Around the House

Stuff going on in the vicinity.

I’ve been having some weird computer problems over the last couple of weeks.  On Thanksgiving morning I went into my office/ham shack and found my main computer was off and would not boot.  It was so dead that I didn’t even get the POST (Power On Self Test) beeps.

I spent quite a bit of time checking all possible causes and even had the power supply tested at a local computer store.  I was left with the conclusion that the motherboard was dead.  You may remember a while back we had a serious lightning hit which did a lot of damage to electronics around here.  After that event I had to replace (among other things)  the motherboards in two different computers.

At that time, just in case, I purchased an extra board for possible future use.  I was able to replace the board in the dead computer with the spare and all was well again.  I didn’t even need to reload or reconfigure any software.  That was a definite blessing.

This in itself is nothing surprising but it gets more interesting.  After retuning home Monday from a doctor visit I found the PC connected to my radio gear was also dead.  It would try to boot and get part way into the process and then shut down.  Again I suspected the power supply and opened the case to take it out.  I was surprised to see that the CPU heat-sink was just dangling by its wires and no longer attached to the processor chip.  Clearly, without the heat-sink the CPU would overheat in a few seconds and its self protection circuitry would shit it down.

Closer inspection showed a plastic tab that held the heat-sink on had broken off.  How this happened I can not guess as the PC was just sitting under my radio desk as it had for several years. Its mother board was identical to the one that had failed in the other machine and I had not yet disposed of the bad board.  I was able to remove the plastic clip from the dead board and replace the broken one.  New heat-sink compound and re-seating everything was all it took.  Then all was fine again.

This story has several morals:

  • Spare parts are good to have around.
  • PCs can fail mechanically as well as electrically.
  • Even a ‘dead’ component can be useful.


All my friends know I am an office supply junkie.  I have shelves of special paper, file folders, sheet protectors — you name it.  One of my worst faults is writing instruments.  Pens, pencils, markers, highlighters and such.

I have a few favorites, each for a special purpose and I would like to recommend some of them to others who share my same vice.

On the left is a beautiful, hand crafted fountain pen made for me by a friend and master woodworker.  This is a wonderful pen for journaling and for when you just want the silky smooth feeling of putting ink on paper.  There is also a certain nostalgia in using what many consider an ‘Old Fashioned’ pen such as this.

Next on the left is my work-horse, the Pilot G-2 gel pen.  This is my choice for general writing and I have many around the house.  They come in various sizes but I favor the 0.5 mm tip. They write smoothly but on some paper can have a problem with smudging.  One problem is that when I loan one to someone it tends to not return home.

Third from the left is the Uni Ball Vision Exact, essentially a very fine point pen, almost like a Rapidograph technical pen.  If you need precision writing or drawing this is a good choice.  I like it because it works well with templates and lettering guides and because it does not smudge as much with glossy, non-porous paper.

Next is the trusty Pentel automatic pencil.  This has been my standard lead pencil for years and I use it for general notes and always when copying Morse code over ham radio.  No worry about broken or worn down points and it glides smoothly over most paper.  Again I use the fine point but also have a couple of the larger (0.7mm) size which have  different feel but work just as well.

Finally, for completeness, is the classic yellow #2 wooden pencil.  I don’t use them a lot but love the aroma of the cedar when you sharpen one.


Previously I posted about the humorous Police Report clippings that my friend Sarah in Bozeman Montana sends me from time to time.  Here is the latest batch.

I particularly like the one about the “large, four-legged buffalo, brown in color and wearing fur.” 🙂

Last night we were woken by the weather radio at about 3am and continued to get alerts for hours after.  Around 5am the emergency warning sirens went off and Jan and I took to the basement. We had very high winds, some say up to 80 mph.

After the storm had passed our yard looked like a war zone.  We lost at least 12 large pines, some 12″ in diameter and ~40′ tall. They were slapped down like they were balsa wood.  Patio furniture was scattered all over the yard.  The glass topped patio table is a twisted wreck with broken glass scattered around.


Our favorite tree, a maple just off our deck, was broken off 3′ above the ground.

The back yard was nearly as bad with many trees down and debris everywhere.




We are, at the moment, without power and I am running this PC off our generator which also allows us to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold (though we have to alternate power to one or the other.)  The radio says 40,000 people in the area are also without power.

The only damage to our house itself was some aluminum flashing that was torn off and a piece of siding pulled loose.  All my antennas look intact (save one wire antenna hit by a falling tree) and my tower and outbuildings are also fine.

Here is a link to pictures of other area places damaged in this storm.  (Note: I don’t know for how long this link will be valid.)

I’ll update if anything changes.

Or – I Can Row, Canoe?

Back in the ’70s and ’80s we spent a lot of time canoeing on local Iowa rivers.  Nearly every nice weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day would find us on the water.   Sometimes it was just Jan and I in one canoe, but often it was with a group of from 3 to 20 canoes and up to 50 people in the group.   Often we would camp along the river on sand bars or islands.

For several reasons we have not continued this practice into the ’90s and ’00s.  Just recently my two sons (Steev, Allan and partners) were here for a visit and we decided to get out on the river again.  Here is a picture of the group (minus Jan who took the photo.)  L. to R. Jeannette, Allan, Steev, Greta and me.

We rented canoes at a nearby County park which also provided us with all the needed gear and transported us to the put-in point.  Here is the trailer load of canoes ready to head upstream.

It didn’t take long to get to the put-in and within half and hour we were on the river without incident.  Here is Steev and Greta underway.

And here are Allan and Jeannette.

One of the things that makes canoeing in a group extra fun is being able to barge all the canoes together and just float (with minor steering when needed.)  Jan particularly likes this  because she can just sit in the canoe and, as she puts it, “play hostess-mostess.”  Here she is in action.

Another feature of many of our canoe trips is the lunch stop.  When we had estimated that we had covered half the distance to the takeout, we found a {relatively) dry sand bar and beached our canoes.  Here is our simple setup for our picnic lunch.

After lunch a few of us decided to take a dip in the river.  It’s quite shallow and the bottom here was sandy.

The rest of the trip was pleasant though we had a strong headwind which made paddling a little more difficult but we still completed the trip in about 5 hours.  In another hour we were home again and some of us decided on a little apres-canoe soak in the hot tub.  A great ending for a fun day.



This is a more-or-less straightforward list of software I use on Windows and, briefly, why.  From this list you can see I generally find something that I like and keep using it.  I’m also a big fan of free software.

  1. Firefox web browser.  I like it because it’s not IE, because it is free, and because it is customizable with a large number of plugins to do nearly anything you want.  For example, I use a plug-in called Style Sheet Chooser Plus.  That allows me to revert to simple formatting when some web designer does something ‘artistic’ and unreadable on their page.
  2. Forte Agent for e-mail and newsgroups.  It’s simple and above all, supports plain text email which is frugal of bandwidth and much safer than HTML email.  I must say that I use an older version as this program has suffered from creeping elegance in later versions.
  3. Media Player Classic for playing video and some types of streaming audio.  Again it is simple and it is free.  Not bloated like Windows Media Player is now.
  4. Open Office For word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and everything else that MicroSoft Office does, only it is free and open source. It can read most Office file formats and can produce files that are compatible with Office.  No need to pay the Micro$oft tax to do normal office work. Continue Reading

New Truck

When I retired in 1998 I bought a new Nissan pickup truck.  It’s been a faithful machine and done a lot of jobs for both Jan and myself.  But 12 years is a long time for a truck that is subject to Iowa winters with road salt and grime not to mention the wear and tear that comes from living on a gravel road.

So, we decided to replace the old truck, but it had served us so well that we decided to get something as close to it as possible.  It turns out that, like many things, motor vehicles are subject to “creeping elegance.”   Larger engines, more bells and whistles and overall gentrification.  What we finally settled on was another Nissan Frontier king cab 4×4 with manual transmission (I don’t drive automatic transmissions, but that is another post.)

The differences between the old and the new were fairly significant.  The new has a 6cyl engine while the old one was a 4 and as a consequence the gas mileage will be slightly lower.  The old one had a 5-speed transmission while the new one is a 6-speed.  The old one had manual hubs while the new has automatic hubs.  Overall the new truck is a little bigger and a little roomier that the old.

Below is the old truck:

While here is the new one:

Not that big of a difference from the outside, other than lacking the decals (which I never liked).  Inside there are more changes.  One of them that will cause me a little extra work is that there are fewer good places to mount my radios in the new truck.  I think I have that figured out but, until I actually do it, I am not certain.

I’ll add a follow-up when I’ve installed the radios and gotten a little more used to the new truck.

This may turn out to be a long and disjointed post so be forewarned.

At this time (mid-September 2010) Jan and I should have been well into our visit to Australia.  I’ve always, since I was a teen, wanted to go there and when we learned the 2010 Worldcon was to be held in Melbourne, we decided that we would go whole-hog and attend the convention, and then tour Australia.  All plans were made well in advance and we were set to go.

Then Real Life™ intervened.   In April I learned that my lymphoma had returned and I began another course of chemotherapy.   The conclusion of that process was a round of high-dose chemo followed by a bone marrow transplant.  Needless to say, the Australia trip had to be canceled.

Countless friends provided tremendous support both for myself and Jan during all of this. I received  cards from all over and even more emails with good wishes and encouragement.  On August 10th I was able to return home after 28 days in the hospital.  Even after coming home, my friends continued to provide support and encouragement.

In particular members of the  on-line community,, were a constant source of support.  A number of them are part of an organization called The SFWA Musketeers which I have been involved with for a number of years.  I have worked as an ‘Auxiliaryand assisted them in their charity fund-raising activities at various SF conventions.

All this is a way of explaining the wonderful gift I received in today’s mail.  To help cheer me up and partially make up for the missed Australia trip, they sent me this:

For those of you not in on the scheme, it was a plush toy Platypus (Mortimer Gervias Platypus) who is dressed in a costume like those the SFWA Musketeers wear for their performances.  In addition  it came with an extra special bonus, a one-of-a-kind booklet, “The Platypus Diaries“, which explains how Mortimer came to Iowa.

Needless to say, I’ve been grinning from ear to ear since this arrived and I’m looking for the perfect place to display this treasure.

So first let me thank everyone who was thinking about me through my recent ‘adventure.’  I can’t say it enough, but all the cards, emails and even phone calls helped me get through everything with a positive attitude.  And special thanks to those who were responsible for Mortimer.  You know who you are!

I have a friend who lives in Bozeman Montana and every once in a while she sends me clippings from the Police Reports section of their local paper, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.  Why, you ask?  Well these reports can be strangely unusual, hilariously funny or just plain offbeat.  Who ever selects and writes these items has to have a lot of fun doing it.

Here is a typical selection of items from the latest batch my friend sent.  There are also some annotations by her which may or may not be legible in the scan.  You’ll need to click on the image to get an readable enlarged version. Enjoy.



We has a rather severe thunderstorm on Friday morning.  Lightning, lots of rain and high winds – and we were just on the edge of the storm.  After the storm we discovered our apple tree had been uprooted.  The combination of wind and saturated soil were responsible, plus the tree was getting quite old.  No other damage found other than small limbs from other trees being broken off.

At least apple is pretty decent for firewood…