Posts belonging to Category Domestic Affairs

Muddy Mess

I just let Malcolm in from his morning yard patrol session and was dismayed to see that his paws were covered in mud.  Given how dry it’s been around here of late I was wondering just where the heck he found any mud.  I went outside to discover that the entire back corner of my yard was wet because my neighbor seems to have blown another sprinkler head.  This happened during the summer and until he fixed it every time he would run the sprinkler it would turn that corner of the yard into a mud hole. 

It really wouldn’t be that big of a deal except for the fact that Malcolm likes to patrol the fence line.  Oh well…  life with dogs does have an occasional trying moment.  But they’re worth it in the end.

Water Conservation Success (sort of)

Keller recently adopted an ordinance banning outdoor watering between 10:00am and 6:00pm.  And except for the neighbor immediately behind me, it seems to be working.  I’ve recently noticed increased water pressure during the days.

In fact, the pressure is so high that I was treated to an unexpected shower yesterday when I went to get some water from my refrigerator’s water dispenser.  The water was shooting out so fast that it was deflected off the ice in the cup and splashed me and everything in a 3-4 ft. semicircle around the front of the refrigerator. 

I’m definitely going to have to be more careful from now on when I fill my cup.

Great Leaping Lizards!

Somewhere in the vicinity of 6:15 this A.M. I stumbled to the back door to let Boots out for her morning sojourn in the back yard.  Just as I opened the door one of those pink geckos that we get around here darted across my foot and into the living room and behind the TV and entertainment center.  He’d been lying in wait, ready to ambush whomever opened the door and make a break for the inside.

When I was living in Denton they used to get inside somehow.  I learned that they like to hang out in the bathroom for some reason (perhaps the humidity?).  In particular, they liked to hide behind the toilet, waiting to scare the bejeebus out of the unwary.  While this one made for the TV this morning, I now suspect that I’ll find him in one or other of the bathrooms at some point.

This should make things more interesting over the next day or two until I can find the little bugger.  It’ll make every bathroom break an opportunity for a tactical room clearing exercise.  ohh

Chasing The Gas

I got an interesting postcard in the mail over the weekend.  It concerns a public meeting to be held tomorrow about a new gas well in the Bear Creek Park area.  It appears that after drilling down 1 to 1.5 miles they will go horizontal for up to 6000 feet to extract the gas, which means that it could potentially go under my neighborhood (the postcard just showed a circle with a 6000-foot radius from the well; it didn’t explain if they’d take a particular direction or not).

They also mentioned signing a lease for the drilling, which got me to wondering about mineral rights.  It occurred to me that I had never really thought about them and I didn’t know if they were transferred to me with the house or not.  It certainly wasn’t on any of the paperwork I signed (and I took another look yesterday to be sure).  It appears that the drilling company knows something I don’t (we suspect that they used the county records to decide who to send cards to).

I guess I will attend the meeting to see what this is all about and whether I stand to get anything out of it.  If anything I wouldn’t expect more than a few dollars, though, given the size of my lot.  I’m certainly interested to know more about horizontal drilling and rock fracturing, though.  Even if it’s 1.5 miles below me, I start to get a bit nervous when you propose to “fracture” the rock.  The last thing we need is an earthquake…

Slowly Driving Me Insane

In January I undertook a project to build a new server that used less power and made less noise.  I partially succeeded, but I ended up making things worse in a way.

The sharp-eyed observer might have noticed a Sound Pressure Level meter in the pictures in my last post.  Measurement at my right ear shows that my server produces about 60 dB.  In the grand scheme of things this is pretty quiet.  Still, though, compared to the system it replaced, I actually find it more annoying, despite being quieter (at least by subjective measurement, since I didn’t have the SPL meter when I retired the old server).  The difference is the pitch.  The new server has a higher pitch than the old, mainly because it appears that the majority of the sound is coming from the CPU fan (which is the AMD stock fan/heatsink included with their retail CPU package).  And lots of the CPU fan noise escapes because the case has an air duct and holes right above the CPU.

I’ve got a Thermaltake CPU fan/heatsink on order along with some larger, quieter case fans that I’m hoping will reduce the overall noise output, or at least change its pitch sufficiently so that it’s no longer so annoying.  The Thermaltake CPU fan is rated at 23 dB, so that by itself should make a difference.  According to UPS it’s “out for delivery” so maybe the madness will soon stop…

Update:  The box arrived a little while ago and I just took the CPU fan out of its blister pack.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  I knew it was going to be big, but this thing is freakin’ huge.  It also says 18 dbA on the box, so I’m not sure where I got the “23” rating that I mentioned above.  I suppose that could have come from another fan/sink I was looking at.  Anyhow, if I get a chance tonight I’m going to try to install it.  That should be interesting…

After action report:  Upon opening the case I was greeted by 7 months of dust.  I also had to ask myself if I really built this thing, since the cables were routed so badly. 

Fitting the new heatsink/fan turned out to be easier than I anticipated, despite the fact that it was quite a bit bigger than the old one.  Actually, getting the old one out turned out to be the hardest part of the operation.  In addition to a new heatsink/fan I replaced the case fan with a 92mm temperature controlled model (an Antec SmartCool).

I replaced the IDE cable for the DVD drive with a short, round one to reduce clutter and improve airflow, and I replaced the 18 and 24-inch SATA cables with 12-inch ones.  Finally, I tied and taped the parallel cable (it’s used for the HD44780 LCD panel) to get it out of the way.

The sound level, measured next to my ear while I’m in my chair, is now 51 dB (as compared to 60 dB previously).  Or at least that’s what my meter shows.  The lowest it can read is 50 dB, so we’re nearing the minimum it can read.  Running at full load (load average of 1.73) shows a CPU temperature of 41°C (which is 105°F for people like me who can’t get their heads around a temperature unless it’s in °F).  At idle it’s running at 30°C (86°F), which seems to be the same as with the stock AMD heatsink.

The sound pollution has definitely been decreased by changing the fans.  Time will tell if it’s enough, though. 

Heavily ‘ARM’ed In Mission Control

I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with trying to make my office into a more habitable environment.  I spend from eight to ten hours per day in here, so it seems to be in my best interest to eliminate any annoying or inefficient elements.

The first, and most annoying problem, was that the slide out keyboard tray that was built into the desk was too low.  I prefer to have my keyboard up higher, and it was also blocking me from getting close enough to the monitors (which are already pulled out to the very edge of the desk).  So I bought the Waterloo Sit Or Stand Capable Arm, Keyboard Tray & Mouse Tray Package to replace the existing tray.  Only after I got it did I realize that there were three cross-braces under the desktop that would be in the way.  I spent a considerable amount of time on my back under the desk cursing and getting sawdust in my eyes hacking those cross-braces out (I suppose they were there for heavy monitors or something, but I’m not putting a lot of load on the desk and removing them hasn’t caused a problem).  But once in place, the new tray has been much better to work with than the old fixed tray. 

The other issue is that while I have a primary PC I also have a laptop that I have to use from time to time.  It’s mainly for travel, but when I do need to use it I need to be able to do so while also using the primary.  I’d tried using the slide-out writing platforms on either side of the desk, but those quickly caused eye-strain, aggravated my latent carpal tunnel issues, or gave me a backache.  Almost by accident I stumbled upon the Ergotron LX Desk Mount Notebook Arm somewhere while I was looking for something else.  It was bit pricey, so I stewed on it for a while, but eventually found one for a bit less than retail and decided to give it a go.  Mounting was pretty simple (just one hole) and now I can have the laptop up where I can see it while using the PC.

Finally, I also have my server here in the office.  For a while I was using a KVM switch with my primary PC’s keyboard and one of its monitors to access the console of the server.  But that left me unable to use the primary PC while on the server’s console.  I came across a fairly inexpensive SpaceArm on eBay ($40 shipped vs the usual $200) and decided I couldn’t resist at that price.  It was a bit more of an involved installation, as I forgot to take into account the space used by the slide-out writing platform on the right side of the desk.  But a little ‘adjustment’ with a hacksaw took care of that problem (i.e. I notched the end of the platform to fit around the nut that holds the arm in from underneath). 

So now if I have everything in use it looks like the bridge of the Enterprise in here:

But when I’m just using the primary PC, I still have some desk space available on that side:

I also bought a small keyboard (SolidTek USB Mini Keyboard with Track Ball) for the server’s console that includes a trackball so I don’t have to have room for a separate mouse.  And that little vertical black box on the right edge of the desk is an LCD-monitor TV tuner device.  It lets me watch over-the-air TV on the LCD monitor.  I’m not in the habit of watching TV while working, but sometimes it’s useful to be able to tune into local TV if there’s a storm watch.  The audio is fed into a little manual switcher (seen underneath and between the dual monitors in the top picture).  The switcher sends audio either from my Squeezebox or from the server into an “aux” input on the main PC’s speakers (the main PC’s output is always active, so it can make for some interesting audio if you forget what you’ve got switched on).

Also, that huge UPS powers the server, the main PC, all the monitors, the phone, the VoIP TA, and the network switch (hidden behind the monitors), so that the whole thing stays up if the power takes a hit (although my internet connection will die within a few minutes it at least lets me tell you why I’m going offline).  The UPS’s USB cable is connected to the server which is running apcupsd.  The PC is running the Windows version of apcupsd in network mode to monitor the main server.  If the power fails, the PC will shut down based on being signaled by the server.

Returned!: Dog

Updated 4/17/2007 at 12:55PM:  Jim Carson forwarded an email to me from someone who was looking for a lost dog in the same area where we found this dog.  It turns out that it was indeed the same dog and I have just returned from taking her home.

While out walking Boots on the Bear Creek trail this afternoon we came across a stray dog:

She seems to be friendly, and from her overall condition she probably hadn’t been away from home for more than a couple of days.  However, she had an injury on her left rear leg.  Some other dog walkers loaned me a leash so I could get her back to my truck.  I took her over to the Southlake animal emergency center for an evaluation.  The vet assistant thought that she was probably about three or four years old and that she was well-nourished.  The vet said that the injury doesn’t appear to be too serious and there is no bone involvement.  In fact she thought that it might just be some sort of sore caused by allergies.  She prescribed a course of antibiotics and Benadryl (and possibly an e-collar, should she decide to pick at the sore).

She was found on the trail at the edge of the clearing to the West of the intersection of Bear Run and Bear Ridge:

She did not have a collar nor does she have a microchip.

For those who might be reading this in the Keller area, if you know who this dog belongs to, please click the “Contact” link at the top of the page and let me know who she belongs to.  My schedule is bad tomorrow, but on Wednesday I will make up some fliers and post them in the park and on the bench at the intersection of Bear Run and Bear Ridge.

I’ve decided that if no one comes forward, that I will go ahead and keep her.

Morning Visitor

A sure sign that something has invaded the yard is when Boots barks.  She doesn’t care if other dogs in the area are barking.  She simply ignores that (fortunately).  But she will sound the alarm if something is in her yard. 

So this morning I came out to find out what the ruckus was all about and discovered this specimen:

It was up on the fence because Boots had been chasing it.  At first I was concerned because it appeared to be drooling excessively, which had me thinking rabies.  But it appears that this may be one of its natural reactions to extreme fear (Wikipedia entry on opossums, Virginia Opossum), which includes excessive saliva, among other interesting symptoms: 

But with enough stimulation, the opossum will enter a near coma, which can last up to four hours. It lies on its side, mouth and eyes open, tongue hanging out, with green fluid emitting from its anus, and emitting an odor putrid to most predators. […]  As a result of this unusual behavior, opossums that are discovered apparently dead with no obvious fatal injuries should be given the benefit of the doubt as to avoid inadvertently burying them alive.

‘E’s not dead.  ‘E’s just restin’ 

I guess in this case he was getting ready to fall over and “die” if I hadn’t brought Boots back into the house. 

Perplexing Cost Structures

My trusty old Craftsman 18V cordless drill/driver finally gave up the ghost over the weekend.  Or, more accurately, the charger and battery packs gave up the ghost.  I bought it about 3 and a half years ago (right after I bought the house).  Lately the batteries hadn’t been keeping a charge very well and I was expecting to have to replace them.  Then, at some point over the past month or so, the charger quit working without me noticing.  So when I picked it up yesterday to use it I discovered that neither battery had enough charge to even spin the motor.

A quick check of the Sears site showed that the charger could be replaced for about $12.00, but I was also going to need batteries.  They had a two-pack for about $70 or a single for $45, and given that I like having two batteries (it’s a royal PITA to have to wait for the thing to charge if you’re in the middle of something) I was looking at over $80 to replace the batteries and the charger.  At that point it seems worth it to just buy a whole new drill set.  Which I think is why they make these accessories so expensive.  Kind of like razor blades or toner cartridges.

Looking through the selection on the site, I came across one that got high review ratings that included two batteries for $113.  What perplexed me was that the same drill could be bought as part of a drill/flashlight combo for $99.99. 

Interestingly, that’s just about what I paid for my current combo kit (except 18.0V instead of 19.2V).  I’ve never used the flashlight, though (except to check that it worked).

As an aside, I took a look at some other models in the Sunday sales circulars and on some websites.  Just when did power tools become so gaudy?  I was reminded of this because of the contrast between the old, el-cheapo corded Black&Decker that I dragged out yesterday and the new, orange abominations that they sell.

At least this Craftsman is mostly black:

The worst offender, though, has to be this Hitachi that is on sale at Lowe’s:

I find it interesting that the Hitachi costs $50 more than the Craftsman, though.  In terms of specifications, the Craftsman is slightly ahead with 420 in-lbs torque to the Hitachi’s 400.  Otherwise they both come with two batteries, a charger, and a case.  And both are two-speed variable (Hitachi is 0-400/0-1200 and the Craftsman is 0-400/0-1400).  But the Craftsman has a distinct advantage in that it doesn’t have that horrid color scheme.

Our Daily Bread

Back in January I picked up a small bread machine from as something of an impulse buy.  I’d been contemplating getting one for a while, and this one was on sale at the time and had the advantage of being really small. 

It makes a small loaf that’s about right for two people (three if you stretch it) at one meal, or that’s about right for making three sandwiches (i.e. about 6 slices, depending on how thick you like them).  It’s also really fast, easy to clean, and easy to use.  And unlike many appliances you buy these days, the instructions are well-written and informative.  In addition to listing quite a few bread recipes it includes a section that explains the purpose of each type of ingredient and explains some common problems and how to fix them.  The manual also explains how to use pre-made bread mixes that you find in the store (the usual size of mix, such as you get from Krusteaz, is good for two loaves in this machine).

So far I’ve made basic white, wheat, rye, and oatmeal-honey white from the recipe book as well as “country white,” sourdough, and wheat berry from Krusteaz.  Interestingly, there’s something about the wheat berry that drives my dog nuts.  She practically attacks me in the kitchen when I start slicing a loaf of the wheat berry.  It’s an odd response, as she seems more interested in this bread than anything besides raw meat.