Archive for category Oddities

Everybody Wants to be a Star

The Wzye Pan camera overlooking the bird feeders attracted the attention of a Downy Woodpecker:


Screenshot_20181029-112307 - Downy Woodpecker at the Pan

Screenshot_20181029-112307 – Downy Woodpecker at the Pan

The camera sits on a “guest” branch of the house network, fenced off from the rest of the devices, because Pi-Hole showed it relentlessly nattering with its Chinese servers:

Blocked Domains - Wyze iotcplatform

Blocked Domains – Wyze iotcplatform

In round numbers, the Pan camera tried to reach those (blocked) iotcplatform domains every 30 seconds around the clock, using a (permitted) lookup to check Internet connectivity. Pi-Hole supplied the latter from its cache and squelched the former, but enough is enough.

I haven’t tested for traffic to hardcoded dotted-quad IP addresses not requiring DNS lookups through the Pi-Hole. Scuttlebutt suggests the camera firmware includes binary blobs from the baseline Xaiomi/Dafang cameras, so there’s no telling what’s going on in there.

The Xiaomi-Dafang Hacks firmware doesn’t phone home to anybody, but requires router port forwarding and a compatible RTSP client on the remote end. Isolating it from the rest of the LAN must suffice until I can work out that mess; I assume the camera has already made my WiFi passwords public knowledge.


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Sharing the Road on Raymond Avenue: Squeeze Play

We’re riding home with groceries along Raymond Avenue, approaching the Vassar Main Gate roundabout, and, as is my custom, I’ve been pointing to the middle of the lane for maybe five seconds as I move leftward to take the lane:

Raymond Passing - Approach - 2018-10-04

Raymond Passing – Approach – 2018-10-04

The driver of HCX-1297 is having none of it:

Raymond Passing - Near Miss - 2018-10-04

Raymond Passing – Near Miss – 2018-10-04

The mirror passed maybe a foot away from my shoulder; I’d reeled my arm in as the front fender passed by.

All three traffic circles / roundabouts on Raymond neck the lane down and angle it rightward into the circle, which is supposed to “calm” traffic:

Raymond Passing - Roundabout - 2018-10-04

Raymond Passing – Roundabout – 2018-10-04

The design doesn’t allow much flinch room for cyclists and certainly isn’t calming for us.

The NYS engineer who designed the Raymond roundabouts said the whole thing was “standards compliant”, refused to go on a check ride with me to experience what it was like, and told me to detour through the Vassar campus if I felt endangered while sharing the road.

Obviously, NYS DOT personnel do not dogfood their “share the road” bicycle standards by riding bicycles.




This just in (clicky for more dots, but not clearer dots):

Spam image - xxx

Spam image – xxx

Yes, the attachment was named xxx.jpg, presumably so I wouldn’t suspect it of containing anything untoward.

The name-dropping definitely adds verisimilitude: not just Microsoft (or Micro Soft) Windows and Google, but Yahoo, too. Be still, my heart!

It’s unclear how I would contact their “fiduciary agent in LIMA PERU” by dialing a 909 area code in California or sending an email to, um,, but, hey, why not? Perhaps another version of me in a parallel universe used the Peruvian Internet?

This must be one of those scams where, if you’re bright enough to notice the problems, they won’t need to waste any time on you.

You’re welcome to my identification numbers. When you get the check, slip me maybe 100 large, preferably under the table, and we’ll call it square.



Powered Prototype Board: Laying-on of Hands Repair

One of my very first projects, after setting up my very first home shop in our very first home, was building an overly elaborate prototype board with five (!) linear power supplies:

Proto Board - overview

Proto Board – overview

The components come from the mid-70s and the shop happened around 1980, so it’s been ticking along for nigh onto four decades. Of late, the supply voltages became erratic and I eventually popped the top:

Proto Board - innards

Proto Board – innards

Yeah, linear pass transistor regulators driven from bulk cap storage, hand-hewn bridge rectifiers, and multi-tap transformers. Everything mounts on screws tapped into the 1/8 inch aluminum chassis, with power transistors on a huge finned heatsink attached to the rear panel. The thing weighs 11.6 pounds = 5.3 kg.

Not a trace of firmware to be found. Heck, surface-mount components hadn’t yet come into common use.

The circuitry lives on a crudely etched phenolic board:

Proto Board - etched circuit board

Proto Board – etched circuit board

There may be a schematic somewhere in my collection, but it hasn’t surfaced in a long time. I’m mildly surprised I didn’t tuck it inside the case, which may have been a life lesson yet to be learned.

Based on my recent experience with the Tek AM503, I wiggled the two metal-can regulators and the ceramic (!) regulator, gingerly plugged in the line cord, flipped the switch, and all the supply voltages once again work perfectly.




Driving While Inattentive

When you come upon a scene like this, you know someone’s having a Bad Day:

Rt 376 Collision Scene - approach - 2018-09-21

Rt 376 Collision Scene – approach – 2018-09-21

I rode slowly past a line of stopped cars, became a pedestrian, walked through the lawns on the left, then turned back into a bicyclist.

It appeared to be a three-car collision, with two vehicles aligned almost perfectly nose-to-nose in the northbound lane:

Rt 376 Collision Scene - overview - 2018-09-21

Rt 376 Collision Scene – overview – 2018-09-21

The red 2015-ish Forester apparently snagged a rear wheel on the far side of another contestant:

Rt 376 Collision Scene - Forester - 2018-09-21

Rt 376 Collision Scene – Forester – 2018-09-21

Talk about heart-stopping: Mary had driven off to a meeting some hours before. Even though the wrecked Forester differed in enough details to make me absolutely certain it wasn’t ours , Mary got a firmer-than-usual hug when she got home.

A picture not shown: two expressionless officers supervising a guy having great difficulty walking the fog line.

I’ll never know the rest of the story, but the overall outline seems clear.

Other than that, it was a fine day for a ride


Dutch Reach

I carry a garish scar under my right arm from my collision with a frameless driver door window while commuting from classes at Lehigh U, back in the day, so I’m as bike-aware as any driver you’ll ever meet. After reading several articles describing the Dutch Reach, I put a reminder on the Forester’s driver door handle:

Dutch Reach reminder

Dutch Reach reminder

The bright yellow block reminds me to peer into the mirror (*) before yanking the handle, regardless of which hand I’m using. Haven’t had any close calls yet, but practice makes perfect.

If you don’t have a label maker, you can hang a tag on the handle.

It’s surprisingly hard to retrain a habit, though …

(*) Update: Yes, I should look over my shoulder, too. At least now I’m aware of the situation and don’t just open the door without thinking. One step at a time.


Amazon Unit Price Anomalies

Backstory: we get Kirkland almond butter from Amazon, because it has consistently good quality at a reasonable price. Kirkland being the Costco house brand, we’re obviously buying it from someone arbitraging the Costco price. The nearest Costco is over an hour away, so spending $60 for a membership (*) just to get almond butter doesn’t make sense.

However, I’ve discovered Amazon’s “buy it again” prompting generally doesn’t offer the best deal, so I start each purchase cycle with a general search. The current results proved interesting (clicky for more dots):

Amazon - unit pricing FAIL

Amazon – unit pricing FAIL

Let’s go through this slowly.

The first result shows the “unit pricing” isn’t done automatically, because it’s completely wrong:

Amazon - unit pricing puzzle

Amazon – unit pricing puzzle

I can figure half of $27.52 isn’t $9.17, but dividing $27.52 by three really is. Dividing by two, the actual size, says the correct “unit price” is $13.76 each. Oddly, searching a day later showed the price went up to $28.69, with the same incorrect divide-by-three unit pricing error.

The “Amazon’s Choice” result simply means a bunch of people bought from that listing, not that Amazon has an actual involvement apart from raking in their take. There’s no unit pricing, but each jar works out to $13.59.

The last result confirms Amazon’s unit pricing bogosity by (correctly!) dividing $26.23 by two, but then claiming the unit price is “per ounce”.

Weirdly, everybody selling the two-pack prices it that way:

Amazon - unit pricing consistent FAIL

Amazon – unit pricing consistent FAIL

We’re surely not looking at half a dozen heads of the same hydra, so this bogosity derives from the commingled UPC (ASIN, whatever) warehouse stock technique giving Amazon a way to avoid responsibility for counterfeits. Somebody (presumably at Amazon) selected the calculation to produce the unit price, but fat-fingered “per ounce” rather than “per each”, and now vendors just bid for that UPC without sweating the details.

You’d (well, I’d) think a bit of Amazon’s much-vaunted machine learning would go a long way toward sorting this out, but it doesn’t.

Word: any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.

(*) Right now, it’s $8.79 direct from Costco online and their 5% non-member surcharge seems survivable.