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Archive for March, 2013

Mad Phil: Requiem

My buddy Mad Phil’s obituary will read that he died from “complications of ALS“. In his case, he lived nearly three weeks after his swallowing reflex failed, whereupon he quietly and deliberately stopped eating and drinking. He slipped into intermittent unconsciousness last week, departed from consensus reality, and died of dehydration yesterday.

It’s not starvation, because you can survive for much longer than a month without food, but not even the correct name makes it prettier. The rule of thumb for death by dehydration gives you a week or two, tops, but early on I told him that he’d survive for a month on sheer cussedness. For reasons I’ll describe in a few days, I know from personal experience that he was still up and running after seven days. He slowed down a bit during the second week, but still held court from his bed 15 days after entering final approach.

We met, decades ago, at a locally important company whose name cannot be mentioned (but whose initials are IBM, if that helps), where he taught me a good deal of what I know about hardware construction and debugging. He was known as Mad Phil, not because he was crazy, but because when something important needed doing, he could get it done and you did not get between him and his goal.

Here’s how that worked, once upon a time:

Mad Phil and a bunch of techs are returning from a trip to a vendor in Massachusetts. Some of the guys plan to visit a favorite fishing hole on the way home, so they stop at a deli in a small town for provisions. Being young guys, they simply slam to a stop in a no-parking zone. A tech hops out of the back seat and runs into the deli.

Mad Phil sits in the passenger seat of the other car, a Chrysler Cordoba rental pimpmobile, with a tech named Guido at the wheel; Guido looks exactly like you’d expect, dressed to impress right down to the open shirt and gold chain. Phil, being the responsible engineer in charge of the trip, is (uncharacteristically) wearing a suit. There being no parking, Guido makes loops around the traffic circle at the center of town. They spot a local police car near the deli, so Guido drives carefully.

After a few loops, the tech runs out of the deli with two large brown bags and waves at Guido, who pulls up between the police car and the deli. In quick succession, the policeman gets out of the patrol car, the tech tosses one bag into Guido’s lap, hops into the other car, and pulls out with unseemly haste.

The policeman studies Guido, Phil, the bag, and the Cordoba. Phil powers down his window, smiles, and asks “May we be of assistance, officer?” The policeman looks at both of them again, meets Phil’s gaze, and says “There’s no point, you’d be out of jail in fifteen minutes.” Phil replies “Thank you, officer, we appreciate your cooperation” and nods at Guido, who gently backs the car out, and they drive off in a stately manner.

He was obviously that guy you did not mess with.

Over the course of the last two years, after being diagnosed with ALS, he quietly and efficiently got his affairs in order, selling and donating his extensive collection of tools, equipment, and parts: putting his stuff where it would do the most good. He gave many tools to a local group that builds and repairs houses, helped stock the local hackerspace, gave me a wide assortment of doodads (some of which you’ve seen here), and was far more generous than anyone really should be.

Go in peace, old friend. You’ve earned it.

Memo to Self: Do like he did.

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Windows Update: Updating the Updater

This sort of thing happens with Free Software, too, but I prefer Microsoft’s phrasing…

Windows 7 Update Update

Windows 7 Update Update

Let’s see… that’s various forms of “update” used as nouns, proper nouns, adjectives, and a gerund…

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Why Vacant Houses Lose Metals

Scrap Metal Receipt - 2013-02

Scrap Metal Receipt – 2013-02

This receipt from a recent trip to the scrap metal dealer explains everything I’ve read about what happens when “cheap commodities” become “precious metals”…

That having been the case for some years, theĀ weighman now scans your (well, my) drivers license to establish traceability in the event the metal turns out to be stolen, with your ID printed on the receipt. The receipt turns into cash at a fortress-like ATM structure out front, far from the actual metal-handling operation.

Despite having a computerized metal scale below what looks to be a cable modem bolted to the wall of the small-lot bay, EMR has no web presence whatsoever. That’s not yet a crime, but …

Some explanations:

  • B241 = brass plumbing fittings, chrome OK
  • CABL1 = house wiring and other copper-heavy cable
  • CABL2 = electronic gadget cables & connectors
  • C273 = pure copper with no fittings or solder, no enameled wire
  • C275 = copper bonded to any other metal or coated with insulation

We immediately converted those two Grants into a tank of gas and two bags of groceries, so the day came out about even.

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Cooper’s Hawk at the Door!

We almost stepped directly into this scene:

Hawk at the Door - first sight

Hawk at the Door – first sight

A closer look at the carnage, seen diagonally through a pane of 1955-era glass:

Coopers Hawk - on door mat

Coopers Hawk – on door mat

The Cooper’s Hawk remained frozen in place while I got a better view from outside:

Coopers Hawk - with prey

Coopers Hawk – with prey

It then flew away with the gibbage in its claws, leaving us a doormat covered with feathers.

We’re not sure if the meal was a mockingbird or a Downy Woodpecker, but we’re apparently short one bird…

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Sawhorse: Cap Bracket Repair

While extricating the sawhorses from the garage, one of the bright yellow cap strips fell off. Whether by coincidence or not, it was the same one I’d previously repaired after sawing completely through the poor thing, but this time the failure came from what’s called inherent vice in the molded bracket-and-pin feature that holds the cap in place:

Fractured sawhorse top pin

Fractured sawhorse top pin

I filed a flat on the top of the bracket, drilled a 4-40 clearance hole, and then held everything in place while drilling a 4-40 tapping hole into the sawhorse. There was just enough plastic to make all that work, at least for the not very strenuous conditions it should experience around here:

Fractured sawhorse top pin - with screw

Fractured sawhorse top pin – with screw

While trying to reassemble the cap, I discovered why the bracket broke. The yellow cap has a bulkhead with an opening for the pin, plus a solid bulkhead that butts against the hinge along the top of the sawhorse. The bulkheads lie too close together: you simply cannot get the opening over the pin on this end with the cap parallel to the top of the sawhorse, which you must do in order to get the pin in the corresponding hole on that end.

Evidently they had the same problem at the factory and “solved” it by melting the bulkhead with a hot blade:

Sawhorse top cover - factory bodge

Sawhorse top cover – factory bodge

That didn’t really help me, but I carved off a few more slices to weaken the solid bulkhead enough to bend it around the hinge. I think the strain involved in the original assembly, plus what happened when I had to take it apart to fix the sawed-off end, weakened the bracket enough to snap off at some point over the winter.

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Outdoor Lamp Replacement

Mad Phil asked me to replace the bulb in a lamp along the walkway to their garage, which turned into a bit of a circus: the bulb had shattered, leaving only the base in the socket. After clearing away the rubble, I was confronted with this:

Corroded lamp socket

Corroded lamp socket

I removed the entire lamp housing, laid it out on my workbench, and eventually resorted to jamming needle-nose pliers into the base and forcibly unscrewing it. That worked:

Corroded lamp base

Corroded lamp base

Fortunately, the aluminum lamp base had corroded against the brass socket, not the other way around, so buffing the socket with a brass wheel in a Dremel handset and polishing the base contacts brought it back to life.

Reassemble the lamp and it’s all good…

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Cassette Tape Case Repair

Mary has been listening to library books while she quilts and sews; some of the older books actually come on cassette tape and our tape players still work. The newer books come on CDs, but it seems the library hasn’t gotten into audio e-reader files yet. She actually prefers tapes, because she can simply stop the tape and restart it from the same place without any further intervention.

In any event, a recent tape stalled about 1/4 of the way through and refused to either rewind or fast forward.

Rather than returning it to the library, which I’m certain all previous borrowers did, I took the cassette apart. This is no big deal, I’ve done it many times before cassettes fell into the dustbin of history.

That made the failure quite obvious:

Cassette tape case - detached bushing

Cassette tape case – detached bushing

The bushing around one of the hub openings had completely fractured and come loose, jamming the tape hub in place.

A ring of solvent adhesive around both parts, a few minutes of clamping, and it’s all good again.

Don’t tell the library; they get tetchy about DIY repairs…

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