I’m headed to easy street.

It seems there was a class action lawsuit against AMD for something they did ages ago — I have no idea what — that I apparently signed onto. I just got my settlement payment from the lawsuit. My payout?

$1.75

Yeah, I’m sittin’ pretty now, baby.

Happy or healthy.

In August I will turn 54 years old, just a year younger than the age at which my biological father died. If I recall correctly, he died from pancreatic cancer. Not something I’m too worried about as my doctor started screening me a couple of years ago and I don’t have the smoking and drinking habit that he had. That said, I’m not exactly in great health myself. I’m morbidly obese, diabetic, and have peripheral neuropathy in my feet. These two facts, that I’m closing in on the age my father died and that I’m not exactly in great shape, have led to me considering my own mortality a lot lately. Specifically, whether it’s better to be happy and die young or miserable and live longer.

Despite not being in the greatest shape, I’m pretty happy with life at the moment. I’ve managed to accomplish most of the stuff I’ve long dreamed of — getting married, owning a home, etc. — and while there are things I’d love to do, like travel more, or, at all, I’m happy with where I’m at. Meanwhile, the attempts I’ve made at getting healthier such as eating better and exercising only make me miserable. In part because I stress over the fact that I’m not doing these things like I should be.

As a result, I find I’m spending a lot of time pondering the question of being happy or healthy. My doctor, being an excellent doctor, would argue that once I get into the habits of exercising and eating healthier and lost the weight and got some of my energy back that I’d be even happier, but the fact is I’m happy now and getting to that supposedly happier status would require a lot of misery.

It doesn’t help that when I bought an elliptical and made a good effort to use it regularly for three months, I ended up gaining weight instead of losing it. Everyone said it would get easier after a couple of months, but it never got any easier. As is the fate of most home exercise equipment, it became a coat rack until we sold it when we moved out of Ann Arbor 6 years ago. In a proper and just universe, exercise would show benefits within a couple of days and not months or years later. It would be much easier to be motivated if I actually experienced some of the supposed benefits sooner rather than later. Gaining weight, even if it is new muscle, is not the result I should be getting for my efforts. Not to mention that food that’s good for you would taste better than the bad food.

When we bought the house 4 years ago one of the first things I did was purchase a bicycle to ride around the neighborhood. I even bought one of those stupid helmets. My thinking at the time was that I had to find something that was fun to do so it felt less like exercise and more like playing and I used to love riding my bike as a kid. However, much like the elliptical, I rode it a couple times a week for that first summer and then parked it in the garage for the winter and it has not seen the light of day since. I look at it every time I pull the lawn mower out to cut the grass and I think I should check to see if the tires are still in good shape and maybe pull it out, but I never do. Hell, mowing the lawn is really the only exercise I get at this point and that’s enough to wipe me out for the rest of the day.

The one change I did manage to stick to was giving up drinking pop and switching to water for the majority of the day outside of a couple cups of coffee. That’s mainly because it’s been long enough that drinking pop — both regular and diet — tastes like malted battery acid these days. Doesn’t stop me from missing it or hating every drop of the water I drink, but at least I’ve managed to stick to it.

I’m at the point where I have resigned myself to my fate. I know I should be doing more to improve my health, but I just get depressed whenever I think of what it would take. I’d rather not die young, but I also like sitting and sitting is considered a lethal activity these days. The one thing I am doing is thinking about it a lot. While sitting, of course. Now if only that burned more calories.

Do you live in a political bubble?

SciBabe over on Facebook had a link to a NYT article that asks: Do You Live in a Political Bubble? You can enter your address and it’ll generate a map of the ratio of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in your immediate neighborhood. She lives in a Democratic bubble whereas mine is the opposite as you can see below.

My Westland, MI neighborhood political bubble.
Where my fellow Independents at? Not this neighborhood, that’s for goddamned sure. Click to embiggen

I had already suspected as much based on the number of Gadsden flags that are flown in the area and there’s been at least three straight up Trump flags I’ve seen. Hell, just the number of inground flag poles is a good indicator. American flags in particular are a near-constant presence. I have an American flag which I take out for Memorial Day and July 4th, but otherwise it stays folded up in the garage. Our flag mount came off the house a while ago, however, so unless I get motivated, we may miss those holidays this year.

The article is interesting because it turns out that 1 in 3 Americans lives in a completely isolated political bubble, surrounded by neighbors of the same political party. The city of Inkster, MI which is just a few miles away from me, is almost entirely Democrats.

I will have lived here for four years officially on June 1st and in that time the only neighbors whose names I can remember live in the houses on either side of me. I’ve chatted briefly with some of the younger families during Halloween trick-or-treating, but beyond the occasional wave as we’re passing in the street, I have almost no contact with them. None of the other folks living here have made an attempt at introducing themselves and the look they give when you see them out in their yards does not invite you taking the opportunity to do so yourself. Additionally, the pandemic over the past year has also not helped in getting to know one’s neighbors.

Which is probably for the best, considering most of my neighbors are Republicans. I doubt I would have much to say of interest to them to begin with. My new neighbors on my right (facing the house) are Trumpers, much to my dismay, but have otherwise been nothing but friendly. I’ve even been told by them that I am a good neighbor. I keep debating if I should attempt to reach out to the other folks in my immediate area to see if there’s any common ground to be had. So far, I’ve not psyched myself up enough to bother with it. Tales of neighbors waging war on each other have done nothing to encourage any interactions.

That said, I am looking into what it would cost to have a two-flag pole installed in my yard so I can fly my American flag alongside an FSM flag, just to offset the number of Gadsden flags I see. Surely nothing negative would come from that, right?

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.