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Freight Train - Each Car Looks The Same

I'm sitting, listening to, with Jackson Browne and Gregg Allman singing "Melissa."


My wife just told me that she told me what phone she wants to get to replace her old one. She didn't. She told me that she showed it to me on the tablet I bought her. She didn't.

Her old phone is going to stop working, because Verizon wants more money from every user who was, like me, dumb enought to trust them in the first place. That, however, is not the point.

Everybody plays off the playbook that worked before, you know? Her's was outdated the day I found out how to check a browser's history, but I didn't tell her that, since I need the edge and I want to believe her in the worst possible way.

She didn't check, but she wants me to make the decision for her, and I won't. She needs something that works for her, not for me, and she has to make the decision, because I can't and I won't.

I told her that her phone will stop working, and to show me her choice "again." We'll see what happens.

Bill Horne, December 1, 2022

Guilt and Righteousness

There's something weird about having a blog. Specifically, this blog.

Having starting back up, I now feel compelled to put an entry in every single dribblededrat day. Those are, to be honest, not the first words I was thinking of putting out there tonight, but I guess they'll do. well, onward to today's topic:

There's some good news: I found out that emacs, my favorite text editor and email/nntp client, can do "UTF-8." The documentation assures me that emacs loves UTF_8. As a result, I might be convinced to change The Telecom Digest to "Officially" use UTF-8. OK, perhaps a little explanation is in order.

I used to fix Teletype machines, back when I was in my twenties. I was trained in Chicago, at the Teletype Corporation school on North Wacker Drive, to repair Model "33" Teletype machines. I could tell you just about anything you'd need to know about the Model 33 Teletype machine.

Here are the only two things that are important for today's blog: the Model 33 uses the "ASCII" code set, and it was the first computer terminal that most computer users saw or touched. In fact, the now famous photo of Bill Gates and Paul Allen back at Hahvid in the dark ages of slide rules and tiny calculators was taken in front of an Honest-to-Ghod Modell 33 Teletype.

So, since the terminal devices used the "ASCII" code, so did the computers. There were (and are now) lots of other code sets, and as computers have become ubiquitous, the ASCII character set has had to give way to other, more complete cominations of the characters used in other languages, and various "special" codes, such as "®" - the Registered Trademark symbol, and "§" - the Section mark used in legal documents. There are other: a whole lot of others. The whole series of diacritical marks used in German and French and Italian, and a lot of (literally) foreign glyphs for things like Japenese, Chinese, etc.

Well, over the years, as Cathode-Ray Tubes replaced Teletype machines, and Liquid Crystal dispals replaced Cathode-Ray tubes, the capabilities of personal computers grew to include word processing in pretty much every language ever used on Earth. Because of that, an effort is underway to design, perfect, and promulgate a "Universal Character Set," or "UCS," which can be used with almost any language.

The current state of this effort is called "Unicode Transitional Format," of "UTF." The current iteration of UTF is "UTF-8," a compromise design that uses eight bits for common characters from the ASCII code set, but which has "switch" bytes to signal character that require 16 or even 32 bytes.

However, as the Moderator of The Telecom Digest, I have resisted the change. I'm not sure why, although it does mean extra work for me if I allow widespread use of UTF-8 in posts to the Digest. Still, I'm getting the feeling that it's time for the change: UTF-8 supports things like “Double quotes” instead of the "inch marks" no longer acceptable to hard-core typographers.

So, we have to be realistic: UTF-8 is muscling in, no matter if I like it or not, and I might as well learn to use it and help others to do so.

Bill Horne, November 26, 2022

Gobble, Gobble!

My wife and I have been going to Thanksgiving dinner with a couple from my Friends Meeting, for a few years now. This year, however, they told us that they were having dinner at a different home, and that hey had been accepted into a managed-care facility in Pennsylvaia, and would be moving there in April.

Wow. They've been "here" for forever, and have been great friends and great Friends. I'll be sorry to see them go.

We're looking for a similar situation ourselves: I'm over seventy now, and my wife is too, so we can't keep going forever up here in the hills. The ice storms sometimes strand us for a week, and we have intermittent power outages to deal with, and I'm trying to do more Amateur Radio and less online.

Anyway, our friends secured another inviation to the dinner they were going to, and it turned out to be at the hoe of two other Friends, one of whom is also a Ham Radio operator. We had a great time talking about tech stuff, while the wives traded knowing looks and commisserated with each other about how the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.

We had a great dinner, and the bottle of Reisling we'b brought with us was very well received. My wife had made a gluten-free stuffing, and that just made my day, since I was able to enjoy stuffing for the first time in about a year, and she had found some gluten-free gravy too, which was fantastic.

Well, it's a little after Seven PM, the day after thanksgiving, and I was assigned the task of cutting the backbone out of our second turkey. I wound up retrieving the pruning shears from the shed, after I had tried to do it with kitchen scissors for about fifteen minutes without success. The pruning shears made short work of it, so we're going to have another great dinner.

I'm trying to find an episode of "The Librarian" that I haven't seen, but that's a minor thing. I'm looking forward to some turkey and some wine and some eggnog and some rum. Life is good.

Bill Horne, November 25, 2022

This Hill Gets Steeper WIth Every Step

It's been a long time since I put a new entry here: I've been busy, and although I've always thought this blog is important, it's not as important as my other responsibilities.

I've been keeping track of my daily timeline, and I was surprised to realize that about three hours of every day has been going to The The Telecom Digest. I've been able to cut way back on that, although I've had to make conscious decisions to skip minor mistakes and let small errors go out without fuss.

Sometimes, I wonder if I'll be able to keep doing the Digest: it started out as a favor to the former Moderator, and has gone on for 15 years now. I'm getting up in years myself, and I must be realistic: nothing last forever, and I need the time for other things.

I'll have to find ways to reduce the "Daily Digest" workload to less than two hours a day, and preferably to less than one hour per day. Otherwise, I must find a new Moderator to pass the torch to. I'll have to decide, before the decision is made for me.

Bill Horne, November 23, 2022

I think I'm tilting at windmills

Sunday, September 4th: my Cisco 303 VoIP phone goes dark without warning.

I could access its web interface: everything was as expected. All of the settings were unchanged, but both my Callcentric home phone number and my Hamshack Hotline extension were offline.

I called Zito Media's "Technical Support" center, and after listening to some script kiddie tell me that the problem was in my router and that I had to call the router manufacturer, I demanded that they send a ticket to Level Two support.

Monday, September 5th: I called the Tech Support department again, and they promised to "Reset the router." After a few minutes, the Callcentric line came back, and I was able to call my Brother-in-law, who lives in Massachusetts. We talked for about fifteen minutes, and then said "Goodbye."

About ten minutes later, Callcentric was dead again. I accessed my account details at the Callcentric site, and found the record of my call to my Brother-in-law. No way to deny it: Zito Media is blocking VoIP ports.

On Tuesday, September 6th, I got a call from somone at "Galaxy Cablevision," which I'd never heard of before. The person I spoke with knew about my escalated complaint, and he corrected some mistakes on the ticket info. He then told me that Zito Media was installing "Cee Gee Nat," which he apparently expected would have me lapping at his ankles and fawning for more buzzwords and dismissive techo-babble.

I told the guy at Galaxy Cablevision that I used to be a Certified NetWare Engineer®, and that I didn't need any education on "NAT," and then he told me that my problem was caused by them not being able to "Map" the VoIP ports to my phone. I explained that my phone doesn't need any ports mapped, and that the SIP Protocol doesn't require incoming port mapping.

He told me that he would do more checking, and I haven't heard from him since. I left a voicemail message for the "Department of IT" at the Statehouse in Raleigh, after being transferred from another office.

This afternoon, I got a call back from the North Carolina Department that handles IT, and the man I spoke to said that his department doesn't regulate VoIP, and gave me a couple of phone numbers for the Utilities department, and recommended that I call them.

I'll ring the Utilities department tomorrow, and find out who handles complaints about an ISP. I'll ask them if I should go to the FCC, or if the state's Utilities department can get my Callcentric service working without the FCC getting involved.

I just keep feeling like I'm tilting at windmills.

Bill Horne, September 15, 2022

Port Twenty-Two

On Monday of this week, I got two pieces of mail from the post office: one was a letter from my old ISP, saying "Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish," (with apologies to Douglas Adams). The other was a letter from the new owner of the Cable TV company which provides my Internet connection, along with a five-color brochure telling me how great they are and what great service I was going to get, and an "800" number to use if I had any difficulties.

After I smiled at that, I tried to log into the Telecom Digest server, and found out that my "SSH" connections weren't working. "SSH" stands for "Secure Shell," which is a secure way of accessing a server in a distant location without needing to worry if someone is monitoring the connection and taking notes for fun or profit.

I knew right away that the new owner had blocked the port that ssh uses, but those I asked for help were incredulous that anyone would do that - it's not used for anything other than geeks like me checking on various servers that provide various Internet functions, such as email routing, web hosting, WordPress blogs, or just storage space for "cloud" backups and recoveries.

Still, it was obvious that it had happened: every connection attempt timed out. I checked my home's public IP address, since the servers I use are all firewalled to accept only known addresses, but the new company is using the old IP addresses, so that wasn't the cause. I check the DNS entries for the server names: grasping at straws, truth be told, since I pay for DNS service from vendors far removed from my ISP. They were, of course, unchanged.

I called the "Friendly" 800 number that was in the five-color brochure, and I had to wade through varous foreign script readers, none of whom had understandable English, until I finally called the "Sales" department and asked, point blank, what it would cost to have the firewall opened up so I could use ssh again.

The salesdroid told me that I had to talk to "Customer Service," and then put me on hold, and then the line went dead. Three tries, with the same result: brain dead script readers whom grew incensed when I told them to stop reading from their script and get me someone who knew what he was talking about.

I remembered that I could send a message to the Telecom Digest's email subscribers, by using the "SYMPA" admin interface at John Levine's server in New York. I did that, and explained what was going on, and asked anyone who could help to get in touch.

I took my wife out for dinner at a local smorgasbord, and called it a day.

So much for Monday.

On Tuesday, I got an email from a long-time subscriber, who told me that the Panix company offers a "Shell In A Box" service which would allow me to get access to a Unix shell via a web browser. I borrowed one of his logins, and then I realized that the Telecom Digest server wouldn't allow access from Panix, because I have "iptables" rules in place that strictly limit which IP addresses will be accepted.

I drummed my fingers on the table for a few minutes, and then realized that I would be able to log in to the Telecom Digest's "New" server, which had just been installed with the latest version of Ubuntu Linux on it, and which wasn't yet set up to deny ssh packets from unknown locations. I used the Panix site to get to the new Telecom Digest site, and ssh to get from there to the "old" Telecom Digest server, and then I put in a new iptables rule to allow logins from Panix's shell accounts, and then I got back into my routine, and was able to get a few things done at the Digest's server, and to put out the daily publication. I also was able to log in to my "test" server, via Panix -> the "New" server -> the "old" server, and then to my test machine, and to poke a hole in the firewall there, so that I could get in from Panix directly. If I had been forced to plan for it, it wouldn't have happened, but I've always been a "Pressure Performer" and it just somehow popped into my head.

There were a few hiccups, but nothing too bad: the web interface wouldn't forward some of the "Control" keys I typed to the Digest's server, and I use the emacs editor, which has a lot of control key-based commands. Cntl-n, for example, goes to the next line when logged in to the Digest server via ssh, but with the Panix web-based interface, Cntl-n was trapped by my local browser, which opened a new blank page whenever I tried to go to the next line, and tried to do something else local when I typed "Cntl-W" to cut an area of text on the emacs screen. I had to resort to using arrow keys, which were being passed through without a problem, and the copy feature of the Panix web app, so I could get 'er done with only a few head scratches.

We had pork tenderloin for dinner, and I stuck with water instead of beer or wine, thinking that I might have gained too much of my old weight back.

That was Tuesday.

On Wednesday, I talked to John Levine again. He's the co-author of "The Inernet for Dummies," and has probably forgotten more than I will ever know about Internet routing. He suggested I try out ProtonVPN, which he uses. I did, but it didn't make a difference, and so I went back to Panix's web-based shell, and got another day of the Digest done. I also opened an account at Panix, and I had to ask tha guy who was loaning me one of his logins to let me use it for another day, since Panix said that they'd get back to me in a day or two.

I had some other things to deal with, and I turned off the computer around lunch and attended to my other things.

That was Wednesday.

It's Thursday, and I'm finishing what has been a very productive day. First, I decided to pay ProtonVPN $10 a month for their "plus" version, which turned out to be able to tunnel port 22 - and, therefore, my ssh connections - without any of the problems I'd had with Panix's web interface not handling Cntl keys. I thought about cancelling the Panix account, but I decided that I'd spend the $10 and get at least a month of their service, since it has a small web site capability and some other nice things, and one never knows if ProtonVPN will itself be blocked.

I got a call from Alexis Rosen at Panix, who actually recognized my name, and provided a lot of very valuable information, like the fact that I could use port 443 (which is for HTTPS) to ssh into their servers, and then tunnel port 22 to my destination. We shared a few techie jokes, I promised to pay their fee and he enabled my new Panix account by giving me a new password since the one I'd originally chosen wasn't working. Alexis told me that they verify every account holder by direct phone calls, since they'd had some deadbeats who would sign up with stolen credit cards and then use a new account to send spam for a few days before they got caught and kicked. Spammers, he told me, never answer the phone number they put down on their application.

Then, with that taken care of, I published today's Digest, and called the office of the Governer of North Carolina, and asked for the press contact. I left them a message asking which department regulates ISP's at the state level, and about an hour later, I got a call from Cristall Dickerson, who promised to refer the question to one of the state's experts for investigation. While I was talking with her, I realized that my ISP was no longer blocking ssh connections.

Well, it's "sort of" over, I guess. I don't know how long my ISP will leave Port 22 open: Comcast used to block any port they didn't like, and when anyone complained, they would open it for a day or two before shutting it down again. That seems to be the way of the Internet, these days: if you're just a user, you get "Mushroom Management" for your problems: they feed you crap and keep you in the dark.

I'm going to keep the Panix account open, at least for a month or two, and I'll keep using ProtonVPN as well, just to get a feel for what, if any, problems will pop up in the days to come.

So, that's Thursday, and a hopefull end of my ssh crisis. Time will tell.

Bill Horne, August 4, 2022

Four Eyes

I couldn't find my glasses on Thursday, and I checked all the usual places and made all the usual excuses and I still couldn't find them.

I sat down in this easy chair that I'm sitting in now. I remembered that I had worn a coat the day before, so I got up ...

... and I heard the crunch. They had been on the chair arm, and had fallen on the floor. They were the 'twistable' kind of frame, that can stand being sat upon. However, they can't take 260 lbs on the hinge.

I got a pair of cheaters out of the pile on my desk, and tried them out on this laptop, and they were worse than nothing. I took them off, and realized that the borders of the site I was looking at were wavy from top to bottom, on both left and right, mostly with my right eye but also with my left, execpt in different places.

I called my eye doctor, in Asheville, and instead of telling them that I broke my glasses, I told them abou the wavy lines. I always try to face scary things straight on, and sometimes I can, and those waves in my vision scared the hell out of me. I had "sort of" known that there was a problem, because there had been some waviness on the top side of the "Ansler Grid" the last time I had my eyes checked, back in October, but this was differnet: unexpected, and definitely worse or more notable or pick your euphemism.

They told me to be there at 3:15 p.m. Apparently, changes of that kind are always a big concern. The wife came with, pointing out that they would dilate my pupiles and that I wouldn't be able to drive afterwards.

The GPS sent me via the fast route, which I like because it's just a quarter-mile from the interstate exit, and we got there in exactly an hour, at 3:11 p.m.

They dilated my pupils, and the doctor who was filling in for mine - he was in surgery - said that it was slightly about the same as what their pictures showed from October. I asked him if I had overreacted, and he shook his head and said "Its' always best to check this kind of thing out right away."

I got him to prescribe a set of lenses specifically for my desktop computer, which has a monitor that is exactly thirty-six inches from my eyes when I'm sitting at the desk.

My wife drove me over to the eyeglass store, and I ordered the trifocals that I use most of the time, and the separate monofocal pair for the comptuer, and then I splurged on presecription sunglasses for driving, and she drove me home.

About ten days, they say. If I crank up the font size on the laptop, I can use it without glasses. I tend to type "crank" as "cxrank," though, so I'll probably have to see a different doctor about that.

Bill Horne, July 23, 2022

The Kenwood and the Icom and the Baofeng and me

It was an impulse: I loaned the guy at the small-engine repair shop an old Alinco DR-599 that I had on a shelf. He's a Ham, of course, but hasn't been on the air for a while. The DR-599 has a great "Repeater" capability, and it could be used as an actual cross-band repeater, or (more likely), as a way to get an HT working with a local repeater that's just-out-of-range for the HT by itself.

I'd had some trouble with my 5 KW genset, so I took it down there and asked him to look it over, and I left the Alinco with him, just to get him back on the air. I warned him that it's hard to start sometimes - most likely, a dead BIOS battery in the logic.

I went by a month or two later, and asked how it was working, but after a moment of silence, he said he'd been unable to get it going. I gave him my Baofeng and a charger from my Kenwood TH-D7A, and said I'd see what I could do.

Then, my son shipped me the Kenwood and the Icom and the Tytera HT's that I'd left with him after the car broke down on the way to the hamfest, and I realized that I'd need the charger I had loaned with the Baofeng. The Tytera DMR HT had its own drop-in charger, so no problem there, and I had an adapter cord that would let me charge the ICOM IC-2SRA from almost any 12 volt charger, so that was OK, too, but I would need the charger for the Kenwood.

I found a charger on the net, for about $10, and I ordered it. It arrived last week, and (thank Ghod for Lithium Ion batteries) it charged the Kenwood BP-39 pack with no problem. It wasn balsy enough to power the HT while transmitting, so this morning I went by the small-engine repair shop and asked how the Baofeng was working out.

My buddy shrugged, and said that he hadn't used it, that it was sitting in a desk drawer. He pulled it out, along with the Kenwood charger, and I said "Why don't I just take it back?" He asked if the Alinco was working, and told him I hadn't had the time, since replacing the logic battery on a DR-599 means disassembling the front panel, and that's more than I wanted to do on it anyway, but I didn't mention that part.

I told him I'd find him "somthing," and I asked if he liked to listen to cellular calls. He hadn't known that was possible. I said I'd look around, and smiled, and left.

We old Hams have to stick together!

Bill Horne, July 19, 2022

I'm So Tired

There's a Beatles song, titled "I'm So Tired." I feel like it was written for me today.

I slept until about 8 a.m., and then I had some grits and some OJ - although worries about my digestion made coffee out of the question.

After breakfast, I tried to do some work on the Telecom Digest, but I kept falling asleep over the keyboard. Around 11 a.m., I gave up and went back to bed. I set my alarm for 6 p.m., since I had a video conference at 7 p.m., and then the world dimmed out.

I woke up at 5:48 p.m., a few minutes before the alarm was set to jar be back to wakefulness. I walked around in cirlces that my home-health nurse had layed out: an oval track that is centered on the chimney. I walked around and around, from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen and then back, for 20 laps, and I made sure I was awake for the video conference.

At 7 p.m., the video conference started. I was very, very impressed: the others on the Zoom conference answered my questions and filled in a lot of the blanks that had been frustrating me.

At 8 p.m., we were done, and we all said "Goodbye," and then I sat in this chair and watched the PBS Newshour, and then the story of the Webb telescope and all the money and time and work that went into it.

And now, it's 12:48 a.m., and I'm nodding off again. There's no figuring it: something is telling me to sleep. I'm just trying to get done with this blog entry, but everyfew minutes I wake up and see that I've filled an entire line with whatever character my fingers fell asleep on top of.

I'll go count my sheep.

Bill Horne, July 14, 2022

Screen Door

Our housekeeper sent me a text saying our dog had just broken the screen on the screen door. I replied and told her to find someone to fix it and have them talk to me.

She replied that she didn't know anyone who does that, and that I'd propably need a new one - funny how people are always willing to spend someone else's money. When she was washing up after dinner, I explained that she's just a couple of people away from someone who does do that, and she promised to ask her friends.

It occurred to me, later, that if she's leaving the doors open, I need to close the air conditioning vents in her room so that she's not wasting energy and raising my electric bill.

I'll have to take care of that tomorrow, and then I'll have to explain to her that she can't argue with the laws of physics.

I'm not looking forward to either of those jobs.

Bill Horne, July 13, 2022

What A Difference A Day Makes

I had grits for breakfast, again, like I'm used to, finally.

I had a sandwich for lunch, although I chickened out on the can of Coke, and just drank water instead. My wife cooked stir-fried chicken for supper, with various greens mixed in. Once again, I stuck to water.

What a difference a day makes. It's almost 4:00 a.m., and I'm wide awake, even though I didn't have any caffeine yesterday. I don't know why, but I'd bet having slept for most of the day on Thursday had something to do with it.

I stood on the scale, just before lunch, and it showed 257.8 pounds. I still don't recommend Lactose Intolerance as a diet plan, but it has given me a small amount of comfort to feel thinner and a bit younger.

Now, suddenly, I'm feeling tired, and I'll head for the head and then go to bed. I intend to sleep late, and I deserve it.

Bill Horne, July 9, 2022

Like a Wrung-out Sponge

I cooked some GLuten-free bread on Tuesday, and treated myself to a ham and tomato sandwich, thinking how nice it would be to have some real bread again.

By the way: I'm Gluten-intollerent. I knew that, of course, and that's why I so looked forward to the treat of homemade bread.

Then, I got very sick.

You can guess the rest: vomiting and diarrhea that didn't let up until a day later. I had to bag my clothes: I had soiled both them and the bathroom floor during the worst episode.

In between the bouts of sickness, I pulled the box of Gluten-fee bread out, and went through the ingredients, one-at-a-time. The list included milk.

In addition to being Gluten-intollent, I'm also allergic to Casein and I'm Lactose-intolerant.

My sister warned me: "Be very carefull," she told me after it all started, "to read all lists of ingredients: they put wheat and milk in anything they can, since those are the least expensive ways to bulk up a product."

I hadn't heeded her advice: proof, once again, that she's smarter than I, and also proof that even those who make Gluten-free bread mixes aren't above stuffing milk solids in to make more profit.

I had some bone-broth for dinner last night, and some heated chicken broth for lunch today, feeling, for all the world, like a wrung-out sponge.

My weight last week was 265.8. My weight this morning was 260. I don't recommend what I went through as a diet plan.

Bill Horne, July 7, 2022

I'm Too Damned Old

I started hearing the pop-pop of firecrackers just after dark, and I told myself that they were coming from my neighbor up the road. It wasn't much, you know, not loud-soft-loud-frizzle like a professional would do, just pop-pop-pause-pop.

My wife's health aide stuck her head through the door after the noise had stopped, and asked if I had seen the town's fireworks display through my window. I had to admit that I had not.

Sigh. It hadn't occurred to me that the town might have a fireworks display: there has been a lot of talk about Covid-19, and how it might be too risky to have the fireworks this year. It hadn't occurred to me that it would be the day before the 4th of July, even though that's become much more common since I was a kid, and back then, all fireworks were on July 4th.

I've gotten old, and suddenly it seems like it's accelerating. I'm not having Dimentia, as far as I can tell, but I'm assuming things that don't match what I could have looked up on Google with a few minutes of time.

"Age," the great Satchel Paige is reported to have said, "Is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter!" I usually agree, but tonight, having missed the fireworks, I mind a lot.

Bill Horne, July 3, 2022

P.S. My wife just found the TV remote control that we've been looking for all day. It was just under the edge of our couch, little more than a shadow to my old eyes, and I've been noticing that shadow all day, and telling myself that it was the middle support leg for the couch. The world is refusing to match my preconceived notions, and that is ticking me off.


"Would you turn the sound up a little, please?" my wife said.

I grabbed the remote control, and tried to do that. Nothing happened. I checked the batteries: one of them had a different manufacturer's name on it. I never mix brands if I have a choice. Someone had swapped out my batteries for duds.

I hate that. I hate having to accept that people take things without any right. It's just the way things go down here. I keep telling myself to get used to it.

I pulled out three new batteries, and put them in the remote. It still didn't work. I took a minute, ran down my mental checklist, and remembered that I had used the audio system for playing music earlier in the day.

I pushed the button that switches the audio feed back to the TV. The sound blared out, loud as could be, and it took me a few seconds to get it down to a safe level. The fact that my wife could hear anything was due to her leaving the sound on the TV set on, instead of having it muted like we usually do, since the TV speakers are so much worse than the audio system's.

I didn't check to make sure that the TV audio was switched back into the sound system after I was done listening to songs from iTunes. It's my fault, at least a little.

I'm still pissed about the batteries.

Bill Horne, July 2, 2022

I want them to know

It was about 5:30 p.m. when I realized that it's Wednesday, and therefore that my Amateur Radio Club would have its weekly "Traffic Net," which is a gathering of Ham operators for the purpose of giving non-hams the chance to send written messages to others, without a fee.

For most of the last century, we Hams were the reserve corps of Morse Code experts whom the Pentagon could call into service quickly if a war broke out. Our training reflected this status: EVERY Ham had to pass tests for his ability to receive and transmit Internatonal Morse Code, and even the entry-level exam, for the long-defunct "Novice" class of license, tested an applicant's ability to calculate the length of ½ wave wire antennas and to cure "Key Clicks," a common problem on the first "Command Set" radios used in airplanes and the basic transmitters used at land-based stations.

In other words, from the start, the focus was on being able to set up, run, and make productive use of portable military field-grade equipment. The "Traffic" nets we use to this very day were copies of the military nets that pass traffic between the various headquarters of the various honchos in the various theaters of a major war.

Some clubs have abandoned them, but some have not: the need for Morse code is no longer a factor, since almost all military radio nets use "Voice" modes now, or modern data modems that allow for fast data transmission over noisy high-frequency radio links. The need to be of value is still the biggest driver for such nets, since we Amateurs still need to have friends in Washington when other nations or other interests look jealously at the valuable radio frequency real estate that we hams are still able to use.

Now, instead of training for war, we train for helping out after disaster strikes, and the ability to form a traffic net quickly, and to use it productively, is still needed.

I and another ham spent yesterday getting my antenna working again, and I wanted to connect my radio up and check in to the Wednesday-evening net that starts at 8 p.m. I would have had to find a special connector to join the new antenna cable to the old cable inside my radio room, but I wanted the other hams to know I was ready to pass traffic and play my part.

Bill Horne, June 29, 2022

The Antenna Project

I finally realized, after weeks of trying to fix my two-meter Amateur Radio antenna, that there's nothing wrong with it. There can't be: I changed it twice, and at this moment, I have a new version on the way, from a new manufacturer. The whole thing probably - in fact, almost certainly - is due to waterlogged coaxial cable, submerged under my back yard in a conduit made from what I think is irrigation pipe.

You know, the hardest part of aging is realizing that I literally can't climb towers anymore, or use ladders to attach feedlines to antennas, or figure out how to test coaxial cable when one end is fifty feet in the air and the other end is at my radio, in the cellar of my house.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe the coax is fine, and the antenna is just pointed in the wrong direction, or not-quite-adjusted-correctly, or ready for retirement, or any of the other twenty thousand problems that a Ham operator has to be ready for.

But, there's a fly in the ointment: I've reached the age when I must actually use ointment! My shoulder bites at me when I reach for the top shelf in the kitchen, and my leg claws at me when I ask it to move me from point "A" to pount "Ouch!"

I shouldn't complain: I've always wanted to spend time operating, but of late the maintenance tasks have put me off the air more than I've been able to stay on. I have wanted to get on eighty meter phone, or forty meter packet, or to re-establish my two meter AX25 setup. Hell, I've even got a "/24" assignment of IP addressses in the "44" net, and I haven't been able to find time to get those going, either.

Sigh. "It ain't the years," Indiana Jones complained, "it's the mileage!"

Indy, I know how you feel.

Bill Horne, June 21, 2022

Is It Stubbornness, or Indecision?

Another day futzing with the SATA drive. Another couple of hours in the freezer, with no success, and a few more hours trying to do whatever I could to jump-start the drive into some sort of usability.

Someone once said that stubbornness is a form of indecision. Today, after trying to save myself eighty or so dollars, I know he was right.

Now, I've got to get the desk cleaned up and the finances in order and the plan for my future finished. That is decisiveness.

Bill Horne, June 15th, 2022

The Quiet Click 'O Death

I worked some more on the "backup" drives today, and I've had to admit that the SATA drive is not coming back to life. If I hold it next to my ear, I hear, ever so softly, a continuous clicking.

Carp. I tried putting it in the freezer: a techniques I got to work exactly once, around 1999. It didn't make a difference. I tried to turn it off and back on, again and again, and I tried hooking it to the SATA port usually used for the DVD, which produced a BIOS "No bootable media" error.


I always thought I could get it going. I'm stuck in the Twentieth Century, when disk drives were incredibly pricey and anything that might work was always worth trying.

I have a Terabyte hard drive in my desk drawer, a USB unit that came in a plastic box, with instructions on how to do Grandfather/Father/Son backups, and I use it for almost all the serious backups, and now that I think about it, it probably has the old pictures I was looking for on the 3½ inch drives.

But, the question is if I should pay to have a recovery service open it up and see what's on it. I thought about that for a while, and I've decided that the answer is "no," because if there was something worth keeping on there, I think I would have remembered putting it there.

I have a cloud backup service which was bundled with Norton's Anti-virus. It's barely adequate for really important stuff, but if I need to get something back from Norton's clutches, it's hellishly hard to do: the only thing I can get is a single file at a time. I'm not making that up: it's a vile, poorly designed, hard-to-use add-on that isn't worth the money.

Whew! I just went off on a tear there, didn't I?

Oh, well, once more SATA drive bites the dust. I'll just have to learn to cope.

Bill Horne, June 14, 2022

Disk Drive Dizziness

I have four IDE disk drives: they are 3½ inch units, which I've been using for backups ever since forever. I used to dig them out every weekend but last year, I got a new 2½ inch drive – the same kind that are used in laptops – and I have been just digging that out every Saturday.

Except today, I didn't. I dug out the 3½ inch drives, looking for my old pictures of Glacier National Park, and I hooked them up to a USB-to-IDE adapter I keep for these occasions.

Two of them were dead. I was able to get one of them going with some delicate tapping, but the other one had click-o-death syndrome, and I decided that I would discard those two, just as soon as I took the stuff off the one that was working. I put that one aside.

The remaining two 3½ inch drives were more of a problem. There's a Western Digital unit that takes forever to appear in the Windoze 10 File Manager - it is, as I said, connected via a USB converter - and Windoze 10 doesn't like USB drives in general and mine in particular, so I have to reboot after turning the drive power supply on and connecting the USB cord. AFTER connecting the USB cord!

I'm typing this while I wait for Windoze 10 to get off its electronic ass and pay attention to the USB port, so that I can find our what's on the backups from last year.

The last drive is a sata disk, with keyed power and data connectors that are a PITA to connect, and about 350 GB of storage ready and able, and maybe some juicy data that I have been looking for.

I will keep trying to outwit Windowze 10, if I don't fling the drive through a window first.

Bill Horne, June 12, 2022

I Feel As If I'm Missing Something

I have spent most of today wondering what I'm missing. Some appointment, some meeting, some phone call I was going to make or expecting to receive.

I just can't figure out why.

I'm "retired," to the extent that a guy who has been the Moderator of The Telecom Digest for about 15 years can be said to be "retired." It takes up an hour or two every day, usually in the morning when I'm trying to wake up and remember what I'm supposed to forget that day.

But, that's just a couple of hours, and then there's other stuff that I feel like I should be doing: getting our finances in order and getting our investments in order and ... it just doesn't happen. I'm not consciously avoiding the work, but it does pile up and I have to make a really determined effort to keep the pile of paperwork from growing beyond the ceiling in our "study," which is the spare bedroom that had two desks and a file cabinet and big piles of paper in it.

I just don't get it done, somehow. It's not for lack of wanting it done, but I don't have the organizing gene, or the get-er-done gene, or the incredible ability of the tall white guy on TV to solve all the problems in sixty minutes with time out for commercials.

I have to find the motivation. That, I now realize, is what I'm missing.

Bill Horne, June 8, 2022

Maybe It's Just Me

The guy at the body shop offered me a lift home, and when we were on the road, I told him about how we were down to one car because I had given my old one to my son because the local drunk was stealing gas from it.

He asked "Do you mean John?"

I said "Yes: he's been stealing from me for years. What's the story with him? Is he some Deputy's love child?"

He laughed, and told me that John was a great artist who could paint like Michelangelo, and that he'd had some bad accidents and was always a hard-luck kid. He said John was a Good 'Ol Boy. He told me that John didn't make much money, and I told him that I'd heard that John drinks up his Social Security check in about a week, and then he goes out robbing from me to get the rest of his booze for the rest of the month.

We got to my house, and I asked him if he'd accept twenty bucks to take my generator to the Small Engine Repair Shop. He was nice, and offered to do it for free. I opened the shed, and was pulling the Briggs & Stratton generator along the path out to the driveway, and he say me stumble and came over to help, and he was talking more about John, and I told him that I'm a friend of Bill's, and had been since July 4th, 1984. I told him that I had been self medicating for post-traumatic stress, and that it took me a few years to figure it out, but I had stopped on that day.

I told him I don't have a lot of sympathy for guys like John, and that I had put it down and that John could too and I'm a Quaker and I can't use a gun to address the issue. He took the generator, and pulled it out to the driveway for me, and we both heaved it up onto the tailgate, and he wished me well and I said "Thanks!" and he went off back to the body shop.

The Small Engine Repair Shop called me up this afternoon, and told me that there was nothing wrong with the generator, and that it was running fine. They wanted me to come get it right away, but I explained that I couldn't, and they said that they had no room to store it and so I called the body shop and they said they'd check with the guy who had given me the ride.

It's been running through my head all afternoon: am I the only guy who didn't get the memo about what a genious John is, and what a great artist John is, and how John had it rough and how he's a Good 'Ol Boy?

I must be, 'cause everyone else in this town seems to be fine with John treating me like his private sugar daddy.

Bill Horne, June 6, 2022


I have been working on a very, very old computer while my laptop was being repaired, and although it's ancient in computer years, it still cranks up and runs Windows 10, albeit very slowly. I have Ubuntu on here, too, and I can boot into either OS depending on what I've doing.

The Windows 10 setup is just too gross to use anymore, but I have some things to do that just can't be done on Linux - at least, I don't yet know how to get them done.

However, I just took another swipe at the “High Visibility” settings, since my eyesight has degraded to the point where I can't even lean back in the chair that I'm using to sit in front of what “used to be” a large screen, but which is suddenly looking way too small.

I chose a black background, and white text, and I set the “Size” parameter to 125%. It's a lot easier to read, but this blog, which is supposed to have a red background on the table header entries that separate every blog entry, now has just a black background like everything else.

I suppose that “Accessibility” settings have to be consistent and that it's not that great a loss, especially since I know that anyone reading this on a regular screen will see them anyway. Still, it's disconcertiing and a bit off-putting, but I suppose I can't have everything.

Maybe I'll find a way to get used to it, or turn it back on. I'd bet it would be easier in Linux!

Bill Horne, May 27, 2022


It's 11:01 AM EST, in North Carolina. At 10:23 AM, the power failed again.

This is the second time this week.

I have an "emergency" generator. Lately, it seems it's more like an "anytime French Broad Electric wants free help" generator. The lights go out, and my Uninterrupiable Power Supply beeps, and I set here for about a minute and then the generator starts up and then I sit for another 30 seconds, and then the lights come back on and the UPS beeps and maybe five or maybe fifteen mintues later, I have an Internet connection again.

I don't know why this upsets me so, but it does. The generator came with the house, after all, and it's a "whole house" setup that has enough ergs to keep two refrigerators and the dehumidifier and the - well, not the air conditioning, but only because that's not connected to the generator panel that switches "Emergency" circuits to the genset when the commercial power fails.

I guess that I'm not used to life in the boonies anymore. We had power almost all the time at the Da Nang airbase in Vietnam, except if a rocket hit one of the poles, and there was power on Monkey Mountain for the TV transmitter - yes, that's right, a TV station in a war zone - but then again, they had their own generator going 24/7 anyway, since it was up on the top of Monkey Mountain.

I'm old, and fussy, and I expect the world to work right. It doesn't, and in not doing so it reminds me of all the times my world hasn't worked right either.

It's almost an hour now: 11:20 AM. I'll call the French Broad Electric Company hotline, and probably listen to a recording about how "widespread" the outage is. Or maybe I'll just go to lunch in town, and see for myself.

Bill Horne, May 26, 2022

It's called a Yagi

I have a crank-up and fold-over tower that holds my two-meter Amateur Radio antenna about fifty feet in the air, when it's fully extended. It's had a few problems lately, and it was stuck for a couple of weeks, just a few feet higher than I'm able to climb at my age. My friend who lives up the street got it free, with the aid of a fire axe and the Armstrong method.

Well, I decided to take advantage of the tower being "down" again, and I tilted it over and put a new "Beam" antenna on the mast that's strapped to the top secton of tower.

It's an antenna made by a company called "HyGain," which used to have a good name in the antenna business, at least as far as hams were concerned - but no longer, as far as I am concerned. They were bought out by DX Engineering, which now offers the "Hy-Gain" brand of antennas as part of its product line.

There is no UHF or "N" connector on it: just strews and bolts used to connect the coaxial cable to the "Driven Element." That's bad enough, but I had to cut off the UHF connector from the end of the RG-58 coaxial cable, and prepare the leads the old-fashioned way, with a razor knife and Band-Aids.

And, after it was back at the top of the tilted-back-to-plumb-and-cranked-up tower, the Standing Wave Ratio - trust me, it's important - didn't show any result I could believe. Either I assembled the antenna incorrectly, or there's something wrong with the matchine network, or the feedline, or with me.

I went to lunch at the local eatery, and talked it over with a couple of other hams that I've know for a few years. They agree that it wasn't doing what it should, but the advice they gave me was "Cut and Try," which is the oldest contruction technique known in ham radio antenna building projects. One told me "It's trial and error."

So, I have to hope the rain is over, and go out and cut the antenna a bit, and the cable a bit, and my ego a lot. We'll see which change makes the biggest difference.

No matter what, I'm not buying anything else from DX Engineering, any time soon.

Bill Horne, May 25, 2022

Road Trip

The idea came to me about two weeks in advance of the Ham radio flea market at Deerfield, New Hampshire. An old friend wrote a post on a ham radio bulleting board, and told everyone that he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease.

I asked my son if he could get a week off, and said that I'd trade him the use of my 2002 Honda Odyssey if he could help with the trip and figure out a wiring problem for me. He said he'd take the time no matter what, and he got on a plane. I picked him up at the Charlotte airport, and he drove us home and we crashed until late Saturday morning.

His mother got three days of his time, and I had to back off and let her do it, since I had promised her I would. I made a pile of the radios that I would take North, and I got some boxes from the U-Haul place: they were free, which surprised me, but the woman there said someone had left them off, and so I got what I needed and packed up some free bubble wrap in the bargain.

My son and I wrapped up the radios, especially the Drake twins, which I would sell when we got there. I was hoping to get enough money to buy a Collins 75S-3 receiver, since I used Collins equipment in VIetnam, and I've always wanted to have an "S Line" station again. I have the 30S-1 amplifier, and a 32S-1 transmitter, so all I need now is the 75S-3 receiver. I took along some old sounders, and I took a genuine Bunnell resonator, new-in-the-box, which I had been given as a reward for saving a woman from some tower-leasing sharks.

I also took my Left-handed Vibroplex Original Morse Code key, which is also known as a "Bug" in the trade, and the carrying case I have for it. I couldn't find the "wedge" connecxting cord, but the bug is in great shape and looks good, so I hoped I could get a good price for it, since I broke my left wrist last year and I'm left-handed.

We left on Tuesday, about Noon, and motored up to an AIRBNB place that I had paid for in Virginia. It turned out to be a nice spot, especially considering how poorly I do on stairs, since it had none. We spent a quiet night, and headed out around 7 AM.

Wednesday wasn't very exciting, but a good day for driving, and good weather. We went stright toward Takoma Park, Maryland, where my brother lives, and had a gluten-free pizza for lunch while talking about some of our old adventures in the military, back when we were young and dumb. The car was making a few odd noises, so we went to a garage that my brother recommended, which told me that there was a bad bearing in the air-conditioning compressor, and then charged me over $200 for a "diagnosis fee" when I told them we wouldn't get the work done there, since they tried to charge me $130 to activate a new electronic key for the door locks. We got to the AIRBNB place, in New Jersey, around 6 PM.

Next day, bright and early, we set out for the last leg, which was aimed at a town in New Hampshire about ½ hour from the fairgrounds in Deerfield. The GPS was taking us through New York City, which I didn't like at all, given the bad roads and heavy traffic.

And then it happened.

THe funny noises we had been hearing when we started the car came back during high-speed driving, and then a really bad grinding noise. We pulled of the Westchester parkway, and wound up in a restaurant parking lot, next to a Honda dealership.

My cell phone got warm, and I got hot: there weren't any cars to be rented anywhere, since Hertz and Avis refuse to accept Debit cards, which I've used for years. We went over to the Honda place, and I asked about buying a used car. They wanted over $30,000 for every car they had, and my son said that if he was going to get one of them, he had to have the Honda Pilot they were selling, since he needed lots of room for his plumbing tools, and two other plumbers he works with had them anyway.

The dealership wanted $39,600 for the Pilot, and I said "No," and realized that I was going to miss the first day of the gathering, and also the surprise party which had been planned for my friend the ALS victim. The nearest place that the restuarant Maître D would recommend was a Hyatt hotel a couple of miles away. We went there.

THe hotel demanded $166 for a room, plus another $100 charge which they said would cover "Incidentals," and the clerk promised to refund it if we didn't buy any "Premium" movies.

We settled in to the room, and I looked at the restaurant bill and realized that my son had consumed three mixed drinks in the space of two hours. We slept.

I woke up at 5 AM, wide awake, still tired, but unable to fight the conclusion I had to reach and had to act on. It was Friday morning, and I told my son that he's an alcoholic and that I wouldn't buy him any gargantuan SUV that gets around 12 MPG. He got mad, and left for the airport. I caught up with him in the lobby, and suggested that the train would cost a lot less and would let him off closer to home. He took the train.

I went back to the dealership, and I had them estimate repairs to our car. They said it would be about $1,500, and I signed the work order and settled in to wait, after a side trip to the the used-car sales floor, where the salesman I had dealt with the day before told me that I'd been 86'd and couldn't buy a car there. I asked him to find a used electric or hybrid vehicle, but he said there were none available anywhere within twenty miles. I went back to waiting.

Around 2 PM, they gave me a bill for around $1,300, and I departed for New Hampshire, driving solo and cursing alcohol in general and the damage it had done to my father's family, and now to mine. I was on the phone, asking my brother to find a Quaker meeting which could accept a donation of my car in return for a trip to the airport in Boston. There were no takers.

Friday night was at another AIRBNB place in New Hampshire, which had a front walkway made up of very tiny and very slippery steps, with no handrail and little option. I crab-walked with my suitcase dragging, and even took off my shoes at the front door when asked.

I woke up around 6 AM, and I knew that I wouldn't sleep anymore, and I spent the next two hours getting clearn and ready to leave: I gave my hostess the rest of the distilled water I had brought for my CPAP machine, plus the lunch meats and bread that I knew wouldn't be allowed on the plane. My son had called the night before, and we'd reached a compromise, and he and his girlfriend promised to be at the fairgrounds around 9 AM, to help me sell stuff and then get to the airport.

Sigh. Better than nothing.

I made it to Deerfield right around 8:30, got admitted even though they couldn't find the tickets that were supposed to have been left for me, and I was limping around and setting up tables and putting out rigs and sounders when he and she arrived and took over the grunt work for me.

The high point of the day was when my friend who had ALS came by, driving a small farm kind of tractor that he had used in previous years. He was easy to talk to, and I reminded him of how he had told me his on-the-air signal was strong because of "Fresnel Zone Gain," and how I had believed him until I visited his house and realized that the power meters on his home-built transmitter showed a power comsumption far above the standard. We shared laughs about that and lots of other things, and then it was noon and I had to pack up and leave.

My son and his girlfriend said goodbye at the curb in front of American Airlines, after I handed over the extra keys for the car, and I went inside and collapsed on a vacant wheelchair, and then, when I couldn't get any of the attendants to pay attention, I limped over to the AA counter and handed over my driver's license and got boarding passes for the flight and a ride to the gate in the wheelchair that showed up less than a minute after the AA employee picked up the phone.

My wife picked me up at the Asheville airport, with our housekeeper behind the wheel and her daughter asleep in the back seat. We went home.

Bill Horne, May 6, 2022


I realized that it was too late to finish assembling the new antenna that arrived today, and decided to put an alternate aerial up instead.

So, I went to the shed and got my "J pole" antenna, and took off the one that's been giving me trouble, and substituted the J-pole instead.

Then, I returned the tilt-over tower to a vertical position, and cranked it up until ... it stopped.

The guy wires weren't yet tight, and there wasn't anything dragging that I could see. The coaxial cable was going up to the top where it was before, and the guy wires were clear as far as I could tell, and there wasn't anything stuck as far as I could see.

But it won't go all the way up, and it won't come down, either.

I backed the crank-handle until there was slack in the cable, and pulled and yanked and shook it and swore at it, but ... I lost my grip and fell over backward, bending the tomato cage my wife had just bought, and losing my keys and tools in the grass tangled around the raised bed. I crawled back to more-or-less upright, thinking how much it sucks to be old sometimes, and went back at it.

And, after another ten minutes, as for the tower, ... Nothing. It's stuck.

I tied the safety lanyard around the crank handle, and limped back inside and figured either it comes loose on its own, or I have to rent a ladder and do it the old-fashioned way.

Bill Horne, April 16, 2022

Occupational Therapy

I got to my appointment just a minute before I was due, and they told me that my therapist was still working with someone else. I spent the time doing the exercises I had intended to do that morning, but which had somehow slipped by since I had to go to my annual physical and spend time putting gas in the car and working on the Telecom Digest.

We started a couple of minutes later, just after I had finished my exercises, and I went over the things I am having trouble with and those that are getting to be too easy. She had me use a clothespin to put elastic bands over some golf tees. I guess I did well, because she put them away and told me that next week she's going to grade my progress again, and that might be my last session.

It has been a long haul. It has been a painful recovery, and a hurtful moment comes as I recall the hatchet job the first quack did, and the amazing repair that the Chinese-trained Professor did at Wake Forest Baptist in Raleigh-Durham. I can do "normal" things pretty well - things like typing this blog entry - but there are many areas that I've got to do more work on.

Life if funny sometimes, but not humorous, and I'm trying to do something that a young cancer patient I saw on PBS asked: she said "What if you lived your life one breath at a time?"

Sounds like a good idea.

Bill Horne, April 12, 2022

Things My Sister Says I Can't Eat

My Sister lives in Oregon, and I have to do a mental time change before calling her. I did that around 4:30, and we talked for ½ an hour or so, and I asked her to run down the lists of things she eats and where she buys them.

We've figured out that she and I are both alergic to Casein, a protein in milk, and that we're both Gluten-intolerant. Ergo, I've been picking her brain for sources and methods to use in our shared effort to keep us both alive, or at least not miserably sick.

I can't eat pizza anymore. I have to give up the thought of maybe having some again someday. I can't have whole milk, or even Lactaid: my sister told me that it still has Casein in it, and that's what has been making me really miserable lately.

I'm able to tolerate Almond milk, although she thinks it tastes too thin. We can use Soy milk. There are a couple of kinds of bread that she says aren't too bad: she's going to email me the info.

I'm out of my comfort zone, and I mean really out. I just can't get past the fact that my body has suddenly, in my sister's words, “Put up signs at intersections,” and now I've got to get used to being abnormal for the rest of my life. Special foods, special drinks, and special habits from now on.

You're right: it sucks.

Bill Horne, April 10, 2022

I Am Freezing

The hall thermometer tell me it's 70 degrees. The digital thermostat says "69." You'd think I'd be comfortable and happy.

Actually, I'm freezing my ass off.

I'm trying to learn how Grluten-free and Casein-free food tastes, but in the process, my internal temperature regulation has taken a vacation. I feel cold all the time, especially in my bathroom, which isn't heated well anyway.

Cold as a ... well, I can't think of any Politically Correct metaphors. It's just cold. Our house is made as a log cabin, but that's only on the top floor - the basement is just cinderblock and brick veneer, and although both construction methods have good "R" ratings, the net result is that it should be comfortable.

But, I'm still cold. My gas fireplace logs have boosted the living room to 72, but the rest of the top floor is, at best, cool. I'm not sure why. I might be out of oil, even though I had 200 gallons delivered a week ago, or my furnace might be showing its age, or I might just be getting old.

I'm going to go buddle up and pull the blanket to my chin.

Bill Horne, April 9, 2022

The Hard Part of Being Sick

I had a sandwich for lunch on Wednesday, and I put a slice of cheese in it. I drank a beer with it.

The afternoon turned into another episode of vomiting and diarrhea. Not something that's easy to admit, nor to think about, but I'm willing to face it: I thought I was just lactose-intolerant, and that an occasional indulgence wouldn't hurt,

It looks like I was wrong, about both the indulgence and the disease. I talked to my sister, and she told me that what runs in our family is both Casein- and Gluten-intolerence, and that I'd have to say goodbye to cheese and lots of othrer things too.

I just turned 70. I thought I'd been retired long enough to kick back a little, but WTF: a sandwich lays me low? A bottle of beer that I didn't even finish?

Well, now I need a new diet, and new habits, and new shopping lists. It sucks. It's unfair. It's a PITA.

I'm an American, Goddammit! I have a right to eat trash food!

Bill Horne, April 8, 2022

Road Repairs

I got an email from another Ham: he told me that there was a program I could apply for, to pay for repairs due to damage from Tropical Storm Fred, which burned through Yancey county last August.

The website that explains the program said that I have to have an income of less than $94,000 per year, and no flood insurance, and two or three other things that I'm going to check on .

I told my neighbors, and asked them to file along with me, in the hope we can get some money to fix the road that leads in here from the outside world. I've got high hopes: it would take about $59,000 to repave it, and if the state of North Carolina will help, we might be able to make a deal for all those who live here to chip in. My neighbors on one side are trying to sell their house, so a newly paved road would make a big difference. The other families across the road could benefit too, although their benefit would take longer to come to them.

It's a "private" road, which might hamper things, and as it happens, I do have flood insurance, so I might be out of the running right at the start. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained: I'll go to the courthouse and see what's possible.

Bill Horne, April 4, 2022

Tax Time

I spent the day sorting through tax forms, getting them all ready for our accountant. It's boring, agonizing, brain-numbing work that I'd rather someone else could do.

I had an organizing specialist come in, but she just put new labels on a few file folders, and told me to do the work I thought I had hired her to do. She also invited me to a seminar where she told me I could learn how to organize.

Now, I'm going through the file folders she lined up on the top of my bookcase, and trying to find the tax form from my 401-K. I have my wife's form, and my Social Security form, so it's just the 401-K at this point. Oh, and the forms from my pension fund as well: I just turned 70, so I've got to start taking money out of the 401-K and puttig it into some other place where the IRS will have a bigger bite each April.

I stopped around Six PM, and we had dinner: spaghetti with meatballs, and a salad. Then, I did some work on the Telecom Digest, and called it a night and now - at 11:41 PM - I'm watching "Miss Sloane," which was recommended by the New York Times because it's about to be removed from NetFlix®.

And, of course, I'm writing this.

Bill Horne, April 3, 2022

Improvement By the Numbers

I went to my Occupational Therapy session yesterday, and the therapist spent it measuring my various muscles and bones and whatever else was on her list-of-things-to-check.

It turns out, she told me, that I've gone from about 35% of "normal" capability to 67%. She said that my ability to bend my wrist is a lot better, and my ability to pinch a strain gauge has gone up a lot, too.

I have exercises I do every day, but I always feel like I've forgotten something, so I asked her to write them all down, and I asked my wife if we have a five pound bag of rice so that I can work on "everyday" tasks like unloading a grocery bag. I've ordered 3 and 4 lb. weights from Amazon, but there's no way to predict when they'll be here, since they're on back-order. I have a four lb. weight I borrowed from my therapist, and that serves as a substitute for the moment. There are a couple of one-pound weights that have hoist bands on them, so I've been using those in place of the two pound weight that I can't find.

I tried using a milk bottle - water weighs about 8 lbs a gallon, so a ½ gallon bottle, should be about two lbs when filled halfway. Close enough for exercise, that's what I say.

Well, back to work and getting my income tax done on time for a change

Bill Horne, March 30, 2022


We were getting ready to leave for Lenoir, a small town about one and one-half hours away. I had put my suitcase in the car, and I went back inside to take another look around.

My foot caught a bump in the dining-room floor, and I fell face-first into the kitchen, with my left arm hitting the dog's feeding tray and my right impacting the edge of the archway that leads to the kitchen. I took the usual mental review: no pain too great to handle, nothing sticking out at odd angles, and I was still conscious and aware of my surroundings.

The dog tray had hit my left forearm at two points, and they hurt like hell, but weren't broken. The right arm wasn't that bad. I yelled for my wife, and she told me to wait, and I started yelling more loudly. She helped me to get up, and I needed a chair to lean on, and then to sit on, and I counted my bruises and my options, and we set out for our destination.

I had an inspiration, and I took an ice pack and slipped it into the arm sling I haven't needed for a few weeks. It helped a lot.

Bill Horne, March 25, 2022

A Really Nice Dinner

We agreed that we'd have Italian sausage spaghetti sauce with our pasta tonight.

It was the best dinner I've had in weeks.

I like spaghetti: it's simple, easy to make, and really hard to screw up. It was my go-to mean for the years I was living down here alone, while my wife was supervising the repairs to our home in Massachusetts. I had a job offer I just could not refuse, and so we had a long-distance love affair for a while.

Tonight, it was especially good: she made it with Ziti, which I like, and included a salad that was perfect way to offset the sauce's heavyness.

I ate everything on my plate, and then finished hers after she went to lie down. I think now that I should have wrapped her meal up for lunch tomorrow, but it was just too good to resist.

This is what it's like to get old: I take a childlike delight in tasty, nice food and in sipping the chef's wine when she's not looking.

Bill Horne, March 22, 2022

Digestive DIsturbance

The one thing I didn't count on, changing my diet to eliminate milk fat, was my digestion. I didn't anticipate the result, which was a bad case of constipation. It lasted for four days.

I'm from an older generation, and I was taught to suffer in silence. I did so: no remedies, no trips to the pharmacy, no asking my doctor for help.

Yes, I know, I'm an idiot.

Last night, I gave up. I had some Colacs pills left over, and I took one, plus a glass of water mixed with Metamucil, or whatever flavor of stuff Wall-mart sells.

It took most of the day to have the desired effect, and I was able to enjoy a really basic, high-fat American meal - Cheeseburgers with beer. It tasted great.

There's a moral to the story, you know: aging has an obligation attached, and it's the obligation to get real about my health and ways to keep it and protect it.

Bill Horne, March 21, 2022

Food Fight

I got sick - in fact, very sick - as I wrote about in a previous entry.

It happened again on Monday, and I decidied to seek help. My doctor says I need to see a Gastroenterologist, and he referred me to an outfit in Asheville. I've had bad luck with backwoods medicine, so I'm gun shy: I'll go, but if they talk about operations, I'm headed back to Wake Forest Baptist at a run.

I am, however, doing an experiment: two of my siblings have food allergies, and I am sensitive to Lactose, so I've started doing without milk, and I've minimized bread and other gluten. Just this morning, in fact: grits for breakfast, with a little margarine. At lunch, I debated, and decided to try a sandwich made with whole wheat bread - but no butter.

So far, so good: I'm more or less "Normal," and I don't feel any stomach cramps or other harbingers of disaster.

We'll see how it goes for a few days. I'm down to 262 lbs., and I'm thinking I might actually break the "200" barrier again. I did it once, for about a year, and then I took a desk job, so now I'm thinking I can start moving around and moving down. More reports to follow as I figure this out.

Bill Horne, March 16, 2022

Oh, Carp, They Did It Again

The UPS guy brought my laptop to the door yesterday, and scanned this and tapped that, and I had my computer back. I bought the deluxe drop-and-spill insurance when I bought the laptop, and I figured it was worth it, especially after having it fixed three times.

The last time I had a repair done, the laptop came back without any of my data on it. The hard drive had been completely erased, and a "new" copy of windows 10 installed, so that I had to reinstall all my programs and retrieve all my data and spreadsheets from the backup drive. I had forgotten to include my user id and password, so I figured they had to brute-force their way in.

I shrugged my shoulders and got 'er done, the first time. I had forgotten to provide a user id and password, so I guess it made sense.

This time, I put a notice in the package, in big, 20 point type, telling them how to log in to the machine. The problem was a cracked screen cover, anyway, so I didn't think they'd need it, but I guess the techs were both needful and illiterate, because this laptop, when I opened it up, told me I was welcome to Windows 10, and it started touting the advantages of Windows 11, and encouraging me to open every aspect of my online life to the tender mercies of Microsoft's resale machine.

Son of a bitch. They did it again.

I turned down the surveillance state, and declined the supposed advantages of the improved online experience. I installed PuTTY, and Pageant, and Password Safe, and copied the Crypto keys over with a thumb drive, and started writing this blog entry.

Most days, I don't think of Michael Dell any more than he thinks of me. Today, I wish I had his home address, because I'd like to write him a letter and tell him he's losing customers because his service depot doesn't want me to send my laptop in for repair.

Next time, I'm looking at other vendors. Do you hear that, Michael?

Bill Horne, March 5, 2022

The Big Seven-Oh

There's a song on the radio lately: something Toby Keith wrote, called "Don't Let the Old Man In." There a music video, which shows Clint Eastwood doing ordinary things and laughing with his friends and having dinner with his wife.

The most touching lyric is this:

Ask yourself how old you would be, if you didn't know the day you were born?"

Well, today is the big Seven-Oh. I'm Seventy Years Old, and I guess I'm lucky: I don't feel it nearly as much as I thought I would. That's a two-sided coin, you know: I'm able to accept that some of the things I tried in the past weren't a good choice for me, but I also, now and then, take on projects and adventures which aren't appropriate for the state of my health and my somewhat more moderate abilities.

I don't imagine myself directing movies or being Rowdy Yates - now, or at any moment of the past - but I'm prone to take umbrage at people who take advantage, or those whom denigrate my hard-won expertise, or even those who remind me, by doing foolish things, what I was like at their age.

I've gotten crotchety a lot lately, and I'm feeling put apon by my aches and pains and all the pills that go with them. I haven't finished getting my ham radio station back together: I have one Drake TR-4 transceiver working, and I enjoy the nostalgia, but I've got to rewire the cables and arrange various switches so that I can switch over to my Software-Defined transceiver from Icom, without unplugging everything and moving the wires. Right now, it feels like I'm out at a Field Day site, trying different wires and different settings and probably different kinds of beer. It's OK, up to a point, but now my aches and pains have limited what I can do in basic ways - I have to pick up and put down this laptop with two hands - and I'm feeling like I missed the chance to have all my preparation for old age out of the way before I got here.

There are compensations: I know that sometimes when I'm tempted to be "Mister Fixit" and offer to solve somebody's computer problem, I should take a step back and just tell them to read the manual or call their company's help desk. I have a maintenance contract for this laptop, including drop/spill insurance, and I've had to use it three times in the past two years: I just got a shipping box in the mail, and this machine will be on its way to the Dell repair depot again on Tuesday.

I like to think I've gotten wiser. I don't have as many complaints, and I can let a lot of things go that just aren't that important - although I don't always - and I don't imagine myself as being some cartoon strongman or political leadeer, or even the lord of my own little manor. Those games are for younger men (I almost wrote "children").

The big Seven-Oh. I'm going to admit it: I'm on the downhill slide, and I am actually enjoying the freedom of not feeling as if I should be capable of doing everything. That doesn't mean I will never try another roller-coaster, but I'll stay away from the parachute training or rides in helicopters, and just watch from the sidelines now. Mostly.

Bill Horne, February 19, 2022

Bad Food

I went to my therapy session at the hospital in the next town over, and they said it had been cancelled. They also said, several times, that they had left voice mails for me.

Damned voice mail. If I could turn it off, I would. If I could lock it to vacation mode, I would: I'd tell callers to piss off and call me back later.

I went to breakfast at a retaurant I hadn't been to before. I had Bisuits and Gravy, and coffee and Orange Juice. I went home.

A few hours later, I was sick with diarrhea. I put on an adult diaper, from the bag I bought the last time this happened, and slept for about six hours.

I woke up at dinner, and had a small serving of spaghetti, and water, and two small pieces of garlic bread. Big mistake.

Thereafter, I was really sick: vomiting, and actually using the adult diaper instead of just wearing one. Sick like I haven't been sick in years.

After three full days of sleeping for a couple of hours and passing more water and sleeping for a couple of hours, I canceled the therapy session I was going to have today, and I felt good enough, late yesterday, to drink some bone broth and chilled water. and discovered that I have lost 15½ pounds.

It's 5 AM on Friday, and my stomach is sort-of-touchy, like having C-Rations after a ten mile hike. My wife is up, working on her computer, but that's OK, that's normal for her.

I'm going to take the glass of water that's sitting in the freezer, and sip it for a while, and then decide if I can risk some grits.

Tomorrow, I turn 70, and I had thought it would be just another day. Instead, it'll be a sit-and-doze, getting better day. Damned voice mail.

Bill Horne, February 18, 2022

Just Flatten It and Start Again

I'm probably going to be asked to help run a WordPress® website, and I'm not ready. I used to know enough about WordPress® to keep an existing site up to date, adding quotes from VIPs and even new pages, but that was almost twenty years ago.

There's a Quaker committee that I'm a member of, and they have a WordPress® website, hosted by No surprise there, but I have a WordPress® site on my own personal server, which I pay for so that I have a test platform things that I'm working on.

I'm going to re-re-learn WordPress®, and then put this blog on it, and a few other things that come from other places, but in order to do that, I have to make a decision about how to repurpose and the other domains that live here.

It bothers me. It's a choice between learning how to fix a variety of problems, or starting new and hoping that they're installed correctly this time. Most of the problems come from me not knowing enough about the software I'm used to having: the difference between Mailman and Mailman 3, for example. Still, there are advantages to having a new platform, with new disk space and no old bits of cruft to gobble it up.

The trick is to move the backup files off first: nothing (or at least very little) left to chance. Then, I can roll in a pre-made copy of Ubuntu 20 LTS, and construct a brand-new web server and a new Mailman site, and new whatever-else-I-always-wanted.

Still, there's a nagging feeling in my head, like I should have been able to fix all the problems and cure any hiccups and behave like the Linix-Guru I've always wanted to be.

I'm getting old, and my mind isn't as plastic as it should be if I want to be a gen-you-wine System Administrator. But, it's fun to find out that there are still some things I can do. The adventure begins.

Bill Horne, February 12, 2022

Too Many Surprises

The power failed, about 40-or-so minutes ago. I heard SWMBO call "Bill, the light's off" - as if I was at fault. I told her all the lights were off.

I have a "whole house" generator, hooked up to start automagically when the mains stop working, and it kicked in about a minute later. From my standpoint, everything was fine: I was sitting in this same chair, reading a book, and the light was back on, although the chair automatically reset itself so that the footrest came down and the back came up.

Our housekeeper, however, was soon upstairs: she told me "The stove isn't working," which was a surprise. She uses an electric stove, and since the generator was running, I had expected all the elecdtrical things to work. Not so, it seems: the generator has a separate circuit-breaker box, to which the "critical" circuits are wired, and it became apparent that the downstairs electric stove had not been so connected.

There are two possible reasons for this:

  • The stove had been wired before the generator was installed, and its circuit was never transferred to the newer box.
  • The stove draws too much current for the "critical" circuit box to handle, and was therefore left off of the emergency items list.

I told our housekeeper to use the gas stove we have up here, and she cooked lunch for herself and her little girl. Her daughter, however, was quite annoyed that her tablet would no longer connect her to the Internet: the power outage was killing the pole-mounted amplifiers that the cable-TV company uses, so the net was down.

Anyway, she and her daughter were getting ready to go shopping, and I asked her to pick up ½ gallon of "Coleman Fuel," which is the stuff used in Coleman stoves like the ones I keep in reserve downstairs, and Coleman lanterns, of which I have two on the shelf of my Dining room, a few feet away from where I sit. If her stove doesn't work when the backup generator is on, I'll have to look into that, but a Coleman camp stove would do in a pinch.

It's just a little annoying, you know? I knew the generator would come on, and I knew that my light and my easy chair would work, and I knew that it would happen automagically. I just didn't know that the electric stove wasn't part of the plan.

Bill Horne, February 9th, 2022

Old Fires Burn Slowly, If At All

I stumbled across a video presentation called Tom Rush and Country Joe McDonald - Activism: Then and Now.


It wasn't bad, exactly, but it was far from good. "Country Joe" McDonald played the "Fish Cheer and Fixin To Die Rag," updated for Afghanistan and Iraq, and a song about whales, and Tom Rush had a couple of songs that sounded a chord from my youth. I smiled at some of their patter, and grimaced now and then - I hand't known that Country Joe had been in the Navy - but there was, for the most part, just a feeling of disquiet and loss, as if I had missed a plane flight, or an ocean cruise departure, and nothing to be done but go back home while everyone else got to be a part of something I had wanted to do.

Rush was (as usual) polished and professional, mixing anecdotes and jokes with his songs, while disclaiming any ability to speak on activism. He surprised me by doing "Child's Song," which seemed a bit off-track for the occasion, but he also did his "Memory" song, which - as he pointed out - had several million hits on YouTube. Mr. Rush also mentioned some wag's comment that they might all be from a single person who couldn't remember he had already heard it, which lightened up the mood a little bit.

Country Joe had a few moments, the most memorable being his response to an audience member's question about what it would take to get him off the bench and active in a new cause: Mr. McDonald calmly asked "Why are you on the bench?" - and that drew the longest applause of the evening.

I'm not sure why it seemed so off-the-mark to me: Country Joe seemed like an old busker who was waiting for someone else to start singing, and Tom Rush like someone opening up for a name-brand protest singer, like his hero Woody Guthrie.

I just didn't feel any heat, you know? Old fires, and old coals, both low and getting cold.

Bill Horne, February 7, 2022

When All Else Fails, Read the Directions

We have a GE "Monogram" range hood in our kitchen: it has a very powerful fan, and four bright lights that my wife can turn on with a single push of a button. She loves the way it will stop the smoke detector within a minute.

Since as long as I can remeber, I've been trying to remember how to remove the filters to clean them. I had done it, maybe four yeara ago, when Susan moved down here after our house was sold. The pegs at the front of each filter have a semi-circle cut out of the backward-facing side, so I figures that meant they were mean to be pulled forward, and then the back edge would be clear of a retaining clip, so that I could life them up at the rear and remove them.

Today, our new housekeeper was working on the dishes, and I mentioned the range hood, and I told her I used to know a man who worked for Sears & Roebuck, who wanted to put up a sign at each "Customer Service" counter, which would say "When All Else Fails, Read the Directions!"

Well, that didn't happen, but I've always though it was a good idea. I asked the housekeeper for her young, strong arms and young eyes, and told her I needed the Model number so that I could find the instructions on how to clean the filters.

She looked above, behind, and below the thing, but couldn't find a nameplate or Model number, so we started pushing this and pulling that and, after a couple of minutes of nothing working, I did a search for "GE Monogram" and "removing filter." I got a video that showed a (much) more recent model, which said that I needed to push the filter back, and then lower the front end down in order to remove them.

That didn't make any sense to me, but my housekeeper had to go and take her child to some gathering. As she was leaving, I noticed that one of the filters was hanging partly out of its slot, at the front of the hood.

I pushed it toward the back, and lowered the front some more, until I could remove it. I had thought there were spare bulbs inside the cavity where the fan is located, but all I found was an empty box that told me what kind I had bought the last time. That's OK, though: Amazon will make a little more profit this quarter, and the three dead bulbs will soon be on their way to electric heaven while the soon-to-be-clean grease traps in the shape of air filters will be newly shining and smelling fresh.

When All Else Fails ...

Bill Horne, February 5, 2022

Backups Are Easy, Or So They Say

"Backups," so the saying goes, "are easy: it's recoveries that are hard!'

Well, I'm sitting here in a vacation home in Saint Simons Island, Georgia, and I can refute one statement: backups are hard, too.

I've been using "tar" for backups, for as long as I've used Unix. The problem is that 'tar' has so many options it's impossible to remember them all between uses. I figured that out a while ago, and I made a txt file that contained a template 'tar' invocation, complete with options to skip certain types of files - mostly other backups - and to stay out of places I shouldn't go, such as the common data storage areas which I share with other users.

I can't find it.

I've done "find" searches for any file with 'tar' in the file name, but that includes filenames that have the word 'target' in them, so I have to weed those out by hand, and it seems that the template file is gone with the electronic wind.

That leaves me with the need to slog through the "info tar" output, again, and make notes about whether I need '-x' or '-X' or something else to exclude other backups, and how I can keep inside my own filesystem, and (most importantly) how to avoid this research the next time I need to do a backup.

I'm living dangerously, at least for the next few hours: to get room for the backups, I removed all the previous ones. I went from about 2GB of free space to over 23GB, so I certainly had too many backups hanging around. But, since the gremlins of Content Corruption are always planning their next attack, I'll get back to work on being a conservative System Administrator.

Bill Horne, January 31, 2022

They don't make days like this one anymore

My wife wanted to go to the YMCA and exercise, and I decided to pass it up. She didn't take our dog, since it's hard for an animal to remain in a car for an hour, and so Harpo and I were on our own.

We wound up staying inside: the day started at around 55 degrees, but then slid back to about 50 by noon. Not bad for a walk, if I had a winter coat, but I'm on vacation and that's too much like "Winter" for me.

I published the daily Telecom Digest, on the Telecom Digest website, and then I sort of zoned out, into a fugue state that had me watching old "Stargate SG1" episodes on Netflix.

Around Ten AM, I pulled out the bagels and "cream cheese" I'd bought at WallyWorld yesterday, and found that the "cream cheese" wasn't: it was yet another WallyWorld cheepo substitute, with a label on the front, in the usual tiny type face, telling me that this variety had "half the fat" of "ordinary" cream cheese. I was in a hurry, and my leg was hurting, but they worked me and so that's on me. It tasted about as good as any cheap can of library paste would.

Then, back to sitting on the couch, digging up a couple of articles for the Digest, and thinking about ways to update the web page so that it's easier to read, easier to mark up with HTML, and easier to find.

I wound up slightly more than ½ asleep, about One in the afternoon, and I finally gave up and went in for a nap, with Harpo already asleep on the couch. I had some kid of dream about being lost in a big warehouse.

Then, I woke up after Susan got back from exercise: she had picked up my pills for me, so that's a relief, and I was able to fill my pill caddy for another week, which will be enough to get me home next week, and back to my existing stock of the meds I didn't get from the pharmacy today.

We had a dinner of pre-cooked chicken: the bird that Susan bought had enjoyed a long, long life - and then we debated about which of the bones Harpo could safely chew on.

I realized, during dinner, that I was missing the online meeting of my Ham Radio club, so right after I put my plate in the dishwasher, I joined the meeting and found out a little bit more about how to get ropes up into trees for setting up antennas. I used to do that myself, but time has taken its toll, so now I hire it out. Still, it was a nice presentation.

Now, it's about 9:30 PM, and I'm feeling drowsy, and Harpo is, once again, asleep on the couch. Time to count some sheep.

Bill Horne, January 27, 2022

I hate it when that happens

I went to Walmart, just after twilight was gone, because my wife had bought fish to cook for dinner, and I thought it'd be nice to get some white wine.

We're staying in a rental home on Saint Simon's Island in Georgia, on a one-week vacation to get some sun in our faces and some warm weather in our skin, and it took about twenty minutes: the GPS was a godsend, although I hate driving at night, and I was watching my speed very carefully.

The place was actually easy to find, although the GPS called out different street names than Google Maps had shown me. No matter: I got there. My wife had been out shopping already, but she hadn't understood that the text message I sent her was the shopping list she'd been in too much of a hurry to write down.

I needed Shaving Cream, and ordinary bars of soap, and I wanted bagels and cream cheese in the worst way. I also got a bottle of Chardonay, the 1.5 liter size, for just under ten dollars.

I packed it in to the rear of my car, and headed off for our rented home. No problem, no muss, no fuss: I got here after another twenty-minute trip. I picked up the bags from Walmart, and headed up the walk.

The bottle of wine broke through the bottom of the bag it was in and shatterd on the cement walk. I put the other stuff inside, and she found the dustpan and a broom, and I went and swept up all the glass.

It was a great dinner: crayfish, and shrimp, and a special sauce that was the best accompanyment to fish that I've ever eaten. There were still a couple of bottles of beer left over, so we both had beer instead of wine.

And then, I cleaned off my plate and we had a desert made from pound cake and pudding. That was delicious, too.

Bill Horne, January 26, 2022

A Trip Down Memory Lane

There's something called "Cabin Fever University," which is a sort of Winter get together, where volunteers offer to help cave dwellers who've been living on grubs and lichen and frozen food to venture out into the cold and wet and gather together to learn something from others whom are willing to teach it.

I volunteered to do a session where I would show people how to install the Linux operating system on older PCs that are not fast enough to run the current version of Redmond Bloatware.

I used to help out at "Installfests," run by the Boston Linux & Unix group, where I'm still a member. We'd go to a meeting location, with many shovels abd rakes and implements of destruction, and help folks to erase the old and crufty Redmond slothware, and show them how to lift their aging hardware up to the light and air and beatific visions of Linux.

Now, I'll do that on a smaller scale, and in a less crowded city. There's just one thing to work on, though ...

I'm not sure I remember how.

I'vr been going through my memories of all the techniques and tricks that we used to use during Installfests. Most PCs have become standardized commodities, little different than a toaster or a TV: a USB port or two, maybe a slot for SAN chips (This laptop has one), and an HDMI port for hooking up TV sets, in case a user needs a much bigger screen or better loudspeakers.

But that's all: the plethora of Input/Output formats and interfaces that used to allow for most disk sizes and media types are gone, and so I need to figure out a way to install Linux on IDE hard drives or SATA hard drives, on machines that might have only five-inch floppy drives as removable storage.

The likelihood is that each motherboard will have an IDE interface, and that I can plug in a new IDE drive and install Linux on that, or use it as the "source" disk for the Linux software. I could even offload their old pictures and itunes audio files: it might be needed if someone decides not to sign the release giving me permission to erase all the data off their disks in addition to the Redmond software. I'll have to charge for the drives, though, and I don't want to leave a bad taste in folk's mouths, since Installfests are free.

Well, I guess I'll go shopping for disk drives - and re-re-re-reading the manuals about all the ways to install Linux and all its flavors.

Bill Horne, December 22, 2021

Oh Carp, I'm getting old

One of the Friends from my meeting has been an incredible help during my convalescence, He wrote me a note the other day, and offered to take me to my next appointment with the surgeon whom I'm hoping was able to fix my wrist.

Yesterday, we interviewed a young woman who might be available to help us keep going without moving into a senior center, and when she asked when we'd like her to start, I did a mental check of my calendar, and said "Tuesday."

I started this laptop this morning, and after a while, the date drew my eye: 12/18. I realized, suddenly, that my appointment with my doctor is on the 21st, which is - you guessed it - Tuesday.

I had thought the doctor visit was on Thursday. I really did. I don't know how I arrived at that conclusion, or why I didn't put it on my real calendar, but it isn't and I didn't.

I never thought I'd get old. I joke about how I thought it would take longer, how the memory is the second thing to go, and about how much I ache on cold or wet mornings, but I've never thought that I was leaving that ever-elusive buoy in my wake.

I admit it now: I have passed the point of no return, and although the far horizon isn't well defined, I know that I must continue toward it by holding the course I've already set.

Bill Horne, December 18, 2021

I Guess She's Right

I called my sister, and told her I'm having trouble.

"The longer I wait for my wrist to heal, the less tolerant and realistic I become," I told her, "and I'm getting ticked off by what should really be minor stuff."

My sister knows how hard it is to recover from an injury at our age: she broke her leg a few years back, and she's paid dues for violating the Law of Gravity at other times. She's got cred when it comes to climbing back up, and she gave me some advice.

"I was on a video conference," I confided, "and the guy who ran it was bitching about how 'The Tech Boys' hadn't told him about all the options to force everyone into 'Mute' mode. I almost yelled at him: I wanted to say 'Hey asshole, RTFM!'"

"It's becaue you feel helpless," she said, "and it's going to get worse the longer you're disabled. You need to talk to someone."

I Guess She's Right. "OK," I told her, "I'll make the call."

Bill Horne, December 16, 2021

The New Guy

I have a Guest Moderator working at the Telecom Digest, and he's been a great worker and a great student. I asked him to put out a notice, asking about others who can take over when he goes on vacation at the end of the month. I suggested a few things to mention - stuff that can actually help a career.

I corrected an email that was missing the “In-Reply-To:” header, probably because it was filed from Usenet using an nntp reader such as Google Groups. As soon as I opened it up, though, I got hit by the curse of UTF-8 characters: the apostrophes and quotes and hyphens were all in UTF-8.

This isn't usually a problem, since the are websites which will replace UTF-8 with ASCII or ISO encodings that every email client will understand, except that once the UTF-8 characters are in an email, it's develishly hard to get them out.

I'll spare you the details. Suffice to say I think it's a Presentation-Layer problem. I dug in and got 'er done, by hand, and what was supposed to be a quick sneak peek turned into an hour of “Where's the Vicodin?” one-handed typing.

C'est la guerre. If it were easy, anybody could do it.

Bill Horne, December 13, 2021
The house, and my mind, both quiet

My wife just woke up from her nap, and she's taking a shower and probably thinking about what we'll have for dinner. She cooked lamb yesterday, and it was delicious, but at one point she turned around toward me and asked if I had taken the Pyrex measuring cup, which she had her pomegranate juice in. I had to admit that I thought it still contained a little coffee I had poured out from the last batch, and that I had put in the remains of my current cup and was now heating up my pomegranate-flavored coffee in the microwave.

I poured out the concoction, but the lack of it didn't hurt the lamb, so I had some more of it in a sandwich, today at lunch, just after I woke up from my nap. I cut off the fatty pieces and gave them to our dog: what the hell, he hasn't tried to kill me today, so I'll be nice.

I've been using hydrocodone to lessen the pain in my left arm: I had surgery on it on Tuesday, and it was hurting until late yesterday, so the drugs were a welcome relief. I've also been using colace to counter the side-effects of the opioids, and this mornng it brought me to a different, but still very welcome, relief.

We took the dressing off my wrist yesterday afternoon: I left the surgical tape that covers the new line of stiches on the inside of my left wrist and arm. It's nice to be able to flex my fingers again, although the large bandage she put over the holes that were used for the laparoscope makes it still feel stiff: the holes are small, but spaced to look like a snake byte, and Doctor Li warned her to keep them covered.

Well, no matter: I switched back to Tylenl® after my trip to the backhouse, feeling empty and relexed and quiet for the first time in days. I've still got plenty of hydrocodone if I need it, but I'd rather do without the opiods - and without their effect on my digestion - so I'm just taking it easy and slow.

There's a guy from Virginia who volunteered to take over The Telecom Digest while I'm getting back to normal. He's already done the work for today - I know because I'm subscribed to the email list from one of my other email addresses, and I got three emails a little after noontime today.

I felt weird, and a little bit guilty that I hadn't done it, and for a moment I was tempted to do some work on the "Pinch Hitter Guide," which I wrote a few years back to make the job easier for folks like him, who step up to the plate if I'm on the DL.

I'd have to type one-handed, like I'm doing now, and I'd have to keep track of the "ALT" tags to be used with each screenshot, and I'd have to neglegt the bills for another day. I thought about it, and muttered "Nah" to myself, and spent twenty minutes pecking away at this blog instead, with the dog asleep on the old couch and the furnace humming and the shower running and me with nothing expected of me except to sit and wait to get better.

It's a nice feeling, having time to sit, and think, and smile. I'm going to do more of it.

Bill Horne, December 11, 2021

A Day In The Life

i got it the car at 3:07 AM, and we arrived at Wake Forest Baptist Davie Health Center at 5:38.

The "Show-Up" time was 6:30, but David was concerned about black ice, so he added more time.

Susan kissed me goodbye, and although she had been adamant about being included, she decided to return to her warm bed, and we set out without her.

The people at the hospital clocked me in and tagged my wrist, and then a nurse handed me a Johnny, said "It all comes off," helped me to remove my Jobst stockings, and drew the curtain before she left. She came back just in time to catch me as I was falling off the bed, and to catch my legs after I tried to lift them off the floor and missed the bed by several inches. She wrote something in the notes on the computer screen.

I had a conversation with the Anesthesia team, and one of them told me his Grandfather had been a Marine, and then watched me carefully during my de rigueur recounting of a Vietnam war story. It's a way to test their patient's long-term memory, so I guess no one ever told them the difference between a war story and a fairy tale, although they did ask me, point blank, what years I'd been in Vietnam.

The nurse came back in, and told me she was going to put in my IV line: she got it on the first attempt, and added a BP cuff, and took my temperature too. The BP was 143-over-92, which she told me was "OK for someone going into surgery," and then Doctor Li came in, a bit chagrined, and told me that they hadn't gotten my permission to do the surgery. He complimented me on how well I signed my name right-handed, and they wheeled me downstairs and even laughed after I asked for six helpers to slide me over.

The guy whose Grandfather had been a Marine said "I'm going to add something to your IV to make you drowsy," and I watched the brown fluid mixing with the D5W and that's all I remember.

I woke up in bright place with clean sheets on the bed and someone told me I was in "Recovery," and asked if I knew what that meant, and I asked her if I should recite the 12 steps, and she laughed and told the others and they laughed too: obviously, my best joke of the day.

David helped me click the seat-belt buckle, and he suggested I take a nap while we headed home. I tilted the seat back and drifted away into a fitful sleep, but was repeatedly awoken by someone snoring very loudly. We stopped at Chick-Fil-A and I had a chicken sandwich, which tasted a lot better than the ones Burger King serves, along with the best cup of Lemonade I ever drank at a roadside eatery. We got home at around one.

David, a member of my Friends meeting who is a retired Pediatric Cardiologist, went over the post game memorandum: no alcohol for the rest of the day, no "nceds," whatever those are (he caught my puzzlement and said 'No Ibuprofen!), and how I had to avoid dipping my dressing in water and couldn't lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee. I told him that my exercise routine includes 12 ounce curls, and he caught that, too.

David went off to feed his dogs, and Susan heated up some pork for lunch, and buttered a couple of slices of Jay Seibert's bread, which we bought at the Christmas parade last Saturday. I put on my CPAP mask and went to sleep.

The bandages come off on Friday.

Bill Horne, typing with one hand, December 8, 2021

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I got up at 7:40 yesterday, and went out and made coffee. I poured some grits into a bowl, and I was about to add the water when my wife asked "Did you have a good nap?"

It was nighttime: I had fallen asleep that afternoon, intending to be out for two hours. I could have sworn, when I awoke, that it was the morning and that I'd been asleep all night.

That's how it goes, sometimes: biological clocks sometimes need a new battery, just like the ones on the wall.

I spent today doing updates to The Telecom Digest, and finding a couple of good stories for tomorrow. It'd funny, how good stories will pop up as soon as I stop looking for them.

Tom Petty had a great song, and I always turn up the volume if it comes on the radio: "The Waiting Is the Hardest Part." At some point, you just want it to be over, no matter the outcome.

My surgery will be on Tuesday, in Bermuda Run, at the Wake Forest Baptist hospital. We'll have to drive for three hours to get there, but it seems unimportant all of a sudden.

Well, I'm waiting for dinner too, and I think that will come sooner, so I'll go wash up.

Bill Horne, December 3, 2021

Pre Op

The woman at the hospital left me a message, and told me that there was good news, and that I could call her direct line later.

I called back, and she said that they would do my "PreOp" interview over the phone. The hospital is three hours away, so that will make a big difference. She connected me to the PreOp department, and they said that I would get a text message with a link I would click so that we could have a video conference on my phone.

Oh, gawd. If there is one thing I hate more than trying to explain to low-level clerks the limitations of a $30/month "flip" phone, it's the thought of how some fast buck operator sold her boss some "one size fits all" medical software that's designed with the assumption that everyone has an Internet-connected "smart" phone and is therefore eager to offer to help capitalize the hospital's IT effort by contributing the free use of their personal property and Internet connection.

I don't, and I won't. However, six hours of driving is enough of a disincentive to make me want to prepare an alternative method. I went to Gmail, opened a personal account in the name of "Wake Forest," and I sent an invitation to it for a Google Meet video conference.

I've also done a mental review of alternatives, including Facebook video chat, and I'll write them out before I get the call tomorrow. It's funny, sometimes, how people are: if the person who calls me demands that I click on some link I can't read on a phone that doesn't have any Internet connection, it really helps to have an alternatie in place. I'll just say that the IT guys set up the alternatives, and that (s)he need only pick one.

Of course, they might just tell me to hop in the car. If they do, I'll tell them that I want it in writing that they won't accommodate my physical challenges, and that they demand I drive one-handed for six hours, while under the influence of Class A narcotics. I'd bet that will have an effect.

Bill Horne, November 30, 2021

Fender Bender

I looked out through the glass on the door, while our dog was shimmying out past my left foot. I let him out four or five times a day, and he comes back and yelps and I open the door again, and he runs back in, goes and looks at his feed bowl, and then he skiffles around on the rug and around the living room and around my feet and then he jumps on the couch and looks around for a while before he puts his head down and goes back to sleep.

The dog went off to wherever he goes to pee, and I stood there, realizing that the car has a crushed right rear quarter panel. It had been pushed in about four or five inches, just below the rear light assembly that holds the brake lights and turn signals.

I asked her if It had happened while it was parked or while she was moving, and she said she doesn't know anything about it: "If it was parked," I told her, "that's one thing, but if you were moving, that's something else."

I told her that I'd have to report a hit and run, and that the cops would question both of us and that they'd want to give us both a drug test, too, and I asked her if she could pass one.

She didn't want to talk about it. She said I was acting weird and crazy, and finally she said that she was going to take a nap, and went off to peel vegetables and make salad and heat up some Thanksgiving leftovers.

In the morning, I'll call up the insurance agent and find out if it's covered. The agent will probably tell me to file a police report. I'll go and pick up the forms, and fill them out, and take pictures, and pretend that I'm not suspicious and angry and sad.

It was probaby a supermarket post that she backed into. There's no glass or pieces of plastic or differnet-color paint in the scars, but I'm still angry and sad and suspicious.

She shouldn't be driving. The disease is getting worse. I don't know how to convince her that the one symbol of normalcy she has left isn't safe for her to use anymore.

Bill Horne, November 28, 2021

Nine, Three, Nine

The maximum dose of Tylenol Extra-Strength 500mg is six pills per 24 hours, and I'm expected to space them out at six hours between doses, so I'm allowed to tke two pills, three times a day.

I usually wake up around Eight A.M., and I take a couplee of extra-strength Acetominophen before Nine A.M. That means that my next dose has to come after Three P.M. to avoid the chance of me damaging my liver, or so the instructions say.

On most days, it's about Three-Thiry before I realize that I can take more pills with a clear conscience. I am avoiding the Oxycodone because I get constipated if I take more then one in about three days, so they're reserved for "Aw, Fuck It" moments when I'm really hurting and getting worse, and those are getting further apart.

But, I keep them in the medicine cabinet, not right at hand, even if they are over-hyped. It's my tight-assed Puritan upbringing.

Bill Horne, November 24, 2021

Product Placements

There's something about the incredibly dangerous drugs that actors on TV say they are addicted to. I used to watch "The West Wing" show, and the guy who played the White House Chief of Staff had a whole show about his supposed trip to rehab because he was "Addicted to Vicodin®."

I've learned a lot about drugs in the past month or two, and one of the things I've learned is that "Vicodin®" is a trademark name for Hydrocodone, which is a mild analgesic that I've been told is available over-the-counter in some countries.

Over. The. Counter.

If we go by all the times I've heard some TV character mention that he or she is or was "addicted to Vicodin®," you'd think that Vicodin® is the most dangerous drug in the world, surpassing Heroin® and Cocaine® as the dreadful substance that ruins innumerable young lives and promising futures.

But it's just another flavor of Aspirin®. Nothing to write home about. They gave me Oxycodone in the hospital, and - sorry to be blunt - it constipated me like I'd been on bread and water for a month. Getting addicted to something that turns my alimentary canal into a pipe filled with cement is not my idea of a threat.

News Flash: it's all hype. It's another episode of This Old House™, complete with trademarks turned toward the camera at all times, just so the viewers will think Vicodin® is incredibly powerful and something that the doctor is trusting them to "use responsibly" to keep America's pharma houses awash in cash and payoffs.

Product Placement, pure and not-so-simple, intended to fool gullible consumers into asking for more and more Vicodin®.

I feel like I should be angry, or regretful, or ashamed to be an American. i'm not any of those things: I'm just numb. I'm just TO'd that I was as gullible as the dumbest Joe Six-pack and it never occurred to me to ask myslef why so many scriptwriters had so much experience with Vicodin®.

Bill Horne, November 22, 2021.

Oh, where do I start?

We got a dog.

We drove to the middle of nowhere and picked him up, along with a new set of feed bowls that the seller generouly threw in. We got a bag of dog food, too: some exotic brand that is supposed to have chips of buffalo meat in it. It looked like it came from Trader Jesus, Mary, & Joseph's, but wtf, the dog is friendly and he eats the chipped buffalo if there aren't enough table scraps on the "OK for the dog" list, which means they can't go in the "dog eats here" bowl.

Mostly, he's mostly obedient, and mostly he craps ouside where he's supposed to, and mostly he respects my role as the Alpha Male.

Except for the second night he was here, when he tried to kill me.

I took him out in the back yard, tied to one of those dog leashes that extends out up to twenty feet or so, depending on which button I pushed.

The ambulance guy said that the leash was wound around my ankles when they put me on the big tarp that the other five firefighters picked up and carried over to the hydraulic lift that lifted me up into the back of the bus. My wife was there, looking dazed and confused and sleepy as she peered over the lip of the back door. She didn't say anything: they were closing the door and I promised to call her, although it never occurred to me to tell her that "We'll always have Paris."

The ambulace guy told me that they had called off the helicopter, since I was conscious and knew the date, and when we got to Mission hospital in Asheville he said something to the admitting nurse about Fentanyl.

They put a kind of cast on my left arm, after enough X-rays to make me glow in the dark. It seems, all said and done, that I had broken my left wrist in several places. The cast was made of a new kind of plastic that caused me to develop a rash over 80% of my body.

A few days later, I visited an Orthopedic Surgeon, who looked at yet-another-set of X-rays and told me that he needed to operate immediately, and would get me admitted to the hospital across the street that same day.

I fell down on my way to being admitted - the men's room had a sheen of water on the floor, due to a leaking toilet, and I would up on the cement floor, wet and pissed - excuse me, I meant "angry" - while I asked the guy in the other stall to fetch help. He came back and told me that the folks at the Admitting desk were summoning a flying emergency squad that deals with accidents inside the hospital. The squad showed up, pronounced me bruised-but-not-confused, and allowed me to check in.

They couldn't operate that day or the next or the one after: a little problem with my blood being full of Coumadin, which I take every day since I have a mutation called Factor 5 Leiden, which I had told them about at the doctor's office.

I was, finally, taken to an Operating Room, and the Anesthesiologist told be that the drugs would sting a little just before she poured molten lava into my vein. I woke up, sort of, in Dante's lowest circle of hell, with deformed creatures oozing about on the floor and the first thing I heard was someone laughing about her boyfriend while talking on the phone and ignoring my call for help and sanity.

A stolid man with a mask on his face wheeled the cot I was on back to the room I had been living in and my wife seemed surprised when I asked her who she is.

They had cut a basketball open and stuck it on the end of my left arm, where it became a weighty apendage that defined everything I couldn't touch or grasp or hold.

I stayed for another couple of days, and my wife drove me home, along with a commode and a walker that I accepted just because I was really constipated and I had fallen a second time in the hospital, when I got tired of waiting for someone to answer the bathroom pull-chain.

A few days after that, I sat in that same surgeon's office, taking to a clean-cut and condescending man who was probably a cooler from the doctor's insurance carrier, who told me that the surgery had failed and that there were loose screws in my arm, and who gave me the impression that I had become an inconvenient truth that Al Gore himself could never fix. He didn't remove my stiches, which was why I was there, and I was left to my own devices.

There's a retired physician in my Friends meeting, and he has been an incredible ally, guiding me through a search for options that culminated at the Wake Forest Baptist hospital, where a professor of hand and wrist repair told me that my CAT scan showed that my wrist is "A mess," and who has scheduled corrective surgery to remove "all the metal" and to assess my chances of using my writing hand once more.

I had already accepted the fact that I'd never be the Radio Officer on a tramp steamer, but that was bacause the ships all switched to satellite safety beacons and the Coast Guard doesn't use Morse Code anymore. I always thought I could do whatever I set my mind to, and now I'm forced to face a world of diminished possibilities. I'll get over it, eventually, given good drugs and a lot of resignation.

Stay tuned, film at eleven, Eyewitless News is standing by.

Bill Horne, November 21, 2021

Oh, My Aching Back!

It started about Friday - a twinge that I thought was the result of a minor kitchen slip that I was able to prevent turning into a fall. I had told myself "nice save," and I went back to carrying my breakfast out to the table.

By Saturday morning, my back was in knots, my hand was in the Tylenol bottle, and my ear was on the phone asking about narcotics. I don'g know what could have caused it other than the slip-n-slide event in the kitchen, but I was a lot less concerned with the cause than with the pain.

It sucks, dealing with a back injury. Everything aches, and even though bending over to put on my clothes takes thirty very carefull seconds, I'm hobbling around like an old man - which, come to think of it, I am - and sitting very, very, very carefully in an electric easy chair that will elevate my legs at the push of a button.

It's Wednesday now, and I think it's starting to get better. I've binge watched all of Stargate SG1, with frequent breaks to watch the Black News Channel's coverage of Hurricane Ida and its aftermath, plus all the other insanity going on away from our little hilltop.

Yesterday, still not sure of the what wind we'd get, I took the time to s-l-o-w-l-y crank down my antenna tower so that the wind wouldn't topple it. I'm probably just whistling past the graveyard, but I like to think having it lower to the ground makes a big difference to the amount of wind-loading the structure has.

This afternoon, I took a three-hour nap, and since that I've been sitting with a heat pad on my back, just trying to figure out why.

Bill Horne, September 1, 2021

Chance Encounter

I went to lunch around noon, hoping to sit with the other ham operators down at Lil' Smoky's. As fate would have it, only George Murphy was there, so I ordered a hamburger and we talked about which cities my wife wants to move to, and how I've chosen not to guide the process.

Then, a well-built guy came in with a badge on his belt, sidearm and all, and he and George exchanged pleasantries, and I decided to ask for his help. "Are you a Deputy Sheriff?", I asked him, but he corrected me and said "Probation Officer," and since George had to leave anyway, I asked if I could sit with the officer and then I poured out the story of all my troubles with my neighbor and how the guy is stealing from me and how I'm hoping someone can put a quiet word in the right ear.

The Probation officer told me that "Jack" isn't on probation, which means he did the full slide for whatever put him inside in the first place, and that tells me that Jack went down for something a lot heavier than stealing gas from my tank or oil from my crankcase or swapping out my wiper blades and my tires.

We talked a bit about how I'd been an MP in Vietnam, and how I had complained to the Sheriff's department about Jack, and how they had done a dog-and-pony show and laughed themselves to sleep afterwards, and how I didn't want to pick up another gun even though I can't run anymore and my wife can't either. I told him that the last weapon I'd cleared was the Model 1911 Colt that I had turned in at Saigon in 1972, just before I got on the plane for home.

It's funny, how getting it all out there can help take a burden off my back: I told the officer that I'm a friend of Bill's, and explained that I meant I had been in a twelve-step program, and he asked me how long I've been sober, and I said "July 4th, 1984," and he did a doulbe-take and congratulated me. I also told him that if he ever saw me with a drink in my hand he should know that Bill has a lot of friends, for a lot of different reasons.

He had to go back to work, but he picked up my lunch ticket and told me the meal was on him, and said to me that he'd see what he could do.

Bill Horne, August 24, 2021

Covid Corpulence

I went to the doctor's office a few days back, and, as usual, they asked me to step on the scale.

Carp! It shows 290 pounds! You'd think I was fat!

OK, I said to myself, you know where this comes from: stress eating, boredom, and lack of exercise. Really, I said that to myself - but not to my wife. She'd put me on a low-taste diet of bird droppings and earthworms, and demand that I walk out to get the mail every day instead of taking the car. Three-tenths of a mile, for Christ's sake: I walked it once, four or five years ago.

Still, something will have to be done. Let's see: what am I willing to do without? I won't eat tofu, and I can't even taste most "alternative to meat" pressed veggie burgers or whatever they call that goop.

Pizza will have to be cut back: once per month. That's a good start.

The wine will need to go, too. No beer, either. Water. That's all I'm going to drink now. The problem is that I get the munchies around Five O'Clock, and I start scarfing down cookies or peanuts. Well, then, I'll need to figure a way to stay away from food in the afternoons: I guess I'll start using my ham radio gear more. Come to think of it, I may even choose to brush up on my Morse Code speed. That'll take up most of the afternoon, and I'll stop eating seconds at dinner.

But no tofu. I draw the line at tofu.

Bill Horne, August 6, 2021

The Governor's Mansion

I woke up with my jaw tight, and so sore I couldn't close it on one side. I had my wife make an appointment with my doctor: she told me that their secretary wanted me to go to an emergency room to find out if I'd had a stroke, but my wife is a nurse and she told them "No," that it wasn't that kind of problem.

I had two cups of soup for breakfast and lunch, and I decided to go see my ham radio buddies and have a milkshake too. However, when I got to the lunch counter, the parking lot was empty and there was a sign on the door saying they'd be back on August 9th.

Well, I guess even hash slingers need vacations now and then. My jaw felt almost normal, though, so I treated myself to a hamburger at Burger King, and I ate it while waiting at CVS to pick up my wife's prescription.

Then, off to my doctor's office. The stop at the scale proved that Covid Corpulence has crept in to my house: it read 290.4 pounds. That's a seven-pound gain.

My doctor said I shoul get one of those football players' mouth guards and wear it while I sleep. He also told me that I could take Naproxen instead of Acetaminophen if my jaw gives me trouble again.

And then, he told me where the local dental college is. I used to go to a DDS in Asheville, but he sold his practice to a DMD, who then sent me a FOAD letter after I complained about her "hygenist" tilting the chair back so far I was sliding off, head first.

Anyway, I got back home,and my wife reminded me that we're supposed to attend a picnic at the governor's mansion tomorrow. Maybe the Governor will be there, and I can ask him for help with Jack.

Bill Horne, August 2, 2021

And I thought I was done with this shite

I got in the Honda, and started the engine. There's a light that come on if I'm low on gas, and it was on as soon as the engine caught.

Son of a Bitch.

There'a a drunkard, whom I'll call "Jack". He camps out down the road from me. He's a convicted felon, and he came back to my road when they gave him probation, apparently so that he can eat at his sister's house, defecate in the stream, and steal from me.

Those who know him told me that his monthly Social Security check runs out after a couple of weeks, and then he looks for anything that he can turn into his next bottle. The one time I brought the subject of rehabilitation up - as it happens, I'm a friend of Bill's - he yelled "Can't you see I've got to have it?" and stomped away.

Jack has swapped out my tires while I've been on vacation, and he routinely steals wiper blades off my winshield, oil from my crankcase, and gas from my tank.

I'm a Quaker, and I'm not supposed to want to have an alcoholic put back in prison. I want it anyway. I won't give more details about Jack, but it doesn't matter: everyone I've talked to about him knows exactly who he is, and most have anecdotes about how he was seen going through doggy doors, or had been found in a closet by someone they knew.

My other neighbors have target practice every once in a while, to remind Jack what's possible if he comes looking for their stuff instead of mine, and I have been debating with myself about whether I should get a permit for a firearm. It's a serious decision: I'd have to learn once more how to handle, shoot, safeguard, and secure any gun I buy, and the last time I cleared a weapon was when I turned in my sidearm at Saigon back in 1972, and I don't want to put myself back in that mode or live by that code, not now, and I haven't for a long time.

I might try again to embarrass the local sheriff's department into actually doing their job. I had them out here before the last election, and they told me that my local thief is doing work for a major mafia guy and they want to get to the major mafia guy by letting a good 'ol boy steal gas and oil and wiper blades and tires from me. They even put up a critter-cam, which they told me they would check remotely, and I had to point out that it was pointed in the wrong direction, but the deputies assured me that it was part of their plan, and I'm as gullible as the next guy and I believed them for a week or two.

Sheriff Banks isn't running for reelection next year. I suppose I'll have to start asking reporters down in Asheville what can be done, if anything.

Bill Horne, July 27, 2021

The Dishwasher Project

I woke up on Saturday morning, and sent Levi a text message that said "Let's install a dishwasher." I debated putting an exclamation point after the sentence, but decided that would be inappropriate, and just left it at that: I have to push about ten buttons to put an exclamation point into a text, and I despise phony enthusiasm anyway.

Levi showed up while I was cooking breakfast. I asked him if he'd lost weight, and he told me that he'd shaved his beard off. It was quite a change.

He started to unpack the new dishwasher, but I suggested he bring it into the kitchen first. He picked it up and brought it in, just two hands, just like that, and I was sitting and feeling old and useless and I told him that I was going to pay hin the same $150 that Best Buy would have charged, and we got to work.

The old Whirlpool took a while to remove: Levi found a couple of hidden screws in the surrounding wood, and he had to take a wooden railing out and cut it to fit, but he has a saw at home and, although I offered him mine, he went back up the hill and got it done in a few minutes. Better that way, I realized: he knows his saw a lot better than mine, and safety first. Anyway, he got the railing reinstalled after that, and got the drawer back in, so the new dishwasher looks almost as nice as the old.

I opened it up this morning, and found dishes in it: wet dishes, and the front panel had an alarm that told me the supply of "drying agent" was low. I figuered my wife had taken it out for a test drive, but this afternoon, she told me that the new dishwasher isn't draining completely, which was the same problem as the old one had. I told her to call Levi, since he asked me to call him if anything went wrong.

Poor Levi.

Bill Horne, July 25, 2021

The Hamfest is on Saturday

I was on a video meeting with some of the other members of my ham-radio club, and someone asked if I was going to the hamfest this Saturday. I told them I'd have to get a ride, and everyone who was going started heming and hawing and talking about the other things they had to do that day. I got the message, and I told them "Don't worry about it," and resigned myself to driving alone.

It's not that bad: the venue is only about 65 minutes away. No big deal. I figured I'd look for a Collins 75S-3, an old "Boat Anchor" receiver thaat would work well with the Collins 32S-1 transmitter that I have already.

I wanted to call my sister, and talk about family business and maybe inviting her son down here to do some work this summer. I couldn't find my cell phone.

I went through the usual routine: call it from the house phone, check the cars, search the desk in the study, where I charge my Amateur radio transceiver and my wife's Fire tablet and, of course, my cell phone.

Nada. Nowhere to be found.

Plan "B" - I sat down and cast my mind over the past couple of days, and finally recalled that I had used that phone last night, to tell me the time when my Ham Radio network should start. I was the "Net Control," so I had to start it at exactly the right time, and the cell phone's clock was a good reference.

I went downstairs to the "shack," which is what hams call their operating position. Yep, the phone was there, albeit dead. I plugged it in and watched a TV show while my wife (in ham radio lingo, my "XYL") cooked dinner. It was a nice meal: tiny little raviolis from the freezer, and fresh corn-on-the-cob next to a nice salad.

Afterwards, I did the dishes, dried them, and put them away, and went and turned the phone back on. It was charged to about 45%, so I knew I could make a call before plugging it back in. I opened it up, and checked messages as I usually do, and found one from my next-door neighbor, who had offered to help me install our new dishwasher. He had asked if I was home - about two hours previously.

I sent him a reply, and we agreed that Saturday would be a better choice. I did it, knowing that I'd miss the Hamfest, since we've been doing dishes by hand for a couple of weeks and my wife has been a great sport about that.

So, no hamfest, but that's OK, I know there's a lot of pent-up demand and it'll be a seller's market, so I set my sights on something later in the year.

C'est la vie.

Bill Horne, July 22, 2021

Oh, and then there's that ...

At lunch today, I asked some of my ham radio budies if there's anyone around here that fixes chairs. Keith told me of a guy in Spruce Pine. I asked about furniture stores, and they told me about a showroom on the "high road" in Spruce Pine," so I made a mental note to stop by there and size up their recliners.

I went home and got the two chairs to be mended: an old rocking chair with the spindles comping out of the backbrace, and a Maple kitchen chair that came apart and dumped my butt on the floor at dinner last night. I hope that they can be fixed, and that I'm not so heavy that I'll have to go and buy some special brand now. I do have some Covid Corpulence to lose, but I'm not grossly overweight. Ahem.

I got to the shop that Keith had recommended, and there was a "closed" sing in the window, evern though it was 3:30 PM on a workday. I left the broken chairs behind the building, and left a message on the phone number that was listed in the front window.

Then, I went to check out the furniture store.

They had all the usual stuff, and I found a love-seat dual recliner that I could buy for $1,205 counting taxes. Not leather, but not the kind of fabric that cheap ones have. I told the salesman that I'd have to run it by my wife, and he gave me a card with the price on the back.

Then, I went to see our accountant, a few doors down.

It was odd, I thought, that her name isn't on the door anymore. I went in and asked if she still works there, and they gave me a flyer that shows her new address and business name. It took me about fifteen minutes to get there.

I walked in and asked for her, but the guy at the front said she wasn't there because her grandfather had died. Her grandfather had told me she was an accountant when I arrived in 2015. He was one of the first ham operators I'd met in North Carolina.

I leaned on the counter, with both hands, and asked "Do you mean Dave, the preacher?" Dave is the minister at a small church near me, down on Route 80 just a little ways past my Quaker meetng.

"No," the young man said, "it was her other grandfather," and he told me a name I couldn't quite make out, but definitely not "Dave" or "David."

"Well," I told him, "I'm sorry to hear that," and then I talked to one of her employees about a tax issue, and he promised to file a form for me.

I drove away, thinking that I should't feel glad that a man I don't know was gathered up, but the fact is I do. I chalked it up to Vietnam: I find it very hard to feel sympathy for the dead when I didn't know them in life.

Bill Horne, July 15, 2021


I woke up this morning at 6:34, and stubled into the bathroom and took care of some pressing business. While I was doing that, it occurred to me that I hadn't taken my Coumadin and Carbamazepine last night.

I checked the pill strip to be sure, and "Sunday" was still full. Three pills, counting the statin my doc gives me to take.

Sigh. I hate it when I forget. I take the time to put each day's pills in a separate little box, and to close the cover and only take them out when the day on the cover of that box matches the day I know it to be.

I could have blown it off, and gone back to bed, bud I didn't. I went and took the pills, and then I had breakfast, and make coffee, and took care of The Telecom Digest for today. It was just before 9 AM when I got that done.

Then, I went and figured out how to use my Bluetooth headset with this laptop, and settled in to a run of songs on youtube. It's surprising what I learn when I have to: I usually watch a video or the CBS news when I'm working on the Digest, but the Roku streaming-video player crapped out, which was the second one that has dropped dead after about a year of use, so I'm going to get some advice about more reliable manufacturers and buy a different one this time.

Anyway, I realized I could turn on my Bluetooth headset, and it would turn off the speakers and feed the headset, ever if I have the HDMI cable plugged in to the wall-sized screen projector. It has worked out well so that I can keep watching "Cruising the Cut" and other worthwhile programs.

I've got a Brother-in-law who knows everything to know about video, and I'll give him a call and find out what models are actually worth paying money for.

Later: at 12:15 PM, I measured my INR. It was 2.9, which is within the "OK" range.

Bill Horne, June 28, 2021

Wait until next year

I got home from my club's Field Day site around Six last night. We didn't actually contact anyone, but I got a great tutorial on how to program Winlink for the Pactor modem I have, and it was fun figuring out antenna lengths and consuming mass quantities and seeing old friends in the flesh again.

I put my Icom IC-7300 on the air at home, and made a few contacts as a "1D" station: there's an exception this year, due to COVID-19, that allows ordinary home stations to compete, so I tried a few transmissions and talked to various other hams in Georgia, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and Maryland.

One of the station I called told me "You're a dup!" - and I realized that he was right: I had already "worked" him, so the contact wouldn't count. No biggie, but I didn't have any logging software that would flag duplicate contacts before I pushed the mic button.

Oh, well: I could have used a manual "dup sheet," but there isn't room on the table in my ham shack to write on one, and I couldn't get a free version of logging software going on time.

Next year, I'm going to do it up right, and let the club go its own way. I'll have a laptop ready, a generator for power, and a tent for moths and mosquitoes. I'll do it with Morse Code, since each contact is two points on Morse Code, but only one if I use the microphone.

Of course, I'll need to practice my Morse Code, and be prepared for a 24-hour sprint, and have my equipment and myself in good shape.

I'll probably just go out with the club again. 😉

Bill Horne, June 27, 2021

For Want Of A Nail

Tomorrow is Field Day, and I was in a meeting last night where I promised to bring a generator. No big deal: I have a Honda EU2000 "Inverter" genset that is whisper quiet and will power all the equipment at a typical Field Day event.

Not a problem: I bought a flexible-neck funnel, and poured last year's gas supply into my wife's car, and I reminded myself to add Stabil to the new gas after i bought it. I always treat my gas when it's used for small engines: cars have much higher compression, and they can use almost any gas that's up to a year old. And, no, you can't blame me if you try to do it and damage your car: it's my opinion, and the actual chemistry may vary.

I went to my shed, and pulled out the "Marine" gas tank which will keep the EU2000 going for 48 hours, and I poured the gas into my wife's Subaru, with help from her holding the new funnel. So far, so good.

I went back to the shed, and put the regular gas can and the funnel away, and I thought about the hookup process I'd be going through tomorrow, when I arrive at the banquet center where our radio gear will be.

  1. Gas for the genset: I'd need to buy three gallons, to fill the Marine tank. Check
  2. Honda genset: already tested and ready, with the service tag still on the handle. Check
  3. Custom-made fill cap for the Honda, with a Marine clip-on hose fitting ...


OK, it has to be SOMEWHERE...!

  1. Not on the table in the shed.
  2. Not on the shelves my ladders were leaning against
  3. Not - um, ah, lessee, ...

Not anywhere in the shed, which is the official home for all things related to internal combustion engines.

At that point, I had two options:

  1. Conduct a drawer-by-drawer search for the cap, in my study and my bedroom and my closet and anywhere else it might have wandered to.
  2. Use the other generator. It's a Briggs & Straton 5KW unit, big enough to power my house (I've done it), but also a LOT louder than the Honda.
  3. I didn't even get into my usual Obsessive-Compulsive mode, and start the search. The Briggs & Stratton had also been serviced just this week, and it was also ready to go.

    I pulled out some 2-by-6 boards, set them up behind my Odyssey, and ran the B&S genset up the incline all by myself. A little huff and puff, but not too bad, except that I developed a nosebleed and had to stop to stop the leak.

    Then, off to the gas station for three gallons of gas, in a regular can, and I was almost ready for the fun tomorrow. Almost: I had to swing by the supermarket and pick up a 12-pack of India Pale Ale so that I and my ham radio friends can have the appropriate mass quantities of beverages on hand.

    It's an unwritten rule. Sprained ankles, electrical hazards, heart-attakcs-on-a-platter foods, and Mass Quantities, all ready to go at the crack of dawn, or whenever I get up.

    The generator will be loud, but it will work, and someone else promisted to bring a backup EU2000, so we probably won't need my noisemaker anyway. Better prepared than not, though. It is, after all, an excercise in field-prep for radio teams.

    Bill Horne, June 25, 2021

Field Day

Every June, Amateur Radio operators like me take our rigs and our generators and our antennas and set up "contest" stations in parks, parking lots, football fields, and (in our case) the outdoor space of a function center.

We had a club meeting tonight, and we agreed on who would bring what. I will bring my generator. There will probably be two transmitters, and two antennas, and - horror! - no outdoor barbecue like we have had every other year.

Someone made it clear that there would be a big cooler with lots of ice in in it, so we can guzzle soda or beer, but noone has a portable grill to use.

I volunteered mine, which is small, light, and runs on Propane. Nobody wanted to bother. We'll all bring MacBurgers or sandwiches or soup in a thermos, but there won't be any grilling.

I feel like Field Day is incomplete without the chance to consume mass quantities of unhealthhy food. I think we should uphold tradition, and bring along a ton of hamburger meat and a few dozen buns and all the fixen's that go with.

But, it wasn't my decision, and I retired from being a know-it-all a few years back, so we won't have any grilling this year. It makes sense: everyone is worn out and brain-sore from COVID-19, and they all want to play with radios and not worry about anything complicated like hot dogs or hamburgers.

Sigh. What has the world come to?

Bill Horne, June 24, 2021

Floor Tiles

My wife wants to replace the linoleum on our kitchen floor, and I feel the same way: it is damned near impossible to clean the stuff, and I've only seen it looking good two or three times in the years I've lived here, when we hired professoinal cleaners to attack it with carts full of mysterious chemicals and evil-smelling spray bottles.

I saw an ad in our local community mailing list, and realized that a person in my town was giving away some interlocking floor tiles that she had chosen to replace. I jumped on this keyboard like a Dungeons & Dragons champion.

A very nice couple, living on a hill in the middle of town with a view to-die-for, donated about seventy tiles to our redesign effort. I measured the surface area of one tile and did the math, and figured out I'd need 72 of them to cover the kitchen floor, if I skip the area under the fridge and at the bottom of our food closet.

But, on further inspection, some of the tiles were demaged - they are "used," after all - and one was partially sawn through, so I'm a bit short, especially if SWMBO insists on having the same flooring from corner to corner.

I wrote an email to our benefactor, and asked where she's bought them. She replied that they'd been in place when she bought the house, but that she had found a few more, along with a pamphlet, in the back of a closet, and that I was welcome to those.

I keep feeling that there is a very, very tired and carewarn guardian angel riding on one of my shoulders, or hiding in my closet, but I shan't complain when what might otherwise be callded "Blind, dumb luck" delivers such blessings.

I showed up there this morning, and I apologized to the man of the house for being late, saying "God and my bowels move in mysterious ways," and he laughed while heading up to his porch, and I received the promised blessings with many thanks.

Bill Horne, June 18, 2021

Not Enough Hours In The Day

Yesterday, I had planned to take it easy. It was my wife's birthday, and I thought I'd take her to dinner.

Then, I opened my email, and found a notice from Best Buy that the new dishwasher I hadn't expected until today was already available "for curbside pickup," in Johnson City, TN. That's about 75 minutes away, but well worth the trip to get about $100 dollars off the usual price of the machine on the top of Consumer Reports' list. So, I asked my wife if she'd like to go with me and pick it up.

The pickup was painless, and the Best Buy employee, who looked like a corn-fed All American foortball player, put our new machine in the rear of our Subaru without so much as a deep breath. Then, pleased with the ease, I invited Susan to dinner there in Johnson City.

The Birthday Girl decided on an Oriental restaurant nearby, and it only took us about 25 minutes to find it, after a few extra turns and a tour of the parking lot at Walmart while we looked for the gas station our GPS said was there.

It was a very good, but alcohol-free, dinner. I decided on a noodle dish, and enjoyed as much as I could before I admitted defeat and asked for a take-out bag. We got home about 9:30 last night, which was just on the edge of my new comfort range, with Summer twilight still defining the edges of the trees.

Today, I went out and picked up some kitchen flooring that was being given away on our local mailing list, and gave Susan a second birthday gift, since it matches our cabinets and will make a big difference in our kitchen, although after I did the math, I might need to buy a few more just to fill the dimensions. At some point, I learned that she wants a new stove, with gas burners and an electric oven. I'll have to work on managing expectations there.

And the, I fell asleep, in this chair I'm in now, and then we had a great dinner, and now it's 11 PM and I'm as tired as a seashore vacation kid after high tide.

Bill Horne, June 16, 2021

Firewall Finagle

A couple of days ago, I changed my WiFi router after techs from my cable co told me the old one was causing problems. No big deal, I've done it dozens of times, plug it in and set the SSID and I'm done.

Except I forgot one little detail: like many Cable Co's, mine locks their IP's to the router's MAC address. New router, different MAC address, ergo different IP address.

Ergo, no firewall rule in the Telecom Digest server to allow traffic from the new IP address, so I was locked out of the Digest's machine and on deadline.

A quick mental review of the firewall rules reminded me that there is a path for traffic from this server into the Telecom Digest machine. All I had to do was ssh from here to the Digest machine, and put in a new rule for my new home IP address.

So I logged on to, and then ... I stopped.

Whey, I wondered, had I been able to log in to, since it has the same IP-specific firewall rule? I should have been excluded. I should have been forced to go through my "owner" interface to set a new rule here, before I could dogleg from here to the Telecom Digest machine.

I did a quick check of the iptables firewall settings at, and realized that they were ... missing.

There were no rules in place. The iptables setting were the defaults for a newly installed machine. Everything was opened to everyone, everywhere.

Well, that wasn't a nice thing. That was risky with a capital "R." That was a bad condition, which I rectified very quickly, by putting my new IP address in the iptables ruleset and then doing an iptables-restore.

After that, all I had to do was ssh into the digest machine. I started ssh with the name of the key file that I had put here for that purpose. I watched the screen ask me for the password for the ssh key. My mind went blank.

I couldn't remember the password. Password Safe didn't have any entry for it. None of the passwords I could remember worked.

Drat. Darn. Fiddlesticks. A few other words that don't need repeating. "OK," I told myself, "start with a plan." Let me see: I log into the Digest machine with ssh, using Windoze, with a program called "Putty." Therefore, there is a "Private" key for the Digest machine, in a directory on my Windows OS.

I exported the ssh key, and moved the export over to the machine, and then told ssh-keygen to convert it to ssh2-format.

It wouldn't do that. I tried every possible combination of input and output file spec, and none of them worked.

Back to Windoze, and to the windoze equivalent of of ssh-keygen, a program called puttygen.exe. I reviewed the options, and realized that there was an "ssh1" file-type option, although nothing for "ssh2." No pain, no gain: I exported the private key file in ssh1 format, and moved the new copy to, and it worked like a charm.

And, after all that work, I realized that I could have told the new router to emulate the MAC address of the old router, and saved myself the trouble.

Next time, I'll think of that first. ;-)

Bill Horne, June 14, 2021

Not with a bang, nor even a whimper.

This morning, a couple of men from the cable company came by to pull my fiber-optic feed off the ground and back up to where it was hung from one of my roof rafters. While they were here, I asked them who could solve the DNS problems I've been struggling with.

They were willing to try, and they got a laptop from their truck, and opened it and plugged it into the back of the cable modem, where my WiFi router usually connects. I told them some of the sites I've had trouble with, and they got a couple of the same kinds of failures I've been seeing when they tried to bring them up.

Still, their opinion was that my router is the cause of the trouble. As it happens, I have a spare: an Asus 802.11N unit with three antennas on it and a Gigabit Ethernet switch too. The setup software is very well written: it cautioned me to change the administrator password before configuring the "WAN" settings.

I turned off both "UPnP" and Internet access to the administrative interface, and I'd have required anyone using the admin section to connect with an Ethernet cord if I could. The rest of the setup was standard: DHCP for the Internet address and DNS, although I did turn off IPV6, just to keep my nose cleen from attacks coming in that way.

It's been working for a couple of hours already, but I was eating a great dinner and having desert until a few minutes ago, so I don't know if the problem is "cured," for whatever flavor of cure I'm willing to settle with. I'll try a few mainenance tasks, though, just to get a feeling for the new router's performance. I'm constructing a backup copy of the Telecom Digest site, and that'll be a good test of the new setup, since it means switching from the regular site to the backup site at least a dozen times.

Intermittent troubles are always the hardest ones to diagnose and fix. This one might have ended with a vague noise that's not even a whimper. We'll see as time goes by.

The waiting is always the hardest part.

Bill Horne, June 11, 2021

A Solution Of Sorts

I've been trying to get away from the DNS failures at my ISP, without luck. The problem continues, although a lower percentage of lookups fail.

The DHCP server at the ISP is giving out (Google) as the primary DNS now, and (Cloudflare) as the secondary. I'm still getting failures, but it's not as bad: I've noticed that if I wait a few seconds after a failure, the web browser will usually retry the connection and usually succeed.

I had locked my laptop's WiFi connection to use only Google DNS ( & and eliminated the problem that way, but of course that might prevent the laptop being used in restaurants or the library, so I changed it back to regular DHCP, and "locked" my router to Google's DNS instead, so that when I change locations, I get a new IP and DNS.

Still, it surprises me that the problem exists. I haven't had problems with this ISP in the ~seven years I've been using them, until now. Trouble is, I use the Internet extensively - as much as four or five hours a day - so I've got to find "Root Cause" solutions to this problem, and figure a way to prevent a recurrence, i.e., to automagically switch to other sources when a problem shows up.

Or, maybe, just admit I'm old and crotchety and too used to corporate networks instead of the backwoods bandwidth I'm getting.

Bill Horne, June 10, 2021


I've been having problems for several days, using this machine to do ordinary stuff.

If I try to go to an ordinary web site like, I'll get an error - or several errors - before I can bring up the site.

There are several different types of error:

This site can't be reached
(URL)'s server IP address could not be found.

Try ... (various obvious suggestions to check this or that)


Or, somtimes ...

Unable to open connection to (URL)

Host does not exist


Or, when sending email:

Sending of the message failed.  The message could not be sent because
the connection to Outgoing server (smtp server) was lost in the middle
of the transaction. Try again.

Well, as you can see, it's a serious problem. I did the usual complete scan, and the usual searches for similar symptops, but I didn't find any mention of this or a similar problem.

That means it's a rootkit, right? I would have thought so, and I would have reinstalled Windoze, but the problem occurs on both my laptop and my desktop machines. My wife's desktop machine doesn't seem to be affected, but she just plays Solitaire all the time.

I don't have any file sharing enabled - strictly sneakernet for me - so I doubt a rootkit would have jumped from one machine to another. I have up-to-date AV on both machines, and I don't visit any questionable sites.

Just now, I set the DNS for my WiFi interface to and, both of which belong to Google in California. I also changed the adapter to a fixed IP address.

The problem went away, but that's the scary part: the cable Internet connection was set up for DHCP, and I was getting "" as the primary DNS, with as the secondary. The address "" lives in California, and although I've never used it by choice, it doesn't screem "Danger, Will Robinson!" either.

I'll call up Dell support tomorrow and have them run some tests, and maybe even mail this laptop to them for bench testing. I could reinstall Windoze, but I hate going through that just to find out that the problem is somewhere else.

Bill Horne, June 9, 2021

Internet Death March

As so often happens before I write one of these blog pages, I just looked up and realized that I'd spent the whole afternoon going through "for sale" ads on, ebay, and other sites.

I'm an Amateur Radio operator - what folks used to cal "Ham" radio. I have an insane desire to relive my youth by buying old ham radios (hams call them "boatanchors") that I wanted to own when I was a kid.

Of course, boatanchor radios need lots of maintenance, since they run on vacuum tubes instead of integrated circuits. They're great for keeping the radio room, which is called "the shack" in ham radio circles, toasty on a winter night, and hams still grin when someone says "Real radios glow in the dark!"

Well, today was different somehow: I saw some things that I might have wanted to have in years past, but now I just smiled at the site of the old rigs, and went on to the next page. Sometimes, I can get a great photograph of a vintage "Collins" or "Drake" radio, but I no longer have such a yen for the original units.

I have a few boatanchor sets downstairs, and I've got to get a couple of them worked on before I put them on the air, but I've also got a 1998 Yaesu transceiver that works fine, and a ~2019 Icom IC-7300 that is the best one on the bench. I've been working on my antennas, and finally got both "Eighty meter" and "Forty meter" wires in the air, along with the "beam" that will be good for talking to far-away stations when the sunspot cycle swings upward a bit more.

Still, I'm feeling nostalgic, but it's nostalgia for being young and feeling like everything was new and exciting and different. I remember, to this day, how the F.C.C. Inspector at the Boston Custom House looked up from my Morse-code test results and said "Horne, you just made it!" And, just like that, I was an "Advanced" class Amateur, at the age of fifteen, because the Inspectors counted punctuation marks and digits as two characters, and I thus qualified for the thirteen words-per-minute exam. They had a painting on the wall, showing a torture team yelling at a young man with a pencil in his hand, and telling him to draw diagrams of a complete radar installation, while another of their gang was pushing the handle on the Morse-code sending machine up to fifty words-per-minute, which was more than twice as high as the Commericanl operators on board ships had to copy.

We don't have Morse code exams any more, but two months before the test was discontinued, I passed a twenty words-per-minute exam, which is the same one that shipboard operators start with. I did it to prove I could, knowing that I'd always be able to say I'm an "Old Law" Extra-class ham. Still, I don't use code much, and although I have a genuine left-handed Vibroplex Morse Code key, it has been on the shelf for years now, while I've entertained myself with things like "packet" and "RTTY." Never mind what those things mean: they're hardly ever used these days.

Lately, I've been involved with a state-run group that helps out during emergencies, and if I keep at it, I'll be able to make a difference during a hurricane or flood.

Still, I wish I could be back in the MARS station at Da Nang. I knew what I was doing, and how to keep the station going, and how to tune the radios and the amplifier and the antenna. Even while waiting for the rockets and for someone to shout "Incoming!", I was proud of being able to do all that.

Well, the afternoon is gone and my wife has cooked dinner. I'll see you further down the log.

Bill Horne, June 6, 2021

Oh, Ah, Yeah, That's RIght ... The Dishwasher

We have a dishwasher that no longer drains all the dishwater when it's done. Given that it was used when we bought it - although the seller claimed it wasn't - we decided to buy a new one.

Consumer Reports, the Bible of American Middle Class At-Least-I-Won't-Get-Screwed-As-Much buying advice, recommends a Boch machine. My local Home Despot has it for about $500, with extra charges for delivery and installation. The size info says it needs a 34½-inch-high opening.

The current Wirlpool machine looks like it takes up 34⅜-inch-high slot. I've been meaning to re-measure it and make sure it's too small for the Boch unit, but somehow I keep forgetting.

My wife reminded me of it this morning, and it occurs to me all of a sudden that I haven't been doing any of the projects that have been put on-hold during the pandemic. She told me that we need a whiteboard in the "study," which is where she spends all her time, playing online solitaire, and lately I prefer to sit out in the living room and watch old movies on Netflix.

Still, a dishwasher would cut down on the dishes I do - she cooks, I clean - and so I'm going to go get the measuring tape again and see if the Boch machine might fit after all.

I'm tempted to blame Spring fever, but I haven't felt like doing much for most of the COVID-19 time. I got vaccinated, of course, and we took a week-long vacation to New England at the end of April. but I haven't been doing much ham radio, and no meaningful work on setting my desk in order, either. I'm not exactly "old," at least not yet - I'm still able to drive and type on this keyboard, but I'm not going to be running any races anytime soon.

It isn't that I mind having a whiteboard: I'm just leery of realizing after a while that someone else is making choices about what will be written on it. I have a calendar on this laptop, and that works for me.

Bill Horne, June 3, 2021

I thought I already knew this stuff!

I've been coding a new series of bash scripts for the Telecom Digest, and it has turned into a long, long slog.

The problem isn't that complicated: I get a daily "digest" email from the Digest's email robot. It has all the posts that were made the previous day, with a table of contents and the actual emails, all in one combined "digest" that any subscriber can read at his/her leisure.

Since I'm the Moderator of The Telecom Digest, I maintain the Digest's web site, which is at So, I use the "digest" email I get every day, and change it into a web page that the readers can access from any web browser, such as the ones they have at work on their lunch hour.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew to a wedding in Massachusetts - as much to shake off some cabin fever as to see our friends and family. I realized, when we got to the B&B we were using on the first night, that I had forgotten to poke a hole in the firewall of the server, so that I could log in from the road.

Creating the daily web page and making sure that there are enough posts for the readers on any given day takes between 1 and 3 hours, and I had to add another two hours while I talked my house-sitter through changing my firewall to let me log in from the B&B. It wasn't bad after that, since I made sure I changed the firewall rules when we prepared to move to another B&B.

But, I realized that I can't keep doing all the manual effort that's involved. It's not all done by hand, of course: that would be too much no matter what. I have some scripts that help to reformat the "Digest" email file so that it's readable in a browser, but I have to run them myself and correct occasional errors and glitches caused by the automatic processing not being programmed for every possible case.

So, I've been redong the scripts so that they can run automatically when the "Digest" email arrives in the morning, and when I'm done, the process of creating the "Online" version of The Telecom Digest will be invisible on most days, I hope.

I'm also going to figure out how to approve submissions by email: as the Moderator, I'm the guy who weeds out spam and velveeta and all the ads masquerading as advice or info. That's a manual process, too: I have to log in to the Digest's server, and read through the posts and emails one-by-one, and decide which ones will go out that day.

When I'm hundreds of miles from home, the process slows to a crawl: the firewall issue were nothing compared to the slow speeds and dropouts of the Internet at some B&B's, plus remembering to charge my laptop every night, and make sure I had time in between visits to stores, sites, and restaurants (one eatery had a connection so slow that I told the Maitre D they should switch to "IP Over Avian Carriers" for their connection. She didn't get it, but promised to "research" the problem.

Anyway, it's taking most of the past four days, and although I feel a bit less old and a little less slow, I'm still amazed at how much of the script languages I've forgotten, and how many differences there are between the version I used to use in the 90's and those which are available now.

Tomorrow, I'm going to attend my Quaker Meeting's virtual meeting, which is as blessedly non-technical as I can get while using a computer.

Bill Horne, May 29, 2021

Sleep–Wake Cycles

I'e been waking up around 7:30 AM on most days, and getting tired and sleepy around 11 PM.

So far, so good: a normal way to have a normal day.

I usually have lunch around noon - no surprise there - and dinner whenever my wife calls me away from the TV or this laptop.

Today, things ran more-or-less the same way. I had my usual breakfast, and a ham & cheese sandwich for lunch, and then I took the trash out to the "recycling center," and then I ...

Don't remember. I wasn't watching TV, and I wasn't working on the computer, and I woke up in the chair I use for both of those things, except two or three hours had gone by.

We had a nice dinner, around eight this evening, with pork tenderloin, salad, and ½ of a sweet potato. There was ice cream for desert – real ice cream with actual vanilla in the ingredients list.

And ever since I've been strutting around like a cages animal, determined to do ...

Something. I'm sure I'm supposed to do ...


It's 2:32 AM, and I'm still a little wired, but there aren't any good movies to be had and the streaming programs are all shoot-em-ups or Sacharine love stories. Just now, I got distracted for maybe ten seconds, and realized that I'm finally getting tired.

There must be a self-help book about sleep-wake cycles and how to fix them. I'm going to bed.

Bill Horne, May 21, 2021

The Most Important Part Is To Start

I owed someone money, and I knew that last Sunday, when my wife and I got home. I had an address to send the check to, and it would take only a minute and a stamp.

Except, I don't have any checks. I had used the last one to pay the electric bill, and I had been forgetting to order more, time and time again.

I was determined to get it taken care of. I was making promises to myself that I'd get-er-done, day-after-day. And then, I would go to sleep - more tired than I've ever been, for days, without any sign of sickness and my COVID-19 vaccinations done with over a month before.

Just always thinking I'd take a nap, and come back to life afterwards, and then it would be four or five or even seven hours later. It's as if I had sleeping sickness.

Cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and whatever my wife cooked up for dinner. I cut back on drinking wine, and haven't bought any beer since coming home. I'm still yawning, even now.

I woke up this morning, and I turned on my computer, and I went to PayPal and sent her the money that way. She told me she has an account, but she wasn't sure if PayPal would let her take the money out of that account.

I think they will, and I realized that it didn't matter anyway: I had to get the job done.

I also managed to get through the day without falling asleep: we went for a drive and treated ourselves to dinner at a local restaurant. I spent a few hours working on The Telecom Digest, trying to figure out a system for handling posts automagically, so I can go on vacation again, without missing days or weeks of pubication.

I guess I am coming back to my down-home habits and schedule. Let's hope I can keep on track.

Bill Horne, May 16, 2021

Down to 85 gallons

I just dipped the oil tank again. It's down to about 85 gallons.

That's not a critical number, but it worries me: I don't know when the furnace stops, so I don't want to get too close to the 8 gallons I measured when it ran out of fuel.

I'm tempted to throw money at the problem, and buy a new heat pump, but that means lots of duct work and switching from forced-hot-water to forced-hot-air, along with a humidifyer and filters I'll have to change every month. I've never lived in a house that hat forced-hot-air heat, but from my experience with ones I've visited, my nose will be as desicated as a desert within a week of turning it on.

The alternative is a gas-fired forced-hot-water boiler, which would be a drop-in replacement for the oil-fired boiler I have now. I've got to get prices for them, and figure out how long it would take to buy one and have it delivered and installed.

I have a two-zone system, which would mean either a boiler that is "sized" by zone, with a computerized "zone" controller that keeps the boiler hot while trading the load between zones, or a "whole house" boiler that can handle both zones at once, but which takes longer to heat and costs more to keep hot for the demands from either zone.

Yeah, I know, it's a PITA. My dad was a plumber, and I know a little bit about it, except how to do work that exhausts a 50-year-old Journeyman and tires out an Apprentice in a few hours.

So, 85 gallons worth of time to get 'er done. I'll start making phone calls.

Bill Horne, May 13, 2021

I'm Noticing a Chill in the AIr

This afternoon, I was noticing a chill inside my house. I walked by the thermostat, and saw that it was showing 66 degrees, instead of the usual 68. Well, first things first: I went downstairs to the furnace, and found that it was cold to the touch.

OK, next step: I took the measuring stick and lowered it into the underground oil tank. It came back up with oil at the "8 gallon" mark.


I hadn't ordered my usual annual delivery last year, even though the tank will hold almost 500 gallons, because the basement wall that the tank is buried next to has been showing leakange and is bowing in response to some unknown presure. I figured that I would have to move the underground tank, either abouve ground, or undergrund at some other location where it wouldn't push on the wall.

I thought I would have all summer to find and implement a solution. It looks like the solution will be needed a lot more quickly than I had thought.

I called up Tim Blevins (Thanks, Tim!) and he did me a big favor and delivered 100 gallons of red deisel on one hour's notice. I couldn't get the furnace to restart, though: it would come on for thirty seconds or so, and then shut off until I hit the reset button again.

OK, I figured it was an air gap in the line from when the oil pump had sucked it dry. Tim gave me a number for a local oil heat guy, and I was able to get him to come out and bleed the line at ten PM, with a freezing warning on the weather page.

It wasn't like I would have to enpty the water pipes: I have a set of firplace logs that run on Propane, and a wall heater for the cellar, which also takes LNG. I knew that I wouldn't be in danger of broken pipes: just an uncomfortable night with extra blankets piled on, but I try to err on the side of caution, so we got the furnace going again.

In the process of bleeding the oil feed line, the gentleman pointed out that there is a "tankless" hot water heater built in to the boiler, which flabbergasted me: I have a heat-pump water heater that cost about $1,200 when new, and it came with the house. "Tankless" heaters, which require the heating boiler to maintain something like 140 degree Fahrenheit all the time, are notorious energy-hogs, and I've now realized that I've been burning oil like a middle east sheikh all the time I've been here.

Sigh. It never occurred to me to check the furnace for a "tankless coil" when there is a modern, energy-efficient heat-pump-driven water heater right next to it. I talked to the guy I bought the house from, and he said that the tankless heater is piped directly into the water heater, without a "tempering" valve to make sure the inlet temp isn't too high for the new unit, because that can destroy a stand-alone water tank. I guess he bought the top-shelf unit, and that it's able to take high-temp water at it's "cold" inlet pipe without damage: I'd add a tempering valve on general principles if I was going to keep using the "tankless" heater: still, there's no reason to heat the water in a boiler's "tankless" coil, cool it with a tempering valve, and then heat it back to a usable hot-water temperature for baths and showers and the dishwasher.

Well, now the wall and the tankless heater problems will be solved at the same time: I'll put in a new, more efficient furnace or heat pump, depending on how the numbers work out, but most likely it'll burn Propane.

Bill Horne, April 21, 2021

Just What Was I Trying To Accomplish Anyway?

Today, I decided to figure out a few things about the problem I mentioned yesterday. The php web page that includes the Julian date isn't giving correct results after 8 PM EDT, since my server is set to UTC time.

I just finished figuring out how to use the php "chr" function to output specific characters based on numeric input. For example, the result of calling chr(65) will be "A", and so forth.

Nice to know, in a situation where I need to generate a list of ASCII codes, but I can't, for the life of me, remember why I would want to use it to fix a Julian date calculation.

I want to know the Julian date in time zones "Q" and "R" - EDT and EST respectively. I don't know if the various php "date" functions can do that adjustment, or if I must code it myself.

I suppose I can take credit for learning the emacs rectangular edit commands again. I suppose I could say that all knowledge is worthwhile, sooner or later. I suppose I'd be lying to myself.

I've got to clean up my desk: sort and file and plan and forget a bunch of carp that's been building up for months. I don't know how. Oh, sure, I know what needs to be done, but not an efficient way to do it.

There must be a self-help book that tells me how to help myself get out of this habit of procrastination. There are probably dozens of them. I'll check them out tomorrow.

Bill Horne, April 17, 2021

Replaying Old Tapes

I just realized that one of my web pages isn't working right. It show's tomorrow's Julian date instead of today's when it's after eight PM, because the server runs on UTC instead of EDT.

It's the kind of thing that annoys me all to hell. It's the kind of annoyance that made me a good problem-solver when I was coding PL/I in a "Blue" shop back in the 1990's.

I used to obsess about even the most trivial of problems for days, until every part of my program worked perfectly. I didn't think about the cost, to my family, my health, or my career. I just had to have it right.

I'm retired now, and I haven't done commercial code for over 20 years. Yet, as soon as I saw this minor glitch happen, I was looking up the details of the PHP "date" function, and thinking of ways to correcxt the output by comparing the current date to the start and/or stop dates of Daylight Saving Time.

Which would have been the way I was way-back-when: "maybe later" on a lunch invitaiton, "I'm working late" for my wife, and "sorry, son" for my boy.

Just like that, without any wry grin or laughing at how my old self has changed. Just like that, replaying old and destructive tapes that went with a career that neerly cost me my marriage and my sanity.

It took a few minutes, but when I put together a quick "test" page and it didn't produce any output, I drew a breath and realized that I was being called to dinner and I logged off and out.

Old tapes and old habits. I'll take bets on which ones are harder to erase.

Bill Horne, April 16, 2021

I Wish There Was More On TV

It's Sunday, and thank Ghod it's been a very nice day.

I attended meeting this morning, via a video conference due to the pandemic, and everyone was so quiet that I wasn't sure if I was getting the audio signal. It was working after all, though, and I put in a request for a house-sitter after the meeting was over, when the clerk asked for announcements.

After that, I had a sandwich for lunch, and found myself nodding off. No nap today, though, I was to get the new antenna up.

I put the assembled antenna on one of the cross-braces for the deck above, just balanced it there with the coaxial cable fed inside to the TV set. I turned it on - there's a built-in amplifier - and told the TV to find as many channels as it could.

It came up with 0 Analog, and 8 digital channels, which seemed like a good first sign, but then I found out that they're duplicates of each other, so I have four channels of PBS. One is for children's programming, which means only 3. Still, I took heart in being able to watch the Newshour in real time, but I figured I'd try for some elevation.

I took the antenna and mount up to the front balcony, and drilled a couple of holes in the handrail at an out-of-the-way spot, and set it up so that it is level and has clearance to turn 360° when I push the button on the control panel I tossed the coax up to the balcony, and put it all together, and then I fitted batteries to the antenna remote control (yeah, I know). I blocked the cellar doors open, and moved the control box to the middle of the doorway, with a soldering kit to weigh it down, so that I could look up at the antenna while it turned, and box the compass to check reception.

After a few tries, I guess I'm about at the optimum point. I've still got the PBS channels, plus CBS from South Carolina, plus a couple of independent ones that may be Fox news or WB or similar similar networks. That's as good as it's likely to get from the balcony, so the next step is to wade through my stock of coax and see if I can find some RG-6 or RG-59 to put the antenna up on my 50-foot crank-up tower. That will be the ne plus ultra for reception, but I can't use RG-6 for ham radio (actually, I can, but I've got plenty of RG-8), so I don't want to buy the 100 feet or so I'd need to get on top of the tower when it's cranked up all the way.

I've got a ham radio buddy who lives on the other side of town, at a much better site for antennas. I'll ask him to try it out there. All of a sudden, I"ve lost the light. It was a nice day's work, all things considered.

Bill Horne, April 11, 2021

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

Twenty Days

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

Wet Weather

“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

Tunnel Vision

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.

I had recommended that we just cut out the presentation from the recording of the video conference, and insert a new copy, and thus avoid any glitch at all. However, the web site the presentation was playing from is buried in obfuscated JavaScript, and that was a non-starter, so I uploaded the newly reassembled video conference record to the other guy who'd asked for help, and resolved to be more careful in the future.

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.

Oh, joy.

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 fresh 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

Cabin Fever

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

Doctor Strangelove

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.

But …

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 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

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

Running Errands

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.

Anyway the Friend who had started this was in the cc: list, and he replied and explained that the second Friend was trying to set up a website. I have set up a boatload of websites, bootstrapping from raw HTML to PHP with cookies and MySQL and some Javascript in between. I decided that I would tell the second Friend everything that I had learned the hard way about acquiring, coding, and safeguarding websites.

I thought, what the hell, I'm not committed to anything today, I'll just take a few minutes and get 'er done. I checked my recollections, added some links, warned her not to trust certain types of vendor and not to spend time learning html or css or Javascript or PHP, and I hit "send" and looked up and it was five hours later.

They say that asking an engineer a question is like taking a drink at a fire hydrant.

Bill Horne, November 10, 2020

Aw, shuddup!

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.

When television is good, nothing – not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers – nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials – many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

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

Stepping above

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

Early Riser

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

Nodding Off

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

Swing Shift

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

Sticky Bits

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

Sleep/Wake Cycles

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

Gutter Language

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
image of a Rabi, a Businessman, and a priest
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:

  1. Pay the gas bill
  2. Pay the electric bill
  3. Pay the Cable company for my Internet connection
  4. Finish connecting up the Pactor modem to the ham radio
  5. Practice Morse Code and get my speed back up to the 20 words-per-minute I used to be able to do.

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 going by
They say in the end it's the wink of an eye."

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 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 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

sticker shock

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

Screening Cleans

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.