Circling the Drain

I’m screwed. Not literally. Well, sort of.

Many years ago, while waiting for an elevator, I looked down and noticed for the first time that while my feet were pointing due south, my head and shoulders were pointing about 16 degrees to the west. Okay, so at least I’m screwed clockwise. You know, like the same way water swirls down the toilet. I’m drawing no conclusions there. At least that’s in the northern hemisphere. I don’t know about the southern hemisphere, I’ve never been there, so YMMV. I choose to blame the earth and its unfortunate Coriolis force.

It took me a few years to discover that this twist is because my right leg is just a bit shorter than my left leg. So at some point in my dim(bulb) past I decided to stick an extra insert into my right boot only, in addition to my usual Dr. Scholl’s knockoffs, to kind of even things out a little. It almost seemed like a miracle when my nose lined up with my toes!

I felt unscrewed!

Fast forward to last week when I suffered a wet sock emergency every time I went out to feed the birds. (I want to claim our wild birds at dependents, which is literally true, they depend on me—and fear and revile me in equal measure—but my tax adviser advises against it.) I discovered a major crack in the sole of my right boot, so I got new boots. So I swapped my inserts from old boots to new. (This came only two weeks after a treasonous shoelace sabotaged me, which led to its immediate firing and replacement.)

And this led to a mortifying discovery.

For several years—I’d bought the old boots at least four or five years ago—I had apparently been wearing a single corrective insert in the left boot. The wrong side. Huh? I’d actually been worsening the situation. Screwing myself. Which, admittedly, in the long run, is pretty typical for me. Fortunately I’ve been retired for a few years and no longer walk six or seven miles a day on hard concrete. Maybe I would have noticed. But on the other hand, I probably should have—back in 2014 when I was getting paid to do that.

No wonder I was so sore and tired every day.

Adventures in Technology

The Good! You can learn to do virtually anything by watching videos on YouTube!

The Bad! You have to endure a YouTube video– or many– to learn it.

So I recently picked up a pristine used Honda Accord coupe for mere money. Lots of technology there, some of which I’m familiar with (touch screens, backup cameras, blind spot detection) and some I’m not (keyless entry and starting).

A friend advised me, based on his unfortunate personal experience, to buy a spare battery for the fob and keep it in the glovebox. His fob had died a premature death. He popped out the hidden key and got into his car, but what then? No place to stick the key. Couldn’t start the car. Hopefully it got him out of the rain, at least.

So what battery, and how do I replace it? YouTube!!! I bring up the first video. It’s three-and-a-half minutes long. Hmm. This must be a difficult job. But no! There’s half a minute of the guy alternately holding the fob in our face and showing us the “Keyless Remote Battery Low” warning on the dashboard. Back and forth and back and forth. Then another 30 seconds showing us the batteries he bought at Dollar Tree. Yup, it’s a CR2032. Got it. I see it. Move on.

The next 45 interminable seconds are spent trying to open the fob with one hand and muttering to himself, while simultaneously swinging the phone around wildly with his other hand until I got nauseous and had to throw up! But seriously. He eventually had to set the phone down to accomplish this two-second, two-handed trick. I mean, was there no time for a quick dress rehearsal? Or even a cold read? Is it against YouTube policy to do retakes? You know, just stop, delete the failed effort and start over? And why would anyone post this on YouTube in the first place for all the world to see, to cringe and laugh at?!?! Just do it the heck over!

There’s also a 27 second video. Yah, I should have gone there first. But it wasn’t nearly as entertaining. But there are also other videos on this same Honda Accord key fob battery replacement task that run beyond 3 minutes. Good grief. I’ve also endured videos on how to do computer stuff, “taught” by a guy who couldn’t type and spent a minute or more trying to figure out why what he was trying to show us how to do wasn’t working– and paying no attention to me yelling at him and tapping the blatant misspelling right there in front of his blind eyes.

Next up on YouTube: How to build a nuclear reactor in your basement! Do I go with the one-minute version and get it done, or pop some popcorn, grab a beer, and go for the Dumb and Dumber high wire circus act?


First World Problems

So I’m trying to figure out Android Auto, now that I have a car that supports it. Not going well with my Samsung S7 phone. So the Modern Day Solution? Google it! First YouTube video that pops up promises a solution! So I watch it.

First step: get your Android phone into “Developer Mode.”
Really? And how do I do that?
Open Settings.
Click on About Phone.
Click on Developer Mode.

I click. Nothing. I click again. Still nothing.
You have to click it four or five times to get into the Developer Mode menu.
Okay. You might have mentioned that–
Now you go to USB Configuration and make sure MTP is on. Sometimes they come up in Charging mode. So you need to turn on MTP. Mine was already in MTP mode so I didn’t have to change it.
Well, mine’s already in MTP mode too. So now what?
Now you back out of that and get back into the Android Auto app.
But that still didn’t work for me.
That didn’t work for you??? Okay, so why are you telling me all this?
I found out that using a genuine Samsung USB charging cord fixed the problem. I was using a generic cord. So switching to using a genuine Samsung charging cord in my car worked, and now I can get connected every time.
Well isn’t that nice? I was using a generic cord too. Why didn’t you just save me 5 minutes of my life and tell me in 20 freaking seconds that what worked for you was as simple as using the genuine Samsung USB cable??? Huh???

And here’s another one. Why is hardware and software obsolete in about 3 years, 5 max? Oh, your phone is two years old. It won’t support that software. You need a new phone!

Well, how about this? I had a 2009 Saturn Aura. 11 years old, and I could get it fixed pretty much anywhere in the country at the drop of a hat. Anything breaks or wears out, there are parts available, same day delivery. And Saturn has been out of business for ten freaking years! I have a friend who has a 1917 Ford Model T. It’s 103 years old! He can buy parts and fix it with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers! And I can’t even change the battery in my cell phone??? What is wrong with this picture.

End of rant. Thank you for your support.


Here and Now!

As I promised the other day, I finally went to work on a Shameless Commerce Division page yesterday. All my efforts to do direct sales on my website were squashed– I’d have to do some upgrades, spend some money, and probably go to eCommerce school for a few semesters– but I did manage to get my inventory listed on Amazon. You can visit my Amazon site here (or on the Novels page of this website, where you can also  read about each of the books). If you would, kindly click on New for the opportunity to buy directly from Sudden Deathe Press LLC. Thank you.


Bats in the Attic

(Editorial note: the incidents exaggerated below happened almost 40 years ago. The author is more enlightened now about the value of bats and other alleged vermin (turkey vultures, Great Eagles,  possums, etc.) to the ecosystem. Squirrels, however, are on their own.)

A friend of mine, Susan, recently asked for advice on getting rid of bats in her attic. Believe it or not, I was too savvy to make any inappropriate remarks, which might have compromised our friendship. Instead I gave her my best advice, based on personal experience: Burn down the house. I probably would have advised her to get her husband and the cat out first, but she doesn’t have a cat, so why go to all that effort? Steve is alert enough to get out on his own, I assume, despite being a chemical engineer.

Many years ago we had a bat in our house, flitting silently through the downstairs while we were trying to watch TV. That didn’t last long– the TV watching, I mean. The bat was fine with whatever. The Wife threw a towel over her head and cowered in the corner. Even the cats dove for cover. Which left me exposed. Our first line of defense was to call the Wife’s Aunt Ruth, who was an experienced and fearless bat fighter. She only lived a few miles away, and probably wasn’t over the age of 85 or so at the time. She asked if we wanted her to come kill it for us. Of course we did! She laughed at us.

Our next thought was to burn down the house.

Eventually the bat flew upstairs. Donning battle gear and arming myself with a broom, I crawled up the stairs on my belly to engage the enemy. In my defense here, the ceiling over the stairs was very low. Understand this thing was as big as a turkey vulture and had the wingspan of a Great Eagle from Lord of the Rings. I think I had a hat on, but still. I finally found it under the bed in the spare bedroom, and beat it to death with the broom (some NSFW language was involved) until it was no bigger than my thumb. I think that qualifies as some kind of miracle in a Biblical sense.


Not the actual farmhouse

The Wife grew up in an old farmhouse, and many years ago her mother used No Pest Strips to kill… well, pests. These things were potent. They still sell them, but I imagine the lethality of them has been forcibly restricted over the years by the EPA, CDC, WHO and various other international do-gooder health agencies. In those good old days you could hang one of these in an attic and it would kill ‘most anything: bugs, hornets, wasps, mice, bats, probably unwelcome guests if you could get them up close to the ceiling in the spare bedroom, like maybe in an upper bunk. The Wife’s mother used them injudiciously, and she and her husband lived to ripe old ages.

Such is the price of progress. No Pest Strips are probably No Kill Strips by now, the same way that charcoal lighter fluid is about so safe it’s about as flammable as urine and it takes a blowtorch to keep it going. Fortunately, I have a blowtorch. And I don’t need to kill any bats. Right now, anyway.

Neither a Nerd nor a Technophobe Be

I am neither nerd nor technophobe. I used to enjoy tinkering with computers, like installing a “Hardcard,” which was an immense 40 Megabyte(!) hard drive on a PCI card, which plugged into the motherboard of an old PC that came stock from the factory with just two 5-¼” floppy drives. As a neophyte, that seemed a lot easier to me than attempting to install (read: plug in) a hard drive and hope it worked. It worked and I felt invincible. I wrote a novel on that computer.

Just today I “rooted” an old Barnes & Noble NookHD+ and turned it into a basic Android tablet. It worked! I followed a simple “30 minute” process that I found on the Internet. I also found that “30 minute” claim to be a bit ridiculous, but I fumbled through it without the usual roadblocks. Oh no, I had all new roadblocks, rather than getting to step 3 where the instructions say something like “from this dropdown menu, choose FORMAT,” only to find that FORMAT is not an option on my computer or in that particular menu.

This time step 3 was as simple as “Unzip the file to a temporary folder.” Hmmm. Apparently Windows 10 doesn’t come with unzip app. So I was sent back to the Internet to download, install, and figure out how to use a free unzip app. Step 4  was to install the newly unzipped file on a microSD card and make that card bootable. Back to the Internet to find, download, install, and figure out how to use a dedicated app to do those jobs.

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

After two or three hours yesterday, and another two or three hours today, I was booting the old Nook to Android 7, and installing the apps my wife will need to find, download and read some eBooks that she can’t find in hard copy in the library (which we can’t go to during this quarantine anyway). So far so good. I’ll stand by to assist with that process, since this is something I do all the time. I’m not a nerd yet—or anymore—but I’m still marginally capable.

But what irritates me most these days is this: when I think back to my youth, the ’50s and early ’60s, we had only black & white TVs with screens barely larger than a dinner plate. The screen was an electronic tube, and behind that tube were dozens of more tubes, all of which had to warm up for many long seconds before a fuzzy gray picture would appear on the screen. Eventually, years later, it would be a color picture. (An aside: I remember the first time I ever saw a color TV; it very memorable, in part because the primary color was purple; I was impressed, but not bowled over.) How far we have come since those days! How far have we come since those days? Not sure. I turn on a TV today and I have to wait many long seconds for it to boot up before it gives me a picture. No question, it’s a great picture. But it still feels a little like going back in time to a simpler day.



Practicing Safe Social Distancing

I realize it’s been months since I posted anything here. It’s not like I’ve been too busy. Too lazy, maybe. Yes, definitely.

But first, a word about Safe Social Distancing: I’m packing a tape measure and I’m not afraid to use it.

So rather than just sitting home, watching the endless Covid-19 coverage, with scenes of overworked medical personnel and crowded facilities; endangered seniors and compromised individuals; bickering politicians; and concerned epidemiologists and virologists pushing constant handwashing and strict social distancing, interspersed with upbeat, bouncy, innocent, and typically shrill TV ads imploring me to get on down to Menard’s and Best Buy and FELDMAN CHEVROLET!!! (among the shrillest of annoying ads, and a personal pain in my ears and the mostly-empty space between), to say nothing of the reports of irresponsible Covidiots who are generally-but-not-always young enough to think they know everything, and who also erroneously think they are invulnerable, bulletproof, immune, and don’t care who they might infect (“Let’s party like it’s 1917!”). And everybody hoarding toilet paper, of course.

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First World Problems, Technology Edition

Yah, I’m spoiled. And I know Ford has has had issues with its Sync technology since its inception, with steady but gradual improvement over the years. But I can’t buy a new car every 12 months just for that. For now I’m stuck with a 2012 Fusion. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto probably weren’t on Ford’s radar back then.

Small inconveniences: why oh why would they bury the lone USB port in the bottom of the center console, a tiny dark hole deep down in a large dark hole full of cables and sunglasses and tissue boxes and hand sanitizer bottles, and… and… and… It takes a flashlight, small hands and several minutes of digging to find it, and a lot of fumbling to plug in a media player. Then there’s Sync itself. Occasionally it’ll recognize a device and play it through the radio, but not always, and when that happens just unplugging and re-plugging, or turning off the radio (entertainment system), unplugging again, rebooting, turning off again, in all possible sequences, will yield… nothing! The only fix then is to pull off to the side of the road, park, shut off the engine, open the door to make sure the system is dead dead dead, then start over. And cross your fingers. What the hey?

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The Things You Find When You’re Looking for Something Else

I was searching for some costume accessories we’d squirreled away last year. This would be for a masquerade ball we were to attend recently. Don’t ask. Okay, it was a fundraiser event for an education association raising money for, well, education. Which is not to say I’m generous in that respect, but I do sometimes want to help out. Plus the meal was great and the musical entertainment was fabulous.

The stuff I found was not noteworthy, but along the way I found other things when the search took me to a dresser in the spare room. There were old cameras, including a rare Kodak 828 I picked up at least 50 years ago. (That box of film expired in 1982.) Also an even older Argus Argoflex dual lens camera that probably belonged to my parents, if not my grandparents. A couple other cameras, including a panoramic camera that still has film in it. Oops, I think I ruined the film making that discovery. (I think I sold my first camera, a Kodak Starbright, at a garage sale a few years ago.) The odd folding rule and string levels were my grandfather’s. I’m still using his whetstone for sharpening the kitchen knives. And speaking of sharpening knives, I’d been wondering where my old Boy Scout Camp King jack knife had gone.

The big find for me was the Lloyd’s tape recorder. This came to me on a Christmas day when I was… I have no idea how old I was. Possibly 10 or so. There were also four tapes sitting there in the drawer, and I got to wondering what might be on them. I do remember that when I got the tape recorder, I made my grandfather play Santa Clause and say “Merry Christmas from the North Pole” into the microphone. Beyond that? I had no idea.

Their was a lot of rust and corrosion in the battery compartment. Not good. This is a battery-only unit: one 9-volt for audio (I assumed) and two “UM-2” batteries to run the motor. I did a quick search on eBay and found an identical unit in non-working condition listed for $60. Um, no thanks. I also found that UM-2s are more commonly known as “C” cells.

Yesterday I retreated to the basement, turned up the lights, unscrewed all the little screws, and pulled the unit open. Hmm, it didn’t look as bad as I might have expected. I cleaned up the rust and corrosion with a knife, some contact cleaner, and a little emery cloth. I worked the mechanisms, lubed the platters and spun them around until they turned freely. I had found a a 9-volt battery, but had to put out a call for a couple C-cells. I popped the 9-volt in. I got sound out of the speaker! A crackling hiss, but sound is sound, right? Then! I found some C-cells in another drawer and plugged them in. The platter turned. I had forward– play– but no rewind. I can work with that.

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Yurrup called, we answered… FWIW

There is a clue to our sudden departure in this photo

Having loosely reviewed my previous post (below), I’m compelled to come back and–briefly–say that, yes, we returned to Europe again, for 12 days. How was your vacation? you ask. And I’m glad you asked. Now I have about 20 seconds to respond:

Although we didn’t bring back very many souvenirs, we did manage to snag a couple killer sinus infections before making it home by the skin of our teeth. Not to say we almost missed the boat–we almost missed getting off the boat! In which case we might still be there, trusting our lives to the benevolence of the Viking Cruise line and the Hungarian health care system.

Oops, my 20 seconds are up and you’ve already wandered off to get another cup of coffee.

“No, Aunt Em. This is a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice. But most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, ‘I want to go home.’ And they sent me home.” –Dorothy