We got the forecasted snow. It started yesterday, paused, and resumed again today. All told I guess we got 8 inches, which is about half what they were calling for.

I didn’t bother trying to go to work, but instead stayed here and made several tunics for Va’s Adventurer Camp-in this coming Saturday. She’s doing a program of Joseph in Egypt, and wanted as many white tunics as I could crank out. I think I knocked out four – they take about an hour each. I was hoping to make it to the church during the evenings to start decorating – we’re planning to build a pyramid in the fellowship hall.

I also put on the snowshoes and walked around the house a bit. We’ve got some massive icicles on the part of the roof I haven’t added extra insulation to. I’m kinda glad about that, as it tells me with no uncertainty that insulating the attic will prevent ice dams. I just need to finish the project! Meanwhile, I turned on the eave heaters to try to melt some channels in the ice up there so we don’t get a leaky roof.

I also took a lap around the trail in the back of our property. Penny came along and amazed me with her ability to ferret out a stick from beneath three feet of snow.

Penny found a stick

Penny found a stick

I also noted that our well is completely buried now:

Buried well head

Buried well head

I cleared the driveway before it got dark, just because I like doing that better when I can see. The other thing I did was installed a new distribution of Linux on my laptop. Three times. Once would have been enough, but I was trying to preserve all my user files, and keep my numeric user id (technical reasons) and that got a little complicated. So complicated in fact, that I had to redo everything. Twice. But it’s all good now. I switched to a 64-bit version so that I can install some tools that are 64-bit only for work. It should make my life a lot easier, but of course there will be several adjustments to suffer through on the way to ease.

I unraveled my argyle sock tonight. I’m going to try again with an easier pattern.

Va wasn’t home when I got home today. The school was being audited today by the Union accreditation committee, so she was there for that. One of their recommendations is that the school “consider” putting Windows on the student PC’s. If the school does that, they will have to find someone else to manage them though. Part of the reason I left my last job was because I didn’t want to use Windows. I’m certainly not going to admin a Windows system for free if I wasn’t willing to do it for pay.

Besides, I think it’s a horrible recommendation. I’d go into it here, but it would be a very long list of reasons that no one who reads this would care about. Suffice it to say that I am passionate about this issue.

Last month I wrote about how Jonathan was applying for a sponsorship so he could attend the Ubuntu Developer’s Conference in Brussels, Belgium. Today he got word that it has been approved! They will foot the bill for his airfare and hotel, and he will be on the hook for his food. And souvenirs.

That leaves him with a long list of ducks to get in a row. He will need to renew his passport, get an ATM card for his bank account, and get a job so his bank account has something in it. Not to mention make travel arrangements. The conference is the second week of May, which is the week after finals for him.

I am very proud of him for getting this, and also very happy that he has this opportunity. I am also terrified!

Also, I now have this song stuck in my head.

Today Va took the kids in to have their portraits made. That left me at home with Penny. I decided that we should see if we could find a geocache I had looked for with Beth a week ago. Only this time I read the description before setting out. I found it with no problem and logged it.

Then we came home and I began raking the yard. I hadn’t been raking long when Va and the kids got home. I finished raking the front and then moved to the back. I rake by laying a tarp over the yard (in an unraked section), and then I rake a three-foot swath onto the tarp. Then I move the tarp back another three feet. I only take 3′ bites because that way I don’t have to rake the same leaves twice. When the tarp is full, I haul it into the woods and dump it out. I managed to get half the back yard raked and then it was time for lunch.

We went to Olive Garden. We took both cars because the boys and I were going to stay in Concord for a Pathfinder meeting, and Va and Beth would go on home. We got to the meeting early so I could work on the computer lab at the school.

Katrina (the teacher) had told me about a couple of websites that needed a plug-in. After some digging, I found that they needed Shockwave. From what I can tell, there is no Shockwave for Linux, so that’s not going to work. 😦 Oh well. I also messed about with the new static IP I had ordered and turned on some port forwarding so I could log into the terminal server from the outside. I tested that when I got home, and it works, yay! Now I can perform remote maintenance.

People trickled in during the Pathfinder meeting and picked up their fruit. I didn’t check to see how many people still haven’t picked theirs up, but I don’t think it’s very many. Most of them are people I work with, I guess, and I will pick theirs up in the morning and bring them into the office.

I finally decided to give up on Kubuntu and return to Fedora. (For those who may be confused by this, Fedora and Kubuntu are both Linux distributions).

I have been using Fedora (or its ancestor, RedHat) since 1995. I switched to Kubuntu when I got my new laptop, but it doesn’t work the same as Fedora. Maybe I’m getting old and set in my ways, and I just don’t want to learn something new. Or maybe… I just liked the way Fedora worked.

There were a few things on Kubuntu I never did manage to get working. Chief among them was the automounter (which automatically connects me to network drives on other computers). I also never figured out how to get it to run a custom script during startup. Which meant I always had to run it by hand.

Today, it refused to connect to my company’s email server. I’m still not sure why it did that, but it was the last straw. I bit the bullet. I installed Fedora 10. And of course, there were complications, which I resolved by installing it three more times. But it seems to work now, and I’m now seeing what Kubuntu had that I am going to miss (the speaker-mute button is one of them).

But let’s back up. The alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, and I groaned. I did not want to get up, but the driveway was still under three inches of snow. Va got up too and went downstairs to check the answering machine. School would open two hours late. So I went straight back to bed and slept until 8:00. Then I got up and cleared the driveway. Naturally, whenever I use the snowblower, I end up having snowblower anecdotes to relate, and today is no different.

The throttle was a little stiff. I was able to push it into the open position with some effort, but I was not able to push it back. I figured the cable was clogged with ice or something, and that it would loosen up when the engine warmed it. I cranked it up and got to work. It was really cold this morning, and the choke wanted to be a bit more open than usual, so I set it that way. Once the engine warmed up though, it wanted the choke closed down again, but stupid me didn’t think of that. I just kept running it as it kept wanting to die (but never did). I never gave the choke a second thought. As I finished the job, I headed back to the garage with the snowblower. As I neared the door, I cut the throttle. Or not. It did NOT loosen up like I wanted it to. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may recall that my drive clutch is also stuck in the engaged position. And now so was the throttle. I fought the rising panic and manhandled it around, pulling out a U-turn just in time. Then I reached around the engine and disengaged the master clutch and wondered how I could shut this thing off. I opened up the choke (and that’s when I realized that the engine prolly wanted me to adjust it a long time ago). But the engine sputtered on. I went in the garage and grabbed a hammer, which I used to bang (lightly) on the other end of the throttle control. I was able to get the cable unstuck and shut it down.

Then I moved my car out of the garage, cranked up the blower again, and “drove” it into its parking space, throwing the master clutch as I neared the wall. Whew!

I just know that if I bought a new snow blower, it would work great for a couple of years, but when it broke it might as well just be thrown away. Lawn equipment seems to be built so shoddily these days that the manufacturers likely consider their wares disposable. And that galls me. So I will keep tinkering with this one. It’s been running since about 1971, so I’m sure I can coax another decade or two of usefulness out of it.

I guess I need to take the throttle cable off and give it a good soak in some WD-40 or something. I also need to rig up a handle for the master clutch. And replace some of those bolts that hold the scoop height adjusters in place.

When I got to the office, it was about 12 degrees in my office. I suffered with that for a little while, and then turned my attention to my window. My window has those idiotic slats in it that can be cranked open, and pretend that they can be cranked closed. It USED to also have a storm window wedged into place, but it didn’t quit fit. A couple of years ago, the business downstairs from us was stripping their floors, and the fumes were just rolling into my office. So I made the mistake of trying to unwedge that storm window so I could avoid asphyxiation. That’s when it shattered. I called Joan, and Joan called the landlord. He came in and picked up the glass. Job done! Except that the slightest breeze had no trouble finding a course around those ill-conceived slats. I was told that the landlord was getting ready to replace all the windows and that I should just be patient. Well – that was three years ago, and I still have the same crappy windows. When the first winter set in, I got some packing foam and stuffed it up against the slats. Then I got some cardboard and taped it in place over the foam. In other words, I have a cardboard storm window now. For three years.

Cardboard Storm Window

Cardboard Storm Window

Problem with that is that the tape never wanted to stick to the aluminum frame. I grabbed my pinwheel, which I use to indicate gale conditions, and stuck it in the edge of the cardboard. It spun as little bits of powdery snow zipped through its vanes.

I reasoned that the aluminum frame was just too dirty for the tape to stick. I went downstairs to the manufacturing lab and got a sheet of sandpaper. It gummed up immediately, because the aluminum had been painted. So I grabbed some scissors and employed them as a make-shift (but quite effective) scraper. I scraped it down to bare metal, then sanded it. Then applied the duct tape. Which doesn’t want to stick to the cardboard. I might have convinced it to stick for a half day or so though – we’ll just have to see.

The installer from Hughes Net showed up today at around 10:30am. I took Beth to school and then ran around to several stores before finally finding what I needed at a decent price at Home Depot. I was looking for 3ft patch cables so I could connect the PC’s in the school to the jacks I installed in the walls a while back. Staples wanted $16. HD wanted $6. I also bought an UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) at Circuit City.

When the installer (Tim) got there, we surveyed the site. I had been thinking the dish would have to go on the south side of the building, but he said that would not be necessary. Our roof is low-pitched, and the satellite is inclined by 35 degrees. I showed him where I had put the rest of the networking equipment, and he suggested we install the dish on the roof pretty close to the networking closet.

That’s when he told me that the customer is supposed to drill the hole in a “solid” (i.e., brick & block) building. He had a hammer drill he was willing to lend me, but I needed to go back to HD and get a 5/8×16 masonry bit, which I did. And I drilled the hole. I didn’t drill it far enough from the corner of the building though, because I buried the bit all the way without coming through – instead, I went into the perpendicular wall. So I tried again, still drilling into the original hole, but at an angle this time. It eventually went through, and it came through right in the inside corner (above the drop ceiling). Hooray!

While I was drilling, he was putting the dish together and bolting it to the roof. Then he ran some coax down the wall and poked it through my hole. By 1:15, we had an Internet connection.

That’s when I turned my attention to the Redwall install. It didn’t go all that well. It attached to both networks (the inside network and the outside network), but it wouldn’t route between them. At least – I couldn’t figure out how to make it do that. I finally went to Taco Bell for some lunch at around 2:00, and gave it another shot when I got back. It STILL resisted my efforts, so I gave up on Redwall and installed Coyote Linux instead. That worked perfectly the first time. It doesn’t have a web filter though, so I’ve still got some work to do.

So – now we have some Internets at the church.

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.

The new laptop finally came in today, and I have spent most of the day getting it where I want it. I still have a ways to go. Step one was to wipe Vista off as completely as possible. I did this by installing Fedora 9, the latest free Redhat distribution of Linux. Unfortunately, the hardware in this laptop is newer than Fedora 9, and Fedora 9 wouldn’t even boot. So I did the only logical thing – try an even older version of Fedora (8). That at least booted, but it did not recognize any of the networking hardware. That means no Internet, no email, no connection to the file server at work. Basically, no nuthin’!

All the while these were installing, I was still doing work on my old laptop, so it’s not like the whole workday was wasted. But it was frustrating. By the end of the workday, I downloaded the latest beta release of Kubuntu. Allegedly, it has a driver for at least my wifi hardware. I burned it to a disk when I got home and installed it. The wifi works! yay!

Then I started the long process of copying my email over from the old laptop (wormwood) to the new one (spiff). I have always named my computers after Calvin and Hobbes characters. I should probably have called this one calvin, because there is almost no possibility of me ever turning on the original calvin again.

Once I had my email copied over, I was able to open Thunderbird and see it all. That was nice. I next tried to import all my Firefox settings, but only managed to bork Firefox up to the point where it will no longer start. So I’m using Konquerer (another web browser) to write this post. But I am at least writing it on spiff!

Come to think of it, I have already used the name spiff for a laptop. I might just go ahead and rename this one calvin.

Tomorrow I’ll see if I can get access to the company wireless network. If so, I can wait for the driver for the wired Ethernet hardware. It’ll come out eventually. But for now… I need to fix firefox.