Archive for category Aphorisms

Cycliq Fly6: Rain-shedding Performance

Cycliq says “Using the latest nanotechnology, Fly6 is safeguarded against any wet weather nature can throw at you.” That’s not quite the same as saying it’s waterproof, but the plastic lens cover sheds water surprisingly well.

We were caught in a brief downpour on a recent ride and, not unexpectedly, water covered the rear-facing lens:

Fly6 - Rain 1

Fly6 – Rain 1

A larger drop ran down the left side, merged with the previous drop, and blurred two thirds of the image:

Fly6 - Rain 2

Fly6 – Rain 2

Three seconds and a few major jolts later, the lens was mostly clear:

Fly6 - Rain 3

Fly6 – Rain 3

Half a minute later, it’s looking even better:

Fly6 - Rain 4

Fly6 – Rain 4

The jolts come from the deteriorated paving and poor patches along Rt 376, but at least they shake the water off the lens:

Fly6 - Rain 5

Fly6 – Rain 5

Ten minutes after the first image, both the lens and the sky were almost completely clear:

Fly6 - Rain 6

Fly6 – Rain 6

A pleasant surprise!

That transverse crack just behind me? Charlie Brown’s First Principle of Puddles applies: you cannot tell how deep a puddle is from the top. That sucker goes down through at least three layers of paving:

Crack - Red Oaks Mill

Crack – Red Oaks Mill

I forgot to put the Sony HDR-AS30V helmet camera in its waterproof housing before we left, so I put it in the (not exactly waterproof, either) underseat pack when the first drops fell. Sony makes no pretense that the bare camera can survive a rainstorm, but the packs are good for our simple needs.

Ed’s First Principle of Rain Riding: After the first five minutes, you don’t get any wetter.



Always Sign Your Work

Quite some years ago, I added a wire shelf to the bottom of the “pantry” closet to hold odds-and-ends. The most recent deep-cleaning cycle required removing the shelf, which required removing the mounting brackets to get the fool thing out of the closet.

The backside of one bracket shows I had a bit of trouble matching the mounting holes to the wall anchors:

Pantry wire shelf brackets - overview

Pantry wire shelf brackets – overview

The lower bracket bears some advice from my Shop Assistant:

Pantry wire shelf brackets - detail

Pantry wire shelf brackets – detail

Check thrice
Measure twice
Cut once

From what little we hear these days, she’s learned the value of always checking her work…

And she signs it, too.

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Halloween Horror: Line Voltage on the Loose!

I hauled the Kenmore 158 sewing machine and controller to a Squidwrench meeting for some current measurements (and, admittedly, showing it off) while schmoozing. After hauling it home and setting it up on my bench again, it didn’t work: the motor didn’t run at all.

While doing the usual poking around under the cover, I spotted this horrifying sight:

Loose AC line hot wire

Loose AC line hot wire

The brown insulation tells you that’s a hot wire from the AC line and, in fact, it’s coming directly from the line fuse; it’s live whenever the plug is in.

It’s a stranded wire to allow flexing without breaking, but that same flexibility allows it to squeeze its way out of a tightly fastened screw terminal. In principle, one should crimp a pin on the wire, but the only pins in my heap don’t quite fit along the screw terminal block.

This sort of thing is why I’m being rather relentless about building a grounded, steel-lined box with all the pieces firmly mounted on plastic sheets and all the loose ends tucked in. If that wire had gone much further to the side or top, it would have blown the fuse when it tapped the steel frame. The non-isolated components on that board are facing you, with those connections as far from the terminal block as they can be.

Engineers tend to be difficult to live with, because we have certain fixed ways of doing things that are not amenable to debate. There’s probably a genetic trait involved, but we also realize that being sloppy can kill you rather quickly; the universe is not all about pink unicorns and rainbows.

In fact, the universe wants you dead.

Now, go play with those goblins and zombies tonight…

Memo to Self: Tighten those terminals every now and again. A wire will come loose shortly after you forget to do that, of course.

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Interplak Water Jet: End of the Line

The brittle tubing on Mary’s Interplak water jet continued to disintegrate, so I replaced the entire tube with Tygon:

Interplak water jet - interior

Interplak water jet – interior

Nisley’s First Rule of Plumbing: Never, ever look inside the pipes delivering water to your faucet.

Interplak handle - interior view

Interplak handle – interior view

That’s not quite inside the pipes, but it’s pretty grotendous, isn’t it?

As expected, flexible tubing doesn’t transmit the pressure pulses nearly as well as the OEM rigid tubing, so we finally bought a new Waterpik. At least you can get replacement tubing for Waterpiks, but I’ll wait until it fails before stocking up.

Contrary to what you might expect, I cut the Interplak’s cord, harvested the motor windings, and dumped the carcass in the trash.


Firefox Accounts: Total FAIL

So I’m in the process of installing Xubuntu 14.04LTS on a box and get to the point where I’m ready to install various daemons and utilities, then tweak their settings, so it’s time to have the new Firefox inhale all my settings from the Firefox on my 13.10 desktop, which will let me find all my blog posts with that information. This used to be a simple matter of going into the new Firefox’s Preferences, getting a one-time pairing code, typing it into the other desktop, and away it went, synchronizing the two installations.

But, no.

While I wasn’t watching, Firefox crept up to Version 29 and, at some point, Mozilla introduced Firefox Accounts. Why would they do that? Here’s a hint:

Firefox Accounts is a consumer account system which provides access to services run by Mozilla, such as Firefox Marketplace and the next version of Firefox Sync.

Firefox Marketplace? Say no more: money changes everything!

Oh, and the “next version of Firefox Sync” is totally incompatible with the “old version” used by all existing Firefox installations.

But it gets worse (emphasis mine):

What if I don’t want to update to the new Sync?

  • While the old version of Sync will continue to work, the latest version of Firefox doesn’t support adding new devices to the old version of Sync. This means that you won’t be able to sync with a new device.
  • Mozilla will continue to host the old version of Sync for a limited time to allow for migration to Firefox Accounts.

In order to sync the 14.10 Firefox, I must upgrade the 13.10 Firefox, but after I do that, none of the other boxes will be able to sync with either of them. I haven’t checked whether Firefox Version 29 is offered for the 10.04LTS installation that’s running on the LinuxCNC boxes.

My 13.10 desktop has endured many, many, many automatic Firefox upgrades during their recent version incrementing mania and, for whatever reason, it doesn’t offer “New Sync” as an option, despite being at the same Version 29 as the 14.04 installation. This is likely a problem with some Firefox extension or another, but I disabled them to no avail.

When all else fails, you always create a new profile by starting the Firefox Profile Manager:

firefox -profilemanager

That works as expected; the new and completely bare profile let me create a new Firefox Account, which entails the usual to-ing and fro-ing with emailed one-time authorizations and suchlike. OK, now I can use the shiny new Firefox Marketplace, should I so desire. Be still, my heart!

So, we progress.

But my original intent was to get all the setup data into the 14.04 Firefox, so (on the 13.10 Firefox) I followed the directions about transferring the old settings into the new profile, which involves tediously hand-copying a bunch of files from one cryptic directory to another. This is a brutally user-hostile operation that only geeks should endure; there is absolutely no automation to be found.

Having a new profile, albeit without any of the old extensions, I attempt to sync my settings, only to discover that the new Firefox Sync will not synchronize my stored passwords, which was pretty much the whole point of this exercise.

Turns out that’s deliberate:

Firefox Sync will not synchronize your passwords if a master password is set. If you would like to continue synchronizing your passwords, try removing your master password before synchronizing.

Now, why would I have a master password? Because, long ago, the good folks at Mozilla highly recommended it (emphasis mine):

It takes only fifteen seconds for a prying user sitting at your computer to see the list of all the passwords you have told Firefox or Thunderbird to save. The list is shown plain as day. It can include webmail and forum passwords or email server passwords. Using a Master Password is highly recommended, to prevent such prying users from seeing the list. By setting a Master Password, anyone using your profile will be prompted to enter the master password when access to your stored passwords is needed.

So, the new Firefox Sync requires a Firefox Account that doesn’t do anything I need done and, in order to sync my 13.10 settings into the 14.04 box, I must have a new Firefox Account and make both Firefox installations less secure.

I think it’s possible to remove the master password, sync the stored passwords, then restore the master password. When you remove the password, you get a confirmation message:

You have deleted your Master Password. Your stored web and email passwords, form data, and private keys will not be protected.

Firefox allegedly uses the Gnome keyring to get a master password protecting the whole Firefox session, but displaying all the stored passwords is just a few clicks away after that; needless to say, Firefox on 13.10 doesn’t use the keyring. Given that Chromium on Xubuntu 13.10 does not use the Gnome keyring, it’s entirely unprotected. Maybe the 14.04 box will use the keyring for both browsers?

What the hell do those people smoke? I want some of that, right here, right now!

Verily, money changes everything…


Monthly Science: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

We attended the Walkway Over the Hudson’s Moonwalk event / fundraiser on the night of the Hunter’s Moon, which also happened to be a penumbral eclipse. You can barely see the darkness in the lower right-hand quadrant, down around Tycho Crater:

Penumbral Eclipse of Hunters Moon

Penumbral Eclipse of Hunters Moon

That’s a fairly crappy picture by contemporary standards: taken with my Canon SX-230HS, zoomed tight, hand-held, braced atop the Walkway’s railing. Any of the telescopes deployed along the Walkway produced better / sharper / more impressive images. Heck, we’ve been there and brought back moondust, despite being stuck in LEO ever since.

Galileo upended the universe with observations based on images no better than that. What’s your excuse?

Wisely is it written: A poor craftsman blames his tools.

Go read Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel. If you have dry eyes at the end of the last sentence, then I’d say you have what it takes to be the CEO of a really big financial institution.

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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.