The Spa Saga · 9 May 2020

The Spa Saga is just what it says. A saga. A long story. A long story about a hot tub. I just wish it had any of those aaaaahhhhh moments in it.

I have been working to get a second-hand hot tub working. It (the hot tub) is a beautiful thing. Top of the line back in its day. But after getting power to it, I still had lots of work to do. And a lot of learning to do. And lots of words to write.

I have never had a hot tub before. (Hot tubs are called spas by the industry folks. I guess “tubs” just does not sound as sophisticated.) Oh sure, I have been around hot tubs before. I have even been in hot tubs before. But I have never taken a hot tub apart before. In fact, I never realized all the inner workings of one before. The blowers and the pumps and the electronics. Oh, the electronics. I never thought about any of that stuff before. But all those pieces are there.. Deep in the recesses of the container of the tub. Hidden so that none may know the secrets of the spa. Hidden, but all working together so that you can just experience the “aaaaahhhhh” moments.

Well, before we experienced any aaaaahhhhh moments, I had to get to know and understand those inner workings of our new hot tub. Rather, spa. And all that learning and understanding and fixing led to the Spa Saga.

Getting the spa hooked up electrically was a major moment in the ownership of our new second-hand spa. When it was hooked up, we figured that the next day the water would be heated up and we would be ready to relax. Especially since it all seemed to work once the power was turned on. The jets pumped water all around to get that jet of hot water every hot tub aficionado wants to feel against his or her back to get those kinks out. We could add air to the mix of water. The thermometer and digital readout (which said the water was a chilly 50-something degrees) gave the appearance that everything was hunky dory too. But alas, something was amiss. The hot tub was the same temperature the next day. Not only that, but for some reason, it would not stay on. It had stayed on through the night, but the next day, the computer said something was wrong and turned itself off. And after that, it would not stay on for more than about 10 minutes. Something was definitely amiss.

Thankfully, we have the internet. So after turning off the power, I was off to find the answers.

I kept coming back to what seemed like the same answers, the interweb being what it is and search engines being what they are. Every search kept pointing me to the heater and/or thermistor being bad. So I ordered the two parts. At least one of them was bad. I figured it could not hurt to order both, but I should have known the thermistor was the more likely culprit. Then again, I was just in the beginning stages of understanding hot tubs.

Unfortunately, we were also at the beginning of stay at home orders from state governments. Our parts were not coming any time soon. But I was confident they would fix our problem. If only I had known then what I know now.

Well to make a short story a lot longer, when the parts finally did come, I thought I had fixed the problem. The hot tub (or spa) was empty and clean so it was an easy job to put in the new parts. (We emptied the hot tub because it was cold and we did not want the pipes to freeze.) Once we filled up the tub again, we turned on the power again. Hurrah! It stayed on. We ran the clean cycle and pushed all the buttons. It looked like I was done and we were going to be feeling that aaaaahhhhh moment the next day.

Of course it could not be so easy. The next day, the water was still a chilly 50-something degrees. Aaarrrggghhh! More troubleshooting.

(I must interject here that I do not mind troubleshooting. It is one of the things I actually like to do. Fixing problems or at least diagnosing problems, is normally a fun thing. But when people are expecting something big to happen and it is not happening because I cannot correctly diagnose and fix the problem, that is a problem. And not one of those problems that I like to fix.)

Off went the tub and off I went to the internet again. (It was a little warmer and almost a month later in the year, so I left the water in the tub.)

Since the computer in the tub stayed on this time, I figured that one or both of the replacement parts were necessary. The thermistor was probably the main culprit, but it is okay to have a new heater too. I kept looking on the internet and not finding any more answers so I went out to the tub to see what I could see. I looked at the motherboard and checked the power relay board. I finally figured out that no power was getting to the power relay board, which is what I thought turns on the heater. I checked with the internet and saw that there was supposed to be an indicator on the motherboard that says the heater is on. The internet also told me that if that indicator was not on, the motherboard was a likely culprit. (I should have read on other sites for more information.)

Naturally, I replaced the motherboard. (I did not need to wait as long for that part. It came in less than a week.) I turned on the power, but that indicator light (really an LED) did not turn on. I was disappointed. Three parts replaced and still no luck.

Off went the tub and off I went to the internet again.

This time on the internet, I found what I was looking for. A question and answer session between a hot tub owner and a technician was exactly what I needed. The session was very similar to what I had already gone through. And what all those other websites and videos did not say was that there might not be enough water flow through the heater to let the computer turn on the heater (which it does via the motherboard and not through the relay board). Which meant that the circulation pump might be bad. Here was something I had not read before. So I investigated a little more.

It seems there are a couple different kinds of hot tubs (or spas). There are the spas with one pump, which operates at different speeds. The pump operates at slow speeds to keep the water moving through the heater, which keeps the temperature where you set it, and they operate at high speeds when you want that jet and bubble action. Other spas have a circulation pump and one or more jet pumps. In those spas, the circulation pump operates all the time to circulate water and keep things the proper temperature. The other pump(s) operate the jets. Our hot tub has three pumps. I was sure I had found the problem.

Not one to be fooled three times, I decided that I would be more thorough this time. First, I did a check to make sure there was no vapor lock. (Water pumps do not like to pump air so they can lock up if there is too much air in the system.) There was no air in the system so I decided to take out the circulation pump to see if there was some debris in it that might be clogging the system. It took a bit of finagling, but with a couple corks and a broom handle, I held back the water and took out the pump. (Naturally, the tub was still off, but I double checked the power just to make sure.) There was no debris or anything clogging it, so I was going to put the circulation pump back in the system to get back my broom handle and corks (even though they were not being used). But before I did so, I decided that I wanted to see if something might have gotten beyond where I could check. So I took the pump apart.

I did not need to look at the electrical part of the pump. I just took off the housing to where the impeller (the part that moves the water) is. Lo and behold, I found the problem. The impeller was not connected to motor shaft. I knew this because it was all wonky (technical term) – it moved in a way that it was not supposed to move. I smiled a little because I had finally found the problem. Without spending too much money on our second-hand spa.

Well, I put the pump back in (to keep the system water tight), ordered a new pump, and replaced the pump when it got here. Tada! A working hot tub. (Rather, spa.) I was so excited! (I actually wrote this whole saga before I put in the circulation pump. But I was confident I found the problem. And I was gratified when it was. Now, we can feel those aaaaahhhhh moments we have been longing for.)

I learned some lessons through it all. And those lessons on becoming an expert on our particular hot tub were fairly inexpensive when it comes right down to it. So here are those lessons (so maybe you do not need to become an expert on your spa):

  1. Do not just look at the first website you come to when trying to solve a new problem. There are many experts out there. See which problems look closest to yours.

  2. Look at the problem from a systems perspective. In other words, look at the pumps and electronics and pipes as a whole rather than as separate parts. If I had done that, I would have seen that replacing the heater and thermistor were probably the right call, but replacing the motherboard was probably not. I should have looked upstream a little more to see what might cause the motherboard to tell the heater to stay off.

  3. Once you look at the problem from a systems perspective, if you have more than one choice for what is likely to fix it, go for the least expensive. But do not just look in terms of dollars. Look in terms of ease of repair too. All the items were pretty easy to replace, but there are times when you might have something much harder to replace even though it costs less money.

  4. Sometimes you need to call a real expert. (Thankfully, I did not need to.) There are some things you just cannot fix by yourself. Swallow you pride and call the pro.

If I was to do it again, I would replace the thermistor first (inexpensive and easy to replace). Then, upon not seeing the heater indicator, I would have looked at the circulation pump and replaced it. Then, I would have looked at the motherboard and heater depending on what happened. Then, I would have punted if none of those things worked. Sure. It is easy to say now. After all, hindsight really is 20/20.

The saga of the spa is technically not over. (Did you like my word play? Technical problems? Technically not over? I know. It is not funny if you need to point it out.) I just hope that the rest of the stories that come from it are about the aaaaahhhhh moments.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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You Smile with Your Eyes · 2 May 2020

I can tell whether you are smiling even though you are hiding behind your mask. After all, people smile with their eyes.

I am a people watcher. I always have been. Whether I am in a small, medium, or large group, I like to sit back and watch and listen. And I have always noticed that people smile with their eyes. Yes, for many smiling is a full body affair, but everybody smiles with their eyes.

It is funny to think about smiling behind masks. But everybody is wearing them these days. Surgical masks. Construction masks. Sewn cloth masks. Bandana masks. Makeshift masks. They are all the rage these days. And so people may lament that they do not see people smiling anymore. But you do not need to see people’s lips to see if they are smiling. Just look at their eyes. You can see that twinkle of a smile. All you need to do is look.

I remember an icebreaker we used to play at church conferences. The name of the game was, “I love you, but I just can’t smile.” Or something like that. Anyway. The rules were simple. You were supposed to go up to somebody and say the words, “I love you, Joe. If you love me smile.” (Of course, you would use the person’s actual name, but I am using Joe as my example.) And Joe would reply, “I love you too Michael, but I just can’t smile.” Of course, you would be doing everything you could to get Joe to smile. Batting your eyes, sticking out your tongue, crossing your eyes, whatever it took. Now, I do not remember if there was a loser out thing or not. You know. If the person smiled, then he or she had to sit down, but if not, you had to sit down. It does not really matter though. It was great fun. You got to learn people’s names and you got to try and make them smile.

Well, it was a good thing that a smile was judged just by the mouth in that game. Because if you judged a smile by the whole face or even just the eyes, nobody would be able to win the game. Or at least nobody that I know. People would have downturned mouths and say, “I love you too, but I just can’t smile.” But their eyes would be sparkling and their body language was that of laughter and mirth. And of course, most people could not even keep their mouths turned down into a frown. Maybe it is just the word smile that makes people smile. Or that you just cannot say love without some happiness in your soul.

At any rate, I know that there are sad people out there. There are people who wonder what people are thinking because they cannot see their whole faces. But I would suggest that whoever said it was right. The eyes are a window to the soul. At the very least, they are an indicator of whether somebody is smiling or not.

I know that people will not always be wearing physical masks. I also know that there are people who have worn masks long before they were fashionable. But either way, we ought to be able to tell whether people are smiling behind those masks or not. After all, everybody smiles (and frowns and pouts and emotes) with their eyes.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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They Mostly Get Social Distancing · 25 April 2020

Costco Logo

This work is in the public domain.

I was not going to write anything else about COVID-19 or social distancing or the pandemic or cabin fever. Then, I went to Costco.

I had heard that Costco was the place to shop during the pandemic of 2020 (anticipating that I might see another in my lifetime), but I was not really wanting to go there. Especially since I had no idea whether they had toilet paper there or not. (I have no real idea whether there will be another pandemic in my lifetime, but I will make sure to have enough toilet paper.) Actually, we did not need toilet paper, but I was sorely tempted to get some when I was there. Simply because it was there.

When I first got to our (fairly) local Costco, I thought it looked pretty normal. The parking lot was not overflowing like usual, but there were plenty of people there. The one strange thing though was that there were no lines at the gas pumps. I guess people really are not going anywhere in our neck of the woods. Which is good news.

After I parked and got out of the car, I got just an inkling that something was different. There were signs that said, “ENTRANCE” pointing to the right of the entrance to the store. That was weird. The entrance was right there, but the sign said to go farther away from the entrance to actually enter.

Still, the store entrance looked mostly normal (besides that sign). It looked like all the carts were lined up ready for people just like always. But as I got closer, I realized that my perception was wrong. There was a line of people waiting to get in. I almost turned around, got in my car, and drove home, but realized that I had to at least check it out a bit closer.

What I realized was that the carts were not lined up like normal and that the line was not just a line of people waiting to get in. The people all had carts between them so the line was not as long as it looked. And the carts! Oh the carts were something special. The carts were arranged in a maze pattern. Well, not really a maze. They were set up like the ropes in the lines at a ride at your favorite amusement park. People (and carts) had to zig zag back and forth several times before they got to the entrance. But the rows of carts were two carts wide so that people were six feet apart one way and since everybody in line had a cart, they were six feet apart the other way too. Plus, they had signs telling everybody to keep six feet apart. So naturally, everybody was six feet apart.

At any rate, I saw all this as I followed the sign and got to the back of the line. There I was met by a person giving out freshly disinfected carts. I even watched as another person sprayed the carts with what I presumed was disinfectant. (Earlier, I had seen this person walking from the entrance to where the carts were and thought that she was getting ready to spray poison on the weeds. She was merely getting her supply ready to spray poison on the germs.) It was quite the operation just to get people into the store.

Inside the store, people were friendly enough. But not quite as talkative as normal.

“Oh, you’re getting bananas? I love bananas.”
“I would try that if I was more adventurous.”
“They have the best chicken here!”

Still, it was a public place with people who have germs. So I get it. The normal banter was not so normal anymore. Instead, you could almost hear the germophobic thoughts of some.

“Stay away! You have germs!”
“Don’t breathe your infected breath on me!”
“Stay six feet away!”

Flatten the Curve
by RCraig09
(Alteration: size changed)
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Okay. I do not know that anybody really thought the last one. But there were signs everywhere that said to keep your distance from others. (Six feet away.) Even the employees’ badges said it. “Keep six feet away.” (No exclamation point.) They were still as friendly as usual. As long as you kept your distance. Six feet away.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was that the checkout line went winding through the store all the way to the back and up the far aisle. It seemed crazy. Still, the line went pretty quickly. (By the way. If you like computer simulations, there is a problem that people like to solve and simulate about whether it is better to have one long line or individual lines to the checkout.) Since the line went by the toilet paper, I was tempted to get some. I know. It sounds crazy. After all, I got some the last time I was there, which was before the stay at home order. We still had plenty left. But still, for some reason, I thought that I should get some. Just in case. All those people who hoarded the stuff early on could not have been crazy. Could they? (Ah pandemic. Take dem out of pandemic and it is panic. Not sure who dem are, but they must be the sane ones.)

The last thing that showed me Costco had something going was the checkout. They had plexiglass shielding between the checkers and the people. And it was interesting that they had gone back to the way grocery stores used to be. They unloaded my cart and put it on the conveyor. I remember when every grocery store was like that. Ah the good ole days. Way before the pandemic of 2020. I also amused myself thinking that watching them disinfect the shielding was somehow comforting. When my total was figured, I grabbed my own receipt out of the printer and away I went. I held my receipt up to the person at the exit (also behind a shield) and I was out of there.

The most interesting thing about my trip to Costco was that it took about the same time as it always did. It did seem a bit less crowded than usual inside, but that could have just been some strange trick of perception. (Or everybody keeping six feet apart.) Still, I think that the Costco folks have gotten it right. Maybe they are even onto something for the future. Who knows? (Actually, I am pretty sure we will go back to being our normal impatient selves and will go back to crowded shopping.)

When I look back on my two or three pandemic shopping experiences, I marvel at Costco. It is certainly necessary that they stay open. And not a few of their employees seemed a bit anxious about that. Still, they seem to be doing it right. Just make sure to stay six feet apart.

© 2020 Michael T. Miyoshi

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