Archive for the ‘Behind the scenes’ Category

Catching up a bit

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. I’ve been busy at work, I’ve been dragged down by my seasonal allergies (when I’m congested, I can’t use my CPAP), and I’m just getting over a bout of food poisoning (my own fault, embarrassingly). They’re all just excuses, though. I haven’t felt motivated to post, and that’s the real reason.

I did want to mention this past Monday evening, though. I have a number of Jewish friends and acquaintances, and I was invited to a Passover Seder that was held at a local community college. It was a nice evening; I had fun, met some nice people, and ate some interesting food. Couldn’t sing along with anything, but I did get to do a reading.

The amusing (if offensive) portion of the evening was on the way into the venue, though … the local chapter of The Gideons was passing out New Testaments just outside the entrance. Legal, I know, and I’m not arguing that it shouldn’t be; I’m saying it was tasteless and offensive. I know it was important from their point of view, but I still think they shouldn’t have done it.

Is there a reason for this?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I’ve been looking for productivity apps for my phone and tablet lately, because I’ve been wanting to improve my productivity. However, I’m also somewhat concerned about my privacy, so I’d prefer to use applications that don’t require me to obtain an account in order to use them. Most of the Kanban apps require accounts on their service, but I’ve found two that don’t, and I’m checking them out.

I understand that certain applications really do need access to a server in order to implement the full set of capabilities. But riddle me this, Batman … why the hell does an editor require me to sign up for an account? What capabilities does the server provide in this case? I mean, I was able to do search and replace, automatic word wrap and hyphenation, and other such functions back when I was using an Apple II. Is my smartphone less capable? If they’re going to keep my files on their server, no thanks. That’s why I make backups, and that’s why Apple provides iCloud. What’s their value-added here?

I’ve deleted the application, because it doesn’t just have limited capabilities without having an account – it won’t let you use it at all until you sign up for an account. You can’t even find out whether the available help information tells you why the account is needed. I really wish the app store required developers to state whether their app was usable without an account; it would make my selection process easier.

DirecTV has just lost a customer

Monday, September 12th, 2016

I’ve always had occasional reception problems with DirecTV, in this house, anyway. Their website claims that on rare occasions, extremely bad weather can cause very short losses of reception. My experience is that anything more than a light drizzle will knock out reception completely, often for hours.

Back at the end of July, I started seeing my video go blocky on all channels, with accompanying audio garbling. It’s the sort of thing you see when you lose sync in decoding a video file. My initial suspicion was that the antenna had become misaligned, and the receiver wasn’t getting a full data stream. I called their support line, and we went through various fixes for about an hour. I had to cut the call after an hour because I had to get to a class, but the last thing they recommended was doing a local reset of the receiver (they’d already done a remote reset). That apparently cleared things up for about a month, but it could have been coincidental, because the problem came back about a week ago.

It started with messages stating that the receiver was looking for a satellite signal, but that would go away after a few seconds, and nothing was affected, anyway. After a day or two of that, my video became blocky, with garbled audio, just as before. Tonight was the first time I had a long-enough block of time to call for support, because if your problem isn’t addressed by the FAQs on their website, you have to call them on the telephone.

After explaining the situation to the person who answered, I was told that I had to provide my cellphone number so that I could receive AT&T texts and other notifications. I didn’t realize that I had AT&T services, because I don’t, but they’ve apparently bought DirecTV, and you can’t get help without giving AT&T your cellphone number.

She did a remote reset of my receiver, which didn’t help, and I didn’t expect it to. While that was in process, she tried to upsell me on NFL Sunday Ticket and an $8/month warranty to save $50 if a service call needed to be made. I declined both. I like football, but I’ve been watching it less in recent years, and the last service call I required was when I had DirecTV installed when I moved here almost a decade ago. It’s also pretty tacky to try to sell me premium services when I’m asking for help because basic services aren’t working.

She then asked me to disconnect and reconnect all of the cables, which I had done back in July, and which had no effect. Next, she told me that I needed to get a technician from my television’s manufacturer to make a service call and determine what the television’s problem was. I told her that it was not a television problem, because shows that I’d recorded on the DVR prior to the problem’s recurrence could be watched without problem, the over-the-air antenna did not show the problem, and watching DVDs did not show the problem.

She reiterated that the required next step in troubleshooting was to have a technician from the manufacturer examine the television.

I hung up. I’ve been contemplating getting rid of DirecTV for a while, and the fact that I can expect neither reception nor service has tipped the balance for me. I’ll drop by the local office tomorrow after work and let them know – I’m not going to sign up for a new account on their website just to cancel service. Probably can’t do it online, anyway.

Ok, I get the idea. No garden this year.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

My garden area is small, and too shady to really grow good vegetables, anyway. I do try, because I like having a garden. Mostly, what I can grow successfully are herbs, and that’s ok by me. I made a fair amount of a nice oregano pesto with last year’s crop.

This year, however, the weather has been against it. I’ve got a hops plant that I planted last year, which got about 6′ tall by the end of the season. This year, it was about 9″ tall when a late snow hit it in March, breaking the tallest bine. Then, most of the leaves were stripped from it on May 9th, when a hailstorm came through. Small hail, but lots of it. My oregano and sage made it through without trouble, and the strawberries were damaged, but not badly.

Today, we had another hailstorm. One of my neighbors told me that there was 2″ of hail on the ground in places. It was almost all gone by the time I got home from work. The weather report said it was quarter-sized hail, although what was left on the ground when I got home was much smaller. There are no leaves left on the hops plant. At all. My oregano is about half the height it used to be. The sage (with its woody stems) is the same height, but with fewer leaves. The strawberries are no longer visible.

I think I may write off the garden. I’m not sure how far I’d need to go to find a nursery that didn’t have all their outdoor plants blasted by the hail.

Not an auspicious start to the day

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

I’ve been home sick for the last two days, and I’m still under the weather.

This morning, after sleeping in until about an hour ago, I got up to make breakfast. In the process of getting the ingredients together, I managed to knock over an open bag of chestnuts and drop an egg on the floor. In the process of cleaning up, I managed to knock over all of my brooms and mops.

The cats still haven’t come back into the kitchen. I think I’m going back to bed before I do something to accidentally start World War III.

Throwaway tech

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

I took my iMac in to the local Genius Bar on Saturday. It no longer boots, and I was having display problems before the “won’t boot” condition occurred. I’d looked into the display problems, and they were apparently caused by overheating damaging the RAM chips on the logic board. Presumably, leaving my system on for long periods (among other things, I used it as the main server on my home network) was what led to the problems.

The RAM can’t be replaced, of course, so I presumed repair would require a new logic board, and I wanted to find out just how much that would cost.

Well, the tech at the Genius Bar did get it to boot a couple of times, and the sensor diagnostics indicated no overheating problems. Trying to run some of his other tests didn’t work, though, and he couldn’t boot/run the more in-depth tests that may have isolated the problems. Therefore, replacing the main logic board is the minimum that seems necessary to get the system running again. Unfortunately, my iMac is a “late 2006” model, and Apple no longer manufactures replacement parts for it. If I want it fixed, I have to go to an aftermarket repair facility. Looking on line, used logic boards run about $500, and labor charges can only add to that.

The tech at the Genius Bar suggested that my best course of action with the old iMac would be to sell it to one of the local aftermarket repair facilities for parts, because there’s still a demand for iMacs like mine. I imagine I’ll end up doing that. Although my company did send me for training in surface-mount soldering last year, I have no way of determining what to replace to solve the problems, and scattershot replacing of parts is likely to be expensive, with no guarantee of success.

For a system with 1GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, that’s not worth it to me. A new iMac runs about $1100 for the low-end model, which would give me a system with better display, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of hard disk. I’m not sure I’ll do that, though. I have a “late 2011” MacBook Pro I’ve upgraded to its maximum RAM capacity and a large flash drive that serves most of my needs quite well, so I can get by for the foreseeable future without buying anything new. For file server purposes, I may see how well my Beaglebone Black works.

Poetry time

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

I wrote this a few months ago, and figured it would be good to get it off the 3×5 cards it’s on and put the verses in order, so here it is:

The Tattoo of Dorian Gray

His friends got him drunk one night last November.
When he woke up, regrets were the plan for the day.
What possessed him to get it, he doesn’t remember –
The tattoo of Dorian Gray.

Each morning, he gets up and looks in the mirror.
When he sees it again, his face turns away.
The horror he’s seeing just couldn’t be clearer –
The tattoo of Dorian Gray.

He knows that without it, his life would be better.
He wishes that he could just wash it away.
It cannot be covered by shirt or by sweater –
The tattoo of Dorian Gray.

His life’s getting worse, and he’s feeling quite tired.
He thinks its appearance grows worse every day.
He’s always regretting the night he acquired
The tattoo of Dorian Gray.

I suppose I can consider myself lucky

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Because I fixed breakfast at home today, I found a problem in time to handle it fairly cleanly.

When I eat breakfast at home, I take my vitamins. One bottle was empty, so I went into the basement to get a replacement. Smelling something unpleasant, and knowing that the cats’ litter box had been dealt with last night because trash gets picked up this morning, I looked around and noticed a wet spot at one corner of the freezer. When I opened the door, I found this:

Freezer

The cookie dough on the top shelf I wasn’t concerned about. Everything on the next shelf down and in the door was defrosted. Items on the bottom two shelves were still frozen solid. I took about fifty pounds of meat that had been defrosted for who knows how long out to the trash. It might have still been ok, but I’d rather not chance it – I lost 15 pounds of weight after I got sick in Bulgaria, and I wasn’t keen on losing any more that rapidly.

I say I’m lucky because I discovered it before the trash pickup came; I’d not have liked to have it hanging around for another week. Now, I’ll be looking for a chest freezer – I’ve had to prop weight against the freezer door to keep it closed.

So long, Butch. I’ll hold down the fort.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

When I first met Butch, it was at a party hosted by Paul, the guy my friend Sarah was living with. She and her sister Penelope were entertaining the guests with their antics and by generally being cute. The next New Year’s Day, Sarah called and said, “I’m leaving Paul. Can I stay with you for a few days until Marsha can take me in?”

I told her of course she could. She showed up later that day with Orson, Butch, and Penelope in tow. A few days later, she and Orson moved in with Marsha, leaving Butch and Penelope with me. They were both about a year old at that time, and having two not-quite-kittens around was fun.

A week or so later, Sarah said Paul wanted one of the kittens, so Penelope left, because Sarah thought Penelope would be less likely to get into serious trouble there (Butch had a lot more … personality). A couple years later, when Butch sneaked into the dryer after I’d finished my last load and got trapped, I figured Sarah had been correct.

She used to sleep with me. We’d go to bed, and she’d wrap her hind legs around my upper arm and knead my neck for a while. She’s the only cat I’ve known that snored. After a few years, she started putting on a lot of weight, and I acquired Kiki to be a playmate for her. That didn’t work out, and I had to banish both cats from my bedroom at night.

There was never enough lap time for her, and she’d let you know if she thought you weren’t petting her properly. She was a very loud cat until recently, and was a shedding engine from the day I got her. I remember telling Sarah about a week after she left Butch with me, “I had no idea that I had such a cat hair deficiency in my life!” She loved to spend time in the garden, even though I didn’t let her out much or without supervision, since she was declawed before I got her. If I didn’t supervise her closely enough, she’d start exploring the neighborhood.

A couple of years ago, she started losing a lot of weight and her fur got ugly. The doctor prescribed thyroid medication, which stabilized her weight around 9 pounds (down from a 15-pound peak). The medicine helped a lot, bringing back her appetite, letting her put a little weight back on, getting her fur back in shape, and making her healthier overall.

It’s no longer enough, though. Her appetite’s been lessening for a few weeks, and now she’s pretty much stopped eating. She can still get onto her favorite furniture, but she’s not steady on her feet, and sometimes has to try twice or more to jump onto a lap. Last night, she stopped to lie down three times going from her chair in the living room to the food dishes in the kitchen. This morning, for the first time in years, she wasn’t outside my bedroom door to let me know that she was ready for breakfast. She was already in the kitchen, lying down on a rug near the food bowls. She did eat a little, but threw it up almost immediately.

At 9:00 this morning, we went into the vet’s office. Once we were in the examining room, I kept Butch on my lap and petted her until the vet asked for her weight. She was 6 pounds. She lay down on the counter and I continued to pet her until the end. The vet came back shortly with two hypodermics. We put her on a towel and he gave her a muscle relaxant. Less than a minute later, she looked almost as though she were asleep, but her eyes were still partly open. Her breathing was so slow and shallow that I thought she might not even need the second shot. Shortly thereafter, I said “Goodbye, Butch” as he gave her the euthanasia injection. Her breathing stopped almost immediately.

At 9:35, I left with a cat carrier full of about 17 years of memories.

UPDATE: I almost forgot – I wrote a poem for her several years ago.

Partners in Crime
An Ode to US Patent #5443036

A mighty huntress is my Butch, a cat both fast and agile.
I try to keep her occupied, and far from all things fragile.
She is a wild barbarian cat – can’t find a toy? She’ll make one.
If laundry isn’t put away, she’ll find the socks and take one.
But better far than sock of mine is spot of red from laser.
Although she never catches it, it doesn’t seem to faze her.
She’ll chase it ‘cross the floors and walls, and track it on the ceiling.
She chatters when it goes too high, her frustrations revealing.
We have fun; I think it helps to keep her lithe, not fattened.
Although, it seems that we’ve been violating someone’s patent.
Must I pay a license fee, else suffer time in jail?
I don’t think that appeals to me, and Butch won’t go my bail.
The patent office may proclaim they’re only following rules,
But when they granted this one, I think that they were fools.

Plumb and Plumber

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Saturday was a slightly worrisome day. I was trying a new bagel recipe, and the dough was stiff enough that my stand mixer (a 6-quart KitchenAid) quit while kneading. I called Marion to let her know that these would likely be the most expensive bagels she’d ever had. I then went online to look for troubleshooting and repair information.

Luckily, it was only a thermal cutout to prevent damage from overheating. Half an hour later, the mixer worked without problems.

The other problem was that one of my cats decided to start disassembling the toilet in the ground floor bathroom. Nothing serious, but whichever cat it was (and I have my suspicions) had removed one of the caps that cover the bolts that hold the toilet in place, and had been batting it around as a toy. Idiot beast.