October 2008

This has been an exhausting week for me. I had a hard day at work almost every day. Several problems came up that seemed like they ought to be simple to solve, and yet – none of them were simple at all. Indeed, none of them have been solved yet. Add to that the fact the I was being asked for status reports on all of these problems several times a day, and you might be able to see that it was a bit on the stressful side.

This weekend will be a huge flurry of activity too, starting earlier this evening. I took Beth and David to the Amazing Adventure presentation at the church. While that was getting underway, I setup my Sabbath School room so my substitute teacher would have an easier time of it. Yes – I’m having a sub tomorrow, because the Pathfinders (or some of them anyhow) will be leaving church at 9:35. We’re going to a shelter to fix lunches, serve the food, and clean up afterwards. Google says it’s a 20 minute drive, and they want us there at 10:00am. That gives me five minutes to be lost and wondering where this place is.

We should return to the church by about 2:00pm and eat whatever’s still left from potluck. Then the Adventurers will have their meeting. I plan to use that time to box up the food we collected last month – again for feeding the hungry. I might go home after that. Yeah – that way I can exercise the dog a little before I head out again. In the evening we’ll have another Amazing Adventure presentation, and after that will be the first “baby sitting night.” The Pathfinders are offering to babysit people kids for donations from 6:00-9:00 for the first three Saturday nights in November. We’ll do it again from 5:00-9:00 in December. Once the Amazing Adventure presentation is over, I plan to light a campfire in the church yard, and that means I’ll need to get a fire permit. Hopefully that will keep the babysittees entertained.

I’lll go home before 9:00 though. It’s not my night to babysit, but since I’m the director, it’s probably good for me to make a showing anyhow. Also, I want to set up the campfire so we leave no trace of it (tarp on grass, 6″ of sand on tarp, fire on sand).

Sunday at 2:00 I’ll be back at the church clearing brush on the north end of the property. We’re going to turn that thicket into a ball field/picnic area. Then I’ll grab some supper and we’ll have a regular Pathfinder meeting at 5:00. I should be good and tired by the time I get home Sunday evening.

Sometime last week, the faucet on the kitchen sink at work broke. That’s not a real surprise because it was endowed with a pretty unorthodox design. The spigot pulls out and turns into a sprayer. How handy is that? None handy! We almost forgot it had that feature! If it’s too much trouble to grab a regular sprayer all the way on the other side of the sink, no worries! You can just grab the spigot and use it as the sprayer! Or break it off, as some poor soul did with ours. When this first happened, it was pretty bad, because if you turned it on, the stream was angled up by about 45 degrees, and water would come shooting out at a very high velocity. Enough to soak the wall on the other side of the kitchen and anything or anybody with the misfortune of being located in between.

Then one of the engineers I work with remembered the bizarre sprayer configuration, and realized that the sprayer hose was still down inside the busted-off orifice. So he fished it out. I couldn’t decide if we should praise him or curse him. Once again we had reasonable (though precarious) use of the sink, but that gives the landlord an excuse to put off the repair. So it’s still broken. And still a little unweildy!

I went in there today to fill a pitcher with water. I dropped the hose into the pitcher, let go of it, and then turned the faucet on with a little too much exuberance. The hose launched itself out of the pitcher and started dancing around like one of those hose attachment you used to be able to buy for kids to play with in the yard. Kinda like running through the sprinkler, but much less predictable. Well, it was just like one of those, and I was standing 18 inches away from it, fully clothed (being only partially clothed in the kitchen is probably a firable offense). I closed my eyes and reached for the shut-off. I guess it ran for a full three seconds before I shut it off, so I was quite wet!

I guess we DO have a stupid detector after all! This pretty much offsets the contribution I made to the Internet yesterday, and the world’s equilibrium is restored.

After reading yesterday’s edition of Dinosaur Comics:
(Click on the pictures if they’re too small for you to read. I had to shrink them to make them fit on this page?)
i couldn't find any other reference for "frigedun" except for wikipedia, so wikipedia, you better not let me down on this one
I decided I needed to send an email to Ryan North. Here’s a copy:


“Friday” is named after Frigg.

Sunday – The Sun’s day (Roman mythology)
Monday – The Moon’s day(Roman mythology)
Tuesday – Tyr’s day, (Norse mythology)
Wednesday – Wodin’s day (aka Odin’s day)(Norse mythology)
Thursday – Thor’s day (Norse mythology)
Friday – Frigg’s day (Norse mythology)
Saturday – Saturn’s day (Roman mythology)

He wrote back with this:

JW this is awesome! I’m going to work this into today’s comic. Thanks!

– Ryan

So, here’s today’s strip:
it's true, gentle reader! in a better world, you're looking forward to Casual Frigday

My guess is that history will view my contribution to be at least as significant as the development of TCP/IP. And it was also perhaps the best of all possible ways for me to start my day.

I met Ken at the church again tonight, only this time, we actually finished putting up the basketball goal.  I still had to run to Home Depot, and it was sprinkling the whole time we worked on it, but it’s up there now.  Ken had painted the rim, and the paint was still a tad on the sticky side, but we put it up anyhow.  I got paint on my fingers and on a screw driver, but I’m OK with that.  It’s up now!  And it only took us two months!  It’s a good thing we aren’t putting those up for a living.

Before Ken arrived, I worked a little more on the church/school computer network.  I managed to pull the other end of the cable out of the wall where I had poked it through the previous networking session.  Then I ran it down to the patch panel and terminated it, and I also installed an ethernet jack upstairs next to the AV computer.  I heard Ken drive up while I was putting the finishing touches on the ethernet outlet, so I just finished it up, and then went out to meet Ken.

By the time we finished, I was ready to go home.  If I had had enough energy, I would have installed K12LTSP on the AV computer and taken it for a spin.  But I didn’t.  I suppose I could have packed the PC up and brought it home, but I didn’t feel up to that either.

When I got home, I found that Beth had prepared “school” for me.  I reminded her that I had a Masters of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, but that didn’t put her off.  So I went to school and let her “teach” me.  She really seemed to enjoy it.  Me… a little less so.

After I put her to bed, I went online and ordered the Pathfinder Club’s tickets to the NAD International Camporee (Aug 2009, Oshkosh, WI).  I bought 18 tickets at $165 each.  Yay!

Forecast tonight: Rain changing to snow late, 29°F.

Last time I wrote, I posted details of my planned backpacking trip, so now it’s time to report the events. The forecast was dismal: start raining Saturday at 2:00pm (heavy at times), short break at 8:00pm, resume at 9:00 and pour until 8:00am. That’s not exactly how it went, but it was not too far off.

With that forecast, Jonathan decided to forego the trip. I also got to thinking about having a wet dog in my one-man tent and decided to leave Penny behind. We hit the trailhead at about 2:00pm. There were nine of us (including me and David). We got to the camp site, pitched then tents, gathered firewood, and set up a tarp near the fire pit before it started to rain. That was very good. That’s about when David’s rain pants gave up the ghost, splitting from calf to crotch to the other calf. What junk. I will return those, plus the unopened ones I bought for Jonathan to Walmart at the next opportunity. I put them together again with duct tape, but David decided he didn’t need them.

David’s tent was something of a disappointment, or perhaps I should say, we did not put it to optimal use. It has a mesh top, and I suppose that would be pretty good at keeping the black flies at bay, but not so good at repelling water. But of course, we knew that. We stretched a tarp over it. We were not able to make it cover the two ends though (shaped something like gables). We should have tried a little harder though. I think I may try to custom fit a fly for it using some of the dozens of internal tent partitions I have in the basement.

I went to bed at around 9:00pm, as did everyone else who didn’t turn in earlier. The rain came down in buckets. Then the wind picked up and was screaming a gale, blowing the rain straight into David’s open gables. By 3:30am, the wetness penetrated his sleeping bag, so he crawled out, stumbled around in the dark looking for for my tent (no flashlight, no moon, and no stars!) and asked if I had any dry floor space. I invited him in. He left his soaking wet bag in his “tent.” I opened my sleeping bag up so he wouldn’t hafta lay on the ground. Then we wrapped ourselves in my extra shirts and jacket. That took care of most of the cold. I guess. There were plenty of gaps in my insulation. We got up at around 6:30.

The fire was quite dead by then, having had buckets and buckets of rain unleashed over it from the sky. We gathered some sticks anyhow, and I shaved the bark off them with my pocket knife. I spent about the first hour of the morning doing that, and as other people woke up, they joined me. The rain stopped at about 7:00am, and that was very welcome. We eventually had a pretty nice pile of shaved, dry-ish sticks, so I laid them in my favorite fire-starting formation, stuffed a bit of dryer lint beneath it (I keep some in a ziplock bag in my backpack for just such an emergency), and touched it off with a match. Then I added some birch that I had split with the hatchet. Soon we had a cheery little fire going, and I was very pleased with myself. I don’t know how many people could have gotten a fire started under those conditions. Maybe that’s why I like to camp so much. Even when the weather is terrible.

After the fire was going pretty well, I went down to the river. It had risen about 3 feet during the night (judging by the rocks that it covered). My mission: filter some water for cooking breakfast. That took about 30 minutes I guess, as I filtered enough water for everyone in the group. When I got back to the camp, the fire had gone out. Oh well. If I had stayed there to tend it, I’m sure I could have kept it going. Luckily, it wasn’t cold outside – a little chilly perhaps, but certainly well into the 40’s (maybe 50). Everyone was appropriately dressed for it, and I didn’t hear any complaints about the temperature (which is unusual).

Then I turned my attention to pancakes. We had stuffed a large skillet into Jonathan’s backpack and had forgotten about it when he canceled. So we had to use my tiny little one. I can make pancakes in that one too, but they don’t turn out as well. There’s just not enough room to get a spatula beneath the pancake, so they come out a bit on the scrambled side. I called them “scram cakes.”

David ate a couple scram cakes and then decided to cook up some mashed potatoes for himself. Yes, for breakfast. He didn’t like the way they turned out, but I thought they were fine. I ate them. I also ate several pancakes. Then we washed our dishes and started to break camp. I spent another 30 minutes filtering water for the hike out, and we set out for the cars at about noon. The weather by then was spectacular. There was fog on the mountains, the air was crisp and clean, and the scenery was gorgeous. I guess that’s another reason I like to camp.

The hike out took an hour and five minutes, 25 minutes faster than the hike in. I don’t know why it was so much quicker, but there you go. Maybe getting back to civilization is a greater incentive than getting to a camp site? Even when the weather is threatening? Dunno!

I turned my cell phone back on when we got to the parking lot, and as David and I drove off, it rang. I had a voicemail from Dean. His message? “Call me.” So I called. His wife is pregnant again (yay!)

Then Va called and we got caught up and made plans for the rest of the day. When I got home, I hopped in the shower, then hopped back in the car to meet Va at the church to help her run the President’s Fitness Challenge for the Adventurer club (she had left before I got home). But man… I was tired. I timed the kids in their endurance run, timed them in the shuttle run, demonstrated proper sit-ups and push-ups, and coached them through those. After that, I hung around with Beth as she took in another Amazing Adventure presentation. We drove home, arriving around 7:30. I put her to bed at 8:00 and went to bed myself at about 10:00, exhausted. Go figure.

I took off work early today. I’m leading a group of Pathfinders on a backpacking trip tomorrow after church, and I needed a few supplies. My sons will be joining us, and the forecast is for rain. So I bought them each a rain suit. I also bought a little food for either the trip or for the pantry at home: Spanish rice, instant mashed potatoes, etc. I let the boys pick out what they wanted to eat on the trip, then I picked something out for myself. I repackaged mine into ziplock bags (food packaging is designed to catch the eye at the grocery store, not fit nicely in a backpack). I also bought some pancake mix – the kind that comes in a jug (just add water, shake, and pour). I still have a spatula in my backpack, and I also packed BUTTER this time (unlike when Beth and I went in August).

I’m also planning to take Penny, so I packed some dog food in my pack as well. The boys will be sharing a tent, and I’ll see if I can get Penny to come into mine to keep ME warm(er).

We’re going to hike three miles from the parking lot to a tent site, setup camp, cook some dinner, spend the night, cook some breakfast (pancakes!) and then depending on the weather, either take a hike or head back home.

So after I bought the rain suits and food, I went on home. I helped clean the house, ate some supper, and then took Beth and David to the Amazing Adventure evangelism series. At the end, Brian handed out some commitment cards and pencils. Beth checked all three boxes: I want to give my life to Jesus, I want to be baptized, and I want to talk to the pastor about being baptized. Then she filled in her name, address, and phone number. I think she’s still a little too young to be baptized, but my mind could possibly be changed. Jonathan was nine years old when he was baptized,and Beth will be seven in a little more than two months. David still hasn’t been baptized, and I haven’t asked him if he checked any boxes on his card.

I missed the beginning of the program tonight though, because I was busy changing over the Cradle Roll Sabbath School room (Cradle Roll is for the 0-3 year-old crowd). Yes, I set them up for the Christmas program. Usually, we do a different program each quarter, but we always start the fourth quarter a month late. Early October is just too early for Christmas! Sean helped me take down the backdrop and haul out the moose (we have a life-sized model of a moose!) Last quarter’s program was about the forest, so the moose made a decent prop. Once the moose was out, I set up the manger and put up the Christmas backdrop.

Va and I painted that backdrop a couple of years ago. It depicts shepherds watching their flocks by night under the stars. I installed a string of white Christmas lights on it by cutting tiny holes in the canvas, poking the bulbs through, and then duct taping the cord down securely to the back of the canvas. I tested it, and all the lights still work. Hooray!

I made Beth’s supper last night, and she became concerned partway through her meal when she found blood in her noodles. It was from her front tooth, which was on the verge of leaping out of her gum. She went to the bathroom and tried to pull it, but of course could not muster the courage to seal the deal. Being the kind of dad I am, I offered to help. I went out to the trunk of my car and got my come-along. It has a two-inch hook on both ends, a winch, and steel cable. I offered to hook one end onto her tooth and hook the other end to the car – then drive off real fast. She didn’t think that was such a great idea, so I returned the come-along to the trunk. Then I proposed the alternate solution of tying a length of dental floss around her tooth and pulling it. She agreed. Two minutes later, the tooth was in the sink, there were several drops of blood on the bathroom floor, and she was bawling. She rinsed with a few quarts of water before staunching the flow. I guess the tooth was in there better than we thought it was.

Once the bleeding stopped, she was all happy and excited. Earlier this week she had lost her other front tooth, so now she has a massive gap there. Va gave her two bucks, and I grabbed my broken camera to see if I could coax it to take a focused picture.

The first couple were nothing short of terrible, not so much because of the broken camera (though that didn’t help), but because the flash would light up her complexion showing the blotches left behind by the tears. Also, she was baring her non-teeth for the camera, and squinting in anticipation of the flash. This is the result:

Beth showing her gap (with flash)

Beth showing her gap (with flash)

The second one made her look even more horrified:



Then I finally got a shot that didn’t make her look horrified:

Missing tooth, happy face

Missing tooth, happy face

I turned off the flash for that one to conceal the blotches caused by the earlier water works. Since the flash was off, she quit squinting in anticipation, and the picture (except for the poor focus) came out not too bad. But the other shots are by far more entertaining (as long as you realize that she was all happy when they were made!)

Some great news from Wikimedia Labs today – they have finally released their Wiki-to-PDF generator on Wikibooks. It generates some very nice looking PDF’s too. The first one I tried was for the Basic Sewing honor, because that’s what I was working on when I got the news. It turned out pretty decent! I have tried several wiki-to-pdf converters over the past three years, and this one is hands-down the best one.

The next one I tried was for the Edible WIld Plants honor, because that one has always caused grief in the past. It’s a pretty complicated chapter layout-wise, but this pdf generator knocked it out of the park. Very nice.

This means I can group all the honors in the Nature series together into a collection and generate one huge PDF. The Edible WIld Plants honor by itself was 53 megs, so the entire Nature series is bound to be about a gig (there are 75 honors in that category). The nice thing about a collection though, is that is that the GFDL license is only included once at the end, rather than once for every honor. Now – maybe I’ll see what Lulu has to say about this.

Back when I worked at E-Systems, an Australian friend of mine (Phil) suggested that the company ought to place a “stupid detector” at each entrance to the building. If an employee set off the stupid detector on the way into the building, security would shunt him off to the stupid room where he could do no damage. Even the brightest people have stupid days. I have had my share of them for sure, and I can tell you that they cost the company real money. Most of the time my contributions to the company are positive, but every now and then… not so much. In my career I have blown up my share of $20,000 logic analyzers, and I have fried more than one computer board costing over $10,000. All the engineers I know have done this. It’s just part of the equation I guess.

But the stupid detector is there to shift that equation. It is far better to lose an engineer’s productivity for a day than it is to allow that engineer to generate 15 days of negative productivity. Such as when he fries an expensive piece of equipment. But alas! no reliable stupid detector has been invented yet!

If it had, I’m pretty sure I would have set it off today. I managed (through sheer luck) to not destroy anything, but that may be because I was aware of the subatomic moron quarks being emitted by my brain, so I was careful not to get close to anything important. I even thought about going home. I had a nasty headache, so I could have legitimately used some sick time. At the end of the work day I may even have made some progress. Some test code I wrote may have validated some hardware, but I thought it wise to delay judgment on that until the morrow. Hopefully the moron quarks will have subsided by then, and we can tell for sure if anything good was happening, or if I was just being stupid.

I had an appointment with Ken to finish off the basketball goal at 5:00, and in spite of my stupidness, I decided to run a network cable up into the AV room while I waited for him to show up. With great trepidation and fear of moron quarks, I carefully bored a hole through the basement ceiling into the wall of the AV room. No disasters. The hole was exactly where I wanted it. Then I measured out my remaining cable and found I didn’t have enough to go around a wall (one wall goes all the way up to the… uh… subceiling? It would have been easy to lift ceiling tiles and just route the cable down the hallway, but I didn’t have enough. So I started looking for a place to poke it through the sheet rock. I found a place where the fire alarm system cables go through, and I actually managed to poke the wire through that hole without setting off the alarm. Fire alarms we have, but stupid detectors? No.

So, no mishaps there either. About that time Ken showed up, so I abandoned the networking project. I still need to grab that wire on the other side of the wall, snake it over to its final destination and terminate it on the patch panel. I also need to install the K12LTSP software on the AV PC and configure the client PCs to boot from it. And get Internet connectivity going. I sent an email to the ISP yesterday asking what was up, but didn’t hear back from them. I guess I’m gonna hafta call.

Ken and I managed to get the backboard mounted to the pole, but we did not manage to get the rim mounted on the backboard. Once again we were racing the onset of darkness with inappropriately sized bolts. We gave up when we realized that we just couldn’t make it work with what we had. This will give Ken an opportunity to paint the rim before it goes up. I might hafta procure a new net too, as the one that’s on there is pretty ratty.

So now the day is almost over, and I haven’t done anything TOO stupid. Lucked out.

Yesterday afternoon at work was very unproductive for me. About 45 minutes before I went home, my wireless network connection went out. It took me about ten minutes to get it back up again, between restarting the router and re-entering the passkey on my laptop. Normally, I wouldn’t be concerned with that at all, except that I didn’t have a working driver for my wired connection. That left wireless as my only option. So after futzing around with it for ten minutes, I got it back up. And it stayed up for maybe ninety seconds. Repeat. Ten more minutes of effort got me yet another 90 seconds. Then, I moved the router so that I could plug it into a programmable power strip. With that, I can turn the thing off and on over the network. That wouldn’t work at all (how do you get on the network when your network connection is down?), except that I have two computers in my office, and that second one has a wired connection to the net. Too bad that maneuver didn’t shave any time off the ten minute part of the cycle. I eventually went home.

Today, the wireless network came up without complaint. Good. And it stayed up for about two hours and went into the ten minutes down/90 seconds up cycle again. Give me a break! I have been using our wireless connection at home with no trouble whatsoever, but it uses WEP vs WPA. That leads me to believe that the problem is either with the WPA encryption we use at work, or with the router we have at work. I turned to my second computer (gah! Windows!) and did some research, and found that Intel has indeed posted a Linux driver for my wired Ethernet controller. I downloaded it, and during the 90 seconds of uptime (it’s not 90 seconds every time – it’s just not very long), I copied it over to the laptop. But it wouldn’t compile. I figured I needed the kernel headers for that to work, but to get that on there, I was going to need a better network connection than I had. So I decided to go home. Why not just use the second computer? Well during the course of the day, I cycle power on that thing half a dozen times, as that’s where I put the board I’m working on. Sometimes the boards need something soldered on them, so I have to shut down. I do all my REAL work on the laptop, because (normally) it’s up all the time. Plus I run Linux on it. I’ve gotta have Windows on the other one though, because there are some tools I hafta use that are Windows-only.

About that time Va called. I invited her to lunch. We ate at Pizza Hut, just the two of us, which was very nice. We rarely have the opportunity to eat without one or more of the kids with us, so that’s a rare treat. After lunch she went to the school, and I went across the street to buy some eyewash (that ceiling tile is still in there). I also bought a small sack of peanut M&M’s because they are so goo, so good, you see.

When I got home, I fired up the laptop, connected to my home wireless network, and downloaded the kernel headers. Then I tried to compile this driver. But it refused. The kernel I have on my laptop is newer than the kernel for which Intel wrote that driver. I poked around the source code, found the problem, and fixed it. Once the driver was compiled and installed, I plugged a wire into my Ethernet port and bingo. I had a wired connection. I worked the rest of the day from home.

Around quiting time I got a phone call. My cell phone said it was Melissa calling, so I answered, “Hello user of Melissa’s phone!” because I didn’t know if it would be Melissa, her daughter, or Jonathan. It was Melissa, and she answered back with “What?!??” Then she told me they had just crossed into New Hampshire (after visiting Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan since Friday). Va was not yet home, so I suggested that she might call her and save Melissa the extra hour it would take her to drive to Northfield and back. Maybe Va was still on Concord and could pick Jonathan up at the church? Va pulled into the garage 10 minutes later. Melissa had left her a voicemail (her phone didn’t ring) but she had not listened to it yet. So I called Melissa and told her I’d meet her at the church. But they had, in the meantime, decided to stop at Taco Bell. She said she’d call when she was 30 minutes out from the church, and she did.

So I drove back to Concord and fetched my boy. He was tired, but I think he had a good time at Andrews. He sat in on a General Chemistry class and rather enjoyed that. Hopefully, this trip will inspire him to buckle down on his studies. He sure needs to anyhow.

Oh – one other thing I wanted to write about. I had a phone conversation with an Internet friend. We’ve been corresponding for about four years now. He runs pathfindersonline.org, and I am an admin on the forum. But the forum has been down for almost two weeks. He gave me the ftp credentials over the phone, and we chatted for about 30 minutes I guess. That was nice. After we hung up, I went to work fixing the forum and had it back up and humming after about an hour.

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