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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 time, 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

Tags: ,

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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

Tags:

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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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November 4th, 2013


06:47 am - Not a "cakewreck" but Nothing Special


I recently noticed a new item at the store, Pillsbury's "Carmel Apple" cake mix. I decided to try it, as I had tried other new Pillsbury mixes (such as orangesicle, pink lemonade, and key lime) with some success. The cake turned out well enough, as the directions are rather fool-proof in my experience. But the cake itself was... meh. Nothing special. A plain white or yellow cake would perhaps have had more character. Apple? More like Almost. But that was not the jarring part.

A ho-hum cake is still a cake and yellow and white cake mixes sell quite well even though they have the flavor "cake" rather than chocolate or orange or what have you. No, it was the frosting. The alleged caramel frosting was very decidedly Not Even Close To Caramel. But the cake didn't indicate "apple" very much, so... But even a generic cake with generic frosting (plain white sells, too. That's not even vanilla, just the flavor "frosting.") can do well enough.

The frosting was jarring as when the plastic canister was opened the... aroma.. hit me and I recognized it. Not as caramel, or frosting, but a smell one tends not to forget, even years after last having dealt with it. So help me, I opened the canister of frosting and the smell said to me, "Play-Doh." I was not the only one to pick up on this, either.

Once the cake was frosted, well, it didn't help. The caramel apple failed at both apple and caramel. Usually if I leave a cake or brownies or something in the break room, a significant amount disappears in just half a shift. This cake? Was almost completely as I had brought it, only one or two more pieces taken beyond the samples jmaynard and I took. And that was after being out for anyone to try for not just a full shift, but one that ran over - so more people than usual had a chance at it.


Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: Doris Day - Everybody Loves A Lover

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November 1st, 2013


07:24 am - Poll: Jelly Beans
Poll #1941487 The coffee and the root beer look nearly same...

I eat jelly beans...

One at a time, carefully choosing them.
0(0.0%)
One at a time, carefully avoiding the black ones.
1(11.1%)
One at a time, random grab.
1(11.1%)
A few at a time, let the flavors mix.
1(11.1%)
A few at a time, let the flavors mix, except the black ones.
1(11.1%)
Separating them by colors first.
1(11.1%)
Exactly not at all.
4(44.4%)

The best color/flavor of jelly bean is:

Red
1(12.5%)
Orange
2(25.0%)
Yellow
0(0.0%)
Green
0(0.0%)
Blue
0(0.0%)
Purple
1(12.5%)
Pink
1(12.5%)
Brown
0(0.0%)
White
0(0.0%)
Black
0(0.0%)
Other
3(37.5%)

For Other, the best color/flavor is:

The worst color/flavor of jelly bean is:

Red
0(0.0%)
Orange
0(0.0%)
Yellow
0(0.0%)
Green
0(0.0%)
Blue
0(0.0%)
Purple
0(0.0%)
Pink
0(0.0%)
Brown
0(0.0%)
White
1(12.5%)
Black
4(50.0%)
Other
3(37.5%)

For Other, the worst color/flavor is:

Jelly beans are:

One of the oft overlooked basic necessities.
1(12.5%)
Important, though not critical to have about.
0(0.0%)
A nice treat now and then.
2(25.0%)
These things I see once in a while. I might even eat a couple.
2(25.0%)
Decor, not actual candy.
1(12.5%)
Great ammo for my slingshot.
0(0.0%)
Nasty things, found behind bunnies.
2(25.0%)

Hey, there ought to be a poll about:


Current Mood: curiouscurious

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October 30th, 2013


09:29 am - About to see if Google+ is wising up.


Yes, I actually have a Google+ account. I don't use it very much because the drones at Google Don't Get It or at least Didn't Get It at first. They wanted, it seemed, to compete with FaceBook and in one way made it bug-for-bug compatible by insisting on "real names" or as FaceBook called them "wallet names" - a term Google carefully avoided, but pretty much copied. "We're an identity service" they claimed. Yet those of us who have been on the internet for years have online identities that we've used for years, are known by, and don't have name-collision problems that so-called "real names" do.

Since I could not use my identity (I respond to "Vakko" and "Vakkotaur" in real life, as many who have met me can attest. I have also gotten snailmail delivered to me under such names.) I never joined FaceBook[1]. I joined Google+ mainly out of self-preservation. I could keep up with a few people that way and at least Google seems to pay some attention to privacy and data portability. But since using my identity put me at risk of them screwing things up - including my Android cellphone, I was stuck using my "real name" which I prefer not to do. It's not that I keep it any secret. I just am more comfortable on-line using a name that I chose rather than the one I've inherited.

Now Google+ is offering up a shortcut URL. jmaynard took them up on it using the default, which is fine as he always used his given name online, save for game-like environments where it wouldn't really make sense. I was given the same choice, but declined the given URL and, naturally, asked for the name I prefer, citing that's my online identity. If Google has any sense, I'll get it. And perhaps can then safely change the account name to what I prefer, rather than what some Marketing Director or other useless type once decided was right for me. Then I might use G+ more. I might even cross-post (LJ, IJ, and G+ would be three copies, each in a different place. That's Good Practice if one wishes information to remain available.) If not, well, then my G+ account can languish as it has for some time. We'll see.



[1] That its founder claimed, "Privacy is an obsolete concept." is another, perhaps more effective reason I avoid FaceBook - privacy breach after privacy breach evidently all by design and intent. NO.


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

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October 25th, 2013


03:04 am - Observations From A Convenience Store


This past Summer I had a second job which helped make ends meet or almost (I've seen what an actual economic recovery looks like; A real recovery looks like 1983, not like 2013). This was opening at a small convenience store (once upon a time such things were merely "gas stations") every Sunday. I had this job before, where I'd opened Saturday and Sunday every other weekend for a couple years, and had left it (on good terms) a year or two ago. This Spring things didn't go quite as I had hoped and when I stopped for something or other, I was asked, "You wouldn't, by chance, be looking for a few more hours, would you?" And I stunned the asker with a reply that started, "Funny you should ask that..." Thus this Summer I had that job. And having had it before, I noticed something. Well, most things were simply repeats of the earlier experience. One was not, and it's not a good sign of things. The standard things first...

* A convenience store is NOT a gas station first. Sure, that might be some of the draw, but that's not the big deal. Fuel is more a headache as folks complain about prices we have no real control over. At best the manager will try to delay a price increase to outlast the other places at the old, lower price and try to lower it first. A convenience store is really a Cigarette Stand that happens to sell motorfuel and a few other things on the side.

* If you hear, "Ready on pump no. 3" or similar, you need to come inside to pay. If your card had read properly at the pump, you would not hear that announcement.

* If you get back in your vehicle to write a check or sort your cash after hanging up the pump nozzle, I will take down your license plate number because you are looking like a potential drive off. If that offends you, too bad, don't give me reason to suspect you. Actually, if you go to the far side of the farthest pump(s) in an empty station, you're suspicious right there. Guess where most drive-offs take place from? Some seem to think they are "clever" when what they really are is "obvious."

* The owners might prefer you come inside even after paying at the pump, or buy stuff after using the restroom. The cashier is quite happy for you fill your tank (paying at the pump) and/or empty your bladder and leave. The feeling isn't one of annoyance at a potential lost sale, it's one of relief of one less thing to have to deal with.

* The Star Tribune has an "Early Sunday Edition" which is really their standard Saturday edition, though they add (standard, it seems) the Sunday comics. No big deal, now. But a couple years ago they didn't explain or claim what it was. That made it seem like a special Sunday Morning thing - which is odd when it has no Evening edition. Indeed, are their any genuine evening papers left? They've fixed that now, so at least there is one thing the (Red) Star Tribune isn't lying about.

* Smokers are either getting used to the "new" (now a few years old) names since Light, Ultralight, Medium, and Mild are no longer permitted or else I was simply seeing the new generation of smokers who had not learned the old names. Soft-packs are usually only bought by rather older folks. Minnesota's new, higher, tobacco tax might be driving some to quit, but it's also getting folks to drive out of state for cigarettes, or getting people to go the roll-your-own way or at least try the e-cigarettes.

* There is a form used to keep track of scratch-off lottery tickets (by the brick or bundle - these need to be activated, so if someone were to swipe a brick of them it would do them no good: none of the tickets would be considered "in play" - and even if they swiped one after activation, they can be deactivated - try to cash a stolen ticket in and the machine will pop up a message: CALL POLICE - STOLEN TICKET) which is, at the place I worked, filled out by hand. I took to writing the game names in cursive and often that stuck and I'd next see the form (changed at least daily, if not per-shift) still in cursive. Well, almost. Some shorthand would happen such as 'crossword' becoming 'X-word' and 'star' being replaced with a five-pointed star. Also the letters, especially capitals, would revert to printed for Q, Z, and curiously often for G as well. Q and Z make sense - they are fairly rare and the capital cursive isn't seen much. But G is quite common and yet reverted nearly as often.

* Machine tickets (Powerball, Mega Millions, etc.) are easily printed by the machine as separate tickets or five-to-a-ticket. Anything else on the same ticket is a pain as the machine is not fast even when the everything should be local - it needs to communicate for the actual ticket generation, but even the setup is slow and each screen-switch is a delay. Buying tickets and want to get out faster? Don't ask for a single ticket for a couple plays. It's actually faster to print two tickets. Print-n-Play stuff takes the longest.

* The lottery, especially the scratch-off stuff, is set up like B.F. Skinner's Operant Conditioning. If a pigeon pecks a button and gets a food pellet every time, when it stops delivering, the pigeon will give up on the button after a short time. If the system gives pellets after varying tries, when the system stops delivering, the pigeon keeps at at it pretty much forever. "Just one more..." Actually, all gambling is generally this way, pigeon. It's meant to be addictive and for you to lose money.

* Some lines are tired and reveal the speaker to be an idiot. "Pick me a winner." is one of them. If I could do that, would I be working at a convenience store? Even if I couldn't do that for myself, I'd at least have a 900-number. Another is "Busy is good." which has never been said to me by anybody who was actually busy themselves. It's said by folks who are very clearly not working.

* Some bad lines aren't standard, but for a single person. The same (unfunny even when first heard) joke does not get funnier with each telling. Even if said every week, all Summer long.

* Just because, supposedly, someplace somewhere else will take an EBT (foodstamps) card, does not mean this place, here will. And somehow these poor folks can travel from there to here, whine about not being able to use EBT here, and yet still manage to have cash for beer, cigarettes, or lottery tickets. There's good reason I believe some folks on EBT should have it cut back if not off. Anyone who can buy beer, tobacco, or lottery tickets does NOT need my (or your) money to subsidize their lifestyle.

* Despite that commercial (of a few years ago - maybe a variant still airs, I don't know) paying cash is generally faster than paying by credit card. But the only thing slower than paying by check is paying in all coin for a non-trivial purchase. Oh, if you dump it all on the counter and don't help at all, I will be in no great hurry either. Too bad if you're desperate for that nic-fix.

* Exact change sounds nice, but it's easier and faster to go to the next dollar amount up (especially if the system use an automated coin dispenser) or with a standard bill ($5, $10, $20, maybe $50). The cashier has things set up for him (or her) to make change faster and more easily than you can fish it out and sort it. If there's no rush (and that includes folks behind you and whatever else the cashier needs to get done) then go ahead and get rid of your change. Want speed? Break a 20. Or better, pay in $10 bills. Those run out most often, if they're even there at all.

* Paying by check and want to write it to the next dollar up, or a few? Fine. Want $50 back in cash? Nope. "The manager lets me do it all he time." is utter bilge. I know, because I know the manager. Someone once tried using that line on her and got a shock when called on that BS. No pity for them at all. There is one possible exception (It likely varies place to place, so I won't go into specifics) and it's Not You. Really.

* Maybe you don't know when the shifts change, but you probably know when a place opens. Right then or just after is a Bad Time to break a large ($50, $100) bill or try to cash in a similarly large winning lottery ticket. You're emptying the fresh cash drawer that can't be simply restocked - where it is stocked from has to remain balanced and no, you are NOT a special exemption to that. Right after opening, if you buy $30+ worth of stuff and pay with a $50, that's fine. If you want to buy a $0.79 item and pay with a $100, you're an asshole. Actually, even well into the shift that second one indicates a failure on your part.

* Sundays are generally the slowest day, depending on what's going on in the area and the weather. The one exception is Easter Sunday which, being Day 3 of a three-day weekend is a travel day for many, therefore traffic is up. Generally, nobody is added to the schedule for this. Expect delays. The delays are not there just to annoy you - the cashier generally wants folks out as fast as possible as then they (you) are one less thing to worry about.

* Regarding weather: Rain is good, snow is bad. Not for business, but for avoiding being harried. The folks who don't go out or don't make any unnecessary stops in the rain (what, they'll melt?) all seem to have to show they can drive in snow - or forgot to fill the gas can for the snowblower before they needed it.

* Cashiers or clerks suspect that ESP is real, but useless except to annoy and the Universe conspires to make things irksome. Want someone to show up at the register? Step away from it. Want a steady parade of customers? Have a full bladder. If a few folks come in over several minutes, they'll all mysteriously decide to check out at once. The little old lady who is paying by check will somehow get to the register first.

* Most people are fine, but there are plenty who are either just plain stupid or have a "That doesn't apply to ME" entitlement mentality. I have seen people remove the "Out of Order" glove over a pump nozzle and attempt to use the pump. I've heard stories of worse (Guy crashes into pump, knocks it off-kilter to 30 degrees. Lady drives up and tries to use that leaning pump and comes in to complain that it doesn't work. Evidently the off-base, leaning pump, severed from the pipes and the marked squad car wasn't enough of a hint that things weren't quite right.) Sadly, this sort of thing is anything but rare.

* And the big change from even a couple years ago: More people are paying in change (coins). A few years ago it was only younger kids who scraped up what they could to get some treat and the occasional guy desperate for cigarettes and willing to get the cheapest, nastiest things just to get his nic-fix. Now it's all ages - and not just the extra quarters left over from a laundromat visit, or just the very rare person spending the collected change rather than having their bank sort it. This wasn't just my observation, but that of others as well. There might not be any formal tracking of such things, but I can't see it being an economic indicator of anything good.


Current Mood: relievedrelieved
Current Music: Request-A-Song - Sometimes A Dollar Just Isn't Enough

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October 19th, 2013


08:17 pm - I have a mark on my arm...


And everyone (or very nearly everyone) my age or older also has this mark. It's not the 'Mark of the Beast'. In fact, it's pretty much the exact opposite. It helped me, and so many others, avoid - at a minimum - far worse marking. Those somewhat younger than me generally do not have this mark. They don't have it, because they don't need it. They don't need because I, and so many others, have it. This mark is the one that came from getting a vaccination. You could say, the vaccination. The name vaccine itself came from this, or a very early version of it. It is perhaps the ultimate vaccination success story. It's also one thing the United Nations, through the World Health Organization, got right. You see, the last "in the wild" (not a lab accident) case was diagnosed in October 1977. In 1979 the WHO declared that smallpox had been eradicated. This was the first time, ever, that a disease had been considered eradicated.

Since then there has been only one other such success, so far: rinderpest, a disease of cattle that was declared eradicated in 2011. There had been hopes that polio (and perhaps measles) would join them. It hasn't yet. War and paranoia have prevented the last phase of vaccinations from happening, so instead of zero cases cases yearly worldwide, there are over 200. That sounds good, if you think about the time when cases were in the thousands or millions, but it's bad if you want to truly wipe out the disease so you can stop worrying about it at all.

Smallpox vaccine actually was relatively dangerous. It had some nasty potential side-effects. And it was not 100% effective. By the time I got it, it was pretty good, however, having reached about 95% effectiveness. And that last 5%? A thing called 'herd immunity' - if enough of a population is resistant to a disease, even if an unfortunate individual comes down with it, it can't spread. Thus while the last 5% aren't perfectly protected, they have a sort of immunity by a kind of automatic quarantine.

The polio vaccine was so effective it astonished the researchers. It also is not perfect, but is well beyond being merely "good enough." There are other vaccines, for other diseases. While I've never met anyone (as far as I know) who had smallpox, I have met people who survived polio. There are vaccines now for more minor illnesses, some of which I've had and even though they were mild and "minor" (and minor is relative - they aren't harmless, they just cause permanent disability and death less often than the Big Bad ones like smallpox.) I would have been quite happy to have traded a needle-stick for the affliction itself.

It irritates me greatly to see that there are still people with the mistaken (at best - all too often it's more outright crazy) belief that vaccines are inherently dangerous. The claim has been around since the very first vaccinations (and in truth the very first really were a gamble - but it's not 1796 and more than a little progress has been since then). Nowadays the claim often centers on thimerisal - a mercury compound once used as an antiseptic and antifungal agent in vaccines (to prevent the vaccine from causing another illness), and accused of contributing to autism. Certainly, exposure to heavy metals is best avoided, but the evidence for thimerisal doing anything beyond the intended preservation is simply not there. Autism rates increased after thimerisal use ended or was at least greatly reduced (The USA stopped using thimerisal in all but a very few vaccines and antivenoms in 1999.). That doesn't mean that thimerisal protects against autism; it indicates something else is going on. The "study" that showed the MMR vaccine (and thimerisal) had a link to autism was not only never replicated, but was debunked, retracted by the medical publication that first published it, the originator found to have several conflicts of interest which he hadn't revealed, and that person is no longer permitted to practice medicine. In short: QUACK! The whole thing was a scam, setting himself up to profit. Ponder that one. This crook was willing to knowingly misdiagnose a cause of an affliction, and have others risk illness for his personal profit. There is a word for that behavior: Criminal.

So now, gullible and panicky people looking for something to blame, erroneously blame vaccines and thereby cause a different problem. Remember that herd immunity? It doesn't work if the immunity rate (and immunity is conferred by vaccine) falls too low. When that happens, the unlucky individual who contracts an illness can and does come into contact with another susceptible person, and then that one can carry it to the next, and so on. The result is an outbreak of a disease that was rare for a while. Thus nowadays, thanks to this ignorance of the facts, and the stupidity of continuing to ignore them when clear and obvious evidence is presented, there are more and more cases of measles, and whooping cough, and who know what else might be next.

"Those are just childhood diseases." some say. Adults can and do get them. And often they are far nastier for and to adults - and I can tell you that when I was kid and had some of the "childhood diseases" that they were no fun at all - and I was fortunate to experience milder (relatively) cases. These diseases can still maim and kill. We have a good, effective tool to not only avoid such outcomes, but to avoid the affliction itself. The current vaccines are all much, much safer than even the safest version of the smallpox vaccine - it was a big relief to everyone when it could be set aside. Polio and perhaps measles can, if people come to their senses, also go the way of smallpox (there is no known non-human carrier of either) - and that will mean two less vaccines needed, without risk of outbreak.

I have this mark on my arm. If you don't, you're welcome.


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

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October 17th, 2013


06:35 am - Ringa-Linga


When we gave up on DSL (the DSL provider failed to actually provide a connection too many times), the phone line went away with it. But that doesn't mean that the phone on the desk or such doesn't work. Both jmaynard and I have Google Voice numbers as well the cell numbers. And a little gadget made by Obihai allows those numbers to work with the wired phones in the house.

Overall this works out well. The Google number rings at home and the cellphones, so calls are unlikely to be missed. Since Jay uses the phone more than I do, he gets line 1 and I get line 2. The only thing I've found I that bothers me is that with just one phone in the office, on Jay's desk, it's a nuisance for us. If I need to use it (incoming or outgoing call) it seems to always happen when it makes it a problem for one or both of us.

The solution is, of course, to put a phone my desk and just have it connected to line 2. I did that not long ago when it was recalled the office phone outlet has a socket for a line 3 & 4. We patched things so that "Line 2" from the gadget is "Line 3" (Line 1 of the second socket) in the house. I used a typical slimline sort of phone for a week or two that way but it wasn't quite what I wanted. One issue was that the pushbuttons were on the handset, which gets a bit annoying in a world with pushbutton menus. That was recently remedied, with style.

Now on my desk is something that perhaps looks out of place: An upright style (AKA "candlestick") phone. It's not a historical item, but a modern replica with buttons. Those buttons are nicely arranged in dial style, however. And the phone is no lightweight. Not so much in features (it's just a phone, the fanciest thing it does is have redial) but in actual weight. It isn't going anywhere by mere chance. The earpiece is heavy enough for exercise - or to indicate that a call has gone on plenty long enough. Oh, and the ringtone is not a tone. It's a real bell ringing, in a very pleasant 'two short' style: *brrring* *brrring*


Current Mood: pleasedpleased
Current Music: The Four Tophatters - 45 Men In A Telephone Booth

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