“Hey Alexa…Score me some weed….”

I have an echo dot.

I didn’t buy it. I would never think of buying it. It was a gift.

IMG_0653Amazon Echo is basically an interface into Amazon, to put it simply. It’s a voice activated web appliance. I’m certain the goal of this thing is to simply hook Amazon into your life, mostly to buy crap, and add a few other features. They are always finding inventive ways for you to buy stuff. The worst I’ve seen is the pushbutton that you mash to reorder stuff. So instead of mashing a button device, like a rat pressing a bar for another pellet, to have your chocolate covered pork rinds sent, you can say “Alexa, order more chocolate pork rinds…”

You can also have it run your Amazon TV, play your Amazon music, run your Internet-of-Things (IoT). It’s basically an appliance that you use like Siri on an iPhone. But since it’s inhabiting your space, you don’t have to find it to use it. Simply holler out.

What’s good about it?

Not much. It has a great speaker, so it plays radio and music well. And it is convenient. I mostly use it to listen to talk radio in the mornings, and light lights. I’m to lazy to learn how to tell it do do anything else.

Here’s the deal, I work with voice processing software all day  long. Our software will read your emails to you, it’ll tell you appointments, which you can also create via voice. I still find it easier to use my iPhone for those things, as well as to turn my lights off and one, and order shit from Amazon.

The one time I had our system read me emails was when I drove 20 miles to a partner, totally forgotten who I was there to meet, reached down to discover I left my blackberry (at the time) back home. I could call in on the courtesy phone and say “Get read emails..” And so it was with Alexa. Through an unfortunate series of events (I tried to fix my screen) my iPhone was destroyed. So I could say “Alexa, Turn off the office lights”. That said, I simply could have manually turned them off.

What’s bad?

All those devices you want to turn off and on? You need connector software and devices. I picked Phillips HUE lightbulbs, since they are ubiquitous at the local Home Depot. To get them to work, you need a HUE bridge, and app. Phillips doesn’t sell smart plugs, so I had to get another device, and another app. Just because it says “Works with Alexa” doesn’t mean it does so natively. You need to tie the apps (and their logins) to Amazon. You still need the apps on your phone, which are often faster. I’ve had a few times when I’ve said “Alexa, turn off the porch light”, she says “OK” and nothing happens.

No matter what it is, and where you send your creds, I”m not a huge fan of a third party having ties to other parts of my digital world. But that’s me.

Here’s another – Not everyone is into the IoT scene. Alexa, more often than not, ignores my wife. Who then simply turns the light off manually, which makes the whole thing useless. Especially when you’ve programmed lights to come on and off while away.

Can’t do that if the missus has turned them off.

Do I think Amazon is spying on me?

No. Not any more than they are already.

What a waste that would be. I’m certain they track purchases and which are ordered via Alexa. But snooping? No. The product I work with day in and day out records as well. It records words it doesn’t understand. If it says “I didn’t understand…” it has recorded a wav file so if a tech needs to analyze what happened they can hear it for themselves.

Which is what I’m certain Alexa is doing. Voice Recognition Technology can be emotionally challenging. Ever catch yourself yelling at the call center’s system when you’ve called in? You don’t want that to happen when people are buying stuff. Ever. Besides, consider scale. Consider the infrastructure to store all that data, all that voice, and the amount of dough it would cost to mine it.

Safe bet it isn’t happening.

So I’ll stand by my opening. It’s useful to some extent. Still doubt I’d have bought it.

Fundamentals (part one)

I grew up around men who fixed things. And fixed them properly. They showed me the way to do nearly everything, and started with the fundamentals. Things that if you get wrong at the beginning, everything else will be screwed as well. I thought of this as I watched my neighbors fence go up, replacing the old one felled by the storm a few weeks ago.

It looks like it was built by teenagers.

Because it was.

It was a painful thing to witness. Day one they had a crew of three, and a hammer. A single hammer between three guys to take down the two parts of the fence still standing. One attached to my fence at the rear and at the front, the part where I had replaced the posts. After awhile watching this in the camera system, I waddled out and lent them my 4′ crowbar and a sledge. Later in the day, I went out with some handy advice – Get a cordless drill. You aren’t going to beat or pry 3.5″ deck screws out of my brand new posts. Fundamental: Get the right tools for the job. If you are going to do this  work, get proper hand tools, a cordless drill, and a sawz-all.  I learned long ago do get the best tools I could afford. Even when I was just starting out, I bought the best I could get. FFS, at harbor freight, hand tools like crowbars and sledges are stupid cheap. I came back from a job one day when I was installing sound systems and handed my boss my tool belt to store in his office, so I wouldn’t have to carry it on the subway.  His eyes popped at  the belt I handed him, full of Channelock, Klein, and other high end tools.

Day two, the crew chief showed up, a beer bellied dude about my age. At that point, they looked like kids playing soccer, moving around as a group, for the most part. True, they had badly underestimated the job at hand. The fence apparently had been replaced at least once before, and there was a ton of extraneous concrete where they needed to plant posts. I could’ve told them that, as I found this out when I replaced two posts. Looks like there was a chain link fence at one point that they merely sidestepped when the last fence was installed. It took a lot of pain to deal with this. I suggested they rock up to Home Depot and rent a demolition hammer (an electric jackhammer). That’s what I had to do. The tubby dude complained they only bid two days. Seems correct. I’ve seen fence replacements (by people that knew what they were doing) and it took about that long. Fundamental: Never give a fixed price before giving a long hard look, especially on an older property. I told the dude he should carry a 1/4″ aluminum rod to probe the ground around fence posts to be certain. When it comes to installing physical networks, I never, EVER, give fixed price unless I’ve sized the job up, and also why I do not do residential. These days services like Thumbtack want you to quote sight unseen. I quote my hourly rate-always.

When they started building the thing, I noticed the tall section was really tall. Much more so than when I replaced the posts. Tubby dude said my neighbor said it was 10′. It wasn’t. It was 8′. I pointed at my new posts (That they had removed) lying on the ground and said “It was 8′. Those posts are 10′, and 2′ was buried. Undaunted they moved on. Here’s the issue – 10′ is against code and he’ll surely set my neighbor to catch the jaundiced eye of the city. The day is coming. Worse yet, I see no permit. I’m certain you need one. You need one for everything here. Fundamental: The customer isn’t always right about everything. See above about quoting. You could look at the thing and see it wasn’t 10′. Measure the SOB, and ask about a permit if you are contracting.IMG_0634

As they started building the fence, it became very apparent they had no clue. they started at the front, the high end, and worked their way back, using a line on the top as a guide.

What resulted was twofold – the cross-members are crooked as they tried to match the fence at the back of my yard (Why? Who knows!) and when they put up the planks they hit a spot where it’s 6″ off the deck, then drops to meet the back fence height. Looks like shit. Fundamental: Start from the known (my fence) and work back. 

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You know you want a nice corner, build that, then move forward to the new part. And, work from the bottom – the ground is a known. You put a plank on the ground as a level and spacer (to keep the planks off the ground – (they suck up water and rot) and let the top take care of itself (Tip: it’ll be level). If you want  a fancy header, you can bolt that on and trim. Easier to do on top than the bottom (where they covered the gap with 2x6s).

Later, one of the younger dudes, an dot-indian kid that tubby dude said wanted to get into the business, showed up with a retail grade compressor and finish nailer to fasten the bottom of the fence pickets to the 2×6 boards running on the ground. The exact, wrong way to do such a task.

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To make it worse, He showed up later to paint the fence with a pump sprayer you normally use with insecticide.

It looked worse than shit.

What finally broke me was turning out the driveway one day to see the same dot-indian kid painting the fence with a 2″ brush, one you’d use on trim. I was about to go back, get him one of my 4″ brushes.

Then I thought: Fuck this. Fuck them. They leave, I’ll fix the part I see from my  yard myself.

Don’t be lazy. Do it right, or don’t do it at all.

Here’s the point. Before you get started on anything, there a fundamental concepts you have to consider. And here’s the sadder point still, these young men could have and should have had mentoring to show them how the job is done.

But they didn’t learn that. All they learned was the pain of failure, if anything at all.

 

 

 

[Screwit] I’m old. Gimme free [stuff]

The actual line is; “Fuckit, I’m old. Gimme free shit”, from Justin Halpern’s Sh*t my Dad Says.”  Pretty funny book.

That said, I don’t feel old. But there’s been a lot of “huh…wonder why they said that” going on with me. For instance, I’ve had a few older ladies, at social functions, ask me “Are you still working?”. I’m 56. Of course I still work. I pretty much have to, and will probably have to until I drop.

I think it’s the grey hair that does it. I consider myself lucky. After Chemo, it was white. And I’ve been feeling the aches of the aged lately.

But what started this moment of clarity was my son. We were talking after dinner one Sunday, and I was prattling on about the average age of trades guys being mid-fifties, and many I know working the trades in their seventies. So I said something along the lines of “I’m thinking of getting into HVAC. It’ll be a good gig when I’m old”.

To which my son replied “Heh…Yeah…When.”

Ahh…the acorn don’t fall far from the tree. Irish wit must be a dominant gene.

Very funny.

I’ve been meaning to get back to weightlifting, and bought a cheap set of iron to get back into shape where going to a gym is worth it. So I went to the local rec center to check it out. The one I belonged to in Plano had a nice array of freeweights. This one, did not. Only machines. So as I’m asking the reception dude about the lack of iron, he starts selling me on attending the senior center. Wut?

All these things got me thinking hard about what I should be doing as I age.

One of the businesses I have includes doing network and security camera support. I’ve done a few jobs in homes lately that were punishing. Although I’m good at it, I’m not sure it’s for me. There are other reasons, like they don’t pay real well for the hassle, but I’ve already told my partner I’m done with this, unless he wants to do it with a helper, which will drive down the profitability further. I’m simply not as agile as I used to be. My recovery times are in days rather than hours.

And besides, that was part of my career that I liked the least. A necessary evil.

But back to the title. Am I really old enough to start glomming discounts? It’s worth looking into. Pride may keep me from doing it, but entertainment value of being a penny pinching pain in the ass may be worth it.

That was one big assed storm

My city got battered by the most intense storm I’ve ever witnessed Sunday.
That said, I’ve been through tropical storms, including some good Texas ones, but I’ve normally slept through them. What’s funny is nearly zero of the smart tech devices I have gave me any warning whatsoever. We went to Mass, then breakfast. All in all a normal Sunday. I sized up my weather app and it said 60% chance starting at 4 or so. Fair enough. I figured I’d knock out the mowing, stain the fence posts I replaced a few weeks ago, and maybe throw down some grass seed for the upcoming rain. Easy day.
But as I started, it got darker and darker. I had only the side yard left. Took one pass, and as I turned towards the back I could see hell was coming to lunch. A few seconds after hitting the garage it opened up. I was watching it from the Patio with my trusty protective sidekick, Jethro, but it got way too windy so we retreated. I was texting back and forth with the missus, and checking the radar on my iPad. Somewhere along the line I heard an explosion like a transformer cutting loose, and peered out the window at the road. That sound is also similar to an idiot not paying attention and plowing into another car at high speed. No power interruption though.

storm
Oh, so that’s what the red parts are like…
Soon enough It was just light rain and I ventured out to see what the deal was.
The deal was about a foot of water in the busy intersection near my house. The storm dumped like a foot of rain in a short, short time.
So I took some video, texted some, and walked back in my gate. Then I saw it – The storm had smote my neighbor’s fence’s ruin upon my yard. It pretty much was down, except for a small section in the corner and the section I had just rebuilt.
My big shepherd mix – Jethro, stood on the wreckage of the fence and pretty much claimed my neighbors back yard as his territory, and looked like he was about to repel my neighbor from his own back yard.  I got him inside and then picked up on the the devastation all around. I won’t catalog it all, that’s not the point of this post.
But, trees down, power out, fences ruined. A house south of us had a huge tree fall on it’s roof. Texas storm damage. It was our time, this time.
IMG_0546
There was a foot of water in the intersection near my house.
So what was good?
  • This is Texas. And although DFW is a yuge metroplex, most of it is like a small town. In my neighborhood and all over, neighbors were helping each other out – Clearing brush, running a power cord from their house with power to their neighbor without. Neighbors were out checking on the elderly in our block. By Monday, most of the folks in my neighborhood had piles of brush in front. Most of the yards were clear.
  • We have a functioning utility infrastructure. My power was out 16 hours or so, but it came back nearly to the minute Oncor said it would. The 250K without power, got whittled down in days. Sure it blows to have no power. But what they had to do, they did in a pretty short time, all things considered. They called in resources from other states, probably the instant they realized the scope of the outage, because there were bucket trucks all over starting Sunday evening.
  • I have two whirlpool refrigerators. My wife picked up ice, which we put in the fridge and freezer sections. The next day, nearly everything was still cold, or frozen. We lost almost no food.
  • It was cool enough that no AC wasn’t a huge deal.
  •  I have two big, protective, territorial dogs. Ain’t no way anyone breaches the perimeter unscathed. A construction dude nearly collided with me on a walk the other day and the female – the smaller of the two – went for his throat. I can’t imaging what happens when someone tries to enter the house uninvited.
What was bad?
  • We’re woefully unprepared for this stuff. I have two mobile phones, and both were low when the storm hit. Good thing is I have two APC 1500 battery backups for work. Those chugged away powering the interwebs and charging my phones for hours before they gave up.  I need to get a generator. I’ll wait until people forget, and the price goes back down.
  • My chainsaw is electric. I did that on purpose. My gas one sucked. So I’m consoled by the thought that had I still had my gas saw, it wouldn’t have started and I’d have flown into a rage like I nearly did last time it failed me. So the branches I had to clear, I did so with an ax. I have a collection of really sharp axes. It’s more satisfying anyhow.
  • There were creepy disaster porn people floating around. A dude stopped and hectored me about people in the neighborhood not keeping things up. I didn’t recognize the dude or his car. It was a spectacularly dumb thing to say to a rather pissed off Irish dude holding an ax. He caught me off guard. Otherwise, I’d have sunk the ax into his hood.
  • There were dumbshits doing dumb shit all over. How do I know? Sirens. All. Night. Long.
  • Between the weirdos and the dumbshits, I had enough and moved my .44 to the nightstand from my office when I went to bed. Screw them. The dogs will tell me long before I need to act. If they survive the beasts, I’d cap them with a .44 talon.
  • My driveway has a gate. An electric one. If I needed to venture out, I’d have to decouple the chain drive. See “generator” above. I think that’s the key here.
  • My truck was behind the gate. I spent all day clearing limbs and propping up the destroyed fence. Although I gave up alcohol. I wanted a beer. Bad. But there was none to be had. Power was out for miles around. I settled for water.
  • I stream nearly everything. I have no way to listen to radio, or get info without power. The alternative was to sit in my truck burning power and gas.
I love reading prepper sites. A lot of them, I take with a grain of salt. But, there are some things I need to do. A generator comes to mind, as well as the ability to store enough gas to run the thing at least a week. I can’t get on internet, I can’t work.
I need more guns and ammo. I have a serviceable collection, but there’s room for improvement. I also need my carry permit.
I picked up a battery radio (the only other one is in the cars) and a really cool solar charger for my phone/ipad.
I need to store more non perishable food.
It was a tough few days, but a really good learning experience.

Updates

Whoa! it’s been quite some time since I’ve added anything here.

I was overcome by events. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

So, let’s start.

Behold, the end tables, which I have as the main pic up above.

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They came out OK. One thing I’d like to add about Harbor Freight from my last post; with some things you buy there, in my case an air sprayer, you need to upgrade as soon as you get a comfort factor with the tool, even though you don’t use it often. In my case, I thought I made a minor adjustment (which I should have tested first) and the spray gun dribbled onto one of the tabletops. This caused a massive imperfection in the finish, which had to be sanded out and the top re-lacquered.

So, I’m in the market for a better spray gun.

Now that I’ve had my Apple watch for awhile, it’s lost some of it’s luster. One of the major negatives is battery life. Still long enough – more than a day, but short enough that when you find it’s time to leave for an appointment, the damn thing needs charging. And then this happened:
0117a4111caaa1b2b22b0070e059bb3b010aeb593eThat there is a big honkin’ crack, right at the top. So, do-it-your-selfer that I am, I started looking at new screens. To have Apple fix it costs nearly as much (almost) as I paid for the watch itself.

I don’t like it that much. The cheapest screen I can find would buy me a decent wristwatch.

I recently got a Ring Doorbell, which is Ok, and I’ll write about that later, but the app tells me there’s someone at my door, but I can’t do anything with that information, other than snooze the motion alerts.

I may fix it later, but these days I’m in no mood. I dropped my iPhone off my desk, something I’ve done many times before. But this time it hit at a funky angle on the top corner and cracked the screen. The one part that the case I bought didn’t cover. Replacing it was tedious in the extreme. Add to that the first screen Amazon shipped me didn’t work, screwing up the home button in the process. I was so pissed, I nearly threw it at the wall, and reactivated my spare 6S plus.

It’s fixed now, but I’ve already cracked it again. I will say that the screen kit, by Milmont, was pretty complete.

I have a lot to say about Cameras, having installed Ring, Nest, and a more conventional setup. So keep tuned.

Stalwart Mouse Sander

To be honest, I had no idea what this thing was called. I bought it cheap at Harbor Freight. and had to go look at the box to figure out anything about it.

Here’s the deal. I’m a tool snob. If it’s something I use a lot, or use professionally, I’ll buy the best. That’s why my telecom and NW toolkit is festooned with ChannelLock, Klein, and high end tools. They’ve served me well. Most of my high end tools I’ve had for over twenty years.

I have friends in the trades that have the opposite philosophy. Fully expecting their tools to get broken or stolen, they buy the cheapest they can. There’s some merit to this.

Enter into the picture, Harbor Freight Tools. This is where I go when I need something, and either want to try it out, or know I won’t use it much and don’t want to spend a ton of dough. In this case, I bought this sander to refinish guitars. I don’t do a ton of this, so I went cheap. I think this thing cost me about $15. Turns out, I didn’t need it at the time since the instrument I was working on polished up OK, and the next one in line is so screwed, I have to buy a new neck, which will come pre-sanded.

But, Finishing guitars is harder than furniture and I have some cool end tables to do, and the gear to do it. Although, I don’t think I’ll use my high gloss instrument lacquer on them.

At hand is my grandmothers end tables, which through a series of incidents, I’ve wound up with. They’ve been through a few people, and were hurting.

 

The other one has paint drops on it, courtesy of my oldest kid. So I hit them with the belt sander.

 

They are solid mahogany, from probably the first part of the 20th century. There’s no telling. Where there is veneer, it’s an astonishing 2mm thick.

Sanding this, I get the sweet smell of mahogany but also the hard candy and incense my grandmother kept in the drawers which is causing me to have flashbacks.

The mouse sander is working as it should, hitting all the places my other two sanders can’t reach, leaving me with very little left to deal with by hand.

So far, It’s worked flawlessly, since I found 220 grit pads at Home Depot that work great.

Here’s the deal. I don’t use some of these tools daily, weekly, or even monthly. If I did, I’d surely buy Dewalt or another pro series tool. But for this, the Harbor Freight tool hits the mark.

What it looks like now:

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Keep tuned. I had an issue where I noticed a brace wasn’t glued any more and had to repair it. In a week or two I’ll shoot it with old school lacquer. They were reddish brown, and I have those dyes. So we’ll see. They should be stunning.

The Media in general, these days.

I don’t read newspapers anymore.

Nor do I watch network news, or even cable news.

Why?

They lie. And it’s too much work to figure things out. You have to visit many internet sites, and see a bunch of media before you eventually get the gist of what happened. The clue here is to hit the sites from other countries. They generally don’t have a dog in the fight, so what you’ll get is more factual than not. Then, compare it to the American sites and media. Eventually the truth seeps out, but it takes time.

When a big story hits, what I find is:

  1. It’s probably not happening at all, or anywhere near like they are reporting.
  2. If it did happen, it probably has been going on sometime and the media has ignored it, or covered for someone.
  3. The amount you should care is inversely proportional to the intensity of the hysterics from the left.

Take this week’s immigration fiasco, for instance. #1 – I know people in law enforcement, and various Christian and Catholic ministries. You aren’t being told the scale, or the nature of the problem, and haven’t been since like 2013. That covers #2 as well. This was happening in Obama’s administration, an no one said or did jack about it. What they did was outsource the problem to various christian ministries to deal with. #3, All I can think of is Nancy Pelosi moaning about inherent human dignity when responding to Trumps “animals” remark about MS-13.

As Victor Hanson said – “When was the last time a dead body turned up on your property?” He’s had several, thanks to California’s malfeasance dealing with illegals. Hell, even my well healed hometown in Northern VA has had a gut-full of it. One of the reasons we moved was the high school my kids would attend sported like four different gangs. This, in an upper middle class enclave of DC.

The amount of propaganda these guys have been spewing would make Goebbels blush.

Bottom line is thus:

  1. Through incompetence or malfeasance, both the legislative and executive branches has created an enormous problem.
  2. You aren’t being told about it, and haven’t been for nearly a decade.
  3. Immigration is broken. It’s too hard to come in legally, and too easy to come in illegally.

I use occam’s razor. The simplest solution is the best – turn them away – all of them. Period. Go back, and do it right. Every country in the world works this way. Keep in mind that since…uh…forever (at least since the potato famine) unchecked immigration knocks the citizens already here off the bottom rung of the ladder. Always has.

I’m not anti-immigrant by any means. My grandparents were immigrants. When I started in IT, I worked with Vietnamese and Middle Eastern dudes that put the bar so high that it was nearly unreachable. I’ve never worked with such skilled, hardworking, great people before or since. When I was working with them they were better friends and mentors than I deserved. And I’m better for it.

But you’d never know that unless I said so. Because these tools in the media are the last people to tell you what is really happening.