|You and Me and Rain on the Roof|
I had planned to hook up the TV to its brand new antenna. I had planned to find the remote and scan all the channels and lie on the couch and channel surf all day.
It's raining. It's literally pouring. It's been turning on and off all day, from seven this morning until a couple of minutes ago.
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. I have a cup of coffee, getting cold while I try to figure out what to do. I can't climb a ladder in the rain. I can't climb on the roof in the rain. Nobody works aloft when it's raining.
I guess I'll have to wait for tomorrow. The seven-day forecast says it'll be partly cloudy tomorrow. It's supposed to be sunny on Monday and Tuesday, too.
Of course that was what the seven-day forecast said about today. It was supposed to be sunny, and all I have accomplished today is that I wrote this blog entry and finished today's Telecom Digest.
I'll have to reassess in the morning. No rain, no pain: I'll get something done.
Bill Horne, April 10, 2021
|The Remote Control|
I paid AMazon about $40 for a new TV antenna: an amplified antenna with automagic rotor control, all for forty bucks. I put it together, after reading all the instructions and the warnings not to use tools because they would break the connectors, and lots and lots of advice not to put the thing up near a high-voltage line.
It's ready to go, and I can swing the tiny antenna 360° by holding down the button on the control box. It seems like it'll work OK, if I can get it up in the air and hooked up to the TV set.
Except, wouldn't you know it, I can't find the remote control for the TV set. It has vanished into the sofa, or been taken by tommyknockers, or has grown legs and went walkabout.
The TV, you see, is downstairs, where it sees infrequent use. It gets NetFlix from our WiFi Access Point, and the Amazon Prime video service too, but I've never taken the time to hook it up for over-the-air TV reception. I could have paid another twenty-five or so bucks to the cable company each month, and gotten their "basic" TV channels for that much, but I could never justify $300 plus taxes every year just to see the usual blow-dried-airheads pose and preen while selling soap.
We did OK with an antenna in our attic back in Boston, and I'm hoping that this new one will perform as well, or at least well enough to get the three networks and maybe PBS. We'll see, after I find the remote control, or order the second new one we've had for the TV. We'll see.
Bill Horne, April 9, 2021
I'm going to get on an airplane in twenty days. It'll be the first time away from home for over a year. What with COVID-19 and getting old and everyone hunkering down for the duration, the only human contact I've had in that time is with my wife and other Ham Radio operators that I see at lunch sometimes.
But, my neice is getting married. She's a Registered Nurse, as was my wife, and we decided to risk the trip. She's taking vows in New Hampshire, which is probably where her fiancé lives, since she grew up in Maine. It occurs to me, just now as I write this, that we've all been scattered to the four winds for most of our lives, and I feel sad about that – it would have been nice to see my family more often than once or twice a decade.
The airline reservations have been changed, so that if our plans change, we can schedule other flight dates: I strted out with a four-day stay, but my wife wants to stay longer and visit her old friends, so I changed it to ten days.
I was tempted to book first-class air travel - what the hell, see how the other 0.01% lives, right? But, on consideratio, I cheaped out, thinking "The back of the plane gets there at the same time as the front," and so we're going to be sitting out on the wing someplace, with a great view but an intense breeze.
And I'd bet they'd do it if they could, too.
Well, I've got a rental car set up, and SWMBO has booked bed-and-no-breakfast rooms in a couple of different houses that are "near enough" to Boston to see the folks we want to see and avoid those we don't. We'll have a chance to see our son, and drop some more hints about grandchildren, and maybe even realize that he's a grown man and will decide his own course in life, at his own pace.
Still I wish I could have him nearby, with a wife and kids and the whole American Dream spread out around him. C’est la vie.
We both got both our vaccinaitons, the second one on March 30th, so I'm confident that we won't be in danger of infection, but just to be sure, I bought some genuine N95 respirator masks from a company in New Jersey, and I'll have all the protection a man could want. I'll cover the N95 mask with a cloth one, just to avoid questions and demands from the cunts who might tell me I should share - with them and theirs, of course - or TSA agents looking to make an easy hundred bucks by lying through their teeth and hoping I was born at night in the back of a turnip truck.
OK, OK, I'll calm down now. The fact is I don't like air travel, and I especially don't like being treated like an illegal in my own country, but that's the place that the Republican party wants to put me in: a place where they and their richer-than-rich masters have all the power and I have to bow and scrape and succumb to graft and greed and hypocrisy.
Damn, I guess I do need a vacation.
Bill Horne, April 8, 2021
|The Amazon Jungle|
My wife asked me to check when the heat packs she had ordered were due. She uses a lot of them,and was about to run out. I checked the Amazon "Orders" page, and told her that they'd been delivered on the 18th.
There followed an exhaustive search, to locate the mysterious box that FedEx said had been placed on our porch, with "No Signature Required." We checked every room, every closet, every table, underneath every table, and inside every footlocker.
That was yesterday.
Last night, after lots of cursing and finger-pointing, I broke down and admitted that it isn't here. Either FedEx dropped it off on the wrong porch, or never delivered it at all.
I clicked the "not delivered" box on Amazon, and their computer told my computer that the vendor had 48 hours to react before I could get any service from them. The vendor's comptuer told my computer that they would check with the manufacturer and that I had to open a case with FedEx for them.
I entered the information taht FedEx's computer demanded, and pressed the "originate claim" button, and my computer started flashing three horizontal white spots at me. After twenty minutes, I gave up and left my computer on for the night.
My computer was still flashing the three lights this morning. I killed the browser screen and called FedEx. after ten or so minutes, I got a recorded announcedment telling me that their staff doesn't work on Sunday.
I'll have to wait until tomorrow and make a resolution not to yell at them.
Bill Horne, March 28, 2021
|Now where did that come from?|
I tried to open the New York Times to do the crossword. I kept getting a screen that told me I would do a security check and then change my search provider and it wouldn't let me bypass it by any method.
I did a cold restart, and started a McAfee full system scan. It took a while, but I was able to work on my desktop machine in the meantime. The desktop machine has the important stuff, so a couple of hours passed while I typed and sorted and filed and cleaned up.
After that, I picked up the laptop again. The McAfee software told me that it had found and fixed two problems. I copied down the descriptions.
The first one showed up as a "False Positive" in numerous online posts from 2018 and before, and the general opinion was that it was fixed. I checked my McAfee AV version, and found that it's the most recent one.
The second one was found in a backup file from this server, which I had stored on my laptop. It was in a .tgz file, so I was surprised to realize that McAfee AV could read it at all.
The question is how the first one got into my laptop: if it was a "false positive," it might have come in as part of a driver update. I just feel squeamish, and I wonder how McAfee could be showing a false positive from that far back.
The problem, however, had vanished, so I'm assuming that the McAfee AV product did it's job and parted the waters and whistled past the graveyard and let me get to the New York Times again, this time with my feet up and the TV on. I got the tiny crossword done if a little over six minutes.
Bill Horne, March 24, 2021
|I feel like a kid again|
I went to lunch with the guys: the local hams who keep ham radio alive in Burnsville, NC.
Don brought back the microphone that I had left at his house when I picked up my Drake R-4B receiver: he told me that it's a "Golden Eagle," which is a deluxe version of the Astatic D-104 which was popular when I was a kid. He could tell, because it has an eagle imprinted on the back of the D-104 microphone cage, and so it's a "Golden Eagle" even though it's black.
Much conversation ensued: Keith told me it's not a "Golden Eagle," because those have the words "Golden Eagle" on them and they are gold- and chrome-plated, and mine was covered in black enamel. Jim didn't have an opinion. I figured that as long as it works, I don't care.
When Keith had it in his hand, I noticed that there's a hole in the baseplate, and I could see a potentiometer adjustment there, which means that the microphone come with an amplifier that allows it to work with a much wider variety of rigs. That was VERY good news, since I'm trying to set up a single mic to switch between each of my ham transmitters. That joy was short lived, though: when I asked Keith what power it would require, he told me that there's a 9-volt battery in the base.
Damn. That mic has been on my shelf for over a year, since I bought a package of Drake equipment it came with. I knew, right away, that everything would be covered with corrosion and the battery would be oozing a chemical mess right on to the delicate components.
We were all talked out, and we paid our bills and headed for home.
No sense putting off the inevitable: I took the "Golden Eagle" down to my ham shack, and took off the baseplate, all the while resigning myself to calling it a loss.
The baseplate came off, and I beheld a like-new amplifier board, connected to a by-Ghod Duracell 9-volt battery, which wasn't oozing anything.
I took out the battery, and gave it the tongue test. I felt a little zing. "I can't be that lucky," I told myself, and reached for the DVM.
The battery measured 9.1 volts. The bottom of the base plate had the schematic on it, and I quickly realized that the push-to-talk switch, which is what the push-to-talk button operates when I push it, included a set of normally-open contacts that interrupt the flow of power from the battery when the microphone isn't being used.
Kudos, in no particluar order, to Astatic, Duracell, and my guardian angel. I could have jumped for joy.
I looked around for more info on this model: I had told Keith that I didn't want to sell it when he asked, and also that those microphones sell for eighty dollar or more on Ebay. It turns out that Keith was right: it's not a "Golden Eagle." In fact, I own a "Night Eagle," and Ebay prices for that model are all over $100.
Bill Horne, March 23, 2021
|Eight in the damned morning|
The alarm went off at 8 AM. I learned over my wife and picked the thing up and found the off switch. Eight AM and a couple of minutes.
Eight in the friggin' morning, Sunday, and time for the "Business" meeting. I had looked at the agenda, and thought it was good that the part I was involved with was near the top of the agenda.
I started coughing. My mouth and nose were filled with cement. The next ten minutes are best left to the imagination. I got back into bed.
I missed my Quaker meeting. It was at eleven. I didn't wake up until Eleven-Oh-Five. I went to bed around Nine PM last night, tired out from the day and dinner with a friend and the one beer I allowed myself. I woke up just past Midnight, and was awake until Four in the morning.
Do you ever get the feeling you're playing a bit part in the remake of “Groundhog Day?”
Bill Horne, March 21, 2021
|Now, how stupid do I feel?|
I've got a buddy who knows a lot about radios that use vacuum tubes in them. He's experienced in repairing and tuning them, and I got him to come over to the house today, to look at a Drake R-4B that I bought a while back.
"It's not receiving," I told him. "I went a little bit overboard," as if that wasn't obvious by my complaint. "I can get a little on one band, but that's all."
I had the manual out on the table while he looked at it, and he asked if there was anything missing. "There's a shorting plug for the 'mute' jack," I told him, but it turned out that it should have received even without the shorting plug. "Something's wrong," he told me.
He grabbed a screwdriver off the bench, and took the screws out of the upper half of the cabinet and tilted it off. He was concerned about the crystal jacks on the back being empty, but I told him those were all optional, for CB and such, and then he pointed and said "There's a tube missing."
And so there was. He looked around inside, and said "there it is," and fished it out of where it had fallen and plugged it back in. In a few seconds, the R-4B was receiving very nicely.
"There's something wrong," he said again. He told me that the previous owner might have taken a lightning strike, and that the R-4B didn't have an antenna fuse to protect it from them. I asked him to put it on his bench and align it. I asked him to check on the T-4XB too, and see if they'd both work after some diagnosis.
He put them in his SUV, and we went to dinner together and split a side of baby back ribs. We talked about anything but the tube that fell out of it's socket.
Bill Horne, March 20, 2021
|Eight in the damned morning – or Seven|
The alarm went off at 8 AM. My wife was scrathing at it, and I learned over her and picked the thing up and found the off switch. Eight AM and a couple of minutes.
I set the time ahead last night, wishing that I lived in a please like Indiana where some of the politicians have a modicum of common sense and enough courage to tell the country club cronies to stuff it.
Eight in the friggin' morning, Sunday, and I stumbled into the bathroom and tried to remember why I would have set the alarm. Two or three minutes, just standing there, trying to remember.
I had nothing. I though I could get breakfast, and then I thought about what I'd want to eat and then, still bleary and dazed and confused, I got back into bed.
I missed my Quaker meeting. It was a eleven, or ten, depending, but I didn't wake up until twelve-twenty.
Bill Horne, March 14, 2021
“March Windws and April Showers Bring May FLowers”
Ha! There are no March winds here! There is only March rain, and more rain, and more rain. I could power a hydroelectric dam with the amount of rain we've had, and fill a cistern 30 cubits around while I was at it.
My joints ache. My head aches. My teech ache. My hairs ache, for Ghod's sake!
What was the famous song? "Who'll Stop the Rain?" Maybe "Rainy Days and Mondays," or "Let It Rain" by Clapton. I want to hear songs about sunshine and warmth and endless summer days. I want to be young and bulletproof and able to pull on a poncho and walk through the mud and bitch about the food and feel like I could go forever.
I'm not being very cheerful today, am I?
Nope, not very. Nope, don't wanna. Nope, I won't, can't, am disinclined. I want summer to come back, and my back and neck hurt every time I reach for a clock to pay tribute to the owners of American's golf courses and retail outlets.
March loses – it doesn't wind. March does not blow – it sucks.
Bill Horne March 13, 2021
My wife's drop-front desk is now open, and the answer is "No, we didn't find the key inside."
In fact, we didn't find any problem with the lock at all. Are you noticing how I'm sneaking that "we" in here?
OK, the professional locksmith I hired found that the lock worked fine with the key I already have. I suppose the fact that it fit all the drawers was a clue, but it's one that I never headed.
On this kind of drop-front desk, there are two support arms which slide out horizontally to support the leaf as it becomes horizontal. It turns out that there are two metal arms mounted on the back of the leaf, and that they are supposed to pull out the supports as the front swings down.
One of them was caught in the wood somewhere, preventing the leaf from swinging open. And, again, the answer is "No, I didn't think of that!" I had a problem with the lock. OK, I thought I had a problem with the lock. It wasn't something that occurred to me, you know? I just thought that I needed a perfect replacement for a lost key, and I didn't take "Shop" in High School, and I'm not a cabinet maker.
Still, it gives me pause. I didn't break anything - I never use more than two fingers when trying a lock - but at some point, after going throuh every "center hole" key in a locksmith's shop, I didn't start thinking outside the wooden box I was hunched over.
My late cousin, who was an Alcohol and Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counselor, used to say "Bill, don't should on yourself." He was right.
Still, it annoys me that I didn't think of it. In my own defense, the first locksmith I took it to didn't think of it, either.
Damn, now I feel better. Is that twisted?
Bill Horne, March 9, 2021
I saw a Calphalon pot rack on Ebay: an "Open Box" sale with a low opening bid. Calphalon pot racks go for over $100, but this one was ending on a Thursday night and had no bids, so I dropped the hammer, and I bought it for $32.00 plus shipping and tax.
It was sitting in my ham shack for a week or two, while I tried to find the correct size socket to tighten the carriage bolts. I had everything except a 10mm, and (of course!) that's what it needed.
I looked at the clock on Saturday, in the afternoon, and cussed and remembered that the hardware store closes at Noon on Saturdays. I was feeling like I'd go down to Lowe's, but it's almost an hour drive each way, so I contented myself with working on my ham radio gear.
Today, I realized that it was afternoon - where does the time go, anyway? - and I went to the Ace hardware, and picked up a 10 mm "deep" socket. They only had a 7/16-inch-drive socket, but I was pretty sure I had the right driver, and it turned out that my newest and best one was the perfect size.
There are 24 bolts in the rack I bought, and the new socket made short work of it. I had not, I realized at that point, thought to buy the ceiling hooks for it, so I took one of the chains and went back to Ace. They had the right size, and four of them were about five dollars and change.
I went back home, thinking of where to set it up, and where to drill the holes in the ceiling, and then I ground to a halt. It occurred to me that I could mount the thing two different ways: the longs edge of the rack and the table underneath both aligned the same way, or with the pot rack sideways above the table. Each way offered advantages, but I had an attack of common sense and decided to wait for my wife to get home and tell me which one she likes.
I then realized that I hadn't checked my INR for the week, so I got the kit and took out the puncture tool and the test strips and I put a strip in the tester and got an error code. Both the first and the second strip, both error code "3." I called the company that sends them to me.
It turned out that the strips I was trying to use had expired last January, and I had two bottle of the strips with the same problem, but also another bottle that's good until January of next year. The nice lady on the phone promised to send me another bottle of test strips, and then the second one a few weeks later.
My INR was 3.2, which is a little bit high, but not too far off, so I told the nice lady what the reading was and she promised to pass the info along.
After that, I had lunch, which usually hapens around Three or Four in the afternoon lately, and I sat down to sort out my thoughts and plan for tomorrow, and I got a locksmith who is willing to make the trip and will be here tomorrow, to change the keys in my locks and fix a couple of them and maybe even find a way to cut a key for my wife's drop-front desk that she inherited from her mother.
My wife decided that it's better with the long edges of the table and the pot rack aligned. I told her I'd do it bright and early. We had a dinner of corn-on-the-cob, mac and cheese and ham, plus a salad of tiny green leaves of spinach and baby tomatoes and boiled carrots.
I snuck a cup of Butterscotch pudding for desert. I hadn't had any wine, and there's no beer in the house, so I figured it wasn't blowing my diet, not really.
Bill Horne, March 8, 2021
|Just a weird kind of day|
It's been a weird kind of day. I was having some type of dream that was weird, and I woke up, on my back, with the mask tilted to one side of my face and my feet sticking out of the bottom, and it was Ten O'Clock.
I always watch the Sunday Morning show on, um, yeah, that's obvious, isn't it? They had some things on that held my attention, and I went to get breakfast, and I could not find the cereal box.
That was the weirdest part. It was just gone, without reason or logic. It was still almost full, and I took about twenty minutes to search in all the cupboards, and all the places it might have been, and that box of cereal wasn't anywhere to be found.
I checked the pantry. I looked in the office, and in the cupboards above the refrigerator, and I even climbed up on the footstool and looked to see if it was on top of the cabinets. Nope, no luck. It had vanished. I got mad, and I asked my wife if she had used it - she doesn't eat cereaal, by and large - but she said "No."
Now, I'm wondering if my local drunk has a way to get in when he's hungry. Really, that's what I'm down to: blaming a phantom for a missing box of cereal.
I cooked some "Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal," which always tries to overflow the bowl, and I had that instead, along with some coffee and a glass of OJ. Then, I watched the start of Sunday Morning that I had missed, right after "Face the Nation."
A weird kind of day. I don't know why.
Bill Horne, March 7, 2021
|I Only Think About What I Can See|
One of the members at my Quaker meeting bakes bread once or twice a month, and I got his email last Tuesday, which listed "Country Sourdough". He doesn't cook the same stuff every time, and I like sourdough, so I asked for two loaves.
I woke up this morning, thinking today was Sunday, and trying to figure out why the Sunday Morning program wasn't on, and cooking oatmeal for breakfast instead of the usual fried dough I have on Sunday (which is called "Scones" in our house).
The caffeine kicked in about the same time that the TV told me it's Saturday, and I remembered the bread. He only gives it out from eleven to two, and it was already 10 AM, so I took a quick bath and headed out.
His bakery is on a back road, and just as I was coming up on the turn, I realized that I'd be going right by the "Recycling Center," and remembered that the kitchen trash bins were full and that there was a half-full box of recycleable bottles to take out as well.
It's a peculiar kind of mental lapse, and I don't know if others share it, but I only seem to think of things I'm supposed to do when they're staring me in the face through the windshield. I'll neglect my prescriptions until I'm in town for something else, and the "CVS" sign is scolding me from a distance. I'll forget an expired car registration, unless I'm going around the traffic circle in front of the town hall, and then I'll remember that I forgot to bring a checkbook so I could get it done without a trip home and back.
I don't know what causes it. I'm tempted to make excuses about getting old, but I think I've always been this way. Maybe a stick-it note on the car window would help.
Bill Horne, March 6,2021
|And Now I'm The Expert, Oh Joy|
"Maybe Bill could help."
It always seems simple and logical at the start, and as many times as I've been burned at the electronic stake, you'd think I would have learned to run screaming for the door when those words are spoken.
There was a video call, recorded for posterity, and somene shared their screen while they were playing a presentation about an important thing. So far, so good; no problems encountered and no solutions needed.
"And then," the story always goes, "something happened." The presentation froze: either the person who was playing it had a bad download connection, or his upload capability was exceeded, or the gremlins got wet and weird, or all three.
And there we were, with a ~3 minute shot of various participants trying to guess at what to do and finally re-restarting the download and fast-forwarding to about the point where it froze.
So, the question of how to clip out the confusion from the recording of the video conference. I was asked to help. It seemed like a tiny errand and a chance to learn something about video editing and the available open-source software for that purpose.
I said "Yes."
I wrote an email to the Boston Linux & Unix Group's email reflector, and I asked for help. One of the members told me that I could use a no-cost video editing suite called DaVinci Resolve.
Three hours later, I finished installing it, and (filled with anticipation) clicked on the icon.
Nothing. Not even an opening banner. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.
Then, I read the hardware requirements. And, before you laugh, let me say that I have always been big on the old warning that "If all else fails, read the directions!"
Davinci Resolve requires a small-size water-cooled Cray workstation to function. I don't have one. I don't even have my wife's computer, which is only two years old, and doesn't have Linux on it. I have a laptop with Windows 10, and it's relatively recent: about two and ½ years old. DaVinci Resolve will run under Windows 10, but I didn't want to install it again, or find out the hard way that my laptop wouldn't measure up.
So, back to the drawing board: I had received another email, from the founder of the BLU, John Abeau, telling me how the job was too small to install a video-editing suite for a simple snip like this. John gave me info on a couple of video-editing utilities that I could run from the Linux command line.
I started the process, using a utility called "ffmpeg," which cranked away at creating a file with the first 10 minutes of the video on it. It took about fifty minutes.
Then, I restarted the ffmpeg program, and set it to stripping out the part of the meeting after the frozen presentation, from about thirteen minutes in until the end at one hour forty-three or thereabouts.
That time, it took a little over two hours. I joined the two pieces together, and converted the result back into "mp4" format. It played well, and the frozen presentation was baretly noticeable.
And now, of course, it's too late: I'm the expert. Anytime someone needs a video file edited, they'll think of me and my ~2008 computer.
Bill Horne, March 3, 2021 (My son's thirty-first birthday. I sang the song over the phone!)
|Sometimes, I just want to spit|
The anti-virus subscription on my laptop was about to expire. I already wrote about that, but suddenly, there's more to it.
I had been getting warnings, saying it was almost completely gone and that I would be staked out in a field, covered with honey, and forced to endure attacks from bear, lions, and tigers. Lion and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
It wasn't until two days before it was scheduled to lapse that McAfee started to give a specific time limit, with options to "RENEW NOW" (in an attractive font with quiet background coloring) or a black-and-white choice to "Accept Risk," with the threat, one supposes, of having to endure Africanized bees come to collect their honey along with the Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!
Still, I didn't remember it being due this month, and I remembered that I had renewed for two years instead of one, so I dug up the order confirmation from my email account.
The Sons-Of-Bitches still owed me service until August.
I like to think I'm an easy-going sort of guy. I like to think that I've gotten old enough and wise enough not to let the little things bug me. I like to think that, but it's not true. THIS kind of horse manure sends me on a lunar trajectory every single time.
There was an irritating "chat" session with some McAfee functionary in some third-or-fourth world country, who asked me to click on this and download that, and suddenly the AV software is admitting that I subscribed until August. They sent me a survey, and I gave him and McAfee and the weather and my disposition terrible marks. They asked why, and I wrote "You should fix your software so that the call wasn't needed." I'm sure it will put terror in the electronic heart of a customer-response analysis program somewhere, and my login will be marked "dissatisfied customer" to warn future call-takers that I'm not a nice pro-McAfee Bunny that they can cheat whenever they want.
Or, maybe it'll just say "Fuck Him!" Either way, I'm out of their clutches come August, and I'll be disinclined to acquiesce to any requests to return.
Bill Horne, March 1, 2021
|Your Protection From Viruses Expires Today|
There is something that annoys me, more than any other thing I can think of when it comes to PC's.
One of my PC's has Symantec AV, and this laptop has McAfee. It's not like I chose one or the other: they just came with the machine when I bought it. Come to think of it, the Symantec just came with my sister's subscription, and I piggybacked on her purchase, since it supports four or five machhines.
Both of them inject advertisements on to my screen whenever they are programmed to do so. They don't look like advertisements: they're just notices of how many "infections" they caught - usually just tracking cookies - but they brag about their great performance on an almost daily basis, and sometimes they do it more than once a day.
McAfee is about to expire on my laptop. It tells me that, every time I log on, every time I unlock the screen saver, and every time I turn the laptop on. Along with the warnings, there's a button to click that says "Renew," and another one that says "Accept Risk."
Needless to say, I'm not impressed. Needless to say, it irritates the hell out of me. Needless to say, I don't want to renew either of them because they think I don't have choices.
There's a new brand on the market: never mind the name, which I don't remember, but it's rated at the top of the Consumer Reports chart on AV software. I'm going to call my sister and see if she has a fressh subscription I can use, but if not, I'm going to the new stuff.
I'd like to know where the AV vendors got the idea that flashing intrusive, unwanted, and useless advertorials in my face is going to convince me to use their product for another year or two or whatever. I'd like to know where they got the idea that they're entitled to do it, and entitled to assume that once they're in my machine, it becomes their machine.
Time will tell if the new brand is the same as the old. If it starts clipping my login with "important notices" or "Security Warning" pop-ups, I'll just shrug my shoulders and go back to Linux.
I just wonder: where did they get such arrogance, such avarice?
Bill Horne, February 26, 2021
My cousin's daughter is gettng married, and I've been told that I've decided to go. I've spent the last couple of days looking at airfares, and trying to resist the urge to click "First Class" when comparing airline "A" to airline "B," etc. I've confined my search to "nonstop" flights, though, but since I'm not close enough to a major hub, like Charlotte, there aren't many deals to be had.
I've just thought of something: I may be closer to an airport like Nashville than to Charlotte, and I should check and see. Who, knows, I might find a bargain, although Allegiant is offering "$80" fares, they only offer them to customers without any carry-on luggage, which is the classic bait-and-switch. If I want to have a carry-on bag, the fare goes up to $120, and I wouldn't get to select my seat or even be sure of sitting next to my wife.
Oh, well, what the hell: thirty-three years together, and I guess I don't need her next to me all the time, but the vicious games and all the hidden costs tick me off, so Allegiant can do without my business.
That's my rant for today. I've got to go check a few more airports: a better fare is out there - somewhere.
Bill Horne, February 23, 2021
|If I'M So Smart, Why Ain'T I Vaccinated Yet?|
|I went to the doctor for a minor problem, which turned out to be
exactly as minor as I had hoped it would be.
During the visit, I told him that the County Health Board website has a form on it, which says I need my doctor's permission to get vaccinated for COVID_19, since I take a drug they have listed there. The doctor told me that they "don't do that anymore," and when I complained about how long I've been waiting, he told me that he would put me on his list of patients to be vaccinated, which he sends to the County Health Board.
He also told me that I should call a nearby health center which is part of a Federal Program, and get on their list so that I could get a vaccination from whichever one called me first. I asked him if I could get a list of my co-morbidities in order to justify first-in-line placement, and he said I didn't need that, either.
I called the health center my doctor mentioned, and asked if I could get on the list even though I'm not over 75. They told me that it's been "over 65" for about a month now, and all I need is proof of age. They took my insurance info, though, presumably so they can get paid for injecting me with a vaccine my tax dollars have already paid for, but I figured "WTF, they've got expenses too," and Ghod knows I pay enough for the insurance to use it when I need it.
Still, it bothers me: not only as a "Senior Citizen," but as a former Systems Analyst in a "Blue" shop. This all makes me realize that there isn't any system in place and that there never was, and the oh-so-positive reports from some Army general that the federal government was poised to distribute vaccine just as soon as it was done cooking were, in fact, bold-faced lies.
I was in the car on the way home, and someone on the PBS station said that there have been so many problems with getting vaccines into people because the state public health systems have been neglected for more than 15 years, and just aren't ready to handle the job.
I suppose I could write a letter to the Governor, but I don't care to get the usual form letter in reply, so I'll just put it here and content myself with the knowlege that it must be as obvious to others as it is to me that U.S. citizens have been swindled, and shorn like sheep, and have been incredibly gullible about COVID_19 and a whole lot more.
Bill Horne, February 12, 2021
|Just A Slow Monday|
OK, I admit it: I don't blog every day, nor even every week. It's a now-and-then thing.
Of course, "real life" sometimes gets in the way of my meanderings here, and no matter how much time I think I have, somehow the end of the day finds me tired and cranky and wondering where the time went.
I've been learning a little bit of WordPress, a little bit at a time. There's a lot to know, and I haven't had a lot of luck finding a good manual. There are add-ons and modules and lots of important-sounding names of things that could do the various jobs of making a web site for me, but they all cost money, one way or another, and they all would condemn me to build a ho-hum page, and leave me with just-enough-knowledge to be marginally competent at making and/or supporting just-another-WordPress site.
I won't do that.
I'm trying to figure out how to get my Ham radio transceiver connected to the Pactor modem I bought, and I've had a little success with that: I got a .zip file from another ham, which I hope will simplify the process. There's a snag, though: I gave my Farallon cords to the state EOC the day before the inauguration of President Biden, when the government and all its minions were scared shiteless that we, the people, would figure out that they've been phoning in their blather from some tropical beach while laughing themselves to sleep every night with the thought of how easy it was to con millions.
Wait, hold up, my mind is back online. Sorry.
Let's see ... oh, yes, my transceiver ... anyway, the guy I gave them to promised to have a new pair mailed to me within the week, and I don't have them back yet, and I'm getting a little bit TO'd at that.
Which reminds me, I just paid $600 to a local garage which told me that I needed new "Ball joints" on my Odyssey, and it took a few days for me to remember what a rippoff that is, so I'll do some research and find out just exactly what the possibilities are, and I'll think about the best non-confrontational approach to use while I tell them they're thieves.
Well, my wife just got back with groceries, and I'm glad to hear that she found her purse - in the car where she told me it couldn't be - so now I'm going to go back to my actual life.
Bill Horne, February 8, 2021
Out of the blue, just like a gift from heaven, Netflix has offered up a treasure.
"You and I need fresh, clear water - to replenish our precious bodyly fluids."
I can't laugh hard enough, or shake my head ruefully enough, or repeat enough of the lines, or marvel long enough at Peter Sellers' genious and Georce C. Scott's magical thinking and Sterling Haydon's manic quest for the elimination of flouride from our water supply.
I remember, to this day, the "Duck and Cover" exercises we did at school. we had to get under our desks and after about a minute get up and go back to the military training - oh, sorry, I mean Grade-school education that we had been at before the "alert."
I remember being confused and at odds when the teacher announced one day that we didn't have to participate in the "Duck and Cover" drill if we didn't want to. I didn't know why, and it wasn't until I was over Forty that I read that it was Joan Baez who had drawn the line and made the stand which changed the later generation of children's view of the world.
"I don't know how well I could stand up under torture."
"I know I'll have to answer for what I've done. I think I can."
I look back now, and I realize that it was all coming apart and falling down all around us, while Dwight D. Eisenhower played golf and (supposedly) said he would not send one American boy into Vietnam's elephant grass.
Slim Pickens and his co-pilot just did a wonderful ballet while yelling at each other to cut off this and switch that, right aftre a missle went off a couple of miles away. The CRM-114 Auto-Distruct mechanism got hit and blew itself up.
"I think you're some kind of deviated prevert!"
It was sad, and tragic, and Group Captain Lionel Mandrake just dialed "211" to get the long-distance operator. He had to make it an ordinary trunk call.
It's like watching yet-another recreation of "The Three Musketeers:" wanting them to win for the good of a vicious and doomed monarchy that could only be ended by a guillotine's blade. I look back on Dumas' work and wonder how he could have glorified such a world, but then I realize that he had big, fat commie rats in France too, and he didn't know what or who or where they were.
"I guess your just gonna have to get that plane, Dmitri!"
We put everything we had into the defense sector, and a lot of Hahvid and Yale and Princeton grads carried us forward into the future of more chrome on the bumpers and more horsepower under the hood and more beautiful women sitting and looking seductive from the right seat of yet another possible future.
"Has he got a chance, well ... Hell yeah!"
I wish there had been a manual override, or an explosive bolt, or some wizz-bang guaranteed way to have it all stay a fantasy from a distant past when men were men and sheep were nervous.
Bill Horne, January 27, 2021
|It's That Time of Night|
It's Thursday morning, and I've got an important video meeting to attend at 10 AM, so I hope I can get a couple of hours more sleep beforehand.
It's Thursday morning at 6:28 AM, and I've been up since 3 AM or so.
I don't know why. I've always been a night-owl, that's true, but I managed to keep regular schedules pretty well when I was working a 9 to 5 job, and I've been retired for a couple of years now, so I would have thought it'd be easy to get up with the sun, and get to bed around 10 or 11 PM, but it seems that my body always has other plans.
My wife is the same way: I heard her stumbling around when I was lying in bed, hoping that I could drift off again, and I realized that neither one of us would be at our best today.
This shouldn't be hard. I bought a brand-new alarm clock, and I went to bed at 11 PM, like a regular fella would, but then - wide awake in the dead of night, binge-watching Stargate SG-1 episodes on Netflix, and finally taking care of today's Telecom Digest just after it came out at 5:30 AM.
I hate pills. The most powerful sleep aid I allow myself is some warm milk, and we're out of milk, so I made some instant and added honey to kill the taste and heated it up and it didn't do anything to make me sleepy.
The CBSN channel has been running and re-re-re-running clips from the inauguration and pronouncements from various experts and drastic warnings about how this may be our only chance to do whatever-it-is-they-want-us-to-do.
I'll try to turn it off and sleep.
Bill Horne, January 21, 2021
|How Does It Feel?|
The Senator from Utah is speaking now, talking about how his speech has changed in the past few hours. The Senator from - um, Arizona, I think - was talking about Maricopa County having 60% of the states population and asking the other senators to let their votes be counted.
I had been out at the pizza parlor: the only place near my home that actually makes good pizza - and I had told them that I was there on an impulse, and I had asked if they had any "no show" orders. They didn't, but they promised to get me a pizza in 15 minutes and gave me a free beer while I waited.
The Senator from Kentucky keeps giving other Republicrats some of his time, so they can apoligize to the rabble they promised to support, for not being quite as strong as the strong men those dolts assumed were going to protect their Ghod-given right to be superior to everyone they are afraid of.
Ronald Rump's blunder backfired on him, and on the Republicrats he has set out in the cold for another twenty or thirty years - the TV cameras, for once, showed the most brief glimpse of the truth they usually work so hard to conceal - that the Senators from Ghod-knows-where don't care one little bit about common men, and that the game is rigged and only those with lots of money and more than a few guns get to play.
The Senator from Georgia is trying to be gracious - "Their is no excuse for the events that took place in these corridors today" - but she's on her way out, and knows it, and she can afford to be a statesperson.
The Senate Minority leader is now giving out a few minutes here and/or there, "in reverse order," so that Democrats can tell everyone that the Monarch in England was somehow like Roanld Rump. "There were unprecendented allegations," to be sure, among them allegations of patriotism as a substitute for demagogery, or partisan doublespeak as a substitute for honor.
How did it happen? Why? Those whom signed the Declaration of Independence knew the risks they were taking - the risk of standing on a gibet with a royal rope around their necks. Those whom stood in the Senate chamber tonight haven't the least little idea of what their forebears passed on, nor the least interest in honorinig it. "This isn't what America is," one of them says, as he tells a joke about hitting deer with a weapon just as blunt as their hypocrisy.
Bill Horne January 6, 2021
|Believe The Worst And You'Ll Never Be Disappointed|
I spent today fighting to get a domain name "parked," and then to get it "unparked" and restored to where it was before. You see, I registered a domain name for my Friends meeting, and someone else is building a website to show all the things that websites do: my part in that effort is done, and I promised that I'd "park" the domain to avoid folks getting the wrong impression about who is coding the site.
It takes as much as two days to propagate a DNS change out to the far reaches of the Internet, but I started yesterday and put in the IP address that GoDaddy wanted me to use for a "parked" domain. This morning, I check it and found that the site was, indeed, now "parked" at GoDaddy: it was going to a "parked free courtesy of GoDaddy" page, which also has a come-on for their domain sales team if a visitor is looking to buy the domain.
That's par for the course, so up to that point I was happy with the result. However, the "parked" page also had some links to other places, most of which were apparently derived from the domain name. The first one was labelled "Quotes from Friends," and I clicked on it, expecting to see some pearls of wisdom from John Locke and/or other Quaker luminaries.
It turned out to be a page bragging about "discreet" deliveries and offering a catalog of sex toys. Just like that: the future domain name of a religious organization being used to peddle whatever they think a "toy" is.
I'm an adult, and I've seen a part of the world that most Americans never do: a place where protitution is routine, where young boys offer themselves to old men on the street, where anything can be had, for a price. It may be that the "modern" viewpoint holds a different opinion about such practices, but I'll just reserve judgement and try to maintain a semblance of decorum.
I complained to GoDaddy, and had a chat session with one of their employees. I demanded to know how to reach a "parked" page that had no ads on it, but the person on the other end of the chat started telling me to put the word "parked" in place of an IP address in the DNS "A" record.
I decided that the domain was better off being served from a machine that I control. It has a new copy of WordPress on it, so I had to rename the index.php file and put in a plain-Jane "parked" notification which will carry the message without risk of embarrassment to the people whom are finishing the web site. The change was mercifully quick.
Bill Horne January 2, 2021
|The Morning After The Night Before|
Rum and Coke®. Yeah I know, it's amateurish and jejune. Rum and Coke®, for Ghod's sake! I could have found some of the other kind of coke and tried that again (once, on New Year's Eve 1977, if you're curious), or some marijuana, which has the problem of being unknown to all of my local friends.
Rum and Coke®. I can't even remember how I should construct the plural: it wasn't just one, you see, but I don't remember the exact count. Rums and Cokes®? Rum and Cokes®? Rums and Coke®? Hell, I don't know; I was drunk at the time.
I wanted to send the cesspool of 2020 off in the same way I'd lived it: a haze of dull sensations submerged in a glass of ennui. Frequent urges to void my bladder, along with inability to find meaning. Worries about trivial things like the website for my meeting and what I'll use it for since it's no longer needed ... well, come to think of it, it is needed, isn't it? I'll just use if for this blog, and for practicing WordPress™, or maybe Drupal - one of the perks of being retired is that I can experiment on things I'm curious about, without being "practical" or "efficient."
That reminds me: I have got to get my ham station back on-the-air! I've got a beautiful Drake TR-4CWrit, the last of the "4" line of Drake transceivers, which were still being made, vacuum tubes and all, while I was in my teens. The Childrens Banders used to love them for "outband" CB work, even though they're Single-Sideband only, with no provision for use on AM, the way all the "legal" CB transceivers work. No, wait, it is on the air, except that I've got to connect all the coaxial cables - from the Drake to the SWR meter to the Antenna Tuner to the antennas. I nice rainy-day project for a rainy day like this, except it'll mean that I have to drill holes in the cement block to support a piece of plywood to mount the stuff on, and I could have sworn that the guy I bought the place from offered to leave one there for me and I'm feeling self-pity because I didn't say "yes."
That reminds me: I have got to get my ham station moved up to the "study" that I share with my wife. The only problem is that she turns the heater up to Medium Well when she's in there playing game after game after game of Solitaire, but I put the computers there cause it has good AC outlets and ventilation, so she's got her desk and I've got mine, and we've got an air-conditioner we use instead of the whole-house system that's above it in the attic. Cheap-ass Puritans, that's us, and it doesn't matter what we have for pensions or social security, we choose to spend the money on that one room because it's that way when you're a "senior" citizen, and I'm enjoying goofing off, and even my current aches and pains and general state of confusion.
I worked hard to get this way.
Bill Horne January 1, 2021
|Some Thigs Never Change, Including Me|
I've been helping out as part of a committee at my Quaker meeting: we're deciding how to create a website for the meeting, and it seems like I've put people out of their comfort zones.
The committee leader has convinced us that WordPress® is the best choice for a CMS - the means "Content Management System, by the way - and that a "one size fits all" WordPress-centered commercial vendor is the best choice for the site's home.
Well, I've worked on WordPress in times past, and I agree that it's a better-than-average way to help non-techies get content online with a minimum of intervention by guys like me.
I managed a site in ~2005, which was constructed with WordPress, and I taught my self enough about WordPress to make changes to the site where needed and to update schedules for public events and so forth.
WordPress has some things it does well, but there are some cracks in the facade, and what I remember was that those who used it would often come to me, expecting that I could cure anything that wasn't working the way they wanted it to. I wonder if this particular magic bean will turn into a foul-tempered giant that they'll be asking me to control.
WordPress makes a set of assumptions about what the average user wants to accompoish. So far as that goes, they mostly get them "close enough" to be usable, but WordPress sites that veer away from the table-of-contents-column-left, content-right model often find themselves with puzzling white-space between sections of a page, or font changes that jar the eye, or hard-to-read color schemes that won't change no matter what users try to do.
I do this blog in raw HTML, so that'll give you an idea of how far back I go: I even joke with folks that “I'm so old we used to write on the disks with a chisel!” All joking aside, though, I come from a generation of computer-experts who had to do work that required a great deal of expertise, and the ability to put that expertise to practical use. My skills provided a decent income for a long time, but I found out the hard way, early on, that corporate meeting rooms are the modern equivalent of a Roman Arena, where gladiators make each other bleed for the amusement of the ruling class. To survive those contests, I developed a sometimes acerbic wit, and an ever-present veneer of capability and confidence.
In other words, I became the guy who always know how to get things done, even if all he knows is that they can be done. I was a quick study, a habitual night-owl, and someone who always makes his dates and never says “I don't know.”
My old aura of "can do" capability remains, although blunted by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but I'm getting the feeling that it's now counterproductive, that it has turned from what I used to think of as the quiet appearance of professional capability, to an overbearing certainty that I know everything and never need to change.
That's the rub: those who expect WordPress to magically turn their ideas of what they want to see into what they do see on their browser sometimes need help - which I couldn't provide in 2005, and which I'm even less able to provide now - and I'm afraid that I'll be caught in the middle after the users realize that it's not as easy as they had expected it to be. I recommended we use some kind of graphical tool, such as DreamWeaver, to prepare our web pages, but it's going to be WordPress, and I smell trouble in the wind.
Long story short, I've been as open as I can be about the fact that I'm not a WordPress expert, and I've already had to start asking for help with WordPress after I installed it on this server. I'm tryng to help, but I'm all-too-conscious of the fact that if I'm not open and transparent in a way that would be suicidal in the corporate environments I came from, I might be more of a hindrance.
Bill Horne, December 22, 2020
|A Pressing Mater, With Few Words|
I had a long conversation with a guy who's been helping my Quaker meeting to put a web site online.
There had been some misassumptions (is that a word?) while I tried to reach him, but he was gracious about it, and we talked for the better part of an hour about a variety of technical topics.
And then, just to prove that I could, I installed WordPress® on my server. It's not this website, since I have various "virtual" sites set up on here, and that turned out to be a lot more of a problem than I had thought was possible.
It's not the "permanent" home for the site: just a testbed so that I can take a trip down memory lane, back to the time when I was the System Administrator of a charity in Boston that used WordPress to manage it's website. I had heard that another member had proposed that we set a website up, and so I registered a domain name at Godaddy, and joined an ad-hoc committee that is finding ways to make the site easy to use and (hopefully) easy to maintain. Long story short, WordPress was an early choice for the CMS.
At some point, there'll be agreement about who will do what, and I'll transfer the domain name to whomever handles the meeting's property, and maybe move some of the stuff I did on the testbed over to the permanent home for the site.
All of which leads me to a complaint about the documentation that's available for Linux. This site runs on Ubuntu Linux, and I had thought that since WordPress is open source and available on the Ubuntu server, that the install would be done automagically.
Far from it: as I mentioned, my server has a variety of domain names assigned to it, and I own all of them except the one for the Friends meeting, and the "official" documentation of how to install WordPress that's on the Ubuntu server assumes that it's being installed on a single PC in someone's house, instead of on a virtual server in another state. That makes a big difference.
I had a lot of false starts and frustrations, but I finally came across a well-written paper on how to put WordPress on "virtual" websites such as mine. If you're interested, it's located at https://websiteforstudents.com/setup-apache2-virtualhost-multiple-wordpress-blogs/. The document actually tells you how to put two WordPress sites on the same virtual machine, but I just followed ½ of the directions.
So, tonight, there's a working WordPerfect installation, and when I don't have the domain to use, I'll switch it over to use for this blog. You see, I've been doing these posts in native html, with "<p>" at the start of each paragraph (and lots of other html to make it look halfway decent), and I think it's time to kick back and get a little bit farthur away from the "bare metal" computer programming of my youth.
That's all for tonight: I was the net control operator of my club's weekly radio net tonight, so I've got to send out a net report, and then get some sleep.
Bill Horne, December 16, 2020
|Isn't That The Oddest Thing?|
We went out Saturday night, when it was mostly clear, and looked around for the meteor shower. The Internet told us that it would be best on the weekend, through Monday, in Colorado.
Where that leaves North Carolina, I don't know. We spent about five minutes just looking, after we had spent five minutes inside, with the lights off, to get our eyes ready. There wasn't a meteor to be seen.
I wasn't really disappointed: it was cold, and I had only my bathrobe on, and I've seen meteors before, plenty of times, in fact. But, my wife wanted to see them, so there we were.
We went out again, tonight, and stood in the driveway, away from the overhang of the roof, and it took a few minutes before I could make out the outlines of the clouds that were covering up the stars and their wayward children. It wasn't nearly as cold as Saturday night, but there wasn't anything to be seen.
Maybe tomorrow night. It's probably the last time this year. You'd think that since we're over 2,000 feet up, we'd have a much easier time of it, but the Geminids just don't appear at the best time of year.
It's the oddest thing: the stuff that had me all excited as a kid is now just something that I say "Maybe next year," and turn away from and go back inside.
Bill Horne, December 13, 2020
|Some Things, You Have To Grow Up Doing|
I decided to change the water filter in my basement: every drop that comes in from my pump goes through it, which seems like overkill to me, but that's the way the house was built.
I'd been putting it off for a while: I used to get a hose, and attach it to the spigot that's right near the pressure tank, and I'd drain all the water from the system by flipping the circuit breaker for the well pump, and letting the line drain until the pressure reads zero.
I'm not as good at carrying hoses as I used to be, even when they're empty, and I always drain all the hoses and put them away before the first frost, so they're all in my shed. The problem is that I'd have to unwind it from the back door into the furnace room, around a couple of corners and all the way to the water pressure tank in the corner of the utility room, next to the Generac box with the circuit breakers for all the "gotta have" power.
I decided that there had to be a better way, and I decided that I'd just kill the pump, close the ball valve that's on the "far" side of the filter, and then use a large bowl to drain the water out. I have a five-gallon bucket that usually gets the condensation from the heat pump on top of my water heater, but I figured that it would be easier to fill the bucket from the bowl, than to drag in the hose, hook it up, use it, and then drain it and roll it up and put it away.
Well, it was a little bit easier, but not very much. I filled the bowl about a dozen times before the spigot spat a little and the pressure gauge finally went to zero. The filter change is easy after that, especially since I'd remembered to fill a one-gallon milk jug with water before I started: it makes it a lot easier to clean the crud off the threads of the filter body, after I removed the old (YEECH!) filter, which felt like a college slime test sample. I have a couple of rags that I rescued from the trash when SWMBO tried to throw away my old underwear, and I use those to clean the filter housing and the threads where it screws in to the mount.
Done in a second, it wasn't, but I'll keep looking for alternative methods, especially since I can't walk on ice anymore and that hose gets heavier every year.
I took a bath afterwards, just to enjoy the oh-so-fast fill that a new filter gives me, and to get the grit out of my hair and off my hands.
Sometimes - not often, but sometimes - I want to have water piped in by the county like I used to have up in Boston. No filters necessary up there: the stuff comes straight from a reservoir in Western Massachusetts.
Ah, the country life.
Bill Horne, December 12, 2020
|Listening to John Gorka, Wondering|
I woke up at 9:20 AM. I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into the warm bed, but my Puritan guilt kicked in, and I thought about breakfast and coffee.
I pulled a measuring cup out of the dishwasher, and filled it up just like always: ½ cup of Oatmeal, and 1 cup of water, and a dash of salt. One minute and forty seconds in the microwave, while I poured four tablespoons of coffee into the filter I had put in the basket, and measured out six cups of water and poured that in and started it up.
I got a plastic glass and put in orange juice. I put the juice on the table next to the recliner, and then the coffee, and, finally the Oatmeal, after I added milk and sugar. I turn on CBSN, and listened to the headlines while I ate.
I don't remember the headlines, or anything else from the broadcast. It was all like I'd heard it before, you know? I took the measuring cup and glass and coffee cup and spoon back to the kitchen, and refilled the coffee cup and settled in to handle the Telecom Digest for today.
There's an email that is sent from the email robot, with all the stories in one email, and I use some sed and emacs macros to snip this and add that, turning it into an HTML document which has a link on the Digest's home page. You can look if you want: it's at telecom-digest.org.
Around ten, the carpenter arrived, and we talked about what I need done and various ways to do it. He promised to write up an estimate and email it to me. We'll see how big a bill it is, and then decide if we want to have another attic hatch in the coridor off the living room.
I had a sandwich for lunch, and a glass of water. After that, I don't remember what I did. I remember waking up and wondering why I didn't just go back to bed. Napping on and off, I made it to the evening, and then I put on my shoes and a hoodie and took the trash out to the "recycling center," and then I went and got some crackers for a snack, and a cardboard box full of Pinot Noir, and some ready-made breakfast cerials, and went back home.
We had steak for supper: meat that my wife got at the Grocery Outlet supermarket, at a discount because it's expiration date is tomrrow. I heated up the grill and cooked the Sirloin, 4 minutes and 20 seconds per side. It wasn't "well done," exactly, but there wasn't any red center, either. The meat thermometer said 164.4 when I took it off.
It was really good steak. The Pinot Noir was good, too, along with baby potatos and a saled. Then I joined an online meeting for the committee on racial justice that I'm in, and we agreed that we have to come up with an "elevator speech" that will summarize what we're recommending to the meeting.
After that, about five minutes on the ham radio, just to check into the traffic net, and then I settled in to catch up on my facepage notices and so forth, and now I'm writing this, and it's 11:30 at night.
Where, I still wonder, does the time go?
Bill Horne, December 2, 2020
|All'S Well That Ends, Well ...|
Monday again. I'm supposed to be able to sleep in on Monday - or, for that matter, any day - since I'm officially a "senior citizen," and exempt from the factory whistle's call. I woke up at 7 AM, and shrugged my shoulders and went and made myself a bowl of Oatmeal and enough coffee to defibrilate a fallen wildebeast1
I did the chores for The Telecom Digest: making the emailed "digest," with the posts from yesterday, look good in a web browser. I've stopped adding the sender's name to the list of posts, mostly because it's usually me, but even for other contributors, I decided that the subject is more important than the author, and so I don't put than in the "Table Of Contents" anymore.
Then, I decided to reconcile my two separate "Password Safe" databases, which have gotten out-of-sync because of changes and revisions done on my laptop that needed to be copied to the desktop, vice versa. I thought I copied the desktop's file to the laptop, but when I merged them, the output report told me that there were no addtions. That made no sense: I knew I had made changes to the Password Safe database on the desktop, and I dug in to find the missing file.
It turned out that it wasn't "missing" so much as "misplaced:" my new laptop, it turns out, has the "Documents" entry in the file explorer set to "OneDrive," which is a cloud-storage offer that Dell apparently felt everyone would automatically want, even if they didn't. I had to dig through the C: drive and find the "Users" entry, and then the login I use on that machine, and then the "Documents" directory (I wrote "folder," and got a bad taste in my mouth, so I changed it).
I suppose "One Drive" has its uses, such as in copying files from one machine to another, but it competes with the M$ offering that Windoze 10 users get by default, and with Google Drive too. That's too much confusion for me, so I use a thumb driive and sneakernet to copy files.
I wound up copying the "merged" file back to the desktop that I'm typing on now: it has a much bigger screen and a better keyboard. I've settled in to test every login and password that I use, loging out and then in again at Amazon, and Facepage, and a couple of other places that are lost in the fog of rain outside my window.
The weather forcast says we might get snow, but it's very vague about how much: I'm at about 2,500 feet of altitude here, and they draw a line on their chart for 3,500 feet, predicting that there will be something betreen a dusting and an inch at my lower level.
The nice lady from Verizon's Executive Action team called me, on my new phone, and we agreed that it's working now. I asked her to find out if the old LG phone could use a prepaid plan, and she said "yes" without a second's hesitation, but then told me that since it's a "Smart" phone, I would still need some sort of data plan because those phones get their updates over the net. I told her that I didn't need a data plan anymore, and asked her why the one that is on there now won't carry my ssh connections from the car to M.I.T. when I want to work on the Telecom Digest while my wife is shopping. She will check on that, and have the tech team get back to me in a few days. "No hurry," I said: "I can talk to my wife and my siblings, and get and send text messages, so they can take their time."
And then, back to the grindstone of Password Safe and all the many copies of the database file which have been piled up on hard drives for years. I'm going to nuke them after I'm done verifying the "new" one, and then add that file to my weekly "sneakernet" backup. And, I'm going to find out how to make the "Documents" entry point to my local hard drive and not to some cloud service I didn't ask for and don't use.
Bill Horne, November 30, 2020
1. Apologies to Bill "Costaliving" Costa.
|Such A Short Hill, Such A Long Climb|
Saturday, and plenty of turkey left over for sandwiches, plus I have time to attack my new cellphone, again.
I've been waiting on Verizon's Executive Action team to call me back, and although they are probably swamped at this time of year - folks trying out new cell-phone watches and so forth - I would like to get this new phone working.
I went to the "Activation" web page, and put in the order number I had gotten in the email that Verizon Wireless sent me, and changed the"ICCID" from the number of the old phone I had bought at Walmart, to the number on the new one I got from FedEx on Wednesday. I turned the phone off and back on, and it said it was setting up ...
And then, just like before, the new phone told me the same thing as the old one: I had to call an 800 number to "complete activation." I did that, and figured out that I could get to an actual rep if I chose the "billing" option, and from there they transferred me to the tech support.
The man I talked to told me that it looked OK, but he would check another screen, and then he came back and told me to "try it now." I rang my wife's phone, and she could answer the call, but I couldn't hear her nor she me. I asked the rep to call, and he agreed that the problem was the same: signalling OK, voice path absent.
I asked him to check if there might be some optional setting in their programming which would block a voice path, and told him that I used to work on SS7 before I retired, He told me he would check with Tier 2 support, and after a few minutes, asked me to try it again.
This time, it worked: I could call, receive calls, and even text, all with proper indications and audio. The message-entry screen gives a choice of having only numbers in a text message, only capital letters, or words with the first letter capitalized. "Whatever floats your boat," I thought, and then I asked him if my old LG VS930 4G phone could be switched to a prepaid plans, too. He told me that since it's already in service, he had to transfer me to the "postpaid" group.
The new rep at the postpaid group told me the VS930 isn't compatible with prepaid accounts, and that it was going to be phased out at the end of December anyway. I reminded him that it's not a "3G" phone, and that it would still be possible to connect it to a new account after December. He said I was wrong, in total-stranger-pretending-to-be-my-buddy language, and I gave up and said goodbye, not wanting to fight it out with the farm league team when the major league crew would, I assumed, be available on Monday.
There are some hills that look easy from the low side, but turn out to be exhausting to climb, no matter how experienced a climber you are. I went up Mount Washington, twice, once on the Jewell Trail, and once via Ammonoosuc Revine. It was a healthy climb, not too hard, and a great view at the top.
Even with a limp, a brace on my leg, and 46 years later, I'd rather go up Mount Washington again instead of doing battle with the "helpful" reps at Verizon Wireless' "Postpaid" team.
Bill Horne, November 28, 2020
|Waiting For Godot, Or Someone Like Him|
Last Monday, I got a call from Verizon's Executive Appeals section. Something like that, anyway: the people who keep important customers and politicians and, apparently, Editors of electronic magazines like The Telecom Digest happy and contented.
The nice lady at EA listened to my story, and we tried to get the "e-talk" phone that I had bought at Walmart going, without any luck, and she told me she would overnight a replacement to me, no charge, and that I had to keep the e-talk phone until the new one was activated, since returning the old phone would cause cancellation of any account that had used it.
I had some errands to run on Tuesday, and when I got home. there was a sticker on the back door, telling me that FedEx would try again tomorrow. I signed the sticker so that I wouldn't have to worry about missing them, and then on Wednesday the guy tapped on the glass while I was cleaning up the dishes from lunch, and gave me a new "Verizon" "pre paid" phone, this one labelled "Orbic Journey." It looked the same as the "e-talk" phone, but it had a headset jack, which the e-talk one did not.
I left a message at the number the nice lady at Executive Appeals had given me, and asked her to call. I spent the rest of Wednesday waiting for a call, but no luck.
Today, I tried to call her at 8 AM, but the answering machine said their hours started at nine, so I waited until then, and left another message, asking for help to get the new phone going. I finally gave up around noon, and left yet another message, explaining that the nice lady in EA could reach me on my wife's cell phone - the one I gave her after she lost hers - and we went to Asheville to trade in the tri-focals that I had picked up on Tuesday, since they weren't cut right and I couldn't use them for reading the books I keep in my bathroom.
The guy at the eyeglass store unlocked the door for me, and when I asked him if they were open, he said, "Yes, but for only one customer at a time." He then told me to observe social distancing after he held his hand within a foot of my head to take my temperature. I explained the problem, and he marked the glasses with a sharpie and put them in a tray to be shipped back and have the lenses recut.
"About twelve days," I think he said, but he promised that they would call. I went back home, and tried to reach the nice lady in Executive Appeals, with no luck, and I started getting the sneaky feeling that someone had checked my credit rating and decided I wasn't important enough.
Bill Horne, November 27, 2020
|I Was Supposed To Do Something ...|
Have you ever had the feeling that you've forgotten something important? It's been with me all day.
I know I should have a schedule, and I don't keep one. I've tried and tried, but none of them ever worked for me: everything from white boards with notes on them to slim leather-bound notebooks to programming my crontab on this server. I just don't seen to have the organizational gene.
I remember important things, mostly: like my ham radio club meetings, second and fourth Thursday of each month except December, and of course this year it's done via video conference. I'll be able to recall a doctor's appointment, or the dentist, or a trip to my car dealer to keep the old wreck moving.
Sometimes, though, I just blank out some things, and it's bothering the hell out of me.
My wife doesn't need any help in the kitchen: we had a turkey last week, and we've been eating leftovers for days now, so it's not anything to do with a holiday that we've ignored anyhow. It's - let's see - the 26th, right? Yep, my laptop agrees with me on that.
I can't have any meetings or other community stuff: it's Thanksgiving, after all, even if we're all supposed to stay at home and watch TV. There's something just at the edge of my mind, just a shadow on a dark wall, just out of reach and rememberance.
I'll think of it when I stop trying to remember it. In the meantime, I'll call my siblings before it gets too late.
Bill Horne, November 26, 2020
At 9:40, I asked my wife when she'd be ready to leave. I figured I'd do some work on the computer and then get dressed. She surprised me by answering "10 O'Clock," so I went and got my clothes on and shaved, and then we set out for Asheville.
I dropped her off at a mall where there's a store for women's wear, and then I went over to Vision Works and picked up my new glasses: trifocals with a bigger lens than I used to have, and a new frame. After that, I went back to the mall where she was shopping, and I turned on the "Mobile Hotspot" on my phone, hoping that I'd be able to get through to my server to write this blog entry, and then realizing that the "hotspot" would not allow port 22 traffic, and I decided to gather some articles for The Telecom Digest, and to send them via regular mail, so that I'd have them ready to send out when we got home.
We then went to eat, but the restaurant SWMBO wanted was closed - surprising for a Tuesday - but she spotted a Chipotle and we had some tourist-Mexican instead. After that, we went up to Weaverville, and she went into Wally World to buy groceries, and I went to Lowe's and tried to find a bulb for the flourescent lamp that's mounted over the kitchen sink. Lowe's didn't have one, but their employee told me to go to a "bulb and battery" store, across the street from Ingles, behind a fast-food place.
I had forgotten to bring the old bulb with me, but I needn't have worried: the only one that they had which looked close turned out to be an exact match when I got it home. That sense of relief was short lived: I had to unwire and dismount the entire fixture in order to get the bulb installed: it has the tighest, most user-unfriendly bulb clips I've ever seen, and I had to borrow the jar opener cloth to get-er-done. I finally had the retaining screws down tight, and the wires reattached, and the light came on just like new when I flicked the switch. It's surprisingly bright, which probably has something to do with the "contains mercury" warning on the bulb, but for now, the kitchen sink is properly lit and a lot easier to work at.
The Bulbs & Batteries store, it turns out, also has the kind of batteries that my various UPS units need, so I'll take them all down there tomorrow and spend a lot more money so that the power glitches we get up here in the hills won't crash our computers anymore. It's funny, how something I used to spend days looking for on the Internet can turn up in the next town over.
When we got home, there was a sticker on the door, telling me that FedEx needs a signature for the phone I'm expecting, so I just signed the sticker in case I miss them again. We'll get it tomorrow.
Bill Horne, November 24, 2020
|No Time To Think|
It's Sunday. I feel like I've sat around all day. I feel like I should be entitled to sit around all day, except that I don't feel that way.
I know that it's kind of infantile: I'm a grown man, and I shouldn't be agonizing about whether I can take a day off. I'm retired, and I can take as many days off as I want.
I handled The Telecom Digest, where I'm the Editor, and I went and gathered articles for tomorrow's edition too. That was from more-or-less Nine AM to more-or-less Noon, with occasional pauses to pay attention to the Sunday Morning and Face the Nation programs that I streamed on my Roku box, just so I'd have some sense of contact with the outside world.
The SSH connection I use to edit files on my server has been very erratic: dropping out, stalling, slow, and then cut off for no reason. I've been saving the work every line or two, just to keep from having to retype something or enter the "recover-this-file" command in emacs. I sometimes think I write this blog just to use emacs and demonstrate my command of extreme technical esoterica. I might have to start composing these entries with Notepad or Libre office's "Write" program. That would save me having to worry about every minor blip or pause in the echoback: I could just use scp to upload the file, and spend a couple of minutes to copy it to my blog.
I wonder if trying out a VPN (other than ssh) would help - if the local cableco I pay for my Internet feed has been issuing third party RST commands, the way Comcrap used to do when I turned on the MTA in my Linux box at home. They didn't like home-grown email MTA's, or anything else that they could charge extra for, but they would flatly deny doing it, and turn it off for a few days, and they start again. Some security researchers proved that they were doing it, and then Comcrap packed an FCC hearing that was held in Cambridge, by hiring homeless people to show up early. I'm a regular treasurehouse of trivia on that subject, but I'll stop now.
OK, where was I ... oh, yeah, taken time off and kicking back even though I'm a tight-assed New England Puritan who wants to account for every millisecond of his time. I need some self-analysis, or some dope, or a trip to the headshrinker at the VA.
I can't seem to relax and be comfortable in my own skin, unless I'm accomplishing something that satisfies some long-dead Puritan.
Bill Horne, November 22, 2020
|Where'S John Wayne When I Need Him?|
Where, I wonder, is John Wayne when I need him?
I'm sitting in an easy chair, a couple of minutes before Midnight, and watchine The Sons of Katie Elder. It's an old western, with John Wayne and Dean Martin and various other actors. Simple problems, simple solutions, straightforward moral lessons and a clear path - always - from problem to solution. The good guys wore the white hats, and carried their metal penises on thair hips to make sure everyone knew that they were the kind of men who would kill to get their way.
"Their way," of course, was the story of the west, and how gunpowder and metal and avarice changed the face of a continent.
No matter: I still like the old movies, with the smaltzy music to tell you what was about to happen and the women who stood up for what was "right," even if it meant people had to take the bad news along with the homespun wisdom and politically correct homilies.
Monodimensional? Of course it was. Slipped punches? Of course they were. Bad grammar? It was required and expected. Corn beyond all logic or art?
Of course. That's what won the west: simple rules and simpler conflict resolution. And, to think of it: Hollywood fortunes were made on the profits from those morality plays.
There is a quote at the start of The Godtaher: "Behind every great fortune, there is a crime." The crime that Hollywood committed was a sin of ommision: despite having the capacity and the ability to tell the real history of this land, the moviemakers chose to sugar-coat the butchery and the double-dealing treaty negotiators, and the ways that the newspapers tried to make heroes out of the dregs of a society that took and took and took and then wrote the books and the movies that made us beliee it was all heroes and villains and clear-cut choices between good and evil.
Bill Horne, November 21, 2020
|Where does the time go?|
THe first thing I should say is that I tried to make this a productive day. I really did.
I got up at 9:10 AM, which is early for me, even though I'd asked my wife to wake me at 9:30: I wanted to attend an online meeting for something called "Auxcomm," which is the modern version of the Civil-Defence that Amateur Radio operatators have helped with since Ham radio started up in the last century.
I've been meaning to attend this online meeting for months, but always got pulled away by something else: a doctor visit, the dentist, oversleeping, forgetting to set the alarm, etc., etc.
This time, I was ready, and on time, and I had my computer ready to go and turned on and set up and in perfect shape. I dialed into the conference call, and heard ...
The conference *was* in progress: I couldn't have joined it otherwise. After about a half a minute, I heard someone say "Radio check," so I knew that someone was on there. I spoke up, and so did several others, saying that there was a message on the website telling them that there were "technical difficulties" and to hang on. I did that, along with others, including the guy who was going to present the lecture, who also couldn't get the website.
Another five or ten minutes, and the guy who was running the meeting came on, and told us that they had fixed it, and we could all go to the website now, and listen there, and talk there, but we couldn't do both the phone conference and the video one, since they would interfere with each other. That was a change: the conference bridge had been the only way to listen to the lecture in the past, but now I guessed it was just like every other video conference.
I brought up the video conference app, entered by name and so forth, and found myself looking at a tiny, tiny screen jammed with three separate columns of data, with two of them too small to make out.
I signed off, closed the cover on this laptop, and switched to the 23" screen desktop PC that I usually use for such things. This time, it was actually readable. The MC started things up, introduced the lecturer, and then we found out that although we could hear him, he couldn't talk to us unless he used his phone, since the PC he was using didn't have a microphone on it, so we were hearing endless repeats of every word as his PC speakers bled into his phone's handset, and through the conference bridge, and around and around. He figured it out after a minute or two, and turned down his PC speakers so that he wasn't driving us crazy, and then gave an excellent presentation on a subject I can't reveal.
After that, at the end, he explained that he'd have to mute his phone while he turned up his PC speakers to hear our questions. Nobody asked any. After a couple of calls from the MC, we were told that the conference was over, and that some people could stay on if they did a job that I don't, so I signed off, and it was a little bit past noon.
The next thing I remember is looking at the clock and realizing that it was 4 PM: I hadn't been sleeping, but I couldn't remember what I had spent the last four hours doing. It was as if there was a time warp which moved me past the afternoon and into the evening without a blink.
My wife, who had been out doing volunteer work like she does every Friday, came home and I told her that I had eaten the leftover Chinese food for lunch, so that accounted for at least a half-hour, but that was all I could remember.
I'm sure I was doing something. What, I can't recall. Go figure.
Bill Horne, November 20, 2020
|It was supposed to be a nice, easy, productive day|
I had told the Resident Host at my meeting that I'd meet her around noon, to install the router I bought off of Epay and thus spare the meeting the $10 per month that Frontier charges for their rental router.
I grabbed my stuff and went out the door and realized that the rear gate was open on our Subaru. Having the gate open means the inside light was on. Having the light on means the battery was dead.
We had gotten AAA to send a guy to give us a jump only last week, and if you do that too often, they charge you for it. Never mind that I pay AAA a small fortune every year for having tow/start service available: that's a conversation for another time.
I got the extension cord and the battery charger out of the shed and told my wife to mind the ampmeter and unhook it while I went to fix the meeting's new router. She wanted to come with. We went, in my 2002 Honda, with the power steering broken and me in a foul mood.
The new router worked as soon as I plugged it in, and I did a speed test and found out that the ADSL line had 2.7 Mbps download and 0.2 Mbps upload. In other words, not great, but better than nothing, and it was working on the first try.
I asked the Resident Host what she wanted to set the SSID to, and she told me, and I did it. I was not, however, able to set a WiFi password, and then my laptop started telling me that my WiFi was off and that I should turn it back on and use the Windoze troubleshooter to fix and problems.
If you've ever worked on computer a problem, especially a PC problem and/or network problem, you will understand what I mean when I say that I should have just stopped after the speed test and riden off into the sunset. I didn't do that.
The router kept denying me access to the Internet, and no matter what I tried I could not get it to work.
I put the Frontier router back in the circuit, promised to find out what was wrong, and we left.
Then, I started making the desperate pleas for help that any techie will recognize: I finally wound up with a very sharp kid at the Frontier Executive Appeals department, a youngster named "Sippy," who agreed to call me at the meeting house the next morning.
I went there the next day, and Sippy told me what User ID and password to set into the ADSL modem section of my router, and we tried to get it going, without success, for 1½ hours.
As nearly as Sippy could figure, the problem boiled down to the fact that Frontier's router was set to "multi home" mode, because the meeting was paying for a much faster line than the one I had got from Epay was equipped to handle. I told her that I was calling a halt, and tried to get her boss to tell me where to send a dozen lobsters so she would know how much I appreciated working with a pro. He told me that they couldn't accept them, and thanked me for the thought.
The Frontier router's speed test showed 14.7 Mbps download, and 2.7 Mbps upload, so it was very definitely in a different class than the one I had. I wrote to the Resident Host that the meeting should either continue paying the $10/month rent on Frontier's router, or purchase a new replacement.
I used to know a lot about this kind of thing. I can't remember how many times I've installed ADSL modems for customers when I had a business going, or how many times I'd installed routers, but now the modems are built-in to the router, and they can be double-homed, and I'm as lost as lamb in a forest. I am, at last, forced to admit that I'm getting old.
Bill Horne, November 19, 2020
|I'm writing a story about phones|
I'm the Editor/Moderator for The Telecom Digest, which is, so far as I know, the oldest electronic magazine on the Internet.
I decided to do a story about Verizon's entry into the prepaid phone market, which they're trying out since they've bought Carlos Slim's Tracfone. I wanted to find out what the average consumer goes though when they buy one.
I went to Walmart with my wife, who was shopping for groceries, and I strolled over to the phone section. Sure enough, there was a section of phones marked "e-talk" and "Verizon," with price tags of $19.98 on them. I bought one of them, and also a $30 Verizon talk-time card.
The salesman told me that I could return it within 14 days, if the packing material and parts and the instructions were all with it. I made it a point to check the date on the receipt, just in case.
There are two ways to "activate" one of these phones: by calling an 800 number, or by going to a website. I didn't want the cookies on my browser, or my phone number, being used to try to upsell me, so I used my Callcentric VoIP phone, and dialed the 800 number.
The automated system, which included the most cloying oh-so-happy female-sounding voice I could imagine, told me that I had to choose a plan and that there was a $35 "activation fee." I was given a choice of four or five plans, all with fixed monthly payments, but no option to just pay by the minute like I used to do with Tracphone.
I tried three or four times, but there was just not even a hint of per-minute pricing. I finally gave up, and decided to try to website - except that I booted into Linux first, and told Firefox to kill all its cookies, and then I went to the Verizon "Activation" site.
I guess I'm much more adept at using a written interface instead of a recorded one: it was apparent, right away, that there were no per-minute plans for Verizon's pre-paid phones. That was OK by me: Tracfone used to make me buy another $20 worth of minutes every other month or so, even if I hadn't used the old ones up, and I knew right away that I'd be more comfortable with a fixed-price "Unlimited talk and text" offering.
I picked the $35/month plan, which is really $30/month, because they take off $5 if you pay with a credit card and let them debit it automagically every month. The page said the $35 activation fee would be waved as well, so I entered the "iccid" number from the side of the box, and it said it was activating the phone, and then the screen on the phone told me that there was problem, and told me to call the same 800 number I had called before.
It took me the rest of the day to get through to a human: a salesperson who told me to remove the SIM card from the phone, and put it back and turn the phone back on. The SIM card is tiny: only about ½ inch hign by maybe ⅜ of an inch wide. It took about ten minutes to open the gate that holds the SIM card in place open, and then the SIM card was a pita to fit back on the board where it had been.
I finally got it back in, and then the phone came to life, and I was able to send a text message to my wife's phone. That seemed like the end of the trials, so I thought I'd try to have a real phone call with one of my sisters. I tried to dial the number, but the phone now showed an "x" in the upper-left of the screen, inside a picture of a SIM card. The saleslady told me to re-seat the SIM. I did it, and then it went out again. Something had broken, and I called a halt and decided to return the phone.
I looked up the phone number for Verizon's media contact who handles North Carolina, and I left her a message asking her to comment on the difficulties I was having. I got an email, saying that she would refer my problem to the Executive Assistence department.
I sent her a reply, and explained that while I appreciated the gesture, that I really am the Editor of the Telecom Digest, and that I really did want her to comment for the record. She replied that she needed the full story and that it wouldn't be until Monday anyway.
So much for writing a story.
Bill Horne, November 18, 2020
|Sometimes, I give out advice|
I got a copy of an email that a Friend sent to another Friend, and he told her to seek advice from me concerning a subject I happen to know a lot about.
I prepared a reply which would have been funny in the AI lab at M.I.T. back in 1973, but was, on closer examination, not appropriate for more current sensibilities. I would have sent it anyway, but SWMBO told me lunch was ready, and I left the email compose page open, and the lights blinked.
So, I started again, with just a polite query about what she was setting up and how she'd want it to work and offering help if I could. It was a nice, polished, humble, and straight-to-the-point question and offer: sometimes, all that time behind a desk at MotherBell comes back to me like the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist.
They say that asking an engineer a question is like taking a drink at a fire hydrant.
Bill Horne, November 10, 2020
It's election day. My wife has lost her resolve and has turned on the TV. I have retreated to the study to write this blog entry and fondly recall the days of my youth when you didn't know who won until the newspaper arrived the next morning.
I used to work in the broadcast industry, and I've been a critic of mass media most of my life. It wasn't enough to just tell the news and shut up: at some point, some idiot decided that it was better to scare and tit-tit-titillate the viewers into tuning in for the film-at-eleven and the constrant, aggravating, never-ending teasing for the next "bulletin" and "this just in" happy talk.
It's not that I feel low about how far my country has sunk, or how quickly. It's that those I trusted to inform me of the truth - men like Edward R. Murrow, or Walter Cronkite, Jim Lehrer, or the Silver Star holder and pilot Hughes Rudd, and all the other WW2 soldiers and newsmen who had faced death and injury and survived to tell that truth are now gone, and their memories and influence have been soiled and buried with their bones, replaced by zen-like vaguely humanoid robots that could double as manequins.
The words of Newton Minow come to my mind at times like this: his famous speech from 1961 rings as true today as it did then.
But, as prescient as Minow was, the most damming condemnation of television was delived by Robert M. Hutchins:
We have triumphantly invented, perfected, and distributed to the humblest cottage throughout the land one of the greatest technical marvels in history, television, and have used it for what? To bring Coney Island into every home. It is as though movable type had been devoted exclusively since Gutenberg's time to the publication of comic books.
Bill Horne, Election Day, 2020
I tried to call my sister, who lives in Portland, OR, when I saw she had just posted something on facepage. Facepage has a video chat capability, but it's often more trouble than it's worth, and that was the story tonight, since she could hear and see me, but I couldn't hear or see her.
She gave up and called me, and we traded the usual family news, and while we were talking I sent her an invitation to a Zoom meeting. We were able to get a video chat going, which was an improvement, but then it started to 'picket fence' and a couple of times I lost the screen entirely, but after some buffering it would come back. I'm not sure why, and my incipient paranoia is in bloom at times like those: I can't help but wonder if I'll see third-party RST commands on a Wireshark display.
Comcrap used to do that in Boston, back when having your own server was still novel and remarkable: members of the Boston Linux and Unix Group would set up Linux servers to give them an inexhausable supply of "throw-away" email addresses, which was convenient for avoiding the barrage of advertising that the S.O.B.'s at online stores would send following any trivial purchase. Comcrap didn't like that, and I doubt they liked the idea of emails passing through "their" wires without them getting to pry into every bit of gossip or keyword that could be sold to extract ever-increasing profits from "their" users.
Well, anyway, she's been working at Amazon, and has just passed the minimum retirement age for Social Security, so I suppose she'll pull the plug and join the over-the-hill gang in the next year or two. There were two more total screen freezes while she was explaining that to me, so we agreed to say goodnight and I turned it off.
There's always something, you know? Even at 1:30 AM, there are problems with the Internet. That's 10:30 PM her time, but I would've thought that all the teenagers had crashed and burned by then, and all the gamers would be signing off so that they could get to work on time tomorrow. That shows what I know about the current state of the Internet. Time to turn into a pumpkin.
Bill Horne Early in the morning of November 3, 2020
My wife told me that she wanted to go up in the attic and look at the chimney. I told her that it's really dangerous to walk on rafters, and that any misstep would have her descenting to the room below at high speed.
She still wanted to go.
I told her that she would need wooden steps to walk on, and that she'd have to move them ahead of and behind her to get in and out. I told her that, all things considered, it would be better to just put them in permanently.
I told her I was going to Loew's to buy a Skillsaw, and she asked me if I could buy the wood there and have them cut it for me. Don't you hate it when your wife thinks of things that you should have?
I bought a 4x8 piece of C/C ¾ plywood, and they cut it in half lengwise, and then into one-foot-wide strips, so I have about sixteen steps that I can nail across the rafters, which are spaced two feet apart. Since they were on sale for $38.98, I also bought a genuine Skillsaw, and a couple of blades. The woman at Loew's told me it doesn't come with a blade, so I figured one to start with and one for a spare, and a box of common nails. I drilled four holes in each one when I got home, and hammered in the 2½ inch nails, aimed at an angle to catch the rafters better. "These are called "Pokey boards," I told my wife: "If you don't handle them carefully, they'll poke you!"
I went up into the attic, and nailed in the first board, just to show her how it should be done, and then my ankle would't do what it used to, and I had to hold myself in the hole with my arms, and do some fast footwork so I didn't fall. "My climbing days are over," that's what I had told her, but I didn't want to just sit and listen to her try to make up for my bad leg and my aged hands. However, during all the shopping and drilling and hammering, I had lost the light, and I finally called a halt, with every tendon in my body complaining.
We'll go at it tomorrow: she's going to have to hammer in the pokey boards, and thus assemble a path to the chimney, unless I decide to act like I'm 18 again, and crawl around on my very old knees to get the boards in place so that she can inspect the chimney for the defects she suspects are up there.
Thank Ghod for extra-strength Tylenol.
Bill Horne November 1, 2020
I woke up this morning, with dawn's light shining in the window, and I congratulated myself on having gotten to bed at a reasonable hour. I told myself that I could make coffee and that I still had an almost-full box of my favorite breakfast cereal, and that I needed to start the day.
I threw off the covers, cursing the cold like always, and glanced at the clock on my way to the bathroom.
It was almost 9 AM.
I had my phone plugged in to charge, but it was off, since it had been almost dead when I looked at it last night, and I wanted to be sure it would charge quickly, so I had turned it off.
After the first cup, I realized that turning the phone off hadn't been necessary: I was going to sleep, so I didn't need to care how long it would take to charge. I could have set the alarm and left it plugged in: one hour or five, it would have been 100% by the time the alarm went off.
"Never make decisions when you're tired:" that's what I keep telling myself..
Bill Horne October 31, 2020
Sometimes, for reasons I'm not sure of, I sleep almost all day long.
It's not like I intend it: I have things I want to do, like the Amateur radio nets that I'd like to check in to, or the never-ending desk cleanup I promise myself I'll do soon, or the eternal search for a contractor to do this or that.
But I often find myself nodding off instead. It's not lack of desire: I'm good to go once I get started, but it's the in-between times that get to me. I'll be sitting in my easy chair after breakfast, working on The Telecom Digest, and I'll wake up and realize that an hour or two has gone by.
I don't overeat: one cup of cereal and OJ for breakfast, along with coffee if my stomach hasn't been bothering me, and then I'm ready to face the day. Except I'm not, somehow, facing it. My get up and go, in the words of Pete Seeger, has "got up and went!"
I cold attribute it to age - 68 and counting right now - but that seems like a faint excuse. I have energy for whatever interests me, to be sure, and I'm not usually shy about starting a project that (pun intended) gets my blood flowing.
It's Eight at night, and aside from remembering to set the clocks back tomorrow I've got no plans for the weekend. I spent the day talking with the VA about maybe possible if-I-fill-out-section-IV getting some hearing aids so that my conversation aren't guite as full of "Say again?" or "How's that?" Not that I expected to do it without any paperwork, but I just kept at it all day, complete with a trip to a local graphics shop to send a fax at $1.00/page.
I've been doing the odd jobs that make up the "typical" retiree's day - cleaning gutters and moving ladders and trying to figure out how to get a leaf blower going before we lose the good weather - and I don't feel expecially tired afterwards. It's just the spaces in between that are knocking me out.
Bill Horne October 30, 2020
When I started working on telephones, back in 1972, I was assigned to the "swing" shift, from 4 PM to Midnight.
I discovered that I was more comfortable with the evening quiet and slower pace of nighttime employment, doing maintenance chores and attending to complicated private-line installations. However, in 1974 I was laid-off, and had to go back to working in the daytime, as a radio broadcast engineer at AM and FM stations around the Boston area.
Radio has a lot of nighttime work: there are tests and adjustments that can only be performed after Midnight, during what the FCC calls the "Experimental Period," between Midnight and the time of "Local sunrise." I never minded it: it was something I'd been used to before, and I usually worked evening shifts when I was at stations that were big enough to need them.
The phone company offered me a job again in 1979, and I came back to (mostly) day shifts: first, as a tech, then, as a Systems Analyst, and finally, as an Engineer in the SS7 group at NYNEX. It was OK: I had a son by then, and the usual juggling of job and wife and homelife, so the night was just for cooling off and helping with homework. I retired in 2002.
The time since has been mostly other day jobs - everything from computer maintenance to fixing phones in prisons, and all of them on the 9-to-5 treadmill of corporate America. When I turned 66, I old the Social Security guy that I wanted the full benefit right away, thank you, and then I settled in to enjoying a quiet life in a quiet town in North Carolina.
Now, because of the Corona virus, I'm stuck at home almost all the time, without any outside activities to break up the day. Somehow, I have switched back to the nighttime routine of my youth: I wake up around 10 or 11 AM, and then go until about 2 AM. It's bothering me somehow.
It's not as if I am breaking any rule, and I tell myself that I should be free to choose my own schedule and habits, but it's still bothering me - as if I have some old schoolmarm's admonition about being early to bed and to rise ringing in my ears. Still, I want to wake up with the day and go until it's dark, like I used to, but everytime I try to rise at 7 AM, I wind up getting to bed after Midnight again, and then sliding back to the late-morning wakeup.
Of course, the Internet is faster at night, and it's still quiet, although it's also quiet during the day in my new cul-de-sac of dreams, and I'm left puzzled at my uptight notions and Puritan leanings. I'm retired, after all, and I gave up trying to save the world a long time ago.
Bill Horne October 25, 2020
I had to create a directory today, to allow another user to use the website for another domain. That's usually a pretty mundane thing, and anyone who's used Unix or Linux will know how to do it.
However, I also wanted to use the "setgid" bit, so that files created in the directory will be set to the "users" group automagically, when they're created or moved there. I also decided to use the "sticky" bit, which means that only the owner of a file will be allowed to change it.
I found out how to set the gid and sticky bits - it's surprisingly easy - and I put them in. Then, I decided that the sticky bit might not be appropriate: what if the other user wanted help and asked me to change something? Of course, that also means that I'd be able to make mistakes with someone else's files, so, on third thought, I left it in place.
We'll see how it works out: I thought I'd add the other user to the sudoers file, but I decided to use the setguid bit instead, and that will save a lot of effort. I don't know why I'm so tickled by this: it was a few minutes of study and a few seoncds of chmod use, but it's something I've always been curious about, and now I know how to use it.
Bill Horne October 23, 2020
I was awake until Three AM yesterday morning. I don't know why: it seems like a regular thing all of a sudden. I'm waking up at Eleven AM, or Noon, or even 4 PM, as was the case today.
I slept through a meeting I had promised I would attend. I don't like to let people down like that.
Maybe it's the Internet: things have gotten very slow during some parts of the business day, and it make videos hard to watch, and songs harder to hear; both types of media stalling and buffering and why, I wonder, didn't their designers part with a few more pennies and use extra ram?
I don't think so, though: most of the stuff on my Roku box runs fine during the evening, although CBSN has adopted a more complicated hard-to-switch program setup, with "news" and "shows" in separate screens, and an almost-impossible switch between them any time we want to watch a program after it's original time.
It's like my body is afraid of daylight, or maybe that I'm so worried about catching Covid-19 that I'm just burrowing deeper under the covers at the first sign of light outside. I've always been a night-owl, and I worked the 5-to-midnight "swing" shift for years when I was first employed by New England Telephone & Telegraph Company, back in 1973. It always suited me, although it made dating problematic, but I liked being able to take any appointment they had if I wanted to see a doctor or a dentist or whatever.
Stll, it's bothering me. I'm not usually an alarm-clock user, but I'm tempted to turn it on again, to get back to the classic first-light-to-last schedule of the typical retired man. I'm thinking about the stuff I miss in the morning: the 8:30 AM Old Buzzards net on the 80-meter ham band, and the lack of access to government or commercial offices if I have to call late in the afternoon.
Still, it's nice to able to say "I'm retired," but it's time to remember that I'm not yet dead.
Bill Horne October 13, 2020
I went yard sailing this morning, following ads in the facepage group that sells things in my county.
There was one place that said they had a CB set. When I got there, I found a transceiver that had a lot of chrome but not "SSB" capability. there were some gewgaws I might have been impressed by when I was sixteen: it would receive "Weather" channels, and contained an SWR bridge, and came with a car-type antenna. It was marked for $50, and the woman who was taking money made a phone call and asked if she could take the $20 I offered. They said "no."
On the way home, I decided to take a back route, and enjoy the scenery on the way home. We're just getting a little bit of yellow in some trees and bushes, but if you catch one of the hollows at the right time, you'll see something that's almost as good as Vermont.
I pulled off the road, which ran alongside a valley, but higher up than most of the trees. I took out my digital camera, and shot multiple frames of the yellow fields and the occasional Irish-Setter-red accents. It felt good.
I got home, and found the SIM card was still blank. I dug up the User Manual from the box on my closet shelf, and started reading: I hadn't been holding the shutter button down for long enough to capture the image.
I'll be on that road again sometime next week, and I'm hoping the colors improve while I wait. Still, I wish I had practiced before I left, and done some test shots. When all else fails, read the directions.
Bill Horne October 9, 2020
I puled the twelve foot ladder out of the shed, and locked the door behind me, and carried it up to the back of the house. I set it up, and climbed up to the gutter on the back, ready to slog away from an hour, cleaning the gutter in preparation for the "Sally" storm, or whatever is left of it when it gets here.
I looked in the gutter, and then sideways down its length. It was clean. It was as if I had just finished, and not just started: shinging metal, for maybe fifty feet of run, with only a single sodden leaf to remove.
Don't ask me why: I haven't been up there for a couple of months at least. I wouldn't know even if I was in the business. "Never question the gifts of the Gods!" That's my favorite saying in these situations. The weather forcast is down to less than 39 MPH winds, with some rain, but not nearly as much as Georgia and South Carolina will get. The impudent cold-front that is curving Sally's track has done me a favor.
Never question the gifts of the gods. That's what I always say.
Bill Horne, September 15, 2020
|Sometimes, all you can do is laugh|
|It's too late, baby|
My wife brought up the subject of home repairs today. She wants to know why the this or that hasn't been fixed and who I've called and when it will all be done.
I didn't know what to tell her: all of the paving companies and the landscaping companies and the other repair contractors are busy working twelve hour days and earning the money that will carry them through the winter. That's just the way things work in the trades: you do the work that brings in the cash NOW, not the estimates and selling and credit checks that might bring in money next year. That stuff is "wet weather" work, and it isn't until the winter comes that you have time for it.
She wants it done now. I understand. I'm not against improvements, but every time I turn around I'm hearing about "Assisted living" or some other maybe some day future that would make upkeep on this home moot.
She wants it done now. She doesn't know exactly what she wants, but she wants me to do *something*. Right now, I'm doing the most effective thing I know how to do, which is writing this blog to get some relief from all this frustration.
Bill Horne, September 5, 2020
|I keep feeling like I'm missing something|
It's the funnyist thing, but it's a little scary too. After I get something done on this computer, I always have the feeling that there's another task to perform, but I can't think of what it is. I publish the web version of The Telecom Digest when I start working in the morning, and then I go through my emails, and after that I might write in this blog or read a book or decide if I'll look at Facepage or some other forum.
I just can't escape the feeling that there's more to do. I don't know why: I'm retired, and I have few demands on my time, so you'd think that I could just kick back and wait for inspiration or a new errand for my wife, or something else. I don't know why, but I'm feeling like I'm wasting time and must start up some project to keep myself busy.
It's weird. It's probably just male menopause or some other problem of aging. It might just be that I was going non-stop for so long that I can't enjoy peace or quiet. Every so often, I'll remeber something I intended to do and I'll start on that right away, but most of the time I feel like I have to do some big and important thing and I don't know what it is.
OK, when all else fails, make a list:
The gas bill is on a budget plan, so I pay the same amount every month, from my checking account. Ditto, the Cable company. I always pay the electric bill well in advance, and I have one that I'll send out tomorrow. My wife buys the groceries, and I handle car maintenance, so all I have to worry about is getting her car back to the dealer in time for the periodic checkups demanded by our warranty.
It's getting late, and I'm not going to figure this out while I'm tired, but there must be a solution out there.
Bill Horne, August 31, 2020
|I was once young and strong myself|
The guys from the gas vendor showed up a couple of days ago. They took the pipes off the old tanks and put in a new 320-gallon replacement, out next to my carport, where we put the good car when there's hail in the forecast.
THey dug a trench from the new tank over to the wall of the house, using trenching spades: it took them a couple of hours, and they went about 70 feet.
The trench, which was about six inches deep, they filled with a plastic-covered copper pipe. There were unions between one secion of the pipe and another - regular, ordinary flare joints like I did when I was a kid, except the flaring tool was about a tenth the size of the one I used back then.
They had a manifold made from mild steel pipe - what plumbers call "black iron" - and I offered to let them use my can of Rec-To-Seal if they were low. One of them looked at the can I handed him, and then pulled out a bigger can and said "We use this kind." They had dry fit the manifold, which some plumbers do, but then they took it apart and put the pipe dope on the threads and tightened them up with a real monkey wrench.
One of the crew took the pipe end from the tank, and he flared it and mated it to another pipe that goes to my heater in the basement. One of the other workers told him that the pipe he had connected was the one from the tank, and he realized that he had to move it so that it was connected to the regulator on the manifold. He did that, and ran another piece of pipe from the manifold over to the line that feeds my heater.
And then, it was done, and it was starting to rain, and they helped me to light the pilot lights again, and admired our ancient kitchen stove, and asked me to run the heater and the broiler and the over and the burners all at once, along with the generator, which runs on propane. Their tests showed everything working normally, and they put the old tanks on their truck and left me with my memories.
Bill Horne, August 9, 2020
|Propane Tanks and Pipe Sizes|
Yeah, I know: nobody cares about propane tanks or pipe sizes. But plumbers do, and my dad was a plumber, and my son is a plumber, and we have two propane tanks out in back of our home.
We also have a bowed cellar wall, right next to where those two propane tanks are sitting. The engineer I hired to tell us why the wall is bowed told us to get those two tanks moved, and to that end, the guy from my propane supplier showed up today.
I had originally told the company I use that I wanted the tanks moved down next to my side door, but the guy told me he'd have to run a pipe on the outside of the foundation, and I didn't want to do that, so I asked him if we could put them in the side yard, next to my antenna tower. I was worried that the hose on their trucks wouldn't reach that far, but he told me that they use one-hunred-and-twenty-feet-long hoses, but I'd have to pay extra for pipe runs over a certain number of feet.
We talked about rebate programs for gas-fired boilers, and I asked him to run one-inch pipe, so that I wouldn't need to upgrade if I decide to install one. The funny thing was that when they say "Tankless" these days, I still cringe, but modern boilers use a heat-enchanger to heat hot water, not the "stack" heaters of my youth which are now unwelcome due to their very poor efficiency.
I have an electric water-heater, but it has a heat pump on it, so it's not in the same class as a regular electric heater, but I don't yet know if the efficiency numbers will work to my advantage should I buy a new "Tankless" hot-water heater along with the new boiler I'm thinking of buying.
The old boiler, by the way, runs on oil, instead of gas, and I save a lot by buying three or four-hundred gallons of fuel oil in the summertime, which goes in the underground tank that is just underneath the place where the propane tanks are sitting on top of the soil, and I'll probably need to pay to have that underground tank removed too.
I've got some serious number crunching to do. My wife says there's no point, and that we'll be moving out too soon to pay for a new boiler - but every real estate agent says it's a no-brainer to have a move-in-ready home with no major projects required in the future. A "no-brainer" for a salesman, perhaps, but not for a retired engineer. I'll still crunch the numbers.
Oh, and the pipe size turned out to be a non-issue: the pipe from the soon-to-be-newly-installed propane tank is only a half-inch in size, since the one-inch size is only used for "low pressure" sections of pipe, which go in between the regulator and the boiler. So, nothing to worry about.
Bill Horne, July 21, 2020
My income tax is "done." I should say "done for this year!" I wrote out checks for enormous amounts of money, wondering what it is that keeps me from sending everything I earn to Switzerland or the Jersey Islands or Panama, like all the rich folks do already.
Now, the real chore begins: making sure I don't have to go on an archaeological dig to get the paperwork for the IRS next year. I don't know why I have to: I have a folder for taxes, and I put tax documents into it when they arrive, and the year after, they've all magically moved to different places, born away by tommyknockers or leprechauns or maybe carpenter ants.
No matter how it happens, I'm determined to stop it. There's going to be a sign-out sheet that goes in place of any file folder I remove, telling me when I took it out and where it went. Either that, or a contract with Iron Mountain to take every piece of mail I get and store it until January 2 of next year. Or maybe a photographic record: everything scanned and stored electronically.
Or, maybe, I could just find a way to make sure everything that's supposed to be in the tax folder is put there as soon as it arrives. That, I think, would be the best solution.
Bill Horne, July 16, 2020
|there has got to be an easier way|
Ug. Taxes. Again.
I was digging out old finance records for my accountant, and trying to stay sanguine about the obligations I have toward the Internal Revenue Service, including the one to report the "stimulus" check I received, which came with an idiotic and offensive "I'm great" letter signed by 45. His handlers must have him rigged up with a brain implant these days: he's limited his stupid statements to only one or two a day, and I suspect those are just due to the implant battery going dead from all the work it has to do.
I have to declare that "stimulus" check as income. That burns my butt! Not only did 45 cause the pandemic, but now his remote control operators have him collecting taxes on the money he claims to have given me as help for a problem he created.
I think I could do a better job as President than the current guy could do at being a dog-catcher. I swear, I'm ready: I should start a write-in campaign and see how many votes I get. It is probably impossible to sink this nation lower than he has gotten us already.
Or, here's a thought: Let's write-in Jimmy Carter's name! He's obviously qualified, meets the Constitutional restriction about serving more than one term, and would be better than the last four republicans put together. I want to win the lottery: I'd buy newspaper ads all over America, and ask people to give President Carter another shot.
There has got to be an easier way to choose a leader. There's just got to be!
Bill Horne, July 10, 2020
|Sunday morning and tired jokes and newly awakened feelings|
I was able to sleep late: there have been a lot of online meetings for my Quaker meeting, and I usually attend one of those and then take a nap that leads into the afternoon. Not today: nothing that needs me to be up and about and caffeinated at 9 AM.
I feel weird about worshipping in front of a computer screen. I know it's the only way to avoid us getting each other's germs, but I spend so much time in front of one doing ordinary things that trying to look into the light doesn't work very well for me. I suppose someday, Elon Musk or someone like him will create a holographic display that allows us to immerse ourselves in the quiet and contemplation of our meeting house, without trying to remember to mute our microphones or center our cameras, or do all the trival technical things I used to do to make a living, and now want to be free of.
I cooked pancakes, using an instant just-add-water box of pancake mix, and was surprised that they came out pretty well. Of course, I insist on real maple syrup: having spent my childhood with the stuff that comes in a Vermont Maid bottle or, sometimes, only with Karo Corn Syrup, on Sundays when the money was extra tight. We always had a more-or-less special breakfast on Sundays, so now that I'm able to afford the good stuff, I always keep it onhand.
I thought I'd get a little work done, sifting through paperwork, but suddenly my head was on my chest and I was back in bed and now it's past 2 in the afternoon and I'm trying to be active and alert while avoiding the caffeine which would, taken at this time of day, keep me up until 1 or 2 AM.
Bill Horne, July 5, 2020
|the bombs bursting in air|
I was toying with the idea of going to see the fireworks this evening, but finally decided to stay socially distant and have another night at home
But, my neighbors have different ideas. They are setting off rockets and firecrackers and Ghod know what else, just far enough apart that they take me by surprise.
I'm tempted to go over there and complain about being a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, but I don't feel like it. I don't even feel like I'm back in 'nam, or in danger: it's just that I can't pay attention to anything else while this is happening, and I tell myself I'm well-adjusted and used to being a civilian and that I shouldn't be shopping for sympathy, and then I catch myself remembering the lead distance for a shot at the number of yards between my porch and their field, and I shake my head and make a noise and go back inside.
The memories are still there, along with the desire to not have them, and the frustration of not being able to ignore them. I tell myself it's only once a year, and they're kids who have their lives ahead of them and they don't need a lecture from an old soldier. I still want to ask them to stop, even though I know they will.
Bill Horne, July 4, 2020
|the year is flying by|
All of a sudden, it's July. I don't know how that happened: as with most of the changes associated with age, it has caught me by surprise that time goes by so quickly when there's a lot to do and good weather and it just seems to be a microsecond on some cosmic clock, and another day - or month - is gone.
There's a line in one of Jackson Browne's songs that I like to quiote:
"I've been aware of the time
Too fast, and too much info, and too little perspective. I had thought I'd be wise someday, after having lived to this overripe old age, and now I just seem to be as puzzled as always. I know a lot of things about a lot of things, but not nearly enough about the people who create and sell and run them, let alone those who lead them - and me - as well as the rest of the Great American Dream Machine that Sander Vanocur did that TV show about, so long back that I don't remember the decade, never mind the year.
I've been spending today trying to find a Deus ex machina to solve my problem with living on a hill, which is that the lawn can't be mowed, but only cut with string trimmers, tools that are weilded by incredibly expensive men who never quite do it the way I would. I'm hoping that there is a lawn tractor that can safely navigate a 45-degree grade, but I haven't seen any online ads that brag about having any capability whatever in that area. I suppose, if my leg heals, I'll be able to get exercise going back and forth with my own string trimmer. I did some of it last week, going from right to left so that I wouldn't stress the ankle, and then sort of shuffling back to the right side with my toes pointed more-or-less downhill.
I get philosophical when I can't find the right machine to solve a problem. I know a lot about things, but not enough about how to find a thing I need but don't have.
Bill Horne July 3, 2020
|Oh, my old friend the Mailman|
I spent about five hours yesterday, trying to install Mailman. Again.
Every time I change the version of Linux I'm using, I have to reinstall Mailman. Every.Single.Damned.Time.
You'd think it would be easy. You'd think it would be well-documented. You'd think it would be just like spending the hundreds of bucks for a commercial program and just pushing a button.
It's not easy. It's not intuitive. It's a pain in the posterior, every damned time. Every.Sinlge.Damned.Time.
I'm supposed to be good at this. I think I know what I'm doing on most days. Most times, I even come away with the sense of quiet satisfaction that is the programmer's mother's milk: the knowledge that I'm able to get 'er done and to get 'er done right, every time. Except with Mailman, which is the bain of my existence..
I'll get it done. I always do: I'm too stubborn and proud not to.
There are times when I envy those with less drive. They can walk away.
Bill Horne, July 2, 2020
|i can't seem to stay awake|
Lately, I'm tired all the time. I don't know why, and I can't seem to figure out what's causing it. dddddddddddddddddssssssssssssssssskkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk
You see? I just did that, when I paused to think of what to write next. It has been like this for weeks, and I don't know why and I don't want to guess: I just fade out and my fingers push the key or keys they're on, and I get rows of "home key" characters that my fingers could not avoid pressing.
I'm supposed to be enjoying myself: not a care in the world, nobody to answer to (except SWMBO, of course), and plenty of projects I can do, or not do, at my leisure. I planned it this way, and worked very hard for a very long time to earn this place in the mountains, this lazy lifestyle. I wanted to get my Morse Code speed back up to 20 words-per-minutes, and connect my AM transmitter, and fix the ground system and my antennas and my tuner and spend the rest of my life talking to friends both old and new.
Except I don't. I just sleep a lot. I don't overeat, although I have picked up some "Pandemic Poundage," but it's coming back down, and I've been a good boy and have asked for help with it, so I get fewer calories and a smaller waistline. But, there's no diet that can wake me up. I tell myself I need more exercise, and I've been walking around my chimney for twenty minutes both morning and afternoon and why can't I stay awake?
I take pills for various conditions, and they make me tired. I can't stop taking the pills, or I could die, and that's that. I wish I could stop, and feel young and strong and awake and aware and sharp. I can't, and it's making me mad, every time I fade away and back in again just because I'm sitting down and typing on a computer.
There's a lesson here: I'm great at pulling lessons out of the air, and there's one here. I just don't know what it is.
Bill Horne, July 1, 2020
|no matter what, no matter where|
I keep feeling like there's "something" I should do about straightening up the bedroom that my wife and I use for an office. I have piles of paperwork, sorted into "right now," "later," "shoot me," and "file," and I think by putting things in the right pile I'm accomplishing … something. I don't know what, and I don't know when, and I don't know how I'm doing anything that's qualified as an "accomplishment," but I will keep plodding along toward that never-never land where files sort themselves and I can always find my glasses and the piece of paper I'm driving myself nuts over.
Obsess much? Me? Ask anyone who knows me: they'll tell you this isn't even halfway to my normal level of obsessing, the benchmark of which is about four times higher than where I'm at right now. I once spent about an hour straightening the tassles on the end of a rug in our living room, and risked my life to get my ham radio antenna aligned perfectly while I clung to the side of a tower, about forty feet in the air, with a wrench in one hand and the tower in the other, minus a safety belt.
So, obviously, I am not obsessing about the clean up in the office. I'm just bothered by the way the piles of paper breed and multiply, unbidden and unobserved. There's a bunch of Tommyknockers around here, hiding in the imitation wood wainscotting, fluffing up the "right now" pile at the same time the "shoot me" pile mysteriously shrinks without aid or awareness.
I need a new system for dealing with paperwork. Something simple and effective, like filing a change-of-address form with a blank "New Address" field, like all the Hollywood stars do to avoid getting fan mail. Or, maybe I can take out the oil furnace and put in one that burns paper, like Dilbert's. Maybe there's hope in the chance to use electronic paperwork, bank statements, bills, payments, etc.
It's a thought. My sister says I have "CDO" - it's like OCD, bu the letters are in alphabetical order.
Bill Horne, June 30, 2020
|rain, rain, go away|
It's raining. It's raining a lot. So much that I won't be able to work on anything outside, and my leg aches like it's caught in a pin loom and I'm living on Tylenol and wishing it would stop.
But, of course, there's nothing I can do about the rain. It's just late Spring and/or early Summer weather here in North Carolina, and if I'd grown up here instead of in the antiseptically dry Puritan enclave that formed and informed my earlier years, I'd be used to it. It's not really cold, and the temperature drops a precious few degrees during and right after - all the more precious while my air conditioner isn't working - but I could just move downstairs, where it's always cool and there's ham radio to keep me distracted.
No matter what, though, the pain is starting to get to me. I don't like the Tylenol, since even the "extra strength" version doesn't do what I want done, and I'm deadset against pleading with my GP to write me up for Tylenol #4 or Percocet. I have seen where that road goes, and I don't want to get there just yet.
I worked very hard to have a good, secure retirement. I thought I'd be playing tennis or scuba diving or riding my motorcycle on long weekends during the years to come. Except, sad to say, for the facts that I don't trust myself on a bike anymore, my NAUI card expired about thirty years ago, and I've never played a single game of tennis in my life.
Welcome to the golden years: I got the gold, but it took too many years.
Bill Horne, June 29, 2020
|off the air|
Today is the start of the last weekend in June, which, for as long as I've been a ham operator, has been Field Day. It's more than a day, of course, but less than the full weekend, and we all used to go out to a park or a parking lot, and set up radios and antennas and show the public that Amateur Radio was a valuable communications resource in time of disaster.
Actually, I always thought it was a good excuse to drink beer and spent some time with my friends and sleep under the stars or in the back of my van. I helped raise antennas last year, and I provided a little Honda EU2000 generator I have, along with a "extended run time" gas can - the kind used on motorboats - just to keep my hand in. I had to switch my iambic Morse Code key from left-handed operation to right-handed, so that the expert senders could use it, but I didn't need to bring a radio, since there were plenty of them available. I did, however, fulfill my promise to bring a knife to cut the vegetables.
This year, we all agreed not to do anything. Novel Coronavirus has made it unwise to gather a group of men together in close quarters, and none of us thought that COVID-19 had died down enough to take the risk. In any case, the ARRL, which means "American Radio Relay League," the organization that sponsors Field Day, changed the rules so that home stations could compete for points this time. It's a one-time exception, so that everyone that's avoiding crowds can still join the contest and score some points for their club.
I decided that I didn't want to, after I woke up at 8:45 and felt like I was still tired and aching and with a lot of things on my to-do list (not the least of which is to finish our taxes). I spent the morning sorting papers and taking a long bath and retrying the "skeleton" keys I just got in the mail so that my wife could open up the drop-front secretary she got from her mom. None of them fit, and I was tempted to take a hammer to it, but she calmed me down and then showed me a wet spot next to the chimney where the expensive repair we had done last year hasn't worked.
Then, I took a couple of walks down and up the driveway, trying out my new sneakers that I got from LL Bean, and wondering if my leg will ever be facile enough to allow me to cut the tree branch that's keeping my rotating antenna from turning. The walks helped, and I'm not ready to climb that tree yet, but I'll keep thinking of ways to get it done.
Ham radio has been a big part of my life, and I want to use it again, but the effort needed to sort, catalog, preserve, connect, tune, and place all the radios and tuners and amplifiers and microphones and speakers and modems and cables has been getting the best of me. I keep telling myself that I need to have the "ham shack" set up before I get too old to do it, but I think I may have blinked and missed that milestone while it was sliding by.
Bill Horne, June 27, 2020
|for want of a nail|
I've got an engineer coming out tomorrow, to look at my rear wall and predict its future. He might tell me to dig it out and waterproof it, which I don't want to do: there's a 500-gallon oil tank in the way, and that would be a major PITA to deal with.
I took some videos of the wall, inside and out, and tried to put them on my website. Sounds easy, doesn't it?
It turned into a bigger PITA than digging. First, the camera I bought at the thift store on vacation turns out to be limited to FAT-formatted SD cards, and we all know where that leads. Second, windoze won't recognize most of the files the camera creates, and I had to find out the hard way that they're limited to a minute or two at most, no matter what the theoretical time limit is that's shown on the camera screen - 22 minutes when I reformatted the 512 MB SD card - and it produces videos in .mov format, which very few players recognize anyway. I hadn't loaded the camera-specific software that was on the CD in the box, and I'll do that at some future date, but I just wanted to get it done and that's how it went down.
But, suffice to say, I managed to get a couple of readable video files out of it, and to get them off the SD card and up to my website. The site is set up with separate directories (I almost typed "folders") for each domain - so I decided to create a new subdirectory just for the things I want the engineer to see. In order to do that, I needed to perform a "sudo" operation, which requires that I enter my password by hand.
Except I couldn't remember it.
I have a copy of the "Password Safe" program, and I keep all my passwords on it, except that I was sitting in the living room using my laptop, which used to have "Keepass" instead of Password Safe, and I got ticked that it was so hard to use compared to Password Safe that I nuked it, and then forgot I had to put a copy of the Password Safe database on a thumb drive and copy it over to the laptop.
So, I didn't have the password I needed for the sudo operation, even though I was logged in, since I've been using ssh keys to access my remote server for years, and they're keyed to a different password than the actual "user" password on the machine. I turned the laptop off and went to this machine I'm typing on now, and brought up Password Safe and found the password I've been using when I needed to do any "sudo" things on my server.
It didn't work.
That's not supposed to happen. I'm pretty good at entering any password changes into Password Safe, but the one that was in there wouldn't give me sudo access. I tried a couple of the old passwords I used to use when I had to log in to a machine that demanded I change my password every month/week/whatever. No joy, and no reason to have had to do that anyhow, since it's my machine and I don't enforce password changes on it because I don't allow password-based logins anyway: the password is only needed for sudo tasks.
I must have changed the password when I upgraded the machine to Ubunto 18.04 LTS a week or two back. I didn't remember doing that, but that's the only reason for a change that I could think about, other than hackery, a possibility which just entered my mind this second. Not a big problem, if it did occur, but I had to get the password reset, so I wrote a letter to prgmr.com and asked for help.
I got a call from a guy named "Chris," via Google Voice, which I guess is the way they do the weekend on-call. Chris told me to boot into rescue mode and then do a chroot to a certain directory, and I said thanks and tried to do that.
It didn't work. It's been too long and I'm too old to remember esoteric Unix commands the way I used to, and I had to call him back and ask him to hold my hand. He was nice about it, even though I was either interrupting his Sunday afternoon or his dinner, depending on which time zone Google Voice found him in.
It turned out I had to mount the directory in question, and then do a chroot and run the passwd utility on my user ID. I thanked Chris, reset the boot options to "Grub 2" instead of "rescue" after only one brain fart, and got myself set up to put the videos on the web server so that the engineer who will be here tomorrow can see the pictures he asked me to send him on Friday.
Of course, I chose a new password, but now I'll have to do the security dance - sometimes, ignorange is bliss - and see if my server is spewing spam or being used by a computer summer camp to teach basic hacking. I haven't used "tripwire" in a while, come to think of it, but there's nothing on here that's sensitive and I figure prgmr.com would get really excited if my machine was spewing spam, so I'll take a deep breath and chalk it up to the fact that the memory is the second thing to go.
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost ...
Bill Horne, June 14, 2020
I got an estimate in an email, after we invited a mold-removal expert over to assess the house. He pointed out some discoloration in the paint on the ceiling in our living room and dining room, and I told him to give us an estmate to fix that as well as to remediate the mold in the cellar.
There's no question about the mold on one cellar wall, at the rear of the house where the gutter drips on the Propane tanks and the oil tank (which is buried) and the driveway. There's black mold at many of the places where the cinder blocks are cemented together. There is a fair amount of white froth, which the guy told us is salt, which spreads across the wall and fades out a few inches from the joints of the blocks.
That much, at least, is certain. I'm planning to get the driveway redone, so that it's properly pitched to shed water without it causing puddles I or my wife must step in when exiting or entering our car. I'll either pay for a curb, or grading and repaving the driveway in back of the house. Probaly both: we need better drainage, that's for sure. There a hill behind the house, and I want to put a french drain at the edge of the driveway, about ten feet from the house, to absorb and route water away from the driveway and any path to the interior of the cellar wall. That's the idea for a long-term solution.
The short term though, is a different story. The mold man pointed out mold in every place there's any white on a door or cabinet or you-name-it, and said it all has to go and the wall isn't that big a deal, etc. Clean this, wipe that, have a HEPA filter on a big fan for a day, and I'd have to cover up my ham radio gear, and we wouldn't be able to enter the basement while they're doing the work.
Well, the estimate left me very surprised: over four thousand if we have the ceilings repainted, and there's no prediction of how long it'll be to do it, so the hourly rate quoted isn't going to be the final figure. The labor for the mold remediation was on there, and that part is about $2,600, but either way, I've got a bad case of sticker shock.
It's not like we can't get the money, but it's just too much for me. I'm retired, and I used to have an apartment building to run, and I'm used to lower prices for labor and materials – much lower, in fact. The years that separate me from those experiences – my Ghod, has it really been 36 years? – have brought with them a lot of new prices and inflation, so I understand that the guy has to pay his crew and his insurance broker and Uncle Sam, but I'm still reeling.
Bill Horne, May 26, 2020
|Gotta clear the desk|
I'm sitting at the desk I promised myself I would clean. The right side is, at last, devoid of cable clutter and RCA plugs and USB cords and the microphone that goes with my Icom Ham Radio transceiver, which is downstairs in the ham shack.
I've got to put the rest of the wires down there: with the exception of a couple that I'll need up here - computer wires for the backup drive and things like that. There's a mask on here that my sister sent me: one of four that she made and put in the mail so I'd have a chance of coming up with better jokes someday. That will stay here: if someone comes to the door, I'll need to put it on.
I've accumulated about a half-dozen battery chargers: some for AA, some for AAA, some for either. I don't remember where they all came from, but they all seem to work: I grabbed a box of one-gallon zip-lock plastic bags from the kitchen, and I've made all of the snarl proof by placing each in it's own transparent bag. Likewise, the RCA cords, the USB cords, and the plethora of wall-warts that aren't currently plugged in and working – there are five of them hanging off the sides and top of the outlet box at the end of the size twelve cord which is taking up 1/2 of the only outlet within reach of this desk. Lessee: one pencil sharpener, one Tytera charging base, one Cisco VoIP telephone, one Linksys WAP54 Wireless Access Point, and one Baofeng charging base. No wonder the desk got cluttered: everything settled, like pieces of English Muffin, into the nooks and crannies in between the spiper-web of wires.
I came across a piece by a guy named Nate White, which I had printed out after I read it the first time. Mr. White had a few things to say about the current pretender to the throne of America:
Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?
A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump's limitaiton into embarrassingly sharp relief.
There's a lot more, but I don't want to retype it all, so I'll just say "GIYF" and go back to sorting – the real task at hand, as in every decluttering effort – and stop running down rabbit holes. I have an appointment later, to get my right retina checked again, and I don't want to be late for an important date.
Bill Horne, May 25, 2020
I started out by taking the screens out of the windows: a retainer clip on each side, which my wife opened from the inside, while I stood outside and caught each screen as it almost fell to the ground. I took them and laid them out flat, just the way she told me to the last time we did it.
She propped the screens up against the railing of the porch, and used the pistol-grip sprayer I had put on the hose end to blast dirt and dead bugs and paint flakes and rust over the tiny walkway that goes downhill past the porch toward our shed, thus (I soon realized) cleaning the screens and watering the garden at the same time.
I wanted to finish getting my new antenna in the air. She wanted to clean the other screens. We wound up with me promising to help with the other screens tomorrow, and she helped me to tie the halyards to trees so that the antennas would be out of the way and high enough to work. I was happy to find that the coaxial cable which feeds the new antennas is long enough to make it into the basement without needing to add another length, and the feedline and control cable for the big, rotatable antenna are still in good shape. I was going to hook up the new antenna and try it out, but I'm too tired.
I talked to my sister on the left coast: she's offered to start an email group so that we can trade news about my other sister's husband who is in the hospital with COVID-19. She asked what I'd been doing, and I told her I was screening cleans.
Bill Horne, May 17, 2020
|It seems like yesterday|
I came across some old CD-RW disks, cleaning up my office and being socially distant. My wife said I should throw them away.
One of them had some blog pages from 2003. There were a couple that didn't stand the test of time, but three or four read like it was yesterday; still new and vital and incisive. I did, even if I do say so myself write well in 2003.
There's one about building shelves for the basement of our house - in Massachusetts, of course - and I remember all the work I wrote about: pulling wood out of a storage pile, not even being able to remember what I'd originally bought it for. I built the shelves with my wife, who helped to hold things together while I hammered the nails.
Those shelves were in the house when we sold it three or so years ago, and they were, according to the agent, a big selling point. I remember how that work was hard - tiring, exacting, and me being as persnickety as only a Type IV personality can be.
I remember all the time and effort and the blessed table saw I inherited from my dad before he died. It was right next to the furnace that he and I installed by ourselves, with most of the parts that he had in his shed from all the years he was a plumber.
Those shelves held the ham radio gear I was going to put into my new "shack" someday, and all the junk I had accumulated while fixing PC's at small companies on the South Shore of Boston. Most of it went in the dumpster Susan hired before the move: not the ham gear, which my son sold at a ham flea-market in New Hampshire for about a $3,000 profit.
But, inevitably, some things got left behind, and I wish I had been there to supervise. I had a job offer here, in North Carolina, and it was too good to turn down, so Susan and I saw each other every five or six months while we spent a fortune to get the house into saleable shape, and I drove over 30,000 miles in my first six months, riding a circuit around to hospitals and highway rest stops and prisons in the west side of the Tarheel state, fixing telephones.
I don't know why that all seems like a single blink of my eye. The shelves, in 2003, were a lot of work, and so were the other jobs I had until I came down here in 2015, but it's like it all happened yesterday.
Bill Horne, May 15, 2020
|The Waiting Is the Hardest Part|
I've been waiting all day for some news about my brother-in-law. I've done some work on the Telecom Digest, and had a video conference with a member of my meeting. Other than that, it's just gone by in a daze.
I can't imagine what it's like to make that choice: but it's part of life in the modern era, and in medicines, the weapons we have to fight disease and prolong life have grown faster than our wisdom. Still, it's my sister's choice, and I can't intervene. I can only wait for news.
My wife was calling around, asking for pictures and videos that will help everyone to remember him. I was surprised: nobody had any. That's a shame, but nothing to be done about it now. My own collection yielded a photo of him carrying some bedroom furniture out of our old home in Massachusetts, but that was all.
I suppose I'll find out tomorrow.
Bill Horne, May 10, 2020
|The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away|
I got the phone call this afternoon: my brother-in-law is not expected to survive COVID-19. He's been in Intensive Care for over a month, and they told my sister that he was almost ready for rehabilitation, but they added that it would take a long time. We all thought he was on his way back home.
But, out of the blue, came the news that he's had several mini-strokes - Novel Corona does that sometimes - and that he's not likely to recover from them. It's a shame: he'd gone through the ventilator, dialysis, and bed sores, but the hospital said he'd improved to the point where he could start rehabilitation.
Now, my sister faces what may be the toughest decision of her life: whether to authorize the cessation of extreme measures and a do-not-resuscitate order. I don't know where her church stands on this kind of thing, and I haven't bothered to check: it's her decision, and hers alone.
I wish I had Harry Potter's magic wand, and a spell to make it all go away in an instant. I have to remind myself that children get to wish for magical cures, but adults must deal with the realities of how little doctors know about COVID-19, and how it was a crap shoot from the beginning. Only about 20% of those put on respirators survive, and we had thought he'd beaten the odds, but now we must face the need to say goodbye and offer what little help we can during the pandemic.
He's a nice guy. I still wish I had Mister Potter's wand.
Bill Horne, May 9, 2020
|Youth is wasted on the young|
There's a kid who mows my lawn: $60 every two weeks, and he does a good job. He did the job this morning, while my wife was shopping, and he told me that he's going to buy a new truck to haul his tractor around. He had a professional lawnmower on a trailer behind his 1/8 ton pickup, and I said it seemed to be working OK. He smiled, and said, "No - my tractor," which is apparently much bigger.
I told him my old story about the automotive engineer that I met in California, and how the man had convinced me that it's much less expensive to maintain an old vehicle than to buy a new one. I told my lawn care guy that he would do better to buy a five-year-old truck that some other idiot had traded in, and run it until his feet were on the ground.
He wouldn't listen. He laughed. He said "I'm going to buy a new truck!
I shrugged my shoulders, and paid him, and walked back to the house.
I guess it's true what they say: "Youth is wasted on the young."
Bill Horne, May 7, 2020
|The fascination of the abomination|
I used to do a blog, years ago - which I wrote like this one, in "native" HTML. I've thought about putting in WordPress, or Drupal, or some other flavor of CMS, but I don't feel any drive to do so. I just finished updating my server to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, and in the process I looked up a way to enable virtual servers, so that I can have a separate page for each of the domain names I use, and having gotten that head on my wall, I wonder why I'm now content to type "<p>" at the start of every paragraph1.
I'd like it to be easier: I have, after years of avoiding it, signed up for facebook, mostly so I can keep in touch with my old buddies from Vietnam, and with my siblings, all of whom use facebook to post pictures of places they've been, and stories about their day-to-day lives as we all head toward - or away from - our retirement dates. But, however banal my facebook musings might be, they are at least easy to enter. I'm getting less and less interested in doing things in abstruse ways, and yet here, on this page of my own server, I don't want to gussy things up or buy some ease-of-use at the expense of having my keystrokes counted and used to sell me things.
I wonder if it's another example of Conrad's immortal caution about "The fascination of the abomination." I wonder if I've been so far out in retirement-land for so long that I've forgotten the KISS principle, or the "5 P" principle, or the other acronymic reminders that I used to have surrounding my corporate cube and my corporate life.
Well, "BTFOM" - as we used to say in the Army. What the hell: I did everything the hard way in Vietnam, so why change now?
Bill Horne - May 6, 2020
1. I just had to look up the special html codes to show the "less than" and "greater than" symbols that appear above: they can't be entered directly because they mark the start and end of an html 'paragraph' symbol. I guess I am getting old.