Learning new skills: Appliance repair.

Hamilton Beach 70725A Food Processor
Food processor go brrr!

Anne got a new Hamilton Beach food processor a little while ago and hadn’t gotten around to using it yet. It’s been sitting on the cart along with all the other kitchen gadgets we only use occasionally. Stuff like the hot air popcorn popper and the blender and so on. The cart sits next to the cage my mother’s parrot is in.

You can already see where this is going.

The parrot somehow managed to reach through the bars and get ahold of the power cord and chewed the living shit out of it. Like, the plug is missing completely and there are three or four other spots where bare wire is exposed. Anne is, understandably, upset as this thing hasn’t been used once. Near tears, she’s ready to toss it out.

I’m not sure what reasons Anne had for marrying me, but being an amazing handyman who instinctively knows how to fix all-the-things is not one of them. I know computers really well. How to build them, how to fix them, how to waste lots of time on them. Other stuff, not so much.

The front storm door on the house currently has to be locked shut because both of the door closer arm thingys (it has two of them) have pulled out of the door frame so I have removed them because they clearly can’t just be screwed back in where they were due to the damage to the door frame. If we don’t lock it then it blows open at the slightest breeze and risks shattering the glass window in it. We have several shelves Anne bought last spring for the living room along with pot hanging racks for the kitchen that are still not up because I’m terrified at the prospect of hanging them crooked. One of the kitchen cabinet doors keeps coming loose and just retightening the screw is, at best, a short-term solution and I’m not sure what to do about it beyond having the entire kitchen remodeled.

Mind you, I’m not completely useless as I have managed to swap out a few light switches in the house so that the dimmer function would work with LED bulbs and I took a dimmer switch in the dining room back to just a standard on/off switch. And I’ve opened up enough broken electronics and appliances in my time that I already know that a power cord for an appliance like this is basically two wires and a plug that attach to a terminal or splice to a couple of wires inside the unit. So, I’m looking at this thing and thinking: How hard could it be to put a new power cord on it? I mean a proper replacement, not just cutting the current cord at a spot where it’s not damaged and attaching a new cord to the end with some black electrical tape. Opening that sucker up and doing it right. Make it nice like my wife deserves.

So that’s what I’m going to try and do. I figure the worst thing that can happen is it explodes in flaming shrapnel and burns my house down, but I’m relatively confident I can avoid that happening. I am 53 years old and this will be my first such attempt to fix a common household appliance like this. Fortunately, YouTube is full of videos of way more manly men than I am who have dozens of videos on topics just like this one. I’m sure one of them will impart upon me the knowledge and wisdom to not kill myself in the process.

Wish me luck.

New address, who dis?

We got a late Christmas card from a “Phil and Pam” and we were scratching our heads trying to figure out who the hell they were. I didn’t recognize the last name or the address it came from. I thought for sure it must be someone who has friended me on Facebook as my address is visible to friends, but I couldn’t find them on my friends list. Additionally, they spelled my first name wrong.

The card in question. A nice little Christmas tree.

Thought maybe it might be my mother’s best friend, who is also named Pam, but the last name was wrong as was the address. Maybe she remarried and moved? Maybe “Phil” was the name of her kid? I couldn’t remember if any of those things were true, but a couple of questions to my mother confirmed that wasn’t the case so it wasn’t her.

After a couple of days, Anne finally figured out it’s from our former next-door neighbors who just sold their house to the Trump supporters. In the three years we’d been here before they moved, I never spoke a word to Phil (because he was upstate most of the time taking care of his mother) and Pam and I spoke maybe a couple dozen times. It’s not because they were unfriendly, just that we only spoke in passing most of the time and our schedules were such that we just didn’t pass each other that often. I could go a few months before touching base with her. She was often gone on the weekends to be with her husband upstate.

They sold the house because Phil’s mom was getting worse and Pam was retiring so it made sense to move in up there. The Tumpers have been friendly enough so far and actually invited me in while they were finishing up the remodeling Pam and Phil had been in the middle of when they sold the house, which makes for the first house in this neighborhood I’ve been in that wasn’t my own. The new neighbors even loaned me their extension ladder so I’d have an easier time getting my lights up this season.

I’ve not spoken to the new neighbors since before the election so I’m not sure how they’re taking the results or what they think of the attempted coup that took place two days ago. I don’t know if they’ll bring it up the next time we interact or not. Until they do, I won’t worry about it.

That’s not the point anyway. The point is this was a pleasant and unexpected surprise from a neighbor we didn’t interact with a whole lot while they were around. We will have to make a point of sending one back next year.

Oh, we did send out cards this year. We’re normally not very good at that, but with Momma living with us now we had constant reminders that she wanted to send out cards so we figured we’d try to get into the habit as well. Or I should say that Anne did as she did all the work. I’m still terrible at it. Hopefully you’re next upset if you were expecting a card from us as, like I said, we’ve traditionally been terrible at it. This year it would most likely be because we didn’t have your address. That’s my assumption anyway. As I said, I didn’t do any of the work on it.

Steven Tyler’s nipple got me thrown into Facebook jail.

I’ve gotten to be known for shit-posting memes constantly on my Facebook account. I know it’s hardly a vital public service, but it seems to amuse most folks who follow me over there and it weeds out the ones who don’t share my sense of humor. Plus, if I dump a crap load all at once I can go a day or two without posting anything and people will still see content from me. This is riskier than you might think, especially with my sense of humor, as some memes walk the line of being “Adult Content” and thus falling prey to Facebook’s “Community Standards Algorithm” which is apparently as dumb as a box of rocks.

Said algorithm is why this picture of Liv and Steven Tyler currently has me on a 7-day restriction:

The offending nipple.

Not that I need to explain the joke, but I’m going to. Steven Tyler is male and male nipples are allowed in pictures on Facebook whereas female nipples are, for some reason, not allowed. That is clearly Steven Tyler and he is clearly a male despite him having a decently feminine looking breast and hairstyle hence the humor in the caption. Apparently, it’s enough to fool FB’s artificial intelligence into thinking I’ve dared to try to share a woman’s naked breast.

The amusing part is, I’ve posted memes that had actual female nipples in them — albeit in painterly form — that had way more sexually suggestive captions on them and FB didn’t so much as blink an eye because “art”, apparently. I’ve also posted plenty of text-only memes that were incredibly vulgar in comparison to this that also didn’t raise the ire of FB’s Community Standards.

I also got a warning for this meme and this one I can at least kind of understand:

You missed.

Again, though, no actual female nipples are exposed in this picture which means it is actually in-line with Facebook’s community standards. I can only assume the words “nipples” and “pierced” were enough to trigger the “algorithm” into clutching its peals.

Both of these were within moments of each other and it was only a couple minutes later before the ban hammer was dropped on both posts. I suspected two in a row so rapidly is why it’s a 7-day restriction. I’ve disputed both of them and perhaps that’ll bring them in front of an actual human with more intelligence than a broken clock who can reverse the ban, but if it doesn’t it’s not like a 7-day vacation from FB is a bad thing.

I post this less as a rant and more of yet another example of why relying on “artificial intelligence” to make decisions about things like community standards is stupid. That said, people are expensive and the emotional toll of making them look at the horrible shit other people try to share on Facebook is huge. Compared to some of those folks, my shitty little memes seem pretty tame. So, if I’m doomed to complete my 7 days of not being able to like, comment, or share so that someone doesn’t have to review a snuff film because the “AI” caught it first, well, that’s a small price to pay.

Welcome to Fall 2020.

The leaves are only just starting to change color around here thanks to some pleasantly mild weather as of late, but according to the calendar summer has officially ended. If you go a bit further north, you’ll find the colors have started taking hold in earnest.

Fall Foliage. Source: Forest Wander

With 2020 being such an unending shit show, it really feels like it took Fall both forever to get here and no time at all. The holidays will be upon us in no time and I’m already stressing about it, but probably not in the way that you would think.

The Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas period is my favorite time of year, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election and all the political bullshit that seems to be happening all at once, I’m having a hard time getting too excited about it. The past couple of years we’ve not had any money to do gift exchanges over Christmas which is a huge bummer for me so we’ve been trying to put some aside for this year, but we keep having to dip into it. I’m worried it’s going to be another year with a Christmas tree with nothing under it.

Which is a stupid thing to be worried about when there are so many other folks out there worrying about wear their kid’s next meals are coming from. I’ve been lucky in that I’m still employed even if we were just handed a 10% pay cut for the remainder of the year. The mortgage is covered, we have food on the table, and the gas and lights are still on. So, yeah, I don’t have much to be worried. So, of course, I’m worrying about other stuff like what happens if I lose my job or if Trump manages to get reelected or insert some other thing that hasn’t happened yet here. This has been affecting my sleep and eating habits which is just makes for another couple of things that are stressing me out.

Still, I’m hanging in there and trying my best to be as positive as I can despite my cynical nature. Memes help and I’ve been shit posting them like a mad man all over Facebook lately. I’m hoping the cooler temperatures of fall will help me to relax as well so I can get at least a little enjoyment in the days ahead. Hopefully you’re doing well and aren’t stressing out like I am.

Back to the office — sorta — with beard intact.

My employer is easing back into having folks coming into the office starting this week. We’ve had some people coming in during the entire work-at-home period because when you’re an engineer making brake and suspension systems for cars there’s just some stuff that can’t be done at home, but it’s been maybe a dozen or so folks. However, now there’s enough people showing up that the I.T. department feels some on-site presence by us is warranted. So, for the immediate future, I’m working from home on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and I’ll be in the office for at least a half-day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My counterpart is in on Mondays and Wednesdays. If things are busy then I’ll stay the whole day, otherwise I head home at lunch and finish out the day remotely. This also gives me an opportunity to work on things that can’t be handled remotely as well such as the new laptop I’m staging for one of the groups this morning. They’ve armed me with Purell, Clorox disinfecting wipes for wiping down equipment that comes in, and rubber gloves so I should be good to go.

The one thing I wasn’t happy about with this is the fact that I’d probably have to shave my beard as the standard face masks don’t work well if you, like me, have a full beard. My mother-in-law made us a bunch of cloth face masks to use, but she had to use rubber hair bands for the ear loops because all the shops were sold out of elastic straps. The face masks are just small enough that the hair bands won’t stay on my ears. My ear folds over under the stress of the bands and off it comes. Additionally, they also wouldn’t work properly unless I shaved my beard.

My cubemate ended up coming to my rescue by not only finding a pattern for a face mask that includes a beard pouch to stuff my beard into, but someone to actually make one for me. Here it is in all its glory:

Les models a patriotic looking beard pouch face mask.
You patriotic looking bastard, you!

It’s going to take some practice before I can put it on quickly as I’m still figuring out how to stuff my beard into the pouch. It has some elastic around the top of the pouch to help hold it to my face and that’s a little itchy and I’m not quite able to get ALL of my beard behind it (as you can see) but this covers more than any of the other masks I’ve tried and fits pretty well. It even has a sleeve inside for putting in replaceable filters for some extra protection.

Interior detail of beard pouch face mask.
An inside view. You can see the insert sleeve in the pic above along with the elastic band around the pouch.

I don’t know the name of my beard savior, but I want to thank them all the same so I’ll make sure to pass it along via my cubemate. I’ll have to take this home every night and wash it, but that’s a small price to pay to keep my beard. If the whole coronavirus thing continues on for as long as some folks are thinking it will then I may have to hunt her down and pay her to make me four or five more. Maybe get some with patterns from Hawaiian shirts on them! Yeah!

Adventures in home ownership, part 34.

Our bathtub backed up again. It’s done this every few months since we moved in. It went longer than usual this time, but finally stopped draining altogether. Normally I can use the plunger on it a few times and get it going again, but not this time.

I pulled out the drain snake I had on hand, took the drain cover off and tried to feed the snake in. It wouldn’t go more than a quarter inch. Doesn’t feel like it’s hitting a clog so much as a wall. Turning the handle does nothing. It’s clearly nowhere near the clog. Huh, maybe it’s too big to get past the mechanism for stopping the drain when you want to bathe? I had a similar problem trying to get it down the bathroom sink drain the last time that one stopped up.

Did some Googling. Turns out that, yeah, this snake is probably too big. What the hell would I know? I work in I.T. for Chrissakes. Out to the local Home Depot I go. Find a flat snake specifically for bathroom sinks and tubs. I also picked up a “Power Plunger” that uses CO2 cartridges to clear clogs because a couple of previous backups earlier using a compressed air plunger was the only thing that would clear it. I’m slightly worried I’m going to blow my pipes apart, but I’ll try the new snake first.

Get home and tried to insert the new, smaller, flatter, snake into the tub drain. Again, barely goes anywhere. Clearly not to a clog of any kind. OK, time to break out the CO2 plunger. Set it up, pressed down, FWOOSH and the drain starts sucking down water like an alcoholic at an open bar. I ran downstairs to see if it was pouring into my basement because, like I said, slightly worried I would blow my pipes apart. I can hear the water flowing through the drainpipes and there are no signs of leakage. Yay me!

As the water clears from the tub, I can see down into the drain and I notice that it doesn’t go down very far at all and I don’t see an S bend like I would expect to. More Googling and I learn that I probably have a trip lever with plunger assembly like the one pictured to the right. Except the shoe on mine (the 90-degree angle pipe directly under the grate) is especially shallow.

Now, I’m no plumber, but it seemed clear to me that even the new snake I had purchased wasn’t going to be much use for this so it’s a good thing I bought the CO2 power plunger. This also explains why it seems to get clogged every 5 to 6 months. The house was built in 1959 and has had more than one renovation done in that time. The main bathroom and the master bedroom’s half-bath sit right next to each other and have a door connecting them. The basement is finished with a drop-down ceiling which makes trying to find the pipes to look at more of a challenge than I’ve been able to motivate myself to undertake.

Still, I’m learning and slowly amassing a set of tools that, one day, might be appropriate to the problem I’m having. As of the first of May I have officially been a homeowner for three years and have, so far, managed to not completely wreck the joint. I’ve not exactly improved it much, but I haven’t wrecked it. It’s a low bar, but one I’m happy to be clearing.

Once you’ve eliminated all other possibilities…

I just had one of the oddest tech problems I’ve ever encountered come across my desk. One of the folks here at the office who just got a brand new, out-of-the-box Lenovo laptop with a fresh image on it was having an issue where it would go into sleep mode randomly every few minutes for no apparent reason. This was happening even though Windows was configured to never go into sleep mode whether on battery or plugged in. When she’d bring the laptop to me to try and fix it would stabilize and work just fine. When she took it back to her desk it would start doing it again.

I poked around through system settings, looked to see if there was any obvious malware, updated drivers, installed some Windows updates, ran a troubleshooter, did all the standard stuff. Nothing changed. When she used it it would randomly go to sleep. When I used it it ran just fine.

Time to turn to Google. Typed in “windows 10 goes into sleep mode when typing” and started poring through the results. First few pages all offered the same troubleshooting tips I’d already tried. Kept digging through Microsoft’s answers forum and various tech blogs and everyone kept suggesting the same solutions. Then I came across a post on Quora about the problem which had the following comment by a Max Ddos on it:

This is an older post but I’l like do add some new information as I had the same problem and maybe it would help other people.

I had a brand new Dell Laptop and it also went into the standby mode while I was typing. After several attempts to solve the problem, I bought a new one (or rather, my company).

But the new laptop had the same problem.

Now I found the solution: I was wearing a bracelet with a magnetic closure, and this magnet was causing the problem.

Source: Quora

There was no way this could be the problem, I thought to myself. I can’t even begin to imagine what a magnet could be interfering with to cause this issue. However, I was at a loss as to explain why it was happening for the user and not me because she even filmed it happening with her phone to prove she wasn’t crazy and I’d been working on it for at least 20 minutes without it so much as slowing down.

So when she came back around to see if I’d made any progress I just had to ask, “You don’t happen to have any jewelry on your wrists or hands that uses a magnetic closure, do you?”

Turns out that she did. Her watch band had one. I explained that, as crazy as this theory sounded, it was the only thing that appeared to match her situation. I told her to go back to her desk and try working on it again with her watch on. If it started going into sleep mode again then I wanted her to take her watch off and place it on the other side of her cube and try it again.

Fuck me. That was actually the problem. Almost immediately it went into sleep mode when she started working on it. She took her watch off and it’s been stable since. I have no freaking clue why this is a problem. The best guess I can come up with, and I’m sure it’s wrong, is that maybe the magnet is strong enough to cause the system’s fan to stop and it’s overheating the laptop enough to force it into sleep mode. This is the first time in my 30 plus years as a tech support guy that I’ve had to tell someone to take their watch off to fix the problem they were having.

An actual chat I had at work today.

You are the master.

No, I'm just pretty competent. I try to keep expectations low for those days when I inevitably fail.

Good plan.
Click to embiggen.

Coffee tribulations.

We have three different blends of coffee in the break room here at work. I am fine with drinking two of the three (dark roast is blech). So you’d think, given that I’m fine with two-thirds of the offerings, that more often than not I’d be able to waltz in and grab a cup without needing to start a new pot. You would be wrong. For the second day in a row I walk in to find that only the dark roast is made and the other two carafes are bone dry.

A photo of a cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee. Pic by Julius Schorzman.

If I were the superstitious type I’d consider this a bad portent for the year to come, but instead I just think I have shitty coworkers who NEVER MAKE A POT OF COFFEE AFTER TAKING THE LAST DAMN CUP.

I realize that with Donald Trump starting a war with Iran in the headlines that this is probably the epitome of First World Problems, but I am so fatigued by the Trump administration at this point that I find it hard to muster enough outrage to say much about it. Instead, I am complaining about having to make coffee at work because that’s about all the irritation I can manage this morning. Probably doesn’t help that I’m running on about four hours sleep (interrupted in the middle) so I could really use several cups of coffee this morning.

Bah! Humbug!

Why you should never tell your co-workers that you hate Christmas decorations.
Yes, this is from my place of work. Click to see it in its full sized glory.