February 2009

One of my co-workers has a Girl Scout, and today he brought in the cookies he sold on her behalf. I bought 12 boxes. That’s enough for us to eat one box every month until we can get them again, but… we’ll prolly eat one every day instead.

Then it’ll be another year before we can have any more. I can’t afford to buy 365 boxes, so we’ll just have to be content with 12.

Today I got the rules for the cardboard boat building contest. The Pathfinders will build one (or more), and we will put people in them and race them in May at the Spring Camporee. I am very excited to have the rules, as they really eliminate a lot of options I had been considering (i.e., we can’t wrap the boat in Tyvek or plastic).

I do plan for us to build a canoe, as I know how to do that (having built one in 1998). I still have the form for that canoe, and I fully intend to press it into service again. Only we will use cardboard instead of cedar. We are allowed to paint the cardboard, and I’m thinking we’ll do that as step one. We can also use latex caulk, paint, varnish, carpenters glue and/or liquid nails. We may not use wood or metal, so the stem, gunwales, thwart, and decks will hafta be made of cardboard too. I’m thinking three layers of cardboard ought to do the trick. I have not decided if we should paint the both side of every piece or not, because I don’t know how well glue will stick to painted cardboard.

I will be sure to take pictures as we progress. This should be fun.

Over the past couple of nights I’ve been making a sheath for a hatchet. It’s not that I thought I particularly needed a sheath, but rather, I’ve been working on the Leather Craft – Advanced honor in the Wikibook. One of the requirements is to make a hatchet, knife, or ax sheath. Hatchet and axe are similar enough that I decided the instructions for one would cover both.

As I made the sheath, I took pictures of every step. That should make my instructions easier to understand, but it’s taking an eternity to upload all those photos. And uploading seems to eat all our bandwidth too, slowing everything else to a crawl. Oh well. I’d upload a photo of the finished product, but… I’m still uploading images of the UNfinished product right now. If you’re that interested, check out the link above.

I’m working on a problem at work that causes a computer to crash hard. The only way to uncrash it is to turn it off and then on again. I’ve spent the last couple of workdays adding print statements to the code so that when it does crash, we know what it was doing.

That was fabulous except that this PC also had a screen saver that blanked the monitor after ten minutes. The crash sometimes takes an hour to provoke, so unless someone was there to tap a key or move the mouse, the screen would blank. And then the computer would crash, and we could not see the print statements telling us what it was doing when it went down.

But no one wants to sit in front of a computer and press the any key every ten minutes, especially for an overnight test. I could have fiddled around with it and tried to figure out how to shut off the screen saver, but instead I invented a decidely low-tech screen UNsaver:

Screen UNsaver

Screen UNsaver

Yes. I draped the mouse over a fan. Contrary to what the photo might make you think, the fan is running full bore. You can see the mouse’s red laser painting the blade. My first thought was that the optical mouse would detect the motion of the fan blade, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s actually happening. Rather, the fan vibrates enough that the mouse swings oh-so-gently back and forth, and that fools the computer into thinking someone is sitting there in front of it messing with the mouse. So it does not blank the screen.

Now if only fixing this crash were so easy…

I got up around 7:00 this morning and cranked up the snowblower. Beth is out of school for the week (winter break), so there was no big hurry. We only got four inches of snow, which was a far cry from the 18″ they were forecasting. But that was OK with me. This was another wet, heavy snow, and it stuck to all the trees (bending one over in the yard). My repair job to the snowblower held up nicely, which was great.

I took my coat off outside and shook the snow out of it, and then went inside. As soon as I bent over to untie my boots, I dumped four gallons of snow on the floor from my hat (the wind was blowing the snow back at me). I swept it up and dumped even more off my hat into the sink. Then I went upstairs and changed clothes. When I came back down I picked up my coat and dumped yet another four gallons of snow in the floor. And that was after I had shaken it out before I came in! I have no idea where that snow could have come from.

Then I went to work where I had something of a rough day. A customer of ours has been having a bit of trouble with one of our cards, and it’s a very, very old card that we tried to not sell them in the first place. Anyhow, we’ve had their problem here for a while, and they finally got mad enough (I guess) that management decided it was time to have me take a look at it.

The customer’s code was an utter mess, and that gave me a glimmer of hope. As bad as it was, it seemed likely that they were shooting themselves in the feet. I cleaned up the worst of it and got it to compile with no warnings, but the problem did not go away. So I spent the whole day wrestling with some really messy code.

Their code is actually based on an example I wrote nearly ten years ago, and I guess that’s why I’m taking this a little too personally. They took my Mona Lisa and painted a velvet Elvis over it. Man… that shoulda been illegal! It also doesn’t help that this customer is French-speaking, so all the comments and variables they added to the code are in French. Which doesn’t lend to my ability to understand what they’re trying to do.

I spent the first hour this morning cleaning up their mess. The code was badly indented, so the first thing I did was fix that. It’s really hard to understand spaghetti code when it’s not even indented properly.

To add to the fun, management is pressuring me to put in some extra time on it. And that bugs me too. They waited a long time before involving me in this, and now they expect me to solve in a day a problem that has eluded three other engineers for months. And if I can’t, would I please work late. Grrr…

So I came home with a tremendous headache. I thought it was sinus related and took some decongestant, but that didn’t touch the headache (my sinuses are clear now though). I chased that with some pain reliever, and that seems to be getting to the root of it now. Also, I’m not looking at the velvet Elvis anymore.

We did not lose power last night other than for a few milliseconds here and there (thus the flickering). Just so you know.

Our lights flickered a little while ago, and then Va showed me a really cool website that shows the status of our local grid in real time. It’s snowing heavily right now, so I expect that might have a wee bit to do with it. As of this writing, there are 168 customers offline in Northfield. Oop! 174!

This morning after we got up and had breakfast, we happened to notice that the forecast was calling for 12-18″ of snow starting in the late morning. Surprise! Va was planning to get a perm in the afternoon, so she moved that up a couple of hours and got there as soon as they opened.

Meanwhile, I had not started my latest snow blower repair job. So I ambled out to the garage and quickly realized that the approach I had settled on was not exactly workable. The handle bar bends out away from the snow blower right at the point where it attaches to the transmission. I feared that if I bent the angle iron, it would weaken it unacceptably. Reassessing the situation, I decided that it might not be too difficult to simply make a new piece to replace the old one. So I went to Lowes.

I needed some one inch steel tubing, but the closest thing they had to that was conduit – both EMT and rigid. I briefly considered going with rigid, but didn’t think I possessed the necessary tools or skill to shape it as required. So I bought the EMT.

Step one was to cut a chunk off 29.5 inches long. That was easy enough. Step two was to flatten 4.5 inches of one end where it would attach to the transmission. Step three was to smash the other end flat and then into a semi-circle so it would nest against another piece of one inch tubing. That was the hard part.

I did have a piece of one-inch black pipe, and I was able to lay the EMT on that and whack at it with a ball peen hammer (which I bought at Lowes when I picked up the EMT). That was slow going though. I eventually found that I could clamp the pipe and the EMT in my bench vice and work it a little more effectively. After about two hours of hammering on it, it was acceptably rounded.

Step four was to drill holes in it. I needed a couple of 3/8″ holes where it mounts to the transmission, and I didn’t have a 3/8 bit. So… back to the hardware store. This time I went to the old hardware store in Tilton, and Beth came with me. She noticed several things in the store that I had not, including the work of a taxidermist – a stuffed black bear. Then we had some lunch and hightailed it back home. It had already started snowing at that point.

Then it was time to drill some holes. I did use a punch first so the bit wouldn’t slip around on me, and that was quite effective. The holes lined up exactly where I needed them to be. So I mounted the new piece to the snow blower, and it looks pretty good. I think I’m back in business.

Yesterday I was tired, and today I am re-tired. It was a big day and I spent most of it on my feet, so my dogs are really barkin’ now.

Jonathan and David both did well in the Pinewood Derby. Jonathan placed second and David placed third in the teen division. Jonathan also won first place for creativity and second for craftsmanship. David got third for creativity.

They both earned gold in the Bible Bowl too, as did most of our club. One team got a bronze, none got silver, and the rest got gold.

That’s about all the energy I have for posting tonight, so… this is it!

Dunno why, but I am utterly exhausted tonight. I had a busy day at work, and there was a lot of pressure there to find out what was going wrong in a customer’s setup. I was sure glad when it was time to go home.

Tomorrow promises to be a very busy day. First, it’s going to be Pathfinder Sabbath, so the club will be in charge of the entire worship service. For the sermon I have arranged for each unit in the club to present a skit. Jonathan will handle the children’s story. We will also invest Melissa (one of the staff) as a Master Guide. We are expecting Pathfinders from area clubs to be there too.

Following that we will have a potluck lunch, and after lunch the Bible Bowl starts. Bible Bowl is a little like a game show. All the participants are divided into teams, and questions taken from Genesis 6 to 25:11 (basically, Noah through Abraham) will be asked. For every question that the group answers correctly, a point is awarded. It should go about two hours.

And then we’ll an Induction service to welcome three new members into our club. I need to review that and get everything ready tonight. After the Induction, we’ll have supper, and after that is the Pinewood Derby. I did not have time to finish my own car this week, but oh well. I couldn’t build one during the meetings either because I was helping the kids build theirs.

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