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February 5th, 2015


04:50 am - Vivaldi and Opera


Way back, in the days of Windows 3.x and Windows 95 when Netscape ruled the web and there was an upstart called Internet Explorer that was dubious at best (and has been dubious ever since....), I saw someone somewhere recommend a small, new web browser called Opera. It was so small the installer fit on a (3.5 inch) floppy and it had a great feature: You could tell it to NOT play those annoying animated GIFs. That was enough that I installed it, and since it wasn't free[1] and I liked it that much, I paid for it so I could keep using beyond the trial period. I kept up with updates and paid for them, too, as more features (offering ever greater user control) were added. Eventually Opera changed its scheme to allow the browser to be free. Opera also had a neat community setup and actually listened to its users. There were a couple times I submitted bug reports and got email in reply beyond the "submitted successfully" notice. At least once it even offered a fix or at least a tolerable work-around.

And then it seemed it all fell apart. The original team, or enough of it, left or were pushed out and it felt like the marketing department took over and drove the engineering types out. This a Bad Thing.[2] A complete rebuild was decided upon - but not just the core, the user interface as well, and away went the features that made Opera so great and, well, Opera. Support for Linux vaporized as well, but this was no big deal as the new versions weren't worth running anyway. So I've been running an older version as it's the newest thing available. Yes, I tried other browsers. Despite being newer (and often copying the good Opera's features, right Firefox?) or having a similar look but not the stability (SlimBoat...) they all seemed terrible clunky and didn't offer the fine control I'd become used to having.

But there is now hope. It's not a new version of Opera. I have that on my phone, and I can see while it's not as bad as it had been, it's not the real inheritor of the Opera experience. No, it's that the group that for whatever reason left Opera has come out with a new browser, Vivaldi. It also isn't "ready for prime time" but they are admitting it isn't and calling the first big announcement a Technical Preview (which is NOT a stable release) and offering weekly snapshot builds - with warnings that those snapshots are apt to have regressions ("We thought we fixed that..."). This is the blatant honesty of the old, original, good, Opera.

Vivaldi currently lacks many features. One is that I have no control to disable animations, or plugins, or allow them to run on some pages but not on others so the web looks weirdly spammy to me with Vivaldi - for now. The truly fine user-control isn't there... yet. There is no mail client (something many have come to expect). Of course there also isn't nonsense like an IRC client (what the heck is that doing in any browser?) The 'Speed Dial' size (screen layout, not number of links) isn't adjustable - I find it too big and nesting things in folders, while a neat idea, defeats the point of having a Speed Dial setup - speed!

I am still using the old version of Opera, but I am keeping Vivaldi around and keeping an eye on it. One thing the Vivaldi team is getting right is that much of the user interface acts as I expect it should (e.g. middle-clicking a link opens it in a new tab - in the background). Another is that they are starting out making Vivaldi multi-platform. I'm not on Linux waiting them to get around to making a Linux version. There's no Windows-only BS from these guys.

I suspect the marketroids that took over Opera are in for one HELL of nasty - and damned well deserved - surprise when Vivaldi approaches the old Opera's abilities and the new Opera's market share and mindshare vaporizes faster than a criticality event. I suspect I'll be wishing for Vivaldi for Android within a year's time.



[1] In the monetary sense, which is what people think when they hear/see 'free' despite silly GNU/ista nonsense.
[2] Dilbert is a documentary. It's not funny in the "Ha-ha!" sense so much as the "Yeah, been there." sense.


Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
Current Music: Val Doonican - Delanie's Donkey

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February 4th, 2015


05:18 am - Xfce is nice, but how do I disable a misfeature?


I've been using Xfce for several years now. First as it was light enough to allow an even-then ancient laptop to be if not speedy, at least not overly sluggish. Then as it got out of my way, exactly the that GNOME and KDE didn't. Alas, something about is now getting in my way and I haven't yet found a way to turn it off - and I have looked. Perhaps just not with the search terms that someone else believes are obvious.

Due to switch bounce or accidental double-clicks I have discovered that a double-click on the right (or left) edge of a window will cause that window to be horizontally maximized. This is NOT the 'drag to the top to horizontally maximize' option which is readily disabled. All too often I will be scrolling down a web page and *BOING* I suddenly have a browser covering the monitor screen from left edge to right (but, thankfully, not top to bottom as well). This is annoying. I don't want this. And I have yet to find any setting or control to disable this annoying misfeature.

I am not quite to the point of bailing on Xfce. Otherwise, I find Xfce to be if not ideal, certainly more than merely good enough. However, if this irksome misfeature can't be disabled, I fear I must start the likewise irksome process of seeking a replacement Desktop Environment/Window Manager.


Current Mood: irked
Current Music: Andrews Sisters - Carmen's Boogie

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February 2nd, 2015


05:12 am - Belated: Ren in the Glen 2014


Having had a very good time at the Siouxland Renaissance Festival this past year, even with the tiredness from working Friday night and possible dehydration issues while trying to be an upstanding centaur, I decided to see if there were other faires or festivals that would be workable in terms of calendar timing and driving distance - and appeal. Most were too far away, a few were timed awkwardly, one was simply not of interest. Two stood out. One was Sioux City Riverssance and the other was one I'd not heard of before: Ren in the Glen near Glenwood, WI. This was relatively close and in late July. That's almost ideal. Really, only Siouxland is more convenient. And it was also close enough for my mother and a friend of hers to make a trip for the faire. What got their attention, and mine, was that one featured act was Pizpor the Magician, who is talented enough to make a great show out of "bad" tricks.

The faire, we eventually discovered, was formed as sort of byproduct of the collapse of the Chippewa Falls faire. "We have a much better idea of who not to deal with now." was said. This was not the first year, for Glenwood, but the third. We were told it has grown considerably, but it's taking a slow and steady approach to growth rather than overambitiously burning out as so many events do. It has a very "small Iowa faire" feel to it, which is a Good Thing. While one isn't likely to see many Iowa folks there, the feel is similar - and there were some Iowa/Sioux Falls people, such as Thread Bear (woven stuff). A "Nishna" feel was mentioned - Nishna being a faire that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but was a lot of fun.

A couple of the more memorable vendors were a candy vendor with a good variety of fudge and "old time" flavors like sassafras and clove, and a beer vendor who had some good stuff - this was not a place to get Budweiser or Miller or Coors. The main food was of a reasonable selection for the size and location of the event. I doubt even a picky eater would have been left hungry. If that wasn't enough, a few vendors had a snack or drink sideline.

We really only saw a couple shows. I had to work Friday night again and napped (or tried to) while underway on Saturday morning, so I had only a few hours of real consciousness before pretty much collapsing at or after supper (which wasn't at the faire, but at a place - the Norske Nook - famous for its pies, and whose location I misremembered). After a good night's sleep, I was more awake for Sunday and the weather was a bit better, sunny rather than occasional drizzle. And that's when Pizpor had a show where things really, really clicked.

Pizpor's show is quite good, but sometimes there isn't much of an audience due to weather or it's late in the day and the general energy is ebbing. But this was his second show of the day. The weather was ideal. The crowd was, for the location, large, and things just went right. At one point a troupe of belly dancers sat down to watch and I turned, facing away from the stage (knowing Pizpor would find a way to work with it) and told them, "The view is better this way." which they appreciated. Not much later, sure, enough, he asked about the situation. "He says the view is better this way!" and after a bit more of the show, something must have not gone quite right and he suggested, "Why don't we all look away from the stage?" Other bits went on as expected, or rather, as hoped. One bit involves the "infamous" rope trick ("There is no rope trick!")[1] with three bits of rope, which get handed out to audience members for a few moments and then reacquired. "I have long one!" "I have an average one." and for the short rope, "I drive a Corvette." but this guy had seen the show before, and was into it. Instead of the more usual sheepish hesitance, he belted out the line and the audience roared - and Pizpor was as shocked as I've ever seen him. We spoke a bit after that show and he was glowing with how amazingly well things gone. It seemed to more than make up for the morning show where weather had had a negative influence just when he would have passed the hat.

I think we all plan on returning to Ren in the Glen. It's a great way to spend an easygoing weekend in late July. The location works but isn't horribly far away from larger cities, the tickets are very inexpensive ($7 per person, with a discount for ordering ahead). This is smaller than Siouxland or Riverssance, but it has the right feel to it. It might be small, but it's not lacking. It has the "We're throwing a party..." (or having a picnic) "...and you're invited." feeling that good faires have.



[1] The afternoon before, in an off moment, Pizpor had just arrived and was relaxing on a then-unused stage. I got up and joined him, "Now I can say I've shared a stage with Pizpor!" He asked just what we were doing and I replied, "Here we are, both not doing the rope trick." He approved of this.


Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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January 28th, 2015


02:45 am - The Canary in the Coal Mine


I am not mining coal, nor do I have a canary. What I do have is a house with electric wiring, some of which might charitably be called 'vintage' and a TRENDnet wireless access point. This combination gave us trouble (or at least me - since I do not have an unlimited data plan on my phone, so I go wifi or nothing unless I specifically turn on mobile networking). I found I would need to re-set the wireless access point often. It might be fine for a day or so, or it might fall over several times a day. This was, of course, quite annoying. What good is a network that doesn't network?

At first I blamed the TRENDnet device as it was the thing that was falling down constantly. Eventually I got so annoyed with it I looked at replacing it outright or even using a computer with a USB wifi gimmick as my own wireless access point. I didn't go that far, but did get sufficiently irked to move the thing into the office (from the living room) where at least I could more easily reset it. And then it worked. And worked. And kept on working - for a couple weeks solid. That indicates the canary, er, TRENDnet device itself isn't the problem, but something was causing it to fail.

There are only two cables going to the device: power and network. And then I recalled two things. One was that we had a lot of wifi failures when a tree branch was brushing up against a power line and when it finally caused a power outage and was dealt with, the wifi worked well again. That pointed to power quality problem. The other was that the problem might be in the house, as with a charred outlet that at least failed open and didn't start a fire. That had me concerned enough to consider rewiring, but first I would inspect everything on that living room circuit.

The inspection took a bit as there were more outlets and light switches on that circuit than we had recorded (or I read the notebook wrong...) and I found a couple things I wasn't entirely happy about. One was a simple re-doing of a workable, but sloppy, connection. The other was an outlet that felt like it was going come apart. That one got replaced. Only then did I feel it was safe to re-energize that circuit. Due to my work and sleep schedule and how wiped I've been feeling since an illness (bad cold?) this took a few days.

Yesterday I finally moved the access point back to the living room. The wireless setup has been working solid for over 14 hours as I write this. That's no guarantee off success - it's lasted a day or two there before. But it is a hopeful since failure within 12 hours had been the norm. I think I'll know in a week or two for sure. And even if that outlet wasn't the problem, I am glad to have replaced it.

Just to be sure, I've disconnected everything but lights from the suspect circuit. After the wifi has proven itself solid, I plan to re-connect things one at a time, over several days, just in case it was some other device causing trouble.


Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
Current Music: Groovie Goolies (Spirits of '76) - Be Kind to Monsters Week

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January 12th, 2015


09:16 am - Happy 1952? Or maybe 1953.


The first Saturday of the year was the $WORKPLACE Christmas party. As usual, there was a drawing for employees, and prizes handed out. Many were smaller items ("A t-shirt and a water bottle.") and there were various larger items, including a couple grills, a couple Keurig machines, a nice KitchenAid stand mixer, and a couple TVs. One TV was first (I suspect it was a 720p cheapie) and the other, a 40 inch Vizio 'Smart' TV was last.

Having been to a few of these and having gotten a (right, proper non-DRM-ed yay!) Keurig a couple years ago I didn't expect much and was mainly hoping not to get stuck with another shirt I'd likely never wear and a water bottle I'd likely never use. Despite not really having a space for it, I'd not have minded walking away with the KithenAid mixer one little bit. I was happy to see others get the grills. But (you're way ahead of me, aren't you?) but things went differently from that. The very last name pulled out for the drawing? For the big fancy TV? Was mine.

And then I had to go work, so it was just "Go home, unload, go to work." and then... well the living room has been cluttered for ages. It didn't make sense to even unpack the set until there was a place for it to go. And then there was dealing with the clothes washer and more work and things sat. And like with the Keurig the question came up if I was enjoying the new set yet and I've not learned to just lie and say "Yes, thank you." even yet.

A few days ago I had just enough energy to clean up things enough to have space for the set and assembled it and powered it up and... discovered that the set could deal with wifi, but didn't understand some people use long, secure passwords. And then I had this three-day weekend... which was unpleasant as I spent the majority of it Quite Ill Indeed. But this weekend I did finally move a network cable (need to re-arrange more, but that got the set going) and watched a couple short youtube bits on the big screen.

This morning I finally watched my first full TV show on the set. This is a 40 inch, HD, 1080p color, stereo, widescreen and all that. So my first full program? The Spike Jones Show, from New Year's Eve(?) 1952 in glorious B&W, 4:3 aspect ratio and monaural sound. I don't try to do this sort of thing, it just happens. So help me, I thought I'd posted about once setting up audio streaming on Linux and streaming mp3's of cylinder recordings, but I haven't found that post despite a couple hours and multiple search engines. Something is screwy and I hope it's not me this time.


Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Spike Jones - Clink! Clink! Another Drink

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06:31 am - Then the other washer went, so I went to the truck stop...


The last few times I'd used the clothes washer the clothes seemed wetter than the spin-dry should have left them. Then the washer went *THUMP* *THUMP *THUMP* the last time. Uh oh. Called appliance dealer to see what a repair might involve. It would involve, at a minimum, about $700. The advice was to replace since it wouldn't be much more and then everything would be new.

We did that. A friend recommended a different dealer in town (one that I had pretty much forgotten existed) but I felt like the service was better or at least lower pressure on sales ("We don't need fancy. We just need clean." "OK.") and went with that. The dryer is fine, but of course this is a stacked setup that must be stacked due to location of fixture and such. There are stacking kits. But those only within brand and then often only within model. So now we have a new washer, with an older dryer, separated by a bit of old carpeting. The installers decided the best or at least easiest course of action after that was a real Red Green solution: duct tape. Yes, really.

Jay and I both decided that would simply Not Do. Even with alleged vibration sensing and damping, trusting things to six strips of duct tape seemed insane. So I went to the truck stop and bought a come-along strap setup and wrapped that around the washer-dryer combo. A few more carpet scraps as things were ratcheted tight and I feel a lot better about things.


Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: Eddie Cantor - Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz!

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November 23rd, 2014


09:58 am - The Dishwasher is dead. Long live the Dishwasher.


Each big appliance
Treats you with defiance,
Until it finally falls apart.

-- Here's To The Crabgrass by Alan Sherman

When we moved into this house we bought several new appliances. In the first few years we replaced a couple more. The one thing that has lasted, perhaps beyond all reason, was the dishwasher that came with the place. It was the odd black appliance in a kitchen of white-painted cabinetry. Some considerable time ago it started making 'bearing is going' noises, and the advice was to be ready to replace it, but run it into the ground and get every wash cycle we could out of the thing. We did. Yesterday morning we were going let it run while we went out for breakfast, but it didn't run. It didn't make the sound(s) we've come to expect, nor did it operate. It made some sound, sure, but it was clearly no longer working.

As I had the night off, we went out to look at new dishwashers despite the late (for me) time of noon. The advice we were given regarding this was to look for a stainless steel interior, and pay the installation fee so others could deal with transport and install hassles - including the removal and disposal of the old machine. There is, really, only one appliance dealer in town we really consider (there is a micro-Sears in our mall-oid, and maybe something else, but not really worth bothering with) and so we started - and ended - there.

We looked over the lineup and settled on what seems to be a, and perhaps the, top of the line Maytag. It's still not as expensive as others (such as Whirlpool) and has all the features we wanted and likely more. We could get it in white to match the kitchen, it has a stainless steel interior, the controls are on the front (rather than the top of the door, where they're hidden - which might look nice, but means a lack of indicators and ready control accessibility), the top rack is height adjustable, and various rack bits can fold out of the way for things. There's even a near autoclave-like option for sterilization - something I doubt we'll be using much, if indeed at all, but it's there.

I have next Wednesday night off, too, which is good as the soonest they can deliver and install is Wednesday afternoon. That also gives us some time to clean up the kitchen so we can move the table out to give the installers room to move things out and in. In the meantime, it's back to hand washing everything. There have been some things that I've always hand washed, but it was so nice to let a machine deal with most things. Naturally, I am looking forward to Wednesday night when I can again let a machine deal with most things.


Current Mood: tiredtired

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03:22 am - Borosilicate update


A new borosilicate glass 8 x 8 pan arrived recently. It's not inexpensive, but it's also not cheap soda-lime junk either. It's French-made under the name 'Arcuisine' (evidently "European Pyrex" which is still proper borosilicate glass - good to 300 C which is 570 F, rather than only 425 F). I've now used it once and am so far happy with it.

I do not plan to abuse it like was done for these extreme tests but those do show that borosilicate will outlast soda-lime under extreme conditions.

It looks like right now if I want decent glass bakeware my choices are Arcuisine (French) or Simax (Czech). Both cost, but both are right proper borosilicate. So called "pyrex" (lower case) and Anchor are both now mere soda-lime and not worth bothering with unless I expect to never heat or chill them much. A "pyrex" mixing bowl is probably fine. A "pyrex" pan is wasted money.

I have two measuring cups. One is labeled PYREX (upper case) and is absolutely clear. It's older, and proper borosilicate. The other is newer and 'pyrex' (all lower case) and has the telltale green tinge of mere soda-lime glass. The answer is clear: I buy Arcuisine or Simax. World Kitchen (who bought the pyrex name from Corning) does not deserve my money - unless they start making things of proper borosilicate glass. Neither does Anchor Hocking, for the very same reason. Simple rule: Bakeware with a green tinge is crap - DO NOT BUY. Soda-lime won't always be given away by the green tinge, but if you see it, leave it on the shelf rather than waste your money on shatter-prone garbage.


Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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October 31st, 2014


07:02 am - Kill the spambar!


"Stan Lee is now on LiveJournal -- THEREALSTANLEE"
Alright, fine, good for him and his fans.
Now get that stupid freaking spambar OFF of my page you wankers.


Current Mood: pissed offpissed off
Current Music: Dr. Strangelove and the Fallouts - Love That Bomb

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October 30th, 2014


02:47 am - Pyrex Ain't Pyrex Anymore


I was unaware that Corning, or its inheritor World Kitchen switched from proper low-expansion borosilicate glass to ordinary (alright, tempered) soda-lime glass, which is not low-expansion. I just got to experience this cheapening. My 8x8 "Pyrex" pan went into the oven at room temperature and in one piece. It came out rather hotter (what's an oven for?) but in several pieces. Naturally, I am unhappy about this.

Pyrex had come to mean "can handle heat" and this utterly failed to. Now, borosilicate glass is not as low-expansion or change-in-heat tolerant as fused quartz, but I'm not going from boiling water to an ice bath (fused quartz can deal with that, borosilicate cannot). Soda-lime glass is very much not known for low-expansion or dealing well with changes in heat. The maker claims it's less prone to breakage when dropped. Also, it's cheaper to make. But that doesn't help it hold together when used for baking, which is rather the point of a thing called "bakeware."

Now, where do I get a right, proper borosilicate glass pan? After this, I am not sure I can trust any of this recent pseudo-Pyrex. I might end up preemptively replacing it all before I get a big mess. I was relatively lucky this time and only baking some fish - easy to recover for cleanup. Had it been a cake or brownies or something more fluid, I'd have had a much nastier mess to clean up.


Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: Groovie Goolies - Monster Cookbook

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October 7th, 2014


03:21 am - Sioux City Riverssance 2014


It's been several years since I was able to visit the Sioux City 'Riverssance' Renaissance festival. It's perhaps the last of the small Iowa faires not run by a certain organizer who, as soon as I see he involved, causes me to lose any interest. I think I have been there twice before - once driving and once jmaynard and I flew (if you think garb gets you odd looks at times, climb out of a private plane in garb and watch the jaws drop...) It's a fun little faire with more than a few familiar faces - some of which we'd not seen in far too long.

Things are finally, just barely, to the point where we have the time & money to be able to enjoy more than just one faire per year. Saturday did not have the best of starts due to not finding a little place for breakfast. It was there, but we didn't find it until after breakfast at an IHOP that had lacking service - I wondered if someone hadn't showed up for that shift.

Upon arrival at the faire, there was (overly) amplified music for a belly dance troupe. It was not the group I remembered or wished to see... and they could have dropped things at least 20 dB and been fine, though it still might have been too loud. I had to stand well away just to be able to tolerate the sound level. I felt ZERO guilt walking away from this bunch.

Wandering some, I found the right group, Danza Mystique, with more appropriate sound (live drummer, anything more now provided by a very unobtrusive tablet). It was near the end of their performance and Nasira pulled me onto the stage almost upon seeing me (the last bit is always an audience participation bit, usually mainly for kids). The stage was in three independent sections and the ground was uneven. I stepped aside after one go around as I was worried my weight on one the pieces acting as a lever might send a little kid flying. After the performance finished about the first thing said was on the order of "We're still using those chairs. Thank you." I had all but forgotten about them. This goes back to 2003: "You brat!"

While the Danzan's were talking to other folks, I gathered some sticks and twigs and shimmed the stage some. The end result was still far from perfect, but much, much less likely to send anyone flying - or stumbling. Sunday, their drummer made a point of thanking me for doing that. I was more surprised that nobody else had done anything of the sort.

Later we caught up with Robert of Orckes & Trolles (Or as Zski calls/called them, "Orckies & Trollies") and learned that they had a third CD out and we'd had a mention in the liner notes of their second. I hadn't realized I had that one and if I saw that, had forgotten. They had just recently sold out of the second CD and on Sunday I suggested a scan of the notes and that was agreed to. I've since sent an email to let Robert know that is not necessary as we do indeed have that CD.

There was a post-faire-day gathering (such things seem fairly common at the little Iowa faires I like & have missed since most of them disappeared) at Golden Corral where the rennies had a room mostly to themselves, but it wasn't enough. I know for sure I missed a few people. I suspect a waitress felt overwhelmed or at least bewildered - but she had more than a little help from some of the rennies gathering plates, and we made sure she got a very good tip.

Sunday started better, as we went to the right place for breakfast. For a hole in the wall known for hot dogs, they do omelets very, very well indeed. The day was also a bit warmer and a bit less windy, but I decided to start the day with woolen Inverness cloak just to be sure. I spent much of Saturday indulging in hot cocoa. The one downside was the not-Danza group had cranked their amp... to the point the Orckes & Trolles decided they wouldn't bother trying to sing over it - and they were half-way across the site. We later learned that they had generated more than a few complaints about that.

Much of Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, with the addition of seeing an Orckes & Trolles performance (without them having to compete with an amplifier), a bit of Shattock's (they're still around - though only Mercutio is left of the original cast) take on Romeo & Juliet. Until recently, I was expecting to see Foolscap and Lady Ampersand as well, perhaps as Concentio Agnorum, though a web site makes it look like things pretty much ended a couple years ago. Due to their recent move far from Iowa, this was not to be.

A few purchases were made. A local winery had some good stuff and we bought a few bottles, and sampled others. And after sampling their chokecherry wine, I made a point of buying a bottle of that, too. Just as we were about to decide on some soaps, there was a gust of wind. This was caught by the side of a tent, which transmitted the force to a open display case which tipped. I just barely caught the case, but the soap went flying all the same. After some reassembly, another gust of wind, and a change of layout so any more wind gusts wouldn't provide a game of 52-bar pick-up, the selections were settled upon and purchased. I also picked up a ceramic 'flask' that has some unicorn imagery - and got the lecture on what NOT to do with it (all inspired by others doing exactly those things, with disastrous result). Jay bought a teeny tiny little ceramic bowl (you could maybe dip *a* fingertip in it) for work, to demonstrate how much he cares about some things, as his caring would not even fill that bowl. We also stopped in at Thread Bear, who we saw at Ren in the Glen (which I evidently didn't post about... yet). I did not see Scots Dragon there, and only now do I find that they have ceased operations. I wonder if their successors were there.

I am unsure which day it was, but Nasira made a point of getting a photo of her with me, with me wearing my "Property of Danza Mystique" tag. This photo is to be sent to Tamalena who moved rather far west many years ago now. The back of the tag reads, "If lost, return to Tamalena." Someone else of the group remarked, "Wow, you have been around awhile. We haven't given those out in years." I am told that Tamalena will be greatly amused by the picture. I hope so.

All in all, it's good to be "back" some. I missed the little Iowa faires and the folks I met at them. This was very, very therapeutic.


Current Mood: refreshedrefreshed

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September 3rd, 2014


12:23 pm - New Old Hardware and Futher Adventures in Linux Mint & Gigabyte


I still have the bluetooth issue, but at least I have an idea it will be resolved. It's just a matter of how soon. Seems that once upon a time as things were changing Blueman (the bluetooth manager program recommended for Xubuntu 14 and Mint 17 Xfce) had some trouble with PulseAudio and so unloaded the PulseAudio bluetooth module and handled that itself. Or else PulseAudio had an issue, but the result was the same. Then whatever it was got fixed, the do-it-myself work-around in Blueman was removed, but the unloader was left in. Now I wait for a new stable version to reach the repositories so I can update it nicely and have a system without needing an incantation at every boot.

My vacation, which just ended, involved some time in Merrill visiting my mother and other family and friends. It was nice, relaxing week for me. And I brought home a few things, including a printer and flatbed scanner that had been sitting idle for some time. Also, a little USB-cassette gadget that I'd ordered a while back had arrived. All this stuff takes some room and my desk was a cluttered, jumbled mess. So the first order of business (after unloading the car, unpacking, and starting laundry...) was clearing and rearranging the desk. It's better now, but it still wouldn't appear in Better Homes & Gardens. I wouldn't want it to, anyway. It's to be used, not just for display.

The cassette gadget replaces a tape deck and I was amused that the software that was included was Audacity. Sure, the paper said it was Windows & Mac, but the device presents as a USB microphone and I've been using Audacity in Linux for years. But it only worked if I used a USB2 port, not a handier USB3 port. Port speed wasn't important, but that problem lead me to investigate. No USB3 ports were truly working. They had power, sure, but Mint 17 wasn't seeing them right. It was the IOMMU issue again. That took installing Grub Customizer so I could add 'iommu-soft' to the boot parameters and be done. And done it is. I have all the USB ports working again. And the USB-cassette gadget? Works fine, after a little fiddling with PulseAudio settings to get everything just so.

The printer install went very well indeed. I simply told Mint 17 to add a printer and it pretty much went, "Oh this one? Can I download this driver? Wanna print a test page?" and the biggest delay was finding paper. It went so fast that I was disappointed it didn't print, only to find out it had printed. It was just that fast about it. Now I wanted to print stuff, but realized I really only had a need to print a few times a year. At least now I can do that directly and be done.

The scanner took more doing. It's not exactly new. As in, it uses a USB 1.1 connection. And, alas, Linux scanning tools do not support it directly. The result was that while the system saw it fine, the scanning programs went, "What scanner?" The adventure began. Of all the various web pages, this one seemed to be the most useful, even if it was for a different scanner. It has its own problem, which is that Avasys no longer supports the scanner, Epson does. So instead of the Avasys page, I needed Epson's download page and then I goofed and wound up wasting too much time. There are two download pages needed, but three things to download. I kept missing the data file that everything else depended upon.

What's needed? These:
iscan-data_1.29.0-2_all.deb
iscan_2.29.3-1~usb0.1.ltdl7_amd64.deb
iscan-plugin-gt-s600_2.1.2-1_amd64.deb

Once I realized that error and snagged the data file, Epson's scanning program installed. Annoyingly, it then went, "Scanner? What scanner?" but Simple Scan finally went, "Oh, look, a scanner!" and works. I seem to need to disconnect & reconnect it for each session, but it does work. And despite USB 1.1, doesn't seem terribly slow. Now, what do I need to scan?


Current Mood: accomplished

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August 7th, 2014


12:04 pm - The (Not This) Year Of The Linux Desktop: Bluetooth Edition


I've been running Linux of one sort or another as my primary ("desktop") operating system for over a decade. While I am not The Ultimate Linux Geek or such, I have at least a fair idea of what I am doing and going back to Windows makes my teeth itch. There has been significant progress in making Linux readily usable for "the general public." While there are distributions like Slackware and Arch which expect the user to be able to pop the hood and adjust things, there are also distributions like Ubuntu and its variants and descendants that are made with the idea that the only time a user ever sees a command line is if s/he really wants to use that. It's a wonderful objective. I'd love to be able to tell people "Just use $DISTRIBUTION and everything will be taken care of." But, alas, I cannot.

The nightmares of years past, often squirrelly audio and dubious video seem to have been vanquished. CoDec issues are either obviated or readily cured with single package of a graphical package manager, if not by a system offered "Download and install these now?" option. And then we come to bluetooth. That thing that pairs up your phone with your headset or such, and after the initial setup it "just works" and you no longer think about it unless you change hardware somewhere. That's how Linux should handle bluetooth, too. Keyword: "should" And yet, that is not the case.

I had been using Xubuntu 12.04 and while bluetooth required a bit of work to install (more than one package, editing of a config file - the sort of thing *buntu tries so hard to not need) after that setup, things worked. A reboot didn't stop that. Things that worked yesterday, would work tomorrow just the same, without any intervention.

And then after I screwed something up (admittedly my own fault) I went to Xubuntu 13.10 and learned things no longer worked that way. The same is still true for Xubuntu 14.04 and therefore Mint 17 as well. The bluetooth package installs nice and easy, graphically, and appears to work. It scans around and finds bluetooth devices. But if I want my headset to work? Nope. Not until I invoke the incantation, "sudo pactl load-module module-bluetooth-discover" which is odd as the system discovers things fine, it just doesn't work with all of them.

Someone, somewhere, updated something. It was meant well. But everyone seems to have rushed to embrace the update which was not yet ready for one of the more popular things to do with bluetooth: transmit and receive audio. The result is that pretty much every distribution I have tried of late has this exact same breakage. For me, it's merely annoying. If it were others of my family it would likely be, "It doesn't work." or "Why can't it do that automatically?" (I've wondered that one myself - it should happen automatically, yet does not.) or simply, "That's stupid" - and I agree. it is stupid. It's this sort of nonsense that impedes things.

Ah, but that's not all, folks. Now if I should take my headset out of range and lose the connection, all that should happen is a lost connection - and an automatically regained connection once I am reliably back in range. Instead what can happen is things stop working altogether and the incantation must be invoked again - which has a curious side-effect of quietly and invisibly breaking something else: Skype looks like it's still connected and working, but is not. And trying to close it doesn't truly end the process. Once more I must resort to the command line and issue "kill -9 <process_number>" Yes, with the -9 option or the unwanted process runs on anyway. Then, and only then, can I restart Skype and be able to actually communicate with it. And just this once, I do not believe it is Microsoft (which now owns & runs Skype) that is screwy. Microsoft is busy breaking it in other ways just now.

The frustrating thing is not simply that it's weirdly broken now, but that it is weirdly broken now when it worked exactly as it should (aside from initial setup being fiddly) earlier. Now, this will almost certainly be resolved in time, but how much? I've already gone through Xubuntu 13.10 and the problem remains in 14.04. And I'm not just picking on *buntu here. PCLinuxOS has the exact same breakage. Korora (a Red Hat derivative), at least the Xfce edition, didn't even seem to have bluetooth that could be made workable at all when I last tried it. Dangit, solved problems should stay solved. This is a reinvented wheel, but while new, it is not yet properly round. Don't ship it unfinished.


Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: Tom Payne - I Built A Better Model than the One at Data General

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August 6th, 2014


12:05 pm - Poll: Going nuclear


Sixty-nine years ago, at 8:15 AM, over Hiroshima, Japan, the world changed as World War Two went nuclear. A few days later, Kokura got very, very lucky and Nagasaki's luck ran out. Since that time no war has gone nuclear. It would be nice to be able to say that that will remain the case with certainty. That certainty does not exist and a nuclear strike is not outside the realm of possibility. Thus, once again, this poll:

Poll #1977910 Sitting in the back room, waiting for the big boom...

Who will break the nuclear peace, such as it is? That is, who will fire the *first* nuclear shot?

United States
1(25.0%)
Russia
0(0.0%)
United Kingdom
0(0.0%)
France
0(0.0%)
China
0(0.0%)
India
0(0.0%)
Pakistan
0(0.0%)
North Korea
1(25.0%)
Israel
0(0.0%)
Iran
0(0.0%)
Saudi Arabia
0(0.0%)
Another country
0(0.0%)
A terrorist organization
2(50.0%)
Nobody
0(0.0%)

The delivery system will be:

a ballistic missile.
1(25.0%)
a cruise missile.
0(0.0%)
a manned aircraft.
0(0.0%)
a drone aircraft.
1(25.0%)
a ship or submarine leaving a bomb in or near a port.
0(0.0%)
a truck parked and left.
2(50.0%)
a suicide bomber.
0(0.0%)
something else.
0(0.0%)
non-existent.
0(0.0%)

The result will be:

A rapid nuclear escalation to the end of the world.
0(0.0%)
A rather large, but still limited, nuclear exchange.
0(0.0%)
A dozen or so nukes will be popped.
1(25.0%)
A nuke for a nuke, and it will end with 2 or maybe 4.
0(0.0%)
Just one nuke will be popped.
2(50.0%)
Just one nuke, and it will be a fizzle (still several tons yeild).
0(0.0%)
Just one nuke, but it will be a very embarrassing complete dud.
0(0.0%)
Nothing, as nobody will start popping nukes.
1(25.0%)

Continent on which the first big mushroom will grow:

Africa
1(25.0%)
Antarctica
0(0.0%)
Asia
2(50.0%)
Australia
0(0.0%)
Europe
0(0.0%)
North America
1(25.0%)
South America
0(0.0%)
Ocean burst - above, on, or in
0(0.0%)
Not gonna happen.
0(0.0%)

Vakkotaur will be mixed up in all this...

exactly not all.
1(25.0%)
as a downwinder sheltering from fallout.
1(25.0%)
close enough to hear a rumble or see a mushroom cloud.
0(0.0%)
as part of the fallout.
0(0.0%)
accidently gave away the key to making the nuke work.
0(0.0%)
...that was no accident.
0(0.0%)
as the one who didn't tell them how to make it 'Much bigger'
0(0.0%)
He's got this huge marshmallow and a really big stick...
2(50.0%)
He will check his stockpile to make sure nothing is missing.
0(0.0%)

And when the exchange is over...

...the world will recoil in horror and try to end nukes altogether - and succeed.
0(0.0%)
...the world will recoil in horror and try to end nukes altogether - and fail.
3(75.0%)
...nothing much will change.
1(25.0%)
...it will be seen not AS bad as the warnings, and nukes will see occasional use.
0(0.0%)
...nukes will become weapons of routine.
0(0.0%)
...nukes will become weapons of routine. - And chem/bio will be seen as the poor country's counter/
0(0.0%)
...aliens will inherit a cleared up earth - after several half-lives.
0(0.0%)
...all those mythical creatures? Forecasts, really.
0(0.0%)
...nothing different since there will be no exchange.
0(0.0%)


Current Mood: curiouscurious

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June 11th, 2014


07:21 am - A Few Photos from Siouxland


As you can see, I am just a bit short for the centaur setup as it is (was?) and thus the equine back leans down and forward some. But better a tilted centaur than no centaur, so... on with the show. Or something. Also, yes the site is a county fairgrounds and the background reveals the parking lot. There is site work being done so that, eventually, the faire or parts of it will be in a more secluded or at least less obviously modern built-up area. I'd rather have a great faire at a so-so site than a poor faire at a fantastic site - and I have experienced that.

Five PhotosCollapse )


Current Mood: happyhappy

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June 10th, 2014


10:26 am - Siouxland 2014
Friday-Saturday

Due to scheduling TARFU (guy making the schedule claims he called me - that is most probably true - and left a message, that is absolutely, utterly FALSE) I wound up working Friday night rather than sleeping in Sioux Falls as expected. I slept some on the way to the Siouxland Renaissance Festival but it wasn't much.

Siouxland 2014Collapse )


Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Groovie Goolies - Be Kind To Monsters Week

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May 6th, 2014


09:13 pm - A picture of two unicorns


From Penguicon 2014, taken by a kind bystander with the other unicorn's phone camera:



Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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02:07 pm - "...and a unicorn to be named later."


No, I am not naming a unicorn 'Later'.

This past weekend was another Penguicon, sensibly called Penguicon 2014 (which happened to be the 11th one). Orvan was out only a few times, partly as he had only a couple ACME Deliveries to make, and I cut back on the amount of Cow Tales candy to give away. I think I have the amount about right, now. The other part of that is that I still have a weight issue I am dealing with.

Some things went well. The 'Chitty Chitty' ribbon seemed to go over well with the folks who were going to the Geeks with Guns outing at a local range. Why that text? To go ahead of the event's 'Bang! Bang!' ribbon, of course. ACME was popular, as usual, though with fewer ACME deliveries explaining things, there were more questions about it. 'Moo' was a bit more self-explanatory and there was 'Houyhnhnm' as well.

Unfortunately one side-effect of the first ACME delivery, at Opening Ceremonies, was that Jay missed something set up for him as he helped Orvan back to the room. It was 10 years ago that he debuted his Tron costume there and more than a few folks are of the opinion that he (and it?) are rather representative of Penguicon and the do-your-own-thing and ignore-the-naysayers attitude of it all. To mark that, the Open Soda folks were commissioned with making up a PENGUITRON soda, a 2 liter bottle of which was to be presented at Opening Ceremonies. Alas, nobody even hinted he should be or stay around for anything. They wanted it to be a surprise, but kept it just a bit too secret.

As I was packing I was debating taking a certain shirt and a latex prop unicorn mask. I very nearly didn't, as I have an idea of what I want to do to finish the look of the thing and I'm not there yet. The unicorn needs hooves, a bit of a cooling system, and ideally a thinner me, at the very least. However, I decided on a whim to bring it anyway and see what might happen. I am so glad I did.

The shirt was a long sleeved t-shirt with text reading, "Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn." Naturally that simply had to be paired with the unicorn mask. That was worth a few comments and laughs right there. A unicorn also gets attention simply from being a unicorn out and about. Mostly the unicorn was popular - and with one little girl very much so (I suspect it was the same girl who all but Elmyra-glomped Orvan for a couple minutes). There was another little girl who was a bit scared of the unicorn and I can't say I blame her - that mask is a bit on the creepy side, unicorn or not.

The unicorn mask is not fur, is light and thin, and allows me to wear my glasses under it. The result is that even without a fan (which is still a Good Idea) that it's much cooler (thermally) than Orvan and I felt like I could be out longer, or at least not feel as drained for the amount of time. Of course, the unicorn has no particular mission - he's not employed by ACME - beyond simply existing. At the end of one outing, the unicorn was told, "Wait right here!" and someone ran off in quite a hurry... and returned as unicorn himself. I have a copy of the resulting photo. I later heard that he and another had been around and this Penguicon had not one, not two, but three unicorns (make your own joke) - but I never encountered the third.

I do plan on bringing the unicorn back, and I am debating if he should be named. Also, if he should hand (hoof?) out ribbons and what text such ribbons ought to have. Long term, I might want to see about a less horrifying head and perhaps get fancy with the horn - though sparkling would be a bit much. That, however, is decidedly long term. It might never happen.


Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Request-A-Song -- The Pixels of the Universe

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April 24th, 2014


04:45 am - Recovery vs. "Recovery"




Current Mood: depresseddepressed
Current Music: Juliana Hatfield - Total System Failure

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April 19th, 2014


10:28 am - A Midsummer Night's Smoke


Today is, as he put it, the anniversary of my father's birth ("Everyone only gets one birthday. The rest are anniversaries.") and I had this, or something close written up last year... and then some fool made the Boston Marathon a bit too newsworthy and I decided it would be best not to post this just then, for reasons that will become clear. Thus, delayed, here is a tale of a mid-summer night's smoke:

There are times when a joke or gag is set up and things go wrong. Sometimes they go wrong in ways that make it better than if it had gone right.

This story took place sometime in the 1970s at a place, or perhaps I should say facility, that no longer exists. The details of it are not all that important other than it was a blue collar operation and shifts ran throughout the day and night when things were operating. From the various stories I've heard of the place, it was a somewhat relaxed atmosphere. Still, it was always a bit surprising to me that things didn't go badly when all this happened.

Pa, who as far as I know has never smoked at all (beyond second-hand, which was pretty much unavoidable in times gone by) had somehow wound up with a cigar. Not one to simply pass such a thing along unmodified, and having some 'cigarette loads' the idea of an exploding cigar was too good to pass up. A cigar is bigger than a cigarette, so Pa figured it would need a bigger charge. One load might not be enough. Two might not be enough. Three ought to do it. These were poked in through a tiny hole in the plastic/cellophane wrapper and worked into the cigar.

One night the cigar was passed along to the area foreman. No big deal, some guy had given a non-smoker a cigar and he was just passing it along. Now, this might be a good story right there if the foreman had smoked the thing. That did not happen. For that night there just happened to be a special visitor, who I'm not sure exactly but I'll refer to as the Big Boss. Trying to make a good impression, the foreman offers the Big Boss a cigar. The only one he has on him.

There is, I imagine, the usual talking of this and that and the looking over the operation. Then the Big Boss takes a stroll outside and lights up the cigar. A little time passes.

*BANG!*

The Big Boss comes back in, the cigar peeled back as if it were a banana, "...just like in the cartoons." Fortunately the Big Boss had a good humor about it, and was laughing, "I never thought that would happen to me!"

I never did hear what reaction the foreman had when he realized that it was meant for him... but it couldn't have been too bad since Pa was still working there for some time. Since all seemed to have a good humor about it, all three (and the various witnesses) all got a story out of it. Pa got the story of how a gag went better than expected, despite the potential for it being bad. The Big Boss got the story about the time someone gave him an exploding cigar. And the foreman got the the story the cigar that didn't blow up in his face... and didn't cause the Big Boss the blow up either.

I doubt such a thing could happen today. Nowadays, there'd likely be charges filed for there being an "explosive device" and the invoking of a Zero-Intelligence Policy.


Current Mood: nostalgic?
Current Music: Glenn Miller - American Patrol

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March 14th, 2014


11:02 am - Poll: Flight MH370


Poll #1960589 Up in the air

Flight MH370

Mechanical failure - sudden
0(0.0%)
echanical failure - slow (subtle decompression?)
1(11.1%)
Hijacked & diverted.
3(33.3%)
Terrorism - boom, but not where anyone might guess.
1(11.1%)
CIA/NSA/TLA plot
0(0.0%)
Aliens (the space kind)
0(0.0%)
Crossed the Probability Barrier and went to another universe.
0(0.0%)
It landed safely... in 1941, perhaps.
1(11.1%)
Gremlins (but not from the Kremlin)
0(0.0%)
There was never a flight MH370.
0(0.0%)
It's all a bizarre publicity stunt.
0(0.0%)
It got stuck in a celestial sphere.
0(0.0%)
The chemtrails got it.
0(0.0%)
It was running Windows 8 and....
2(22.2%)
I can't talk about it. You shouldn't either.
1(11.1%)


Current Mood: curiouscurious
Current Music: Ray Stevens - This Ain't Exactly What I Had In Mind

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January 30th, 2014


10:13 am - It's Not 1972 Anymore


Not like we didn't know that, but this was brought home to me in a very effective manner, though one that might not make sense to others without some explanation.

Back in 1972 if you wanted a typical (as seen nowadays) red dot laser you needed to get a Helium-Neon laser tube which was not cheap then. A very quick web search shows that a low end 'HeNe' tube today is about $60. And as with most tube gear, a high voltage power supply was needed to make the thing work. While one can find such things nowadays for about $20, back then it was not the case. My father had managed to buy a "replacement" laser tube and used a fancy (so it seemed then) toroidal transformer and power transistors (solid state has made a lot of progress since then, if you hadn't noticed... often power devices still used tubes then.) and with those built a power supply for the tube that could run off of 12 Volts DC. This made it "portable" or at least transportable. It could be used in a car.

The night it was finished enough to be used that way, my mother was in the hospital either expecting or having given birth to my sister. My father was visiting her while I was at home or more likely at my grandparent's house. Luckily it was a foggy night and he told her he'd have it on for a bit before he left the parking lot. With the fog, the beam was visible and my mother saw it out the hospital room window.

As there were no laser pointers, this thing was unique, or at least was so in our area. This led to various shenanigans with it. Aiming it at the sign that indicates a stop light ahead made the red circle in the image of the stoplight look lit up like a real stoplight. Tracing the beam quickly along the prismatic bricks of a bar must've looked at least somewhat light emergency (police, fire) lights inside and got folks to come out to look around.

At the A&W root beer stand (a drive-in eatery back then) the laser was once positioned in my father's lap, held low so it could not be seen from other vehicles. Then the spot was projected on the sun visor or headliner of the adjacent vehicle. When the odd red dot was noticed the driver tried to point at it to his passenger (we assume husband & wife) but as he pointed, Pa would shift the dot a bit and the pointing finger followed, but the shift reversed and for a bit it was sort of a game of tag to try to point at the curious dot. My mother had to hold herself back some to let the beam pass and also had to suppress laughter at this little game.

Now, most of these things I did not witness myself, or do not recall, but I heard of them years after the fact. One thing I do recall is a big (well to me, I was 5 years old, everything was kinda big to me) pickup, I think the license plate indicate Montana but I am unsure, parked opposite us at the root beer stand. A map went up in the truck. The laser was quickly brought to bear and the mysterious red dot shown through the map and was scanned around just a bit. *FWIP!* That map came down faster than one might imagine and the people in the truck looked around for... whatever that was.

I don't know how long this reign of peculiar red dot event went on, but eventually the laser tube leaked (give the pressures involved, air got in to it) and the fun was over. The tube was not replaced. It was expensive and the fun had been had.

For years I pondered rigging up something similar, and for a while I even had at least a laser tube and power supply (by then, the mid-late 1980s, such things could be found used & inexpensive at hamfests) though I never rigged it all up to be portable or transportable.

Laser diodes (and diode lasers) had been around for some time, but they were infra-red and thus while useful in some application, not useful for visual pointing or amusement. And then technical progress brought about visible light laser diodes, which were expensive - at first. But like other solid state devices, progress meant rapid cost deflation and soon pocket laser pointers made into boardrooms, then classrooms, and eventually got to where you could buy one off of a peg at Shopko or K-Mart.

And as that happened, more people experienced the red dot and grew to know what it was. The joke didn't work anymore as the mystery was gone. Now it was "Alright, who's playing with a %^$@ laser pointer?" rather than "What the hell was that?"

But it's 2014 and the ultimate progression has occurred. A few days ago I bought a combination LED flashlight (there's that progress again - early LEDs were rather dim) and laser pointer - batteries included - at a dollar store. While it's 2014 and not 2012, one inflation calculating site had data up to 2012. Assuming the dollar hadn't declined much in value in the last couple years (not entirely true) today's dollar is roughly equal to about 18 cents in 1972. And for that "18 cents" of 1972[1] I have a smaller, less power hungry, more capable, and truly portable (it could hang on a keyring) device.

So, it's really not 1972 anymore.




[1] Alright, with sales tax it might be up to a whole quarter.


Current Mood: Nostalgic? Maybe a bit.
Current Music: Fallouts - Dr. Strangelove

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December 20th, 2013


07:46 am - "You are ore. Shut up and be salable."

Way back in late October, Google"Plus" offered me a custom URL using a name rather than their CompuServe-esque number. As it followed their preferences rather than my preferences, I quite naturally rejected it. A bit to my surprise I was offered a chance to request a "custom" URL instead. This hinted of some progress. The hint was a lie. The hint was as much progress as anything "progressive" which is to say, none at all, if even that much. So my earlier post About to see if Google+ is wising up. was answered thus:

"We were not able to approve your request for this custom URL: google.com/+Vakkotaur"

That is nonsense. There is no inability, there is only unwillingness. There is no clear, obvious technical reason this cannot be done. There is most likely no technical reason at all, just Google's "We know what's best for you." (and by "you" they really mean "Google") inertia. What galls me is not merely being told no. I rather expected that. It's the stupid claim that they were "unable" as it if would violate the Laws of Thermodynamics. Being told it didn't fit with their (rather silly) policy would at least have been honest.

Years ago there were many search engines and it seems they all wanted to become the central starting point be-and-do-everything home page for everyone and they turned themselves into ever more cluttered portals. Then an upstart came along with a breathtakingly clean bare-bones interface. It was a search engine. It didn't try to be everything to everyone. It had a wonderful slogan, "Don't be evil." Yes, it was Google.

Today Google's search engine page is still mostly clutter-free, but there are a few links that really do not need to be there. These links are the modern portal to their "social media" thing. This is a free service - and as is said "If the service is free, YOU are the product." So, it's a data mine. Ore gets no choice in whether or how it is mined - or named.

I don't expect it soon, but with ever more intrusions or perceived intrusions of data, metadata, etc. and the NSA bit (This was news? Come on.) I expect eventually some party will come along with more user-choice in matters in mind and perhaps even have a slogan, "Don't be Google." This might need to happen a few times before one gets traction and really takes hold, but then Google will join the list of once-huge companies with a seemingly unstoppable presence suddenly reeling as it desperately tries to remain relevant. Not soon, most likely. But not soon enough, either. If we're lucky, a couple kids in a garage somewhere are cobbling together a couple ideas...


Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: Josh White - Free and Equal Blues

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November 30th, 2013


05:39 am - IRQ Conflicts Live
or

Gigabyte Blew It


About three years ago my aging & rather ancient computer well and truly died. I shopped around some and settled on a few things. One was a Gigabyte motherboard, the GA-890XA-UD3 which I am using right now as I type. It has worked just fine for these last three years with no special setup beyond updating the BIOS (for which having a lowly Sempron around is a Good Thing). The only thing it really lacks is an AM3+ socket so unless I upgrade the motherboard, I can't upgrade the CPU. And thus the (mis)adventure begins...

Last year I was building up a machine for scarletcharnel and selected another Gigabyte motherboard, the GA-990FXA-UD3, which had about everything, including USB3 and an AM3+ socket and that just worked. I didn't even need to update the BIOS. This was Rev 1.1 which as far as I know is just fine. If there is a heat/throttling issue, it's hasn't shown up. That system has great ventilation and cooling.

Thus I felt fairly safe ordering another GA-990FXA-UD3 board for myself, to upgrade belgian or at least allow upgrades (new case case with more ventilation/fans, new video card, eventually a newer CPU, and maybe more RAM). Alas, that was not the case. I tried moving everything at once and things got seriously weird. Lost trackball and keyboard, unless I plugged them into USB3 ports. Lost networking. Once, in a diagnostic boot of RIP Linux, USB2 worked but USB3 didn't - and there was no indication of why. Network worked then, but only just then. I moved everything back to get a working system, then swapped out video cards and had no issue.[1]

My next night off was spent trying again, this time with the Sempron that jmaynard had been using for something, a couple 1 GB DIMMs of DDR3 1333 (instead of four 4 GB DIMMs of DDR3 1600), the GTX 570 (which was replaced by a GTX 760 [2] in the working belgian) and a LiveCD. And everything just worked. What the heck was going on? But I knew that the hardware could work and the board was not automatically bad. Everything also worked fine in BIOS setup screens and such[3].

So I figured I'd try a part by part move and see what happened. Moving RAM should be the most trivial, uneventful thing, right? WRONG. Well, right, it SHOULD be that way. It wasn't. I pulled the 2 GB of 1333 and put in the 16 GB of 1600 and the problem(s) reappeared. What the photon? Dropped to 8 GB (2 DIMMs). Problems. Swapped those two for the other two. Problems. Tried the other two sockets. Problems. Tried only 1 DIMM (4 GB). Problems. Tried slowing the timing to 1333, and even to 1066. Problems. Tried upping the RAM voltage a bit. Problems. Put everything back to AUTO and put the 1333 back in and things worked. Put the 16 GB back in the working belgian and that works.

Looking at things, it feels eerily like the bad old days of IRQ conflicts and the weird breakages that resulted. Turns out that was what was going on.

I pulled a DIMM (8 GB) from the machine that had the Sempron and try that, so I can keep my main system working until I figure things out - or return the board. Eventually I find online that there is a setting for IOMMU that is DISABLED, but switching to ENABLED makes things work - for some. Not for me. More delays and more research and I finally find someone who had the same problem that enabling IOMMU didn't fix. But he had a solution: tell the kernel "iommu=soft" at boot time. Aha! That makes everything work. USB2 works. USB3 works (the ports work, I might need to confirm USB3 speeds rather than USB2 fallback), and the network is there and working.

What is IOMMU? Input-Output Memory Management Unit. The thingie that is supposed to prevent IRQ conflict issues in this modern, enlightened Plug & Play age. Somehow, in Rev 4.0 of this board or the BIOS, Gigabyte managed to break it in a way that Linux detection can't (yet) detect automatically compensate for. And what happened, exactly? I don't know all the true low-level details, but below 3 GB of RAM, IOMMU doesn't seem to matter very much. Thus running on only 2 GB or only mucking about in BIOS screens, all was well. Above 3 GB (I tested with 4, 8, and 16... all more than 3) it's needed. But if it isn't working quite right, there are problems anyway. The kernel message is sort of "Assume IOMMU is messed up and compensate for that."

I hope that's the only issue with this board. In my research I found that it can, now, supposedly even take the new AMD factory-overclocked (and crazy hot, power hungry) FX95XX CPUs that are rated at a staggering 220 Watts instead of a "mere" 125 Watts. I have exactly zero plans to use such a thing, but I could. That would seem to indicate any power issues (Rev 3.0 has tales of woe regarding such) have been resolved. Still, the IOMMU screwiness makes me wonder if anything else is messed up. I had been at the point of considering only Gigabyte boards[4] since I had some weirdness with an (admittedly cheap, open box) ASRock board and Jay had something a bit odd (but since forgotten, so evidently not critical) about an MSI board. Now? Now the next time I go motherboard shopping, I probably won't be gravitating to Gigabyte. Not sure what way I will go, but I really do not need this time-sink of a headache that makes me think of the bad old days of twenty years ago[5].



[1] I did have one issue, but that was a self-inflicted thing unrelated to all this.
[2] I saved up for good many months to be able to get that. It still was jarring to order it.
[3] Nobody likes the BIOS setup for this board. It well and truly sucks. It might be worth considering another make just to not have to deal with that turkey of a setup.
[4] Despite the stupid Windows executable file used for BIOS updates when a zipfile would be easier all the way around, for everyone - even them.
[5] Gad, has it been that long?


Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

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November 16th, 2013


04:55 am - Misadventures in plumbing, kitchen edition.


When we moved into this house it had a fairly standard kitchen faucet & spout arrangement: A unitary control faucet for hot & cold & how much, and a spray hose. The spray hose always leaked just a bit when the water was running, even if we didn't use the sprayer at all. It was enough to notice after a time, but it was very, very minor and dripped into the sink so it was a minor annoyance at the very worst. Recently the faucet setup itself started leaking and not just a little. While that also, eventually, went down the sink it was enough to be more than irksome. Thus we obtained a replacement... which sat for some time as things kept happening and there was no good time to do anything. The last time I did have time, it was a Sunday. Sunday, the hardware stores in town are closed. I was not about to start a plumbing project without that backup available.

Last week friday morning I finally had time and had had enough. Originally I figured I'd just clear out everything from under the sink and apply penetrating oil to the places I'd need to uncouple. Instead, I found I could readily uncouple things. At first I put them back, figuring it was before breakfast and we'd need the sink working for and just after that and I wasn't sure how long things would take. This was a Very Good Move.

After breakfast and cleanup, I set about changing things. Removing the old assembly was not all that difficult but was a bigger pain than expected. While one person can do this, it would have been much easier at various times to have even a little help. That wasn't the real problem. Or problems. Strategic placement of vice grips and other things bypassed the need for another hand or longer arms. Two problems conspired to make this job a real pain. Either alone would be quite irksome enough.

The hot water cutoff valve under the sink does not quite fully cut off. Yes, I closed it as far as I could, but it still let a very slight trickle of water through. Over a few minutes this was not a big deal and a towel easily handled the moisture. Over an hour, the towel got thoroughly soaked and it made for an unpleasant area to work in. That would not have been a big deal if the job had only taken the few minutes it should. But things are never as ideal as they ought to be.

There are a series of clips screwed into things (from above, but under the sink itself - so I cannot get at the screws without removing the sink, which would mean significantly more work) that appear to hold sink in the exact right location. Most of these clips are simply there and of no notice. One, of course, was exactly in the way of the fastening assembly that holds the new faucet control in place. That ate time, and thus the few minutes turned into hours. I resorted to shutting off the house hot water, save for running the dishwasher and taking a shower (which I did at the same time, to conserve the on time). This was inconvenient, to put it mildly.

After that, I shut off the hot water again, used another towel to clean up the additional leakage, yet another to deal with anything else, and then put all but the very last towel mentioned (which was still mostly dry) in the washer and washed all the wet things - in cold water. And hoped that I could deal with that wretched clip in the morning, after work and before sleep - and not have to go all weekend like that. And the hardware stores are closed on Sunday.

Saturday morning I swapped out towels again and got things as dry as I could manage. And then set about dealing with the problematic clip. Nudging, bending, pounding and I'm not entirely sure what really worked, but it was enough and the new assembly could go in and get properly tightened into place. That was done, double checking alignments, and then things would be reconnected. The result was satisfying: A unitary control that doesn't leak. A high spout that doesn't leak. A sprayer hose that doesn't leak - and has good pressure when in use. After that came a very welcome hot shower, without concern of how much was leaking under the sink. And then it was time to wash towels again.

That wasn't all of it. In my hurry to get things working, I left the aerator on the spout, which was not supposed to be there when the water first came on again. It was either then or when I removed the aerator to clean it that I managed to damage it enough to need a replacement. There was also a bottle assembly for a pump soap dispenser that wasn't installed until Sunday morning. We decided the best use of that was as a dish soap, rather than hand soap, dispenser. That works quite well. The whole works looks like it was meant to be there all along, which is good. The right, proper intact aerator is all that is lacking now. There is an aerator in place, but it's not quite right. Still, it's so nice to have a kitchen sink where the water only runs when and where it is supposed to run.

And while I have had quite enough of working on plumbing, the bathroom sink has a slow drip...


Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Spirit - Taurus

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