Category: technology

Monday, 23 January 2017

09:29 – Yesterday was one of those days with a continuing series of problems. It started with the USPS Click-and-Ship website misbehaving while I was trying to print a label for a shipment to Canada. Ordinarily, I fill out the first page, which has me enter the total weight of the package. I filled in the correct weight, 5 pounds 8 ounces, and then clicked Continue. On the second page, I have to give details about the details of the shipment, including for some reason the net weight, which was 4 pounds, thirteen ounces. At the point, it told me that the net weight was more than the gross weight and refused to continue. After numerous retries, starting from scratch each time, I finally got it to accept that 4-13 was in fact less than 5-8. I then paid for the postage label and it displayed the label as a PDF, as usual.

So I put a sheet of half-page labels in the manual feed slot of my Brother HL-5250DN laser printer and told it to print. The label jammed, which made a real mess. So I cleared the jam, inserted a new label, and told it to print again. It jammed again. I cleared the jam and told it to print again, this time with plain paper from the paper tray. That time, the sheet of paper made it half-way out the printer and then jammed again. At least I had a usable label, after I forcibly pulled it out of the printer.

This obviously wasn’t working, so I disconnected the HL-5250DN and moved it out of the way. When we moved up to Sparta in December, 2015, I’d originally tried to install the newer Brother HL-3070CW laser printer, but it refused to connect with USB so I’d stuck it in storage, intending to troubleshoot it later. I never got around to that until now, so I set it up and used a new USB cable to connect it. Once again, Linux didn’t see the printer. Okay, it looked like the USB interface on the printer was dead. That printer also has an Ethernet interface, so I went downstairs, grabbed an Ethernet cable, and brought it back upstairs to try getting the printer working with a direct Ethernet connection.

The Ethernet cable wouldn’t fit into the jack on the printer. Huh? I was working in a very tight space, but we finally got the printer turned so that I could actually see the USB and Ethernet jacks on the back. Duh. I’d plugged the USB cable into the Ethernet jack. No wonder it hadn’t worked, this time or a year ago, when I must have made the same mistake. So I pulled the USB cable out of the Ethernet jack and plugged it into the correct jack. Linux recognized the printer instantly, and I was back in business.

So I proceeded to connect to the USPS site again to generate postage labels for US shipments. The postage didn’t look right for the first one I processed. Well, that’s because postage rates just went up as of yesterday. Duh, again.

I knew postage rates were going to increase, but after the huge increase a year ago, I was expecting a pretty minor jump. Not so, unfortunately. Since January a year ago, I’d been paying $17.09 to send a Regional Rate B box to the west coast. That had jumped from $17.09 to $20.41, a 19.4% increase. Fortunately, the rate for a Large Flat Rate box had increased from $18.75 to only $18.85, so I just put the RRB box inside a LFR box and paid the $18.85. Even so, that amounts to a $1.76 (10.3%) increase. Geez.

* * * * *

As I mentioned last week, doing a copy-edit pass on Franklin Horton’s latest book in his Borrowed World series got me to wondering, not for the first time, if I could write fiction myself. So I decided to sit down and give it a try.

Writing fiction turns out to be very different from writing non-fiction. The main difference is that I can just sit down and write fiction. It just flows. With non-fiction, I spend literally 50% to 95% of my “writing” time checking facts and researching stuff on the fly. I suppose that’s why Jerry Pournelle writes fiction in his Monk’s Cell, with no Internet access.

The most obvious difference is in word count. With non-fiction, I average maybe 1,000 to 1,200 words per day. My all-time record was probably 5,000 or 6,000 words, and that was working heads-down for 14 hours or so. And the days when I could write heads-down for 14 hours straight are long gone. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I can get in six solid hours of writing per day. Writing fiction, I can crank out a first-draft at about 1,000 words PER HOUR.

But no writer can judge his own writing, so I decided to let people look at my first fiction efforts. As I promised last week, I’ve converted what I’ve done so far to a PDF that I’ll send to anyone who wants to take a look at it and give me his opinion. Can I write fiction? Tell me what you think of my work on a 1 to 10 or A to F scale.

I’ll emphasize that this is very much a first, rough draft. I haven’t even read it, let alone done a first editing pass on it. It’s just a collection of chapters, and partial scenes. I’m sure there are lots of clangers in there. I probably even have characters changing names in mid-narrative. This document is at the level that I wouldn’t ordinarily let even Barbara see, let alone friends or editors.

I’m not looking for any kind of corrections, suggestions, or edits from anyone. All I want to know from anyone who takes the time to read it is whether or not I can write fiction.

If you’d like to take a look at it, send me email at thompson at ttgnet dot com with the subject line “your fiction book”. I’ll send you a PDF of the document. Please be completely honest in your feedback. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. I’m looking for brutal honesty here, not an attaboy. If the general consensus is that my fiction writing has potential, I’ll continue working on the book until it’s finished and then self-publish it on Amazon. If the general consensus is that I am to PA fiction writing what Zsa Zsa Gabor was to acting, I’ll give up on it.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

12:01 – I’m getting very tired of Amazon’s walled garden for the Fire. Some time ago, I downgraded my Fire HD7 from FOS5 to FOS4 because I couldn’t stand the control icons in landscape mode being fixed at the bottom of the screen rather than on the right side. But I’ve really had it with Silk, which is the worst excuse for a browser ever, and now that Opera is a Chinese outfit, it’s not suitable as an alternative either. I could find no way to get Firefox installed and stable on FOS4, so I just upgraded my Fire to FOS5. I had Firefox running on it before and thought it’d be easy to get it running (with uBlock Origin for adblocking), but it turns out that Amazon’s walled garden is making that very difficult. When I have time over the winter, I’m going to blow away all things Amazon on this Fire and install Android. Amazon says that voids the warranty, which has expired anyway. Never doubt that Amazon always, without exception, puts the interests of the customer in far-distant last place.

I’ve gotten really, really tired of seeing all these headlines about election polls, none of which agree on anything. So I decided to run my own poll, which I absolutely guarantee is accurate, and the last poll you’ll ever need to look at. I surveyed five people who are registered voters. One doesn’t intend to vote, so I excluded her from the results. Those results are:

Trump — 100.00%
Clinton — 0.00%
Johnson — 0.00%
Stein —- 0.00%

The margin of error is ±70%, give or take. This is very, very bad news for Clinton. Someone needs to wrap a baseball bat with barbed wire, name it Lucille, and beat her to death with it so that she can avoid this embarrassment. Or, since she really is Walking Dead, they could just ram a piece of rebar through her face and out the back of her head. They’d be doing her a favor, and the rest of us a huge favor. (Barbara was walking around the kitchen yesterday, making sounds like a Walker. I shouted in to her to stop trying to do a Clinton impression.)

Thursday, 25 August 2016

10:15 – I’ve about decided to give up on Firefox. With every release, it becomes buggier and slower, as well as taking more and more RAM and CPU. I’m already running Opera Mobile on my Fire, and I have the full Opera installed on my Linux desktop system. I often have to resort to it when Firefox just doesn’t work on a particular site. It’s much faster than Firefox 48.0 (48.0!), and it seems a lot less buggy.

The final straw came yesterday when I was trying to print ten postage labels for kits. The USPS Click-N-Ship website was moving slower than the proverbial molasses in January. I got tired of sitting watching a spinner for literally a minute every time I clicked to a new page. I finally bagged it and got Opera setup with my USPS account information. Response time dropped from a minute/page to a fraction of a second.

There’s a guy out in the yard right now marking the underground electric cable. The Internet cable guy marked that yesterday. If we do decide to put a garden plot out on that side of the property, I wanted to make sure to stay far away from buried cables.

Barbara is building more science kits at the moment. Later today, we’ll be labeling and filling bottles for still more.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

09:42 – Our main BK01A biology and CK01A chemistry kits are our biggest sellers by far. Between the two of them, they probably outsell all other kits combined by a ratio of 10:1 or better. But the other kits do sell, and we build them in smaller numbers to make sure they’re fresh. The dangers of that are, first, that we can get a bulk order for one of the smaller selling kits, and second, that with these kits shipping gradually, I may not notice that it’s time to build more. That’s the case right now with our FK01A forensic kits and our CK01B smaller chemistry kits, of which we’re down to only half a dozen each. The CK01B kits aren’t a problem, because they’re a subset of the full CK01A kits. We always have bottled chemicals in stock for chemistry kits, so it’s just a matter of making up CK01B chemical bags. The FKK01A forensic kits are more of a problem because they have a large number of chemicals in them, most of which are specific to the kit. So I need to make up solutions for and bottle a lot of these chemicals for the next batch. We’ll work on that this week.

My Fire HD7 is usable again. The problem was that both the Amazon Silk browser and Firefox were essentially unusable on it. Last night, I decided to install Opera mobile, which installs and runs without a problem. It’s now setup to let me browse my favorite websites and check my mail, which is all I use the Fire for. I waited so long to install Opera because it’s not my favorite browser, because I expected getting an adblocker running on it would be problematic, and because it got rotten reviews in the Amazon appstore. As it turns out, it solves all my problems with the Fire and I can now continue using it. Opera Mobile even has a built-in adblocker. It’s not nearly as good as uBlock Origin or Adblock Plus running on my desktop systems, but it’s decent for a mobile adblocker.

I need to work on a detailed shopping list before we make our next trip down to Winston for a Costco run. I agree with Barbara’s general plan, which is to continue buying stuff we actually eat that whenever possible is also suitable for long-term storage. We’ll still buy fresh and frozen foods like meats, butter, and so on, but other than that we’ll focus on canned goods, dry staples, etc. That, and non-food items, like boosting our toilet paper stores to a one-year supply.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

10:19 – Barbara is heading down to Winston this morning to run errands and meet friends for lunch and then dinner. She won’t be back until mid-evening, so it’s wild women and parties for Colin and me today.

We got another batch of biology kits built yesterday, so we’re in pretty good shape for the next couple or three weeks unless we get a large bulk order for something. Starting today I’ll be making up more chemical solutions to fill still more bottles.

One preparedness category that’s often overlooked is having the means to prepare food during a long power outage. You may find yourself having to cook over a fire. You could use your current pots and pans, of course, but unless your everyday pots and pans are cast iron using them over a fire will probably damage or destroy them. I found that out by experience back before I met Barbara, when I tried to cook over a campfire using standard thin metal aluminum and stainless steel cookware. It just doesn’t stand up very well to flames.

With the latest delivery from, we now have what I consider the essential minimum cast-iron cookware: a Lodge 3-Quart Combo Cooker–which is a standard skillet and a deep skillet, either of which can be used as a lid for the other–and a Lodge 8 Quart Cast Iron Deep Camp Dutch Oven, whose legs and flat top optimize it for use over a charcoal or wood fire. The Combo Cooker can be used on a standard gas or electric cooktop, but the Camp Dutch Oven is really not suitable for use on a standard cooktop, gas or electric. We unboxed the Dutch oven to check it, but then reboxed it and stored it downstairs. The Combo Cooker lives upstairs in the kitchen, and we’re starting to use it routinely. At some point, I’ll probably add a larger skillet or two and perhaps a standard Dutch Oven for use in the kitchen.

I’m really at the point where I’m ready to blow away the Fire OS on my Fire HD7 and replace it with vanilla Android. Amazon has really butchered Fire OS, all in the interest of locking people into their walled garden and preventing them from using ad blocking software. I’ve had it. I’ll wait a couple months, until the next major release of Android, because the current version has a serious vulnerability that won’t be addressed until then. If I end up bricking my Fire, so be it.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

12:59 – I just spent the last five hours trying to recover from a boot failure on my main system. As it turned out, it wasn’t the hard drive; it was either the power cable or data cable to that drive, or the ATA interface itself. After trying other drives, I finally connected the “failed” drive to a different power cable and interface and it came up normally.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

09:40 – Barbara is in Winston today, running errands, having lunch with a friend, and then making a small Costco run on her way back up here.

The final season of Downton Abbey is now available on Amazon streaming. I was surprised the other night when Barbara suggested that instead of just watching series 6, we go back and rewatch it from the beginning. I have no problem doing that, of course. Downton Abbey is decent television. Not as good as the original Upstairs, Downstairs, but good enough to watch again. We’re interleaving it with another series we’re rewatching, HBO’s Rome. That series is annoyingly ahistorical, but at least it’s watchable and has much better dresses than Downton Abbey. We also have a lot of decent stuff queued up on Netflix streaming, including the latest seasons of Hell on Wheels and Peaky Blinders. We won’t run short of stuff to watch in the evenings, although Barbara is usually doing crosswords and I’m usually browsing the web or reading an ebook at the same time.

Speaking of which, I just downgraded my Fire HD7 from Fire OS 5.x to 4.x. Fire OS 5.x is better in most respects, but I simply can’t tolerate the fact that they’ve moved the navigation bar in landscape mode from the right of the screen to the bottom. The Home icon is in the center, and I’m constantly pressing it accidentally, taking me out of whatever website I was looking at and returning me to the home screen. All I really use this thing for is checking my own web site and checking webmail, so the new features in Fire OS 5.x are pretty much a who cares for me.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

09:43 – Barbara has been gone for 48 hours. It sure is boring when she’s away, for both Colin and me. I didn’t want to bother her yesterday while she was in class, so I sent her a text to check in. That was the first text message I’d ever initiated. She called back at dinner time to say everything was going well and that she was having a good time. Colin and I both really miss her, but she needs to get away from the daily routine around here and going to one of these craft classes with her friend Bonnie Richardson is a good way to do it.

I’m about at the point of dropping Firefox entirely. Every new release is worse than the last, less stable and eating more resources. It’s a bad application, and it keeps getting worse. A year or so ago, I played around with Chromium for Linux and found that I couldn’t live with the gaping holes in its functionality. So now I’m playing around with Opera, which I last looked at probably a decade ago. So far, it’s looking okay, so I may shift all my stuff over to it.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

09:32 – Barbara is working out in the yard today. James, who mows our lawn, is coming over to help her load his truck up with some junk from down in the corner of the yard and haul it off to the dump.

I finally got KompoZer installed on my Mint 17.3 system. Debian dropped it from their repositories, which meant that Ubuntu no longer offered it, which meant that Linux Mint no longer offered it. I didn’t want to mess around with building it from source, so it was fortunate that I came across this page. FTA and for my own future reference:

How To Install kompozer

Kompozer was dropped from the repos, since it is no longer maintained in Debian. But, you can still install it on newer releases.

Use packages from 12.04 Precise

These packages are installable on at least the 12.10, 13.04, 14.04 and 15.04 releases.

First, install dependencies:

sudo apt-get install libatk1.0-0 libc6 libcairo2 libfontconfig1 libfreetype6 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-0 libglib2.0-0 libgtk2.0-0 libidl0 libnspr4 libnss3 libpango1.0-0 libpng12-0 libstdc++6 libx11-6 libxft2 libxinerama1 libxrender1 libxt6 zlib1g

Then, get the two packages, and install them in the correct order.

For 32bit systems:



sudo dpkg -i kompozer-data_0.8~b3.dfsg.1-0.1ubuntu2_all.deb

sudo dpkg -i kompozer_0.8~b3.dfsg.1-0.1ubuntu2_i386.deb

for 64bit systems:



sudo dpkg -i kompozer-data_0.8~b3.dfsg.1-0.1ubuntu2_all.deb

sudo dpkg -i kompozer_0.8~b3.dfsg.1-0.1ubuntu2_amd64.deb

You can now find kompozer in the menu.

11:54 – James showed up with a pickup load of cut, split, and dried hardwood firewood, mostly oak. We helped him unload it and stack it in the rack. It turned out to be more than a full face cord of 20″ logs. Call it half of a full cord. He charged $65, which seems cheap to me. If we ever had to heat the house exclusively with wood because the power was down, I’m guessing that the load we got today would last us two to three weeks. We also have about a half cord of old but still burnable wood down in the corner of the yard, which means we could stay warm for a month to six weeks even in the depths of winter up here, or longer if we weren’t trying to keep most of the house warm. We still need to pick up a couple of tarps to cover the woodpiles.

Barbara just announced that we should think about replacing the Trooper with a pickup. I think I’ll start keeping my eye out for a used Ford F150 or F250 diesel 4×4, or the Chevy equivalent. We’ll want an automatic transmission and AC, but that’s about it. I don’t care if it has some mileage on it, and a vehicle that’s ten years old or more would be fine.

I’ve never owned a diesel vehicle, although I almost bought a diesel pickup back in 1979 when I bought my Jeep CJ new. I know that small diesel engines used to have a lot of problems, but I assume those have been pretty much fixed over the last 35+ years.

Friday, 8 April 2016

10:17 – Barbara is off to the gym and supermarket, after which we’ll be building more science kits. We built a batch of the FK01A forensic science kits yesterday. Today, we’ll get another batch of BK01 biology kits built and at least get started on a new batch of CK01A chemistry kits.

Lori just showed up with the mail, including a box from Amazon. A couple of years ago, my workhorse Brother HL-5250DN laser printer started printing an empty line down the middle of each printout. The problem was the drum unit, but when I checked for a replacement, the only option was a Brother-branded unit for $180. I paid something like $225 for the printer originally, and there was no way I was going to pay that to replace the drum on a printer that had already had some heavy use. The 5250 even with the stripe was fine for most of what I printed as it was, so I decided to just use it until it dropped. Then the other day, I was on Amazon and decided to search for a drum unit. Sure enough, they had a third-party replacement drum unit with excellent reviews for $18. (They also had a different one with not-so-good reviews for $12.) I’ve had good experience with third-party toner cartridges bought on Amazon, so I decided to give the $18 unit a try.

Not much time available for prepping this week, and we’re being careful about unnecessary spending until we get the house on the market and sold, so the only prepping-related thing I did was buy a print copy of All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More In Less Space 2nd Edition. The last time I had a garden of my own was about 50 years ago, and I want to try growing some herbs and vegetables on a small scale.

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