Category Archives: Technology

Stupid computer

I have mentioned before I think…I host this blog on a machine in my office.  There is no real reason why I do that, other than to say that I do.  In reality, it would be smarter, cheaper and safer to host it like most people do…on a server somewhere out there in the cloud on a  machine that other people manage.  I am not too smart though so I am going the stupid, more expensive, dangerous route.


So, let’s assume for my vanity’s sake that anyone on the planet noticed that my blog has been sort of “up and down” the past few weeks.  It turns out that one of the hard drives in my web server machine was failing.  Some mornings, I showed up to work to find that the server had crashed.  At first I though there was some sort of magical power flicker or battery back-up hiccup.  Finally, after weeks of ignoring the death screen that presented itself after each crash, I took the time to read the error which clearly said the hard-drive was dying.

Luckily, I have a process where I take a snap-shot or image of the server periodically.  It’s a somewhat fancy way of taking  a backup that can be used to quickly restore a dead server’s data to a new machine.  I finally bit the bullet and got a new machine.  With the image I had created, I was able to create a virtual machine of the image…all that means is that I could basically make one machine run a sort of virtual copy of the other machine.  It’s as if the original dying machine still existed but is now running on a new machine.  The cool part is that if this new machine dies, I just have to copy the virtual machine to  a new machine and start it all up.  From now on, I can literally lose my server and be back in business 10 minutes after I power on a new machine.

Of course, the new machine failed this weekend too.  This was my fault though.  When you set up a new machine, the default setting is to let Windows Updates run automatically. That’s the safe and recommended thing for most machines/people.  It’s a drag for things like my web server though.  Lots of updates installed and my machine rebooted.  Of course, the virtual machine that runs was not set to start up automatically so while my host machine came back up, the virtual machine that runs on the host and that powers my blog did not.  So…I was down again all weekend…hopefully all of that is fixed now and we should be back in business…gee whiz…

Credit card thieves suck

We have a credit card like just about everyone.  We use it to buy pretty much everything so we can get points which we enjoy.  Every month we always pay it off in full so it really works for us.  It’s a somewhat typical story I suppose.  We are pretty mainstream consumers.  Of course, we buy stuff online, and not infrequently, but it is usually from pretty well known places.  Of course, nowadays, that doesn’t matter much.

So, just yesterday, we got a text message and an email from the credit card company saying that our card had been compromised.  That’s not necessarily odd any more (though it really sucks), except that this is THE FOURTH TIME THIS YEAR!!!

One time we caught it and three times the card company caught it so I am thankful that the credit card issuer has things in place to protect us and that this wasn’t our responsibility, and that it was cleaned up quickly and easily,  but it is a real drag to have to change the card number on all of the accounts that automatically draft against the card.  It’s a pain as we go “cardless” for a day or two while the new cards are shipped to us.  We keep some cash on hand so it’s not like we are doomed until the new cards arrive.  It just always seems that we need gas or coffee or medicine or something that can’t always wait a day or two (no, coffee cannot wait a day or two).

Of course, this is  just a rant and I know the a-hole thieves don’t care a bit, but if they did, I would tell them that they suck, that they are mean people and that their moms would be very sad if they knew what they were up to.

Every boy needs a ballista

There is a special bond that a father and son sometimes get to share…when building a siege weapon, for instance.  In one of Isaac’s classes, the final project was to build a siege weapon of some sort to throw a water balloon as far as possible.  Wen Isaac mentioned the project, I immediately though of building a catapult or a trebuchet.

Building the ballista

Building the ballista

Isaac and members of the class had done research though so there wee a number of other weapons that he learned about which are more unusual (to my mind) and a lot more fun for their uniqueness.  Isaac decided he wanted to build a ballista.     A ballista is basically a crossbow on steroids.  That’s perfect!!!

Dry-run testing the ballista
Dry-run testing the ballista
For Pride...for honor...for goodness sakes
For Pride…for honor…for goodness sakes

Original Greek ballistas used two arms that were wrapped with twisted sinew, leather, who knows what to produce tension.  Regular bows use flex in the arms to produce tension that ultimately dives the projectile forward.  In the original ballistae, the torsion in the sinew generated tension to launch the projectile.

The ballista
From behind
This doesn't look safe now that I look back on it
This doesn’t look safe now that I look back on it

We decided to modernize/pervert the old design to use flex  in the bow arms to provide tension to launch our projectile.  PVC pipe to the rescue!  Isaac and I cut, hammered and cussed this thing into existence this week and launched a tennis ball several times…our max shot was 20 yards.  We had one somewhat serious design flaw for which we had no time to remedy.  We ran a single rope from bow-end to bow-end passing through the projectile cup in the middle.  The rope went through the back of the cup so when we released the tension, the rope had to push the cup which often caused it to flip as it tried to push so hard and fast.  A better design would have been to attach a rope tot he leading edge of the cup on each side so the rope would pull the cup rather than push…I suspect we could have easily thrown a tennis ball 50+ yards.

Ballista Movie
Click to watch our first launch!

Isaac’s event went well and he got his credit.  I see more design enhancements in the coming weeks…this project isn’t over for me yet!  And that’s the best part in my mind…sure, the grade was the main driver for this project, but the best part was shared time and cussing with my son!

It’s Pi Day!

You may not be aware but today is Pi Day…not American-as-apple-pie pie but 3.1415-remember-geometry-and-circles Pi Day!  It’s March 14…that is, 3.14!  Lots of people might ignore such a day but without circles and their measurement and pi in general, our world would be a much less fun place.  Science and math make the world go ’round…get it?  Round…circles…pi!

It’s meant to be!


Chocolate pie!
Chocolate pie!

The number π is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  I am a computer programmer by trade and took a lot of math classes as I went through my schooling so I was exposed to a lot of this but if you have not had tons of math exposure, you should definitely read the info about pi on wikipedia…it is truly fascinating!

So, to honor this special day, we baked a pi…I mean a pie last night.  I took a bunch of pics of the process but that was boring.  Instead, I figure it might be more interesting to see a few pics that clearly illustrate what pi is and how it relates to the humble circle.

Pi unrolled


sine curve and pi


Weren’t those super cool?!

Reciting Pi
Click to play video

(Or try here if that doesn’t work)

Here’s something else that is pretty cool…when Isaac was in elementary school, he took it upon himself to learn pi to 50 digits.  He still remembers it and recited it for me!  Abigail recently began to memorize it and she knows it to 12 digits.  For most intents and purposes, 4 or 5 digits is plenty but more precision is…well…more precise so why not learn it?!  Incidentally, the memorization of the digits of pi is called piphilology.  The world record for memorizing the digits of pi is 67,890…that’s amazing!

Reciting Pi
Click to play video

(or try here if that doesn’t work)

So friends…enjoy this pretty cool day and get your ovens baking…it’s Pi Day!

Time to flush

We had a bit of a water disaster here in Charleston.  It’s been called Aquapocalypse 2014…that’s probably a good term for the mess that we’ve had, but good news is coming!  It looks like our zone just got cleared to flush our water system (edit:  this just “undid” our area…dang it!).    WV American Water has done a fantastic job (in my opinion) as far as being rightly conservative in issuing the “Do not use” order as well as providing information and getting the systems back on line.  Sure, it would have been nice if our water system hadn’t been polluted, but that wasn’t their fault…it was the chemical company that apparently did not maintain proper safety systems.

Charleston Last Night
Charleston Last Night

So, the plan was to monitor the treatment system to find a point when the dilution of the chemical was at a level the CDC reported was safe…that is less than 1 ppm.  In laymen’s terms, what that means is if we had a million gallons of liquid, 1 gallon would be 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM).  There is much discussion as to whether that is truly a safe level for consumption.  I am concerned of course because the plan means I will be consuming some of that chemical…even in my  “safe” water.  I get that my drinking water is not straight h20 even before all this,  but I wish it could just be MCHM-free again.  That’s not a reality now however so we will proceed to shower in the water that has been declared “safe”.  In our house, we will not be drinking or brushing with it for awhile longer but ultimately, we will have to just “go for it” I guess.  Again, I don’t blame the water company of the officials on the ground for making this decision and all will probably be well…I just want my perfect world to return!

"Safe" water zones
“Safe” water zones…we are in the blue!

So we will drain our hot water tanks and all of the pipes in our house.  We will follow the nicely written directions provided by the water company and we will get back to normal.  I think most people have done really well in handling their situations.  Thursday night when this all started, it was a little wild as initial panic set in but people quickly got their heads on straight.

Water was trucked in from far and wide and distributed all over.  Neighbors checked on neighbors, and friends in safe-water-zones offered the homes and showers to others to make this all a little better than it would have been.  I am proud of my fellow West Virginians and of my state and local government (and maybe even the feds?) for how they handled this situation.  I saw a little more clearly as it was exercised before my eyes, the importance of community and helping others.  I also saw very clearly the benefit of having some extra water and water containers on hand.  I now realize how very much I appreciate having a shower and even more importantly, I realize how much I appreciate other people having showers.  Even so, I am proud to be a Mountaineer, stinky or not, and I am delighted to have such a great community who get down to business when the going gets tough!

Water…or not

We made the news here in Charleston, WV.  It seems that there exists a several-thousand-gallon tank of chemicals used to clean coal (See here for a reddit discussion on it…thoughtful now but reddit often quickly turns wild wild west…so be warned) which is stationed along the river from which all of our water is drawn and processed.  The tank developed a leak recently…maybe yesterday and maybe earlier depending on who you hear…which leaked into the river.  Of course, that means that the water system pulled it in and ran it through the processing plant in preparation for distribution to everyone.

Water systems are designed to process typical stuff one finds in river water so this extra 5000+ gallons of stuff was not properly removed during the intake process.  No one seems to know how to remove it actually, even if it had been detected earlier.  That means the entire water system supplied by the water treatment plant was contaminated.  More good news…the plant that services Charleston, WV’s Capital and largest city, is the largest system in the state and supplies water to at least 8 surrounding counties leaving 300,000+ people with tainted water.

My family is among those lucky 300,000 so we are following the order to not use the water under any circumstance aside from fire protection (which we have not yet needed, thank goodness).  The water company is not at fault here but there are people blaming them for not notifying customers sooner (it took several hours for the entire issue to become apparent).  Some folks cannot believe that the water treatment plant didn’t detect the chemical until people complained of a “licorice-like” smell in the air, at their faucets, etc.  The water company replied that this was such an unheard of problem and that there was no good protocol to test or clean it and that they cannot possibly test for every potential contaminant.  Rather, they are designed to handle typical river-source contaminants.  I am not doing it justice but the water company has an excellent answer to the question and is not to blame here at all as far as I am concerned.  Instead, the owners of the leaking tank are completely to blame and I hope they find very expensive justice.

Ok, sorry for the rant.  Anyhow, people are behaving in all sorts of ways…some nice and some not so much.  There were runs on all of the stores for people trying to buy water, ice, drinks last night.  The local Sam’s club apparently went through 4200 cases of water in 1.5 hours.  Everywhere was wild and the cops were called into most stores to manage the unruly.  It makes me thankful that we have some water at the house.  Showering is my only real concern and I figure we will make it one way or another to get clean.

I heard that something like 20% of the state’s area is affected by this so we can’t just go to the next town over to get a hotel.  They are out of luck too.  Restaurants are closed, hospitals are on rationing protocols and stuff generally sucks.  Local government and FEMA are (from what I can tell) doing a great job in getting water to people who need it.  The big issue, from what I can tell, is that no one knows how to remedy this situation or how long it will take to work through the system/get cleaned/kill us all.

So dear friends, please consider keeping a bit of water for bathing and drinking in your house.  This problem hit fast here and may last for a significant time.  The unprepared rushed the stores and not all behaved appropriately.  I am very thankful we have water stored at the house so we didn’t have to go out amongst all of the people, some of whom were desperate.  While the government sources seem to be doing well in passing out water today, I am hoping to avoid those distribution areas as well as crowds have drawn there too.  It’s really a matter of how long this lasts though…we shall see!

Ok, that’s all from here.  I’d say we’ll keep a light on for you, but you probably shouldn’t visit right now!

Pulling the plug

When we were first married, we were flat broke.  As soon as we graduated college, we got married and headed to grad school.  In case you didn’t know, grad students are poorer than college students…we surely were.  We were newly married and busy in school so it was easy for us not to have cable tv.

We finally got out of school and even started our family, but we never bothered to get cable.  I guess we went about 16 years without it but we really wanted to see the HBO series True Blood.  We got tv, internet and phone bundled together for the introductory price of $181/month.  We enjoyed True Blood and lots of other shows too.  In fact, it sort of became the only thing we did in the evenings.  Month after month we paid.  Just this Fall, we started to notice this year that we really were not enjoying what we were watching.  We watched anyhow of course, out of habit.

I am not sure why but we finally snapped out of it and realized what a waste of time and money it was. We pulled the plug and cancelled our land line phone and tv.  I called to cancel and the rep asked if they could lower our bill to keep us subscribed.  I asked what the offer was and that sealed the deal for me…she could lower my bill to $120/month with no change in service…a savings of $60/month!  That infuriated me!  I asked why they didn’t just lower my bill automatically…blah, blah, blah.  Forget it!   We kept internet so we can stream programs if we want.  It’s funny but we haven’t bothered streaming much.  When we do stream a program, it’s because we want to watch it.  Not only are we saving $120/month but we are interacting again…like…as a family!

To each their own, but no one in our house has noticed any lack of things to do or any withdrawal symptoms from cutting the cord!  And with an extra $120 per month, I can probably get a new hobby or something!

Let there be light!

As you might remember, we did a lot of work earlier in the Fall in order to get electricity run to the deluxe shed.  Let’s see…that was…um…September!  It was still hot then.  The sun was still out enough to work an 8 hour day in daylight.  You know…it’s been awhile!

New zeroed out electric meter!
New zeroed out electric meter!

I was patient for awhile and I called, with my most polite voice, every week trying to determine when we would have power at the cabin.  Finally, I felt compelled to express my frustration to the designer for the power company.  He was a super nice guy and always very apologetic and polite to me…but I was frustrated.  Finally, just last week, the power company came through!

Our brand new transformer!
Our brand new transformer!

Isaac and I drove out to the place and spotted the new transformer hanging from the pole…could it be?  A Christmas miracle?  Well, that might be an exaggeration but I was pleased and delighted to see it in place in the same quarter and year in which we started this process…barely…but still, it was there!

We'll leave the light on!
We’ll leave the light on!

We popped on one breaker at a time to test my wiring.  To my delight (but not surprise…I am a good wire-er after all) everything worked just fine!  We have lights!  We have plugs!  We have heat!  Hooray for electricity!

 Other cabin stuff…

Played it til our fingers bled…

I never really understood the Bryan Adams song, Summer of ’69 where he talks about playing his guitar until his fingers bled. I mean, first of all, how? And secondly, why? I just never understood what it meant to play a guitar I guess. Fast forward to this week. I have long wanted to tinker with playing bass guitar. I don’t know why but I just like the sound of bass. They say a lead guitar gets the girls but a bass guitar gets the gigs. I don’t really want either but I think I would prefer gigs over girls since I sort of like the girl I have. So, by dumb luck (the best kind of luck), I discovered Rocksmith 2014, a “game” that works on all of the various gaming consoles. I happened to have a little extra money that I had been saving up so I hooked dumb luck together with extra money and bought a new bass guitar and Rocksmith 2014 for the XBox!

Fender Jazz Bass
Fender Jazz Bass

We hooked it all up the other night and started playing. You see, the game comes with a cable that allows players to hook a real guitars (bass or 6-string)  into the system so a real guitar becomes the game controller.

Playing Rocksmith 2014 on new bass
The game screen

It’s pretty cool how game-play merges with guitar-play. Basically the player sees notes coming down the screen and has to adjust fingerings and hit the string at the right time. The system picks it up and measures tone, accuracy, timing, etc and adjusts the notes to the player’s accuracy.  There are a number of different songs that span the 80s through today.  It doesn’t teach players to read music but it does build experience with playing notes on a real guitar and teaches a form of tab playing for guitar (check out this guy playing).

Playing Rocksmith 2014 on new bass
Get outta my way Dad!

So, Isaac, Abigail and I played for a few hours the other night and had a lot of fun.  I kid you not, though…my fingers are still numb!  I stopped before my fingers bled (I am sharp that way) but now I definitely get that there is a painful part of playing guitar that I hope will be overcome with callouses and experience.  I don’t know if I will ever amount to much as a rock star, but I am sure enjoying the chance to play now and the kids and I get a lot of time to goof around together!  With my playing, it is more likely that our ears will bleed than our fingers!


I was walking from the parking lot to my office the other day when I glanced up and saw the power pole that serves our building.  I usually try to ignore ugly stuff but for some reason, I decided to look up when I heard the flapping of wings.  Air-borne rats (aka pigeons) are dangerous creatures when you walk underneath so I wanted to be able to dodge their bombs.  So, I looked up and noticed this monstrosity hanging on the pole above me.  It always makes me wonder who decided it was a good idea to hang so much stuff on a single pole and who the unlucky person is that gets to work on that mess.  It’s funny though, how important electricity is in our lives…why else would we tolerate such a mess?

Ugly utility pole

Anyhow, I am still without power at the executive deer stand.  You may recall that we installed the meter base and trenched the conduit in September.  The system was inspected without problem and we have been waiting ever since.  I know things like this take time and I also understand that this installation is rural and somewhat hard to access, but it’s not that hard to get to.

New porch light

I have talked with the power company guy several times and he is very nice and very apologetic but I surely wish I could get good news soon!  We have spent time the last few visits wiring the interior components in hopes that our work will somehow bring about the electric elves to fire up the connection to the power company.  I am losing faith in that idea but we toil onward!  And really, it’s ok.   I think the exterior plugs look nice and the porch lights around the doors look classy.

New porch light Outdoor power socket

We added a big spotlight at the peak of the roof to scare off raccoons and zombies and other magical creatures.  For now though, I am still powerless as far as power goes.  We have done well building the place using only a generator but once I got the meter base set, I can barely function without “real” electric.  Funny how that works isn’t it?