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Week of 24 August 2009

Latest Update: Sunday, 30 August 2009 08:22 -0400

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Monday, 24 August 2009
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11:30 - Back from the dentist, where I had my fangs cleaned and sharpened. They were going to prescribe some toothpaste with 3% fluoride. I told them not to bother. I use Crest mouthwash, which they recommended, twice a day anyway. I'll just dissolve some sodium fluoride in it and make my own 1% fluoride mouthwash. Now I need to decide whether to use reagent-grade sodium fluoride or some of the technical-grade sodium fluoride I got from the pottery supply store.

I'm just about finished shooting the lab safety video. Here and elsewhere, I've gone on and on about people's irrational fear of "chemicals", so I decided to put my money where my mouth is. In the video, I pour about 60 mL of concentrated hydrochloric acid onto my bare hand and then talk about it for a few seconds before I wash it off in the sink and use baking soda to neutralize any small amount of acid remaining. The point I'm trying to make, and I think this minute or so of footage makes it pretty dramatically, is that chemicals should be treated with respect, not fear. Well, any sane person is terrified by some chemicals, dimethyl mercury being one example, but nothing likely to be used in a home lab requires anything more than respect and proper handling.

By the way, the only result from my chemical "spill" was that my skin turned slightly pinker than usual, like a very mild sunburn. That disappeared within a couple of hours.

15:30 - I just had my first experience with PhonePower tech support. I checked my email and had a voicemail message waiting. That was odd, since I hadn't been on the phone. I checked the call log on the PhonePower site, and saw that Barbara had been trying to call me on her cell phone. Her sister, Frances, is having out-patient surgery today, and Barbara is standing by at the hospital. So I picked up my phone handset to call Barbara back, and got no dial tone. That makes it tough to call tech support, so I hit the PhonePower web site and used their instant messaging system. Here's the transcript:

You are now chatting with Jacob
Jacob: My name is Jacob and I am a Technical Support Representative. I’m reading your inquiry and I will be right with you
Jacob: Hello, May I have the number on the account please
Robert Thompson: The phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx
Jacob: Thank you, now what is happening when you try to make a call?
Robert Thompson: I get no dial tone. I first noticed it a few minutes ago when I got an email with a voicemail attached. I didn't know why that would happen since I've been here for hours and the phone didn't ring. I picked up the handset and got no dial tone. I powered down and powered up the ATA, but no joy.
Jacob: What are the lights doing?
Robert Thompson: Wait one
Jacob: Ok
Robert Thompson: The two left lights (power and WAN) are lit solid. The LAN light is off, as is Phone 1 even when I take a phone off hook.
Jacob: Ok how are you connected to the internet? Can we work on the Grandstream or are you connected to it?
Robert Thompson: I'll have to check. IIRC, the grandstream ATA is behind my router. I have a RoadRunner cable modem with a D-Link router connected to it. Let's assume we can work on the ATA, since I unplugged it without losing my broadband connectivity.
Jacob: Ok great!
Jacob: Can you find a paper clip or a tooth pick I would like you to factory reset the Grandstream
Jacob: Press and hold the reset button for 20 seconds please
Robert Thompson: Yes. I'll grab a paper clip. Wait one please.
Jacob: Thank you
Robert Thompson: Okay, I'm going to reset now. If I do lose you, should I just come back through as I did to start this conversation?
Jacob: Yes but ask for me
Robert Thompson: Will do. I'm going to reset now...
Jacob: Ok
Robert Thompson: Okay. I reset and held for 20 seconds. Lights flashed on and off, but when the reset completed I still have only the left two lights lit.
Jacob: What were the 2 lights?
Robert Thompson: Sorry. Power on the far left and WAN second from left.
Jacob: Ok the reset is not complete yet can you do it one more time please
Robert Thompson: Will do. I'll hold it longer this time. Is there some sign it's completed the reset?
Jacob: All the lights should go off except for the power light
Robert Thompson: Okay. Here goes again...
Jacob: Thank you
Jacob: Ok that one went through do you see the WAN and LAN lights flashing together at the same time?
Robert Thompson: Okay. All lights except power went off. Then #2 (WAN) came back, followed by #3 (LAN). Then all went off except power. NOw power is solidly lit and WAN + LAN lights are blinking on and off.
Jacob: Ok you are downloading the newest firmware update, and profile now this takes up to 5 minutes
Robert Thompson: Okay. Now the power light is the only one on. What do I do, just wait?
Jacob: Yes for a moment longer please
Robert Thompson: Okay. Now power is solid, WAN is blinking, LAN is off, and phone #1 is blinking
Robert Thompson: WAN is now solid
Jacob: Ok can you check for a dial tone?
Robert Thompson: Got dial tone, thanks. Am I now back up to normal?
Jacob: I believe so can you try a call please
Robert Thompson: Will do. Please wait one.
Robert Thompson: Okay that works. I guess we're done?
Jacob: Yes we are unless there is anything else I can help you with?
Robert Thompson: Nope. Thanks for the fast assist, Jacob. Over and out.
Jacob: Ok have a good day.15

And I just got a call from Barbara. Frances is out of surgery and doing fine. This has been a busy day.


Tuesday, 25 August 2009
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15:15 - Barbara and I just got back from the vet's office. Duncan was a good dog for a lot of years, and we'll miss him.


Wednesday, 26 August 2009
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08:16 - Thanks to everyone who sent messages of condolence. I won't even attempt to answer them personally; it's difficult enough to write about this once, let alone over and over. But we do appreciate those messages. After having Duncan as part of our family for nearly 15 years, from the time he was five weeks old, it's harder than I could have imagined to be without him. Malcolm, despite the fact that he and Duncan fought regularly when they were younger, obviously also misses him.

It's particularly difficult for Barbara, because Duncan was the first dog she'd raised from a pup. When Barbara and I met, she was afraid of dogs. The first time we went to my parents' house, Barbara was terrified of their two Border Collies, Bonnie and Laurie. When we left, she was happy to have escaped alive, convinced that Bonnie and Laurie were the size of lions, with 3" fangs.

When my dad died in 1990, it was clear that we'd have to move my mom in with us, because she was disabled and unable to live on her own. Barbara wasn't troubled at all by the thought of her mother-in-law moving in with us, but she was very worried about Kerry, my mom's 3-year-old Border Collie, coming to live with us. She set lots of rules, none of which lasted long. Kerry wasn't allowed up on the sofa. Okay, he was allowed up on the sofa, but not on our bed. Okay, he was allowed up on the bed, but he wasn't allowed to lick her face. Okay, he was allowed to lick her face, but ...

Kerry taught Barbara that dogs are individuals, with individual personalities, and Kerry quickly became her dog. Soon, Barbara decided we needed to get another dog, so we contacted a Border Collie breeder who lives half an hour or so from us. The breeder called us in early January 1995 to tell us that she had a litter of pups, with two males, that had been born on New Year's Day. We drove up for a visit when the pups were a couple of weeks old, and Barbara and Duncan met. It was cold, and the pups were living in the chicken house, in a circular pen made of chicken wire. Barbara picked up Duncan, and he nuzzled his way into the crook of her arm. It was obviously love at first sight on both their parts.

The first week of February, there was a major winter storm forecast, so we decided to drive up and bring Duncan home. We took a cardboard box with a blanket in it, thinking that Duncan, who was only five weeks old, would sleep through the trip home. No such luck. He wouldn't stay in the box, and explored the inside of our SUV the entire trip home. When we got home, we brought him into the finished area downstairs, which was my mom's apartment. He immediately jumped up onto the fireplace hearth, and barked to announce that he'd just taken ownership of his new home. And he was in charge from that first day until his last.

Here's Barbara holding Duncan not long after he adopted us.


Thursday, 27 August 2009
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09:17 - We've all been thinking a lot about Duncan, Malcolm included.

Here's a picture I shot of Duncan as a young dog. We were at a get together of the local Border Collie rescue group, held at a farm owned by one of the members. There were probably nearly a hundred Border Collies there. One of them was actually larger than Duncan, which surprised me. Duncan was a giant among Border Collies, standing 3" to 4" taller than the average male BC, and weighing 75 to 80 pounds. In a field full of BCs, we could pick Duncan out instantly by his size.

Few of the BCs there had any herding training, but the owner of the farm had arranged to have a small flock of sheep trucked in just for this event. Talk about every sheep's nightmare. They came down the ramp off the truck, only to face a field with about 100 Border Collies, all staring at them. Any BC who wanted to try herding sheep got the opportunity to do so. Here's Duncan working. Despite the fact that he'd never been trained to herd, he did a great job of gathering the flock of sheep into a tight cluster and keeping them where he'd put them.

Afterwards, he cooled off in the water bowl.

Since we have only Malcolm now, Barbara and I have both been going along on his evening walks. At first, she thought I was going along to protect her. I told her that I had no fears for her safety as long as she had Malcolm with her. He's extremely protective. If anyone tried to hurt Barbara, Malcolm would rip him to shreds. A pissed-off 85-pound dog is not something any sane person wants to take on.

I never had any worries when Duncan was with Barbara, either. As gentle as he was, Duncan was also extremely protective of Barbara. That was put to the test once. One evening, Barbara was walking Duncan alone. I heard her shouting outside and ran out to see what was going on. She was very upset and announced that Duncan had gotten into a fight with a sewer monster. His whole snout and head was covered in blood, but he didn't look at all distressed. He looked happy, if anything. We cleaned him up, and it turned out that all the blood belonged to the other guy. Duncan hadn't even been scratched, but he'd done some serious damage to the sewer monster.

When Barbara calmed down, I got the whole story. She and Duncan had been near one of the storm drains down at the corner when "something" had come out of the storm drain towards Barbara. It was dusk, and Barbara didn't get a clear look at whatever it was. I suspect it was one of the large feral cats that live in the storm drains around here. At any rate, Duncan instantly put himself between Barbara and the sewer monster, and went after it. The fight lasted probably a second or two, with lots of vicious snarling. Duncan forced the sewer monster back into the storm drain. Whether it was alive or dead at that point, we don't know. Given the amount of blood on Duncan, if the sewer monster survived the initial fight, it probably died soon after.


Friday, 28 August 2009
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09:11 - It's been a long, bad week. Ironically, here's what showed up from Netflix yesterday. Fortunately, it's a comedy, and a bit of light relief is welcome right about now.

Speaking of funny, Paul Jones sends me this link to add to my favorite unintentionally-funny headlines collection.


Saturday, 29 August 2009
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00:00 -


Sunday, 30 August 2009
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08:22 - My office Linux box shot craps yesterday morning, just after I'd finished backing up. I started to play a Youtube video and there was no sound. After diddling about for a bit, I rebooted the system. It came up in text mode, unable to start the GUI. I decided first to attempt an upgrade from Ubuntu 8.10 to 9.04 from the command line, but apt-get update returned a string of failure messages, including some "unable to write" errors.

I played around with it for a while longer, but it was looking very much like a hard drive problem. I called Brian Bilbrey, who walked me through some stuff, and eventually concluded that the best option was to replace the primary hard drive and re-install Linux. I did that, but for some reason I was unable to access the second and third internal hard drives. I called Brian again, and he walked me through troubleshooting that problem. To make a long story short, those two hard drives were formatted JFS and we had to run the Linux version of chkdsk on each of them before the new Linux install would see them. There were no errors on those hard drives, but apparently running the chkdsk "reset" things somehow and allowed Linux to see them.

As always, I was backed up seven ways to Sunday, so I lost zero data. I selectively restored the copy of my home directory I'd made to a USB key a few minutes before the failure, and I was back up and running with all my mail, Firefox settings, etc. the way they'd been before the failure. I had to fix a few things manually, such as patching Kompozer to work with the current libraries, reinstalling WINE and the one or two Windows apps I keep installed, and so on, but basically I lost no data and almost no configuration information.

It was a day for failed systems. Paul and Mary stopped over yesterday afternoon with a beautiful plant arrangement in memory of Duncan. While we were talking, I mentioned that my system had failed, and Paul said that Mary's personal laptop now refused to boot. They're going to bring it over today for me to have a look at it.

And here's a movie I won't be renting from Netflix. One of the better movie reviews I've read.


Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.