Archive for January, 2010

Happy birds, and risk of burning down the house

January 31, 2010 3 comments

It might have been last Friday, when I heard the dryer drum scraping against the side of its housing and thought; “That dryer is not long for this world.  I should say something to MrsDoF.”  But as my scatter brain is wont to do, I completely forgot to do it.

Saturday, the Dryer quit turning, hot and smelling like burning.  My guess is it burned through a belt trying to spin that drum that had worn through its bearings.  So today we sent dryer-shopping.  Having become disenchanted with high-end appliances over the years, we got the second-cheapest one. 

This evening I cleaned out the dryer vent, which goes from basement through crawl space under kitchen breakfast nook to outside.  ‘Twern’t a small job, neither. 

I will be making a cleaning tool to facilitate doing it 1) more easily and 2) more often.  I’m thinking a couple sections of PVC flex conduit joined end-to-end with a plastic scraper fashioned from 2-liter bottle plastic would work well.  Anyway it added up to a LOT of lint, enough to be a fire hazard.  If the dryer hadn’t failed when it did, we might have had a fire.  From FEMA:

“…NFIRS data show that 80% of clothes dryer fires in structures occur in residential buildings and resulted in approximately 12,700 fires, 15 deaths, 300 injuries, and $88million in property loss each year… Proper maintenance for clothes dryers involves removing the lint from the traps, vents, and surrounding areas of the dryer. Not unexpectedly, the leading factor contributing to ignition for dryer fires is operation deficiencies (Figure 3)—specifically “failure to clean.” Failure to clean accounts for 70% of dryer fire operational deficiency contributing factors…”

That vent cleaning procedure just got added to Google Calendar as a recurring event.

Oh, and the happy birds?  They’re getting a huge bag of lint to build nests with in the Spring.

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In which I say nothing of substance about Apple’s new iPad

January 29, 2010 Comments off

I saw a professor reading from his Kindle and asked him; “So are you going to get one of those new iPads?”

He responded with a grin; “Man, I am so sick of the latest must-have technological gadget!”

OK, one observation of substance: the iPad might be exactly the “computer” for your mom.  Especially if it can use a Bluetooth keyboard.  Which it can.

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In case they’re wondering why we don’t watch TV news anymore…

January 29, 2010 Comments off

A similar take could be done on the “uninformed talking heads blowhard show”.  Which, by the way, does not include Rachel Maddow, the Oxford-educated commentator who actually goes to the trouble to find out stuff from actual authorities in the issue at hand, instead of bringing on ignorant twits who have memorized five slogans.

(h/t Grrl Scientist)

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Pitiful cries in the frozen darkness

January 28, 2010 Comments off

Man this stuff breaks my heart.  There’s a sweet little kitty hanging around our house.  It’s young, healthy, friendly, and obviously someone’s pet, and just as obviously lost and cold and hungry.  It wants in so bad, but our cats (whom I also adore) are too stupid and territorial to do their fellow feline a solid and let him come in and get warm and have a bite.  And it’s, like eight degrees f out there.

Yes, I know we’d likely end up owning him (or her) that way (or in cat parlance, he’d end up owning us).  Or possibly we could locate his pet humans and return him to home base.  Either way would be fine.  But because of our cats’ territoriality we can’t feed this little fellow or even give him any positive attention.  So he’s out there…

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Depressing, the button…

January 28, 2010 Comments off

There they are, 372 unread items in my Google Reader.  35 of them specifically shared by people whose insights I’ve learned are worth attention, and all the authors brilliant, passionate people.  Waiting for me to pull up to a table with coffee and treats and enjoy them, a feast of science and technology and art and news and commentary on interesting stuff and just plain humor.  And thence probably to take that inspiration and enjoy writing posts for my own blog. 

But I have more than the usual number of projects going at work and home.  And since having to cut out painkillers, I’ve been managing chronic pain with daily exercise – certainly a good thing in every way but it is time consuming.

372 items.  I click the button that says; Mark All As Read.  There’s a sense of loss, like dropping new books in the trash…

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Giving up on my new eyeglasses

January 27, 2010 Comments off

Last summer when I was laid up, I exclusively used my reading glasses – and managed to misplace my regular glasses.  When i went back to work, I just used the reading glasses.  This is not exactly a hardship since I spend 90% of my time either reading or looking at some glowing rectangle.

But for some reason the coating on my reading glasses failed so I needed some new specs.  I got another examination, picked out some frames, and they tried.  Oh, how they tried.  They got the prism backwards – made me see double.  They got the prescription just a bit “off” so I couldn’t read my computer screen.  Not useful.

After enough return visits, I’ve given up.  This evening I asked them to just reproduce the lenses in my old reading glasses.  But that means using my “street” glasses (which I did eventually find) for a few days while they get it done.

It’s a wonder that eye examinations ever result in a useful prescription, when you think about it.  They’re trying to calibrate a variable, partially self-compensating optical system on the basis of verbal feedback from an untrained person who is partly influenced by wishful thinking.  The people who made corrective lenses for the Hubble space telescope had, in that respect, a much easier time.

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Is Ubuntu ready for Gran’Ma?

January 24, 2010 Comments off

I am building two computers this weekend.  One is for my son to use temporarily at an apartment where he’ll be living until the end of the semester.  It’s an old IBM model 50 ThinkStation;  a P4 with 1.5 gb RAM running Ubuntu 9.10.  Runs surprisingly well for being a rather modest computer.  He is already experienced in using Ubuntu so it’ll be easy for him.

The other is for my mom, who now has broadband (good-bye dial-up, we won’t miss ye).  Her old computer was * no way * ready for that challenge, so I am building her a new one.  It’s only about the size of a 2-slice toaster, with an Intel Atom processor, DVD burner, 2 gb of RAM, and a 350 gb hard drive.  It is very energy efficient and darn near silent in operation. 

Since I cannot easily travel to Seattle to keep a Windows machine running, again I am loading it with Ubuntu 9.10.  I think she’s been using either Windows ‘98 or XP so there would be a learning curve no matter what (current) operating system I put in front of her.  I’ll let you know what she thinks of it after she’s had it for a little while.  Meanwhile, any of you Linux people know an Ubuntu manual I can print out and include in the box?  I’m shipping it out tomorrow Wednesday.

  • h/t to fellow Seattlite Dana Hunter who gave us some advice on broadband options in that city.

  • I risk fanboi wrath in saying this, but Win7, Mac, and Ubuntu are very similar from the user’s perspective.  If you were coming from ‘98, anyway.
  • The computer started with a $170 bare bones box from TigerDirect.  It included the case, power supply, motherboard with processor and ram.  The DVD burner was $25 and I found a 350 gb Seagate 7000 Barracuda rpm hard drive in my miscellaneous parts bin.  The hard drive was EIDE but SATA would be better if for no other reason than SATA cables are better suited to a tiny box.
  • The Ubuntu installation went without a hitch and everything worked.  I partitioned 100gb for /, 4gb for swap, and the rest for /home.  It isn’t super-fast but it runs Open Office, Firefox, and Gimp easily.  It would be a different matter if she wanted to install Wine and try to run Modern Warfare 2.
  • Here’s a picture of the motherboard.
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“…so rare, it’s practically a super power”

January 21, 2010 Comments off

Another person died today between Bloomington and Peoria, in a late-model pickup.  She spun out of control, collided head-on with a semi, flipped over and died en route to the hospital.  The highway patrol attributed the accident “100% to the icy conditions”.

Nonsense.  During an ice storm, nobody should be going more than 20 mph, but we all know that isn’t the reality.  Everyone has an excuse for going almost the full speed limit, ignoring the other speed limit set by common sense. 

Let’s say that the amount of energy at 20mph equals X.  At 40mph you’re packing four times the kinetic energy.  You need four times the traction to steer or brake, and then a collision hits four times as hard.  The survivable, becomes the unsurvivable.  You die for no good reason.

The woman was driving a late-model GMC pickup.  It’s a sturdy, well-designed vehicle, but head-on with 40 tons is hard to beat.  She left a husband and kids.

Once when I was a service manager for a chain of computer stores, I was riding in a van and the owner of the company was at the wheel.  There was a snow/ice storm going on and the worse it got, the faster he drove.  Visibility was poor and the road was slick.  He brushed off requests to slow down, and we exceeded 70mph in places.  I thought about my wife and kids.  The next day, I told him I would never get in a car with him at the wheel again, and I never did.

One of the rationalizations he used was; “if we slow down, we’ll get rear-ended”.  That is a distinct possibility, which in such conditions is a good reason to make sure your seat belts are fastened, your head rests adjusted, and to put on the emergency flashers.  But it’s a really stupid reason to go too fast for conditions.

Last Fall in this area, a young woman died when her Buick Rainier rolled over.  It’s a well-built SUV with a good safety rating, but rescuers surmised that she unbuckled her belt to reach her cell phone, which she had dropped while text-messenging.  In a rare moment of insight, Illinois legislators just passed a law making it illegal to text while driving, but I wonder why a law was even necessary.  As the poster says; “Common Sense: So rare it’s practically a super power.”  If they can’t figure out it’s a bad idea to text and drive, I wonder if a law will really help.

Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, and I’ve done a dumb thing or two behind the wheel.  But four of my classmates died in 1973 from a high-speed accident.  Makes you thoughtful.

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A weekend wasted on home repairs

January 19, 2010 Comments off
From Notes
New sink, assembled,
ready to drop into
hole in counter.
Click to embiggen. 

I spent a good part of the weekend fixing the fridge and installing a new kitchen sink.  Got a little studying done on Saturday and Sunday but otherwise it was this stuff.

The fridge had really clogged up with ice and wouldn’t, you know, “chill”.  I think the root problem was too much stuff crammed into the freezer compartment, but will check it again in a month.  The defrost heater element is very easy to replace if that turns out to have been the problem.  (My DVOM needs a battery so I couldn’t check its impedance.)

Somewhere in the weekend I augured out the bathtub drain, which chose this weekend to become clogged.  The culprit was hair, which points to MrsDoF, not me. 

The sink was suffering from being 30 years old and not much of a sink to begin with.  Luckily I got MrsDoF to accompany me to the lumber yard to help pick out a new faucet.  The old sink was somewhat difficult to remove because the clips had rusted solid.  The old pipes, both water and drain, were both clogged and corroded.

I assembled everything with a view to easier service 30 years from now.  Threads, including sink mounting clips, treated with silicone plumber’s grease.  Pipe fittings, wrapped with PTFE thread seal tape.  Used grey non-adhesive gasket silicone under the edge of the sink against the counter – it is the same color as the stainless steel.  Real good quality faucet.  Replaced crappy old-style service valves (which had frozen into immobility) with the more current ball-type.  The guy at Menard’s said they still sell the old type – people want them because they’re 30 cents cheaper.  This, I don’t understand at all. 

Next up, water heater.  Then furnace and roof.  And paint.  I’ll replace the water heater, and paint the house, myself.  Will bring in contractors for the other items.

( I’ve been controlling chronic muscle pain with daily exercise but without meds I don’t have a solution for arthritis yet so my hands are killing me right now and it’s likely to cost me some sleep tonight.  Will try soaking them in warm water before going to bed.)

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Important Safety Tip

January 16, 2010 Comments off
From my photo album: Cats

Caution: keep hands away from opening.  Sharp claws emerge on very short notice.

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