September 2008

I don’t know what to think about the threatened financial collapse. Cringley likens it to putting out all the forest fires over a one hundred year period. Eventually the forest will catch on fire, and the longer you keep putting it out, the worse it’s going to be when it does go up in flames.

On the one hand, I really don’t like the message it sends to investors: “Go ahead and make risky investments! If they blow up, the taxpayer will bail you out!” This cannot be good for our future, as it will only encourage more of what Alan Greenspan termed “irrational exuberance.” On the other, it really will be a bad thing if it causes the economy to tank, but maybe that would be temporary, and maybe we could ride it out.

I don’t remember where I read this, but it was a while back, and I think it makes even more sense now. The new president should make a Kennedy-esque announcement that the United States will achieve energy independence “before this decade is out.” And to do this, we will develop clean, renewable sources of energy. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard? No, because it would be the right thing to do. This would have several beneficial effects.

First, it would be a way better use of $700B. That’s $2,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. That’s $10K from my family.

Second, it would help with the greenhouse effect if it’s not already too late for that (and yes, I think that’s a real problem). That’s why we must insist that the energy be clean and carbon-neutral.

Third, a research program like that would create thousands, or maybe even millions of high-paying jobs and put the U.S. firmly back in the technology leadership position.

Fourth, the tech could be exported to places where it is needed most by the world – India and China. Those two places want to be new Americas, and they are on track to do it with oil. That adds additional stress to the oil supply driving prices up, and what it does to the environment is even worse. That’s why the world needs for India and China to use clean energy. It’s not enough for the U.S. and Europe to replace oil with clean energy. China and India would immediately take up the slack in the demand. If we developeit, I believe that clean energy will eventually cost a fraction of what we’re paying now, and that is incentive enough for India and China to use it. Maybe that will prevent environmental collapse.

Fifth, China and India would not be the only ones to benefit. What about Europe and Australia? Africa? South America? Once the tech is developed, it should be cheap, giving the third world a real chance to better their lot.

Sixth, it would solve our Middle East problems. Let them keep their oil. Venezuela too. Well – most of it. There would still be a healthy market for oil because that’s what plastic is made of. Being energy independent does not mean we won’t need plastic any more. The demand for oil would keep them in business, but OPEC would no longer call the shots.

How would we do this? Well, it would take a lot of R&D, and that’s where all those high-paying jobs come from. Solar is getting a lot of research now, and that was spurred even more by $4.00/gallon gas. Wind should be used too. And geothermal, biomass, waves, and maybe something else that we haven’t thought of yet. For $700B, you could probably build a hydrogen infrastructure. We will never use hydrogen cars without an infrastructure to support them, and we will never get an infrastructure unless the government commits to subsidizing one.

But energy independence wouldn’t all be done through energy generation. We’d also need to put a check on the demand. Outlawing inefficient light bulbs would be a start. I would not say outlaw incandescents, because I have heard of research that massively boosts the efficiency of incandescents. Rather than banning a technology, set ran efficiency standard – light sources must produce at least X lumens per watt. We should be using LEDs to light our houses, and we should get tax breaks for installing light pipes to bring sunlight indoors. Why use energy to generate light when we could just grab some from outdoors and use it inside? Light switches should sense motion as well as light. If no one’s in the room, lights out! If the window is open, dim the lights. I have a motion sensor in my office, but recently, I switched it from automatic to off. I have a huge window, and it lights my workspace more than enough (except on rainy days – then I set it back to automatic).

Intel just published the results of some research where they cooled a data center with outdoor air. In Texas. In the summer. The failure rate on their servers went up less than a half a percent, and that was with no air conditioning whatsoever – just fans. Air conditioning is a major, major cost in running a data center, and Intel’s study just showed that that has been a complete waste of money.

What about clothes dryers? We aren’t about to go back to using clothes lines (though that would be a good thing IMO), so we need to find a way to dry them without so much energy. Solar? I dunno – pour some money into research and find a way.

So those are the laws that Congress ought to be looking at. Let the economy dip. Let the underbrush burn, and clean out the cruft. We’ll be better for it if we let it burn now verses letting more underbrush build up. I am convinced that a comprehensive energy plan would more than make up for it. Otherwise, the next collapse will be a lot bigger.

My laptop is coming unhinged. I noticed it about a week ago. The right hinge felt a little weak. Upon inspection, I saw that the two pieces of plastic that make up its housing were no longer meeting. Bummer, but it didn’t seem to cause a problem. Well, now it’s getting worse, and I think it very well may cause a problem, and soon. So I called Bill, our IT guy at work. He came up and took a look. We also found that the warranty had expired back in May. So he suggested that we should just buy me another one.

Well! OK!

So I’ll be getting a new laptop soon. I’ll look over what’s available and make a decision tomorrow.

I took Va’s car to the garage to have its annual inspection, and for it to pass, it needs new tires. I also asked them to see if they could do anything about the locks. The driver’s door and the trunk don’t work anymore. The mechanic said they were seized up – at least he didn’t say they were locked up. They took the locks out and will have a locksmith work on them tomorrow. Which means they kept the car overnight. Va happened to still be in town when I called her at 3:30. She had some errands to run, and then she’d drop by the office and give me a ride home. In the morning, I will take Beth to school, and then come back to the house. I’ll work from here until she’s ready to go into town. I should be able to drive her car home in the afternoon though.

I think I’ll stop by the garage after I take Beth to school though and pick up the inspection paperwork. Once they get the new tires on, it should pass. Tomorrow’s the last day to get that taken care of or risk a ticket. We should be able to take the “you pass” paper to the city clerk, hand them some bux, and have that out of the way before we head back to Concord.

Today Jonathan and I started running wire for the computer network at the school. The first thing we did was figure out where the switch would be located. We found a perfect place in a closet. It was pretty close to the bulk of the computers too, so it should not take much wire. All we needed to do was put in a shelf and an AC outlet. Then run the Cat6.

First stop was Home Depot. The networking face plates require electrical boxes. Also, I needed something to make the shelf from as well as some BX and an outlet for the AC. We found everything we were looking for and returned to the school. First I put up the shelf, and then I marked where the outlet would go. I was almost ready to saw a hole in the sheet rock, but decided to move some boxes of crap out from underneath so cleanup would be easier. Moving the crap exposed an unused outlet! Yay! So I didn’t saw a hole in the wall. Instead, we knocked one in the ceiling to run Cat6 through, and then put the switch on the shelf.

That’s when I hit a snag. I couldn’t remember the “standard” way to wire the end of an Ethernet cable. If you’re wiring both ends, it doesn’t matter too much because as long as you do them the same and know where how the pairs pair up, it’ll all work itself out. But the jacks on the other end were already color coded.

Furthermore, there are two standard ways to wire the jacks: T568A, or T568B. I couldn’t remember which one I preferred, so we just randomly chose A (I found out later that I had memorized B previously, but that doesn’t matter too much). We decided to just leave the switch end unterminated and wire up the jacks according to the standard. When I got home, I looked up the standard so we’ll know how to wire the other end.

We ended up putting in 12 Ethernet jacks. I’ll be back there on Tuesday to finish off the basketball goal project, so I might spend some time then crimping RJ45’s onto those cables.

We still need to run a wire from the kitchen closet to the switchin’ closet. I expect the satellite feed will come in near the kitchen, since it has a southern exposure (satellites are in the southern sky). That run can be Cat5 instead of Cat6 though, as it will be a lower speed connection. Oh – and we need to run a high-speed line to the AV room so we can hook that computer into the network as well.

We finished up around 6:00pm. Jonathan went and gathered up the AV computer (we plan to install the terminal server software on it) and I swept up the sheet rock crumbs. We put all the tools in the car and put the networking supplies in the closet. Then we drove home. In a little while I’ll get that PC out of the car and start installing software on it.

In other news…
My Wikibook project got a paragraph in the September issue of The Visitor, a denominational magazine published by the Columbia Union! You can download the magazine here if you want (the blurb is on page 20), but here’s the paragraph:

Youth Honors Textbooks – Many Adventist
schools use ecology (basic and advanced) and
environmental conservation honors as part of their
outdoor education programs. Download free
textbooks about these two honors—written by
Seventh-day Adventist youth leaders and teachers—

It only mentions three of the honors that are there, but I’m not complaining! As of last night, there were 210 honors with completed answers. There are a total of 354 honors, so there’s still plenty of work to do on that front. But it sure is nice to get some press!

I felt out of place a little at church today. Since I was supposed to be off on a camping trip, I had lined up substitutes to handle all my normal duties. I didn’t want to barge in on my Juniors Sabbath School class, as I thought that would have put a crimp on my substitute. She had worked hard to prepare the lesson, so I thought it best to let her go ahead and teach it without interference. Instead, I went to Va’s Sabbath School class. It was a nice change of pace, but even there, I think my presence interfered more than it helped. Beth is in that class, and my attendance there threw her off a little.

I talked to Paul today too. He is the head Pathfinder in our conference, and he attends church in Concord (unless he’s visiting another church, which is not infrequent and comes with his duties). He said that back in the 70’s when they had rain like we were forecast to get this weekend, Molly Stark State Park (where we were to camp) did experience some flooding, and the road connecting it to civilization washed out, stranding all campers. Also, ony six clubs indicated an intent to attend, making it even easier to cancel. The ones who were not attending cited the weather as the deciding factor.

Jessica brought the bread she had gotten from her employer (Panera) for the campout and offered it to anyone who wanted some. There was enough for everyone, and it was enthusiastically received. I think there was still enough left that Ken probably got to take the leftovers home for his cows.

When we got home we ate some of that bread. I had a couple of sandwiches. Then I took a nap for an hour and worked writing answers to the Bible Marking honor on the Wikibooks project. When I finished that, I worked on the Advanced version too. Actually, last night I finished off the ADRA series of honors as well, so it has been a productive weekend on the Wiki project.

Since I’m not camping this weekend, I figured I would head over to the school tomorrow and start running cable for the computer network. Maybe I’ll get enough done so that the student PC’s can access the AV computer, and maybe I’ll get the terminal server installed on that as well. That might be over-ambitious, as it’s a lot of work to do all that. We’ll just hafta see how it goes.

This morning I got up thinking I would be going to the Conference Camporee with the Pathfinders. I had decided to take the day off, but I still had to get up at the same time so I could take Beth to school. After I dropped her off, I went to Home Depot so I could get some 2×4’s for David’s stretchers. I was still looking around when Va called to tell me the Camporee had been canceled. The forecast had worsened. They are now expecting high winds and 6-8 inches of rain – and that’s before TS Kyle comes rolling through on Sunday. Also in the forecast: flooding! So maybe we shouldn’t be camping in that.

I did not buy any 2×4’s. Instead, I went out to my car and started calling Pathfinder Staff, starting with Joyce who was already on the phone with one of the area coordinators. The first things she told me was “Camporee’s canceled!” She was at Sam’s Club loading up a grocery cart with food for the camping trip. Instead of checking out though, she unloaded it. Then I called the rest of the staff and the parents to let them know the news. Then I figured there was no need for me to take the day off from work, so I went to the office.

When I left the house, the plan was that I’d be back in 90 minutes or so. Because of that, I didn’t bring my laptop with me. So I was laptopless when I got to work. I do have another PC in my office though, so I used it until Va came into town to pick up Beth. She brought my laptop to me, and normal life resumed.

Because it was raining so hard, the guys at work decided to order Chinese for lunch instead of walking somewhere. I needed cash, and I had some brand spanking new rain pants, so I put on my gear and walked to the ATM in the down pour. I guess the rain suit worked pretty OK! There are a few things I might do to it though to make it better. I’d like to mount a large pocket on the inside back to hold the rain pants. I’d like to put some zippers in the rain pants so I can access the pockets in my jeans (the rain pants go on over them). Since there were no such zippers, I got to dig into the back of my pants and fish out my wallet when I got to the bank. That’s a sure fire way to impress strangers!

I put in a full day’s work and then came home. It was raining. I always have mixed feelings about stuff like this. I really did want to go camping, but at the same time, I prefer to do that when it’s not raining. But I had new rain gear! All of this goes perfectly with the Calvin and Hobbes story line running (or re-running) this week. Here’s the best one of this story so far:

Calvin's Dad Takes the Family Camping

Calvin's Dad Takes the Family Camping

On the one hand I very much identify with Calvin’s dad. On the other, I identify with Calvin.

I ran several errands today after work. First I went to the garage where I had left my car. It needed a state inspection and an oil change. Then I went to the vet to pick up a 12-month supply of Heartguard for (who else?) Penny. Then I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. I wanted to get some rain pants for the campout this weekend, and maybe a topographic map of southern VT. We’ll have the afternoon free on Saturday, and I thought maybe a five mile hike might be in order. Dick’s had some acceptable rain pants, but no topos. I had tried the bookstore downstairs from my office already. They have topos, but none for VT. Bummer.

I’m taking the day off tomorrow to get ready for the camporee. I will need to go to Lowes and WallyWorld. David needs ten poles and five blankets for a relay race he’ll be in charge of on Sunday. I plan to rip five 2×4’s to make the poles. Maybe I’ll round them off with a drawknife, but we’ll see how that goes. One blanket plus two poles will be used for making an improvised stretcher in his relay race. It will also involve toilet paper bandages, but that’s about all I know.

He was asking me where he could get some blankets, and suggested that taking them from the beds might be a Bad Idea. I agreed, and shared an embarrassing story from my teen years.

In Kentucky they have annual “graveyard cleanings.” They probably have them elsewhere as well. In the old days, people would come to the graveyard cleaning and… clean the graveyard. These days, it’s more or less a picnic with a collection to cover the costs of professional landscaping. So we were going to go to one when I was in high school, and it fell to me to procure some blankets. I grabbed one off my bed. I didn’t notice until AFTER I spread it out on the ground and sat down to eat that there were pubic hairs on it here and there. As I recall, my older brother Mike noticed too, plucked one off, and displayed it for everyone. Thus the embarrassment! So. Taking blankets off the bed definitely falls into the Bad Idea category.

Steve called me at work today, pretty close to lunch time. We had a nice long conversation. He’s about to go nuts (well – he might be over he hump now) because he is supposed to not do anything while he recovers from his back surgery. Hang in there Steve! Va can probably relate to that better than I can, because she was on bedrest for three weeks before Jonathan was born. It was supposed to go for five, but Jonathan came two weeks early. Steve is scheduled to be out for six weeks (I think).

Tonight I need to take down my one-man tent. I pitched it in the basement after our last campout so it could dry. This campout promises to be even wetter. But I guess I’ve come to expect that. Thus, the rain pants.

Sometime in November our Pathfinder Club will start selling cases of citrus fruit as a fundraiser. This is a pretty good money maker, and I think we cleared close to $1000 last year (over a five month period). As far as fundraisers go, I like this one, because the people who buy fruit from us seem to actually want it.

Lately when people I work with bring in useless crap to sell for their kids, I just give them a donation. You don’t HAVE to buy anything, and the money you outright donate has a 100% profit margin. Plus, you don’t end up with useless crap. So that’s how I do it.

But for the citrus fundraiser, I’m hoping to do better than $1000 this year. I spent most of the evening hacking together a PHP script so we can take orders online. I don’t know if I’m going to try accepting payment online or not. That would make it a lot easier for the customers (and maybe for me once it’s set up). But setting it up feels like it will be a royal pain. At a minimum, the online form should let people place their orders, and once they click the order button (which does not yet exist), I will get an email with their order info. That’s not too hard to do.

In other news…
The $25 wireless access point I ordered for the school came in. I set it up here at the house and it seems to work pretty OK. It supports 802.11n, which is a couple notches up from 802.11g (faster and greater range). I’m connected through it right now. The configuration software was apparently Windows only, but once I got the basics set up, I could connect via Linux and do the rest of the configuration.

I took the ropes off the basketball goal this morning when I dropped Beth off at the school. The post was still plumb, so either the ropes worked or they weren’t needed.

On the way to school Beth was making up a song in the backseat, about her being a “miracle baby.” It went something like this:

I’m a miracle baby
because my mom didn’t have
all of her baby-making parts
when I was in her tummy.

She was singing this quite earnestly! I tried my hardest not to laugh, but she caught me. I told her I really liked her song. It is also factually correct. Va was down to a quarter of one ovary when Beth was conceived. Between the birth of David and Beth, Va had had three operations to remove some cysts (endometriosis). Her doctor told her that if she really wanted to have another child, he could probably help her – but it would almost certainly require medical intervention. But Va reconciled herself to not having a girl. Then she began feeling the symptoms of another round of endometriosis, so she made an appointment and asked me to go with her. The doctor confirmed that she had another growth, but this one had a heartbeat. She was pregnant! And in shock! As it turns out, the symptoms of endometriosis look a lot like morning sickness. The end result was Beth, and about eight months after she was born, Va did have another bout of endometriosis. They took out most of the rest of her reproductive plumbing.

Tonight after work I went to the church/school. Ken and I had planned to set up the basketball goal. I got there about 40 minutes before Ken, but I didn’t think to bring any tools (Ken was going to). I dug around the car and found a pair of channel locks and some tiny vice grips. I went into the way-back closet and found a can of WD-40. With those tools, I set out to remove the backboard from the old post (we were going to move it onto a new post). I managed to loosen and remove three or four bolts before Ken showed up with a socket set. We got the rest of them off together in short order.

Then we realized we didn’t have any plywood. The holes on the post and the holes in the backboard do not line up, so we were going to sandwich a piece of plywood between the two and drill holes in that. But the more I thought about it, the more I figured we prolly oughta use some 2-by instead of plywood. Ken had some at his house, so we drove back there together and grabbed what we needed (including some nuts and bolts).

When we got back to the church, Ken started digging the hole, and I started sawing the 2×6 and marking where the holes ought to go. Then I went to drill them. Ken had brought his little drill and his big bits, and the bits would not fit in the drill at all. So we decided to just set the post and come back another day with the drill. We manhandled the post into place and I held it up while Ken mixed the concrete. I think it took two bags. Once the hole was filled, I went to the Pathfinder trailer and got some rope. We used that to hold the post plumb while the concrete set. It was about dark then, so we cleaned up our mess and called it a day.

OK – so that was a boring post. Sometimes it happens!

Not a whole lot happened today. I went to work and made more progress on some pretty cool software I’ve been writing. It’s about ready for prime time now,but to describe it here would very likely bore everyone to tears. So I’ll spare you!

My friend and coworker Dennis started a blog. Give him a visit if you like. His first post leads me to believe he will be having some adventures worth chronicling.

Va asked me to attend tonight’s school board meeting so I could talk about our Internet connection. I’m recommending Hughsnet’s (remember Elysabeth?) satellite feed over Verizon’s cell tower connection because their bandwidth cap policy is so much better. With Verizon, once you hit the monthly cap, they start charging $0.25 per megabyte. With Hughsnet, the cap is on a 24 hour basis, and when you hit it they throttle down the connection speed – no extra charge. That will be a lot easier to live with. I presented the options to the board, along with my recommendation, and they voted it up. So tomorrow I will call Hughes again and get them going.

Before the meeting, Va and I met at Olive Garden and had some dinner. It’s nice to eat at a restaurant with just the two of us every now and then. That doesn’t happen often enough, so we savor it when we can do it.

I also put my camera back together again. I took it more apart (aparter?) first, but I could not break into the lens housing to free up the jam. I decided it would be better to have it working as well as it does rather than break it the rest of the way. It’ll do for a while, but that does put me in the market for a new camera. Now all I have to do is PICK one.

Today was the day my family and I were planning to eat my birthday supper. We always go out for birthday meals. I wanted to go to someplace the family never goes. It didn’t really matter where – just a long as it wasn’t someplace we typically go. My first thought was what I always call “The Hermanos Brothers Kitchen Cucina.” I call it that because it drives all the people in my house who have taken Spanish nuts. Hermanos means brothers, and cucina means kitchen.

When we got there, we found that they don’t open until 5:00pm on Sundays. Boo. So I thought we’d go to the Common Man. But they were still serving a brunch buffet, and it didn’t look all that great to me. Certainly not good enough to blow a birthday meal on! So we went across town to TGI Fridays. We haven’t been to one of those since we lived in VA, and the one there was never all that great. But this one was pretty OK! I want to go back a few more times at least so I can try some other things on their menu.

My original plan for today was that I was going to go pull some wire over at the school/church so we could get the computer networking in place. But… I just didn’t feel like it. The thought of gathering up my tools is really what put me over the edge. I’ll need a wallboard saw, a fish tape, drill, screwdrivers, prolly a hammer, and most certainly my crimper tool. And more besides, I’m sure. But by the time the thought occurred to me that I was going to need to gather tools, I was already hungry. So I decided not to.

This morning I cut some poles – all from dead standing trees. A maple, two pines, and a chestnut. I used them to lash up a teepee. Beth and I went to Lowes and I spent three bucks on a clear plastic drop cloth for the teepee skin. Too bad I didn’t think carefully aboutall three dimensions. I thought of the length (9 feet) and the thickness (2 mils), but for whatever reason, I thought 12′ would be plenty long. Ideally, it should have been double the width so I could cut it into a semicircle. Oh well. The teepee greenhouse went up, but it remains to be seen if it will be effective or not.

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