When I wasn't working on computers this weekend, I was trying to get the “new” used television working in the bedroom. Prior to even having a “new” used TV, I was thinking about finally breaking down and getting a digital converter box for our existing analog just so we could watch broadcast TV in bed occasionally. For the past few months, that TV has only been good for DVDs and VHS tapes. Anyway, I mentioned to Tara my idea of getting a converter box. She asked, “Would it make more sense to just get a cheap digital TV?” That was all I needed to hear. I went online to Craigslist looking for a good deal. I skipped over the obviously professional ads and looked for an actual human to buy from. I found one fairly quickly, some guy in East Nashville selling a 30″ HDTV for $90. It was a CRT type, not flat panel, which is why it was so cheap.

Elizabeth and I drove to East Nashville — not a very safe part of town, so Tara reminded us not to get shot. The seller's 94-year-old mother was out on the front porch to greet us — in the freezing cold. Maybe that's the trick to long life?

If she was packing heat, I didn’t notice.

Anyway, the guy, Jim, brought his mother an extra blanket then took us inside to demonstrate the TV's good clear picture. I called Tara, asking her to measure the opening in the armoire where it would sit. The TV was 34 inches wide, the armoire space was 42 inches wide. Plenty of room. I bought it, and Jim and I put it in the back of my Nissan Pathfinder. Bringing it home, I backed into the garage for easier off-loading into the house. It was Elizabeth who had the brilliant idea of using the ladder as a sort of bridge/conveyer between the back of the SUV and the door into the house. Genuinely impressed, I told her, “You are a smart, smart, smart girl!” She ate that up, beaming with pride. It reminded me of the look she gave me three years ago in Russia when I first told her she was my daughter: (phonetically) Tea moy doach.

Once inside the house, I was going to use the dolly/hand-truck to move it into the bedroom, but it ended up being easier sliding it across the carpet. The thing weighs 120 pounds, according to the seller — and I believe him — and is difficult to handle alone. Once in the bedroom, I needed to lift it onto the shelf in the armoire, about three feet high. I was wearing my back brace throughout all this, by the way, due to my history of back problems — herniated/ruptured disc, but that's another story. So, trying not to hurt myself, I deployed another one of Elizabeth's earlier ingenious ideas. I would use my “back stretcher thing” — an arch-shaped piece of exercise equipment with padded rollers on which I lie backward and stretch my back. We would use that to roll the TV up to the armoire's three-foot height and lift it into place from there. For that last bit, I finally got Tara to help me. Couldn't use Elizabeth. She's only five. No, wait, five and a half.

Once in place, I connected it to the coax cable coming out of the wall, but only Channel 2, the local ABC affiliate, was coming in. That made no sense because the other TV was getting about 10 channels (and their .1, .2, etc. “sub-channels”) over the air. We don't have cable or satellite service, having turned it off to save money. This second TV was getting its signal from the same roof antenna, albeit from a different cable, wasn't it? Where were my channels?

Going outside and checking the antenna cable connection box on the side of the house, I saw that the old satellite TV splitter was still in use and this second TV cable was disconnected.


Luckily, I already had a proper splitter (not quite the same as satellite splitters) from when I originally setup the roof antenna and other TV. Putting that in place, I was ready to tell this “new” TV do another scan for available channels.

Scanning, scanning, scanning.

I thought this must be a good sign, it was taking so long.

I was wrong.

It still only gave me Channel 2. What the …? Then it hit me that the antenna connection was going through the VCR first, then over to the TV.

Simplifying things, taking the VCR out of the equation — connecting that to the TV via RCA cables, instead — and connecting the TV directly into the antenna cable, I had it do yet another scan for available channels. Much better this time! Still not as good as the main, living room TV for some freaking reason, though. The “new” TV now receives almost everything but Channel 2.

Did I already say “What the …?”

Actually, what it gets are channels 4 (NBC), 5 (CBS), 6 (weird local stuff) and 8 (PBS). It doesn't get 17 (Fox), 28 (Ion and Qubo) or 30 (UPN). I still don't know why, especially when the other TV does and they're tapped into the same antenna on the roof! It's just weird.

Oh well, the best thing is that I learned my daughter is an engineering genius. I told her she would grow up to be an engineer. “What's an engineer?” she asked. “Someone who figures out how to make things work,” I said.

Computer stuff

Well, I've spent the better part of this long weekend trying to get not just a server setup, but a server with VMware setup. VMware is very cool virtualization software that's all the rage in the corporate world where I'm seemingly forever searching for a job in this crappy-ass economy. So, if I can learn it well, it will serve me well. Virtualization means that while you have only one physical server/machine, it can be setup with VMware (or Oracle's Virtual Box or Citrix's Xen Server, and probably others) in such a way that it appears to all the world that you have 10, 20, whatever number of servers running. Of course, you're still limited by physical memory and hard drive capacity, but still, it's very cool.

I tried setting it up on a Linux server because Linux is free — free of financial cost, but you will spend hours/days/weeks of your time trying to get it configured properly. Anyway, the only version/distribution of Linux I could get it to work on was Ubuntu 9.04, as-is from the CD. Not updated, not upgraded to 9.10. Just 9.04 straight from the CD. Believe me, I tried. That's where the aforementioned “better part of the weekend” was spent. Well, at first I tried Fedora 14, but it never installed or at least configured VMware successfully.

Kept giving me some damned “C header” errors then “library” (like DLLs in Windows) errors.

I finally gave up on Linux and went with Windows Server 2003 R2. Because I have a hand-me-down Dell Poweredge 2600 server from work, I was able to use this Windows CD to install it without a serial number.

I didn’t go with it from the start because I didn’t think it would work without a serial number.

Don't worry, Microsoft, I'm not profiting from this, just learning. Of course, installing the VMware server on Windows was a breeze. As usual, installing stuff on Windows versus Linux is just exponentially easier. You Linux buffs can rant and rave, but Linux cannot compare. Of course the best of both worlds would be Mac OSX because it has the famously friendly GUI interface and apps with the added bonus of being built on top of Darwin, a very stable variation of the very Linux-like BSD. My current finances are the only thing keeping me from making “the switch.”

Anyway, now I can go about getting familiar with VMware.


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New washer

The new washer was delivered today. I let them take the old one away even though we’d just bought it (used) a week ago. That’s right, it lasted just one week. Oh well, we didn’t really need that $200 (after tax and delivery), anyway.

I say “let them” take it because I could have had the repairman from the store, DT’s Used Appliances, come out and try and fix it under the 90 day warranty. But we decided “screw it, maybe he’ll fix it, maybe not, maybe they’ll replace it, maybe that one will work better, maybe not.” It just wasn’t worth the back-and-forth complaint/repair runaround. If he did fix it, I could have then tried selling it online, but we have no room for an extra washer.

Anyway, the new one, a Whirlpool Cabrio bought on discount at the “scratch and dent” Sears outlet store, is pretty amazing. It cost $500 or so, originally $800 or so, which is pretty ridiculous for a washer. But, it’s exactly what Tara wanted. It has a timer so you can delay the start of the wash until after your shower, or whatever. It’s very quiet. Its top lid is glass so you can watch your clothes as they wash, if you’re into that. Or, as the salesman said, you can entertain your cat for hours, putting him/her on the lid.

Customer satisfaction surveys

When given one of those customer satisfaction surveys, always try and give a glowing report about the individual who helped you (unless they were terrible, of course) because those surveys are just another tool for corporations to harass their already under-paid, under-appreciated employees.

You don’t want to be responsible for getting someone fired just because of some stupid survey, do you?

This is all part of my motto: “People have to stick together against oppressive corporations!” 🙂

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Something to ponder

Railroad tracks

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England ) for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels.

Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. In other words, bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process, and wonder, What horse’s behind came up with this? , you may be exactly right.

Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses’ behinds.)

Now, the twist to the story: When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, you will notice that there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit larger, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s behind. And you thought being a horse’s behind wasn’t important?

So, horse’s behinds control almost everything. Explains a whole lot of things, doesn’t it?

Plleeaassee reeaadd! it was on goodmorning America

It’s a very old hoax. Anything with a headline like that and mentioning Microsoft, AOL and Good Morning America in the same email almost HAS to be a hoax these days, and this one is.

On Mon, Nov 15, 2010 at 8:05 PM, wrote:

This is probably a hoax, but just in case it’s not, I’m forwarding it.

Filed under: Internet


Dinkum, also dinky-di, fair dinkum, adjective
True; honest; genuine.

Probably derived, like many other Australian words, from English dialect. The counties of Lincolnshire and Derbyshire had a word or dincum meaning “work; a fair share of work.” The word was first recorded in Australia in Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1888): “It took us an hour’s hard dinkum to get near the peak.” (© Wordsmith Words)