Thursday, October 18, 2007

Simulation - not likely!

The stalwart Kimota94 posted this little gem about that philosophy paper making the rounds on the ole inter-weeb. You know - this one - that claims that this may all just be a simulation. Kimota94 does a good job refuting that idea with an excellent argument. He also asks "if this is a simulation, what would you do different?"

What would I do different? One argument would say "nothing - it's not possible to do things differently than the simulation would predict." Another would say "nothing - the simulation theory is nice but doesn't really impact me." A third would be "nothing - the amount of computing power necessary would require more operations per second than atoms in the universe so it would be unlikely to reach that level of computational power."

I'll start with the second one: it doesn't impact me. Even if I were to exist within a simulation, what I perceive as a "mind" is what I perceive. As a corollary to self-awareness, that would me the simulation created life (me) and I'm operating within it. Ipso-fatso, I am the simulation, but it is no different than what I was before.

The first answer justifies my view that "what would you do differently?" is the wrong question. I think I would rather ask "what would you simulate if you were in charge?" That would be interesting. The simulation described would have the power to simulate any possibility so changing your behaviour would be accommodated. Setting up different startup conditions or end conditions and running the simulation would be more interesting.

Another interesting aspect of the paper that I didn't see addressed was the time scale of the simulation. Would the simulation be in real-time or at some accelerated rate? I would hope that it would be accelerated as real-time would be a bit of a drag. I suppose if it is accelerated than we, as the simulacrums are thinking faster than the items being simulated. If indeed we are simulated, then is every single possible activity being simulated, or are short-cuts being taken? Computer modeling (as I know it) is discrete and therefore leaves out some information in the interest of producing a useful model. If the proposed machine is not modeling, then it really is new life in a novel media - AI if you will.

Finally I would say ('cause I really ought to be getting some sleep now) that I do not think such a model is possible. Let's take one of the better known systems used to model the world around us - mathematics. It has been demonstrated that any mathematical system is incomplete. As a corollary, the simulation system described would be incomplete, no matter its power. It would not be able to simulate life exactly, by the same argument. Therefore the simulation would be something different than the previous existence it is attempting to simulate, which implies that such a simulation would not be stable. It would crash soon after starting. Maybe it is a new religion - we are all just waiting the Great Blue Screen of Existence. The Reboot is Near - REPENT! Yes, sleep is needed. By me - maybe you, but definitely me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Raised Patio: Closer to Done

I haven't posted any updates to the raised patio for awhile, so here are some more pictures. First we have some details as to how the deck slabs were setup. The slabs rest on the masonry wall on the outside edge and the cast-in-place beams. Each slab rests on some caulking - specifically NP-1. This compound hardens, but never looses its elasticity. This allows the slabs to float a little - to have some room to play. Most of the deck slabs were put in place Sept 8, but there are still 3 left to place as of this weekend. The pictures above show how most of the slabs were laid. Then there was the column "customizing" work that was done to make one fit near the stairs.

Between the 8th and today, more balusters were added. The longest runs (out from the wall) were finished, with a few missing at the front near the stairs. One pictures shows the railing waiting to be installed. This piece of pre cast is the largest (and heaviest) piece in the project. It is nearly 10 feet long and about 6"-8" wide. This will tie the balusters together and provide excellent stability. Similar, but smaller, pieces will complete the railing near the stairs, as well as become the railing beside the stairs themselves.

Finally, there is the start of the last holes to dig. This will be where the footing for the stairs will go. Still have a few more feet down to dig, but that will have to wait. I have some stitches and the doctor told me not do things like digging until they come out next week. Oh well - more time to post on the old blog page.

Sunday, September 9, 2007


It's been a while since I've seen a movie in the theater (which, as some of you may know, means I haven't seen the Simpson's movie yet). However I was able to complete the Bourne series with a theatrical viewing. I have really enjoyed this series - for the same reasons that Matt Damon has indicated in interviews. The main character is not a typical action hero - he does incredible things, but things that are grounded in possibility. No catch phrases or snappy comebacks, although I almost uttered one in theater: "He tried to blow me up." I am such an influenceable, weak-minded fool. And closer to the end, there was a lolcats moment, but I don't think Bourne had the time to find a suitable cat picture "I'm in joor ofiz stealinz ur secrets".

Okay, enough pandering to computer culture. It was a good film. I found myself caught up in it several times - always a good sign. I'm starting to think that another good sign is the sparse dialog. Several movies I consider excellent feature characters that say little. Everything they do say is important.

Detractions from the movie are the use of "shaky-cam" to convey tense emotions (at the very beginning). I was going to say the flash-backs, but I understand why they are needed. I just wish they didn't have to be so repetitious.

Favorite line:
"He just drove off the roof, sir."
"He WHAT?"

Delivery was perfectly timed.

The action sequences were excellent - they are fast-paced and will stand up to repeated viewings. The story was good, but it wasn't exactly clear what Bourne was trying to do, although he did get to it in the end. This didn't take away from the enjoyment of the movie - one of those things you think about later when you are writing up what you thought.

Summary: Good movie. Liked the structure, the action and the characters. Recommend you go see it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Raised Patio: Inspection 2

One thing that happened Wednesday (Aug 29) was the arrival of the building inspector. He arrived because I asked him to, so that wasn't really a shock. What we did find out, however, was some information that changed our plans.

The inspector took a look at our walls and the beam that was to be cast. We told him about the reinforcing in the walls (the durowall, the rebar drilled into the bricks) and he was satisfied with that. We showed him the two balusters we had and how far apart we wanted to place them. He indicated that the regulations required that there be "no gap greater than 4 inches". That was slightly different from what we understood before, but not hard to fix. The only problem was that we will need 10 more balusters.

Next came the stairs. First, he wasn't impressed with the idea of having stairs that were built up with dry-laid blocks filled with dirt. "That's going to move," he said. Well, we can fix that when it happens was our response, but he really wasn't happy with that. So now we'll have to make a footing under the stairs and tie it to the deck so they will move together. Next was the railing - it was going to need a railing because of the height. I asked if we could make wider steps and do away with the railing - make each step closer to the ground wider. No good - if the steps are wider than 42", you need two. As it is, the opening is 40", so he'd be happy with one railing.

And then he left. I don't have to call him back until all that's done (I suppose - he really didn't say at the time). But we were left with a problem - a railing. The balusters don't really work out on the stairs, so some other idea was needed. Eventually, we came up with the idea of using the same precast pieces as the deck, but texture them so they aren't slippery. Next build a wall down one side and put some paving stones in the area between the railing and the deck. Maybe put the barbecue there. The wall would carry a small length of the same railing as the deck, but on top of blocks instead of balusters. The only thing left is to see if we can get some double-sided splitface, or 4" splitface blocks (back to back) and whether to leave some vertical spaces on the way down. More updates as information becomes available.

Meanwhile, I'll have to do some more digging for this new footing. Ah well - I'm getting practiced now.

Raised Patio: Post holidays

Today is Labour Day, so I thought I should catch up with my labour report. Friday we finished up a bit early and I've left out a report from Thursday as well, so the information is lacking. As of Friday evening, there are four beams poured in place, two (of four) columns up to railing height and the main pile of dirt in front has been moved.

The dirt that was left was my main task over the last few days, as it needed to be moved and my dad was making the forms for the pour-in-place beams. Wednesday saw the completion of the interior support pillars and the pour of the first cast-in-place beam. Thursday was the second and third beams while Friday saw the last of the beams poured, plus the columns. Plus there was the removal of the precast sill under the back door and the chopping of holes in the bricks to rest the outer two beams.

The first hole was done with a Quickcut - a Stihl product that is essentially a saw blade attached to a gas motor. Used by firefighters to cut people out of wrecks, it can cut through lots of things easily, with the appropriate blade. The cuts were not all the way through as the blade was two large a diameter to prevent unwanted scoring around the hole, so a hammer and chisel were used to finish the job. The next day, the precast sill was removed by chopping out the mortar on the sides, cutting the caulking on the top and then easing it out. Of course "easing" part was "maybe" and since my dad put it in, it wasn't meant to be removed. So I had to chop all the mortar out from under it before it let go. Then a few courses of bricks were removed as they were going to be replaced anyway. The last hole was done with a drill and went much smoother. A really nice cordless Hilti hammer drill that moves through masonry like, like... okay butter, but really easily whatever the metaphor. Melted margarine might be a more modern version. A good idea that, typically, was arrived at on the last one. Oh well.

The pouring of the beams involved the making of the form and the addition of concrete. We used a bucket to fill each of the forms, with about 2 wheelbarrows of concrete for each beam. Each beam has 3 rebars, two at the bottom and one at the top, with a piece of durowall sideways to tie the top and bottom together. Except the second beam where the durowall was forgotten until too late. To help tie a few of the beams to the outer wall, some wires were added to the beams during the pour. This was added because the rebar was too short, despite the custom ordering. Some people may not think 1" is much, but if there is a 1/2" overlap at each end, 1" short is a lot.

Anyway, I leveled dirt inside the walls and started hauling away the excess soil. Friday I got a screen and I put the topsoil through it. My wife came to see what I was doing and said "Oh, you're sifting the dirt" (as in "sifting" flour). I said "Sifting is not manly-sounding enough for outdoor work - this is screening." I was going to conduct a lecture series on the manliness of the heavy machines that "screen" gravel, but the eye-rolling kinda held me back. I originally kept the topsoil separate because I figured I could use it somewhere and the first place will likely be on the lawn to help repair it. The lack of watering and heavy traffic at the back of the house has left some rather barren patches. Judging by the sod I pulled up, I think there is a viable root system there, but it is a matter of coaxing it to grow.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Raised Patio: 2fer

Well, the last few days have seen the wall finished and the arrival of some of the precast beams. With the walls done, four more holes had to be dug to support cast-in-place beams. These beams will support the deck slabs, while the precast pieces that you can see on the walls go underneath the balusters. Two sample balusters can be seen - now it is a matter of determining how far apart they should be. These two are visual aids for this process.

The top row of blocks underneath the beams are filled with concrete to prevent water from getting inside the wall through the holes in the blocks. Water will still be able to get through the blocks themselves, but not nearly as much as would get in through the top. The beams on the wall are there mainly to ensure that the railing is high enough to meet local code.

The columns that will support the cast-in-place beams consist of a concrete base with 8" blocks cut in half. These are filled with mortar as they are added with a rebar in the center. The rebar will stick into the beam above and tie everything together.

The precast beams on the top of the walls are sitting on mortar, which I had to mix by hand. Turned out okay - made some "ready-mix" by dry mixing the sand and cement. Then mixed half by slowly adding water. This left half the wheelbarrow dry, giving us enough time to put the beams on one side in place without worrying about the mortar hardening.

Anyway, that's it for now. Today we have to put the last beam on the wall, get the columns finished and start the forms for the cast-in-place beams.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Raised Patio: The Friday Edition

Friday was a pretty straight-ahead work day. Started around 9am and finished by about 5pm. Only did two mixes, but the labourer is inexperienced (read: slow) and the bricklayer was taking his time (read: doesn't do this every day anymore). Ran into one small problem with the white pipe you can see in some of the photos above. That pipe carries rainwater from the downspout over to the west side of the house. There is meets up with pipe that heads out about 20 feet into the lawn, into something the builder describes as a pipe with a sock stuffed with styrofoam peanuts. This is to help let the rainwater soak back into the ground, although the builder isn't impressed with it - more on that later.

The reason it was an issue was that once the blocks got closer, it was obvious that the pipe was sagging at the joint. I found it was wet under the joint after I excavated it but didn't really notice the slope was funny. The probable cause was the person that backfilled the foundation of the house - they dumped a load of earth right on the pipe. You can tell this because the side that heads toward the middle of the house has a hollow under the pipe. Plus the pipe in the other side of the trench had rocks above and below it, meaning that they had been pushed towards the foundation. The rocks are another sign the back fill was done without much care - rocks rise to the surface as you move dirt or dig. If one takes care, the rocks would be spread out evenly, instead of collected by the foundation (the last place to be filled).

Anyway, the concern was that if there was an issue with the pipe leaking or not draining, the fix would involve either working under the completed deck or removing the deck surface. The time to fix it was before the deck was complete and access to the foundation area was easy. Called the builder and he was able to show up that day. He went on about how he disliked the drainage system, clarifying how everything worked. I originally thought that the weepers and the downspouts were tied to the storm sewers, as this subdivision has a special storm overflow pond to collect excess rain. The system that the downspouts tie into is like a simple septic bed. The difference is that there is one outlet instead of a trunk with smaller tiles coming off it.

The builder is not happy with this solution for a few reasons - one it doesn't work and two it is an expensive solution. The pipe is 4" and that isn't really big enough to handle the roof water of a big downpour, let alone a storm. The downspouts backed up before we moved in, according to our neighbours, last year. This spring the builder quietly installed an overflow valve, which is essentially a standard downspout that drains onto the lawn. This works better than the underground drain pipe because it can handle the volume better and the ground in this area is sandy. Water drains away quickly whether it is on top or not. The overflow valves aren't supposed to be there, but the builder is reluctant to criticize the existing system. If this system isn't working, the next step would be to put something like a septic bed in the ground, which would be quite expensive. Also it would make it impossible to build things in the back yard without a hassle. Things like a pool.

One of the columns is clearly visible in a picture above. There will be four of them, one on the front corners and on either side of the stairs. One solid day of work should bring the other 2 sides up to the level of the highest side, which is the top of the masonry wall. Note the picture with the vent in it - this is secured with mortar, no anchors or caulking necessary. My dad was annoyed when we were working last year because the various holes necessary (gas, exhaust vents, etc) weren't known until after we was done. If the final pipe that was to go through the wall was available, he could have finished the surroundings with masonry and it would look better than it does now. Although it is a small detail that most wouldn't notice, much like the sills and lintels on the house. The sills are at least twice as thick as the other precast sills, but smooth. The lintels are also smooth precast pieces, instead of concealed metal ones. Finishes the doors and windows nicer than the others around here. Again a small detail that most wouldn't notice unless it was pointed out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Raised Patio: Thar be masonry a foot!

The started off slow enough - managed to get a post in this morning showing the previous day's work. Rain on and off all morning, finally ending around 11am. Got some stuff setup to be ready to get some blocks on those footings. After lunch - we were off! As you can see, the day ended with one side high enough to start with the above-ground blocks. These are a textured block known as a split-face block.

Figured out why they are called "split-face" blocks yesterday (and it is so simple you'll probably be as upset at yourself as I was). The blocks are cast with two facing each other and then a machine splits them apart. This is done in such a way that where the blocks are split it becomes a rough, textured surface. Since is the side that points to the world (the "face") we get "split-face". Fun.

Anyway, it wasn't all sunshine and heat stroke (though I came close). The first course (masonry term for "row of whatever") was made up of some left over 10" blocks my dad had. Many jobs are setup so that the trade is responsible for ordering the materials, so anything extra is theirs (they paid for it). Sometimes some demolition has to be done, so the debris is discarded. However if some is salvageable, the owner doesn't mind if someone takes it away as they have to pay to remove it. So this is how we had some odds-and-ends.

Just realized that most people probably don't know what I mean when I say 8 inch or 10 inch blocks. The measurement is the width of the block, so the resulting width of wall made out of the block. A standard 8 inch block has two holes in the middle, with bits sticking out of each end. Back in the day, there were three holes (so the gaps were smaller) and the blocks weighed more. There were also solid blocks which, as it sounds, had no holes at all. My dad said that working as a labourer and piling 12 inch solid blocks onto a plank above your head makes you tired really fast. Yah.

Anyhoo, some of these 10" blocks were of various types, some even being split-face blocks. The thing with a split-face block is that the face is twice as thick as a standard block, so it is much heavier. And 10" means more volume and so on and so forth. Some were old enough to have 3 holes instead of two, but luckily there were not many of those. Plus they got put in first, so no ones back was aching by the end of the day.

Also had much fun with the second mix of the day (we did only two). Got the proper instructions on the measurements needed, but we both forgot that there was already some water in the mixer. So I followed the instructions and the mixer looked like soup (not a good sign). I was wondering what I should do when all of a sudden it just tips the load onto the ground! The mixer reject the mix! How could I screw up so bad??? Looking at what happened, the pin that holds the mixer at the proper angle fell out, causing the load to force the barrel of the mixer over. That in turn was likely caused by the mixer being too low on one side. Luckily, we were able to rescue some of the truant mix and, using alchemy and experience, my dad was able to create a workable result. It wasn't soup, but rather pasta-sauce quality. Picture if you will, a wall held together by last nights dinner.... Dumping shovelfuls onto a mortar board resulted in something that looked like ladles of sauce blopped on a plate. The magic of hot direct sunlight saved the day, reducing the sauce back into mortar within about a half-hour.

Tomorrow is set to be a full day of blocks. Hopefully we can get lots done before the weekend...

Raised Patio: Footings and More

As promised (well, written, blogged, whatever) I have new pictures with the completed footings. Plus, there are pictures of the blocks we'll use underground and the brick sand.

Getting the sand was eye-opening in several ways. We drove to a local gravel pit and asked for a minimum load (ie put it in the bed of my dad's pickup). They charged us $10 for a cubic yard of fine screened sand. Nice stuff - the kind you'd want to put in a child's sand box. My wife informed me that a bag of "play sand" costs about $2 for about 20kg of sand. Doing some quick online checking, the density of dry sand is about 3000 lbs/cubic yard or 1780 kg/m3 (where 1 m3 == 1.308 cubic yards). That gives about 68 bags of play sand for $10. Only problem is that you have to find a gravel pit, bring a truck and shovel it into all 68 sand boxes by hand. Oh well.

Anyway, today we will start with the laying of the blocks, if the weather cooperates. Looks pretty overcast right now, so we'll see.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Raised Patio: Footings

Tuesday was the day to get the footings done. That means the trench was finished and my dad leveled it, added a few boards as forms and we started pour concrete. But first things first - what's a footing? A footing is a small (~10" wide) , thin (~4" thick) slab of concrete that supports a wall above it. Kind of like a sidewalk, but it has to be put under ground on undisturbed soil. In places like here, (Southern Ontario), it has to be undisturbed soil that is beneath the frost line, so 3 to 4 feet down. This is to prevent the footing from shifting or buckling. Footings can be, as in this case, poured directly onto undisturbed soil inside a form. The form here consisted of planks on onside of the trench, with the other side chopped straight, the soil forming the side. The footing will be buried so finish is not important.

As you can see in these pictures, part of the problem with building this deck is that the footing needs to go right up against the existing wall. The ground near the house is back-filled and has not yet had the necessary amount of time to settle. Excavating within about 5' of the house meant that we were not on undisturbed soil. To counter-act this problem, 2 holes (3-4 inches deep - about half the thickness of the basement wall) were drilled in each section that met the house. Into each hole went an 8 foot long piece of rebar. This effectively ties the footing to the house, so any movement has to move the house and the footing together. Note that this is not a challenge, as I like the house and footing where they are.

The pictures also show some of the footing. To pour the footing to this point required about 2/3 of a cubic yard of concrete. My dad and I mixed the concrete and brought it on-site. This resulted in a vast monetary savings and a lot of work. A yard of concrete, from a company like CBM or Lafarge, would cost about $400 delivered. The cost of the materials in this case was about $40 of aggregate and gravel and $100 of cement, although that last number is probably high. However, we did have to shovel the gravel into the mixer and then from a box into the trench. The weight of 1 cubic yard of concrete is about 2400 kg, so this was about 1600 kg. Shoveled twice. But cheaper than the big spin-y truck.

We ran into problems when we got the concrete on site - it was hardening quicker than expected and was difficult to shovel. As in it was almost one solid mass. The pickaxe did the trick however and loosened it sufficiently.

Also present are some concrete blocks, sometimes known as "cinder blocks", but in this case 8" standard concrete blocks and 8" split-face blocks. The split-face blocks are what will form the walls above the ground on the outside. Other, older, left-over 8" blocks will be used below ground.

That's all the pictures I have right now, but tomorrow I will take pictures of the finished footing, the extra blocks and the pile of brick-sand. Tomorrow is when the blocks start getting laid.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Raised Patio: EnTrenchMent

Yes, weak pun, but at least it is something. Went out this morning (as promised - all you that like to read this blog in real-time). Only stayed out about 1/2 hour because of the rain, but I was able to make some progress. The rain is being really half-assed about it - a little drizzle here, a few drops there, five minute rush - no commitment! I may be able to squeeze in another session later. But I was able to snap a few pics before I went in and here they are.

Again with the...

I have title-block today, probably because I shouldn't be here, but rather outside and digging. It's supposed to rain today, probably just after noon, and I have to get a bit done of my trench, er footing. I asked the building inspector to show up tomorrow so there is a tight deadline...

Anyway I have not been posting this week, though I promised it. I really did want to record in pictures the progress I was making digging my deck footing, but it is (un)surprisingly tiring. I set aside about an hour each morning an evening (skipping the mornings with hockey commitments of course!) and when I was done, I was DONE for the day. Showered, sat down and that was about it. Today I shall have to take more pictures.

Fret not, however. The pictures and posts shall increase in frequency as will the pace of work. A couple of weeks off of work will allow me to blather on about whatever AND help assemble the deck. I am under no illusions about who is in charge of that. It is the guy who cast all the concrete - my dad. Anyhoo, I should get out that and start shoveling.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Raised Patio: The Hole Beginning

Why must I use bad puns for blog titles? I feel it is some sort of obligation, but I can't really put my finger on it. Anyway, I promised pictures and here are some. The first one shows the lines staked out - 10'x16'x10' will be the final surface area of the deck. The second one shows the progress I've made closest to the house. The white pipe is the downspout runoff that hooks up with a weeper that empties at the end of the property. The last picture shows how much more I really need to do.

This isn't too bad - I've only been out 3 times for about 1-2 hours each time. I'm planning on going out twice a day (morning and evening) for about an hour each time and that should show some real progress.

Everyone asks me "Why are you doing this by hand?" Two reasons:
  1. Bringing in a small backhoe will ruin the grass. Although it is not green, let me tell you the roots are quite large and holding things down nicely.
  2. I need the exercise. It's one of those things - doing it by hand makes me feel like I've put more into the whole endeavor. Also lets me practice skills that don't involve machines or some-such. There was a time that everything was built using simple tools, so it is simply a question of how much time you have to finish.
Anyway, if I don't make enough progress, we can hire someone to come and do it with a machine. Would take more than 1 hour I think. Will take me a solid week, but whatever. Anyway, more updates will appear as things keep progressing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bender Brau

I just had to record this somewhere - someone in New Zealand is building a life-sized Bender. Not impressed? It's also a brewery! Neat! Maybe one day I'll have my own Bot-wiser chilling in the fridge too...

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Starting groups

My workplace moved to Agile development methodologies more than a year ago now, though it hardly seems that long. One of the techniques that was used in a few situations was to form a group and then allow the group to create the parameters, purpose and direction for the group.

This idea works well when used in the appropriate situation, but I think it had a less-than-optimal effect in some cases I was involved in. I'll describe those situations, propose an alternative group-start and finally end with where the "self-determining group" technique should be used.

The first time I encountered this technique was in the early introduction stages of Agile methods at our company. Some of the meetings were held using this technique to get the group to direct the presenter to the items that the group needed more information about. This did not work for two main reasons:

1) The audience was mainly people who knew nothing of agile methods, so had a poor understanding of the technique. Not knowing how to use the technique made things awkward.

2) The purpose of the meeting was deliver information to a group that is used to logic and structure (software developers). Going into the meeting, they all knew that they would be getting more information. Being asked to discover what the information was without knowing what it was seemed redundant.

Together the impasse is clear - the attendees were obliged to attend a presentation but were confronted with an unfamiliar process. I think such a meeting would work better a year later - the patterns are comfortably familiar.

The second time I encountered this technique was in the formation of an Agile "group". In this case, the technique was applied pretty successfully, but looking back I do not believe that it is the most efficient way to proceed. In the first meeting, this group had a purpose and dove into that head-long. By the second meeting, a split in the purpose became apparent. This was handled in an open fashion, quickly addressing the difference and the group moved on with an adjusted purpose. I think that the initial problems came partly from the fact that the group wasn't entirely self-selected. That is, some members were asked to attend instead of choosing to attend. The other reason for the slow start is that it seemed to take several meetings to work out all the details of what needed to be done.

What I hypothesized this was that a middle ground is needed to make things more efficient. The concept that the group needs to be self-determining is essential, so nothing should interfere with that. The only place left is in the initial group setup. Instead of proposing a group, organizing a meeting and then having the group decide everything from there, I think the initial proposal should include a sample framework. This would give more clarity to the purpose of the group and possibly save time if the group likes the initial ideas straight-away. If not, the group proceeds as before. I'll give a high-level example and a more concrete example.

The high level example is the idea of democracy. Some would like all decisions to be determined by vote, much like the earliest democratic ideals. Each citizen would have a vote and all decision would be taken based on voting results. Operating a modern democracy in this manner would be difficult because of the overhead. Instead, representative democracy allows representatives to work at some proposals and refine them before bringing them before the people. The one-vote-per-topic idea is like the self-organizing groups.

More concretely, let us say I'd like to start an Agile book club. The self determining method would see me send out a message saying "Agile book club is starting. First meeting Monday." The group would meet and begin the proposals for what the book club is about. Using the "proposed structure" method, I'd send out a message saying "Agile book club. Initial idea: Critique of sci-fi/fantasy books during weekly round table meeting. Please bring your proposals and ideas to the meeting Monday." This message conveys more information than the first, although it may bias what people think the purpose is. However I submit that if the attendees are comfortable in the Agile process, this would not prevent them from bringing their own proposals.

I think that the "proposed structure" methodology would work good in transition from a traditional work environment to an Agile one. With enough experience, the "self determining" method would work well, but until some additional skills are learned and techniques refined, it could be slower. The idea would be to encourage dialog and participation, but the mere lack of structure may turn many off. You need people there before you can accomplish anything.

If you've made it this far, you may have noticed how loosely tied this all is. I'll try and refine this idea in subsequent posts, but I apologize for my late-night incoherency. I did, however, feel it necessary to record the outline of the idea anyway.

Foaming at the nest

Yesterday was another lovely civic holiday. Not a vacation for Honda owners, but rather a Monday with no work. No work that involves leaving home anyway. I undertook some mundane chores - vacuuming, cleaning the furnace filter, buying food. The filter was the most interesting however. I decided that the best place to dry off (and generally cleanse) the filter would be in direct sunlight, so I brought it out back and headed back in to wait for dryness to set up it. I was not in 30 seconds before my wife indicated a wasp had gotten in. Urgently indicated, with overtones of alarm (she don't like wasps). It longed to pass through the glass in the door, so I helped try to push it out. Alas, the glass proved too substantial and it was merely crushed by the whole ordeal. Heading out a few minutes later, I picked up the clean and dry filter and head in. I paused at the door to survey the air for any manner of flying fauna. Seeing nothing, I entered the doorway. Just as I began that little dance out of the way of the door, I felt something encouraging my calf to just keep moving. It was another wasp, hitching a ride to the great Indoors. Once inside, it too wished to join its' sisters on the far side of the glass and again, glass provide transparent but tangible.

At this point, my wife suggested there may be a nest under the stairs at the back door. I ran out, found the problem and wandered to the front door to contemplate my next move. Evidently that mostly full can of wasp/bee foam was in for more than just shelf-sitting.

Since I had discarded the little red straw this time, I was not in fear for my life when I strode forth after dark. Being close to ground level also made this a tad simpler, but I brought my flashlight anyway. The nest was barely started - several adults clung to the outside. Probably 2 or 3 days old - barely a wasp-body deep, but expanding rapidly horizontally. Foamed up the nest. Some of the adults tried to leave - the poison made them stumble about. They fell free of the nest to the ground below. Since I really couldn't have that, I foamed everything under the stairs. As more fell or wiggled free, they got wrapped in foam too. I'm guessing I created a nice deadzone under the stairs. I'm hoping that I avoided creating a dead zone in my lungs though.

Regaling my co-workers with said story lead to the out pouring of different insect-nest perspectives. There was the "it's under the deck, but I can't see it. So I grabbed a screwdriver..." Several advised that if something wrenched the screwdriver from your hands, that was the signal to start running. Next was the "it was hanging near the basketball net, but too awkward to spray. After throwing the basketball as hard as I could, I quickly ran away." Like Brave Sir Robin, he ran away and only the curious dog from next door found out that wasps don't like to be disturbed.

Raised Patio - The Deckening

Yes, it is probably the weakest pun-like title you've had the misfortune to read. I know it - you know it, and probably some search engine spider knows bit, but they don't say much. Today was another milestone day for my deck-like-object. My dad came over and we staked out the deck. Now as I mentioned here, this is not simply wooden platform floating out back of the house. No, that would be cool but I lack the super-conducting technology to make insulators hover. No, this is something more... concrete.

Yes concrete. Precast slabs, balusters, split-face block - it has it all. The first step, as with any structure, is to setup a good foundation. In this case it means me digging a trench for the foundation. Before I can do that, I needed something to show me where I should dig and it happens to be a bunch of string and wood. I'll add a picture soon, but for now imagine that there are some stakes, 4 pieces of string, and some nails, marking a 15'x10' area (okay, 16'10"x 10'6" if you want outside measurements). So over the course of the next few days I'll have to start digging. I will record my progress here and, well, that is that.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Some answers (yah, right)

Took some time during lunch to call up BFG and talk to technical support about my computer lockup issue. The person I talked to listened and agreed when I suggested that both power supplies I have tried are good enough to support the card (7800GS). So the next thing to try would be to swap in a similar video card and to try this video card in a similar system. These things are not really possible (I try to have one copy of each generation of computer hardware, not more), so I asked him to speculate. He pointed out that the different answers would be the video card or the motherboard are the root causes.

At this point, I recalled the trouble I had with my ATX power connector when I first got the motherboard. I had trouble inserting the connector - I don't know if it was the motherboard or the connector itself, but something was causing issues. These problems were both mechanical and electrical - it was hard to plug in and sometimes no power flowed. So I think that is the answer. This is not really the answer I wanted as it means spending more money.

The first thing I thought to try is to see if I can find a replacement socket 939 motherboard with AGP. Such a beast does not really exist in the one place I checked (, but it is possible that some place may have a new-but-old board in stock. And I'd be happy to relieve them of it. Otherwise, it means starting over.

Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing - it's been about 3 years and I could do with some minor upgrades. This is a good time to buy - Intel and AMD are in the midst of a price war, so good CPUs are plentiful. Ram is at a reasonable price and all the other parts except power supplies and video cards are nice and cheap. But because I don't have the funds at this time, I can't really go out and drop a bundle on that. Nothing is stopping me from speculating however...

I'd get either an Athlon 64 X2 6000+ (~$240) or an Intel Core 2 Q6600 (~$340). 2GB of RAM is about $120, a good case ~$150, a DVD burner ~$45, a decent HDD ~$120. Biased by these power issues, I'd get the power supply I have wanted for a long time, a PC Power & Cooling. This company was recommended by Jerry Pournelle for many years in Byte magazine. Every current review speaks very highly of their quality parts and design - always the most efficient, stable and very quiet. They were recently bought by OCZ, which basically means that they know are available where I can buy them. So I'd be wanting a beefy PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750. That's about $230, twice a "good" power supply and 2/3 more than an "ok" power supply. Finally, the tradeoff would be on the video card. A decent card can be had for ~$180, but you can spend $250, $400 or $800. If I had to do it right now, i'd get the $180 card because I don't have a spectacular monitor - anything modern will drive it well.

Anyway, for now I have to try and keep the video card underclocked - that seems to help prevent most of the power-related lockups. Not the best thing, but at least there is a workaround. The system is very responsive and stable otherwise, so I think this is a good compromise. I have to find a way to make the settings stick though.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The puzzlement continues

Didn't spend a whole lot of time on the computer today, except for this evening! I put everything through some excruciating trials - namely CounterStrike: Source. I was able to play for a few hours without any issues. But with a minor issue - I had to under-clock my GPU.

This is what I was doing from the beginning - that is when I had my original 6800GT OC. I had an "overclocked" card, but I had to underclock it to get it to work reliably. So I'm kinda torn - is it the power supply, the video card or something else unknown? Guess time will tell. I'm hoping that the computer store will take back their powersupply. I found that has the Antec Neo HE 500 in stock, which looks like a good choice. It is a modular power supply with two of the output plugs being independent rails. Using that, I can put the hard drive, optical drive and fans on one rail, and the video card on another. With the Enermax Noisetaker II 495 (that's what the model is named), the manual seems to indicate that the second 12 V rail is for the CPU (that 4-pin plug right on the motherboard). That kinda defeats the purpose (for me anyway) of getting a split-rail powersupply.

Anyway, I'll also call BFG and see if they can diagnose what is going on. If they recommend a new powersupply, I'll see if they have a particular one in mind that I should use.

Quick post

So I thought I had everything figured out, but I didn't. Got a new power supply on Friday, an Enermax Noisetaker II 485W. It showed the same issue as before - while playing an intense game of CounterStrike: Source, the machine would hang. And we're not talking "blue screen" hang - hardware hang. Everything is stuck, but at least the fans keep turning.

Anyway, the only way around it is to reset and continue. I'm not sure what I should do now - I guess I will take back the power supply and get a larger one. That seems to be the next logical step. Otherwise, it will mean a complete upgrade. Not as if that is horrible, but it is something I really can't afford at this juncture. Gotta be impressed with Intel's latest price cuts though - they now have a quad-core chip for $266 (US). So it wouldn't be a horrible time to upgrade. But first a new power supply. I got a quote Friday for a 600W beast that would do the trick for sure, so maybe that is what I have to look at. Hopefully I can return this tomorrow (got it at Masters Computer). We'll see.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Further computation updates

As I mentioned here, I still haven't returned my OCZ ram to see if I can get it fixed. However, last Friday I did manage to send off my 2nd, not-properly-functioning BFG 6800GT. Today UPS showed up with the replacement. To my surprise and amazement, it was a BFG 7600 GS! Sweet! This card is a little newer and I was pretty sure that it used a little less power. Now that I have checked the specs more carefully, I think it withstands temperature better, is a smaller length, but has higher power requirements.

Specifically, when I compare the old power requirements with the new, the 6800GT requires a 300W power supply. I started off with a 430W power supply, but upgraded to an Antec TruePower 480 when I first put things together. Should be more than enough. The new card is more specific - 350W with a minimum 12V+ rating of 20 A. Those of you who keep with the vagaries of modern multi-video card systems will realize that this is pretty tamed compared to some Quad-SLI system and the 1100 and 1200W power supplies now available. When I was putting this machine together, the 6xxx series chips from NVidia represented the highest power consumption in video cards - the SLI and Crossfire technologies are only support on PCI-e. Such motherboards were available, but I went the AGP route, but I did buy a video card that required a lot of power. With an Antec 480 W supply, I thought I would be fine as Antec power supplies were part of a test group that reliably matched their number with their real output. What I didn't realize at the time, and has become more essential in the multi-GPU setups is the per-rail output ratings. The only option at the time was to go "bigger", but that just upped the rating for each rail.

So I checked the online ratings from Antec for this power supply. You can see in the "Output" chart that the 12V line had a max rating of 28A, easily handling the requirements. The sticker on my particular power supply notes that the max output is 20A, startlingly close to the minimum requirement for this power supply. Why bring all this up? the machine would do a hard lockup when I hit certain intense gaming situations. Knowing all this, you can understand why I decided to buy a new power supply.

Getting back to power supplies, the vendors have adapted to the higher requirements in multi-GPU systems by adding additional, independent 12V+ rails. This way the graphics card can be given its own rail with a 20A (or higher) rating. A quick check to trusty showed that there are several suitable power supplies with multiple 12V rails available for ~ $100. The Antec NeoHE 500 power supply is a dual-standard EPS12V and ATX 2.0.1 power supply with 3 independent 12 V rails and an efficiency >= 85%.

As an interim solution, I've under-clocked the video card (using the CoolBits registry hack to unlock the NVidia driver). I believe that should keep it away from the brink. Probably this was what allowed my older 6800 GT to work reliably. But now I need to get something to ensure real reliability.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Patio Wars ][, part the first

So there I was, at a party with (mainly) adults, discussing Wittgenstein and sipping blender drinks, like a grown man. And it was good. The conversation was ribald and titillatingly, punctuated with quaffs of chilly delight and Count Chocula. It was Sinclair and Kim's (sorta) annual summer party. It all started back in the 60s, er 90s...

There I was, in university for the first time. Through a weird set of circumstances I met Kim during frosh week. One of my good friends from highschool was in her frosh group and I was hanging out with someone who had known Kim since they were but wee children, frolicking in the barren Scarberian wasteland. Time past and found myself married and living in London (Ontario, Canada) again. My sister and her good friend Janet were telling me about this neat couple they met and how they were both optometrists named Kim and Sinclair. And so I came to realize that Kim and Sinclair had infiltrated my small corner of the Greater Strathroy Area, er, homeland. Place I knew the best.

Eventually, bored with their work-a-day lives, Kim and Sinclair invited me and my wife to a gathering of blenders. Eager to help inject my own special loudness and beverage consumption I readily agreed. And so Patio Wars, with its DJ and patio speakers driven with lamp cord, was invoked.

It was a good night. I almost didn't make it out in one piece, but I managed to struggle my way to the car and my wife drove me home. The fog lifted a few days later, but I was happy in that I made it through most of the night in one piece and, after a few phone calls, that my host was okay as well. All in all a good time. There was mead, but a startling lack of Russian vodka.

Now, being the present day (and I don't mean Christmas), there was a call for a new round of blender drinks in a new location. For Kim and Sinclair had another child and a new abode (and commode - several of those actually) which knew not the joy of warring patios. This time I was determined that there would be no vodka gap. Armed with a bottle of Stolichnya with which to warm the house, we arrived. What a wonderful house - very interesting layout. The back yard dropped steeply off into what was some kind of minor bush-like-substance. Trees and mosquitoes and everything. The patio was ample and made of large squares of what I can only assume must be stone or enormous stale Triscuts (I can't be sure). The floors inside were "covered with such hard wood" (yes it is a Futurama reference - bonus no-prize if you can name the episode, or at least describe it. Triple no-reward points if you can tell me what the initial bank balance was).

And so things began, as most of these things do, with a call for Sinclair to fire up the blender again. Next time, I'll deluge you with yet more details from... PATIO WARS ][!

And there was no philosophy. Really.

Stupid pesticides

So my wife has this thing about wasps. She hates them. Something about her parents deck and perpetual nests, I'm not exactly sure. Frankly it doesn't matter - she doesn't care for them. So when I spotted a growing nest outside our kitchen window, action had to be taken.

Since I was taking a day off work, I headed down to the store. My youngest decided he had to come with me, so packed him in the car and headed to the local Home Hardware. Of course my son fell asleep before the first corner, so I was browsing the wasp "solutions" with 37 lbs of deadweight in one arm. Nothing like a good aerobic workout!

Found Raid Max Wasp & Hornet Bug Killer. Looked like it would do the trick - plus it was on sale! Headed home and re-read the directions, specifically the one that said "wait until evening." Excellent idea! So I waited. Well, had dinner and played CounterStrike: Source until it was after 10pm and then headed out.

The can claimed a 2 to 2.5m foaming distance. So I inserted the straw (applicator wand sounds like some kind of hygiene product) into the nozzle and spray. Foam everywhere - on the wall, on the window, but not really on the nest. Now I have to find the straw in the dark. It did its best foam impression by shooting off the nozzle immediately. Without the straw to focus and accelerate the contents of the can, there would be no 2m reach. Off to get the ladder and start again. Get back to find some dazed wasps crawling on the window ledge, trying to figure out why it was so hard to focus. "Dave's not here man" they said. They looked cold so blanketed them in foam. I think they like it - they went to sleep right away and stopped moving. Then I covered the nest from 0.5m.

Brilliant idea from the directions - I decided to "insert the [straw] into the nest opening and fill it" (still can't call it an applicator or wand). Found the straw and stuck it under the foam. Squeezed the trigger and the straw shot out and nearly hit my eye. Cursing (softly - still don't know the neighbours that well), I headed to the nearest tap to rinse my eye. After rinsing my eye, I read the first aid directions and found out the 2 minutes of rinsing was not nearly enough and that I should spend FIFTEEN MINUTES rinsing. Nuts to that - there's more foam left in the can!

Discovered the extra second round of foam had increased the weight so much that it had fallen off the nest entirely. Foamed up the nest, lightly this time and fetched the hose. I figured that this stuff is so awesome that it would probably turn my wall interesting decorative colours if I left it alone. Rinsed off the wall and window, leaving the nest covered.

So the product was effective - killed about 5 wasps and 1 human. Well nearly - I guess I'm technically not dead. However the foam doesn't seem to be that important. Other products will kill the bugs on contact and work from longer distances, so you can just soak the outside of the nest and kill any that come to investigate directly. I guess it is much the same as CounterStrike - guess they aren't really that different after all. But I can hardly recommend this foam spray stuff. Get something that will actually spray the distance. By "actually" I mean one that doesn't require a straw to be attached before it works as advertised.

I got yer insight right here

I realized something today, standing in a parking lot eating ice-cream. The ice-cream, though delicious cookie dough, has nothing to do with it though. My dad commented on an SUV that parked nearby, saying that he really didn't like those. It was one of those smaller SUVs like a Ford Escape or some-such. I suddenly realized that SUVs are the sports cars for the mini-van set.

Think about it - some people buy minivans for the capacity, but SUVs are more expensive and smaller substitutes. Others (like my dad) buy minivans because they are easy to get in and out of, plus have lots of space. SUVs have the height and easy of entry/exit, but are 'sportier', somehow.

Personally, I've recently decided that if I could afford one, I would get a Lotus Elise. And if someone out there feels like I should have one anyway, I'd be happy to take it off their hands (these guys will sell you one, if you don't have one lying around). Low end torque and good handling are things that I think I really would want, so that's probably as good as it gets handling wise. Plus it can get 29 mpg on the highway, which isn't that bad.

The SUV-to-minivan as Lotus-is-to-Cavalier analogy carries on though. Some SUVs are smaller than others, much like a Lotus is to a Lamborghini. So you have the Grand Caravan to an Escalade or Odyssey to Hummer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Winning friends and influencing nations

Listened to The Current today on the way to work, as I often do. Listen that is. And work too - I guess I do both pretty often.

Anyway, the topic I caught was about the plight of civilian contractors in Iraq, working as interpreters etc. First there was an interview with someone who was an interpreter and had to flee Iraq because of threats on her life. Not that they weren't common but that they became more direct - mentioning her by name. She was trying to emigrate to the US after helping them in her native country, but it was a long process. The second part was an interview with Kirk Johnson who has setup something called "The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies".

Mr. Johnson had done some aid work in Iraq and saw how hard it was for the people who were helping the US to try and rebuild their country. These were the people who volunteered because they felt the US was improving things. These same people are targets for others who don't want the US there, so some are killed and all are threatened. When they feared for their lives so much they wanted to leave their birthplace, the US told them "there is nothing we can do".

Mr. Johnson setup the "List" because the treatment of these volunteers will form the future reputation of the US in the middle east. These are the people that like the US the most and if they don't get helped - if they feel used and abandoned - no one will ever want to help the US again. Currently there is no give and take. Sure they may be paid well, but these people aren't mercenaries, risking their lives for money. They are working to make where they live a better place. If the US wants win more friends, they can start by being a friend to their helpers who are being threatened with death.

The first interviewee mentioned that when the Danes find out that one of their interpreters is in danger, they get them to Copenhagen within 24 hours. The Americans direct their helpers to leave Iraq illegally and then go through a series of interviews over the course of 18 months (or more) and maybe they'll permit them to attempt to emigrate. Wow - what courtesy. What gratitude. Maybe they'll get a handful of peanuts for the trip too.

The slowness of the process is attributed to Homeland Security, who apparently want to be careful they don't give easy access to potential terrorists. Mr. Johnson pointed out that all the interpreters have to pass a security clearance, work and eat with Americans on bases and in the green zone. Some even carry sidearms (that's a fancy word for "gun") while traveling in convoys. Plus they risk their lives just going to work. Moving to the US means they have to leave their birthplace under threats of death, leaving extended families and everything they have known. I guess they're still a threat...

I was talking with my neighbour tonight about a problem in their house. The builder was reluctant to change anything, but when asked "If this was your house, would you leave it like this?", the builder answered "No". If someone who lives half a world away, doesn't know you, isn't related to you risks their life on your behalf, does that prove their mettle? Sounds like a soldier to me, except these people aren't being paid to risk their lives. I think that should carry some weight when deciding how to treat them.

This is not a call to abandon process, but maybe the process could be done from within the US. Maybe a little quicker. According to Mr. Johnson there are many citizens who would vouch for these people.

Well, the ranting has sent me off course a bit, but the key thing is that people are watching how this is handled. If all you see is a rich country, coming in and looking after itself, will you like or dislike that country? Coming in and using the local resources, human or otherwise, and dropping them when they aren't useful isn't neighbourly. It's provocative. The people that help are the ones that have the strongest positive opinion of the US - using them up and leaving them to pay with their lives for helping the US is not going to encourage strong support of US anything. They need to show these people respect so they can earn respect. Hopefully it will be recognized before the dividing lines are too clear.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Up and about

Gee, wake up early on a Saturday and can't find a blog anywhere. Well, I cast the net rather poorly, but I'm still going to take it as a sign that I need to add to the pool rather than take from the pool.

Wow - that was a bit short. Hopefully I can finish what I intended before it propagates. I had promised to provide more details about my "raised patio" so here goes.

Anyway, I picked up my building permit yesterday. The municipality graciously cashed my $150.00 fee and will let me build my deck. Or "raised patio" as I have been referring to it. Just so there is some context, the municipality of Thames Centre (where I live - aka Dorchester) uses a rate of $0.42/square foot, with a minimum of $150 (see here for details). As a contrast, the City of London, ON, CA has a minimum charge of $90 (see the section "Submitting your Application"). Most people wouldn't bother with a permit to build a deck, and in some ways that is less hassle. Problem is, if something goes wrong later the issue will get escalated. With the permit you get the satisfaction of paying the municipality money to come and watch you work.

In this case, I need to arrange for 4 inspections. I've spoken with the building inspector and he had some key areas to make sure things were done a certain way. In particular, making sure that structure is properly tied to the foundation wall was the biggest one, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Instead of wood deck, we decided to create a precast concrete and masonry structure. By "we" I meant me, my wife (who was not keen on wood) and my dad, the mason. He's been working with creating his own precast pieces, redoing the front patio of their cottage with balusters and capped with long precast cap to replace the railings. The result was excellent and led to the idea for this structure.

The lower part of the structure will be masonry walls sitting on a poured concrete foundation. The walls will be split-faced concrete blocks and form the perimeter of the deck. The deck itself will be precast slabs that are about 3 feet long, 18" wide. The railing will be the same baluster design my dad used at his cottage. So with all that concrete we needed to get a permit in case someone wondered what we were doing back there. I don't think anyone would question a simple wood deck - so many people assemble them on successive weekends the question of "permit" never really comes up. This is different so it is best to be conservative.

Anyway, I'll have some more details in upcoming days, possibly with pictures. I need to record all the digging I'm going to have to do over the next little while...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Terrestrial Transport Module

I like my car. The car I drive to and from work. It is my own insular space with my music. It is comfy and it handles well. It jumps nicely from the line but has good fuel economy. Some may call it a bit of a fad car, but I do have a Y2K Bug. I bought it because my son was still living the womblife and hoped to some day explain what Y2K was all about so he too will get the hilarity of the Y2K bug.

Seriously - I bought a New Beetle TDI on Oct 21, 1999 but it was a 2000 model year. It has a wonderful diesel engine and I have always liked driving it. I probably paid too much for it at a time when I shouldn't have bought a new car. That mistake still has repercussions today, but I still like my car. So I wasn't too pleased when I was informed a few days back that my exhaust was "dangling".

"What, like hanging? "
"Yah - saw it bouncing around while you were driving."
"You should probably get that fixed before it falls off."

Sounds like a poorly scripted pharmaceutical commercial. Waving in the breeze. Hanging free and easy. Bustin loose. I mean really. REALLY!?! I was shocked. Shocked! SHOCKED!! Okay, not that shocked (that's the second Futurama joke I just stole, so pay attention). Kind of hard to watch what your muffler does as your driving. I guess I'd need a system of mirrors and minor body work and it could be done, but not by me. Not now anyway.

So, on a lark, I called the dealership where I regularly get my car serviced. I wondered if the extensive work ($2500 worth!) completed last November had anything to do with the problem. That work involved removing the rear axle and replacing a vexing bushing that supports the entire rear suspension. Sounds like a candidate for trouble, don't it? Given the fact that the techs forgot to reattach a plastic cover over the rear axle properly, I didn't find leaving out some exhaust hangers out of the realm of possibility.

Phone call made it through to service and I got the man I was looking for - Geoff. He's the reason I keep coming back to the dealership. He told me to bring it right on in. Geoff stopped working there for awhile and I looked at other garages, but abandoned that when he came back. I've found his explanations the right mix of detail and summary and he has tried hard to get a good deal for me whenever possible. Dealerships have a particular process when fixing cars, which makes my life more expensive, but Geoff helps me navigate. Dealerships make more money off the servicing of vehicles than selling them, especially in recent years. Sale prices are low to keep everything moving, but the service lasts a long time and keeps you looking at newer versions of the same thing. Everything in a dealership garage is generally "fine" or "needs to be replaced". This binary coarseness is where the money disappears.

Here's an excellent example of what a "mechanic" at a dealership does, that happens to be apropos to this tale. One day, I started my car and thought something was different. A few seconds later I identified the issue - a huge increase in the noise the car was making. Got it into the dealership within about a day and immediately the problem was obvious - there was a crack in the exhaust. Now VW uses a two-piece exhaust, with the piece from the manifold down to the catalytic converter being ending in a sleeve. The piece from the middle to the muffler is the other piece. One piece fits inside the other and is clamped shut, providing strength and there are no welds to cut through when replacing the muffler. However the aforementioned crack was just forward of the sleeve, putting it in the "catalytic converter" section. Standard dealership procedure is to replace the "defective part". This part would have cost < $1200, plus labour. Did I mention that this was a diesel Beetle? That means the engine is inserted with Vaseline and a shoehorn, if everything goes well. I think there would have been at least an hour of labour added to that total. So Geoff comes out, explains this to me and says "Look, just bring this to the Mufflerman and they'll weld that piece shut for like $20. It'll hold indefinitely - the exhaust shouldn't have broken there anyway." I took his advice and it cost more than $20 (1/2 of labour) but it was a lot less and it was the correct repair for the problem.

So how is this apropos? (Without spell checking, you would've been treated to "a pres paux" or "apres paut"). Turns out the clamp-in-the-middle system makes the whole thing pretty strong, but there is also a hanger by the muffler to keep things from swaying in the breeze. So I bring in my transport module in a lovely oxidized J was identified as the U-shaped bracket that should be holding the goodies, er muffler, in place. Replace bracket (which involves a small weld), weld the bracket in the middle which had flexed and moved out of place and voila! Two french phrases in one post! Or a nice non-bouncing muffler.

While I was waiting for the work to be done, I chatted up someone from sales. I had heard (from my buddy Geoff in service) that VW was going to be reintroducing a new emission-approved diesel system for the 2008 model year. And within a few years there was going to be a sweet diesel Rabbit for sale - right in my price range. Stuart (I hope I spelled his name correctly) confirmed that, 2008 would see a couple of models with the diesel option. Nothing for sure, but there would be a diesel Rabbit in the 2010 or 2011 model year. In other words, some time for me to start saving up for something new. Stuart and I chatted about my current vehicle. He indicated that they can't keep Beetles on the lot, which is good to hear. Also, all current VW models have 4-wheel disc brakes, something I've always liked.

Stuart was curious about the fuel economy. In recent times (the last 3 years or so), my fuel usage was between 5 L/100Km to 7L/100Km, driving however I want to. And I likes the torque, if you know what I mean. The diesel Beetle is still one of the most fuel-efficient cars out there, even when the EPA changed its measurement protocol. There still isn't a hybrid that can compete, mainly because most are used to justify larger vehicles. I really don't want a vehicle that doesn't have a real economy closer to 5L/100Km than 9L/100Km. The latter is what alot of so called "efficient" cars use. For now, I fill up once every two weeks, driving 1 hour every work day (there and back). Hopefully this repair will make the ride a little more smooth and improve fuel economy a little more. And keep this car going strong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some kind of blogger-ful

My well meaning idea of trying to blog everyday is has not lived up to its description. I'm still going to use that description because something like "do some writing every time you feel like it - at least 4 times a week, but try and spread them out a little" is hard to communicate. Today contains many little nuggets, so it should be easy.

First thing was a little sport - but I've already detailed that outing in verbose fashion. The current work project I've been toiling at hasn't really had a clearly defined end-point. Until today that is - I want to take some time off in August to work on my "raised patio" (yes that is what I am calling it). Mid-August is the target, which I'm taking to be the 2nd and 3rd weeks in August. That is fine as long as I can wrap up said project by then. So I have a goal and a deadline.

Still haven't returned my RMA'd video card and it's starting to bother my CS:S performance. I guess I got used to the excellent visuals my 6800GT produced and the Ti4200GT is just not cutting it. Well, that should be done soon - in the next few days.

Also got hooked up with Rogers Hi-Speed express yesterday, but ran into a snag right off the bat. The ethernet wiring in my home - installed be me and a good friend of mine - is not done. It's in the walls, but there aren't really any connectors or wall plates and there is no plug-panel or terminator in the basement. Plus all the wires are hanging down and in the way in the basement. Not a big deal because no one is down there much, but my DSL modem (and now my cable modem) are down there. And there is one cable hooked up. We added a connector to the end of one cable and added one wall plate so that the computer room would have a connection to the (appropriate) modem. The connector on the end of this cable seems to be a bit sensitive, so when I plugged it into the cable modem, no signal was getting though. So I have to look into that and possible change the connector. I don't want to finish the plug panel because I can't really afford it. It's going to cost ~$200 for the panel and plates. Then I'd need a rack or something to attach it to. Using the backing for they hydro breakers is a non-starter as it isn't big enough. And probably not a good idea to run Cat6 near such a large electrical field. I do have a line on some nice standard, full-size racks that will become available eventually. I'd like to wait until then as they would be much nicer than anything I could afford to by new.

I'd also like to send anyone who may stumble upon this to Five Years, Five Lakes, Two bicycles! This is the online journal a coworker is maintaining as he travels by bicycle around Lake Superior. Something he pointed out to me is that not only is he biking around the lake, but he biked to the start from home and from the finish to home. So it's a pretty big undertaking. He's a fair ways along, as he started in Michigan and is now on the western side of the lake! Also check out this Google mashup to track where he's been. Quite the adventure - something I'm interested in doing, but really cannot at this point. Hard enough dealing with time off properly, let alone telling my wife "oh I took 2 weeks off and I'll see you 2 weeks. Bye!!!" I think my kids wouldn't be all that pleased either... Maybe they'd be okay with it as I wouldn't be hogging the computer. Ahh the sweet tradeoffs that make life the chewy chocolate biscuit it is. Or something.

Hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey all the time!

Started off this Tuesday with a fine round of hockey. Nothing like playing hockey, especially in the middle of the summer! Since I started up again a few years ago I recalled how much I like being in the arena and the chill before you get warmed up, the fun of playing on a smooth surface. Playing in the summer is all that, but its freakishly warm outside! Always fun to walk into a room that has it's own fog bank. Memorable moments today - stopped a puck on the goal line (playing defense) and setup then scored in a pretty play that began behind the net in the offensive zone. Shot the puck to the half-boards and immediately circled back to the front of the net. No one to pick me up, the person on the half boards sent the puck right through the middle and the 5 hole opened up nicely. One of the few one-timers that I have connected solidly on. Also made a few good plays along the boards in the defensive end digging the puck out. Also memorable was the spear I delivered to myself. Chasing the puck around the offensive net, my blade caught the mesh and stick went right at my stomach. Threw the net off the moorings and left me shocked that I didn't have a stick through my middle. I got better though. I was surprised at the immediate after-effects - almost seeing stars and I wasn't 100% for about 2 minutes. I was okay for the rest of the game though.

Today was one of those days were one team seemed to have a spontaneous organization to it - probably because all the players had some organized play experience. That team happened to be my team (or the "blue pinnie" team). Teams are chosen by throwing sticks (make a big pile, grab two and throw one to the left and one to the right). Adjustments are made so that all the good players aren't on one team, but the system doesn't produce perfect balance.

The blue team started off with well-positioned defense and balanced offense. On the attack, we usually carried the puck in (or dumped it in a few times) and had at least two people there. That provides some nice options and can often turn into a 2-on-1 situation. Defensively, there was always a man back - I don't think there was more than 1 breakaway for the other team. The other team didn't stick to even vague positions for very long, leading to several breakaways and the odd-man rushes. It's hard to describe exactly what the difference is, but I can tell when I'm on that team. If I'm on the bench watching I can tell when a team reaches this cohesive play state, but not while I'm on the ice.

Actually that's not entirely true. I can tell if I pay attention to my own reactions to the other team. If they are well-positioned, I'm more easily frustrated in my attempts to clear the puck, so that's usually a good sign.

Anyway, it was a good game today. Four on four with a sub on each side. Twelve skaters would be better (then it's 5-v-5 with 1 sub each) but it is the summer. I don't know why it is so difficult to get people out during the summer. I mean I understand that more people are on vacation but there is a weird drop-off where people who are not on vacation don't show up either. Personally I being at work all the time means that it isn't an issue to show up - I'm around anyway. At most I'll have a couple of weeks off, but I can't afford distant vacations so I usually work in some games then anyway. Another problem for our group is the people who were former regulars that aren't showing up (like Ed and Peter and claude). I mean just because Claude's wife had a baby doesn't mean you miss hockey! Sheesh! Ed probably has some work-related stuff that's "holding him back" - fiduciary responsibilities my butt! Peter needs to make our partners and 3rd party vendors understand that hockey is more important. Fortunately, I've heard rumor that some may actually return to the ice and wield the stick again.

I am still pretty darn happy that I have found a place to play hockey again. And in the summer. It's all good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Computational update

I'm not doing too spectacularly in the "blog every day" department, but I thought I'd write up something about my computer. I haven't done anything about my video card, even though I have an RMA number for it. Maybe I'll call them back today and point out that I haven't gotten a mailing label, just the same RMA form as before. This form says that in the US, use the BFG Tech corporate UPS account to get things sent back, (you just have to supply the packed box). This does not apply to Canada, so if I don't get a pre-paid mailer or promise of financial compensation, I'm not sure what is up.

Other than that, things seem pretty good with the ol' machine. I've had some Win32 services die on startup, but no blue-screens. The same old punishment continues, so I guess things are okay.

In the punishment department, I've loaded up the "Insurgency" Mod for Half-life2. It's basically Battlefield 2 on the Source engine. So far, pretty good, despite the beta status. I'll be much happier when I get the better video card as this mod is very "realistic". That means no maps and no coloured tags over the players. You have to recognize that the little blur down there is a friend or foe on your own. The worst bugs I've found are in the squad system - there is no canceling and there is no easy way to switch types if the squad is full. However I've just randomly hit a number and been given the class even though the slot is full. There are too many specialist slots (rpg, sapper on insurgents) and not enough simple rifleman.

Anyway, that's the update for now. Still haven't brought back my old RAM for warranty stuff, but there is still time.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Moderate success!

I have complained, to all who would listen, about my computer troubles over the last few months. It has been most annoying and interfered with my gaming, er blogging. So I thought I'd take some time to describe what has been going on.

A few years back, I invested in a new system. Althon 3500+, MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum (Nforce3 250 Ultra chipset), OCZ PC3500EL (2x512 MB match pair), 250 GB Seagate HD (7200.8 SATA interface), DVD+/-R CD-RW/R, Antec Sonata case, Antec TruePower 480 PS, BFG 6800GT OC. At the time, pretty cutting edge without breaking the bank. In recent months, instability has crept in. At first, I thought it was something with the North Bridge - specifically the fan on it. The AGP slot goes right over the fan and 6800 GT is known for its prodigious heat production. This suspicion was later confirmed when the fan started making noise. Being lazy, I just let it be with blue-screens and lock-ups happening frequently.

Then the video card failed. Streaks of random colour appeared across the display. I must take action - no one can use the computer like this! I called BFG, who have a life-time warranty on their products. They determined, over the phone, that the RAM on the video card had an issue and I would have to send it back. They gave me an RMA number and I sent it back. They have excellent tech support, when you can get through, btw. Concurrently, I ordered a new heatsink/fan combo for my north bridge and some fresh thermal grease. Then I pulled my MSI Ti4200GT from my old machine to continue hobbling along. One can't be entirely without the Inter-weeb, don cha ya know.

The new parts and the replacement card arrived a week or so later. I order a Vantec VGA/chipset kit. The heatsink/fan combo was intended for older video cards to replace a passive heatsink with a copper-based one and integrated fan. My motherboard used the same fan/heatsink layout so this would be a drop-in replacement. Unfortuneately, I had to remove my motherboard to pop the retention pins out from underneath. The first thing I noticed was that the original heatsink/fan was so light - barely any metal at all! That and the reason the fan wasn't working was because the intake fins were clogged with dust. Ugh. The replacement heatsink/fan was copper and had some heft to it so I just made a mental note to clean that out every month or so. Replaced the motherboard, swapped in my cooling tower heatsink (a Thermaltake Silent Tower) and the replacement 6800GT. Everything fired up nicely, much much cooler than before, but the machine locked up hard when XP was started. Eventually tracked it down to the replacement card - it worked fine in VGA mode (during boot, in Windows XP Safe Mode) but as soon as the drivers tried to initialize it, the entire machine locked up hard. I swapped in the old Ti4200GT and away we went. The random lockups are done!

But they weren't or course. The problems that I attributed to heat weren't really the cause of all the problems. I finally fired up UBCD (Universal Boot CD) with memtest86+ and quickly discovered that one of the OCZ modules was producing constant errors. I swapped the locations to see if it was a motherboard issue, but the problem moved to the other bank. So off I went to get some replacement memory. I was tempted to get more RAM - move to 2 GB from 1 GB, but money reality really was suggesting that I should do a simple replacement. The best local price I saw was about $39 for a single 512MB stick, and I intended to buy two to fully replace what I had. I ended up going to KoolComputers (Wharncliffe store) and was surprised when the store clerk dug up some OCZ modules! I said that I had a matched pair of OCZ that developed a prolem and she indicated that they deal with OCZ all the time. If I wanted to use the lifetime warranty on the OCZ modules they would be able to do it on my behalf. Sounded good, but I needed something now. The replacement modules were slightly lower spec (PC3200 vs PC3500) but they had the nice heatspreaders and were $49 each! Awesome. Went home and ran them through memtestx86+ again, with no errors. So it has been half a day and so far the reliability has been high. I'm hoping that's the source of the reliability issues. Next up, performance!

That leads right back to the 6800 GT. I had spent 28 minutes on hold with BFG waiting for an operator. Especially infuriating was the point 5 minutes in when the system informed me that it would be about 3 minutes until the next call. After waiting an additional 20, I hung up and called back. That time the voice said 16 minutes. Since I didn't want to wait until next week, I left to go get my replacement RAM. I called back on return and got through immediately. The tech listened to my description of the problem and said that I'd need to send it back. That was okay - I expected that. What I didn't expect was the "Since the card we sent you was defective, we'll send you a label so you don't have to pay to send it back." Awesome again! The call was done in 11 minutes, punctuated with several minutes silence while the tech consulted various things. I look forward to the next round with the video card.

This brings me to my experiences with BFG Tech support. I have been the guy answering the phone before and I've called other tech support lines, although very rarely. The BFG support line has been the best I've experienced, for one main reason - they listen to what you say first and then figure out the next step. When they ask what the problem is, I summarize the problem and describe what I did to fix it. This is usually enough for the tech to determine that I've done all the simple things (reboot, try new drivers, tighten connections etc etc) and more complex things (replace card with a known good card and what happens). This last call and the call where I sent back my original card were excellent examples. They listened and when I was done, the first words were "well, sounds like you have a defective card, we'll set you up with an RMA." I was so pleased that I wasn't told "so let's try using the latest drivers" or some-such.

Anyway, all you people (okay, the one guy who reads my blog on occasion) have been treated to an extra long edition. I will try for the "more often, less long" philosophy in the future, but I've been starved of writing entries of late.