at the Myrdal train station for the ride down. The Flamsbana trains leaves Flam for Myrdal more or less all day to accommodate cruise ship passengers who come ashore. Tickets for the Flamsbana from Flam can be purchased at the the large tourist complex just beyond the end of the rail line in Flam. The ticket office in Flam is large and well staffed and sells tickets for the train and all the various ferry and boat tours.

Other bike options in Flam

There are multi-speed cruiser bikes with fenders for rent in Flam that you can around the the town and the Flam valley. There are not a lot of options for rides, but I think a half day rental could be fun, especially if you combine it with a hike. They don’t look ready for the ride up to Myrdal and back, but if you are a strong rider you might be able to make them work. There is a nice paved recreational trail that heads northeast towards Aurland from Flam, but does not go all the way. I do not recommend trying to ride the road between Flam and Aurland as the shoulders are narrow and there is a fair amount of truck traffic.  The road from Flam westbound to Gudvangen goes through a lengthy tunnel and one would have to be out of their minds to attempt riding it on a bicycle.

Taking a cruise on the Naeroyfjord

The Naerofjord is stunningly scenic and really should not be missed. Most people doing the Nutshell tour get on a Ferry in Flam, travel north and west on the AurlandFjord, past the towns of Aurland and Undredal before heading south towards Gudvangen at the end of the Naerofjord.  Most ferries make several stops at the various ports of call, but a few do not and travel directly from Flam to Undredal. Most Nutshell tourists are then loaded onto a bus and travel west to Voss to make connections to Bergen or Oslo.

But what if you want to go back to Flam instead? It’s easy, there are buses that return passengers to Flam from Undredal to service cruise ship tourists that take a a one way tour of the Naerofjord. FWIW, I’m not sure that going both directions on the Naerofjord is something I would do because, it’s Norway and it can be chilly on the boat.

If you are staying in Flam, you might think about going the opposite direction by boarding a bus in Flam, riding it to Gudvangen and hopping on the ferry to Flam there. The reverse Nutshell direction is less crowded, which means you can get a lot better photos with fewer people to compete with deck and railing space.

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Reverse direction of the Naerofjord, less crowded boats, same scenery

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Farms in paradise on the Naerofjord

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A massive waterfall with impressive spray on the Naerofjord

A great hike near Flam: The Brekkefossen Waterfall

Flam has a lot of expensive tour options, but what if you want to save some dough, get a good workout in and see some stunning fjordlands scenery? Take a short hike out of Flam to the Brekkefossen Waterfall!

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Brekkefossen waterfall from the road below

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Brekkefossen trailhead

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One of many terrific views of the Flam valley while ascending the trail

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Brekkefossen Waterfall up close

Hiking near Flam in Aurlandsdalen

If we ever return to this part of Norway, we are likely to change things up a bit and stay in Aurland where it is typically less expensive with access to some incredible off-fjord hiking. There is a excellent blog by Antonette here describing her experiences hiking near Aurland and the more I think about it, the more likely it will go on my bucket list.

Cruise ships in Flam and staying in Aurland

Another reason for staying in Aurland is to get a little further away from the enormous cruise ships that pull into the fjord in front of Flam. While cruise ships obviously contribute heavily to the local economy and make it possible to have so many options for riding the Flamsbana and crusing the Naerofjord, I’m not crazy about seeing these enormous waste generators front and center in my field of view. They are certainly visible from Aurland, but appear much smaller from that distance.

Kurt Elling is at the top of his game

Chris Vasquez and I went to see Kurt Elling perform tonight in Santa Cruz.  He was incredibly good, as I expected based on seeing him at the Monterey Jazz festival a couple years ago and from live recordings.

Elling was not born with the most beautiful or unique voice, but what he does with it is remarkable.  He sings with energy, subtlety and amazing dexterity, often creating melodic and rhythmic lines that work with the rest of the band like an instrumental soloist – as opposed to a vocalist.  He has a very sophisticated approach to singing and he makes things that are very difficult to perform sound effortless.  I think he’s the best male jazz vocalist alive.

In addition to his vocal talents, Elling is an intriguing and stimulating lyricists too.  He works out extended vocal solos with streams of words and poetry that unveil his personal perspectives, beliefs, humor and emotion.  In other words, he puts a lot of himself into his work, but you need to hear how he weaves these thoughts with the music lines to appreciate his immense creative power.

One of my favorite songs of his is “Leaving Again/In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” from the Nightmoves album.  In this song he puts lyrics to an improvisation recorded by Keith Jarrett.  Truly inspired work.   Here is a video from an appearance he made on Swedish TV4 in October 2007 singing this song,  followed by an interview.  The video incorrectly identifies the song as “Where are you my love?”  The song “Where are you” is on the album, but its a different song.  Regardless, I’m thankful that this video exists.

My big rolling digital accessory

Car deals are pretty good right now with the meltdown and the credit conundrum screwing everything up.  So me – being a pretty cheap guy – went out to by a car.  I like the idea of savng gas money, but hybrids are not being discounted much so I started to look for decent mileage in a mid size sedan – accord, camry, sonata, malibu, legacy, etc.

The last car I thought I would check out was anything made by Ford.  I just didn’t think they were doing anything interesting except making wide-ass SUVs and trucks.  But the discounts offered in the Mercury News were huge, so I thought I should go in case I was missing something.  And I was, like usual.

I am a tech-geek of sorts.  I don’t have an iPhone – just a regular iPod and a Motorola Z3 with bluetooth.  But both of them work like a charm with the Sync system in the Focus and Fusion.  I’m also an audio-whacko and do most of my listening behind the wheel because I can crank it up there past the threshold of Gretchen’s pain.  I was instantly in love with the ability to talk to my car to hear the music I want on demand (much faster than scrolling the iPod’s interface) and calling people without having to turn down or pause the audio (it does that automatically) and having to wear my hands free earpiece.  Yo, and I was pleased to find out that I can plug in a USB stick with MP3s and it plays them without having a player like an iPod.

The Audiophile sound system Ford offers is very nice – I like it much better than the JBL sound system in our Highlander – which is overly punchy in the low end.  It doesn’t quite measure up to the custom stereo in my Jetta, but its still big, huge and beautiful. The control options with Sync puts it way over the top.

I ended up buying a Fusion from Gilroy Ford.  They were real easy to work and negoitiate with.  I’ve had the car now for just a few days, but I’m really loving it. MIleage is pretty good because its a 4 banger and its a very clean buring engine.  The ride is fine and it seems to want to go down the freeway as fast as I want to.   4 wheel disk brakes, power-adjustable drivers seat, power windows. It doesn’t have sports options like the spoiler and oversized wheels like so many of the big audio cars that are in dealer inventory, but I didn’t want to pay for that stuff anyway.  All I want to do is talk to my car and get instant satisfaction.