Yesterday Jonathan’s cell phone arrived. We got him a pre-paid phone for $20 that’ll be good for three months. The crazy thing is that it will be cheaper to buy a new phone than it will be to add more minutes to this one. But for $5.00 per month, I guess we’ll try to save the environment.

He called me on it when he got out of class. It was a pretty nice day weather-wise, so he thought he might walk from the campus to my office instead of taking the trolley. OK! Exercise is good. I hadn’t heard anything from him 40 minutes later, so I called him. He was fine, it’s just that the walk was a little longer than he had anticipated. Google tells me that if he had walked the shortest path between those two points, it would have been 2.3 miles. But he didn’t know the shortest path, and thus took some other route. I guess it must have been at least 2.5 miles.

I figured he might like a little company on his hike, so I set out myself and met him along the way. We went to a burrito place in Concord and had… burritos?

Then we went to my office. I got back to work, and he set up camp in a vacant office. He seems to really like school and it is nice to see him really buckling down. I’m pretty sure he’s going to slam-dunk his first semester.

Today was Beth’s first day of spring break. That meant I didn’t need to take her to school, which meant I didn’t hafta get up according to whatever the clock said. So I stayed in bed until 8:00, and got to work a little before 9:00.

I forgot that I still needed to go to the school, because I had to pick up the fruit ordered by my coworkers. Also, I needed to move the canoe out of the middle of the floor and get it back along the wall on the saw horses. I suggested that Dennis might want to eat at Taco Bell, take a look at the canoe and help me move it. He liked that plan, so we set out at lunch time and did just that. He also helped me carry fruit to the car. Then I took him to a car dealer where he was having some warranty work done.

Since I got to work a bit later than normal, I worked later to make up for it. It was chilly when I got home, so I didn’t go outside to tramp around. I pretty much just parked my carcass in front of my laptop and did stuff like this (i.e., write blog posts).

This morning when my first rider got in the car I told her that she should remain seated when we got to her cousin’s house and that I’d call her on the phone instead. She protested, and perhaps even made up a story – I dunno. “I left my journal in her house! If I don’t bring it to school I’ll get in trouble and miss recess!”

Well… that’s too bad. I’m putting an end to the dawdling. I called just as we were pulling up to her driveway, and she came out within 30 seconds. That’s more like it! Then I dropped them off at school and went to work.

Work was busy. We have this deadline, so I’ve been working furiously trying to meet it, but at the same time, I know it’s more than likely going to be a futile effort. We are going to be late. We have told management that we are going to be late, but they keep hanging on to the “best case” delivery date. This assumes that all the hardware is working perfectly and that it will continue to work over a wide temperature range. The only thing missing are the tests to prove it. Except that it NEVER happens that way.

The tests will fail, and the first thing they will do is blame the test. “Look into that” and “Did you remember to do this?” and “Try this instead.” Eventually, we will turn up incontrovertible evidence that thie hardware is at fault, and they’ll bring in the hardware team. The hardware team will need us to make changes to the test software to help pinpoint the problem. And we’ll do that. Eventually, all the problems will be resolved, but this will take a minimum of two weeks. Longer is more likely. And of course, it’s due tomorrow.

Actually, we’re already well into the process I just described. We were able to pretty conclusively determine that the test I am developing was failing because there’s a real problem. We presented it to the guy in charge of the hardware and he told us “That’s impossible.” He basically refused to listen and insisted that he knew more about it than we did, and that what we were contending was absurd. Only it’s not. We pushed back and he agreed to look into it. So – blame the test! The hardware is just fine! Even though we’ve never tested it!

I find it pretty irritating when someone acts the way he did. When someone comes to me and says “I think I found a problem in your code” I put on my humility hat and say “We’d better take a look at that. It won’t be the first time something I wrote was incorrect.” Then I dig into it with an open mind, and we find the problem. The fault is not always mine, but it has been enough times that I’m not going to make blanket declarations about how my superior engineering abilities immunize me from error. In my 20+ year career, I have known only a few people who refuse to admit the possibility that something they created was less than perfect. “It can’t be in that code. I wrote that myself.” I can’t think of a more annoying characteristic to have in a co-worker. (But I’m not trying very hard.)

Man. This all sounds pretty bitter, but I guess it’s because I’m not looking forward to the coming storm. They will probably ask me to work between Christmas and New Years even though I was planning to take some vacation then. And my guess is that we will still be blaming the tests at the end of January.

I worked today until 5:45pm. We had a church board meeting at 6:00 so I went to that. After the meeting I returned to the office and worked until 10:00pm. We found a way to work around the hardware fault that we have asserted to be there, and I did get the test to run. And pass. A couple of times. The next step will be to put it all in a temperature chamber and run it for 12 hours as it cycles from -40° to +80°C. That’s not an easy test to pass.

On the way home I drove by the Holiday Inn and could not help but notice about 50 utility trucks. I stopped and took a picture:

Dozens of utility trucks at the Holiday Inn

Dozens of utility trucks at the Holiday Inn

What does this mean? Well, it means that the utility companies are still putting in some long hours trying to restore power in the aftermath of last week’s ice storm. I think NH had something like 340,000 customers without power at the peak of the outage. We’re now down to bout 70,000. Some people won’t have their power restored until after Christmas. So I guess I really shouldn’t gripe about unreasonable co-workers. I am a very lucky person!

Beth had a half day of school today, so I drove her (and our riders) in. I came home after that and had the idea of making a fly for one of those mesh tents I bought this summer. David used it on our backpacking trip, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how well it fared in the rain (hint: not well at all).

I planned to use some superfluous interior tents walls for this, so I laid a couple out on the floor and took some measurements. They are not quite right, but I think I can stitch a couple together without too much difficulty. And so that’s what I did. But that’s as far as I got. Maybe more on that tomorrow, we’ll see.

When Va was ready to leave the house this morning, I volunteered to go with her so we could pick up some fabric. She’ll be running the Adventurer “Camp In” in February (?) and the theme is “The Jerusalem Market Place.” We will therefore need several costumes. We picked out a couple of prints for the villagers, but they didn’t have enough of it there for two of the three outfits. So we bought enough for one villager outfit. Also some for a rabbi and enough for two Roman soldiers.

But all that was after we picked up Beth. Today was the first day the school kids got on the computers I set up for them. They were all pretty excited about that, and Camille seemed to be happy with it too. That’s a good thing, because we are piloting a Linux Terminal Server setup, and if all goes well and it meets all their needs, the software will cost exactly $0. Plus, I know how to set up and maintain such a system. I’m pretty helpless when it comes to Windows (see yesterday’s post). So if this doesn’t meet their needs, I will not be of much use to them.

After the fabric store extravaganza, we came on home. I started working on a villager costume, but could only take it so far. I need some interfacing. Oh well.

Then I helped Beth with her piano lessons a bit and put her to bed. After that I started researching the ancient art of thatching. As in straw roofs. There’s a Pathfinder honor from East Africa for that, and I thought it might be an interesting one to tackle. To my surprise, I found a couple of pretty thorough resources on d’web. I also ordered a book from a retired thatcher (not Margaret!) from England for $16.00. Cool. Right now I am thinking that I will thatch the log cabin I’ve been building for Beth for three years. Maybe this will spur me to make some progress (though I suspect a chainsaw might spur me even more). I was originally inspired to build a log playhouse by Richard Proenneke, but man… a chainsaw sure would be nice! But right now I’m excited about the prospect of thatching the roof, and documenting it as I go for the Wiki answer book.

It has been rainy all day. It may have snowed a little last night, but that was long gone by morning. We may get some snow tomorrow, but with the high forecast at 40 degrees, I’m not expecting any trouble.

I also got a call from an Internet friend today about a meet up. He’s the guy who founded the Bloom Clock project, and he’ll be up here for T-Day. Currently, we’re considering a meet up at the Boston Arboretum on Friday. If that happens, I’ll bring the family.

Well, that oughta be enough for tonight! Thank you both for reading!

As noted earlier, I was planning to take the day off from work. And I did. I was getting ready to take Beth to school when once again, we lost our wireless connection to the network here in the house. I decided it was probably the fault of the wireless router, so we up and decided to just buy a new one. Va had a coupon for a major office supply chain (I will no longer name store names or brands, because when I mentioned a carpet cleaning machine by name yesterday, I ended up with FIVE comments from a carpet cleaning, Internet surfing robot).

To use this coupon, we’d need to spend $100 though, and routers don’t cost that much (unless you really want them to). She figured she could find enough other stuff we actually needed to top $100, so she came into town with us. We picked up our riders and dropped them (and Beth) off at the school. Then we went to the office supply retailer which shall remain unnamed, except to note that they might be named after the primary consumable item that gets loaded into a stapler. Plural. Stupid robots.

We also bought a jug of carpet cleaning solution, and then we came home. I handed the router to Jonathan and said “Go!” and he went. Then I started picking stuff up off the floor so I could crank up the carpet machine. We also dispatched David to his room to do the same. He does not keep a tidy room, and it did not smell…. fresh? So his room was priority two. The living room was priority three.

I did have to help Jonathan get the router set up, but Va’s PC just refused to connect to it. I have no idea why. The most helpful hint I got from Windows was that I needed to look into item 871122 on the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Great Microsoft! I’ll just click on the link you didn’t provide and use the network feature that isn’t working to get right on that! It’s like a message I saw the other day: “Mouse failed. Click OK to continue.” or the classic “If your computer cannot access the network, send an email to the tech support group.” This has such obvious problems, that I was astounded they even put it in there. Are they trying to exasperate people? *gasp!*

OK – so I did have two other computers in the house that were both on and connected to the Internet. So I held my nose and looked up item 871122. They eventually told me to click on a tab that was not there. Gotta love those guys!

Eventually, Va had to take David to the church so the pastor could proctor a Spanish test. I futzed around with her PC for another 30 minutes or so, but I eventually threw in the towel and ran an Ethernet cable around the perimeter of the room and hooked her in with a physical wire. I dunno when I’ll get into this again. Probably what needs to be done is a complete reformatting of her hard drive, and then reinstall everything from scratch. If I had my way, the reinstall would not involve Windows. But it’s her computer, so I do what she wants. But not without complaining about it!

My day got a lot better as soon as I quit messing with Windows though. I hopped in the car and returned the carpet cleaning machine. Then I drove over to the school to see if David had finished his test and maybe needed a ride home. The test had not yet started. So I figured I might just cut some brush. Just as I was getting ready for that, Va called me inside. Camille (our teacher) had some questions about the computers I set up in her classroom (and which do NOT run Windows). So I answered them. She’s going to get the kids going on that tomorrow. I offered to be there if she needed me, because I’m taking off tomorrow too.

I also figured it was high time I got all six of those PCs configured to boot off the terminal server. I changed the BIOS of PC number 5, and it booted off the network straight away. But PC number 6 is as dead as a doornail. A little research revealed that it has a deceased motherboard. An ex-motherboard. A motherboard that is no more. So we’re down to five PC’s instead of six. I’m going to look into setting up another, or perhaps two more.

Then I did go and cut down some more brush. I cut down a white pine that was about seven feet tall. I couldn’t help but notice that it was very Christmas tree like, and that’s when the thought struck me. We could probably sell it as a Christmas tree if we wanted to. I looked around and counted six more like it. All are in the area we’re clearing out, and all were 6-8 feet tall and nicely shaped. I mentioned this to the pastor, and he told me he had had the same idea. We concurred that perhaps the best thing to do was to mention it to the people who come to clear brush this Sunday – anyone who wants a tree can cut it down and haul it home. Donations accepted. Any that are left will be set aside in case someone else wants one.

About the time I’d had enough brush clearing for the day, one of my Pathfinder parents showed up with some baked goods for our bake sale (we took orders in advance). She had made an extra dozen multi-grain rolls for us to sell, and they smelled so good I bought them on the spot. They tasted as good as they smelled too.

I took the riders, Beth, and David home then (school was out), and Va went to do a little shopping. When I got home I hooked up the new cordless phone Va had bought over the weekend, and recorded pretty much the exact same message on the new machine as was on the old: “You’ve reached our answering machine. Please leave a message at the tone.” I used the same vocal inflexions as before too. No one will know it’s a new machine unless they read about it here. Or unless someone who reads it here tells. But that would be such a mind-numbingly boring topic of conversation that I can scarcely imagine THAT would happen! I’m sorry for even writing it! (But not sorry enough to delete it.)

So that’s been my day. Except for fighting with Windows, it was pretty enjoyable too.

Last night after I went to bed, I remembered that when the power goes out, my alarm clock does not necessarily keep accurate time. It does have a backup battery, but who knows when it was changed last. When the power comes back, the clock will say something close to the real time, but not too close. So even though I was almost asleep, I decided to check the clock against my wristwatch. The clock was off by 30 minutes. I figured eh – it won’t matter – we’ll just wake up 30 minutes sooner. But then I thought about it a little more and decided that unless I did something, we would wake up thirty minutes later. Va was already asleep, so I didn’t want to turn the light on. I found the change-the-time button and moved the clock ahead 30 minutes. Then I went to sleep.

When the alarm went off, it was still dark outside. Too dark. I picked up my watch and compared it to the clock. The clock said 6:30, but my watch said 5:30. Groan. I set it wrong in the dark (the problem being that I mis-read the glow-in-the-dark hands on my watch). So once again, I set the time.

Not that it mattered. I rolled out of bed a little later than normal, and we were a little late getting out of the house. Since yesterday was a holiday, the garbage trucks didn’t run – they would do that today. So I hauled the cans out to the road. That made me a little later still.

One of the kids I pick up to take to school moved a couple weeks ago, and I missed the turn onto her street. That added another minute or two to the lateness count. Then I got stuck behind a school bus. I got the kids to school right at 8:00, which is technically late. I hate it when that happens.

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.

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 I was wiped out when I got home, so I didn’t post anything. I had a Pathfinder staff meeting at 3:00, and it was pretty productive. Then we cooked up some spaghetti and our regular Pathfinder meeting started at 5:00. We had to share the facility with the Cardiac Health Improvement Program (aka CHIP), so I rearranged the order of our meeting to accommodate.

During honor time, I split the club into two groups: those who will go backpacking with us this weekend, and those who will not. I took the backpackers and taught them… the Backpacking honor. David already has that one, so he taught the Reptiles honor to everyone else. He had volunteered to teach it for Honors Week, but somehow between him saying it and me writing it down, it became the Spiders honor instead. So he taught Spiders then.

They didn’t get through all of Reptiles, and I didn’t get through all of Backpacking, so we may resume those in November.

Today after work I was planning to do a little more network wiring at the church. There was a board meeting at 6:00, and I got off at 4:00, so I figured two hours would be plenty of time to get something done. Only it wasn’t. I stopped and talked to Cliff for several minutes, and the dragged out the ladder and made a few measurements. Then Va called, so I put everything away and met her and Beth at Wendy’s for supper. After we ate we returned to the church for the board meeting. We got there at 5:30, so I still had 30 minutes to do a little work on my networking project. All I managed to do though was cut a hole in the wall in the AV room. I’ll plug it with an Ethernet jack next time I’m there.

I also think I know where to drill the hole in the basement ceiling that will hopefully connect to the hole in the wall in the AV room upstairs. Ya never know though, until the hole comes out in the wrong place! I will measure again before I drill.

While I was doing all that measuring and moving ceiling tiles, I managed to knock a speck of ceiling tile into my left eye. Eye yi yi! I don’t know if I still have that speck in there or if it scratched me eyeball before departing. But I do know that it hurts! I’ll be sure to bring safety goggles for when I do the drilling. Maybe Wednesday, because that’s when Ken and I will take a second (third? fourth?) crack at the basketball goal. He’s having one of his students fashion a backboard from 3/4″ plywood. The one we had a) didn’t look so good, and b) didn’t fit the post. This one should address both problems.

I went to the school/church after work today. The plan was to do a little more network wiring and then work on getting the basketball goal up. Neither one was successful.

I bought a bunch of Cat6 RJ45 jacks that I intended to use to terminate the network cables. Jonathan and I put the outlets in the walls on Sunday, but the other end of the cables are still bare. As it turns out, the jacks I got are the most difficult to install version that I have ever seen. I have STILL not successfully crimped one on the end of a cable. I even took the wire and several jacks home and tried to make a simple patch cord. The problem is that there is pretty much nothing to guide the 8 conductors into position so that they can be crimped in place. It was (and is) very frustrating. At this point I’m looking at buying a patch panel with punch downs instead. If I could have gotten the jacks on the cable, it would have cost something like $12. Instead, I’m facing another $50 for a patch panel.

At around 5:15 I decided my time might be better spent working on the basketball goal. I was expecting Ken to show up at any moment. I bored some holes in the pressure treated lumber, hopefully lined up with the holes in the backboard. About then Ken showed up. We went and got the ladder and set it up, and then noticed these huge black clouds that were rolling in. Within minutes, it was pouring. So we grabbed the tools and the ladder and went back inside. We’ll try again next week.

I stopped by Lowes to see if they carried patch panels, but I didn’t find any. I think Home Depot had some, but I couldn’t remember what they charged. Craigslist came up empty, but Ebay has several promising options. At this point I’m about ready to spend the extra money and get one.