Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just Call Me "Adrian Monk"

Last night I got three more techy computer books1 in the mail from Amazon, including a "new" copy of Maurice Bach's The Design of the Unix Operating System.

That has two pages with highlighting on them.

I only paid half price for it, but I absolutely hate, loathe and detest the wuckfit habit of using a highlighter on a book in the hope it will mean you don't have to take notes. I bought this particular book because it was punted as new and not unreasonably priced2. I have been trying off and on to get my hands on a copy of this since about 1990, when I first saw it, and was quite pleasantly surprised to see it back in print and widely available, but this has quite ruined the fun for me. I will have less cringe-factor when I read the very used "Building Storage Networks" which, while battered, only has the previous owner's name discretely written inside the cover. I was going to leave some negative feedback for the seller (I always try and give feedback, however useless it may become) when I noticed that the seller urged anyone with a problem to contact him before doing that, so I sent him a pointed but polite e-mail around 11 pm. The vendor replied about ten minutes later apologising for the problem, and he offered to either have m e return the book for a refund or keep it with an additional 10% discount. This entirely businesslike offer took the wind right out of my sails and I gratefully accepted it, since returning the book would leave me out of pocket. If only the LIRR could deal with customer relations in this way. "Commute buggered to hell and gone sir? how about we credit your visa with 50% of the day's commute cost?"

On the plus side, the new(ish) mouse for BiL the Elder's iBrik came today and I was able, by propping up the monitor on blocks of wood3 to provoke the wretched pile of crap to boot into it's horrible GUI4 and was able to actually do stuff. Not meaningful stuff, but stuff all the same.

I have to say that the experience of the Mac, for me, has not shown any of the "easierness" that is so often touted by Applejax. Indeed, my experience with it is that you need an electronics store, various glues, some aluminum sheet, a selection of screwdrivers, extra overpriced peripheral devices, an electric drill and a wallet stuffed with twenties just to browse the hard drive.

I spent the bits of time between eBaying and Amazoning putting Mr Brain to the task of devising a method for fixing the Apple Monitor Stand of Extreme Uselessness which, as I may have alluded, broke because the monitor felt it should be contributing more to the general G4 Jujuflop situation and collapsed under its own weight. I came up with a plan, which I am calling "The Plan (to fix Bil the Elder's Stupid Artsyfartsy Computer Monitor Stand So I Can Get the OYFOHE5 Out of My Life Forever and Get Back To The Paradise On Earth It Was Before I Ever Saw The Wretched Brick)".

Welding the plastic stand back together hadn't worked because the stresses on the joint were just too much in every conceivable direction. The weld got twisted, stretched and sheared as the Plexiglas flexed under the monitor's eight and a half ton mass6. What was needed was some way of supporting the two opposite sides of the join while preventing them slipping sideways or up and down and keeping them together against the tensile forces pulling them apart. I tried and rejected an Aluminum beam running under the arch of the "legs", then hit on the idea of two aluminum plates, one above the joint, one below, held in place with Gorilla Glue7 and fastened with two rows of nuts and bolts. The plates would spread the strain as the joint tried to twist and tear the bolts out of the plastic and help prevent new cracks forming around those bolts as a result of those forces. I chose aluminum because it was A) ductile enough to allow hand-shaping for conformance along the compound-curve of the plastic stand and 2) near at hand.

I took one of the aluminum plates I had in my non-ferrous metal supply bin, and using the slot formed by the separation from the main body of one of the leaves of the table I use for a workbench to gently work the required compound curve into the plate. Once the fit was reasonable, I traced out the edges of the stand on it with a pencil and cut it to shape using Mr Hacksaw, finishing the job by means of a half round and a bastard file. I glued this to the underside of the break after coating it sparingly with Gorilla Glue, and clamped it as best I could while the glue set up. The glue will not provide enough strength on its own. Actually, I expect the glue joint will fail quite rapidly since the Plexiglas offers little of a keying surface to grip to. Although I will take any added strength I can get, the glue is really only to hold everything in place for drilling and bolting. It is the sandwich that will provide strength in the major flex axis (up and down) and prevent twisting while the bolts provide the strength against shearing and tensile forces (smaller than the up/down force but significant). I shaped the top plate after dealing with the book problem, around midnight and once it was the right size and shape, called it a night and went to bed.

Azathoth, I hope this works. If it doesn't I will have to listen to Bil the Elder complain that I broke his computer despite my having actually resurrected the bloody thing, and I am fresh out of ideas other than junking the stand completely and designing a new one from steel or wood. Assuming it all works as planned the next job is to connect it to my cable modem to see if I can provoke it into talking to the internets. Bil the Elder's original complaint was, you may remember, that it wouldn't. He claims that was the case even before the OYFOHE iBrikked. We'll never know the real story since, like everyone not "computer literate" he didn't make a note of the error he was getting. Assuming I can get that part to work properly, step 3 is to install his digital camera software or know the reason why that didn't "just work" when we gave it to him.

Let's hope it all goes as planned and the evil anti-handyman spirits8 have better fish to fry.

  1. I've been on a small spree, techy computer book acquisition wise of late
  2. New, it costs almost $70 - for a description of the obsolete and then some SVR3 Unix operating system
  3. Which I am thinking of marketing to poorboob G4 owners under the name "iBlox" for when their monitors collapse under their own weight
  4. A thought occurs: if the Apple computer is such a delight to use, why has it seen first OS X and now the so-called "Leopard" replacements for it? Leopard is supposed to "add functionality" to the OS, but I thought OS9 "just worked", in which event, what extra "functionality" was needed? If it wasn't needed, it counts as "cruft", something Applejax are avowedly of the opinion is one of the evils of Windows
  5. Overpriced Yuppie Fadmachine of Hideous Expense
  6. Which would be approximately 4.4 Newton Hogsheads per Square Ohm Hectare in metric
  7. The only adhesive I though stood a chance of binding two such materials together
  8. Who, let's face it, aren't really needed with the OYFOHEs natural tendency to go nails-up at the drop of a hat

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Well, That Worked!

Last night, at around 11:30 pm, I descended into my basement workshop took Bil the Elder's once broken but now carefully repaired Mac monitor and stood it upright on its 1960s pop-art Plexiglas stand.

It immediately snapped again.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday Is Fix-It Day

Sunday dawned with the promise of advanced tool usage opportunities.

The Electric Magic Staff of Thundering was in pieces on the workbench, and I needed to formulate a plan to deal with it since it turned out that when the upper part had split open it had torn out some very small but very important wires. The thing had been assembled out of a set of half-staff parts that were glued together after the electronics were connected up. I had to decide whether to split the staff down its joint to do the repairs or do it some other clever way. I looked at the split, which crossed the glued seam at right(ish) angles and decided that I would be lucky if I could glue the split successfully, let alone split the staff again and glue it.

Cleverness was called for.

I glued up the split part using an industrial strength plastic solvent/welding glue containing a bunch of strongly controlled chemicals of known carcinogenic effect in the State of California. I was outside California though, so that was OK. Once I had the joint nice and molten and the two halves mated properly, I set them aside to dry and drank tea until the violent headache and hallucinations brought on by the glue fumes subsided. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the exhortation on the label to work only in well ventilated areas next time I used this product. I pondered the chances that the fumes would explode if I made more tea, and decided to do so anyway. If nothing else, valuable science would be done.

Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling had vacated the premises so I used the time to view the seminal work in the brutal rape followed by justified brutal axe-murder vengeance field: I Spit On Your Grave. The Stevieling remained by her own reports "totally freaked" after my having insisted she watch The Haunting with us on Thursday and in any event was far too young to be exposed to this sort of movie, and Mrs Stevie disapproves of brutal axe murder, even when totally justified and the axe-murderess is totally hot, so this was the perfect time. What can I say? The woman has no taste for the real meaning of Hallowe’en (naked hot women seeking brutal axe-murder vengeance in a World Gone Mad).

The movie ended just as the womenfolk returned and re-established their tyrannical rule, so I went outside to put the finishing touches to our Hallowe’en tableau - the black cat "flats" I put out on our lawn that are hard to see themselves but throw elongated, fast-moving shadows when cars pass. The effect is one of my greater successes in the Hallowe'en set-dressing field. Then it was downstairs to commence Staff Repair.

A short but very irritating interlude had to be taken when, having cleared my workbench of all the crap on it and moving the wretched OYFOHE1 to the back so I had some room to work, I paused to reflect that at least I would soon be rid of one piece of useless junk. I completed the thought and glanced down at the monitor for it sitting on the floor, at which point it let out a sharp "CRACK" and sagged drunkenly on its stupid, artsy-farsty moulded Plexiglas stand. I picked it up and confirmed what I suspected: The Plexiglas had broken.

That's right. I broke this sorry-ass piece of junk by looking at it wrong.

The base for the OYFOHE's monitor follows the design ethic of the rest of the damn thing: form over function. It is balanced on a tripod formed from a ribbon of Plexiglas that swirls in an elegant, endless, three-lobed loop forming feet for the stand, with the usual tilt and rotate bearing at the top of it. It had always seemed to me to be overly flimsy for the not inconsiderable weight of the 17" monitor, and on examination it proved to be designed with a stupid weak spot in exactly the place it needed strength: the point just to one side of the bearing mount. The Plexiglas is about a quarter inch thick on the bits that form the feet, where it could have been thinner with little compromise in strength to my eyes. But where the three legs join to form the support for the monitor, the plexi thins to about 3/16ths of an inch. Gussets have been moulded in to strengthen the thing at this point, but a quick examination showed that over the years chez Bil the Elder, these gussets had suffered a series of minor nicks and bumps as they caught on whatever was under the stand. One of these nicks must have formed the weak spot that allowed the whole thing to fail.

I looked at this triumph of modern art and compared it to the utilitarian stands that each of my monitors has, none of which have broken and one of which is over ten years old, then I sighed and began to see if it could be fixed. I ended up using the same glue I used on the staff to melt the plexi and weld it together, but because it was a stupid shape, no clamp in the world would hold the joint while it set up and the base appears to have had internal stresses in it from the get-go because it preferentially adopted a join with a 1/32nd of an inch "sideslip" in it. I'm sorry to say I didn't do battle with this and hold it by hand until it set hard (which would have taken half an hour with the thicknesses involved) but let it do what it wanted. I harboured severe doubts that the glue would hold given the stresses the joint would be put under. No doubt a new support can be found for a few hundred dollars somewhere, but I'm done putting money into this waste of perfectly good sand.

What a total piece of crap this machine is. The next person who has the nerve to tell me how great a Mac is will find themselves being challenged to defend their agitprop with verifiable facts or eat their words. Windows computer owners buy new machines because the O/S becomes obsolete every 5 years or so. Mac owners crow about this, but they also talk about buying new Macs on about the same schedule and now I know why: the damned things break down and it is too fbleeping expensive to repair them.

The repair of the staff turned out to be very challenging indeed. The first challenge was to finally discover where the hell I had put my miniature screwdrivers that had been lost to me for Lo! these many weeks. I found them in a toolbox2, grabbed a hemostat from my modelling toolbox and Mr Drill and began The Plan.

The actuating pushbutton seemed to work by contacting some sort of small circuit board which was held in place by screws. I would drill two holes a close as I could judge to being opposite the heads of those screws, then use the holes to gain access with a miniature Phillips-head screwdriver and undo the screws. The board would be recovered using the hemostat. I would solder in two new wires to replace the broken ones, feed them through the staff and solder them to the wires inside it and resolder the negative battery wire to the terminal. I would place the button assembly in its hole and position the board above it, use the hemostat to hold the screws in position and drive them in with the miniature screwdriver. It was elegantly simple.

And against all odds, it pretty much went as planned. The holes got drilled in the right places, the screws came out as planned and were not dropped on the floor and lost, the board was removed and the button assembly examined to figure out what it was doing when it was pressed4, the board repaired, resoldered and replaced with relative ease. The only hard parts were figuring out that the button had a keyway for some unknown reason and would only fit properly one way (but would fit improperly umpteen other ways) and trying to hold the board in place with one screwdriver while holding a screw with the hemostat and using another screwdriver to drive the screw despite only having two hands. It turns out the human hand is quite flexible and capable of a small amount of multitasking, and it all happened pretty much as planned without problems.

I had just finished when Mrs Stevie sounded the dinner gong and we all trooped upstairs for dinner over an early evening showing of The Innocents.

The Stevieling pronounced herself freaked all over again, and became abusive when I suggested, while trolling the DVD extras after the movie finished, that we purchase and view The Legend of Hell House, another psychological horror movie from the early 70s.

My work was done

  1. Overpriced Yuppie Fadmachine Of Hideous Expense
  2. Before you start snickering you should understand that I have several toolboxes3 and that this one was otherwise empty, fooling me into thinking it had nothing in it
  3. Off the top of my head there is the yellow one with my electrical gear in it and the yellow one I thought was empty but actually had the screwdrivers in it and the grey one that has my modeling tools in it and the red one with my paints in it and the grey flat one that has my socket set in it and the red one that has my plumbing stuff in it and the red one that has doorknob replacement tools in it and the miniature workmate one that has the self-adjusting tools, some screwdrivers, an eggbeater drill and various other things in it and the blue one that has lead soldiers in it and the big rolling red one that has three drawers of tools and a top tray of tools and the base is full of screws
  4. It turned out to be a little metal disk in a rubber cone that acted to stand it off from the circuit board that formed the switch. The button depressed the cone, the metal disc bridged a series of interleaved but isolated electrical tracks and current flowed through the switch thus formed

A Quite Productive Saturday

Tonight was the night Pete'n'Caroline were to have their Hallowe'en party.

Normally I would have been eager to get going at around 8 am, sorting out costuming and so forth since I am probably the world's biggest Hallowe'en junky. Today, however, my spirits were low on account of my having eaten food bought at a local Taco Shoppe. This food is just about guaranteed to give you an urgent reason to visit the water closet, sometimes for days on end, but I am addicted to their quesadillas and sometimes cannot gather the wit to consider the consequences. Today, those consequences would be a violent stomach ache and periodic moments of urgency, bowel-voiding wise. By evening my insides felt like they had been sandpapered then lightly salted and set on fire.

I tried not to let it get in the way of the day's chores, but I may have failed once or twice, such as when I gave my dry cleaner my shirts and replied to his jaunty "Next week all right?" by clutching my stomach, doubling over and screaming "Aaarrrgh!", and running from his place of business so that the ensuing flood of noxious bowel gasses didn't get a chance to combine with the chemicals in the air of his laundry and explode. I'm getting ahead of the day, though

I was woken from what little sleep I had had by the FedEx man bringing the right kind of power supply for Bil the Elder's wretched Mac, which has lain dead as a very dead dead thing on my basement workbench for Lo! these last eight weeks before I lost patience and fitted it with a working but not-quite-right power supply as detailed here. I immediately ran for the toilet, then went downstairs to strip out the working-but-wrong power supply and replace it with the hopefully working and right one. In about 30 minutes I once again had the dubious pleasure of seeing the Overpriced Yuppie Fadmachine Of Hideous Expense boot up, but was still unable to work on it owing to the mouse having been trashed by the tender mercies of Bil the Elder, who had managed to destroy the connecting cable by using it as a string to lash the mouse and keyboard together, dropping stuff on it (judging by the state of it) and putting it through a lye and gravel wash (judging by the marks on it).

I will pause here to remark on the mendacity of the Apple fanboy community that holds these machines to be superior in some way to the common PC. How many times have you had to listen to some applejack whining about The Blue Screen Of Death1? Now, how many times have you heard them complain of the OS 9.earlyrelease habit of hanging if you Hovered the mouse pointer over a desktop icon too long? I'll bet "never" on that last one, but dig deep into the OS 9 "issues" boards over at Apple dotcom and it's a very different story. Oh yeah, Apple computers are "better" alright, providing you don't mention their inconvenient problems that is.

In any event, I went out afterward to the dry cleaner's and afterward did some light shopping for things to add to my costume of choice - Death.

I was fairly late out of the gate this year, and had done none of the elaborate, if futile2 planning of last year. However, over the years we have amassed quite a wardrobe of dressup stuff, most of it for Hallowe'en and I had handy a Skull mask (one of those vinyl head-covering affairs) a long robe with a hood and a cord belt. I had secured a pair of Skeleton hand gloves on Friday night (just before the fateful menu choice) so I nipped into CVS to obtain a pair of black tights which I would fabricate under-sleeves from3 and while I was there I also picked up a huge plastic meat cleaver and a matching sickle. These looked great when hung from the belt. Job done.

The Stevieling had rejected outright any sort of family theme this year in favour of creating her own sorceress look, and Mrs Stevie had joined the mutiny and opted to wear her Ren Fayre gear. I was pretty disgusted with them all. You can get done up as a wench or whatever at any costume party. Hallowe'en is for making children start bedwetting again. If the child starts bedwetting at the sight of Mrs Stevie in her Ren Fayre togs that would be A) understandable and 2) no big deal because the reaction would be the same whatever Mrs Stevie was wearing. It only counts if you worked for the effect. Oh Well, I would work alone.

In addition to the various costumes we have, we have also amassed a small collection of props. This collection includes two plastic "wizard's staffs" which are topped with a monstrous claw clasping an opaque globe. The staff can be made to issue a thunderclap which is accompanied by the globe flashing in a satisfying manner, and it can be done with an unobtrusive switch so the seeming activation can be as elaborate or as simple as the user wishes to enhance the specific effect he or she is trying for in the viewer. The Stevieling lobbied to be allowed to use one of these and it was with great pleasure that I was able (for once) to reach into the basement and dig one out for her, which I fitted with batteries and tested for her.

We picked up the Stevieling's friend around 5:45 pm, put "War of the Worlds4" on the CD player to freak out the girls and set off for the party, arriving just after dark had fallen.

Pete'n'Caroline's humungous house5 was decorated outside with a very satisfying graveyard (rumour has it that next year their enormous front lawn will be one large graveyard) and we entered within to mixed reaction. Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling were welcomed with open arms. I was harangued and assaulted until I removed my skull mask for fear it would scare the bejayzuz out of the small children, several of whome were dashing around dressed as Thomas the Tank Engine, Giraffes, Horses and I don't know what else. The Stevieling and her friend went outside into the dark to play with the older kids.

And returned inside about 15 minutes later, the Stevieling's friend having lost her bracelet made of faceted black stones of some sort. Mrs Stevie marched out and by some chance found it almost immediately on the front lawn in the pitch dark.

The bracelet was lost again about 20 minutes later, and this time I recovered it with the aid of a flashlight that could put a dot on the moon. Appropos of this, I decided to box clever and said I would keep the bracelet for safekeeping. The Stevieling's friend proposed a different plan, by which she put it in her pocketbook. We agreed and I felt clever.

Until the Stevieling appeared with the shattered remains of my beloved magic staff in her hands.

When these were bought, about 8 years ago, they had a tendency to fire randomly because the springs in the battery compartment were too weak to maintain contact when the three "C" type cells were loaded. Intermittent contact caused the sound circuitry to trigger without the button being pressed, ruining the performance. It was all very irritating, so I fitted a stronger spring in each staff and cured the problem. What I hadn't thought about was what this would mean in terms of stresses on the body of the thing though. The way it was constructed, the spring would cause the staff to be stressed at the point where the battery door was fitted, where the "wall" of the hollow staff only went just over half way round the circumference.

I had warned The Stevieling that all the weight and mass was at one end, an that she needed to be a little carefull how she held and waved the staff because it could conceivably break6, and this advice was good because it had. Broken that is.

The Stevieling appeared almost in tears with a handful of batteries and, Azathoth be praised, all the component parts in her hands. I took a look, did an inner "Aarrgghh!" and said "It's okay, I can fix it" and went out into the cold again to put it in the trunk of the car, along with my costume which I decided to remove entirely7 in the interests of not being beaten up by irate parents of terrified, newly de-potty trained children. I wasn't really bothered. I had achieved the required reaction early on and the mask was too itchy anyway.

Not long after that my Taco Belly re-asserted itself and I spent large parts of the evening in the privacy of Pete'n'Caroline's bathroom begging for death.

It was, we agreed on the drive home, a great triumph.

  1. Often enough to know that Applejacks have never used Windows XP, I'll bet
  2. As it turned out
  3. The one problem with doing Death is that bits of palid skin can poke through at the joints and spoile the effect. Covering my arms and wrists with black nylon would prevent the worst of it though
  4. the Jeff Wayne version
  5. Vincent Price large and well-suited to haunting
  6. I was thinking it would give at one of the many joints, the staff being composed of four short, screw-together parts
  7. I had remembered to wear something presentable under it thankfully

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Scientists" Fail Me Again

Once again I had to park in the west side car park at Wyandanch.

Once again I arrived home to discover my car so covered with bird droppings I couldn't tell what colour it was.

It was everywhere. Even in the door handles, a trick that must've involved the bird flying towards the vehicle and evacuating its bowels at just the right moment. From several directions.

Once again I find myself needing an AI-controlled laser death ray for frying these freeloading feathered fbleepers out of the sky before they can foul my vehicle with their disgusting crap. I wouldn't mind so much but the gulls go first to the garbage dump to dine on half-rotted rubbish, then fly over my car just as the inevitable burst of killer diarrhea hits them.

I would love to see their worthless carcasses bursting into flame as they attempted their perfidy. It would be worth cleaning a couple of exploded gulls off my car if the rest learned to keep their fbleeping distance. In my mind I'm filled with a savage glee as whole flights of the greasy avian rats explode, the laser tracking and firing before the birds can figure out where the danger is coming from.

The only thought that provides me with more happiness is the image of a flock of the bastards shredded on the wing by a blast from a punt gun. A friend of a friend had one of these.

The device was essentially a cannon-calibre blunderbuss, which is in turn a type of shotgun designed to fire improvised munitions - rusty nails, gravel, doorknobs1 and so forth, and was designed primarily to hunt ducks en masse. It was mounted in a punt, a long, narrow, flat-bottomed boat propelled usually by means of poling rather than rowing. The gun was arranged to fire over the bows of the vessel, and was slightly elevated so as to fire in a shallow rising trajectory.

In operation it was elegantly simple. One charged the gun with copious quantities of black powder (it was a flintlock device apparently), loaded a few fistfuls of lead shot into it and primed the pan. One then poled the punt into the reeds along the body of water one had elected to hunt ducks in, just before dawn, and positioned oneself ahead of the predicted flight path of the awakening ducks2. One then cocked the hammer and took a firm grasp of the firing lanyard.

As dawn broke, the flight of ducks would take to the air in a solid flying carpet of culinary delight. The hunter would pull on the lanyard, the gun would discharge and then the hunter could simply pick the ducks out of the water. What could go wrong?

Now the punt gun possessed no sophisticated aiming mechanism. The friend of a friend didn't have a scissors periscope or radar or any one of a hundred other aids to mass duckicide that I've no doubt can be bought over the counter today. He had to just point it and hope. The technical term for this is "firing over open sights". Well, when the friend of the friend pulled the string on his first attempt he was standing behind the breech of the gun in order to judge the proper time to fire. He had never fired a gun of any type before and was not familiar with the phenomenon of recoil, so he was completely surprised when upon pulling the duck-death string, the punt shot backwards, catapulting him over the red-hot barrel of the gun and into the water. Part of the problem was that the would-be hunter was concerned about the possibility of damaging his hearing due to extreme proximity to about a pound of exploding black powder, and he was attempting to pull the string while plugging his left ear with his finger and his right one with his right elbow. We've all been there. The distraction this caused meant that by the time he had assessed the problem brought on by Newton's third law he was already somersaulting into the river.

Undaunted, the vessel was salvaged, the weapon cleaned out and a second attempt made the next day. This time the hunter positioned himself in the extreme rear of the vessel, technically called "the stern", adopted a seated posture, put on his laboratory ear defenders3 and awaited the repast on the wing.

Dawn Broke. As the ducks rose into the sky, quacking evilly in their twisted, debased dialect, our hero gritted his teeth and pulled the string. Once again the punt surged backwards due to the recoil. This time the hunter was properly braced.

Unfortunately he was also right at the back of the boat, which caused the stern to dig into the water and made the punt emulate a WWII U-Boat crash-diving to escape the vengeful RAF. Sad to say, the punt was ill-equipped for this role, and it sank with all hands.

A lesser man might have given up there and then. After all, two separate attempts to use the thing had resulted in two separate dunkings in the freezing river, one impromptu riverbed salvage operation of a cannon-equipped punt, two drives home while dripping wet and two calls to the local police by angry local residents woken by the stentorian blast of the gun heralding daybreak. Our hero was made of sterner, if wetter, stuff.

After allowing a week or two to go by so that police activity would die down4 he tried a third time, this time seating himself amidships and anchoring the punt securely against the recoil, which was throwing the aim off as well as everything else.

Dawn broke.

Ducks awoke and took wing.

The mighty punt gun roared out its message of duck death and neighbour disturbance.

This time no-one ended up in the river and the boat was still afloat, so the hunter was able to pole his vessel across the water to where the bounty lay. This is when another snag with the punt gun became evident.

The hunter had fired directly into the flight of ducks on the advice of a local poacher, bribed to tell some of his secrets the week before by means of several pints of scrumpy5. The hunter estimated that about 50 ducks had been in the flight, and that the middle 35 or so had simply vapourised in the hail of near-molten lead he had dispatched their way at just under the speed of sound. Of the 15 left bobbing relatively intact on the river, 10 were so badly shredded they were unsalvageable for anything more ambitious than beak soup. He retrieved the remaining five and took them home for "cleaning". They proved on cooking to have so much lead per bite content that the hunter swore off the punt gun for life once the dental work was complete.

That's the sort of Nagasaki I want to hand out to these bloody gulls6, but I can't help but think the punt gun method is too fraught with downsides to be of real application here.

Of course, if scientists would just get their bloody fingers out and build a decent death ray instead of standing around arguing about whether Pluto is a planet or not and whether Lake Huron should really be "Bulge Huron" the point would be moot.

  1. As depicted many times in The Beano strip The Three Bears
  2. I forget which way that was now, but it was probably with the sun at one's back
  3. sort of like big headphones with no walkman attached
  4. The hunter was aware that the authorities would view his titanic struggle against technology and ducks in a World Gone Mad as common-or-garden poaching
  5. Lethally strong cider
  6. Nagasaki: damage done to something of such quantity and quality as to take the breath away

Monday, October 22, 2007

Simulating Shy Cetaceans

The choice of the double size air pillow for the swimming pool may have been ill-advised.

Who am I kidding? The advice came straight from the treacherous folds of Mr Brain. It was certainly ill-advised.

The bulge under the pool cover is so large it looks like Shamu the Killer Whale is lying doggo under there.

It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Oh wait: Yes it does.

The weekend got off to a bang on Friday evening. Mrs Stevie had called Bil the Elder and asked him to come round so he could return the keyboard and mouse to his Mac and I could continue trying to bring it back to life. Yes, that's right, at some point in the week, Bil the Elder had come round and removed the keyboard and mouse I had been turning the house upside down for. Why? Another of his "friends"1 had an old iMac he was thinking of donating to the cause, but it didn't have a mouse or keyboard. Bil the Elder claimed that the G4 mouse and keyboard didn't work with the iMac, something I would have scoffed at out-of-hand a week ago but since having done battle with the G4 could now credit fully.

Bil the Elder arrived clutching the keyboard and mouse (having wrapped the mouse cord around the keyboard to keep everything together, a choice that would end up costing2 dearly). He also brought the old, non functioning power supply3.

He looked at the G4 sitting on the old dining table I use as a workbench, and said "It's the wrong power supply".

"That's right" I answered. "I couldn't get an exact match. This was the nearest I could find."

"Well there's a plug missing" he noted, although in all fairness I had told him that before we came down into the basement.

"It's only used for a monitor. You don't need it. Your monitor gets its power through the same cord it gets its video signal." I said.

"But I need an extra plug. For the internet" keened Bil the Elder.

"You don't need an extra plug for the internet" I replied, somewhat testily I admit.

"Yes I do. I need an extra plug" he insisted.

"You don't need an extra plug for the internet" I said, becoming more exasperated by the nanosecond.

"They told me at the repair place4 that I needed an extra plug for power for my internet" he said, with an increased tone of firmness.

I had a sudden thought. "Show me this extra plug, on the dead power supply you have in your hand. Before you start, be aware that the power supply now residing in your formerly broken G4 has more plugs on it than the one you are holding up."

"This one" He said, pointing to the 22-pin motherboard power plug.

"So what you are trying to say is that your computer needs a 22-pin motherboard power plug rather than the 20-pin type? I asked.

"Yes" he answered, though to be honest I think he was guessing.

"Well, if you come and look you'll see that there are no spare pins on the motherboard socket. This power supply appears to be working fine, although there would seem to be some differences in supply voltages to various sub-components."

Bil the Elder's mouth opened to voice protest, and I hurriedly forestalled him.

"This power supply puts out a couple of volts less than the one in your hands used to, before it stopped putting out any volts whatsoever. I'm told this will prevent the computer booting. You can see it does boot, so there you go." I could see he still wasn't happy. I could not have cared less.

"Look" I snarled, "You've had eight weeks to buy yourself the correct power supply for this bloody thing. Eight weeks in which you've done absolutely nothing. It's not like it's costing you anything either. You need to shut up and give me the keyboard now." I admit to a slight lessening of patience with Bil the Elder. I'm not proud of that, but in my defense I would like to say I didn't go with my first instinct and simply throw the G4 at him5.

We connected the keyboard, which worked fine, and the mouse, which didn't.

The mouse seemed to work at first but then just stopped responding. Hmm, could the voltage difference be great enough to stop the USB mouse for working properly? I gave the mouse, a smoke-grey translucent affair, the once over. There was some sort of rotary switch on the base.

"What does this do?" I asked.


Alright, well, all I needed to do was to close down the system gracefully, shoo away Bil the Elder and I could diagnose it later in peace.

"How do the shortcut keys work?" I asked. "How do I get into this menu using the keyboard?"

"Dunno. I always use the mouse."

"Hmm, well, if this were a PC I would have a standard set of keyboard shortcuts that would let me work without a mouse. You don't have the same thing with a G4?"

"Dunno. I always use the mouse."

"Yes, and if it were a normal fbleeping computer I have half a dozen mouse pointing devices sitting within arm's reach that I could simply swap in and do the job, but you had to buy a "better" Mac. Oh well" and with that I simply punched the power button.

I told Bil the Elder he should leave it with me and I'd look into it, and that once I was done he should take his G4 home and never mention it to me again and that he needed to leave now. He finally condescended to say "thanks" when he was almost out of the door.

Further examination proved that the cord to the mouse had been trapped under something and mashed quite effectively. It had also been used to lash the mouse to the keyboard, as I said before. Under such circumstances it was no surprise that some of the wires had separated and were making only intermittent contact.

I signed onto eBay and bid on a replacement mouse, and out of curiosity I searched on the serial number of the dead power supply once again. This time6 I found two. One dead, being sold for "parts"7 and one "guaranteed working". I decided to bid and, assuming the unit worked properly, resell the one currently in the machine. It would be worth it just to get some peace and quiet from the braying masses. That was enough Mac-related aggravation for one weekend.

I wandered outside to check out the swimming pool, which I wanted to put to bed for the winter this weekend. The torrential rainstorm that had been lashing Long Island for most of the day had washed a ton of leaves into the water, which was now bright green with filth again. I fired up the filter and poured in some shock and went to bed around 1 am (again).

On Saturday I spent most of the day dredging out the crap from the pool, vacuuming the floor and cleaning the filter over and over again. It made doing income tax look interesting. That's all I have to say about that.

Sunday began with me getting the last of the crap out of the pool and setting the Pool Robot of Extreme Uselessness on the job of cleaning the floor. I had put the original filter cartridge in a bucket of "filter cleanser" for eight hours during the week and surprisingly it was very effective at bringing that formerly clogged and crocked item back to life, so I put the new filter in the Magic Bucket of Filter Decrappination for a soak before putting it up for winter.

I could not find the nice, high-quality air pillow I used last year and was so pleased to see was still in working order at the end of the season, so it was off to the store to buy a new one. I looked and looked but they didn't have the nice round 4 foot diameter pillows like the one I just lost, just square ones. They also had 4 x 8 foot oblong pillows intended for oval pools somewhat bigger than mine. Mr Brain began to clank and whir, and I visualised this mighty pillow of cover-holding-uppiness making my life much easier by reducing the amount of pool cover in the water which would make siphoning off the foul sumac leaf tea that much easier during the winter. Sold!

Upon arriving home I was disconcerted to see that my front fence had fallen down, mostly.

At the top of my drive there is a run of about 18 feet of cedar fence that then takes a right angle turn for another 8 feet before resuming its original course to the garage by means of gates. It used to look dead good. Unfortunately, I was unaware at the time of building it that planting a cedar fence post in concrete is a bad idea, even with lots of gravel for drainage. The post will rot out in about five to seven years at the ground line. I've replaced almost all the posts I concreted in with the exception of the corner posts, which are difficult to get out and are held up nicely by the fact they are corners and therefore braced on two sides and in two dimensions by fencing. That includes the post that I was looking at now, flapping in the wind and threatening to tear down the "good" fence panel. The other panel, the one at the front of the house, had suffered some sort of failure.

Action was called for.

It transpired that all three rails had rotted out on account of them being made from untreated non-cedar somethingwood. I looked around and spotted the timbers pulled out of the garage during the great garage clean out fiasco, originally a swing built in in the mid 90s for the Stevieling8. Hooray! I needed 2 x 4s and there were a bunch of them sitting round doing nothing. Bonus!

Since the joint between the fence rail and the corner post would be a butt joint, it would require me getting above it in order to drive the screws. My Workmate was near to hand, so it was pressed into service as a stepladder, a job it has done many times before. Unfortunately, one of the small rubber feet was lost last year so I couldn't deploy it in its compact configuration but had to extend the legs, which raised it up another 6 inches or so, thereby sowing the seeds of fiasco.

I drove the screws in question9 and was just stepping back down from the top of the Workmate to the metal step when the Stevieling sprang into theater and said "Daddy, what's a Stratocaster?"

Mr Brain, sensing the need for a light comedic break, guided my foot past the step to the ground, a distance that exceeded the length of my other leg by about six inches.

For the second time in as many months I experienced the sensation of free-fall as the world span crazily around me. This, of course, was an illusion, for it was not the world spinning but my body as it tumbled towards the driveway. Once again I prepared to meet the hard ground with nature's airbag: the human back. I did this by screaming out some of the most vile words of power in my lexicon, with a healthy disregard for the shell-like ears of my daughter.

It could have been very nasty, but for the fact that several weeks ago I had the forethought to dump an old pool liner at that very spot on the driveway10.


The liner had air trapped in it that nicely cushioned my fall, reducing it from bone-breaking to merely bone-bruising force. I might easily have passed out from this terrible fall if several inches of Friday's storm hadn't sequestered themselves in the various pockets and folds in the liner. Refreshing courses of near-freezing rainwater, nice and green with various growths, sluiced all over me, eliciting a scream of joy from my lips just as the Workmate, which I had apparently upended by clenching it with the toes of my right foot11, fell on me. The Stevieling, with timing that can only be said to be perfect, then said "Are you all right?"

Now the business with Bil the Elder's computer, the pool cleaning, the loss of the air pillow and the discovery of the fence fixing job had made me a might testy, and it was with a light snarl in my voice that I answered:

"Of course I'm not all right! Don't just stand there like idiots, get this thing off me!"

For some unfathomable reason, the child was reluctant to come near me and her mother was too busy laughing, so I hurled the treacherous Workmate away from me and leaped to my hands and knees, uttering my standard wargroan. I was able, after only 5 minutes or so, to jump to my feet and resume work on the fence, using "Finesse", my claw hammer, and by the time the light was failing I had the thing more or less repaired.

Which only left all the stuff I had to pack back in the shed in pitch darkness.

  1. Not the one who persuaded him to buy the iBrik, but another Mac-obsessed one
  2. Me
  3. I asked him to do that so I could double check the voltage ratings between it and the one I fitted
  4. The same repair place he took the power supply to to get confirmation of what I had already told him: That his power supply was dead.
  5. I finally gleaned an understanding of why they come with handles though
  6. When I searched eBay last time there were precisely none of the right kind of power supply being sold. Bil the Elder has managed to buy a computer containing not only the most expensive power supply on the planet, but the rarest in the world too. Typical
  7. Not sure what the seller thought would be salvageable inside this white elephant
  8. Another ingrate: she ordered the swing on the very eve of her fourth birthday, watched me build it then demanded to know where the "other swings" were. Apparently she was expecting a three-swing swingset
  9. Actually, owing to me not remembering how to align the front of the fence panel to match the rest of the fence, I had to do the job over. Twice
  10. How the neighbours must hate me. How I return their hatred a hundredfold
  11. Shod, I might add

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not So Fast

And they're off!

Someone has helpfully pointed out that the Power Supply of iBrik Resurrection isn't the right one for the machine1. They've gone to a great deal of trouble to point me towards articles on Apple's website (which I found almost unnavigable but that's just me), pictures and so forth that explain that the unit I have will simply not do the job because the so-called "trickle voltage" is only 25 volts and the machine needs 28 volts.

What is this "trickle voltage"? It is:

A) A misnomer: volts don't trickle, amps do. Volts, as anyone who has to deal with them will tell you, lurk.

2) The voltage that is needed for the low-level functions on the motherboard to begin the tedious process of bringing the computer to full readiness. Put bluntly, without this "trickle voltage" the machine will not boot. Reams of electronic virtual paper have been defaced on the subject. I'll spare you them.

The fact that the machine in question does boot is apparently of no import. I dun it rong and must be told so.

This experience confirms for me something I've long known about human nature in today's world: that although no-one will pitch in to help someone before a task has been undertaken, once something has been done people come out of the woodwork to tell you how you should have done it. Well pbleepss on them. I say now that such advice is worthless, offered as it is for the sole purpose of demonstrating the superiority of the "advisor" over the "doer", and I don't value it a jot. You want to help me with your knowledge before I do something, I am forever in your debt. You go a-googling after the fact, armed with my detailed description so you can retroactively criticise and patronise me, I'll forever view you as something I would scrape off my shoe.

I used to do a lot2 of miniature painting for a wargame I once played. My earliest efforts pretty much defined "naff", forming as they did the search for quick and effective ways to paint dozens of similar figures in as short a time as possible3. The problem would often arise that I wanted to remove paint finishes applied years before so I could repurpose figures that were out of production, too expensive or for other reasons not practical to replace with new ones.

The problem is that although some of the figures in question were made of "pewter" or "lead" (actually, both recipes for different types of Whitemetal aka solder), many of them had plastic parts. Some were completely made of plastic. This precludes dropping the figures in a solvent such as acetone or into industrial strength paint stripper for a few days: The plastic would dissolve. What I needed was a solution that was manually non-intensive (I had little free time), absolutely 100% safe for the plastic figures and absolutely guaranteed to get the paint off no matter what type it was.

I searched the 'net and saw all sorts of remedies, from soaking in water to a perennial favourite on the forums, soaking in Pine Sol4.

I also am interested in model railways, and had long known that Pine Sol was one of the methods it was claimed you could use to strip paint from (plastic) locomotive bodies in order to repaint them in a finish not offered by the manufacturer. However there was another idea from that hobby that made a great deal of sense to me: brake fluid.

I know that brake fluid can take the cellulose-based paint off a car in a matter of an hour or less. That's a paint specially formulated to stay put and stay the same colour under the most challenging circumstances known to the paint industry5. If brake fluid could shift that stuff, it could strip anything. The people who used it said it was safe on plastics too. I had a think and discussed it on a Yahoo forum dedicated to the collecting and painting of Wonkhammer 401k figures, but there was no consensus and suspiciously little advice from the back-benchers.

I decided to run a trial. I had some figures, plastic ones, that I had painted with solvent-based Polly-S spray enamel paint. It was very very hardwearing and I had never seen it flake or chip. I prepared jars of a commercial modellers paint stripper marketed by Polly-S, Pine Sol and el cheapo Castrol brake fluid (by far the cheapest option at 99 cents a pint too). Each day I would carefully take each figure and give it a gentle scrub with an old toothbrush, holding it under the solvent with a hemostat which was perfect for the job. After that, the figures would sit in their jars until I came home from work or got up the next morning. The results were interesting.

The Polly-S paint stripper made no impression whatsoever. I didn't really expect it to. It was alleged to be able to fetch off old brushed acrylic paint, but I reckoned at the time that anything this stripper could work on would probably let go with warm water too.

The Pine Sol softened the plastic after only 8 hours or so. I removed the figure and rinsed it off, but the plastic took several weeks to "outgass" the solvent and harden up again. One of my correspondents repeated my experiment and reported that the figure turned to chewing gum after two days in Pine Sol. To be fair, the paint did start coming off.

The brake fluid performed like a miracle. The paint floated off, all but for a small amount in tiny crevices on the figure. More to the point, the plastic showed no damage whatsoever. I extended the experiment to two weeks. Fourteen days in brake fluid did not hurt the plastic one bit6.

What do you think publication of these results did in the community? Nothing, that's what. A few days after I published my results someone posted on the forum asking how to shift paint off a plastic figure and someone suggested Pine Sol! I politely injected myself into the conversation and pointed out my findings, housed in a file on the server. The "advisor" argued with me. I asked him if he'd ever actually tried what he was suggesting himself7 and he finally admitted he was working from hearsay. I asked him why he felt the hearsay he was using was more reliable than my version, especially as I had included all the details of my experiment and anyone could try it for themselves. He became abusive. Over the next six months I was directly contradicted on my advice several times by people who blithely admitted they hadn't actually tried the method they knew would work better than mine. It was baffling. I urged everyone to get two pickle jars and a couple of plastic bits from their spares box and prove to themselves the reality of the matter. We even had people try Pine Sol on the advice of others there and come back saying how it worked "quite well" but had caused some minor but acceptable damage to the figures.

To this day I don't understand why people wanted to try the smelly, difficult and dangerous "almost works" method rather than the easy, odourless and dangerous8 brake fluid method. But I learned a lesson from the experience: While there's damn few people who will volunteer help or knowledge on the net, there's never a shortage of people who can and will tell you you are doing it wrong after the fact (no matter what the facts actually are).

Well, pbleepss on them all.

  1. Actually, if you check, that was me in the posting describing the installation
  2. And I do mean a lot
  3. Yes, I played Wonkhammer 401K
  4. A proprietary pine cleanser intended to disinfect floors and other such surfaces
  5. You thought paint was paint? Spray paint some lawn furniture and leave it out for one summer, then let me know how you feel
  6. I'm told that if you pick more expensive brake fluid, that is not the case though
  7. I knew he couldn't have, of course
  8. the brake fluid can kill you if you drink it. It tells you not to on the can and in my experimental report too, for that matter

The Call of Yoo No'Hu

Look! C'thulhu! Well, he's not so bad
Admittedly, I've just gone mad.
There's a lot to be said
For loosing one's head
And becoming a cultist unclad.


Alive, Alive, It's Alive!

I may have mentioned in passing a while ago that my elder brother-in-law, Bil the Elder, had asked me to look at his Mac, taken the news of its need for a new power supply under advisement and then made himself scarce.

I may also have alluded to my being more than a little fed up with having this expensive piece of junk, bricked for weeks for want of an overpriced1 power supply that Bil the Elder was too scared to buy, and hinted at my shortening tolerance for brothers in law and Apple products, with special reference to broken Apple products left in my basement by brothers in law.

I finally had had it up to here with the damn thing and its owner, and I went out on eBay and bought a compatible power supply for it from a dealer for about half the price a replacement would cost new. Hey, if it was my machine I wouldn't begrudge the cost, but it ain't and I do. All I knew was that the bloody machine wouldn't work without a power supply, and that power rating aside, there appeared to be two basic choices in the G4 power supply market: the 20-pin type which was selling for about 50 bux, and the 22-pin type, selling for about 80 bux 2. I could guess what the story would be anyway, but a quick check showed that the iBrik had a 22-pin motherboard.

Of course.

Anyway, I ponied up the money on Monday and last night a new-looking unit arrived in the mail.

It wasn't the same unit, I could see at a glance. The bracket for fixing it was very different for a start, but that was easily removable. The unit was the right overall size, but was missing the second power outlet on the back. Oh well. Tough titty. I removed the bracket from it and installed the power supply temporarily in the case for a power-up test. The dealer had a so-called DOA3 guarantee and would replace the unit if I returned it as dead in three days so delay in testing it was unwise.

The fit in the case is quite tight owing to various bulges, catches and nodules projecting down from the (unseen) inside top of the case. These must be negotiated by twisting the power supply through a path best described as a 5 dimensional hypertorroid mapped onto a standard 4 dimensional manifold. For those who do not possess the skills to visualise this mathematical abstraction fully, it is a ten-to-twelve swear word job. Once in place, I could connect it to the various places it needed to be connected via the integral cable cluster, which was thicker than my thumb. In the middle of connecting it up, it fell out of the case and I only just caught it before it smashed down onto the motherboard4. I replaced it, at first attempting fruitlessly to reverse the path it took on its way out, but finding that impossible, by means of the original convoluted method.

It promptly fell out again.

And again.

I eventually wedged it in place with a cardboard box that originally held my cell phone5. Then I connected the plugs to the various discs (the super apple design places the primary (and in this case, only) hard-drive so low on the case that the plug fouls a blister in the chassis base. Another win for Apple design there. When I was done, I was confronted by a four pin plug that had no socket to attach it to.

As luck would have it, Shamus Young was discussing an identical plug only a few days ago over at 20-sided and the consensus was that it was only needed for Intel chipsets unless you had AMD in which case it was needed for something else. No help there then.

I could not find the keyboard and mouse, or the power cord. They had been underfoot for eight weeks and sometime around week 6 I had "dealt" with the problem without making any special note of the new location of the items. The power cord was no problem but (of course) I couldn't simply swap in one of the six or seven PC-style keyboards I have because my Brother in Law bought a fbleeping Mac!

No matter. I had a power cord that would work, I had the (special, not replaceable by any of my collection) monitor and all I wanted was to see it boot and have done with the blasted thing.

I powered it up and there was an immediate CRACK!, a small yet bright spark and the fragrant odour of fried electrolyte filled the air, heady with hints of arsenic, germanium, selenium and silicon. I know that smell from of old. Redolent and toxic in relatively small amounts, it presages the death of any semiconductor or polarised capacitor due to overvoltage incompetence.


I had fried the motherboard now!

This called for Finesse. I was reaching for it6 when Mrs Stevie announced the serving of her delicious tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, the perfect spirit-raiser when events are conspiring to give you a headache.

Over my snack I contemplated my options. I would test the power supply and see if it was still in the land of the living. If so, it could be eBayed off that night. I would tell Bil the Elder that his computer had more problems and urge him to sell it and buy one that worked, preferably a PC. I would finish my soup.

Upon returning to the scene of the crime, I tested the power supply and determined that it was indeed still working7. I was about to pack it into a box when I thought I might try connecting it again. I had nothing to lose really8.

So I did.

Upon connecting the power cord an pressing the "on" switch9 I was horrified to hear a noise blurt out of the case while the monitor erupted with the most awful patterns imaginable. "That must be what few components I didn't fry giving out" I thought, but then the truth dawned: The noise was Apple's version of a greeting jingle and the visual scribble on the screen was the much-vaunted "better" Apple GUI firing up! The computer was working again! A fiasco was become Great Triumph! Man that's an ugly GUI!

Yes, Mac OS 9 was manifesting like some hideous Lovecraftian horror rising from the primeval ooze to stalk amongst humanity in a World Gone Mad!

I have to say, just looking at it, I can't see what the fuss is about. It looks like a washed-out version of Windows for Workgroups, which ranks as the worst interface I've had to use in over thirty years of computing. Marginally better for the non-computer savvy than a console, but very non-intuitive and cluttered worse than my workbench. Oh well.

I powered the thing down and got down to the business of fastening the power supply down properly. The supplied bracket was for one of the umpty-tump case/component variations that obviously plague Apple as badly as Dell and Gateway10. I got to work with Messrs Dremel and Drill and in some time at all had the bracket and case agreeing as to the number and count of screws needed to accommodate the one inside the other. A quick swipe with the shop-vac11 to remove any nasty swarf from the case and Hey Pasta! "Instant" working Mac.

A detailed search of the house (It was midnight by now and I wasn't a happy camper 'cos I had work in the morning) failed to turn up the keyboard and mouse, so I showered and retired for five hours sleep. Before dropping off I disabled my alarm. I could always take a later train and I needed the sleep.

I was woken at 6:30 am by the Stevieling's cell phone playing a delightful orchestral racket, ten minutes before the time my alarm had been set for. She uses her alarm as an alarm clock, but that night had forgotten to take the rather elementary step of taking her cellphone off the coffee table in the main room and taking it upstairs with her.

Fortunately, I was awake and was able to claw my way groggily up the stairs to wake her for school.

  1. Redundant term when speaking of a Mac
  2. I should point out that I do not have the old power supply. Bil the Elder does. He needed it to identify the replacement part. Which he didn't buy
  3. Dead On Arrival
  4. The award-winning suitcase design helpfully arranges things so that while working on the wretched machine, the heaviest things are suspended as high as possible over the most delicate things. Thus are we once again confronted by the evidence of the betterness of Apple design over cheap'n'nasty PCs
  5. Another over-designed piece of junk that is manifestly unfit for doing the primary job a cell phone is bought for thanks to all the cruft bolted on. I mean, two key operations to use the camera but seven to change the built-in ringtone to another built-in ringtone?
  6. I named my claw hammer "Finesse" back when I was single. My happy place has a hammer in it. Worth knowing if you ever start to piss me off
  7. As far as I could tell. Part of the problem is that these things don't come with a detailed data sheet printed on them
  8. This shows how well I wasn't thinking: I could easily have blown up the working power supply by connecting it to a bollixed motherboard
  9. A major concession by Apple there: They could easily have gone for some sort of brainwave sensor device instead of a push-button in a bid to once again up the complexity and cost of the machine
  10. Apple users just don't air their own dirty laundry in public. I wouldn't mind that, but they aren't at all unwilling to air everyone else's
  11. Actually a Home Despot wet/dry vacuum, from their Rigid line, highly recommended, four Steviestars etc

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid

Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid Stupid.

OK brain, do that again and I'll take Mr Drill to you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On The Other Hand

I looked at the pool this morning1 .

All the algae seems to have fallen as silt to the pool floor and there are no more mosquito larvae in the water that I can see. All this just by running the filter pump for 72 hours non stop and adding enough chlorine to the water to cause a crisis in the international astronomy community2 over the exact nature of the pool - does it qualify as a Quasi Liquid-Phase Dwarf Gas Giant or is it more of a Quasi Liquid-Phase Dwarf Gas Giantoid? We can expect an answer to this when it doesn't matter any more. Either the chlorine will have dissipated or Aliens will invade, achieving total surprise because so-called "scientists" were too busy doing what they actually know how to do, arguing about what stuff is called, instead of what they pretend to everyone else they do - actual science!

So I know what I'm doing with next weekend then.

  1. Had to get up early to do so. No silver lining comes without a big, black cloud
  2. Who now live to rename things instead of finding new ones

More Annoyance

No sooner had I posted yesterday on the subject of my Brother in Law and his stupid Mac, my e-mail broke down.

To be totally forthcoming, it broke down more than it was the day before. I use full-blown Outlook for my POP client because I know it, had a copy and need it's ability to presort mail into pigeon-holes based on me-supplied rules. It works at work, mostly1 , and had worked fine for me until I added the Stevieling's copy.

My wife almost broke it, and yelled at me for ages when I first installed her copy, because she had about a thousand3 e-mails on the webmail server and POP helpfully downloaded them to our machine. Taking her private mail from a publicly accessed server and moving it to our privately owned machine was a problem for some reason. Thank Azathoth we had a broadband connection at the time.

For some reason, adding a third copy of the e-mail client (or a third profile for it to be totally accurate) broke it in a weird, inconvenient but non-fatal way. From that point on it wouldn't send the last thing in the Outbox folder.

I did some research and the consensus from the all-but useless Microsoft technet site was that the only fix was to erase the "pst" files and reinstall. The PST files are a condensed copy of all the e-mail that has been sent to Outlook, so you can see I wasn't keen on that option.

I struggled for three nights with the damned thing, then did what you can guess I did and just put a dummy outbound e-mail into each outbox and called it a day. Yesterday, for no known reason, the bloody thing refused to send anything out. I ended up running a "repair" from the CD-ROM which put me back to the work-around stage, but in doing so managed to evapourate all my contacts.

This was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I am absolutely sick to the back teeth of the "just so far and no further" design ethic that has become the De Facto standard operating procedure for the purveyors of the half-arsed crap they call "products". Symantec broke their firewall a couple of years ago with a stupid, poorly tested update that caused all web pages to load glacially4. I lost my machine a while back to events I'm sure are bound up with a so-called "alternative" to Norton Ghost. This sort of thing is infuriating enough, but to produce an e-mail client that cannot be safely deployed in a multi-user fashion on an operating system made by the same company smacks of incompetence on a staggering scale.

I'm told Eudora can do all that I want from Outlook, so I will be giving that a go. Let's hope it can cope with being woken up by three different people in three different contexts without losing control of its bladder.


  1. Although the idiots in charge of the mail have a "nuke it" default policy when they do something that breaks an e-mail profile, and persuading them to start diagnosing the problem instead of making it didn't happen2 is a three-day affair. I know this because I've done it
  2. A process that makes all one's mail, rules and contacts evapourate
  3. Not kidding, that's an actual approximate count
  4. Because my machine has a "paltry" 1.8 gigahertz processor some image-heavy pages, Symantec's own included, were taking ten minutes and more to load

Monday, October 15, 2007

Annoyance Reigns Supreme

Well, the old blood pressure, never my strongest point at the best of times, is being given a right going over this week.

I still have two telephone poles, one cracked and dangerous yet still tasked with holding up the wires to my house and one young, strong and tall that serves to hold flyers printed on inkjet printers announcing various yard sales in the neighbourhood.

I still have a pool full of sludge after the filter pump shut down last week and I stupidly didn't check the fbleeping thing every morning and night.

And most infuriatingly, I still have Bil the Elder's dead mac G4 in my basement.

I discovered that Bil the Elder's report of "not being able to get onto the internet" actually meant his computer1 didn't work at all about two months ago as detailed here. I offered to save him a bit of cash by dismantling the thing and testing the power supply, which was dead. All he needed to do at this point was to buy a new one and I would fit it for him.

The first "problem" with this theory came when it transpired that although you can buy a PC-style power supply at any computer parts retailer for less than 80 bux, the power supply for this thing costs 250 bux new and has to be specially ordered. An alternative would be to get one for about 90 bucks on eBay. I know which way I'd jump here.

Bil the Elder, faced with the idea he can buy a complete Wintel system for about 500 bux found himself paralysed with indecision. If he buys on eBay, the seller will certainly cheat him3. If he buys new, he will be spending more than half of what a brand new system would cost6 and what if there is something else wrong with the computer7?

When I offered to help I expected to be fitting the replacement part within about two weeks. Instead the bloody artsy-fartsy doorstop has been cluttering what little space remains in my basement for over two months.

Mrs Stevie asked him to come and get it this weekend. I expected him to phone on Saturday so I could refit all the loose bits and he could call in and pick it up later that day. He waited until the mid-afternoon of Sunday, by which time I was very busy putting up our hallowe'en tableau with the Stevieling. I refused point blank to break off operations and accommodate him.

Tonight I came home and reached a decision of my own. I logged onto eBay, did some browsing to match up the plugs on the motherboard with those on the units people were offloading, and bought one on spec. If the computer boots, it's fixed. If it doesn't, it can be broken for parts and flogged on eBay. Nothing to decide here. If that works, I'll put the damn thing on my internet connection and find out what the fbleep is wrong in that department. If that works I'll download the OS9 patches, something this thing has been crying out for for years. Since I've determined that it is actually a G4 and not, as I had been originally informed, a G3, I may even spring for a copy of OSX.

Assuming it all works, this is Bil the Elder's Christmas Present.

Bil the Elder is one of those unlucky enough to have his birthday on Christmas Day, and normally we allow for that in the size of his gift from us.

This year his birthday gift will involve my not killing him.

  1. His superior technology Mac computer2
  2. That has spent more time broken than actually proving its clear superiority over my old Compaq
  3. Bil the Elder is convinced everyone is out to cheat him. We went to Canada one year and he decided to buy a sweat shirt. In Edmonton airport the sweatshirts were 25 bux. In the town stores, the sweatshirts were 25 bux. In a giant tepee tourist attraction in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere4 the sweatshirts were 25 bux. A reasonable person might weigh this evidence and come to the conclusion that the prevailing price of printed sweatshirts was 25 bux5. Not Bil the Elder. He came to the conclusion that everyone in the province of Alberta was trying to cheat him, and refused to buy until we were back in Edmonton airport on the way home, where he became enraged that no-one sold shirts with the name of the town we had been staying in.
  4. A lie: radio messages took several minutes to traverse the distance between nowhere and this place
  5. Not only that, 25 bux Canadian: at the time this was a huge advantage for an American in Canada
  6. albeit a crummy Wintel system: His requirement for cutting edge tech having abated in the last three years
  7. this, at least, is not an unreasonable fear since the bloody thing has been a catalogue of broken parts since he bought it

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pool Impressions

I killed our swimming pool.

Two weeks ago I put the winter cover on it temporarily, intending to winterize it and abandon the need for keeping an eye on it for 6 months or so last weekend. This I did not do, for reasons that escape me now but were damn good at the time I have no doubt. Then I didn't check every day to see everything was jake. This was an error.

Today I sprang into action at the crack of noon and ripped off the winter cover (already working on brewing a foul tea of rainwater, sumac leaves and mosquito larvae in the small pockets it seems to have no trouble forming for the purpose) and discovered the the pool water was a bilious green in colour and about as transparent as lead.

I leaped to the pump timer and madly twiddled the switch in a useless attempt to begin water filtration operations. The foul weather earlier in the week had obviously tripped the GFI and the filter hadn't been running for about three days. The water looked like pea soup. I am not kidding here.

Not only that, but a good quantity of the "tea" had washed back into the pool (since the water was bright green I figured some stinking brown stuff couldn't do much more damage) and taken with it about 400,000 second stage mosquito larvae (the sort that look like worms with a pipe sticking out of their asses).

I reset the GFI and disconnected the timer, connecting the pump to the mains directly. It will have to run 24/7 for the next few days just to clean up the colloidal gak that now serves for water. I also added not one, but two 1 lb pouches of shock into the water1, broadcasting it around the edges of the pool. That should take care of the organic pollution (algae, mosquitoes, unclassifiable tentacled behemoths of the deep and so forth) and I'll be able to vacuum the crud up as the week progresses.

When I get home from work.

After dark.

  1. Each one good for 12,000 gallons, or so they claim. Our pool has about 5,700 gallons in it, so it now has four times as much free chlorine in it than it should have. The liner has already changed colour as a result

Post Impressions

I now have two phone poles, as I may have alluded in past postings.

As of today, one is cracked, and guyed to the ground and the pole across the street. It supports the phone and cable TV wires for this house, as it did before it was hit by a twbleept who apparently must have thought that since her vehicle came equipped with cruise control and an automatic transmission she didn't actually have to get involved in the pedestrian business of driving her car, and decided to search her glove compartment instead of watching the road and activating the steering of said car in a way that would ensure it followed the straight trajectory commensurate with it staying on the road and not hitting stuff on the sidewalks.

The other is in perfect condition, not sullied in any way by guy wires or cables of any sort. It serves to hold up a flyer announcing a neighbour's garage sale.

It's good 'ere, innit?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Poles Apart

The Eastern pole1
It is exploded
All on one side
As I have noted.
Cracked right through,
Held up by guy lines.
I called 'em twice
They acted like swines,
Ignored my fears,
Didn't move the phone lines.
And they
tell me over and over and over again
my friend,
That they don't believe the pole will fall on some schoolchild!

What does it take
To get some action?
I call and call
But no reaction.
These clueless chumps,
I just can't get through
A lawsuit looms,
A tragedy brews.
And all they do
Is say they've got no free crews.
And they
tell me over and over and over and over again my friend
That they don't believe the pole will fall on some schoolchild!

Any resemblance between this and the works of anyone whose name sounds like Harry McSquire is entirely one of those coincidences that make people believe in UFOs and Dowsing.

  1. I have a Western one too

Thursday, October 11, 2007


It has now been 138 hours since I asked Verizon to come and do something about the badly cracked phone pole outside my house.

Admittedly, I can only personally vouch for 132 of those hours until tonight.

When the count will have reached 143 hours.

Protest Song

How many times must I phone Verizon
Before they take down that pole?
yessnHow many times must I call them again
Before they fill in the hole?
And how many days will they dither about
Before they get their fingers out and do something before the pole drops on a bus full of schoolchildren causing massive trauma for the kids, injuries of a potentially lethal nature and a class action lawsuit that will be passed on to the customers in the form of inflated charges?
The answer my friend
Is swayin' in the wind
The answer is swayin' in the wind.

Any resemblance between this post and any protest song of the sixties alive or dead is wholly in the mind of the reader.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Last night I figured out why Eureka, a show I have formerly liked a heck of a lot, has paled and felt unsatisfying, to the extent that I have actually missed some episodes of the second season1.

Mrs Stevie presented me with a DVD set of the First season, and I watched it while waiting for Verizon to get there index appendage out. No problems there. Loved it.

Then I watched a rerun of the opening episode of Season two and it hit me like a sledgehammer.

Henry couldn't know.

Spoiler Alert!
Stop reading now if you watch Eureka and don't want the show ruined for you.

At the end of season one the cast are in an alternate timeline four years in the future (2010) when all sorts of weird things start happening. The Sheriff's tornado-wrecked Jeep appears in the middle of the main street with a registration sticker three years old, for one, and an incinerated dead body turns up melded into a wall panel in the dread "Section 5" of Global Dynamics.

Things get complex when the body turns out to be Henry's life-long love, Kim, currently doing the tests that identify it.

Henry is also acting strangely, very suspiciously in fact, and Sheriff Carter figures it out. Kim was killed in an incident involving the Artifact (a McGuffin I wish they would get rid of to be honest) and Henry has used Walter's time twister gizmo from the pilot episode to go back in time and change things so she survived. Now, using the twisty logic only TV can get away with, The Universe is objecting. Or rather, the two different versions of The Universe are colliding, unlikely as that seems to me, and someone must Go Back In Time and stop Henry, destroying the current timeline in the process but putting Things Right.

We will conveniently ignore the possibility, a foregone conclusion if we buy the premise of the episode actually, that going back to stop Henry will simply make another alternate universe to run alongside the current two (and we have seen just how badly that turns out). We will instead buy into this oddly deterministic viewpoint the TV writers have that there is a "right" timeline that the Universe gets snippy about if anyone makes it didn't happen2 even if it is total hogwash.

So the plot is: Henry, sometime in the months after Kim's Death, went back through time and stopped it happening. He then marries Kim and lives with her in bliss for four years. Carter has married whats-her-face, the DOD agent, and she is very pregnant with their child. Carter is the one who gets to stop Henry. Not sure why it was Carter who went. Doesn't matter.

Four years in the Future Carter goes back in time to stop A Few Months In The Future Henry from doing the thoughtless deed, succeeds and the future universe and timeline didn't happen. Carter gets to remember it all though. Okay, I can sorta live with that since it makes a half-assed sense if you allow the rest of the show's premise to pass muster.

Thing is, Henry also remembers everything and he shouldn't because he wasn't there. Four years in the Future Henry stayed behind when Carter went back. The one that got stopped was A Few Months In The Future Henry.

Now I have to rewatch last night's episode carefully to see if I missed something or assumed some piece of dialogue that wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure Henry's dialogue is spiced with references to Four Years in the Future, er, future events. The show may have jumped the shark for me. The problem is that I did not tape last night's episode.


Now I have to invent Walter's time bollixer, go back to last night and set the video, then come back, watch the show, then go back again and stop myself from taping the show lest chrono-anachronisms start dropping out of the sky.

Of course, while I'm at it I could go back even further, wait in my driveway for Little Miss Attention Deficit and blow my horn at her as she approaches my telephone pole at warp factor 3.

  1. now being rerun on Sci Fi Channel
  2. Scot Bakula made his name in the show Quantum Leap, whose premise was that the universe needed someone to bounce around in time fixing things that somehow had happened wrong. Made no sense to me, even though the show was entertaining. I digress

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

More pole fun.

I got home to discover that just as Mrs Stevie had indicated, we now had two poles outside the house: One a free-standing monument to the lodgepole pine, the other a monument to a young woman's inability to maintain control of her vehicle under the simplest of conditions.

That's right. The cracked, potential lawsuit was still much as I had left it this morning despite a visit from the Verizon Flying Repair Squad of Eventual Fence Wreckage1. To be fair, someone had reinforced the broken pole with a mighty rampart of loose top soil that towered a staggering eighteen inches (or so). No doubt this will prevent the pole from crashing into the street and killing someone until Verizon move the phone cables2 and cablevision move the cable TV, er, cable.

Neither did they attempt to guy the new pole in any way. As I predicted yesterday, the line of sight from the ground cleat to the new pole is several degrees out of line with the line of sight between the new pole and the pole across the street, to which it will be attached by a street-spanning guy wire4. Students of physics, housewives and anyone who has ever pitched a tent will be getting an uncomfortable tingling sensation in their spines about now, but I will explain for those without a doctorate in Continuum Mechanics and those who have never strung a clothes line.

Guy wires are used to support tower structures and poles. From the lowly pup tent pole to the mighty CN Tower, guying is a well-known and mature science. I would venture to suggest that once a child has put up a tent once, they would have an innate understanding of how the trick works and be able to improvise guyed structures by sight and feel. It really is that simple. For single poles such as ship masts and circus tent poles, multiple guy wires are taken from the pole's top to convenient points around it. Three wires are considered a minimum in these cases. For two-pole setups, a wire (or a tent canvas which does the same job) runs between the poles and guy wires are run from the poles to the ground, usually in a vee formation for stability.

Telephone poles are a little different in that they derive much of their support by being sunk into the ground for several feet, and they really only need to be guyed to counter the tendency for the cables they carry to pull them over. This is because copper cables are heavy. Copper is a heavy metal, and although the wires are not very thick when we're talking about phone and TV cables, the lengths between the poles become significant. The cables sag in a curved shape called a catenery, and the forces they exert become inward and downward ones that start to pull the poles over.

Enter the guy wire.

The pole obviously needs to be guyed in the opposite direction to the larger cable run, so a cleat is run to ground and a braided galvanised steel cable run from it to the pole, usually via a steel side-arm to give clearance underneath. But now we don't want to tension the guy wire because the pole will lean back towards the guy wire and stress the (soft) copper wire, causing it to fail. A second steel cable must be run to the other pole along the course of the copper cables to allow the system to be put under tension without the poles moving or the copper wire being stressed. It should go without saying that in order for the system to be in equilibrium the guy wire between the poles must be in line with the wires running from each pole to the ground cleats at either pole. Failure to ensure this will cause a force to be set up in the system tending to try and make the guy wires line up.

Which is why I can't understand why the Pole Installation Crews persist in arranging the guys so they zigzag. The new pole will begin to bend out of line as soon as they get their act together and guy it.

Never mind.

I sighed and went into the house, only to meet a sick and weary Mrs Stevie. She has contracted the same Lurgi that put me out of action for a month and is as a result somewhat subdued of late, but even so she seemed rather quiet. I scanned the room for improvised weaponry and asked her what was wrong. She had, it seems, just got off the phone with Verizon's "customer support".

Apparently, someone had called her to tell her Verizon could detect no problem with our phone as we had reported.

Mrs Stevie explained that we had not reported a problem with our phone, but we had (repeatedly) reported a problem with a cracked telephone pole which was still standing despite a visit from the Pole Police as she spoke

The Verizon rep said that no problem could be detected by their diagnostics, so the problem must lie inside the house which wasn't Verizon's problem any more.

Mrs Stevie asked for a clarification. Was he saying the problem she had reported was "inside the house"?

He said yes, that was the case

Mrs Stevie said "The cracked telephone pole is inside our house? Is that what you are telling me? That the pole that I thought stood in front of the house, and that was hit by a car on Friday and which we have been trying since then without success to get Verizon to do something about, that pole is inside my house?"

The Verizon customer support drone said he didn't know anything about a broken pole.

"Big surprise!" snarled Mrs Stevie. "Let me speak to a supervisor please."

The Verizon customer support drone denied the existence of any such beast.

"Then I'll speak to your boss, please" said Mrs Stevie.

The Verizon customer support drone claimed he didn't have a boss.

"You have no boss? Then you must be the president of Verizon! I want to report a problem in having a dangerously cracked telephone pole belonging to your company dealt with in an effective manner!"

The Verizon customer support drone denied vehemently ever claiming to be the president of Verizon, falling into Mrs Stevie's artfully laid trap.

"Then you must have a boss!" she howled. "I demand to speak to that person at once!"

The Verizon customer support drone claimed that none of his bosses up to and including the president of Verizon were "available" at that time.

Mrs Stevie opined that that was awfully convenient, and since he couldn't find a non-existent phone problem, his way clear to expediting our actual problem5 or anyone in charge of the lunatic asylum that Verizon clearly had become lately, he might as well hang up and save everyone's time and energy, which he did.

I was impressed. Normally, when people try this sort of nonsense on Mrs Stevie, they get to about the second line of dialogue only to find themselves the victim of her signature phone-phu move, an elegantly concise, lethal yet beautiful (in a twisted sort of way) flurry of destruction I simply call "From a grove of Mimosas, their leaves dappling the mown grass with serene shadows, erupts a PCP-crazed rabid junkyard dog".

She must've been feeling very under the weather.

  1. See yesterday's posts
  2. That's right, the crew put in the pole but for some reason didn't go the extra three inches and actually relocate the Verizon-owned cable the old pole is holding aloft3
  3. For the moment, anyway
  4. Eventually, Azathoth willing, so long as the Verizon Problem Resolution System doesn't intervene to stop progress again
  5. Which was and is really Verizon's problem, since if the pole falls on someone that person ain't gonna be looking to sue me