Thur. Sep 3, 2020 – just another, just another day ay aay, just another…

(er….not August, Nick….I fixed it….RickH)

Hot, humid and overcast.  National forecast shows possibility of T Storms.

I got very little done yesterday.  Picked up some things.  Unburied some stuff at my secondary to take to auction.  One of the things I picked up and then stored away was incandescent light bulbs.  Yup, I buy them if I can get them cheap and in bulk.  There are places I really just like the light from the bulbs and they are getting harder to find.  These are “rough service” and fit through an exception in the eco wienie law so they’re not truly ‘unobtainium’ but getting 2oo clear bulbs for $2 was too good to pass up.  I got some others in a variety of wattages too.  Incans don’t last very long, so you need replacements.  Another long term consideration, they work just as well on DC as AC.  That’s a very post-apoc consideration, but it is a small contributing factor.   I saw LOTS of small incan bulbs running off car batteries when I was in China, and I’ve seen pictures of the same thing in other countries.  Useful, basic, and cheap.  Naturally they need to be banned.

A bunch of purchases were delivered including parts for my gennie repairs, and two of the three items I ordered from Home Depot.  The lightweight bucket lids came UPS in one box.  The 10 food safe buckets came in one big box, and I’m still waiting for the box of 10 heavy duty lids.   The weird thing is, both of the Home Depot shipments were opened.  It’s like someone looked inside to decide if they wanted to steal them or not.  Strange.  I never get opened boxes so getting two in a row, from the same shipper was more than odd.

Today, if it’s not too hot and sunny, I’ll move some of the gennie repairs along.  With stuff shaping up in the Atlantic, we might be looking at some storms in a few days.  It’d be comforting to have a working gennie before then.

I did get my replacement laser printer in place and installed.  Took downloading the HP drivers.  Man, win8 sucked when it comes to included drivers.  It turns out that I did manage to install my wife’s canon inkjet to my win8 machine, but didn’t know it because the Canon install hung.  It took killing the process in Task Manager to get the error popup (failed remote procedure call) and then the machine blue screened and rebooted.  After reboot, I had the printer installed and usable.  No idea what failed or why it failed like it did.  The inkjet was free from a neighbor, and is an All in One with a scanner for the kids to use.  Some of their classwork needs to be scanned (or photographed) and uploaded.  Since we got rid of our HP all in one, at my wife’s insistence, I was a bit taken aback when she sought out a new all in one.  Grrr.  I had a huge bag of ink for the old one…

Vet decided that my little dog’s hearing loss is not complete, and is most likely natural aging.  She recommended doing all the ‘senior dog’ organ function tests.  I agreed.  We’re grid up, and it would be nice to know his status and if there is anything we can address.  She prescribed joint supplements, and gabapentin for pain as needed.  If MY joints hurt, his are likely to be hurting too, so give him a dose.  We’ll give it a try anyway for now and see what the labs say.

Elsewhere, the world continues it’s downward slide.  Still time to improve your situation.  Keep stacking… or find yourself lackin’.



Fri. Aug. 14, 2020 – what, where did the week go?

Hot and humid.  Nasty.

Yesterday was very nasty outside.  Really hot and really humid.  I sweated through my shirt just going into the garage to get dinner out of the freezer.

So I didn’t get any work done outside.

I did get to the chiropractor and get my wife’s honda’s battery replaced.  Now I need to find my windshield washer fluid and fill that up.  Wish she’d have mentioned that earlier.

I had some issues with windows 10 yesterday, and Marcelo asked about commenting to remind me that patch Tuesday was here again.  Um, Yes Please!   ANYONE who has something to share that fits with the spirit and history of this place, and the interests of the people hanging out here is welcome.  Especially if it’s in an area I don’t cover well or at all.

I realized I’ve transitioned from ‘playing with computers’ to ‘using software ON the computer to do other real life stuff.’  In other words, I don’t see ‘computers’ as a hobby anymore.   In fact I often see them as a hindrance to getting work done or an annoyance.  That’s likely equal parts me aging, and most of the stuff to do with ‘computers’ becoming “good enough”.   It’s not necessary to even be aware of most of the things we used to consider basic knowledge- startup files, boot files, config files, interrupts, comm ports, cables, drives, terminators, performance tweaks, regedit, command line, etc.    In the way NASA made spaceflight boring, MS made computer use dull.

That’s probably a good thing for most people and uses.  It is a bit sad when you realize that your powerful and esoteric knowledge does you no good anymore, except to leave you with the certainty that things used to be different and that stuff should be possible that isn’t any longer.  But the wheel keeps turning, and complaining about it is like trying to command the tide.

I’ve got a couple of things to do outside the house today, and the usual list of stuff to do in and around it.   Or I can waste time on the internet with my friends. . .   hmmmm.  What should I choose?




PS- keep stacking, the world isn’t going away!

Fri. May 29, 2020 – fifth Friday this month…

Hot and damp, possibly sunny.

Yesterday was a dog’s breakfast. Depending on where you were in Houston you either got no rain or were dumped on. I got dumped on.

Got my errands done later than I’d have liked, and then went to my client’s house. And the tale of woe continues. More issues with connectivity both on the internal network and externally to the internet.

The AT&T tech was NOT good. He failed to save the account credentials to the DSL modem (which he replaced, as the other one got hit by lightning.) He also used the wrong account and failed to test it with the client’s devices. Seems that AT&T DSL will accept almost anything for account name and password, and tell you it connected to the internet. You can even use the built in tools to ping or traceroute, and they work. But if you launch a browser, you get an AT&T “fix the problems with your connection page” and a wizard that bombs out because of java errors when using Ipads. Iphones and laptops work, but not ipads. Much time was spent trying different combinations of account and password, until finally I got two to match. Before I could do that though, the wizard broke another way. I’d changed the default local lan IP address and gateway for the router to match our internal scheme. The wizard NEEDS you to have not changed any settings in the box for it to complete. SO MUCH SUCK.

After finally getting the DSL box configured, ports forwarded, rules created, we could finally get out to the internet, but some of the local lan stuff didn’t work… specifically our ipads couldn’t talk to our AV control system. After thinking it was a config issue, and wasting a bunch of time looking at that, I looked at the switch.

Some blinkenlights, not enough blinkenlights. Turns out, the lightning strike on AT&T’s line came in through the copper, smoked the DSL power wart (which shut down the UPS it was plugged into) but not the actual modem, and also smoked the port on the network switch it was connected to. I moved it to another port and got that back up but still no connection to some local hardware. MORE troubleshooting and I discover more dead ports on the network switch. Swap it out for an old HP switch I brought ‘just in case’ and viola, we’re back up. Score one for ‘hoarding’ gear.

Now I’m wondering what gear might have gotten a ‘tickle’ through the network switch and will be failing over the next year…

Moral of the story, lightning strikes have weird consequences. Everything connected to the piece that got hit should be considered suspect. And, AT&T DSL support sucks dead bunnies.

I got home very late, but with a working system behind me. Dinner was more saute’d frozen shrimp, and some instant rice. My wife made it for the kids and I had a plate waiting.

Oh, I took the trash out and realized I’ve got a bunch of rotten potatoes stored. That is going to be my gruesome task today, after swim team practice… cleaning out that mess. Then see if the above ground pool has all the necessary parts, and get sidetracked building same…

But hey, we got an extra Friday this month.

Keep your awareness up, and avoid crowds.

And keep stacking.


Tuesday, 3 February 2015

08:31 – When Barbara mentioned to her physical therapist yesterday that she planned to go back to work four weeks after her surgery, he said that just didn’t happen with knee replacements. At least six weeks, he said, and often eight. Four was unheard of. She told him that she’d gone back to work four weeks after her first knee replacement in October 2011, and he was very surprised.

The refrigerator is doing fine, so far. Of course, it hasn’t had time for much frost to form and for the auto-defrost function to melt the ice and let it run down into the refrigerator section.

I read a short article on Obama’s proposed $4 trillion budget. I think he needs to simplify things considerably. What if everyone’s paycheck, dividends, interest, profits, and so on just went directly to the federal government, which could then just give each person whatever it thought they deserved? That would eliminate the “income inequality” that progressives are so concerned about, because everyone would have nothing.

12:35 – Well, I’m now running Linux Mint 17.1 KDE, which is an LTS version. The system had been acting hinky for several days. Yesterday the power failed for an hour or so. When I tried to reboot the system it gave some disk errors before it finally booted. I made backups of all my data while it was still limping along. This morning it died completely. The drive was a Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB that had about 18 months of run time on it. I wish I’d had a Hitachi spare, but all I had was an unused Seagate Barracuda 2.0 TB drive, so that’s what I installed.

I had been running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS because Linux Mint didn’t have their LTS version available when I installed Ubuntu. I checked and found that their 17.1 is an LTS version based on Ubuntu 14.04, so I went ahead and installed the 64-bit KDE version. It’s updating right now. I’ll get my data restored to the new drive this afternoon.

All of which reminds me that I need to do a section in the prepping book on using Linux on desktops and notebooks. In a situation where the Internet may be down, the last thing anyone needs is a computer running Windows that decides it has to phone home to Microsoft before it’ll work.

Friday, 29 August 2014

09:19 – As usual this time of year, we’re run ragged trying to ship science kits and build more. We got orders for 17 kits overnight and so far this morning, which wouldn’t be a problem except that we’re running out of stock on some of the kits. So I’ll get the kits shipped that we do have in stock, and then go build more of what we’ve run out of.

It’s funny. I remember the day we sold our very first kit. At that point kit #100 seemed very far away. Then we sold kit #100, and kit #1,000 seemed very far away. Then we sold kit #1,000, and kit #10,000 seemed impossibly far away. But it’s probably not as far in the future as it seemed at the time, particularly once we get our classroom kits available. When that happens, instead of a good month being 100 kit sales, it’ll be 1,000 kit sales. And at that point, we’ll need a lot more space and some employees. I’m still of two minds about that.

15:06 – Wow. Talk about advice so bad it’s scary: Why Your Passwords Should be at Least 24 Characters Long

And this comes from a supposed computer security expert. I have no problem with suggesting a 24-byte password. The issue is the kind of 24-byte password the author recommends. Here’s an example: HarleyDavidsonStarbucks!!!

That’s exactly three dictionary words and three bangs. Better than a six-byte password, but it needs to be a lot better than it is. Crackers use dictionaries, too, and a supercomputer is just as capable of concatenating dictionary words as it is of working byte by byte. As a matter of fact, there are special dictionaries for crackers.

I would suggest a 24-byte password, but using purely random characters generated by a hardware random-number generator (AKA, dice or coins). So you end up with a password that is 24-bytes of random gibberish. Everyone seems concerned that such passwords are impossible to remember. So what? Write them down and let Firefox store them. Sure, doing that creates a gaping security hole, but again so what? If someone has physical access to your premises and your computer, you’re screwed anyway. What you should be worrying about is someone gaining electronic access to the hashed versions of your passwords, either on your own machines or on, say, Target’s corporate servers. If the plaintext of your passwords is 24 random characters, they can crack away to their heart’s content and not gain access to the plaintext for many decades. Unless, of course, someone figures out (or has already figured out) how to quickly factor the products of large prime numbers. If that happens/has happened, all bets are off.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

08:06 – One of the minor annoyances with Netflix streaming has been that titles disappear with little notice. In the past, Netflix has provided as little as three or four days’ notice. That’s fine for a movie, but not very helpful for a series. Every time I’ve spoken to Netflix tech support about another issue, I’ve asked them to please make the end date available for each title, or at least give more notice. Yesterday, I noticed that they’ve started doing that. Three of the items in our streaming queue are marked as expiring on 1 July, including one series that we just started watching: Outrageous Fortune, a pretty good series from New Zealand. We won’t have time to finish it. There are 107 episodes, so we’ll just bag it for now and wait until Netflix gets it back, as they probably will.

In the first six seasons of Heartland, Amber Marshall’s character Amy didn’t drink alcohol, other than one incident where a bad guy spiked her drinks with vodka at a party. Even during holidays, birthdays, etc. when all the adults were having wine with dinner, Amy had a glass of water. But during an episode we watched the other night, Amy had a glass of wine with dinner. Apparently, she’s turned 21 and is now allowed wine. So I mentioned this to Kim yesterday because Jasmine turns 21 on June 21st. I mentioned jokingly that Jas would now be allowed to drink. I was flabbergasted when Kim said that Jas has already mentioned this and said that she expects to have wine with her birthday dinner. I thought Jas was an alcohol-shall-never-pass-my-lips kind of girl. For example, she refuses to go out with college boys who (gasp) drink beer. I may have to reconsider my opinion of Jas. She’s not as prissy as I thought she was. She does, however, have an unhealthy tendency to obey laws.

10:06 – I’m in the midst of making up 137 30 mL bottles of iodine solution, which is included in most of our kits. That’s as many bottles as I could fill with the ~4.25 liters of solution I had on hand. I’ll make up another 6+ liters of iodine solution today, but I can’t fill another batch of bottles because I’m down to only half a dozen of the special phenolic cone caps we use on those bottles to keep the iodine from outgassing.

I spent some time yesterday afternoon getting one of the new laptop systems configured for Barbara to use as her main system. It should have been easy to transfer her Thunderbird email data and Firefox browser data over from her Linux system, but it just didn’t work. I copied the contents of the .thunderbird and .firefox profile directories from her Linux system and pasted those files into her new default profile directories under appdata on the Windows 8.1 system, but neither Thunderbird nor Firefox used those data. Fortunately, Barbara doesn’t have much that she cares about having transferred. She said not to worry about it. She’ll recreate her addressbook manually and send herself any emails that she cares about keeping. What really matters are her documents and spreadsheet data, which I copied over directly.

I also got power management set up for an always-plugged-in desktop configuration. Apparently, even though the charger is connected at all times, the system ignores the charger and allows the battery to run down to 50% before it actually charges it. Supposedly, that’ll make the battery last a lot longer.

I connected a standard mouse to one of the USB ports because Barbara doesn’t particularly like touchpads. She’s happy with the keyboard and display, though, so I won’t bother connecting a USB keyboard and full-size display. I also didn’t bother to connect her Ethernet cable. She’s happy using WiFi instead.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

13:24 – Have I mentioned that I hate Linux only slightly less than I hate Windows and OSX?

I spent quite a few hours over the long holiday weekend migrating from my ancient system, a Core2 Quad Q9650X running Ubuntu 9.04, to my new system, a Core i7 980X running Linux Mint 15. I thought I had all the important stuff, including mail and contacts, moved over successfully. That turned out not to be the case. Oh, the data is moved over, and I can even look at it in the new version of Kontact/Korganizer/Kmail. The problem is, the new version is unusable. For example, I was moving a bunch of mail around and it didn’t appear to be working properly. The mail I moved (as opposed to copied) ended up in the destination folder, but it seemed to remain in the original folder as well. So I finally moved just one message from the Inbox to a subfolder. It appeared in the destination folder and was no longer in the inbox. Then, as I sat there staring at the Inbox, the message magically reappeared. Geez. Kmail is a piece of crap.

I finally decided to bag all my old mail and contacts and just start using a fresh installation of Thunderbird. I left Kmail/Kontact installed, so if necessary I can go back and look at mail or contacts if I need to verify something later. Assuming Kmail hasn’t moved or deleted it, of course. So I’ve now spent an entire morning trying to get my mail functioning again. The real goal, of course, has nothing to do with the software. I just want to be able to process orders and ship kits, which I’m now doing with Thunderbird. Eight so far this morning.

Monday, 1 July 2013

10:06 – Thanks to everyone who recommended add-ons to make Windows 8 usable. When I have a spare moment, I’ll install Classic Shell on Frances’ system. If that works as expected, I probably won’t have to install the Windows 8.1 fix once it becomes available.

One of the items on my to-do list is making up solutions for more biology and life science kits. One of those is eosin Y stain, and I’m debating with myself about what to do. Until now, we’ve been supplying a 1% aqueous solution made up with Winston-Salem tap water, which is very soft but does have some calcium ions. We use tap water because eosin Y actually works better when some calcium ions are present. We also add a tiny percentage (~ 0.05%) of glacial acetic acid, again because eosin works better in the presence of very dilute acetic acid.

By “works better” I mean “stains more intensely”, and that’s the problem. Eosin Y is a very subtle stain. When used properly, Eosin differentiates structure types by the intensity of the staining: eosinophilic structures are stained intensely red-orange; erythrocytes a bright pink-orange; muscle tissues a paler pink-orange; and collagen a light pinkish-orange. There are two ways to get this differentiation. First, by progressively staining with a dilute (0.1% to 0.5%) eosin solution. Second, by overstaining with a stronger (1% or greater) eosin solution followed by decolorizing in alcohol or another destaining agent.

The problem is that most (I am tempted to say “all”) beginners are prone to overstaining. They’ll add a drop of stain to the fixed slide, wait 30 seconds, and then decide they’d better wait a bit longer, just in case. After all, too much is always better than not enough, right? And they almost never decolorize. After all, again, why remove the stain you just added, right?

The formulation we’ve been supplying–1% eosin with both calcium ions and acetic acid–has a big advantage: it guarantees results, in the sense that the specimen will indeed be stained. But this concentrated formulation is what I’d use myself, and I’d decolorize after staining. So I’m thinking about changing to a 0.5% concentration in DI water. The downside to this is that it may not stain intensely enough to suit an experienced user, unless they stain for longer than they’re used to doing. The upside is that a typical beginner who uses this concentration will probably “overstain”, as usual, and as a result see some actual differentiation.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

09:13 – I spent three hours at Frances’ house yesterday getting the new computer and printer working. Or kind of working. I hate Microsoft, and I particularly hate Windows 8. It’s a terrible product, truly terrible. It sets a new standard for terrible. I am just trying to imagine what it would have been like for someone like Frances–an ordinary civilian–to go down to Costco, bring home a Windows 8 computer, and get it working. She couldn’t have done it. I could barely do it, and what I managed to get done is not acceptable. At least I got Firefox, Thunderbird, and Skype installed and working, and she can now print. I understand that Windows 8.1 is imminent and will be a free upgrade to Windows 8. If it brings back the Start button and the desktop, that’s all I ask. The current version is unusable. I’ll upgrade her to 8.1 as soon as possible.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

09:44 – Cops consider eyewitness identifications suspect, and particularly suspect if the man in question has a beard. Here’s a good example of why. When I saw the front page of the newspaper this morning, my first thought was, “Why is there a picture of my friend Paul Jones on the front page?” When I showed it to Barbara, she also thought it was Paul.

It’s not Paul, of course, but it sure looks like him. If I’d seen the picture without having the caption for context, it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind that it wasn’t Paul.

I just shipped a forensic science kit this morning, and realized that I’m down to only two remaining in stock. Urk. I’d been working on chemistry kits, but it’s time to build a batch of 30 more forensic science kits.

15:47 – I’m filling glycerol bottles. Very slowly. They’re 15 mL narrow-mouth bottles, the same ones we use by the thousands for other solutions. But glycerol is very viscous. So much so that it’s almost impossible to fill these bottles manually from a beaker or whatever, because the glycerol tends to form a bubble on the mouth of the bottle and then glop over down the side. The last time I filled glycerol bottles, I used my automatic dispenser pump, figuring things would go a lot faster. They didn’t, because it takes so long to fill and empty the dispenser for each bottle. With normal solutions, a quick upstroke fills the cavity and a quick downstroke pumps the liquid into the bottle. It takes maybe three or fours seconds total for each bottle, including handling. But glycerol is so viscous that the upstroke and downstroke take literally 20 seconds or more each.

So I had a cunning plan. Glycerol viscosity varies with temperature. At about 18C (chilly room temperature), glycerol freezes, so when I’m filling bottles at, say, 24C, the glycerol isn’t far above its freezing temperature and is still quite syrupy. But I had Barbara label 150 15 mL bottles for me anyway because I was convinced I had a solution for the problem. I was going to warm the glycerol up to 50 or 55C (hot tap water temperature), where I expected it to run almost like water. Alas, I must have read the temperature/viscosity chart wrong, because even at 50+C this glycerol is still quite thick. I think I’ll boost the water bath temperature up to maybe 60C and see if that helps. I don’t want to go much higher, both because I’m handling the bottles with bare hands and because I’m afraid that capping warm bottles will cause them to deform as the air within them cools and contracts.

I thought about changing to 30 mL narrow-mouth bottles for the next batch, even though I’d still fill them only to 15 mL. But then I had a better idea. I’m going to use 30 mL wide-mouth pharma packer bottles next time and fill them manually from a beaker. 15 mL of glycerol masses just under 19 g, so I’ll just eyeball the fill level and have Barbara sitting next to me with a scale. Anything at 19 g or more, she’ll just cap. Under 19 g, she’ll give it back to me to add more. That should be about as fast as using the dispenser to fill bottles with normal solutions.

I mentioned last week that I’d ordered a Cyber-Power desktop PC from Costco. It arrived today. I plan to get it set up this weekend for Frances and Al. The problem is, it runs Windows 8, which I’ve never even seen. The PC included a “free” download init key for Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, but I have no idea if I should install this or something else. Doesn’t Microsoft include its own security/AV package? Please, Windows Gurus, tell me what to do. Frances does pretty typical stuff with her PC: email (Thunderbird), web browsing (Firefox), Skype, and so on, so installing apps shouldn’t be a problem. But this is Windows 8 (rather than 8.1), which IIRC has a sucky interface, missing even the Start button. Is there an option to use the Windows 7 interface? What should I do? Help.