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2020 March 17

My wife’s new blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:34
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My wife’s school has been closed (as all schools have been locally), and has moved to remote education.  My wife is trying to replace as much of the library time as she can with a new blog: Spring Hill Library. If you have preK–6th graders at home, you can safely point them to her blog.

I helped her produce her first video yesterday (using iMovie, because Premiere Elements seemed too complicated for the simple task needed), and I helped her set up her first blog tonight. She plans to do a video a day and several blog posts a day for as long as the school is closed (which probably means the rest of the school year).

I may start blogging more often again myself, as I won’t be teaching the second half of my electronics course until Fall. The logistics for running the lab remotely were a bit too daunting for the BELS staff and me, so the lab was delayed until Fall quarter (and I’m swapping sabbatical quarters, taking sabbatical at home this Spring instead of next Fall). If we are still forced to be doing remote education in the fall, at least there will be time to figure out the logistics far enough ahead to be prepared.

Today I should have been grading, but I spent most of my time doing tasks as undergraduate adviser: faculty meeting, updating proposal for our new major, informing students of cancelled lab courses and increased capacity in other courses, trying to get additional courses scheduled to start on March 30, getting approval for our plans to let students substitute other courses for the cancelled lab courses (if they are graduating in Spring 2020), approving student petitions for substitutions, trying to get independent-study forms to not require wet signatures, …

Despite being on sabbatical for Spring, I’ll continue with my administrative tasks as undergraduate director and as a member of the Committee on Courses of Instruction.

I do have to get back to grading tomorrow, as I still have 24.5 design reports still to grade in the next week, and they are taking me about 2 hours each to grade. My wife and I will probably be taking turns on the big-screen iMac, though, as neither the video creation nor the grading work well on the 11.5″-screen laptop.

2014 January 14

Silly library labels

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:15
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As a school librarian, my wife often gets library supply catalogs (and orders from them). I was particularly struck by an offer in the latest Demco catalog:

The "modern genre labels" from Demco.

The “modern genre labels” from Demco, copied from

The first thing that struck me is that using the myth of the horned Viking helmet as an icon for history was not very respectful of the scholarship of historians.

Sorry about the low quality of this image—I zoomed in on the gif from Demco, as I did not have an original sticker to scan instead.

Sorry about the low quality of this image—I zoomed in on the gif from Demco, as I did not have an original sticker to scan instead.

The second thing that struck me was that the “modern” label for science fiction was similar to the labels used in the 1960s. I think I remember that fat rockets were used on spine labels in the 50s, but I couldn’t find an example on the web quickly. In any case, these labels would be better described as “retro” not “modern”.

If you look more closely, you’ll see that the artist made the “star-in-front-of-the-moon” mistake—probably deliberately to irritate science fiction readers.

Image copied (without permission) from

Old spine labels for science fiction. Image copied (without permission) from (more precisely from

The final straw was the e-book sticker. What exactly do you stick an e-book spine sticker to?

2013 August 15

Moving bookcases

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:34
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My wife has been trying to reassemble her school library at her school, after a year of having the library in a trailer.  (You may remember that there was a fire at the school, 2012 July 4).  We had a moving day a couple of weeks ago, with several people moving everything out of the trailers whose rental period was ending.  Nothing could be put against the walls in the rooms, though, as the final building inspection had not happened yet.  The teachers were finally let back into their classrooms to set up this week.

So for the last 3 days, I’ve been spending half my days helping my wife move bookcases, fasten them to the walls, and set up her computer and printer. As usual, I had a little trouble finding the studs in the walls, and on one wall I ended up with 5 test holes before hitting the stud.  Luckily, all the test holes are hidden behind the bookcase.

She wanted to set up her Brother 2270DW printer on a filing cabinet across the room from her desk.  We had selected that printer last year because of its wireless capability, but she had been using it with a USB cable previously.  It turns out that setting up the 2270DW to operate wirelessly with a Mac and no wireless router is almost impossible.  The user interface for configuring the printer is the most arcane ritual magic I’ve ever seen in any product.  You have to turn on the printer while holding down the Go button, then release it when 3 lights light up.  Once the ready light is steady, you have to press the Go button 6 times and wait for the ready light to come on again, then hold down the Go button for 15 seconds, then wait at least a minute and press the Go button 3 times and wait for the printer to print 3 pages.  The information you need for setting up the printer is on the last of the 3 pages.  Then you have to connect wirelessly to the printer and configure it to look for the wireless network—note that if you are planning to use the Mac as the access point, you can’t have the wireless network it is to look for up while you are connecting to its temporary SETUP network.  If anything goes wrong start over—but wait, the 15-second hold of the Go button doesn’t turn the wireless card on—it toggles the state!  Note: don’t try to follow these directions, as I may have swapped the 6-times and the 3-times button presses.  There are many other magical sequences of presses for this button (like to tell it that the toner cartridge isn’t really empty, though it often thinks so).

Note: none of this arcane direction is in the user manual or the network manual for the printer, which just tell you to put in the (Windows-only) CD and run their setup software.

At this point I gave up, and told my wife to put the printer on top of her desk, where she could connect to it with USB cable.  I also swore never to buy or recommend a Brother printer to anyone.  “User” interfaces that unfriendly (just to avoid having more than one button) are such bad engineering that no self-respecting engineer should provide any support for the company.

2012 August 23

Moving bookcases, wireless bridges, and beef stew

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:01
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I went with my wife to the school where she works as librarian, to help her move bookcases.  Half of the school is being moved, because of the July 4 fire.  Portable classrooms were delivered this week and K–4th, plus the library are moving into the portables until the construction is completed on their class rooms (5–8th and the office will be in the unburned part of the building).  The library space in the portable is actually bigger than the usual library room, but most of the library bookcases were wall mount units that can’t be installed in the temporary portables.  So my wife scrounged bookcases that had been in other classrooms but weren’t going back into them (most will be discarded when the construction is finished).  She managed to keep one soot-stained 12′ long low bookcase from being discarded, but needed help getting it into her portable.

I went with her this morning and helped disassemble the bookcase into a top, a 9′ unit, and a 3′ unit.  My wife and I could carry the 3′ unit, but we had to recruit 3 other people to carry the 9′ unit.  (Had they not been available, we would have had to do a lot more disassembly and reassembly.  As it was, in a little less than 2 hours we managed to get the bookcase reassembled in the library where it needed to go.  The hardest part turned out to be reassembling the railing on the ramp to the portable entrance.  We took out a 3′ section so that we could run the bookcase straight into the doorway, but putting that 3′ section back turned out to be difficult, as one of the posts it had to slide onto was out of alignment and we couldn’t get the bolt holes to line up again.  We ended up having only 3 of the 4 bolts holding the railing on.

While I was there, I also consulted with their IT guy about how to get internet access out to the portables.  I’d been thinking about how my wife was going to get internet access for a while, as her library catalog is now in the cloud (see Library software and Library computer installed).

The IT guy had wanted to string a CAT6 cable out there, which was my first choice also, but we were not allowed any penetrations of the outside walls of the portables, and the ancient portables (1996 vintage?) did not have patch panels for communications, just breaker boxes for power.  We had also heard (3rd hand) that the city inspector would not allow cables to the portable without a permit, which seemed like a lot of trouble.

In the end we agreed that the simplest solution was a high-power wireless bridge to connect the office to the portables, and a local wireless router to distribute the access to the other portables. One advantage of the bridge approach is that the routers for it will still be useful once the portables are gone, as the connectivity in the building was terrible before, due to under-powered routers. I recommended looking at a few units that I’d seen on the internet (but never used):

  • Radiolabs wireless bridge a turnkey system for links up to 5 miles long (we need about 100m, or 1/16th mile) is probably overkill.
  • Radiolabs high-power router a 1-watt router that can do IEEE802.11b/g, but not the newer, faster n protocol.
  • GSKY-Powerlink a 1-watt wireless repeater
  • Premiertek Powerlink, a 1-watt wireless router than claims to do n as well as b and g, but which has an internal directional antenna that may be difficult to aim.

I don’t know which of these the IT guy will end up using, or if he’ll go over the hill to Fry’s and just buy whatever 1-watt router they have in stock.

I’m considering getting a higher power wireless router for my house also, as the current one only covers about 80% of the house.  I’ll probably wait on that until my wife finishes painting the living room, as we plan to move the big desk with the family computer into the corner of the living room, and we’ll move the DSL modem and router when we do—that may provide better coverage without needing a new router.

My son and I were supposed to bake bread and cook stew for tonight’s dinner, and he had only just gotten up when I left with my wife to move the bookcases.  I asked him to do the bread dough by himself, but I was not sure he was awake enough yet for that to register.  I was pleased to find when I got home that he had made the bread dough (an adaptation of the farmhouse potato bread in The Garden Way Bread Book by Ellen Foscue Johnson, substituting butternut squash for the potato).  He’d run into one problem, though—we had run out of white flour and the dough was still too slack.  Together we added a half cup of whole wheat flour (and some dried coconut I found in the back of the fridge) and kneaded the bread dough some more with the dough hook on the stand mixer, followed by his doing a little hand kneading.

While the bread was rising, he helped me with the beef stew (peeling carrots, scrubbing potatoes, and cutting up the onions).  We ended up making almost 2 gallons of stew containing eye of round, two types of new potatoes (Bintje and Mountain Rose, from Thomas Farm), white onions (Pinnacle Farm),  dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes (Dirty Girl Farm), and leftover vegetables in the fridge (half a jicama and some onion greens from last week’s spring onions from Dirty Girl Farm), a couple of garlic cloves, some Worcester sauce, and rosemary and bay leaves from the garden. I forgot to flour the beef before browning it, so I added some roux (made with whole wheat flour) about half way through the cooking.  Both the bread and the stew came out well, though the jicama was not a worthy addition to the stew (it is even more flavorless than turnip).

The bread was a little drier than the last time we baked it, but I don’t know if this was from the whole-wheat flour, or just adding a bit more flour to make a less slack dough than last time.  The cup of butternut squash does give a lovely golden color to the bread, but the coconut added neither flavor nor texture. Given how old it must have been, it is not surprising that the coconut was flavorless, but I had expected  a little added texture.

I think that my son has mastered at least this bread recipe (which is a fairly typical one), and so can follow any of the standard bread recipes now.  We might try some fancier bread recipes later this fall (a sourdough, perhaps, or a brioche).  I want for him to be a competent cook and baker, at least for a few dishes that he likes, when he goes off to college in a couple of years—though he’ll probably do a dorm meal plan, since otherwise he’d never remember to take the time to eat.

I did not get much done on the circuits course today.  I tried making a holder for the 18-gauge silver wire electrodes, but my razor saw made too narrow a kerf to press the wires into, so I’ll have to try again with a different saw, or come up with a different design..



2012 May 14

Google a Day now on Google+

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:32
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I recently posted about Google’s attempt to teach searching skills. Now Google is gamifying their “Google a Day” search challenges, in an attempt to create more competent searchers (and get a bigger share of the search market, of course): Test your search skills with A Google a Day now on Google+.

I have little interest in Google+, but I understand that others are motivated by social media, so this may increase the usage of Google a Day.  The idea of a daily challenge as a way to improve skills is an old one (College Board uses it to help students prepare for SAT tests), and making it into more of a game may help people stick with it long enough to develop some skill.

I’ve not done searches for many of the Google a Day questions—the few I saw were either easy searches or boring trivia questions that I would have no interest in knowing how to answer. The game never sucked me in.

One big question is whether the Google a Day questions are well-designed and sequenced to develop skills,  all at the beginner level to entice novices in, randomly mixed, all hard, spread out over different search features, or organized in some other way.

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