Back to Business — sort of

Arrived back in Washington in time to take care of serial sick grandkids, in between looking at mysterious freeze-ups in a client’s HPC cluster (nothing new–it has been an issue through several OS upgrades, an elusive will-o-the-wisp that has existed since $CLIENT == $WORK -> TRUE) and exploring new Linux tools.  New to me, anyway.  Fired up GKrellm, the Linux performance monitor.  Looks much like the old perfmeter tool that has been in Solaris since the OpenWindows days.

Beginning to settle in and get comfortable with Ubuntu 9.10, which has lots of subtle improvements over 8.10, which we’ve used since late 2008. Judy’s workstation is still at 9.04, as I haven’t had time to work out some upgrade issues that need tweaking on the upgrade. Hers is 64-bit, so there are some other issues there, too. We recently upgraded the HP-Compaq C714NR laptop to 2GB of RAM, which really makes a difference in performance, but not quite ready to brave the 64-bit issue with all the wireless issues we’ve had over the years. The Gnome Network Manager is nearly flawless, and gets us on wireless networks painlessly, at least since we resolved the cantankerous Broadcom 4311 driver problems.  Best of all, if it detects a strong network you already have configured, it simply and automatically connects. We still have a bit of a kludge in the wireless driver arena, as we first let the b43 driver load, get the usual “you must update your firmware” message, then run a startup script to unload b43 and load the Broadcom driver, after which all is well. Hmm, time to go look at the firmware issue, as long as we don’t have a road trip planned for almost a month.  I did install b43-fwcutter and fiddle with this earlier, but without much success.  Sometimes us old hardware hackers just need a system that works, to get on with the revenue-producing work, that  doesn’t involve endless tweaking of drivers and firmware.

Combining business with pleasure: alternate routes on road trips

After a few trips back and forth along I-90, the Auburn Cut-off, and the I-5 gauntlet through Fort Lewis commuting back and forth between Washington and Montana, we are itching to make our trips seem a bit more adventuresome.  That’s a hard task in mid-winter, but today we turned away from I-90 at Ritzville, on WA395 headed toward Pasco.  When we had gotten far enough off I-90 to convince the GPS that we really didn’t want to drive the Interstate all the time, we asked for directions to Yakima, and were rewarded with a diversion on WA 26 to Othello, then WA 24 across the Hanford Reach, the last wild stretch of the Columbia River in the U.S. That put us in Yakima right at dusk, as the GPS switched to night mode as we exited at the motel.  We loaded the cargo tray with enough garden tools and other effects left behind in our move to point the headlights at an annoying angle, so we decided to drive back during daylight hours only, which, in winter, means stretching the 12-hour transit to two days, so we might as well use an alternate, longer route.

We can check the weather and pass conditions in the morning to decide whether to tackle White Pass (US 12) in winter, which we haven’t done before, or run the Ellensburg Canyon back to I-90 and join the traffic rush across Snoqualmie Pass.  We did return to Montana once via White Pass and US 12 last summer when our house-closing trip ran shorter than we planned.  Back when the speed limit was 55mph, we took almost every possible combination of routes between the Seattle area and the Flathead Lake area on our annual vacation trips to Montana, so we’re looking forward to having time to explore those routes again by simply taking a bit more time to detour.  Besides, it saves planning a special trip to revisit scenic places in Washington.

Ubuntu Karmic Koala update looking better

After a week of upgrade woes getting our Broadcomm wireless chip to work with Karmic Koala, the effort seems to be worthwhile, especially since discovering the builtin Gnome Network Manager applet.  We’re sitting at Zaxan Cafe at The Mill  in Hamilton, and the wireless connection was a painless click-click.  Last time we were here, running Intrepid Ibex (8.10), lots of fiddling required in the old network manager, etc.  We tried WiFi-Radar, but it comes with Some Assembly Required, Batteries Not Included: the Gnome applet just plain works.

Linux, and particularly Ubuntu, is becoming a mainstream end-user system, slowly but surely.  Unix has always been an “expert friendly system,” and the need for professional system administration services (and some of us have had our own issues with lack of documentation) has kept it out of the “even Grandma can use it” mode.   We’re using Google Chrome, which is evolving, but the extensions are almost essential to business-oriented social networking and cloud computing.  Firefox is the solid browser, and Opera is attractive.

“Better Than New” — Old House Restoration

After five weeks, we returned to Montana to check on restoration of our other old house.  Backstory–we got a call from our realtor on New Year’s Day that there was water running down the walls in the dining room, wallpaper hanging from the ceiling, etc.  Seems the cold water faucet connection, undisturbed for probably 30 years, suddenly decided to start leaking, which went undetected through several house showings and a friend checking on the house from time to time, as it went directly behind the sink cabinet into the floor.

Purvis Restoration did a great job, ripping out soggy floor and ceiling, drying and mold control applied, and the nearly-new carpet salvaged.  We hired Tom O’Shaunessy, who had painted the dining room originally, to do the repaint.  The outcome is fantastic, it looks like nothing ever happened, except there is new vinyl in the upstairs bathroom.

So, moral of the story–when you inspect for leaks, feel the joints or wipe them down: leaks are not always visible.  Sadly, we just went through a round of leak fixing in our “new” old house in Washington.

Bending the old house to suit

OK, we love our new old house, but two 13-watt CFLs in the kitchen just didn’t cut it.  Last week, we put up a rather modern-looking 6-lamp halogen Z-bar in the center, which lets us actually see what we are cleaning and cooking.

But, the pale moon over the breakfast nook is just that, pale.  So, back to the store, where we pick out a nice pendant light with a ribbed glass shade that speaks more to the period of the house and the metal matches the light bar, more or less.  Dropping the old light, we find what we expected, wires poking out of the textured beaverboard.  but, at least, no gaping hole in the board and the ceiling is finished right up to the wires.  So, we trot down to our friendly neighborhood Ace Hardware yet again, for yet another rework box.  I trace around it on the ceiling, cut a circle with my trusty Leatherman knife, and pry out a chunk of beaverboard.  The box fits snugly in the hole, flush with the ceiling, and even has a joist to screw it into.

After fighting with the lamp for a reasonable time for an unsupervised DIYer (Judy was off to a quilt guild committee meeting), I read the directions, put the mounting screws in the holes they were supposed to  go in,  remove one of the pendant rod sections to put the lamp at the desired height, rethread the wires, and Wow! we have a right handsome light.  Using the same 13W CFL, which is now two feet closer to the table, we have sufficient light on the table.  Life is good.    Next week, we need to take down the bar light and patch the ugly hole in the ceiling and surrounding texturing.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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