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Our Recent Posts

Plumbing Predicament

Cheryl's Flotsam & Jetsam - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 03:02

This post is a bit long, so go grab a cup of tea and settle in…. 

Every homeowner will tell you there are a few things no one wants to deal with but plumbing problems are probably at the top of the list. Throw into the mix a house that is about a hundred years old, with long-ago grandfathered pipes and fittings plus a host of not-likely-to-code DIY repairs and renovations and you have a veritable nightmare in the making.

We’ve been having problems with our tub draining poorly for a few months. We got a little reprieve last month after plunging, two rounds of drain-cleaner, hot water purges, and elbow grease. I tried to open the trap clear-out but it seemed pretty much stuck solid, so we just crossed our fingers.

Drain:Before

Then on Friday it just plain wasn’t draining at all. Six hours post-shower (on restricted flow, no less) and the tub was still full of water. I went back to the clear-out hammering on the pipe wrench arm and then suddenly water was flowing. In two places. Neither of which was the clear-out because it was still jammed.

The jolt had done two things: it broke a soldered seal on one of the elbows leading to the trap and it had snapped a brass compression nut holding the drainpipe to the tee — the nut had corroded pretty severely over the years and it was as brittle as clay.

At this point, I was dejected. I felt like none of my plumbing skills could be either summoned or trusted. In fact I had an all out meltdown on Saturday, that was only made worse by once again trying to use the Windows8 machine, but that is another blog post.

Hubby started studying DIY videos and decided we could still try to replace the existing garbage with ABS. We went to Home Depot this morning and grabbed everything we thought we might need, went to friends’ for their open house then came back to tackle the task.

broken cross-hairs

Hour one: remove the existing drain pieces. You know the piece that threads from the top of the tub into the drain housing below? There’s a special tool you can use to remove it, or you can use pliers, handle down, in the cross-hairs to turn. I have one of the special tools but after a few turns, CRACK! The cross-hairs split off. Commence cursing. However, the half turn  tore that part of the drain away from the tee, so we were on our way. Sort of.

Rest of hour one and hour two: try to clear out the trap. This was the whole reason for the exercise. I’m not going to go into the gory details. Shawn wore the worst of this task though — very literally.

Hour three: researching how to remove the tub drain without the cross-hairs. Naturally there is a special tool for that too. It costs $80 and is not in stock. I left to pick up kiddo who was at a friend’s, thinking we would have to cry uncle and call in a professional.

Drain vs. Dremel

On our return, Shawn exclaimed, “HAH!! Someone needs to pay me $80!” Turns out a Dremel tool defeated that particular plumbing piece very handily. With that, kiddo and I made dinner while Shawn finished deconstructing the old and preparing the new downstairs.

Hours four and five: notching the wood that supported the old, smaller tubing, fighting to remove brass fitting from the cast trap, further attempts at clearing the trap (while some was cleared earlier, it was clear there was more to come — once the brass fitting was out, this task was easier). Pulled out more gunk — even gave the wet/dry vac a shot.

Drain:After

Hour six: let’s just finish this thing. Measuring. Checking. Math. Cutting. Checking. More math. Fun with angles. Then finally, trying to figure out how to get the last pieces in place. Measure twice. Cut once. Fiddle, check, then deep breath and GLUE.

ABS glue sets in 30 seconds. No takebacks! Happily, we got it all together and in place. It looks great but we just have to wait for the silicon seals in the tub to set before we give it a proper test.

Then we can take back the “just-in-case” parts we bought but didn’t need!

Now we need a good night’s sleep… we’ve earned it.

 

Alternatives to Kindle for Authors

Cheryl's Flotsam & Jetsam - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 17:07

More specifically, alternatives for Those DeWolfes authors. Ever since we moved to the electronic payments with the Kindle store, we’ve had problems. I won’t get into the details right now, but it has been a giant pain in our side. I’m also keen to use the sales portal for Those DeWolfes that Shawn designed which takes away the big benefit of Kindle — the exclusive promotion period and a HUGE audience — but gives us unlimited flexibility to offer specials, coupons, or other promotions.

Being in the Kindle store has other benefits of course; Amazon is often the first place people look for books. However, with our own sales portal plus Smashwords for greater distribution, we should be OK. The one drawback to Smashwords is this: “ if the book contains buy links to Amazon or other retailers, we can’t distribute it.” [source] — so we will have to settle for links to our author pages in the back matter. 

Right now, what this means is finding the best way to build an EPUB. I could code straight HTML, but I would far prefer a friendlier interface. Sigil offers that. Calibre allegedly does too, but the three files I attempted to translate to epub came out so ridiculously garbled they were unusable. I am trying to find others who have used Sigil — I like the idea of having more control over my product rather than having Smashwords crunch through a Word file.

Sigil is a reader but also has editing capabilities. It is open source and creative commons and multi-platform friendly (above is a Linux screenshot). My hope is that I will be able to use it to manhandle the images much more easily than in Word.

I also like knowing I can check the final product for problems myself through online (or downloadable) validators using EpubCheck, before I submit the finished design.

I’ll likely give this a shot very soon and write more once I know sort out the best option.

If you’ve already used Sigil, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Epub Reader Sigil by Linux Screenshots on Flickr. CC-BY xmodulo.com

The Uncanny Valley of Windows 8

Cheryl's Flotsam & Jetsam - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 16:13

Those of you who know me in real life have heard about my woes over the past year with my MacBook Pro. Two logic boards and a replacement hard drive later, just barely 3 years of ownership, and it is no longer operational. Turns out, a whole lot of them that were sold in 2011 had the same problems and there is potential for a class action lawsuit. In the meantime, I parked my paperweight (after the second logic board failed) and went back to my old Dell, still running Windows XP.

Shawn’s laptop had already been doing a death march so we were both staring down the need for new laptops and no way to easily squeeze them out of the budget. He managed to breathe some new life into his machine by deleting a lot of old and duplicate files. We came into a newer ASUS laptop with a broken screen and decided that might be the answer for one of us. Shawn paid to replace the screen and told me it was mine.

Yesterday, I cracked it open and went through the long process of re-installing Windows8 which mostly went smoothly. Then, while trying to use the laptop, it started glitching and Shawn suggested upgrading to 8.1 to clear past some of the glitches. Doing so got me stuck in a weird upgrade loop where the apps got stuck in “pending” (a known bug) and I spent hours going through troubleshooting “solutions” none of which were able to solve the issue before I gave up for the night — using all my strength not to angrily shatter the laptop into plastic splinters.

The problem is, Windows 8 feels both comfortable and completely foreign. It inhabits an uncanny valley for me where I feel like I have to swim through mud just to do what needs to be done. Nothing is where I expect it to be; it’s as though the engineers tried to replicate MacOS through a Windows lens, and it’s not pretty.

Take, for example, changing the clock time (which was wrong — another known bug). Shawn says, “just right click on the clock in the corner” which works fine in Windows 7 and every Windows OS prior. Not 8 though 8 is special. I had to first search for clock (why did they remove the control panel?? too convenient?) Then choose “change time and date” then confirm that was what I wanted to actually do, next to the little warning dialog. I changed the time, but that didn’t solve my pending update problem.

The other hurdle is the lack of transferable software. We have Adobe CS5 for both Windows and Mac but each is limited to a single license and the Windows one is already installed on Shawn’s computer; the Mac is not transferable. Even the CS3 discs I have are likely not going to work as they are licensed to the Dell.

I use Photoshop a lot. Yes, I could use a freebie program but I know PS and am comfortable with it. I don’t really want to fight to learn a new program. Acrobat Pro is another high-use part of that suite for me and I have yet to find a workable replacement for Dreamweaver for updating those websites that still use HTML instead of a CMS. But, unless I can find a set of discs for CS6 or earlier (with a valid license key), it’s all online cloud based subscription style now.

Likewise, I use Microsoft Office — Word, Excel, Powerpoint — and the next person that tells me I should use Open Office instead is getting a knuckle sandwich. They are NOT interchangeable; if pressed, I will use Google Docs instead. Luckily, my workplace offers a home license of MS Office for peanuts so that one won’t be too difficult to replace.

So what now? Well, until I finish some in-progress projects (primarily the SmoothieJune book which has been MUCH delayed, as much through my own procrastination as my computer issues), it’s back to the Dell.

Maybe in the meantime I will set up the ASUS in another room where I can work on troubleshooting and getting to know it better on my own timeline.

It’s been a little over a year of recurring laptop troubles. I wanna be more like my laptop Buddha…. I’d really like to get back to the zen of using my technology instead of fighting with it.

 

Disney Deficiency

Cheryl's Flotsam & Jetsam - Sat, 08/30/2014 - 14:02

I’ve long been aware of a significant gap in my Disney filmography; I’ve never seen many of the “Disney Princess” films: Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Princess and the Frog, or Tangled. Kiddo was astonished at this fact and immediately put the Little Mermaid on to watch this morning.

I’d seen Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella when I was young — along with other Disney kids’ movies like Dumbo, Pinocchio, and Bambi, but I had long outgrown that style of animated feature by the time Little Mermaid came out (1989). I did, however, see Aladdin in theatres with a group of friends when it came out in 1992 but Jasmine was not exactly a stand-out character for that film, so I didn’t consider it terribly “princessy.”

When Kiddo was in the target age group for Disney Princesses (which became its own product line around 1999-2000, thanks to Andy Mooney and Disney’s marketing arm) she showed no interest — I even brought them home from the public library to watch but she’d watch and re-watch the Bill Nye and other science and nature videos instead.

Somewhere along the line, I had bought Mulan — it had come out not long before she was born, so it was still easy to find in stores (not locked away in the Disney Vault) — and tried watching it with her but she showed little interest. According to Disney marketing, Mulan doesn’t count as a princess, anyway.

Eventually, she watched most of them with her cousins and even owns a few of them, but I never caught up and didn’t feel I needed to. I was actually thankful that my daughter wasn’t obsessed with the princess dolls, costumes, and other paraphernalia wrapped in pink and lavender packaging. I was content that I knew the words to the Zaboomafoo theme but not “Under the Sea.” I’m not even going to get into the whole gender-separation of the toy line.

However, now that we are past that “again, again!” age, we can start filling in the Disney princess gaps — but I am going to try and fill her in on my favourite teen movies and “chick flicks” in return.

While writing this post, we watched the Little Mermaid, so now I have seen it…. one down, several more to go…

Photo Credits: Princess Gathering CC-BY Jennie Park on Flickr and Disney DVD Collection CC-BY-NC Barb Watson on Flickr.

ALS, Ice, and Viral Video

Cheryl's Flotsam & Jetsam - Tue, 08/26/2014 - 01:18

What has made the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge so popular? It was a simple suggestion: they started by challenging celebrities and people who one might not expect to be OK with looking silly on camera to either donate to the cause or dump a bucked of ice water on their heads.

Many celebrities ended up doing both. Charlie Sheen dumped $10K in cash on his head. Patrick Stewart used the ice for his whiskey and wrote a cheque. Then, non-celebrities started joining in. Local media outlets challenged businesses. Friends and family challenged each other. Celebrities started getting more creative by challenging anyone who watched the whole video. Neil Gaiman even challenged Death.

I think, one of the key reasons it has continued to stick is that it puts people on the same stage as celebrities — kids, especially seem to find this exciting and reason enough to take part.

Some have been very creative, doing domino-style soakings or creating Rube Goldberg style contraptions. Not everyone thought it through, of course, so now there are #icebucketfail videos where the whole bucket hits the victim, knocking them over, or where the person upending the bucket trips and gets soaked.

Most importantly though, is that many more people now know more about brutally debilitating ALS, and the huge spike in funds raised will echo for some time — more has been raised in the past month than in the past several years combined.

Yesterday, our niece did the challenge and she nominated kiddo. Kiddo took her turn today…

…and nominated Cthulhu. Which may have triggered the end of our world…

If however we survive the wrath of Cthulhu, please join us in donating to the ALS Association.