Thursday, July 30, 2009

We did not blow up

A crunchy old-timer from Atmos came out and put his electrosniffer on the meter. It started clicking on the OUT connection. He turned off the gas, replaced that gasket and put it back together.

All is well.

coleman check valve

I dissassembled a Coleman "suitcase" stove last week to get to a problematic part. Most parts on a coleman are trivial to service. The exception is a small object buried in the fount called a "check valve".

There's not an easy way to get to it, it can take a special $50 tool, and can get very, very stuck. Many people go their whole camping lives without having to change one of these doodads. I got mine out and replaced it today and cranked it up. Runs and holds pressure like a champ.

Here's how it works. Consider what happens when you pump up a Coleman fuel gear:

* release the plunger by rotating it a turn or so CCW.
* pump until you reach desired pressure
* lock the plungber back in place by rotating it CW until you feel it seat.

When the plunger is screwed into place it prevents air from leaking out.[0] But what keeps the air from leaking out after the plunger has been opened? That's the check valve. It contains a ball little opening, blocking outward air movement. The screwed-in plunger and the check valve are the "belt and suspenders" system that keep the explosive fuel/air mix inside the gear where it belongs.[1]

Speaking of which, I just called Atmos to report a possible gas leak around our meter out back. I might be imagining things; it's either faint or not there at all. But they are apparently on the way. I don't think we are in great danger of blowing up. But if you hear sirens tonite and I don't post anymore...

[0] more correctly, the air stem it's connected to prevents air from leaking out, but you get the idea.
[1] there's a third safety, in a way. The check valve sits in fuel but has a snorkel like a Hummer, so in case it depressurizes only air comes shooting out the hole in the plunger, not fuel.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

digging for gold

Spent the evening moving large, heavy things and tearing out 1970s carpet. yay! I hate carpet, and love wood floors.

In the first shot you can see the wood underneath. There are places where it was treated roughly during a previous carpet adventure. The Dear Wife is pointing here to a 10' razorknife scar in the floor that some Mensa hero left there decades ago. Arghhh.

I have to say, that carpet tack board crap is a booger to get up. Only half of that done, nails and staples everywear, and sticky bits of padding adhered to the floor all over the place. Another night's work in there before we can clean it up and see what we've got.

Fuh-reaking bing

Well, it looks like Yahoo has sold its innards to mickey$oft. Henceforth yahoo search results will be provided by Bing, Microsoft's next attempt to battle google.

I don't really blame Yahoo; they've been in a bad position for a really long time. Before search engines were the demonstratable Right Thing, there were two kinds of "portal" sites:

* search engines: altavista (!), hotbot (!), etc. Remember those? Do you remember when Altavista's boolean searches represented the absolute pinnacle? Nowadays it's mainly remembered as a bit of wordplay by the crack site astalavista. Not going to hotlink that one because it's usually NSFW.

* directories: mainly Yahoo. You submitted your site in a category and real humans verified the placement and published it. This model just doesn't scale in the normal sense. (You could probably scale it by crowdsourcing (having the public verify the info, like Wikipedia or something)). So yahoo left the directory behind and started a half-@ssed attempt to do spidering/search. Never really captured any mental territory.

I've used Bing a few times to see what it's like. It's not completely overhyped and useless.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Long term sub


There is a kind of substitute teaching gig called Long Term Sub (LTS) in which the sub covers for a teacher for weeks or months.

An LTS has a classroom, students, and a curriculum. It's effectively short-term teaching rather than placeholding in the "teacher has a day off" category.

Alt cert candidates consider LTS to be a stepping stone to a teaching job.

Why I'm telling you this

I have an LTS position in RISD that will run Aug-Nov, then it's back to day-to-day subbing. It is not in my field of certification but I look forward to the challenge.

The teaching job market is just vicious right now. A principal recently told me that it used to be common for teachers to get pregnant and quit teaching. Now they come back after the kid is born because their husband lost his job and they need the benefits.

[edited to correct spelling and to remove a few sentences that sounded harsher than I intended.]

Friday, July 24, 2009


I am flirting with switching to Epiphany, a linux web browser that uses the gecko layout engine and a Gnome-derived front end. It seems to misbehave less than firefox.

Will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


No, I haven't been watching Logan's Run again.

Just got my passport renewed and returned in the mail. So I've got the one with the RFID strip in it now (queue Big Brother music). It's a little hokier than the last one, with photos of eagles, flags, etc. Like it was made by the Franklin Mint intead of the US State Department.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

high speed, low drag @$$clowns

Just reported the idiots in the silver (tracer? taurus) for reckless and very fast driving down my street.

I was in the yard adjusting the sprinkler when I looked up and saw them coming down the road side by side next to another vehicle, a red Ford SUV.

I only had a couple of seconds to figure out what was going on*, but I think the red SUV was speeding around 40mph down the street** when the fools (ie, "young males") in the silver car passed them on my residential street going 60-65mph. Either that or it was a chase or roadrage scenario.

The passenger fool pumped his fist out the window and whooped. Keep it up, hero. We ain't playin'.

* while I yelled at both cars
** unfortunately not out of the ordinary

Always a bridesmaid

Got a summons for Dallas County jury duty. Didn't get picked; I never get picked. This time I didn't even get sent into the pool of possibles for picking over by the laywers. :-(

Some random notes from the experience:

  • This one was at the George Allen building bear Union Station, not the Frank Crowley in the "immanent threat of danger" part of town.
  • Since it was about a block from Union Station this made a DART rail ride down there a no-brainer. The summons even included a pass for a free DART ride.
  • The ride and walk were relatively painless. Total unwanted-confrontation count: 4. Two babbling, arm-waving lunatics on the train there, one (rather pleasant) street person begging on the walk back, and a boundary-challenged fellow on the way back who insisted on "reading" me his newspaper and making random, aggressively ignorant commentary on them.
  • There is an open wifi feed in the Jury Pool room, but it is a proxy and you have to pay for access. $5.95 for the day, IIRC. Didn't pay it. There was a belo-guest open AP in the nearby Belo building, but the signal was so weak I couldn't get a lease. I read a book instead.
  • If you come in the court building entryway closest to Union Square there is no indication where the jury room is. And even when you find it there is nothing on/near the door to tell you where it is. The court wrangler kept referring to the "bailiff's office" but did not say where it was. I figured out where it was, and there was no signage indicating it was the bailiff's office. There were lines with people standing in them with no indication what the line was for or who was running it. I am not claiming the court building should hold peoples' hands; I am saying they should at least give us enough info to figure it out for ourselves. Man, that was frustrating.
  • Those were some of the saddest vending machines I have ever seen.
  • There is vandalism, gang-looking scratches on the glass/plastic surfaces of our DART rail station.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More press about the car wash shooting


Be sure to read the lengthy quotes from RPD talking about their investigation in this matter. Oh, wait; there are none.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

lanterns chasing the darkness

Tonite I sat on the back deck and cranked up a couple of lanterns:

  1. Kirkman #2 Champion kerosene lamp. Mr. Kirkman builds lamps from rebuilt/restored Dietz machine parts for that authentic feel. He also has a real understanding of how cold-blast tubular lanterns work. You've seen his work on Lost, in movies, at Disney parks, etc.
  2. Coleman 200a single-burner lantern, vintage 1961. It's older than I am, and probably in better working shape. We're both a bit cranky when first getting up.
I am not a maudlin person but there is a tradition among Coleman people that I want to share. It comes about because Coleman collectors and fans are much older than the average 'net user. When a Coleman forum or mailing list member dies the other members light a lantern in his or her memory. It's fitting. It's quiet. It's absolutely the right thing to do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Barefoot: living with no landline

It's been 1.5 yrs since I've last had a landline, and I don't miss it at all. I don't even think about it. Sometimes the neighbors come over and say "is your telephone line dead?" and I hold up the cell and say "nope".

I do most things on a T-Mo cellphone. For long conversations that one would usually do on a landline I have been using Skype (SkypeOut, $36/yr). Since my subscription expires in a couple of days I've been sniffing around to see if there are any better fits out there:
  1. Skype is not open source, and my workstations are linux. Skype software for linux lags behind Windoze versions and is too bloated/cutesy for my taste.Link
  2. I don't use many minutes, so a by-the-minute deal is probably cheaper for me than a flatrate monthly deal.
Skype uses a proprietary, closed network, but most of the rest of the VOiP world communicates using the SIP protocol.

The best-known SIP client is ekiga, originally a student project designed for Gnome, one of the Big Two linux integrated desktop environments. The clients talk to each other using a SIP provider, a kind of matchmaker. Calls are free from pc-to-pc. There are commercial SIP providers that offer PC-to-phone calling (outbound), which is what I was buying from skype.

The commercial SIP provider I picked was Diamondcard. The cost per minute to the US/Canada is $0.016 (ie, 1.6c/minute). This means if I talk more than 188 minutes a month on Diamondcard it will cost less than Skype. If I talk more than that it would be cheaper to use skype. Should be an interesting experiment.

188 mins doesn't seem like much, does it? But my cell is my main point of contact and I use it about 90mins / month. They don't even make plans that low. I have no idea how people burn through 1000s of mins each month.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Because it's there.

Some wundergeeks recently unveiled a couple of early versions of a LiveCD release of Google Android. Early and creaky (and thinks it's a phone), but it boots.

The problem for Micro$oft is that Google has free (admittedly basic) cloud-based documents including word processing, spreadsheets, etc. And now they are toying with free OSes (Chiefly Chrome OS, but also Android as you see above).

All this must be a little scary if your main source of income is selling people a new (versionwise) Office suite and operating system each year or two.

I think that folks are just about ready to realize that the universe does not revolve around Micro$oft. Shades of Galileo, no?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

el rancho puerco

Can't remember if I've raved about El Rancho market up on Coit/SpringValley before or not. Short version: if you've never been to a Mexican groceria before this is your nudge to do so.

How could you resist a place that merchandises the chorizo in their meat department as shown?

Anyhow, the lunch counter is great, fruits/vegetables are cheap, the "homemade" menudo is great in it's tripey squidigness, the pan dulces display is great, the cheese counter is great, and the meat counter looks great but I haven't tried it yet other than to stumble through ordering some fresh chicharones.

bird hot, squirrel hot

"Bird hot" is when it's so hot that birds walk around with their mouths open. This occurs at around 100F, based on the carefully calibrated birds in my neighborhood. I keep the birdbath filled up so they can cool off and drink some.

"Squirrel hot" is a different temp scale, but it also centers on the 100F point. At this point squirrels become malleable and rest draped over objects in the cool shade.

Rant: control freak companies

Let me me clear; companies (like Micro$oft and Apple) that try to lock customers to their hardware and software, as Apple is doing with iTunes and the Pre, will eventually fail.

Interoperability and openness will rule. This doesn't have to mean Free and Open Source Software, but it will certainly include it and learn from it.

"Markets are conversations" with between companies and customers, not commands, directives, or control freak, jerky manipulations by douchebag companies. Get a clue[train].

The whole quote is:

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galilean moons

That bright object east in the evening sky is Jupiter. If you have a pair of normal binos, take a peek at it. Depending on the timeframe you can usually see 4 or so star-like objects near Jupiter; they are the moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Right now there are two on the left side and two on the right side of Jupiter.

Galileo was the first person to describe their periodicity around Jupiter. Check out his notes and drawings of the moons in the image.

Side effect: Before the invention of an effective seagoing clock mechanism sailors could use the position of the moons to tell what time it was. And if you new what time it was you could, using a bit of declination, deduce your longitude.

But the major news was that Galileo was eating forbidden fruit and realized it. The official position was that all heavenly bodies (including the sun) orbited the earth, as befits God's creation. But Jupiterian moons demonstratably orbited Jupiter. This broke the universe, or at least the theological understanding of how the universe worked.

That kind of shift in human understanding is found over and over again in Renaissance studies. Man sets himself on a path that will eventually lead to a rigorous scientific methodology.

Sketch of car wash shooter

The sketch is online here.

Remember that scanner audio of the shooting and the subsequent manhunt is uploaded in the files section of the HighlandTerraceChat mailing list.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Geekout: different OSes on the Eee

The Eee is very happy to run OSes off flashdrive. And since much of the action on a netbook actually happens in the cloud you can play with LiveCD/LiveUSB OSes painlessly.

Here's what I've done so far:

* Windows XP (came installed on the Eee). 2700MB installed. XP will not run off flashdrive and has a heavy footprint, so it's gone. But it did work out of the box (OOB hereafter) at least as much as I tested. I understand one can use nLite against one's XP install disk to strip all the crap out and end up with a reasonable experience. 2.7GB. Holy crap.

* Puppy Linux 4.2.1, 101MB installed. Everything other than wifi worked OOB. Installed madwifi-hal driver pet and all is well. This is my current OS. Understand that this fully functional OS is 1/27th the size of the XP installation. That's 3.7% of the size, people. WTH is going on at Micro$oft?

* TinyCore, 11MB installed (!). Holy crap, this booted in like 10 seconds. Ethernet worked fine. Fought with it for a couple of hours to get savefile persistence and the Wifi up. Did get it running, though. I felt like I won a fistfight. BTW, TCL boots so fast that some users have to artificially insert delays in order to let slower peripherals to initialize. Truly amazing, but a bit of a hairshirt. Not sure I'm man enough for it. Still, it's 1/10th the size of Puppy (and 1/270th the size of XP) . That's just crazy talk.

* pupeee-b4, 100MB installed. Based on Puppy Linux 3.x. Worked OOB.

* pupeee-4.2, 100MB installed. Based on Puppy Linux 4.2. Worked OOB.

* Easy Peasey: 900MB installed. would not finish loading kernel image.
* Damn Small Linux: 50MB installed. Would not finish live boot.
* slitaz-eeepc: 25MB installed. Would not finish live boot. Hung at "configuring ath0". Known issue.

Honorable Mention:
* Eeebuntu: 500MB installed. Completely gorgeous. Slow load. Too frakking big.

* Boxpup 4.1: 85MB installed. Based on the lightweight, fluxbox-like OpenBox window manager. Very nice, but seems to lag further behind Puppy than the Pupeee variant.

You have been geekified.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Proverbs 26:11 and Microsoft

Like a dog returns to its vomit...

The newer netbooks are perfect for my needs, but I don't want to end up with an operating system that will soon be obsolete, and I want to stay with Microsoft.

1. I don't want to get stuck with an obsolete OS.
2. Microsoft obsoletes OSes to force you into buying another one.
3. Therefore, I want to stay with Microsoft.


You want to stay with a company who does exactly what you don't want it to do?

I am reminded of the common definition of insanity.

Seen here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

How you know it's Friday

I am always caught by surprise when I see cars stacked along both sides of Spring Valley all the way from Abrams to Summit. Then I remember it's Friday, and I am near the biggest mosque in Richardson at least.

Did I ever tell the story about me walking barefoot in the Dome of the Rock? No? Maybe I will sometime. Maybe I am reminded of the Dome because of the proximity of the mosque and the heat. Yes, it was 102F today. Yes, I was on the bike. Yes, I am an idiot.

Power outage on Summit and Spring Valley

Power just came back on after about an hour and a half. According to scanner traffic a transformer blew.

Lessons learned:

1. my cellphone was less charged than it should have been.
2. I only knew the precise location of one flashlight
3. coleman lanterns and kerosene lamps can really light up the back porch.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Power situation

Got this update:

Jul 8, 2009
Power Watch: High Electricity Demand Predicted Today

Power Watch: Conservation Needed

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the state, and the Public Utility Commission, are encouraging consumers and businesses to reduce their electricity use today during peak electricity hours from 3 to 7 p.m. due to expected high electricity usage.

Full article at the link above.

You know, it wouldn't hurt my feelings if all that money adventuring overseas were spent on our own infrastructure.

Birth of a monster

A very cute monster.

Was about to turn in last night when I saw a cicada molting from his brown shell. Like many others, I've seen the cast-off shells all over but never seen a molt.

It took about 5mins to split the shell and another 5mins to wriggle out of it. His wings had just started to unfold when I took this pic. I would have liked to watch them unfold and dry but the process was taking too long. I went to bed while it morphed.

Suburban cricket

Dear Wife and I were out biking late last night and we saw a bunch of cars in the parking lots of Terrace Park.

We rolled over that way to check it out. The action was on the tennis courts, but we had to get very close before I recognized the bowlers and cricket bats.

Cricket, in a park in the middle of Richardson! Great stuff. I was glad to see it; adds to the charm of our little burg.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

COR Parks master planning

Click the thumbnail to see the info on the public meeting about parks. I'll write up my deranged responses here and paste them into an email as given in the graphic.

1. What parks and recreation facilities and programs (indoor and outdoor) do you currently use? If you don't use the system, why not?

I currently use outdoor parks for walking, cycling, and geocaching. I have only used the indoor rec areas for picking up recycling bags. I might use the rec centers more if there were more planned day trips to areas of local interest. Glenrose, Dublin Dr. Pepper, Rough Riders games, zoo trips, etc.

2. What do you like about the City of Richardson parks, Recreation Facilities and Programs (indoor and outdoor)?

I think COR has an appropriate number and distribution of parks. They appear to be in decent shape.

3. What don't you like or what is missingfrom your parks and recreation system? How can the system be improved? What is your vision for the future of Richardson parks and recreation opportunities?

The rocket ship and other neat structures in Heights Park are missing, for one thing. Lawyers, legislators and consultants.... boo.

Other than my #1 issue is that a high number of park water fountains do not work. I can't tell if the water is turned off or the buttons are broken. This isn't good when Texas summers are baking park goers. I'd argue it's a health/safety issue.

More walking and bike paths would be nice. Signs that suggest bike paths connecting parks to each other and nearby areas of interest.

In areas that don't have tree cover (like many playground areas) shade awnings that let only 50% of the sun through would increase comfort. As long as I'm blue-skying it, how about water misters mounted in trees and shelters that run for 15mins after you press the button? Would help with the heat without wasting water unattended.

Use of more native grasses and plants that would require less water and/or maintenance.

4. Imagine it is the year 2015. you are very pleased with the improvements that have been made to your park and recreation system since the master plan was completed. What has happened to make the parks more successful and enjoyable? How have the recreation and leisure opportunities changed?

The water fountains work. People are seen walking and biking at all times of day and night. COR has reached out to groups like the bike clubs and local volkmarchers that exercise outdoors regularly.

5. How do your feel the City and other jurisdictions should generate the funds necessary to improve the parks and recreation system?

I don't know enough about city finance to have an informed opinion. Maybe have citizens or companies adopt parks and contribute to their upkeep?

Monday, July 6, 2009

recycling sched over the holiday

Guess I wasn't the only one that misinterpreted the holiday recycling schedule written in the water bill. (It noted that the pickup that would normally happen on the Thursday and Friday would happen instead on Wednesday and Thursday.) There are still blue bags around Highland Terrace. Guess I better go drag mine back in...

I found it later on the web where it's spelled out more clearly, which day is the makeup for which normal day. I'll check the web next time.

Good customers, bad customer

A little mouse reports that he was in real danger of getting tossed from a focus group recently.

The mouse and his cohorts were to look at some potential credit card programs designed to gauge their reaction to them. Some of them included terms like "since I am a good customer", like "the card issuer should give me reward points since I am a good customer, paying on time and in full", etc.

Mouse could stand it no longer. He pointed out that terms like good and bad are reversed in the credit card world. Specificially, a good customer is one that hovers around or exceeds his credit line but continues to make payments without defaulting. A bad customer is one who pays their balance on time and in full. This customer is so bad that the issuer label for this customer is deadbeat. The room went silent. The group leader was not amused.

A couple of participants picked up the ball and started referring to "what we would consider to be a good customer" explictly when describing customer behaviour. The leader became even less amused. A couple of the more naive panelists shook their heads and couldn't believe it. Of course, these were the only two who said they regularly flirted with the high end of their credit line, and stayed with their current CC issuer because they called to alert them of fraud.

Seriously, do you think the CC called about a fraudulent charge to protect you? No, you don't have responsibility for fraudulent charges; the issuer does. They are covering their own a$$. This is the kind of upside-down, perverse spin that keeps usurious CC issuers in business. The leader liked the the sheeple that fall for this crap because they are a cash ATM that keeps going, and going...

At the end it turns out that the whole thing was intended to gauge customer amenability to programs that enable cardholders to exceed their credit line. The CC issuer was panicking because of the recent CC-related legislation, and needed to see how to get people to pay money for the ability to exceed their credit line. The presenter put it like this: "the new law says that you are not allowed to exceed your credit line". Gasps from the room. "Unless you have already agreed to a program". It falls into place. We see the end game.

The issuer is spinning it amazingly well. No, it's not that the customer is no longer able to wander into that spiralling black hole of overlimit fees and high balances that make the issuers so much money.* It's that the customer is being oppressed! Hogtied!

It's like a rancher telling sheep they are no longer allowed to get rid of all that heavy, hot wool. Shearing is outlawed! Unless you agree to it beforehand...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wiley Coyote

Was out bicycling last night around 11pm, near Glenville/Windsong.

[What appeared to be] a coyote was standing in the road. As I rolled close enough for identification he noticed me and took off into the undeveloped area to the east.

Yes, I lived on a farm and know what coyotes look like.