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.

Then and now. Me at the end of the decade.

So I saw something making the rounds on Twitter the other day where in honor of making it through yet another decade of life, folks are asking others to share pics of themselves from the start of this decade and now. I thought to myself, “Self, this would make an excellent blog post. We should do this.” And so that is what I am doing now.

Then, in my usual tendency to overthink things like this, I wondered if I should try to find more than two pics (the original meme only stipulated two) and if I should try to get them from around the same time of year or throughout the year or whatever. I’ve decided to go with the tried and true method of just winging it.

So, in the spirit of the original thingy, here’s two pics of me. One from July 2010 and one from November 12th. I went with July because I don’t have a lot of good pics of me from 2010.

Clearly the two biggest changes are the amount of grey in my beard and the number of wrinkles on my face. I was fat back then and I’m still fat now. One other big change is the first pic was taken in our townhouse apartment in Ann Arbor where we were living at the time and the other in the basement of my home in Westland. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever manage to purchase a house, but was finally able to stumble my way through the process just before I hit 50.

We lost Melvin in September 2012 and Cuddles graduated to Official SEB Cat with Jasper as the Emergency Backup Cat in the event that Cuddles was unable to fulfill the duties of the position. Today, at 9 and 8 years old, they are quite regal in stature and are doing well.

I don’t know that I’m any wiser than I was 10 years ago, but I’m definitely older and it shows. You can definitely tell that camera technology, particularly in cell phones, has increased significantly in the past decade. The portrait mode effect alone is an impressive development.

Not really sure how to wrap this up. I don’t have any great insights to offer other than “Hey, I’m still on the right side of the grass.” So I’ll wrap up with one last selfie that I took just this morning because I thought the early morning light in the car looked pretty nifty.

Happy Halloween 2019!

Boo!

I’ve not posted in a bit so I thought I’d toss up a short post wishing you and yours a safe and happy Halloween. We’ve some new residents here at the Jenkins household as my 84-year-old mother and her dog and bird have moved in with us. Needless to say, this has been an appropriately scary time for my two cats who are having trouble adjusting to a rambunctious canine in the house.

This also means that our handouts for this year have changed as in the past we’ve bought our fair share of candy to give out, but my mother has made it a habit to buy a couple cases of potato chips in snack packs (the kind you find in vending machines) to give away so that’s what we’re doing this year. That’s assuming we have any kids show up as it’s raining like crazy outside which is kind of a Halloween tradition in Michigan.

Needless to say, with mom moving in things have been a little hectic as of late so what little Halloween decorating I do has been even less so this year. Still, I did get my blinky pumpkin and scarecrow blow mold in the window with the crocheted ghost my mother gave me years ago and my ghost light is on the lawn. Here’s a quick video of them in action:

So, yeah, life has been busy and big changes are in the process of settling down into normalcy, but we’re making it work. So Happy Halloween to you!

Oh hey, it’s September already.

It’s been almost a month since my last post so I suppose I should post something. It’s not like I haven’t been meaning to, just like I’ve been meaning to do a vlog or a live stream or something along those lines, but I’m getting lazy in my old age.

Speaking of old age, I turned 52 on the 25th of August. I meant to post something then too, but that obviously didn’t happen. I’d like to think I’d have some wisdom to impart by now, but I got nothing that isn’t something someone else has already said. I did buy myself a handful of RPG video games from Humble Bundle for my birthday with the thought that maybe they’d make for amusing live streaming content, but I really need to sit down and figure out a time and day to do it regularly if I’m going to build up any kind of an audience.

So this is just a short post to say that I’m still alive and still thinking of posting something if I ever get off my ass and think of something to post. After doing this for almost two decades you’d think I’d be better at it than I am.