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Tuesday, June 30, 2020 No comments

Impending: screen tan

I’ve been plugging along in my new work space for a couple of months, now. A couple weekends ago, while taking some time off, I did turn the light fixture 90° as threatened, and my gorgeous face is now lit up much better during videoconferences. :P

One thing that has chafed me about the homegrown workspace… I had two large monitors at work, side by side. At home, I had the laptop screen and a 17" NEC monitor that Solar gave me a few years ago. The work monitor mount was integrated with the cube/desk, and I didn’t have the time or inclination (at the time) to figure out what to do with them. I’ve made do, but wanted a little extra.

I am SO buying these socks for her.
Well… let me preface this by saying I’m not trying to criticize in any way. We all have our own ways of coping with the pandemic (not to mention The Boy checking out in August), and maybe her watching the Hallmark Channel for hours on end is healthier than me sitting at the computer and drinking myself stupid most nights.

Anyway, The Boy left us a 40" Sony TV. Wife wanted to upgrade our 32" Samsung for a while, and got someone to swap TVs for her when I was occupied doing something else (i.e. upstairs working). All well and good, except that the Sony’s HDMI2 input was boogered somehow. We used HDMI1 for the satellite connection, and #2 is the DVD player. We would see the DVD player's startup screen, then it would go black and not respond to pretty much anything but an input change.

Long-time readers know that the wife’s idea of troubleshooting is to go for the most expensive/time-consuming fix. Without my knowledge or input, which is fine if she used her own money, she bought another 40" TV. A Vizio, this time, which is fine. I don’t exactly trust Sony to keep its mitts out of my LAN. But I digress. There was something about a new wall-mount involved, and I dragged out the tools.

A while back, someone left a DeWalt driver/drill at the manor, with a 20V battery. I bought a charger and a spare for it, and I’ve used it for a couple of two-minute projects… then the parsonage’s back deck needed resurfacing. I brought it along, and it tore through that job like it was SARS-COV-2 tearing through immunocompromised lungs.

But I digress. The driver also made quick work of the wall-mount, and the Vizio was playing Hallmark movies in well less than an hour.

BIG screen!
That left me with an extra screen, a need for it, and a specific set of circumstances. The old wall-mount was great for the living room corner, but I needed something that went sideways from a wall, over my desk. Dragging out the measuring tape, I found that 18"-24" would give me plenty of clearance. Off to Amazon I went, quickly found a wall-mount arm with 24" of clearance, and ordered it. It arrived today, and I hucked it and the toolbag upstairs.

It took longer to mark the holes than to drill pilot holes, and to drive the bolts into the studs. It makes SUCH a huge difference to have good tools. In a manner of minutes, I hung the monitor on the mount, routed cables, and plugged everything together. The laptop’s dock has an HDMI connection, and I happened to have a stray cable laying around… presto, a humongous 1920x1080 monitor!

Maybe now that I have the hardware in place, the employer will spring for a 4K monitor… ha. I'm trying to decide whether to return the 17" NEC monitor to my bedroom desk. It might be useful for side jobs. After all, you can’t have too much screen real estate.

Monday, May 25, 2020 No comments

To disc, perchance to golf

I was tempted to file this one as pandemic-related, but it was more of a “last straw” thing than a completely isolation-related incident.

Disc golfing has been around for a while. I remember going to a park in Grand Rapids, with Other Brother, when we were either nearly done with high school or just starting college (so, 1977, give or take a year or two). Back then, everyone called it “Frisbee golf” and played with backyard discs. The goals were usually posts that you tried to hit with your disc.

Portable goal
I enjoyed it, but college, a move to Planet Georgia, and doing other things caused me to lose touch with the sport. It was only after I went to see The Boy in Manitowoc that I started to reconnect. One of the parks has a disc golf course, and he had taken it up. We got me a disc (there was a shop near the park that sold a variety) and had a blast. By then, of course, the official goals (or holes) were now baskets with vertical chains, like in the pic here. Except, of course, actual courses have their goals sunk into the ground to prevent mischief.

The vagaries of life kept me from taking it up much, partly because I didn’t know of any nearby courses. But when The Boy returned to Planet Georgia, he quickly found two courses 15 and 25 miles away. I bought a “starter pack,” four discs with varying flight characteristics and a carry bag, and I added my Manitowoc disk to the collection. When The Boy took his longest journey, Mason (who also likes to disc golf) and I got his bag. Mason has mostly taken it over, but I picked out one or two to round out my set.

Backyard goal
Now, with parks closed (or if they aren’t, it’s still iffy to go), I decided it was time to work with what I have—a large-ish yard with lots of obstacles—and ordered a pair of goals. I put them at opposite corners of the house, and chose some tee-off spots. I have a four-hole course: the first two counter-clockwise around the house, the second two clockwise.

The course, given the limited space I have to work with, rewards accuracy much more than raw power. Tee shots require threading a needle between trees, bushes, and the house. I’m getting noticeably better.

Going online, I’ve also learned a little about flight characteristics, and what to expect from a disc when you throw it. That has improved my game as well. Now I can step outside at lunch and throw two or four holes, depending on time constraints, and then play a little more once I’m done for the day.

Weather permitting, of course. It has been raining a lot in the last couple of months.

Friday, April 24, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 4, workspaces)

Planet Georgia's sorry excuse for a governor partially lifted the shelter-in-place, starting today. That’s going to have consequences in late May, for sure. Nevertheless, we got an email from work that said, in effect, “yeah, we know, keep working at home.”

Things I needed to set up a workspace arrived this week, and I found some other necessities in the garage. So after I sent my reports this afternoon, I got to work. After clearing the space, I vacuumed the (horrid) carpet.

We’ve been using The Boy’s old room for storage for a while. Clearing out a corner wasn’t all that difficult, but lighting has always been an issue. The house is a Cape Cod, and the only window in each upstairs bedroom is in the gable. I ordered a 4-foot LED fixture and power cord, and mounted it on the sloped part of the ceiling. Plugging it in yielded plenty of light, enough for most of the rest of the room. I used an old wire shelf hanger hook to keep the cord up against the wall.

Now for the furnishings. Daughter Dearest’s old office chair was sitting in that corner, and I found an old typing desk in the detached garage. Of course, it was all the way to the back, and covered in stuff (including lots of dust and grime). Fortunately, it was light enough for me to lift and carry by myself, and I hucked it across the driveway before wiping it down. I really need to hit the metal parts with a wire brush and repaint it, but that can wait.

With the desk mostly cleaned up, I hucked it up the stairs and dropped it in place. I grabbed the bag of gear (dock, keyboard, mouse) that I got from the office back when they first told us to not come in, and took that upstairs. To my delight, there was also a power strip that I’d forgotten about. Finally, the laptop and my second monitor went on up to make the final connections.

Another garage find—a big monthly planner whiteboard—was the last piece. We have a little container of picture hanger hooks, and there was a length of wire as well. I put it together, and there was already in a screw in the wall at just the right height. Incidentally, it covers a bunch of marks, so it wins twice.

It’s not quite done yet, even if it’s usable as a workspace in its present state. I plan to put some hooks under the front of the desk to neaten up the cabling, for starters.

Longer term, the wife wants to replace all the carpeting in the room and paint the walls. When that happens, I plan to use whiteboard paint at least in that corner. Maybe I’ll replace the cord with house wiring, to get it out of the way.

Come Monday, I’ll be a lot more comfortable about turning video on for our many conference calls than I have been in the past. I could also put pithy messages like “Approvals needed ASAP” on the whiteboard behind me, to enhance my presence.

Thursday, April 09, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 3, school)

We’re on spring break this week… like I said in the last post, we were supposed to be at the beach, but having to cancel a vacation falls into the #firstworldproblems bucket.

The two-week “online learning” got extended to next week… then just before break, they finally realized the wisest course was to finish out the school year online. It’s a pain in the rear, but better that than getting a bunch of people sick without need (or the resources to take care of them).

I need to say, the school system obviously meant the whole online learning program to be something used once or twice over the winter, maybe for a few days. Now they’re having to adapt it for a months-long outage. My biggest beef with it is that they couldn’t settle on a single app or website to manage everything—there are three or four apps/sites, and they occasionally roll out another one. Although my Mac has a built-in password manager, I’ve gotten account fatigue over the years. So every time I get a memo about Yet Another Account to set up, they can hear my eyes rolling all the way out here.

“Out here” presents its own online learning issues. This is farm country, and I still think it’s amazing we have DSL. It usually works OK, unless heavy storms take out a line card (which happens pretty often)… or everybody who can work at home is doing just that and their kids are also online trying to do their schoolwork. It gets where the connection can’t even support a low-bandwidth music stream. I can do the normal work things—email, edit a DITA file from the cloud, chat—because that traffic is mostly short bursts and can slide in between the school traffic. Conferences are more iffy, but I usually use my cellphone for audio and the video is showing mostly static images of spreadsheets or documents.

But I digress. Our school is swimming against the Zoom current (an app I only heard about after the isolation began) and using Google Meet (aka Hangout). We can often manage one hangout at a time, or at least phone in if bandwidth is an issue. Charlie’s therapists (and pre-school) is also using Meet. Most of the time, this seems to work out. The bandwidth is hitting Daughter Dearest even harder, because she’s a teacher and has to be online. It got so bad that she simply bypassed the wheezing DSL and used her phone to get out. Needless to say, that burned through our data cap, our reserve, and then some. Now we don’t have a cushion for this month. I suggested she go to Dunkin', get a coffee and maybe a doughnut from the drive-thru, then sit in her car and scarf the Wi-Fi from there.

Often enough, our connection is marginally good enough, so DD and her kids have been at the manor most school days. That means I’ve had AJ (or Charlie) in my lap more than once during a conference call. I can totally derail a meeting by turning on my camera with either one; they’re both cute.

While we’re on break, I’m trying to set up a place in the larger upstairs bedroom (The Boy’s old room) as an office space. We made some headway yesterday. But I can’t help but think that once I get upstairs, all the kids will wander (or be sent) upstairs so I can still deal with something. I guess that’s okay, as long as I hold my end up at work. So far so good!

How about you? Have you torn a bumper sticker off your van yet? Comments are open!

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 No comments

Staycation, pandemic-style

We were supposed to be in Florida this week, hanging out with Mom and hitting the beach. Instead, we’re at FAR Manor.

Over the weekend, I finally got the new front derailleur on the Fuji dialed in. Hooray, time to take a ride! Um, no. The rear inner tube had partly separated from its stem. Well, Solar had suggested I put wider tires on it to improve the ride, anyway. There’s not a lot of clearance at the front fork, but thought maybe I could go from the current 25mm width to 32mm. I have a pair of 47mm tires, but they’re definitely too wide and the wrong diameter anyway. So I made plans to run over to the bike shop on Monday, and maybe get Charlie a bike with training wheels. Meanwhile, Skylar’s bike (the one he has here) needed shifting and braking adjustments. I got him rolling as well.

In the vein of “don’t go out unless you have to,” I called the bike shop before going. Nope, the shop guy opined, there’s not enough room. And they didn’t have any Charlie-sized bikes in stock. I thought we had a small frame laying around, so instead of driving to another bike shop I thought I’d try to Frankenstein a bike from bits and pieces.

Needs a little cleaning along with training wheels
Instead, I found an entire bike with a 12” frame! It was one Mason had for a while, until he outgrew it. The tires, amazingly, still held air. Some WD-40 got the chain loosened up, and I regreased the bearings on one wheel. So it rolls, it pedals, and the coaster brake works. I ordered a set of training wheels, and almost added a Trailgator (basically a towbar to pull his bike behind mine). The price—$65 for a metal bar with clamps on either end—put me off, though. Anyway, I raised the seat an inch and it fit Charlie perfectly.

All that, actually, was in between the ceiling fans. Daughter Dearest had ceiling fans for each of the kids’ rooms (three in all), and asked me to put them in because Sizzle is still working while the rest of us are on spring break. I succeeded, only after multiple trips back to the manor to fetch hardware, tools, and at last I had enough and brought everything. That turned out to be the way to go, and the fans are all happily spinning away.

I mentioned Skylar… he’s been spending weekdays at the manor because his nominal guardians are both working. He brought his bike up (the one I adjusted) over the weekend, and an HP laptop. “Do you have a cord for this?” he asked, repeatedly, until I told him to knock it off and let me do it when I had a chance. Before the fans, I scrounged a power cord and had to shave a little off the female end to make it fit in the power supply. I pushed it in, using as much force as I dared, and a light came on when I plugged it in. He wanted to start it right away, of course, but I told him to give it a few hours to let the battery get charged.

Finally, after everything, we started it. Black screen, and the Caps Lock LED was flashing. I realized it was a pattern—three long, two short—and I looked it up. Memory error. “Well,” I told myself, “it hasn’t been run in a while. Maybe if I reseat the RAM, it will be OK.”

So I flipped it over, opened the little door on the bottom, and… no RAM at all! I found out later, from Skylar, that a house guest had scrounged the single memory stick to put in his own computer. Nice guy. So I couldn’t reseat the RAM, but I had a 4GB stick on my desk from when I upgraded the iMac. It looked to be the same style, so I used the “cat in a box” formula: if it fits, it sits. I buttoned it up, plugged it in, and hit power. It coughed to life and displayed a login screen for the Microsoft thing. Yuck. Of course, I didn’t have the PIN it requested, although I tried some of the common ones (1234, 9999, etc). I configured the BIOS to boot from a USB drive, stuck one on and rebooted, and I soon had a Kubuntu desktop. Things seemed to be working properly, and exploring the hard drive suggested there was little or nothing (besides the OS and apps) on it. Skylar thinks his grandfather (Big V’s widower) knows the PIN, so he should soon be off and running.

So that was my first day of staycation: mostly fixing other people’s stuff. But I’ll soon have a new inner tube for the Fuji, and I’ll at long last take it on its shakedown cruise.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 No comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 2, food)

Coronavirus (image credit: CDC, public domain)
Our “online learning” was extended through Spring Break, the first full week of April here, and they should probably close out the school year doing it. I suggested that to Daughter Dearest, and her response was “SHUT UP. SHUT UP.”

But whether we pull a Hong Kong and lift restrictions early (spoiler alert: it would be a Bad Move), or keep movement tamped down to prevent further spreading, the occasional grocery trip is a necessity. Maybe less necessary is occasional pickup from restaurants, although they might argue the “less necessary” part.

Restaurants are adjusting as well as they can, offering incentives like extra points for rewards programs or free delivery. Meanwhile, the wife and I have roughed out meal planning. We’re mostly digging meat out of our freezers, although we're short on ground beef and the hoarders (aka #covidiots) grabbed it all last weekend. Bread and milk are easier to find, now… both have a finite shelf life and hoarders might have a hard time using what they have before it spoils. Ground beef should soon be available as well, because even covidiots have only a finite amount of freezer space. (But they must be using all that toilet paper as mattresses.)

Meanwhile, the school system is still running the bus routes… except instead of dropping off kids in the afternoon, they drop off lunches in the late mornings. We don’t need the extra food, but they beg us to take it because we’re at the end of the route. Today, we got burgers. The kids eat whatever sandwiches are provided, but sometimes skip the veggies + ranch dip packages (add 1/4 tsp of onion powder to the ranch containers, instant chip dip). We’re going to cook the veggies for supper, if I keep my mitts out of them. Still, it’s starting to get overwhelming—we’re covered up with fruit, milk, juice, etc. We’ll need to make sure the neighbors get some of this if it continues.

Since the kids don’t drink all the milk, I have rediscovered the joy of drinking half-pints of chocolate milk from the carton. I have not yet tried my old trick of jabbing the side with a pencil, making a hole of the exact diameter of a straw; I could pressurize the carton and pump the milk into my mouth. One of my better memories of elementary school.

Fortunately, Charlie is expanding his protein sources, although he still strongly prefers his latest adoptions to be breaded and fried. Chicken nuggets (especially Chick-Fil-A) and fish sticks are winners. We thawed and baked a slab of salmon I had kicking around in the freezer earlier this week; the adults ate that, and Mason and Charlie gobbled several helpings of sticks. We got these corn dog bites, and Charlie ate half of one before he realized it wasn’t chicken, then ate the breading and left the mystery meat. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between picky and intelligent.

We have a few days of not-rain this week (yay!) so I’ll likely pull some ribs out of the freezer and smoke/grill them.

Monday, March 16, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 1)

Coronavirus (image credit: CDC, public domain)
Local schools are on “online learning” this week (and I’m sure that will be extended). I started working from home last week, and we all got a “recommendation” from a manager to work at home through March 27 (again, it’ll probably be extended). Oddly enough, Charlie’s daycare (a Petri dish if I ever saw one) is remaining open. His therapy office is also open, but they’ve moved the waiting room out to the parking lot… in other words, wait in your car until your therapist comes out. Our little church has moved its sermons online (unfortunately, to the Book of Face, which I don’t use) for the duration.

You’re probably seeing the same things in your locale, and I’m not here to provide dry statistics. I’m going to journal the mostly self-isolated life in a rural area, in case someone else finds it interesting now or later on.

Long-time readers might remember FAR Future, a long blog-novel I wrote starting all the way back in 2007. Although the chronic energy shortages that the whole story is built around have yet to materialize, some of the things I wrote about have had eerie parallels in real life. One episode (written in Sep 2008) discusses a serious flu pandemic, with a 3%-5% mortality rate, breaking out in… December 2019. We’re not laboring under a junta, but the administration in real-life 2020 is every bit as incompetent as was the junta in FAR Future. The difference is, the fictional flu was like the 1918 pandemic, hitting young and healthy adults the hardest. This one goes (mostly) after the elderly. We also have the Internet, a find way to find information (and plenty of misinformation) about what’s happening.

Saturday was “run errands” day, so I combined the trips to limit time out and contacts. Charlie had horse therapy, and we needed both some groceries and a UPS battery. Other than that, we were in all weekend. Wife and I keep talking about meal planning, so we can order pickup from the local Kroger, but haven’t quite done it just yet. Today, she’s out with Charlie for therapy. I’m not sure he’ll go to daycare today. If he does, I might run to the office to grab a laptop dock and some notes, then pick him up on the way back.

These first few days of (mostly) shelter-in-place are very strange. It’s like a winter storm, except that all the utilities are working and the roads are even more clear than usual. Our crappy DSL is crappier than usual, what with all the school kids with Internet doing their work online (not to mention people like me, trying to work). Structure is going to be important… along those lines, Daughter Dearest forwarded me a suggested schedule for families. Modify as needed, but a little structure will make everyone's day go better:


Meanwhile, I have a minor cold. I’ve never been so glad to sneeze.

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