So…

While my time in this alternate universe filled with racist fuckheads has been interesting, I’d quite like to go back to the timeline where things were improving, if that’s okay.

Itty bitty reviews

So I recently read Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway. Although it features what is most likely distressingly accurate, and depressing near-future (resulting in my concomitant, but currently unachievable desire to walkaway, as the protagonists do*), it’s a really great read. Like Little Brother before it, I find myself concerned by the possibilities of what he suggests, and finding a little room for optimism. Anyhow, it’s a good read.

Land Rover, by Ben Folger not so much. It’s interesting in very short bursts. I say that because it feels very poorly edited. While he’s got a very approachable writing style**, the book is all over the place, and very repetitive. And look, he’s interviewed someone who wasn’t really able to recall much about the questions he’s asked. Okay, ask different questions. Set the scene a bit. Do something. Don’t just breeze along like “oh, this was great and then I went and had some tea”. It’s introduced as a big thing – meeting this person who’s father was really important to the development of the landy – and then it’s over in a paragraph or two. Yeah, she doesn’t recall much about it – but really? You couldn’t find something more to say?

But the thing that’s really getting to me is the number of times he’s explained that the Land Rover is a classless vehicle. It’s not really true; but in British society there is a sort of classlessness about it. You have to have some money to have one, particularly now. But yeah, when I was a teen it was a car that both rich and less well off people drove***. However after he’s said “let me explain” about the classlessness of the car what feels like 50 times, I’m starting to wear down. And in all honesty it’s neither a story of development, nor so far an actual story of the owners. Either of which would have been interesting.

Ah well.

Anyhow.

And finally – For Pros By Pros “Wiring a House” – so far it seems pretty good. I’ve grasped how [insane] multiphase house wiring is****. I am now comfortable that I understand it well enough to wire – and the book has lots of nice info on how to design and install to meet code. So it should be good.

I forked out today for a set of Ridgid powertools – then found the battery was dead (dead dead). And now it doesn’t look like near so much a bargain, but I’ve ordered a replacement battery. If the whole set works well then I’ll keep it – otherwise I’ve got until next week to return it as faulty (it’s used).

* when 3D printing of drugs becomes a reality then walking away would actually be a possibility, at least for me/us. Until then I’m tied to pharmaceuticals.

** Although me and him stand in very different places when it comes to war, and also to how the UK has acquitted itself on the world stage, which at times I found made it very hard for me to continue reading. Although with his background in the Navy, that’s understandable.

*** for values of less well off that allowed enough money for the purchase of a car.

**** Every time I learn something more about US electrical systems, I more miss Europe’s dead simple, neat, safe systems. Ugh.

Aaaand stop.

Yeah, the house is on hold again. Waiting for a life-span guarantee on the roof. Apparently the mortgage company want a certificate that says it’ll last another 5 years. This is irritating, because we plan to pull the roof off anyhow. Regardless of whether we do the small-renovation of the inside, or the big project, the roof is on our list – but the thing is, we haven’t yet decided which way we’re going to jump.

So if we have to make that decision now, it may mean that we dump our plan to do a fairly wideranging reno, with significant structural mods, because having to put a roof on the place before we start would kinda stimie that. I don’t think either of us is up for paying for two roofs.

Still, to focus on good things, I spend this morning chilling with a friend in a park and watching the partial eclipse. Being disorganized and cheap I made myself a pin-hole viewer – unlike the idiot in the white house who, with his whole antiscience bent, decided to just stare at the damn sun. I’m kind of assuming the moment afterwards looked something like this:

Anyhow, the pinhole viewer actually worked remarkably well. Also, Sarah let me borrow her glasses so I ended up getting a pretty good view of it. While at 93% here it was cool, it wasn’t totality which I’ve seen once before and which is a different level of odd (although I didn’t really appreciate the oddness at the time).

As we wandered back we experienced a rather cool effect:

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It seems, the leaves create a pseudo-pinhole effect, allowing the crescent of visible sun to be projected onto the ground.

In other news, I’ve bitten my lip. This has always been slightly problematic, in that I tend to promptly get an ulcer afterwards – but that wasn’t much of an issue, but about a year and a half ago I got some kind of infection after biting my lip, and then promptly felt utterly shit for a week. I’m feeling the same after this one, and it’s looking red and swollen again. This time I have health coverage, though, so I might need to visit a walk in center.

Last time, with no health coverage, I got to experience the joy of the US healthcare system, where I stayed at home and rode it out, drinking plenty, rinsing my mouth with salt and hoping my immune system could kill whatever it was. Thankfully, tomorrow I can’t go out anyhow, because we’ve got a package being delivered (with the standard, helpful FedEx / UPS delivery estimate of “tomorrow”), so I have an enforced rest day. Although I’ve spent much of today lying on the couch (having done the food shop), and reading the For Pros By Pros wiring book.

Still, there may be one trip out tomorrow. I’m suspecting the package is the tyres for the Rav (which have gained another nail, a super expensive nail this time, because it’s just in the sidewall).

Ah well.

The firewood project continues apace.

After a bit of revision of ‘how to safely use a bandsaw without dying’ I spent a few hours today over at our friend’s house making the bits of wood I’d cut into large chunks of wood into smaller chunks of wood.

Smaller bits of wood. The nicely crafted boxes with neat joints are obviously nothing to do with me

I both cut things into roughly the right shapes and also spent some time making them roughly the right thickness*. Now I need to start making templates so I can do the magic of pattern-cutting using the router.

One thing that’s interesting is that the wood has the blue-streaking from having sat unharvested once cut.

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Apparently that’s a common problem with maple. I’d heard of it before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in person in raw wood. I’d seen it once before in some furniture where they’d chosen to make a feature of it. I debated whether to hack it off, but I’m unlikely to manage to get even close to all of it, so instead have decided it’s a feature, not a bug.

So where I could I’ve left it in. However, the dirty great water stain I trimmed off.

Anyhow, so things are progressing and my ornamental firewood is at least an interesting shape:

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* One piece ended up unintentionally excitingly close to the right thickness. I was aiming to be almost 1/4 inch thicker than final thickness, but mid cutting one chunk of wood I realized I could split in half (more or less) and get two out of the same bit of wood. I passed it through the bandsaw without doing the careful measuring I’d done with all the other bits – because I was already resawing to the right thickness. Only for whatever reason, the second one ended up being actually about one mm thicker the required thickness (curiously, the other bit is the thickness I was aiming for).

Tales of the Pinebook and Linux fun

So, I’ve continued to work on making the pinebook a comfortable usable device. It’s been a bit of battle – my mail server has some quirks to the way it’s set up which meant that it took me quite a while to get it working. I’m still having issues with another mail server I use, where I’m not sure if it’s me or the server. My lovely friend, who’s the Admin, has sent me some stuff, and I’ve sent her some stuff, so hopefully I can get it worked out.

I ended up doing my first build-from-source in quite a while today, so I could have Sylpheed, which is (apparently) a nice lightweight mail client. Certainly it seems pretty good. Can’t work out how to force it to allow certificate.

It’s fascinating (and at times a little frustrating) using the pinebook, because some stuff clearly taxes the hell out of the processor. I rarely log onto Facebook, but wanted to to grab something today and wow does that suck.

Still, it’s demonstrated some things for me – like the fact that my Linux server is set up right, it’s my Macbook that’s being a dick about connecting to it. I don’t know why – but the SMB share will only connect as a guest, not as a user. It fails to authenticate if you try and log in as an actual user. I’ve not yet had a good look as to why though – but since the Pinebook just happily connects (when I give it the username and password) then I”m going to point my finger at the Macbook.

And yeah, otherwise it’s a handy laptop that I can drag around and not worry too much about. And while Linux on ARM has proven to still be a bit of a pain in the arse (e.g. Telegram, which I’d like to run, is only available compiled for x86 Linux). It’s superlight and the battery life isn’t bad either.

It’s also finally nudged me into upgrading logitech media server on the media server, which, after the last upgrade had developed an irritating bug where when you added tracks to the playlist, or even just pressed play, it tended to make the squeezebox crash after a few seconds. Loading the web interface also seemed to take an age, too. I’d not got around to nosing at that problem, but it turns out that there was an update to the update which seems to have fixed it.

So yay.

Contradictory

So, I’ve spent today dinking. After getting myself onto the yoga mat this morning* I ran out to the shops for coffee and thence to our storage unit to retrieve the soldering iron. John pointed out that I was being an idiot. I’d assumed that just because the key tester arrived assembled with the keys in a particular orientation that the orientation they were in was correct.

And the irritating not-quite-rightness of it, and need to bend several of the other keys slightly to get them to fit (along with other people’s comments about the keys not fitting well) made me foolishly continue down this path of wrongitude. John pointed out that it might well fit if rotated through 90 degrees.

Which, with much less bending, it did.

So today with my iron in hand I did some of the neatest soldering I’ve done for years.

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Which allowed me to produce my keytester/numpad:

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At the moment I’m pretty settled on Gateron Brown. I’d like clicky, but I’m aware that beyond the fact it would probably drive Kathryn nuts, all the clickies are slightly stiffer. And I’m aware that my fingers are pretty knackered from years and years of computer abuse, and found the M eventually hurt to use for long periods. And while I know that’s 80g of pressure (or there abouts) vs 50g for the lightest of the clickys, the Gateron Brown is around 45g of pressure. This I know because having picked the key I liked I looked up my two favourites (Gateron Brown and Blue). And while the Gateron isn’t quite as highly rated as the Cherry Brown, it’s pretty close and the price is much better.

And honestly? I seemed to prefer it in my blind test.

So. I did that. I also fixed the surge protector that I picked up from goodwill last year, which when I finally got it apart (more brute force) turned out to be just a disconnected wire (it looked connected, but pulling on it revealed that it was just floating in the hole).

And then… my Pinebook arrived.

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When they say it’s for tinkerers, they weren’t kidding. I ordered the larger 64G eMMC and did wonder whether it would come with it installed. It doesn’t. So my first act was to pull the back off (which requires a spudger, incidentally) to install the replacement eMMC.

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It then booted into Android, which was confusing, because it said it would boot into Linux.

….so now I’m installing Linux.

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It’s also playing music through its little tinny speakers. First thoughts – the screen is remarkably acceptable, the keyboard’s also remarkably good, the weight distribution is pretty terrible (everything’s at the back of the case, so it wants to tip over backwards), the touchpad is also pretty awful (whenever I try and click on something I end up clicking slightly below where I want to I realized that is true if I use the “clicky” on the touchpad, but if I just use the tap on the touchpad, that works fine). But I have to say, it’s pretty crazy – I mean, with shipping and everything it’s a usable laptop for $170.

It’s nice and light too. And while the screen’s no-where near as bright as my macbook, it’s perfectly usable.

Anyhow.

I’m also thinking that I need to disassemble my macbook and see if renewing the heatsink good and cleaning out the processor heatsink will make it happier. It’s been running at 70-80+ degrees pretty much continuously recently, which is “not ideal”. I realized that while I’ve cleaned out the fans and ducts many times, I don’t think I’ve ever pulled the processor heatsink off (since it requires unscrewing and replacing heatsink gunk)… so I think that might be a job I need to do.

Incidentally, my Pinebook came with *the best* sticker

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Of course, all of this – this is one of the weird dichotomies of living here. I have ‘more’ disposable income, despite the health insurance costs being way higher, despite food being more expensive. I suspect that because heathcare costs are so insane here**, nurses are paid way more here than in the UK. And because of that I can buy toys that I’d not really be able to buy in the UK. However, all of that falls apart if either of us gets sick. And the healthcare costs are so astronomical that while it’s worth having a good chunk saved up – if one of us gets really sick, then it’d pretty much be curtains, because neither of us earns that much.

At any rate, I’m enjoying the toys while I can. Hell, my dad died before he got to enjoy any of the toys or perks of retirement (he died before retiring), so it is always hard for me to think “I’ll save for a long retirement”. Working in the ED probably doesn’t help with that.

Anyhow, I’ve spent a chunk of today thinking about the weirdness of it all. About how I miss the UK, but wouldn’t want to be there at the moment. About friends and family. About how lucky I am to be dinking on a laptop I bought because, well, I thought it might be interesting.

And it is***.

I wish there was a port of RISC OS for it though.

Then I could truly live my childhood dream of having an Acorn A4. Kinda.

*I’m pretty pleased with myself for both keeping up with doing yoga and for practicing Norwegian – I’m generally very poor at committing to activities long term, even if I enjoy them, so… for me to haul myself onto and off the mat at least 3 days a week is an oddity – and I’m up to about 600 words of Norwegian, which I suppose puts me somewhere around the a three year old.

** So, I checked, and nurses in various European countries are also paid way more than in the UK. I have no idea why then. Probably because the UK doesn’t really value nursing. They saythey value nursing, but clearly they actually value financial people.

*** I wrote about half of this post on it, now I’ve got it running, the VPN working, all sorts of fun and games it’s been. But for all that, running this lightweight version of Linux? It’s remarkably usable.

Well, that’s some progress

Well, things are moving along in a more positive direction. No chicken counting yet, but we’ve had an offer on the land, so we may be able to shift that albatross from around our neck which’d be nice. We’re both rather sad to sell it, especially because we suspect from what we know of the buyers that the tree we loved will be coming down. But we can’t have a tree that’s holding that much of our limited funds.

On our purchase, we’re waiting on an appraisal on the house we’re trying to buy – and we’ve arranged to have another chat with the contractor about our construction needs.

That’s because we spent yesterday having a very nice chat with some engineers who gave us a rough calculation of the extra footings we need under our current foundation (~3ft square/deep) which apparently we can dig out without supporting the existing foundation (and then just fill it the hole with concrete), then explained that we could probably draw the modifications we want to make to our house to a standard that is sufficient for the city to pass them. If not, please come back, but if we have any questions, they’re very much able to help.

This is good news, we think. They also pointed out a much cheaper way for us to do what we wanted to do. Cheaper and more cunning, and with less resource use. All things we like.

Today I spent making firewood.

Yesterday I created a rough template for the chair I’m trying to build (or firewood I’m making) – this allows me to run the bits I want to cut through a band-saw, then I can use my (not yet in existence) accurate template to mark up exactly what I want to cut and trim.

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Today though, with Bill’s kind help, I took the circular saw to some of the larger board, and then I took the chop-saw to the smaller board. And that was it for the day. Much of the time was spent mulling and checking and doing recounts to make sure I really had drawn all the bits I needed (I hadn’t the first time, despite the note to myself on the board and in the book).

Still, it’s moving in the direction I’d like, and if it’s a disaster it’s firewood and the time I’ve spent has been very soothing. Also, I am learning, and that is definitely a good thing.

I then did a bunch of errandy things before looking at the key tester that I got from Massdrop. This is much more of an irritating thing.

Described as being made from cast aluminium (it’s not, it’s cut/bent aly); the circuit board that was extra to turn it into a number pad doesn’t actually fit. The holes in the board for two of the key switches are way out of line.

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I hoped it would be “close enough” that I could just bend the pins, but much exploration of the situation leads me to believe that isn’t going to happen. I’m going to have to drill out the pin holes to make them large enough, then run some mod wire along. On the plus side I think I’m fairly settled on gateron brown switches. Also, slightly irritatingly, the supplied keycaps actually make it impossible to see which switch is which, so you have to pull the cap to work out which one you like. Mind, that does make it a better test, I suppose.

I shall probably play a bit more. On the one hand I’d like an actual clicky keyboard, I really rather miss having one, but for the sake of everyone else’s sanity, it might be better to have a non-clicky board :)