Archive for November 2007

Qualifications to become President

November 29, 2007

Lately there seems to be an unusually heated debate on what qualifies a candidate to serve in the capacity of President of the United States.

Other than requiring that the candidate be born in the United States and be a citizen of the United States the only other major requirement is that they receive a majority of electoral votes.

Does not matter if you are a congressman, senator, governor, mayor, or janitor. It is that final vote tally that bestows the final qualification.

I wonder why that simple fact is being ignored by those debating qualifications?

Banks

November 28, 2007

Way back in the seventies, the nineteen-seventies, my mother-in-law and her husband opened an account at a bank. I am not sure if it was The Bank of America then, but that is what they called themselves today.

One of the advantages of having such a well established and old account included a safe deposit box. There was no charge for the box. It was all part of a package deal.

Recently the account was closed. About a week ago we discovered that the safe deposit box part of the account was still open. No big deal. It was not costing us anything but we felt that it might be to the banks advantage to close that part of the account as well.

My wife tried to turn in the single key she had to that box and was informed that they could not close the account unless they had both keys. My wife then tried to reason with them. She offered to mail in the second key which was most likely in Grandmothers stored records. No, the bank would not accept a mailed-in key. Both keys had to be presented in person for the account to be closed. However, they could close the account by charging us 25 dollars for the second key. The 25 dollars would be refunded after we personally delivered the second key. That was not going to work for us because the bank is in Oklahoma City and we live near Dallas. Besides we had far better plans for our 25 dollars. At no time had we ever considered presenting a bank we would not do business with, a present of 25 dollars.

Well, that was just too bad. That was the best the bank could do. So, my wife left the account open. We now have a no cost perpetual safe deposit box at some user unfriendly bank in Oklahoma City. We will probably never ever use that box, but we also know that the bank will not be able to use it either. It turned into a lose/lose situation with the nasty banker getting his just deserts for being less than cooperative. Charge us 25 dollars for a second key indeed!

This banking institution is in desperate need of a lesson in public service. Sometimes those who serve get confused and expect to be served by the customers that pay good money for bad service.

One of these years this particular bank in OKC might wake up to the fact that there is no activity on that safe deposit box. They may even inquire as to why and decide to reclaim ownership to the box so they can rent it out to a paying customer and an active account.

No problem. It will cost them about 2000 dollars. That is 2000 dollars as valued in the year 2007. Since we have no idea how long this sleeping dog will remain sleeping I guess we also need to identify how this 2000 dollars is disbursed. The funds will be used to provide a limusine in Dallas for travel to the DFW airport. At the airport we will purchase a round tip ticket to Oklahoma City, first class of course including a generous flight insurance policy to cover the trip. Then we will need another limusine in Oklahoma City to take us to the bank and back to the airport, and transportation from DFW to our house. Finally, there is the matter of being compensated for our time. We figure 100 dollars an hour and an eight hour minimum is a very fair price. This is takehome pay. Any considerations regarding taxes will need to be paid by the bank. All of these services are payable in advance, of course.

Yes, we can mail in that second key if they like, but it will still cost them 2000 dollars shipping and handling.

Land Line

November 19, 2007

While visiting my daughter and her husband this last week I began go to question the need for a normal telephone. A landline as we used to call it.

My daughter and her husband have been in the process of moving to a new house. New to them anyway. The new house does not have normal telephone service. Yet both of them do not seem to have any trouble ‘staying in touch’ on their cell phones.

I do not have a cell phone and they assure me that soon they will have normal phone service so I can use the ‘landline’.

I am beginning to think that instead of opting for ‘landline’ service, it may be time for me to get a cell phone too. It is fairly obvious that a normal telephone connection is redundant when you have a cell phone.

Backing up a Hard Drive

November 14, 2007

Why bother to back up your software? If you have to ask that question, you probably have never lost any data to operator error or equipment failure. Hard drives have become inexpensive and reliable when compared to drives of twenty years ago, but they are still mechanical devices and prone to catastrophic failure.

We do our backups using Acronis True Image Home disk utilities. We prefer using the drive cloning utility exclusively. This requires the use of an extra hard drive, the cloned drive, but delivers the ultimate in backup reliablity and flexability.

Here is a condensed summary of the procedure. The main drive is cloned (exactly duplicated) using the drive utility. The target drive can be installed as the slave of the primary controller or as either master or slave of the secondary controller. Cloning takes about 30 mins for a 5gig partition. Once completed the cloned drive can be jumpered as the master in the primary controller. (The original primary master will need to be removed.) Then the system can be booted from the clone drive and function exactly as it did before off the original master drive. Note: When cloning ensure that the cloning mode selected preserves the data on the source drive.

Hard drive manipulation is made easy by the use of plug-in hard drive trays for each hard drive. This allows reconfiguration, replacement, installation and removal of both hard drives attached to a single controller without need to open the computer case.

Once the cloning process is completed, both drives are verfied for operation and the cloned drive is stored away for use in case of primary drive failure.

The drive to be cloned needs to be of sufficient capacity to receive the data from the main working drive. For instance if the main working drive has a capacity of 80gig but only holds 10gig of data, that data can be cloned to a 10gig drive. Of course if normal usage will cause the size of the data to grow, the size requirements of the target drive will grow as well. It is a good idea to use a cloned drive that is either the same size as the drive to be cloned or larger.

The main working drive is normally identified as drive C: or hda0: or drive 0 in the bios and is jumpered to be the master drive in a two drive IDE system. The target drive is identified as the slave drive if it is running off the same IDE controller as the main working drive. The target drive can be either master or slave if it is running off the secondary IDE controller.

Backups are done to preserve data that, once lost, needs to be reconstructed in the same way it was accumulated originally. In the past, when data storage was expensive, it was considered adequate to backup only the data. Operating systems, application programs, preference files, could all be reloaded from their distribution disks or reconstructed with little effort. This may have been true when operating systems were distributed on a couple of floppies and applications were single floppy affairs. Nowdays we have operating systems and applications requiring gigabytes of hard drive space taking many man hours for reinstallation and configuration. Today it makes sense to backup everything, even the operating system and applications programs.

Current backup software allows backups to be generated by file to file copy, creation of image files of entire partitions, and cloning the entire hard drive. Some backup schemes suggest creating an image file and storing it on a special partition of the drive being backed up. Such action is justified by the convenience afforded in the recovery mode. Should data be corrupted through operator error, a restore can be accomplished merely by reloading the image file as though it were a simple, large, data file. Similar convenience is had in creating the backup image file in the first place and the entire backup process can be easily automated and executed without any operator intervention or physical moving or reconfiguring of hard drives. However, such a scheme does not protect against mechanical hard drive failure. Since the backup may be housed on the primary drive, it is subject to loss in the event of a mechanical hard drive failure. Obviously, the backup could be stored to a second hard drive to reduce the risk of loss, but that drive will have to be energized continuously along with the main drive for this backup scheme to work. Drives that are run continuously are much more likely to fail than drives that are cloned and stored in reserve.

That is why we are using drive cloning to create backups.

But Wait, that's not all

November 3, 2007

Ever wonder how those TV marketing scams work? The ones where they double your order for the same money claiming to give you so much more for your money. Just pay shipping and handling. Ever wonder why the stuff you see hawked on the boob tube is not ever available in stores?

Well, first off, that knife sharpener, jar opener, super hearing aid amplifier does not cost them anywhere near the asking price of around twenty bucks. They buy the stuff cheap and in quantity paying a couple of bucks per item.

Then they claim it is worth ten times that price. To make sure that you are enticed to buy they offer to double your order. You get two for the price of one, but in the fine print they charge you shipping and handling for each one seperately even though both items are shipped in the same carton.

When you receive the item you realise why it is not available in stores. Had you seen it before purchasing you would not have bought it. Shoddy workmanship, poor design, does not live up to the claims made on TV.

The fact that you fell for the two for one scam only saddles you with two useless items to remind you how badly you were taken.

Furnace Repair

November 1, 2007

Our house is heated and cooled by central air. We have a combination unit made by Carrier sitting in the mechanical equipment closet provided by the architect along with the water heater. The furnace part of the unit is gas fired. It is only ten years old.

During those ten years we have already had to service the unit twice beyond the usual cleaning and filter replacement. In both cases it was the flame sensor and the repair was simple. It just needed to have the powdery carbon buildup wiped off.

This summer we had a lightning storm. I am pretty sure we were not struck directly but it was close enough to take out the cable modem. Later I discovered it had also taken out the HVAC controller. The blower motor refused to energize even though the compressor was pumping freon through the A-coil. Plenty of cold. Just no airflow.

When we had the HVAC system replaced, we did not upgrade the thermostat. We kept the old mechanical device which is nothing more than a big spring with limit switches mounted to it. The spring contracts and expands with temperature, moving the limit swiches, and energizing the start relays for blower and compressor.

The thermostat was not effected. It still controlled the airconditioning compressor outside as the temperature changed. For a quick fix, I hot wired the power to the blower motor to a switchable 110volt outlet. When I wanted to cool the house all I had to do was switch on the blower motor. The same outlet also provided power for the 24vac circuit to the thermostat. So by turning it off I disabled both the blower and compressor. That allowed me time to find a new HVAC controller. Something I would need in order to use the furnace.

As usual, I waited until the last minute. Waited for it to get cold before taking action. An exact and direct replacement was not available but I did find a conversion kit. One week and 250 dollars later I received the kit.

I took my time reading the instructions cover to cover, making notes, and finally had the new controller installed and connected. Self test seemed to work fine. I finished connecting the thermostat wires, closed up the unit, turned on the thermostat, and set it to a high temperature to start the furnace. The furnace came on normally. Everything seemed to be working fine. Five minutes later the flame went out and the furnace shut down.

I knew it had to be the flame sensor which was serviced and replaced but I still could not make the furnace work. It would start up with the blower motor on. Error code started out as 13 and advanced to 33 after a few minutes. A 33 error code is a limit circuit fault and has a long list of possible causes.

I went back to the controller self test and was horrified to find it no longer worked. After a short delay, the blower would come on and stay on. It stayed on for over three hours with nothing else happening as I searched for answers.

Finally I started to inspect the wiring. Lots of wires and all connections made with spade lugs pushed onto spade terminals. One of the spade lugs had been pulled free of the over temperature limit switch. I restored the connection and the furnace worked fine.

I do my own repair because it is easier than finding a technician I can trust. Besides, when you have more time than money DIY becomes a necessity.