Entries from January 2009 ↓


Funny is in the ears of the beholder and the brain in between.

Lots of things I deem funny are just stupid catty comments to others. That is okay. I have learned to ignore the static and interference.

Recently we left on a shopping trip to a local grocery/dry goods store. Sort of a country store with a suburban flavor. After we got gas….for the car….we found a place to park that was right up front, close to the store entrance, right next to the cripple slots. Wow! Such luck.

My better half could not help but voice her pleasure. ‘Wonder why this prime parking space is unoccupied”.

Without even thinking my reply was, ‘Maybe because no one is in it’.

Catty comment. Indeed, but this time it struck her as funny.

Halllicrafters TO-keyer

Been considering building one of these. I have all the parts and these parts are in danger of getting lost if not used collectively in some project. Besides, I am tired of writing software and programming chips. Need some no-brainer, no thought project as a theraputic diversion.

So I inquired as to the function of the TO Keyer eager to listen to reviews from those in the know.

Appears that the TO has problems with speed stability and character completion. It acts funny. Not at all like a bug. More like a TO Keyer. Well that was enough for me. I need an enjoyable diversion, not another pain in the ass.

So now I have all these parts and no project to apply them. Oh well, that was the situation a few months ago too and we are still here. I bet things will be just fine in another few months even if those precious parts don’t get used. Who knows, with more time maybe they will really get lost and I will not have to worry about them anymore.

Guess I will program another TICK to use with the new paddles.

Garage Door Openers

Way back in 1980 I bought a Genie model 850 screw drive with two remotes. Even though it was more expensive than the chain drive, I bought the screw drive because it was touted to be quieter and more reliable.

The old Genie finally quit being reliable recently and I was trying to decide if it was worth repairing it. I decided to replace it with a Chamberlain 1/2 hp chain drive opener.

I don’t remember where I got the idea that a screw drive was quieter. That old Genie was anything but quiet. You could hear it grinding a block away when it was moving the garage door. On the other hand, the new chain drive is very quiet. You can hear the motor hum if you are in the garage while it is working. If you are in the house and the door to the garage is closed, you cannot hear any noise at all.

If you stop to think about what is going on, the chain drive being quieter is perfectly logical. The chain drive moves the garage door with chain and cable. The cable runs on a plastic idler pulley. The only contact the chain has is with the drive sprocket. The screw drive has a ten foot plus floppy drive screw that rotates in a ten foot plus long housing. Lots of metal to metal contact. Of course it will be noisy.

I had been considering a 3/4 hp opener instead of the 1/2 hp because my garage door is a heavy wooden door. In actuality, door weight has no bearing on the force required to move the door. Garage door weight is offset by spring tension. In fact, the first step in the installation manual is to verify that the garage door is balanced. Meaning that if you open the door half way manually it will stay put when you release it. The weight of the door will keep it from opening further and the spring tension will keep it from closing. Thus it is balanced. When it is balanced it does not need much force to open and close it. A 1/2 hp opener is probably overkill for a properly adjusted garage door regardless of weight.

My only regret is not having bought a chain drive opener in the first place. This is one of those situations where the cheaper solution is the best solution.

Second Chances

When it comes to second chances we all feel we are deserving to try again if at first we did not succeed. When and if we are offered that second chance pretty much depends on what we have done to prevent future failure and how bad the past failure was. There are those conditions that would not qualify for a second chance due to the severity of the initial failure. For example, suicide bombers do not deserve a second chance even if it were possible.

Normally when we consider the second chance opportunity we focus on individuals and their individual performance. How about businesses, vendors, banks, insurance companies, grocery stores, mail order firms and stores in general. When these institutions make mistakes, should we give them a second chance?

I guess that depends on what they did to make good on their transgression. Did they deal with the problem they caused in an efficient and decisive manner or did they try to hoodwink the victims of the transgression with legal BS and poor customer service? We might also want to consider if there are others providing essentially the same type of service or product. Perhaps it is time to evaluate the competition.

Companies do make honest mistakes, because people make honest mistakes and companies employ people. Even so, when an order gets screwed up, when the products are poor or defective, when full refunds are not offered, when companies are reluctant to right wrongs, we have to wonder if we want to give them a second chance. For all we know they might take that second chance as an opportunity to screw us again.

Most businesses who have real store fronts will also have real customer service and strive to correct situations which might reflect badly on their reputation. They have an incentive to do so. After all, we know where they live. On the other hand, mail order companies doing business in that virtual marketplace called the internet may not have the same incentives to do right by their customers. The fact that mail order takes place in a less visible store front makes the standards for such transactions higher and second chances less available. Especially when there are other mail order vendors dealing in similar product.

In short, there is no leeway when it comes to performance of mail order vendors. Nealy all of them will offer ‘in-store’ credit to customers dissatisfied with their products and services. However, such credit requires redemption at the place that caused the problem. Customers might well be reluctant to expose themselves to additional problems when they redeem the ‘in-store’ credit. Then there are also the shipping and handling charges which are not refundable and may be substantial. In the case of a product, we have to ask ourselves, if the cost of shipping the thing back added to the cost of initial shipping is worth an ‘in-store’ credit we may be reluctant to use.

If round trip shipping is more than 50 percent the cost of the item, we may be better off just to trash the defective product, save the additional expense, and take our business elsewhere.
This is nearly always the best solution when we have no reason to believe that future business dealings with the vendor will be any better than the disappointment we have already suffered.

So when it comes to second chances on purchases remote and local, our preference is not to expose ourselves to further harm.

Much of the need for ‘second chances’ can be eliminated by proper qualification of vendors before giving them that ‘first chance’.

Who recommended them in the first place. Search the internet to see of there are complaints regarding the vendor in question. A word of caution here. If you google ‘complaints’, you will get complaints. Some of them may not be valid or deserved. Consider the source. Some customers cannot be pleased regardless of what their experience is.

If you are attracted to a vendor through an ad, listen to what the ad tells you. ‘Not available in all states’ generally means it is some sort of scam. Fast talking legal speak at the end of the ad generally means they have been lying to you. ‘Not available in stores’ generally means that if you had a chance to see and handle the product you would not want it. If it sounds too good to be true it is most likely false. Any offers of ‘free’ anything means the stuff is not worth having. There is not such a thing as ‘free’ shipping. If you don’t believe me call the shippers and ask them.

Last but not least, the Better Business Bureau is an organization of Businesses. It is not a consumer advocate.


Several years ago we planted onions. We got three bundles and planted them all. The end result was a wheel barrow full of onions ranging in size from tennis balls to golf balls.

This year we planted onions again. Had trouble finding them. The local plant shop did not have any. They did not have much of anything exept high prices. Went to Home Depot and the place looked deserted. Deserted of plants. Lots of empty shelves. On a hunch we stopped at Bruce Millers nursery. They did not have much either but they did have onions at $1.50 a bundle.

Not sure how many are in a bundle. At least 50. All three bundles are now planted. This time the soil was rich having been recently improved with lots of compost.

We expect to grow a good crop of onions.

Yeah, I know, you can buy a 5lb bag of onions for $3.00, but we like to grow things.

1626 vacuum tube

The 1626 vacuum tube is a low power transmitting triode. Twelve volt filament and runs about 3 to 4 watts output. The closest ‘modern’ day equivalent is a 6C4. Contrary to popular opinion the 6C4 is NOT half a 12AU7. The 6C4 can run an ouput of around 5 watts. The 12AU7 (one triode section) can only do 2.7 watts. It would take both sections tied together to equal a 6C4 or 1626.

The 6C4 also has less than half the interelectrode capacitance of the 1626.

For information, the triodes in the 12AX7 can only do 1 watt each and the triodes in the 12AT7 are good for 2.5 watts each.

Computer Problems

I rescued a 1.6ghz Athlon about three years ago. It had a burned up power supply connector on the motherboard. The connector was toasted due to the failure of a third party cooling fan. Fan motor shorted and pulled enough current to fry the connector.

The connector was replace with one salvaged from a defunct ATX motherboard and we were in business with a new computer.

For years I had been using hard drive trays. Long ago I invested in a hard drive tray system and installed it into all the computers I used on a regular basis. With a tray system you can remove the hard drive without opening the computer case. It is an easy way to change out, upgrade, secure, and play with various operating systems and have fun in general.

Well, the drive tray system had been in use for over ten years which was probably five years too long. The connectors started to get flakey. I even replaced some of them with new cables but problems just seemed to grow as time went on. Eventually the new, rescued, computer required rescuing from the hard drive tray system.

After I junked the tray system the athlon began performing as it was supposed to and I was finally able to turn it into a very reliable PVR running WindowsXP+SP2.

Its got a Hauppague TV tuner card which does mpeg2 with on-board hardware, 2gig of ram memory, SATA controller running a 250gig hard drive, IDE controller running 80gig-60gig-and DVD burner, video card with TV out (s-video) to run a seperate TV in the den, on-board100mhz ethernet, and usb and firewire ports.

This PC is finally a true media machine allowing recording off-air (has a digital conversion box but also has a digital TV tuner running into one USB port), and off cable. Every bit as good as a TIVO for quality but not quite the same control. Should have bought a TIVO in the first place and saved some money.

Oh well, it has finally become a reliable system and it is paid for.

Main lesson learned on this PC is don’t play around with removable hardware and use new cables when installing drives especially onto an old machine.


You could go bankrupt taking advantage of all the ‘savings’ offered by those companies who have nothing better to do than advertise impossibly good deals on TV and radio.

But wait, thats not all. No, it is not all by a long shot. Promises of 50 percent off, buy one- get one free, and $500 savings on insurance are meaningless without knowing what it will actually cost you.

You might well wonder 50 percent off what? Ever notice they do not tell you the price? That is so you can’t compare it with offers from the competition. The buy one – get one free scam is even more insidious. Mainly because the second item is usually not needed or wanted. You end up paying a premium for something you don’t need.

Insurance companies that offer you $500 savings without disclosing their rates are pure scam artists. How can you trust them to insure you when they try to scam you with deceptive advertising?

just remember you can save 100 percent by not doing business with these scamers. Now that is a real savings.

LED Flashlight Deal

I recently had need of some computer related hardware and found that, as usual, the Geeks were offering what I needed at a very reasonable price. They were also offering an LED flashlight marked down from $5 to $3.50. I could use a decent flashlight and the price was attractive so I ordered the flashlight as well.

As I suspected the flashlight was made in China. That was okay by me but the foul smelling rubber sleeve on the body of the flashlight was not something I could live with at any price. No wonder the thing had been marked down in price. Had I found the thing in a store in person, they would have had to pay me to dispose of this toxic waste.

I will have to admit that the flashlight worked well. It was just its foul odor that was objectionable.

After a couple of days I finally found that I could cut off and discard the rubber grip without any trouble. That got rid of the smell and now I have a perfectly usable flashlight.

It provided an intense beam of solid white light and runs off three AAA batteries. I have no idea as to battery life but after having used it for about two weeks the batteries still seem strong.

One other interesting note. This flashlight contains 20 high intensity white LEDs. Even on the surplus market these devices sell for a pretty penny. Last time I checked the best deal on high intensity white LEDs was three for a dollar. At that rate the LEDs in that $3.50 flashlight are worth around $7. So if you are in need of some good LEDs for a DIY project, you might consider buying a $3.50 flashlight and saving some money.

USB cables

I’m not sure what USB actually stands for. I’m pretty sure it is not even close to the off color words I have made up for it. It all began when I bought a USB TV tuner for my computer. The thing was under $50 and does digital as well as analog off air reception. It came with a USB extension cable which came in handy because all my computers were designed by idiots that put the USB connectors on the back of the computer cabinet.

I was not overly impressed with the TV tuner device. It worked but I did not trust it to keep working so I put it aside and moved the extension cable to the computer in the ‘radio’ room. That machine also had its USB connectors in the back.

Recently I tried to use that cable with a memory stick to transfer some files. That computer runs Debian and has never failed to recognize the memory stick but this time it would not work. At first I thought it was the memory device. It was a recent acquisition. My wife got it as a free promotional give away at a new Staples opening. I did not expect much but it turns out that the problem was with the USB cable.

As usual problems are always caused by the things you would least expect.

Guess I need to try the TV tuner again now that I have a good cable. How opportune. Just in time for the February switch to digital.