New Jersey: A Total Waste of My Money

I just found this article about how New Jersey is voting on new slogans. They accepted 7800 suggestions, and apparently had the Church Lady Brigade trim the suggestions down to five that we can now vote on. They all suck, but that’s not why I’m pissed. I’m pissed because, as it turns out, they paid a consultant $260,000 to come up with a slogan that sucked, and that we’re not going to use. Why did he get paid, exactly? Do I get to write off a part of my taxes since you clearly blew my money?

I think for that act of sheer stupidity and hubris, the least they can do is create a website and list all 7800 suggestions. One thing people in NJ aren’t short on is humor. You have to have one helluva sense of humor to live here and not be suicidal.

Don’t believe me?

Abbott & Costello, Jerry Lewis, Joe Piscopo, Jason Alexander, Danny DeVito, Joe Pesci, Jon Stewart, Kevin Smith, and a whole bunch of other comedians are from New Jersey. ;-)

Just received a copy of my book

Man, this is *cool*!!!

I just received the “first printing” of the book, which is due out in bookstores in a week or two or something like that. I’m actually really happy because during the authoring/editing process I didn’t get a chance to read Bill von Hagen’s hacks in any great detail, and he wrote a few that I’d really like to see.

I’d also like to keep it near so that I can use it to refer to my own notes.

If you want to see the details of the book, you can check it out at the publisher’s website here, or the Amazon listing here.

The big smoke-out day 4

Today is my fourth day without smoking. It’s not too bad, really. I had a busy weekend to keep my mind occupied, and work is busy, too. I’m definitely running on a slightly shorter fuse than usual, but I really don’t feel actual cravings to smoke.

A couple of people have asked, so I’ll put here that I didn’t use any drugs or patches or anything. What I did was I picked a date well into the future and committed to two things: I would quit smoking on that day, and I would give myself until that day to quit. I used the time to slowly wean off smoking. By the end I was smoking less than a half pack per day, and it was seeming like a lot to me.

Once the date came, I just kept telling myself I was a non-smoker, got rid of any signs of smoking, and stocked up on gum, and it’s been pretty ok. My body is doing some weird stuff, and my sleep schedule is a bit screwy, but I think everything will eventually be fine.

Hello all, and news from yesterday

Just wanted to welcome my friends and family who are visiting this blog at its new location. I get my blog through a service, so I don’t have to write code to have a blog, which is nice. I discovered that they’ll let me publish it by ftp’ing to my main website (linuxlaboratory.org), so I just did that, and now everything is in one place – but enough geek stuff.

Last night, I had no heat!!!! It was about 30 degrees out. This is, as we like to say, “no bueno”.

I couldn’t relight the pilot light, so the utility folks had to come by and replace the thermocoupler, which decided that natural gas had no business flowing to where the pilot gets lit. I appreciated its concern, but decided the benefits I got from heat outweighed that, so it got replaced.

In other news, this morning, I quit smoking. Haven’t had a smoke yet today. Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted on that stuff.

Verizon Fios: You must be joking

About two hours ago, I signed up online for Verizon’s new Fiber Optic internet service. About 10 minutes ago, I canceled the order.

As it turns out, FIOS is just a really cool shiny thing they hold in front of you so they can get your permission to pull out any trace of copper from your property.

That’s right, folks! You sign up for FIOS *INTERNET* service, and your phone service is cut over to fiber as well! Not only that, but the copper is *permanently* removed! Why should you care? Glad you asked.

First, you should care because power can’t traverse fiber optic lines, so the good old days of having phone service even when the power is out are gone forever. Verizon does give you a UPS power back up for your phone, but this is hardly comforting being that they only advertise 4 hours of backup time, and that’s assuming the battery in the UPS is in good shape. Batteries age, by the way.

Second, even though there’s a 30-day trial for the FIOS service, if you cancel in the 30-day period, you don’t get your copper back – YOU have to pay to have the copper run back to your house from the pole. This also means that if you want to move from FIOS back to a DSL provider, you can’t, because DSL runs over copper. Also, if you want to use someone else for local phone service, it’s not likely that you can do that either without running the copper back to the house.

This information was confirmed by the person I called at Verizon to cancel my order, though after a short wait on hold, she did say that I could keep my copper if I was willing to put the order on a major credit card (!?!?!). This sounded overly fishy to me. It also seemed fishy that they were, at best, overly vague about the whole phone cutover and the *complete* removal of copper, which I would never have known about unless I dug it up myself. At that point, it’s a trust issue. I don’t trust Verizon to do the right thing in this instance. Period.

Buyer beware.

Hacked :-(

It happens to the best of us, and it happened to me. I’ve run the Linuxlaboratory.org domain for about 5 years I guess or something like that. I’ve overhauled the site a number of times to improve the look, usability, and maintainability of the site. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve tried tons of content management solutions (CMSes), the most recent (er, before today) being PHPX. I hate pretty much all content management solutions, and PHPX was no different. So today I went to take a look at my site just so I could see what I needed to save before I blew the site away again to make way for yet another CMS system. Lo and behold, I had been hacked.

This guy was kind of a prick. He could’ve hung out there, undetected by me, for some time, because I had recently disabled the monitoring for the site (ie, the stuff that lets me know that new stuff has been uploaded or that something has changed). It would appear that his goal was to hang on to the shell on the web site, because he had uploaded a crapload of software that he presumably wanted to use. But nooooooo. He had to go and totally replace my index.html file, so when you go to the site, it’s clearly defaced.

Well, I took the opportunity to go ahead and blow the whole site away and start over, changed all of my passwords, zipped up all of the old files and moved them offsite, uploaded a new system (called mediawiki), and had it set up and locked down in all of about 20 minutes. Hopefully, this system will serve me for at least a couple of years, which would be a record for any CMS.

Woodworking Lessons 4: Use more than one source of information

This rule of thumb comes from just my experiences in the past couple of weeks. It applies to a number of things, actually, but the first things that come to mind are your wood measurements, and your step-by-step guides.

I bought a book put out by the publishers of a popular woodworking magazine, in which they show a picture of a bevel cut being done on a table saw with the blade tilted *toward* the rip fence. DO NOT DO THIS! I’ve read in several other places, and heard from experienced woodworkers’ first hand experience that this is absolutely the *wrong* way to set up a bevel cut on a table saw, not because of accuracy issues, but from a safety perspective. If you perform a cut this way, you *will* have a piece of wood flung at you at high speed sooner than later. When learning the basics, USE MORE THAN ONE SOURCE to learn how to perform the basics like bevel cuts. A terriffic source is google groups. Do a google search for something like “bevel cuts on a table saw”, then click on the “Groups” link on the top of the Google page. You’ll see results from woodworking usenet groups where people will share their experiences. Good stuff. Another good source is Wood magazine’s online forums. Look around, I’m sure there are plenty of other good sources of information.

Besides educational sources, there are informational sources on your wood. Take more than one measurement for everything you do. If you can figure out how to take three or four measurements to “prove” that something is absolutely correct, do it. If you have tools around that can aid you in this (like a square or combination square or protractor or caliper or bevel gauge), use them as more proof that what you’re looking at is how it’s supposed to be. This is how I learned my earlier lesson about not trusting wood to be milled perfectly square. I measured out some cuts, then realized they were off because the boards weren’t perfectly cut. I measured with two different rulers, used a combination square, and a bevel gauge to figure out that my board’s edges were the problem. Once I drew my cuts without using the edges (ie, I drew all four sides of the cuts), everything was fine, and I knew that because I used two rulers and a bevel gauge to prove it. I measured the diagonals of the square I drew, and measured the length and width at various places along the sides of my cut. When I was confident it was perfect, I cut it out (and screwed it up, but that’s another story – at least my drawings were good!)

Woodworking Lessons 3: Do the stupid beginner projects

Oh man, am I ever glad that I’m doing those really stupid beginner projects. Stuff that looks like it would be super easy to do (and probably is for an experienced woodworker) takes me forever to figure out, and then I still get things wrong.

Right now, I’m working on a simple SIMPLE simple box. I measured out my sides, cut them out at 90 degrees, and then went back to put 45 degree bevels on all of the sides. My first attempt, I spent so much time measuring out the cut on the table saw that I forgot to pay attention to which side of my board was facing up as it went across the saw. As a result, I cut bevels on opposing faces of the board (so from a cross section view, it’s a parallellogram). Ugh!

Then, I apparently measured my bevel cut wrong, because when I was done, my board was shy of its original size. How exactly do you measure this out, anyway? When the blade is perpendicular to the table, it’s easy — just use the ruler on your saw’s rails to measure your cut. When the blade is tilted, how do you measure *exactly* where the blade enters the wood? For 45 degree cuts, I figured out that you can just use the pythagorean theorem to figure out how to draw the leg opposite the cut, and that can help a bit. It’s really easy for 45 degree cuts because you just mark at the length the board needs to be, measure back from that by the thickness of the board, and there are the two legs of your right triangle. When the bevel is 45 degrees, those legs are the same length.

So do all the stupid beginner projects you can, and do them with the cheapest wood you can find. You’re going to screw up what looks like the easiest stuff ever. Learn to laugh at yourself. Patience is a virtue. Enjoy.

Blow away your disk partitions? Maybe not!

I did something kind of dopy today in my pre-coffee hours. Luckily, my officemate helped me find some clarity in dealing with a bit of a dodgy issue: partition tables.

Operating systems like Linux keep track of where different partitions start on your drive by placing “super blocks” at the beginning of each partition that tell the system how big the partition is, and what the physical boundaries of the partition are on the disk. Linux also stores a main partition table as a summary of this information to keep from having to scan the entire disk for partitions every time you boot. It uses the partition table instead to figure out how to mount the various partitions on your drive…. unless the partition table gets blown away – which happens. I know. I’ve seen me do it.

So then what? Well, in my case, I figured “all I want to do is mount the drive, it’s not important what the system thinks the partition is on the disk”. I thought this because I thought that I only had one huge partition on the drive anyway, so call it whatever you want. So I just ran fdisk on the drive, named a partition that was the size of the entire hard drive, and I was able to mount the drive. It looked like everything was there – because all of the mount points were there. But when I went to the home directories to recover the data, it was empty!! I thought it was gone, but had no idea how. I couldn’t figure out how I could’ve lost this data, but the machines I’ve been playing with have been prone to these sorts of failure, so…

My officemate reminded me that if I just created one huge partition and wrote it to the partition table, then the superblock at the beginning of the device probably says “this first partition goes up to here”. That superblock is from the old installation of the OS, for the first partition on the drive, which was the “/” directory, which holds all of my mount points. The superblock says “it goes up to here”, and so that’s all I got. It wasn’t able to address any of the other data that lived in other partitions, because there are other superblocks on the disk that define the length of those partitions, and I didn’t know where they were. So I got to see everything that was in “/”, but nothing that was mounted *under* “/” from other partitions — like the “/home” directory.

I downloaded “gpart”, which is a tool that will scan your hard drive for superblocks, and come up with an educated guess based on the superblock information as to where your partitions live. It’ll then show you all of this information, allow you to edit it, and/or write it back out to a partition table on the device. It found my other partition, wrote out a partition table, and I was immediately able to mount the partition and copy the data back into place.

Woodworking Lessons 2: Table saw safety is in the details

I have a rather large, hulking, bulky, heavy table saw. It’s one that real men generally like to have, because it’s big, and it’s heavy, and it cuts stuff. However, cutting safely on a table saw apparently is a more detailed operation than I thought.

I had a problem where every time I’d rip a piece of wood, I couldn’t seem to really push it all the way across the blade. I’d hit a point where it just became impossible. Forcing it through seemed like a lost limb waiting to happen, so I just got some scrap wood and started trying to figure out where the problem was. I also had some help from a few books that told me what to look for, and (of course) I had the table saw manual. The problem was the splitter (or, spreader, as I’ve also seen it called).

The spreader is a piece of metal that is aligned with the blade on the outfeed side of the blade. The spreader is there just to keep wood on the outfeed side from turning back in on the blade and causing problems. Trouble is, if your spreader is misaligned, like mine was, it can really cause more problems than it solves. It needs to be perfectly perpendicular to the table *top*, perfectly perpendicular to the table *edge* (looking down on it), and perfectly aligned with the blade (ie, not to the left or right of the kerf – it should sit wholly inside the kerf).

Mine was none of these things. I was faced with being macho and just removing the whole thing, or spending some time to get it aligned. Since all the macho woodworkers I know are missing digits, I figured I’d spend the time. Your table saw manual will have some information on how your spreader is attached, and mine had information on getting it aligned as well. General woodworking books also have tips on maintaining your equipment, so check those out – they have some shortcuts that’ll really save you some time and frustration.

My table saw is (now) a pleasure to use.