greatbear: (me and mom)
For someone who has problems getting around and has to work on anything that involves standing or exertion on a 15 minute on/15 minute off work cycle, I seem to have quite a few irons in the fire. The door project spawned several concurrent sub-projects, which was actually planned for the most part. What wasn't necessarily planned was how many sub-projects ended up being spawned from this main one. The good news is I am finally putting to use a lot of the supplies I had gotten in the past. The only thing I could say that is bad about it is slows down the individual pieces of the puzzle as a whole. I don't mind this in the least, because the concurrent bits are taking less time by far than if they were done piecemeal. I brainstorm along the way, and discover ways to make things work better and build-in paths for future upgrades and easier maintenance. For example, I've had an alarm system for the house I bought all the way back around 1995. I'm finally installing it. I hid the sensor for the door in the frame, and ran the cabling for it since I had the wall apart. Yesterday I hid a conduit in the closet so I had an easy way to run wiring from the basement (where all the brains are) into the attic. So today I was able to connect the little dome camera above the door into the switches in the basement in record time. I should've done this years ago. I gave it a test run tonight, and I am beyond pleased. I have full-HD, 3-megapixel, bulbous video:

The camera does not have "night vision" using infrared LEDs as an invisible floodlight. But the automation system will turn on the light above the door as someone approaches, and if things are set to do so, a pic can be taken and sent to wherever I am, and this also starts a video recording. If it's someone I know, and they need to get into the house, I can unlock the door from across the country (or planet, for that matter, wherever I can get interwebs) and lock it when they leave. It has been a lot of fun messing with this stuff. I do the noisy work during the day, and when Jeff hits the sack early in order to get up a 0dark30, I can quietly fiddle with the electronic end of it. While everything does tie together in one way or another, if the automation were to go on the fritz, everything can work manually, and life is the same as it usually is. Having had unfortunate delays for years that kept me from doing these things earlier meant that technology has improved immensely, and not only is this sort of stuff mure capable and reliable, it's much easier to install and integrate.

Things weren't all peaches and cream, though. I hopped into the MINI to run a couple errands and I noticed the passenger's seat was wet. I then noticed the window was slightly open. Okay, no biggie, it's been raining like crazy lately, close the window. All it did was squeak and move a a fraction of an inch. I tried to lower it, and it went maybe an inch at best. Then it wouldn't go back up. Even wrestling with the glass didn't help much. So, now I have an unexpected little project. Strange that it's the passenger's side, which doesn't get used nearly as much. This also makes i the first real problem I've had with that car in over 11 years. I did have some minor problems when I first got the car that were taken care of under warranty, and last year I replaced the speakers because the ones in front failed. So today I have been drying out the car and will look into it during the weekend. Most likely it's the window lift mechanism. I would have simply parked the car on the carport where it normally sits off season to keep the rain out until I can fix it later, but the trailer is parked in the way. I'd rather fix it and be done with it.

The one thing that really took the wind out of my sails happened the other day. Since I needed to get into the entryway closet to not only install the conduit, but also do some serious cleaning and prep for the new floor. Inside the closet was a few of Mom's coats, most of which ones that I had yet to find a good home for. One of them was one I was keeping, it was a mink-trimmed coat she had gotten around 1970. She was very proud of this coat, since we were not well-to-do in my earlier years, she had scrimped and saved to buy this one thing to make her feel a bit more elegant. When I pulled the coat out, I noticed a hole. My first thought was that moths had gotten in and chewed on it. Upon further inspection I found the right sleeve has been totally destroyed by a mouse, who nested in it and chewed away the better part of the sleeve and even some of the fur trim. I completely lost it. I wanted to just throw everything away at that point. After a while I regained a bit of composure, but my will was shot and my enthusiasm for the projects was dashed. There is absolutely no hope for the old coat now, so I will cut off the remaining fur trimmings and toss the rest. I've had a fair share of "physical memories" like this ruined over the years, mostly from outside forces. And it reopens old wounds, puts me mentally is a dark, cold place, and my willingness to be outgoing and to do things becomes impossible. I eventually recover, but momentum is slow to build once again.

I am hoping that progress and my limited mobility keep improving, or at least maintain their current state. We have a lot of plans and trips for the very near future, and Jeff needs a huge break too. My work is giving me pleasure for the most part, and we could use some downtime fun.

In the spirit of my 2.8mm wiiide-angle view, it seems ol' Homestarrunner and gang are back for the first time since 2008 with a new cartoon.

Happy weekend, everyone!
greatbear: (forearms)
People driving past La Casa must wonder if we either have 1) lots of people living in the house, or 2) are constantly throwing parties. Sadly, the seven vehicles (three trucks and four cars) belong to just the two of us. Add in the 30 foot trailer and parking at Mayhem Acres sometimes takes some planning. I also have to remember lots of license plate numbers. This is not so bad, but for some odd reason I always seem to have a mental block remembering the plate number of my Dodge Stratus. The rest? No problem. The Strat, as I call it, is my usual daily driver. Though it's 14 years old, it's never had any serious problems, is pretty economical if I keep my foot out of it, and the parts for it are cheaper than average. Jeff and I used it as our ride of choice when we would travel, since it's something he can easily drive (no stick shift like the MINI Cooper,, or as long as a bus like the Silverado, for example). Since Jeff recently bought a new car (a 2015 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium), some of the wear and tear on the Stratus has been relieved. It's a nice, roomy and economical ride with some cool gadgetry like the Eyesight collision avoidance system that also acts as an adaptive cruise control and will even give you a gentle reminder if you are sitting at a light, it turns green and you don't immediately start moving. It senses the road around it with a pair of cameras on either side of the rear view mirror, can alert you if you veer from between the lines, there's an animal or object in the road ahead and even stop the car at speeds below 20mph and you might be distracted and a car stops ahead of you. There's also the (required for 2015 models) rear-view camera and lots of other cool tech to get the geek on. This is Jeff's first brand-new car after all these years, and, so far, he's loving it. The subject came up a while back about what to call the car, if anything. I keep calling mine The Strat, Jeff started calling it the Subie, then I started calling it the Cubaru. For kicks, I went to see if CUBARU was taken as a vanity plate, and it wasn't. And surprising, given how many people around play guitar, neither was STRAT. My original plates were fading and the rear plate had a hole in it and was buckled from being rear-ended many years ago. So...

I am far too lapsed to be considered a guitarist these days, maybe I should bone up on my playing to do my two-meaning plate justice. My finger joints and my damaged shoulder make that difficult. Practice might not make perfect, but at least I could fake it. Jeff, however, needs no practice in being a cub. :)
greatbear: (old graybeard)
A couple weekends ago, during our monthly (give or take) visit north to visit to visit Jeff's parents, I took my quadrotor "drone" with me to try again to get some aerial photos of their house. I wanted to create a framed aerial photo similar to one I wrote about a while back. My first attempt was thwarted by unexpected problems with the GoPro camera that's attached to the drone. It locked up when I started the 2-second-per-photo shutter sequence (and I didn't know this until I had flown the rig for about fifteen minutes), and I had to remove the the camera from the mount in order to remove the battery and reset the camera. The glitch wiped out my settings and I had problems getting the camera to work right during the second flight, so I flew the thing around for the benefit of Jeff's youngest nephew instead due to time constraints, and figured I would try again in about a month. So after some tinkering with the camera I buzzed the yard, the neighboring farm and buffalo, and did some high-altitude shots of the general area. This time was successful. I have plenty of usable shots for the aerial photo, plus some other cool pics from up high.

While bringing the rig down, I noticed an Amish family trotting by. The kids in back noticed the drone at first and the family stopped in the street in front of the house to watch. I lowered the rig for them to see it better, but doing so, I momentarily lost it in the sun. When I moved to see it again, I was temporarily blinded and could not tell which end was which, so my attempt at getting a closer-in shot of the buggy and company ended up being several photos of the side yard and an old barn instead. All the better, anyway, since most Amish are not fond of having their pictures taken. After a few moments of looking (they seemed more to know what the floating thing was more than being totally puzzled), they trotted off up the road. I admire the Amish, they all are friendly and outgoing in this area, and despite being very traditional, they are not totally averse to some of the latest technology, as long as they can use it in their own way and it makes their work more efficient. Cell phones, cordless power tools, generators and the like help them get more work done, yet can be completely turned off and out of their lives at home. They've also treated Jeff's mom and dad very well over the years, you'll recall when their house burned down they were ready to begin cleaning up that very day and help dad begin rebuilding. I feel a bit of kindred spirit with the Amish, aside from the lack of technology and cools stuff as well as the entire religion thing, We are both very self sufficient, independent, helpful to others, and like the results of hard work and craftsmanship. If I were to get the required hat and lose the mustache from my beard, I could fit right in. But the mustache stays.

Here is my favorite shot of my buggy encounter:

greatbear: (zep runes)
It was nice walking into the tiny record store and perusing the new and used stuff inside. Buying the LP of something I got a couple years ago on CD on its release date was throwback-y satisfying. Even more smile inducing was getting the audiophile re-press of a record I had for decades then bought the CD when it was finally released in that format. Better still was buying the new reissue of a record I played to death, giving the worn-out copy to a friend when I saw it was reissued way back when yet kicking myself because the reissue was simply the two LPs stuffed into a single sleeve bereft of the tri-fold jacket, art and lyrics of the original. I had gotten the CD when it finally came out, of course. The reissue on the 40th anniversary brought back the original jacket style and art, plus 180g discs that sound fantastic. Said records became a nice little break as we've been unpacking things, getting the house back in shape and doing other everyday tasks.

I have terabytes of music ripped from my CDs and other sources ready to play at the clicking of some buttons. I can play a small batch of music and not hear the same song for weeks. Many of these are high-resolution tracks that exceed the fidelity of CDs by a factor of four or more. Convenience rules the day. Yet nothing can compare to playing records. I have to get up every now and then to turn the records over or change them lest I be greeted by silence. It feels like an event, an actual performance. There's no handling a digital file and reading the liner notes. There is also the unmistakeable smell of records that can never be duplicated.

Life sounds good.
greatbear: (forearms)
(Caution: electronics geekery ahead, if that ain't yer bag, skip to your next post)

Planned obsolescence? It's alive and well, even if it wasn't intentional.

Once again, out of the blue, I notice that a speaker has gone bad, this time in a portable TV set. The little set has a pair of them, the right channel was dead.

This in the third speaker that has failed in the fashion, and I've had hard drives and a tiny DC motor fail in the same way rather recently. What do these all have in common? Magnets. Small permanent magnets. And in all these situations, the magnets were all "rare earth" neodymium magnets. I love me some neodymium magnets. Tiny, strong as shit, make so many things more efficient, lighter and more powerful, blah blah blah. In my latest repair job, I noticed my little 9" Panasonic combo TV/DVD player was missing the right channel (don't laugh, this tiny set, which I used to take camping, is the third most-watched set in the house, it sits atop my studio/AV workstation desk, along with a DTV converter box to make it usable). The right channel was a scratchy, low volume mess typical of a stuck voice coil. This time, I had a pretty good idea what was going on, as I had replaced two speakers in two completely unrelated radios with the same problem. It's not as if I was blaring these sets at full volume or otherwise misusing them, quite the opposite, in fact, these devices are taken good care of.

In all these units, the speakers resemble those old-school alnico magnet speakers you'd find in any one of a bazillion transistor radios from decades past. These have the advantage of having a small magnet structure that is self-shielding. But rather than the slug of alnico making up the magnet inside the cup, these speakers now use a neodymium disk magnet along with a similar-sized pole piece atop the magnet to concentrate the field in the gap. What look like cheap little speakers are instead rather efficient and make strong sound from rather small amplifiers. These speakers have decent power ratings for their size (the TV ones are rated 1W, the radios were 3W, all speakers from different makers were 3") and belt out reasonable sound for what they are. What seems to be the trouble with all this cheapass speaker goodness? Neodymium magnets have a coating, in most cases a shiny metallic silver nickel or ceramic coating. Typical strontium magnets, those dark grey disks sandwiched between two pole pieces, are almost never coated. The material is inert, after all. The neodymium material, which is actually an alloy of neodymium, boron and iron, pulverized into a fine powder and sintered (pressed together and heated with a bonding agent) corrodes easily when exposed to air. These magnets are sealed to prevent this from happening. Well, such is the case in a perfect world...

Apparently these magnets had little if no coating to seal out the air, and it didn't take long for these magnets to revert to their original pulverized metal components. The magnets literally turn to dust, filling the magnetic gap with magnetic powder and jamming the voice coils in place. Of course, the mushy remains of the magnet become unbonded from the structures and flop around in the gap as well, freezing the VC even tighter. Nothing looks wrong with the speaker from the outside. Cutting out the cone, spider and coil, and lifting out the remains of the magnets reveal all. The magnet resembles a half-dissolved metallic aspirin sitting in a puddle of water.

Another pic of the entire speaker taken apart )

I was able to root around in my stock of parts and find a decent pair of magnetically shielded 3" speakers to replace the ones in the television (though they just fit, being that the magnets were ten times the size of the originals) and everything worked out well and cheap (as in free), since I harvested the little speakers from a set of PC speakers I was discarding. I've also discovered it's damn near impossible to find these small commodity speakers that used to hand on the walls at the local Radio Shack for years until around 2000 or so. Even my usual parts suppliers don't bother with them anymore.

Think of all the stuff made with neodymium magnets these days. Anything with a hard drive. Many modern cordless power tools. Headphones, cell phones. anything with a motor, like DVD players. Motors like the starter in cars. You name it. This set is about ten years old, and the magnets died. In a couple cases where I had magnetic flashlights with these disk magnets, the coating became scratched and the magnet corroded in a matter of months.The dust is highly magnetic and can end up in places where it might not be wanted and difficult if not impossible to remove. Some older hard rives became unusable, and when I opened them up, the magnets were toast.

I have a feeling this is going to be a widespread problem. But, hey, since no one keeps anything beyond ten years anymore, it will just end up being tossed anyway. I'm not like that. In most cases, I keep stuff a long time, especially tools.

And you thought Juggalos had issues with magnets.
greatbear: (yes)
I posted this video ages ago, but the original YouTube video was long taken down and there wasn't any replacements until late last year. Needless to say, I made sure to save my own local copy. This is Yes, playing "Parallels" from the album Going for the One. Unlike the finished product from the album, or the rather thin, early vocal rehearsal mix included in the recent Rhino reissue, this take shows the band playing the tune more as an energetic instrumental jam with Jon Andersen sitting out. Unlike the Rhino rehearsal/demo take, this one has the glorious church organ at Saint Martin's Church in Vevey, Switzerland, high in the mix. It also demonstrates, by Chris Squire's highly technical playing, this track was originally meant for inclusion in Squire's solo effort Fish Out of Water but was left out because he didn't feel it fit in with the overall style and feel of that record. I love the energy in the room, the guys are playing locked and tight, and "Parallels" takes on a different life as a pure instrumental.

Oh, how I wish the sound quality of this track were better. For its time, this track pushed the envelope a bit for studio recording by utilizing a bidirectional, high-fidelity stereo telephone link feed between St. Martin's and the studio (Mountain Studios, Montreux) to allow real time playing and recording of Rick Wakeman and the pipe organ while the rest of the band and the engineers did their thing in the studio. The resulting album track is a soaring treat for the ears, the organ serving as a constant backdrop for the harmonizing vocals and Steve Howe's practically airborne lead/rhythm guitar before taking the lead later in the song. Synths are cool and all, but you can't beat a bigass pipe organ for presence. I also kinda giggle at this video, since around the time this was recorded, I had about the same hair as Alan White (drums). And the same 'stache. Well, it was the '70s, after all.

This tune, repeated a few times as well as others were the backdrop to my day. It helped make the day better.
greatbear: (Lemming)
Right wingers, religion-addled nutcases and even self-hating closet cases go on and on about how Teh Gheys™ are out to destroy "traditional" marriage. It's all a big lie, of course, but that gigantic fact is lost in all the stupid. However, if indeed some nefarious homosexual wants to set out and eliminate so-called traditional marriage, may I suggest a drone strike!

This is actually a wedding photo shoot gone wrong. Some overenthusiastic wedding photographer and, presumably, RC flight enthusiast decided to "wed" his two pursuits by attaching a GoPro video camera to a Phantom quadrotor RC helicopter and use the contraption to take flyby/flyover video of his subjects. By the comments in the video, it seemed the first take went well and the photog decides to do another take. This one resulted in too much forward speed and not enough lift, and it literally took down the poor couple. It is kinda funny, but it could have been a lot worse. The groom received a cut on his head, but the couple still laughed it off. With four fast-spinning rotors, the thing is basically a flying weedeater.

So much for the sank titty of marriage.

I want one.
greatbear: (fucking painting trees)
Here's a rare glimpse behind the scenes at the underground bunker at La Casa Mayhem. What am I doing, you might ask? Well, once again I am directing the full power of my fully operational battle station awesome IT infrastructure to bear on an innocent old man in hopes of making him cry again. In other words, I am fixing and printing more family photos lost to the fire at Jeff's parents' place.

He has "officially" moved in today, getting his permits signed off. Jeff's phone rang this evening, announcing the number as originating from the landline rather than dad's cell, something that made us both smile. There are some relatively minor tasks that need tending there, railings for the stairs into the basement, walkways and landscaping, some of which I will help with this weekend. The trailer gets moved back to its storage space in the driveway so the yard can be repaired and grass planted in remaining areas. Right now it's raining, and the yard is pretty much a mud bog. This is typical during construction. By mid summer, the place should be looking mighty fine. Dad can finally begin to relax and start making the new house a home.

I spent a bit of a beautiful yesterday trudging around in a junkyard auto dismantling and recycling facility yesterday helping a friend collect parts for one of his cars that recently got wrecked. I managed to find a rare item, a compass/mini trip computer out of a 2000 Chrysler Sebring convertible. This is the same JA body series as my '00 Stratus, and I had wanted to hack the computer into the Strat, as it was never offered as an option. Today I took some time to tear into the dash and wiring, splicing wires and modifying the dash to accept the computer. Success! I also lucked out in that the yard also had a section which had tractors and other outdoor equipment, and I found a steering wheel that I could adapt to my old Gravely garden tractor. The original wheel is still available from Gravely, but it goes for a downright silly $160. 12 bucks later I had a perfect replacement which also got installed today while I did yearly maintenance on the tractor. So, garage duties today were productive.

My aforementioned friend and I go way back, to the 6th grade. For years he had operated his own auto repair shop, but hard times as well as disability forced him to close down. I took a lot of the equipment off his hands and set it up here at Mayhem, and there's still more to get as I make room for it. Sadly, he's not going to be in the business anymore, even the relatively short walk through the junkyard wore him out. His health has never been stellar, at 6'8" and 400-something pounds, all that weight finally is taking a toll on his well-being. While he has tried to address some issues, old habits (and a healthy appetite) are hard to break, and the lack of income and job opportunities keep him from obtaining medical help that could help. He says he is not going to undergo surgery on his back that is the major issue. I am far from a glowing example of successful back surgery, and I am one of the many examples of people he knows that are no better if not worse off after surgery. Still, he could be better off losing the ample belly he's had ever since I've known him. I've suggested it many times with no success. I worry about his future.

A week ago Jeff and I roused the pooches before the crack of dawn and took a weekday trip to the beach. We wanted to get Snickles accustomed to crowds, walking, other pets and the beach. Well, we hit on all points but the last. As it turned out, Rehoboth beach no longer allows dogs on the beach or boardwalks between Memorial Day and Labor day, and we missed the opportunity. We could've taken a trip north to the state park where the dogs are welcome, but that is a pretty quiet area and we wanted immersion education for da Snick. We were disappointed, but rather than waste the two-and-a-half hour trip, we hung out downtown and walked the dogs while doing some shopping and eating. Snickles did pretty good once he got acclimated to the surroundings. He's naturally very friendly with people, and surprisingly good with kids. He barks loudly at anyone on a bicycle. Little does he know the next step in his preparation for a Big Gay Life with us will involve not only getting used to Jeff and I on bikes, but riding along as well. I got a new pannier carrier for my bike as well as a made-for-the-purpose pet carrier which attaches. Kodi has his front-mounted carrier on Jeff's bike, with mine being a full suspension bike the best I could do is a rear mount. I will soon be taking the little guy for rides in the neighborhood. If that is a success, he and the rest of us will be ready to ride through the streets of PTown together, where the dogs are certain to be rock stars. People got a kick out of Kodi riding with Jeff, a pair of pedaled pooches is certain to bring out the smiles of passerby. Not to mention hunk/babe magnets deluxe. ;-)
greatbear: (boom de yada)
My email and messages began to light up yesterday evening from people sending me links to this YouTube video. "You're gonna love this", etc. Well, indeed I do love the hell out of this video. It has my two greatest "loves", science and music, assembled in a touching, awe-inspiring combination. And it's all real. Backstory: Cmdr Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency, is ready to bid farewell to the International Space Station after being aloft for five months. A sensation in his own right among Canadian science lovers and already a bit of a rock star in his own way, he, along with an Earth-based collection of musicians reworks Davis Bowie's 1969 masterpiece "Space Oddity" as a fitting end to his tour of duty. Definitely must-see TV.

This shows all the incredible things humanity is capable of when they put their collective minds together. I've been in awe of the space programs ever since my early youth. Even though trips into space had mostly become workaday outings that made most people lose interest, I still appreciated all that went into every trip. The recent Mars rover mission proved that there is still a lot of out-of-the-box thinking going on that rekindles that feeling of awe I had as a kid. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
greatbear: (forearms)
I've been fixing lots of things here lately; my statement in an earlier post about being a "fixer of things and builder of stuff" was far from metaphorical. What sometimes makes me laugh is how different my tasks are, often in the same day. Take these two photos for example:


Jeff's truck needed a fuel pump, and, like most vehicles produced in the last 20 years, the fuel pump resides in the fuel tank. Rather than lifting the truck, dropping the tank and have to work with dirt falling in my face while wrestling with a heavy, fuel-filled tank, I find it far easier to remove the truck's bed. The new pump assembly required a modification to the wiring harness that connected to it, and this method made me able to stay above my work, enjoying the spring foliage as a nice bonus. It's also the better method since I had to work alone. I can finesse the heavy stuff without risking my back getting more wrenched than the bolts holding the bed in place (there are eight, by the way).


The next morning and a trip to the post office to pick up more parts I had on order, I shifted gears and went small. A recent tantrum damaged my cell phone display, so it was to the internets for a cheap fix. I installed the new display which worked perfectly until four days later, where the replacement lost the image on the lower inch or so. This is indicative of a bad display driver circuit, and I ordered up another. I can practically do this repair in my sleep now. The board at the top of the photo is the amplifier out of a big Infinity subwoofer which was given to me, albeit with a problem. I found a service bulletin online, plus found some other problem parts, and the last two (the big blue capacitors) were also waiting for me at the post office. I slapped those in first, then bench-tested the amp board as I fixed up the phone. The Lab of Mayhem has it's own THX-rated sound system. I can fairly much rock my ass off with all six channels rumbling, and the all-concrete "bunker" (really) that houses the lab keeps the sound from making its way to the soundly-sleeping Jeff in the evenings. I had totally overhauled the lab, cleaning out decades of accumulated junk and did some upgrades, so I finally have a place I can tinker and make to my geeky, nerdy heart's content. The garage is next, as I have already begun to clear out junk there as well. Tonight I had my tire changing machine apart to figure out why it wouldn't clamp rims properly. A plastic cam used to position a pneumatic valve had broke in a move, and it should be something fixable with some epoxy rather than money. I find lots of satisfaction in being able to improvise or recycle something into a repair or build, rather than spending lots of money. It's like sticking it to the man.
greatbear: (fucking painting trees)
I know I haven't been the best at being a good blogger around these heah parts, so you'll have to excuse me for being busy, confused, angry, happy, uptight and introspective lately, even if that might all be in the span of ten minutes. Things seem to change abruptly with little notice. So far, most of the news regarding Jeff's parents and the fire have been okay. The house was nothing but a hole in the ground by Sunday. Paperwork regarding the insurance and other technicalities have been pushed through, and funds are available to begin reconstruction. We are all still wracking our brains regarding the contents of the house, more obscure items are still brought up. The more of these bits make it to the list, the more funds will be available to replace said items. It's not easy doing this from a distance, yet it gets done somehow.

With everything going on both up in Pennsylvania as well as around here, our nerves have been run roughshod. Jeff and I have been frustrated and sniping at one another, but as the week progressed that has softened. I tend to lose my cool a bit too easily still, as my now-damaged smartphone can attest. After 20 minutes in a parking lot trying to get the GPS to work without success, and an inability to even google the address of my next destination to enter the details into the car's nav system and five reboots (four of them not my doing) I beat the thing senseless on the steering wheel and threw it onto the floor. As immersed into technology I've been for 40 years, it still can rub me the wrong way. After the day of running around I had come home for a much needed trip to the bathroom, the same phone with the now increasing black hole of pixels consuming the display was used to locate a replacement display, the parts ordered for less than 20 dollars and one problem resolved before leaving the bathroom ten minutes later. So, yeah, I love technology as much as I hate it, I guess.

The weather here at Mayhem Acres has been becoming more spring-like, and as such, I've been doing more things outside. The pile of mulch that was suddenly abandoned will be distributed this weekend. The grass will need its first cutting this weekend as well. However, not all has been work and worry either. We had tickets to see the Pink Floyd cover band called "Brit Floyd" at the Lyric opera house. This was a fantastic show, good enough to feel like we were seeing the real Pink at their prime. The next day we went to see the Baltimore Orioles play an incredible opening day game against the Minnesota Twins. And this Saturday we have tix for Les Miserables being performed in Baltimore as well. Jeff's dad had insisted we keep to our cultural and recreational outings despite everything that has been happening. Doing so has kept both of us from being completely unbearable.

The two pooches have kept us on our toes, as is to be expected. Snickles is still a bit laggard in becoming housebroken, but is learning. It's interesting to see him take cues from Kodi. One thing about Snickles is his increasing awareness. He will watch Kodi perform some task or trick and follow right behind doing it similarly. The two of them get into extremely noisy play sessions in the evenings, at times ruffling our nerves. Surprisingly, Snickles is just as comfortable sleeping in his (now too-small) crate as he is curled up with either Jeff, me, or the both of us, sleeping through the night. Snickles is a burrower, he prefers to tunnel under the blankets and sleep against us, where Kodi stays on the surface. Snickles puts out heat like a small nuclear reactor, he is nice to have with you on a cool night. His nose, however, is almost always a sub-Arctic cold zone, and will get shoved against bare flesh without warning. The strangest doggy temperature anomaly, however, is Snickles' feet. One moment they are as cold as his nose, a little while later they feel like very warm palms. And, yes, he feels no compunction at pressing all four chilly feet against bare flesh right after slithering his way under the covers in order to warm them up. At least they warm up in a minute or so. That nose takes forever. Last night after spending a good amount of time in the basement lab, I had come upstairs. Snickles, who was sleeping with Jeff let loose a fusillade of protective barking when I had turned on the bathroom light across the hall. It scared the crap out of me, since I had never heard him use that deep, authoritative bark before. For a split instant I didn't know what was going on. After the both of us came to our senses and I calmed little Snick down, I realized that he is becoming protective of his "pack." I was proud of my pint-sized Doberman.

I have a nice surprise prepared for Jeff's dad in a week. One thing I heard him lament a few times was the loss of family pictures in the fire. A number of photos of his parents and relatives as well as shots of the kids and grandkids. The area where these photos were displayed was completely incinerated. But back in 2007 we had gotten one of those digital photo frames for his Mom, and I had brought those photos here where I scanned them and loaded them into the frame. I found the frame totally covered in smoke damage, and I'm not sure there is any hope for it. However, I dug around in the miles and miles of pretty files in the 25+TB worth of storage and managed to find the original scan files from each and every photo. In fact, when I had been scanning those photos, I would sometimes find another pic inside the frame as I removed the prints for scanning. I scanned everything. While the resolution of the scans isn't the greatest, it's enough to make a reasonable reprint, and I can retouch some of the oldest ones. A couple shots in particular are ones he said he missed the most, and those are ones I am going to print and frame for him and give him for his upcoming birthday. As much as he has talked about those destroyed photos, I believe he misses them more than the house itself. I didn't say anything to him about the possibility of having the scans since I didn't want to get his hopes up. Finding those files made my day. I just have to get some fresh photo paper and some more frames. I plan on bringing him future prints when he is least expecting of them, and I plan on having some ready to surprise him once there are walls to hang them on.

Sometimes I absolutely love technology.
greatbear: (forearms)
Any time I hear or read "Istanbul", the auto-complete routine in my brain, scrambled as it is, adds "not Constantinople", then I am subjected to a half day-long earworm of said song by They Might Be Giants. I decided to share this time, here's the wonderful version starring Plucky Duck and the Tiny Toons.

Other news from around Mayhem Acres, Snickles continues his painfully long assimilation into family life here. It's at times a rocky road to ride, what with teething, chewing and barking that puppies are wont to do, but there are also those moments of starry-eyed schmoopiness that make it all worth it. I will write more in a State of the Pooch entry later on.

I am finally clearing out the long-neglected Lab of Mayhem of hundreds of pounds of obsolete and worthless electronic gear and other cruft, carrying this activity into the garage as well. Some of the stuff is being dismantled into the few remaining usable parts, the bulk is going into boxes to be taken to the recycling center. The lab itself is getting an overhaul as well, with some new tools and supplies obtained to make and repair stuff built with surface-mount components. I've also taken some of the reclaimed parts and cobbled them into usable items; an old fluorescent arm lamp, a salvaged DC fan and filters for a range hood became a soldering fume extractor, and ancient spectrum analyzer has been brought back to life with donated components, and a number of collected items have been finally installed and put to use. I want to get this all done before the weather breaks and I spend more time outside.

Health wise, I've noticed more healing of nerves in my legs and feeling returning to my feet in the last few months. I had resigned myself to never having normal feeling and abilities in my legs post-spine surgery, but I am not stumbling as often as I had been, and I can resolve temperatures better in my lower extremities. I might not have a future as an acrobat or b-boying, but anything is better than previous numbness.

I hope all is well with my fine readers this week. Stop in and chat a while!
greatbear: (Default)
Hullo, I'm, uh, Phil, and I, um, I'm addicted to flashlights (Hiii Phiiiiil!).


Well, not so much addicted, more like a mini-hobby as I keep finding better and better ones over the years, and as my eyesight enters its second half century, I need more light to see the increasingly smaller pieces that make up my major hobbies these days. LED lights keep getting better, brighter and (sometimes) cheaper. I keep at least one flashlight in each of our vehicles, there is most likely a flashlight or two in every room of the house, and the workshop, lab and garage have plenty to choose from. This pic shows most of the "better" lights I have. I decided to gather them together, check and replace the batteries (I've lost a few good ones from prematurely leaking alkaline cells), lube the seals and threads, and gave them a good cleaning. All the lights in the pic are equipped with lithium primary or rechargeable cells, or NiMH rechargeables. No more alkalines.

The brightest of the bunch is the Kobalt 500 lumen LED light to the far right. The second brightest is, amazingly enough, the tiny Nitecore EC1 in the middle, almost tied with the big rechargeable Maglite "cop light" on the upper left. The big Maglite was just treated to a new battery pack and some repair work on the charger/holder. It normally resides in my old Dodge pickup. The little Nitecore is my everyday carry light, it has five brightness levels, a tiny red locator LED that also doubles as a low-level illumination that will last for days if not weeks on a fresh charge. The tiny light has so many features crammed into its tiny shell it ends up being a fun toy to play with.

Jeff rolls his eyes at my little addiction of flashlights, but he sure does expect one to be handy everywhere in the house. His eyes are aging along with mine. ;-)
greatbear: (candle)
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has died from pancreatic cancer. I was watching Jeopardy tonight and the show was interrupted for the notice along with a capsule history of Steve and his days with Apple. He was only 56.

greatbear: (Default)
Yay! Power was finally restored a little before noon Thursday. I can finally give the generator a rest. The thing performed admirably, not skipping a beat unless I let it run out of fuel. I would gas it up while running, a no-no as far as safety goes, but I would have to foolishly dump fuel all over the thing to even begin flirting with disaster. The Mayhem Electric Company kept Jeff and I living large 'n' in charge. Odd (and comforting, in my case) seeing our house lit up among a sea of mostly pitch-dark houses and McMansions. As it stands, I didn't even have to touch any of the last batch of fuel we bought, so it will be put in storage as it always has been, maintained and circulated through the various power equipment here with plenty on hand for the occasional emergency.

This little exercise has taught me a bit about how to better handle an extended outage as well as given me some ideas for energy management in the future if/when I decide to install a solar assist/backup system. I have a smaller generator, but it burned out years ago, the big one works well for running the entire household at once, but tends to be inefficient and overkill during minimal use periods. Since I plan to get a decent little portable to take camping with us, I want to segregate "critical" circuits like those for the fridge and freezers and some lighting that can be used with a small, load-adjusting generator as well as a solar backup system. Since refrigerators/freezers do not run continuously, and lights get switched off at bedtime, a generator that adjusts its engine speed according to load will be able to run these critical items for an extended period of time, quietly and far more efficiently than my brute force method. A gallon of fuel can last the entire night. A farm across the road from me put in a huge array of solar panels this summer, quite easily enough to offset much of the electricity used by their dairy and turkey operations during a sunny day. One day I will visit and ask them about their incredible setup. I need to take pictures. Jeff and I will be picking up a "solar powered turkey" for T-Day.

Anyway, I can now sleep in relative peace. In more ways than one.
greatbear: (fucking painting trees)
Thanks to Irene, the hurricane that so many poo-poo for not being intense enough, I am still without electricity. Well, at least that which I am not creating myself. This is by far the longest I have been without power since I built this place 23 years ago. Ice storms, hurricanes, etc, the longest I can remember being three days. When I contacted the electric company they could not give me a definite answer other than Friday before 11:30am. Despite there being minimum damage in my own yard, further down the road there is a large tree pulling the old, shabby lines down. Also, the main trouble spot of the area where the road (and the utility lines on short poles) wend their way through a little valley lined with old, tall trees. Almost every major storm drops at least one tree, either in the road, into the wires, or harmlessly into one another. That area is a mess at the moment, with at least five large trees supported over the road by the electric wires.

I hope this time the power company doesn't just take away the troublesome timber leaving the rest to take a future tumble. Some serious work needs to be done, and it has been neglected in this immediate area for years. Recently the power company did go on a trimming spree, clearing troublesome trees from the utility lines and poles. Some areas, like here, only got a lick and a promise at best. I hope they get their act together soon.

The generator has been totally awesome. While fired up, life here at the house is absolutely normal. This house is all electric. The stove/oven, the installed heat and hot water are all electric. I also have a private well, so having water at all the fixtures depends entirely on having electric power. The generator can power the house and garage, running everything except for the central air conditioner and the huge air compressor in the garage. This is all according to plans I laid out many years ago. I have connections available to attach the generator and in less than ten minutes, life is good while everything around me is dark. There is a downside, however, and it's a biggie. Said big generator has a 16 gallon gas tank. In typical use, it burns about a gallon of fuel each hour, a little less when loads are minimal. I've been pouring about 20 gallons into the thing each day. It's starting to hit our wallets hard, and I was getting rather peeved this afternoon. I told Jeff I was tired of hearing the thing and pouring fuel into it, so I shut it down saying I'd rather let all the food rot in the freezers. It did not help that a garage project turned out for the worse after being a breeze just prior. I fired the beast back up so we could make dinner, and started watching TV. The news was all about so many unfortunate souls with things going a lot worse than we have here at Chateau Mayhem. Perspective reestablished, after dinner we went once again to the gas station, with thirty gallons worth of empty jerry cans and counted our blessings.

I let the beast roar through the night last night. Since my neighbors are hundreds of feet away, noise is not a problem outside the yard. Tonight, now that all the freezers are deeply chilled I will shut off the thing and restart it tomorrow morning for a while, saving more fuel. I can quietly work on my car project with no power, and run some errands before needing to fire the thing back up for the afternoon and evening. I hope the electric company gets their act together over here soon though.

One little bonus is that the cable internet has returned, so I no longer have to use my cell phone's hotspot feature. The hotspot has been handy as all get out this summer during our travels, as well as being a nice backup. My phone can take a break now as well.
greatbear: (f.u.)
This shit is getting out of hand. First is was just smeared and wavy-gravy text. Then the silly made-up words that trip up my brain's internal autocorrect. Now the obscuration of the text has been getting so out of hand to the point where I have to refresh the captcha half dozen times or more to get something readable enough to enter, much less without errors. I'll get Greek or even Cyrillic characters, shit in sub-and superscript, equations, and shit like this:

I realize that these things have been getting tougher to decipher for us because automated solving of these things has gotten more sophisticated. But this is getting way out of hand, and this is far from the worst I have encountered. I propose that for every one of these stupid-assed messes of a captcha that shows up on someone's screen, some web programmer gets an automated, open-handed bitch slap. What say you?
greatbear: (Default)
It's about time, Jeff and I got new cell phones. Jeff needed something for texting and email that has a real keyboard, I wanted a smartphone that also has a wifi hotspot built in that was also flexible. To that end he ended up with an LG Cosmos, I got a Motorola Droid X. I'm trying the ljbeetle app for this place. My question for y'all, what are your favorite Android apps? Let me know in your comments.

Posted via LjBeetle
greatbear: (Default)
Taking a step away from my usual building of computer systems, I decided on buying an HP Mediasmart Server EX495. This is probably the high end of a class of tidy little machines running Windows Home Server. It cost less than 600 bux. About the size of a toaster, it can hold up to 4 drives and sit quietly in the LAN, performing regular backups of PCs and Macs, collecting and converting videos and becoming a repository of various digital media that can be shared not only among computers, consoles and other media players on a network, but over the internet as well. It's silly easy to set up, and quite robust. Windows Home Server is kinda like a well-kept secret, it's well respected among the geekerati, extensible and flexible, yet runs perfectly on very minimal hardware. I picked up the dual-core version (many use Atom processors) with an installed 1.5TB drive. I threw in three more 2TB drives as the thing was running, which immediately became a part of the storage pool after selecting their function. The backups ran perfectly, though cramming over 3TB from this PC alone took about a day and a half, still not bad considering the backup throttles back when the PC is in use to avoid slowdowns. My LAN handled it without a problem. The upgrades from a couple years back to Gigabit, the 24 port managed switch and whatnot should future-proof things here at Mayhem Amalgamated for many years to come, with luck.

It's a shame that this tiny server will take up residence down in the Lab of Doom and not be seen. It's a gorgeous little gloss black box, and built like a tank. The sad thing here is that these things might be on the way out. Microsoft has been working on the successor to WHS, and have removed some of the key features, most notably Drive Extender, that make the OS so simple to use and expand. Now there is talk of abandoning the product entirely. How often do companies have a great thing, then ruin it?

Now there are two dedicated and one multipurpose servers humming away here. 27.5TB total. And you know that big number will become quaint in no time.
greatbear: (Default)
Things have been slowly returning to the normalcy of such happenstance here at Chez Mayhem. Note that I did not use the word "normal" as it generally never applies. =)

I had to reschedule my PT from Friday to Saturday when the folks at G.E. decided to move their warranty repair visit from the morning to the afternoon. Me and the tech had a good talk about what was wrong, how it can be fixed, etc. It also became evident that not only am I on par with his abilities, I might be doing some of the repair work myself. I don't mind a bit.

Speaking of repairs, more and more little things have been breaking down here at the homestead. One of the two wi-fi access points bit the dust, as well as one of several digital TV converter boxes I have attached to perfectly good television sets that I refuse to simply throw away. Also, one of the power supplies used to charge a jump-start battery pack conked out. The problem with all three? Bad capacitors in the power supplies. Each of these seemingly unrelated items use a switch-mode power supply, either internally or as a plug-in box (wall-wart), made in China. The poor quality Chinese electrolytic capacitors literally blow their tops, venting electrolyte gas pressure and die. These items are not too difficult to fix, I have a stock of compatible, high-grade replacement capacitors, and a few minutes spent with a soldering iron generally not only brings whatever the device is back to life, it will not have a recurrence of that problem in the future. In the case of the wifi access point, the wall-wart was not only solidly sealed shut, it also had been potted with silicone rubber as well. Trying to scoop out that mess is not worth the hassle, I can find a compatible power supply as a replacement. In most cases of modern electronic gear that has suddenly quit working entirely or has constant erratic operation, the trouble can be traced to a low-grade, Chinese-made capacitor (or several) in the power supply that has failed in this exact same fashion. Most people will simply throw out the device because the repair, despite being easy and cheap parts-wise (the typical failed cap only costs a couple bucks at best) is too expensive. DIY rules here.

In a related note, I had predicted that DTV converter boxes would become scarce soon after the transition from analog to digital TV. I am surprised at exactly how scarce these boxes have become. No local retails stock them anymore, and can't even order them. Name-brand units are nowhere to be found for the most part online, with a smattering of totally unfamiliar brands to be had otherwise. These off-branded units often come with very low user reviews. I need a couple more of these for two more sets, plus a spare, but I am ready to throw in the towel here. Those days I have gone to the local landfill/recycling center, the 20 foot dumpsters have been brimming with analog television sets, CRT, projection and LCD/plasma. I am willing to bet that 95% of those sets have not a thing wrong with them aside from the lack of digital reception. Such a waste. I refuse to participate.

On the health front, I've been enjoying the physical therapy, along with the e-stim session at the end of the visit. The therapist has realized he needs to set the initial stim level higher for me than most people, and he also gives me control of the box. As I grow accustomed to the level, I ramp up the output to keep the feeling strong. It feels good, of course, but also jump starts (no pun intended) the nerve mending process. This has good and bad points. The good, obviously, means returning to the old me if all goes well. The bad, however, has been a bit more insidious. Since about two seeks from surgery, I've been experiencing strange, involuntary artifacts of the healing process. Just as I begin to relax and fall asleep, my body's IT department decides that since campus is closed, it's time to start fixing the network cabling. I feel little twitches in random areas from the waist down. Odd sensations out of nowhere. The worst are the sudden jumps, kicks and spasms that not only wake me up, but can hurt like hell. My left foot as of Friday has a constant bzzzzZZZZZzzzz, bzzzzZZZZzzzz, bzzzzZZZZzzzz not unlike standing in a motorboat or bus with a raucous diesel engine. I'm taking this as a good sign that the IT department is getting things done, as there is less actual numbness now on that side. So far, an occasional, sudden inability to control my right leg pops up out of nowhere for a few seconds makes life a tad dangerous. I've stumbled and lost my balance a couple times, but nothing bad as of yet. The numbness in my feet is still there, making my walking gait more like a stoner wandering outside a Phish concert.

Jeff and I were walking through Home Depot yesterday as I was picking up more stuff to use on the house fixits. A youngish, bearded guy behind the counter in the door and window section called out to us in praise of our beards and how he no longer feels out of place in the store. Beards seem all the rage these days. Not necessarily a bad thing.

I met today with the roofer to begin work on (FINALLY!) replacing the roofing on the various building that make up Mayhem Headquarters. I have to clamber up into the attic space and frame up the openings under the roof for the skylights and the sun tunnel. This is not strenuous work, but I do need to gently contort myself between the trusses and make myself comfortable for a little while to measure up the spaces, leave the attic to cut the various lumber and plywood bits that make up the framing, then head back up to screw it all into place. There is a huge advantage to this being with the framing in place, I can drill a hole in each corner once the roofing is stripped off, the draw lines on the top of the roof decking once the roof is stripped bare. The resulting rectangles are the rough-in cuts to be made for the skylights. Five minutes with a circular saw and the openings are perfectly made and the skylights only need to be fastened down and the underlayment and flashing installed as the new shingles go back down.

My interactions with the roofer, the guy from GE and the salesmen at Lowes where I bought the skylights and accessories highlight how smoothly things go when I educate myself ahead of time and have all my information ready. The salesdude at Lowes had an easy time with me (and kept reminding me of that fact) because I knew exactly what I needed beforehand and did not have to constantly ask for his opinions or help. Zip, zap, boom it was all done, all the pieces were accounted for and properly sized. My bit of OCD researching and the wonderfulness of the internet in providing all the literature, specs and relevant info instantly made life infinitely easier than the days before when I had to seek out information from distributors, salespeople and manufacturers in person or over the phone, collect all this together to make a decision then still need to get more information regarding my selections to make sure everything is kosher. With all the proper blueprints, specs, installation information and required supplies right in front of me whenever I need it, things have gotten almost too easy. I also minimize interactions with people who might not be in the best of moods, or just plain surly and stupid. But one of the best results from being well prepared is the instant respect I get from the people I am dealing with. I'm less likely to be taken for a ride, or ripped off, and the people doing the work for me don't have to contend with a ditz.

Tomorrow is Jeff's last vacation day out of the last four (excluding Wednesday) he took from work to get away from the hectic nature of his business being an UberChef. I'll miss spending the time at home with him. While we had planned to possibly go somewhere like the beach for a day, we decided just taking time off at home, doing some cool things and just taking it easy was a vacation enough for him. I just hope this week does not turn out to be hell for him. You know how it is when you go back to work after an extended absence. When I finally return in a month or so, it will be a shocker in so many ways. My department has been moved off-campus, no one like it except for the delusional upper management, and my complete loss of respect for everyone there that became cemented during my disability will make returning very difficult, and I will more than likely seek a transfer out of that completely failed hell before it gets outsourced. Won't be easy, but, hey, I've been through worse lately.

Here's hoping for a good week for everyone out there.


greatbear: (Default)

December 2016



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