This morning I drove over the Bay Bridge to meet up with my friend Brian at his new house, and from there we drove to a field behind an abandoned house to look at a short gray schoolbus that’s going to be the focus of much of my September. We crawled in, on top of, and underneath the whole thing, looking at what’s there and talking over what needs to happen in the next couple of weeks.
The first thing that needs to happen is a lot of demolition; the previous owner had done some modifications to the interior that aren’t going to stay—a janky bed frame in the back, a sink and cabinet made from 2×4’s, a set of seats cobbled together from a couple of minivans and the original bus seats, etc. When that’s all out, I’m going to rip up the hastily installed laminate flooring and the rubber bus matting underneath until we get to the marine plywood at the base. When the interior is gutted, we need to build a rack for the roof from box steel to hold a platform for a 4-person tent made by a guy in Colorado who doesn’t return phone calls, install a rooftop A/C unit, mount a portable diesel generator behind the rear wheels, and source and mount three underside storage boxes around the chassis. I have no idea how we’re going to do half of this, but we’re going to have fun making it work.
For a good portion of the day yesterday, this site and my other two were down due to some form of DNS failure at my web host. I don’t know what happened but it all came back up sometime this afternoon. That’s the first hiccup I’ve experienced in the last ten years or so; I wonder what happened.
Here at the Lockardugan Estate, we’ve been getting along through COVID lockdown the best way we can. It’s been a challenge to be around each other all day every day without killing one another, and we’ve each been through the soul-crushing phases of denial and acceptance at least fifteen times. I used to think our house was big, but after having been shut in here like a biodome, I’m aware of just how cozy everything feels. The boom in the housing market makes a lot of sense in retrospect.
Last week, Finley had had enough of being trapped (been though she’s going to school two days a week) and asked if I could take her to the mall. Also monumentally bored, I immediately agreed and we decided to go right after finishing dinner. We got a late start out the door. Walking inside, I could immediately sense something was wrong: the security gates were coming down and people were headed to the exits. Turns out they close at 8 and not 9. So we went to Target so that we could walk around and look at things and just be out.
One of the things I found in a bargain game bin was a copy of The Division 2, a first-person shooter I’d read about last year. I picked that up along with some other small items and we headed home. After waiting a full day for the game files to copy and then update, I tried it for the first time the other night—and was immediately impressed. It’s set in Washington D.C. and the environment is breathtakingly detailed. The first missions were well-balanced and interesting, and I’m getting used to the game mechanics. Hopefully it’s got a lot more content to keep me involved; I see myself playing this one for a while. I’ve been getting tired of Fallout 76 for some time, and this game scratches the itch for action without having to deal with running from place to place or worry about picking up or crafting or fixing stuff.
Jen has been organizing the piles of crap we’ve thrown up into the attic, and one of the things she came upon is an old chair I’ve had since college, something my roommate Pat gave me when he left town: a Scandinavian chair of unknown origin with ratty leather that we had to retire when the cats began tearing it apart and baby Finley was eating the foam. I decided we’d Freecycle it just to get it out of here. In order to find some information on it for the listing, I googled the sticker underneath and found that the brand is Westnofa, a Norwegian manufacturer of midcentury modern designs, usually featuring laminated wood framing with leather upholstery. Apparently this furniture is worth some money in good shape; I’m obviously rethinking my earlier decision to give it away. It’s a very comfortable chair that we both like, but we’d been quoted a lot of money to have it redone before it was retired. I think we need to do a little more digging before we make a decision.
I’ve been playing Fallout 76 for about four months now. After spending roughly 2.5 years playing through Fallout 4 and its various expansion packs, I was bored. When it became clear COVID would shut things down for a while, I found a cheap used copy online and bought an Xbox Live Pass, which it requires in order to run. It’s designed entirely around cooperative play but they do make allowances for solo players like me, and with a series of updates and patches they’ve made the game much better in that regard. Since booting it up for the first time, I’ve been sneaking around the map by myself, hiding from other players, slowly leveling up, and mostly enjoying myself. The few times I’ve encountered other players have been pretty amicable. But early in the game a high-level player jumped into the middle of a fight I was in with multiple enemies and I twitch-shot him once. He turned around and wasted me pretty quickly, which I didn’t think was very nice; it was an honest accident.
Last night I was finishing up in a particular area, eliminating the last couple of enemies. I’d just cornered a final ghoul to finish him off when an online player hopped over a fence and shot me. He paused; I was annoyed but finished off my kill when the guy shot me again, and then a third time. I stood up, aimed my rifle at him and took a few steps forward: knock it off. He was at a level 5 while I’m a level 32; his little popgun wasn’t actually doing much. Before I could call up a quick menu and flash him the “mad” sign, he fucking shot me again. So I blew his head off with a shotgun. Chuckling to myself, I continued on my way.
About five minutes later, he showed up again in my general area, and I was invited to join a party with he and another player. I thought about it for a minute. He was a level 5, the other a 7. These were two guys who probably know less about team playing than I do; why the hell not?
The controls in Fallout 76 are still somewhat confusing. I’m still half used to two years’ muscle memory from Fallout 4 but they’ve added a ton of other features so it takes a while to understand where they’ve moved things. The first join request timed out, but they sent a second request and I was able to sort out the issue.
At this point it’s helpful to understand how teams work (as I understand them): We’re supposed to be able to chat with one another within a team, while you can’t just talk to randos you meet out in the world. Thus, I couldn’t tell the guy to quit shooting at me. I ran to get my headphones and plugged them in; if anyone was going to talk I’d be able to reply. But I didn’t hear anything. We spent some time standing around. I waited for them to do something, got bored, continued on my original path and they tagged along behind me. I used the in-game gestures to tell them to follow me into a structure I’d already been to, and we cleaned it out pretty quickly. When we were done, I got an alert that one of the players had sent me an audio message through the Xbox. It took me a few moments to figure out how to access it. A voice no older than Finley’s asked me, “Do you have any fusion cells to trade? I need one for my laser pistol.”
Laughing, I gave up on trying to figure out how to trade—it’s even more confusing than the Join mechanics—and continued on my way. They followed me for a while and then one player dropped out. A little while later, my would-be assassin’s player froze in place in a basement. He probably had to go take out the garbage. By that time it was 11:30 so I dropped out of the game and went to bed.
There are several tomatoes coloring in the greenhouse, and I am READY for them. The cherry plants are still producing fruit randomly; every week I go out and bring a handful in for the girls. I’m going to have to go out and consolidate a bunch of stuff this weekend and finally put the panel in the back wall to keep things warm overnight. Winter is coming…
Here in the office I finally took the time to go through some drawers and bins and boxes full of old computer gear and set aside a bunch of crap to get rid of: ancient CD-RW drives I scavenged from old towers, a pair of AirPort Base Stations that date back 15 years, miles of old Cat-5 network cabling, first-gen iPod FireWire wall warts, old manuals…there’s certainly more to get rid of, but I’ve found that if I’m going to keep old machinery it’s critical to have the gear to support it. So I’ll still hang on to the AirPort Express that will talk to the G3 Powerbooks that will still run OS9 so that I can access design files from 1997…
One of the things I dug out of the archives is a Sony Watchman MD-10, something that came out of the unclaimed personal property of a repo when I was in college. I took it back with me junior year and it allowed us all to stay current on Seinfeld episodes when we were on break during late night classes. For its time it was an amazing little device, and I wish it had DC input, because as I recall it ate AA batteries pretty fast. It’s useless these days with the advent of digital broadcasting; I could theoretically hook a digital antenna up to an RF modulator and broadcast local analog signal to it, but it’s really not worth the trouble. Interestingly, Gizmodo just did an article on this very model a few months ago; I share the author’s hesitation to get rid of his.
In November of last year I bought a set of wireless earbuds for my commute and quickly fell in love with them—so much so that I gave up almost entirely on wired headphones. The Anker Soundcore Life P2’s I bought were inexpensive and did 90% of what AirPods do at 1/4 the price tag. The only gripe I had with them was that using them to make calls was useless—they cancelled noise but didn’t allow me to hear myself talking, so I had the strange impression that I was shouting with my hands over my ears. Jen says I talk loud on the phone on a normal day, so this wasn’t an optimal solution. But 10 days of solid use between charges, dependable connectivity with my phone, and quality sound reproduction made up for that, and I was extremely happy with them.
A week ago I took Hazel for her morning walk and Jen came out to join me after we’d crossed the street. I took my earbuds out and stuffed them in my pocket so we could talk—but one must not have made it, because I returned home without it. Disappointed, I started looking at replacements, and I was sorely tempted by a new set of AirPods—especially the Pros, which feature Transparency Mode and make phone calls sound amazing. But realizing I hadn’t owned the Ankers for more than a year (I could have sworn it was longer) before one went missing, and given how much I use them, I weighed the cost of losing a $200 AirPod vs. a $70 Anker and went with the cheaper option. This time I got a pair of Soundcore Liberty Airs, which are supposed to be better for making calls, feature touchpads instead of physical buttons, and have a larger set of control options. They’re currently charging in the other room, and I can’t wait to try them out.
A long time ago, on a site far away, Jen had a blog set up for Finley. She posted pictures and wrote about Finley in the first couple years of her life, and all was good. For reasons I can’t remember now, several technical catastrophes befell both her local machine and the server the site was on. We were able to recover the files from the webserver but for a number of years I couldn’t find the backups I’d made of the database (the glue that holds the whole thing together) and it faded into memory. The Internet Archive never crawled it, so there’s no outside record of the site.
This past week we’ve had some conversations about words that Finley made up when she was a toddler and some other things that Mama captured from that time, so I figured I’d dust off some files and see if I could resurrect the site. It was built in WordPress as a subdirectory of her professional site when that content was still static, and when she had it updated and built in WordPress we saved a copy of the database and made way for the business site.
I have extensive backups of almost everything I can think of on the server or on optical media, and I’ve spent time cataloging everything so I at least have some idea of where it lives. But no search of the server or my catalog revealed that database backup anywhere. Jen did some digging on her old laptop and was able to find an email with a backup from November 2010, so I grabbed that and got to work. So far, I’ve:
|Built a MAMP instance on my Macbook.||Easy|
|Built multiple blank databases using PHPMyAdmin||Easy|
|Loaded WordPress into the localhost server folder||Super easy|
|Installed a new version of WordPress, had it build a database, and attempted to migrate the old database into the new one||Fail. I think it fails because they’ve rewritten or renamed some of the database tables between version 3.0 and 5.X|
|Installed a new version of WordPress, imported the old database into MyPHP, and attempted to get WordPress to use that one||Fail. wp-login fails because there’s some way the database is pointing at the old server for authentication so it times out.|
|Installed an old version of WordPress (the same vintage as the database) and attempted to get it to load||Fail. The version of PHP in MAMP is 10 years too new, and I don’t feel like fighting MAMP to revert PHP back to 2010|
|Tried manually cleaning the WP_Posts dump in the SQL file using GREP statements||Fail. WordPress saves multiple revisions per post (yay) which makes finding the final revision impossible over 1280 records (ugh).|
The good thing is that the data is there. I can see it; it’s all in the SQL dump, and the crosslinks to the images and other media files I’ve got here are present. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to dig it out and put it back together. I’m getting to the point where paid solutions are looking better and better, but the internet is vast and wide, and another solution may present itself when I least expect it.
As of today, I’ve digitized 184 albums from Rob’s collection, for a total of 39GB of music. I had to dissect the first player because I could not get the motor to work for love or money; it just sits and makes a screeching noise and no amount of cajoling will get it working. Because the carousel spins 360˚ all the way around the unit, there are sections where plastic shields cover the CDs inside and it’s impossible to put them back in place once they’re pulled out. Rob tossed all of the plastic cases and kept the sleeves inside CD binders, but I don’t have those here, so I’ve got to find another way to store them once I’ve pulled them out. I think I’m going to find a 3/4″ dowel at the Lowe’s and build a quick spindle to store them vertically in a stack, because that’s the only way I can keep them organized once they’re out. 165 is less than half the capacity of the first unit—they take 400 discs total, and there’s another unit sitting on the floor that’s equally full.
The next chore will be to replace the duplicate files in my collection with the newer, better quality files (these are in .m4a format, which is lossy but an improved format from .mp3). I’ve got a number of incomplete albums that suffered from a strange glitch iTunes had back in 2004 where it dropped the first track on each album I ripped, so I have to find those and update them as well.
The photo project has concluded, and after a week and a half’s painstaking manual work I’ve sorted through the folder year by year to organize everything by Month/Day. This served to allay many of my fears that I’d lost entire months of photos, because of the fucked-up way iPhoto and Aperture catalogued things. As I stepped through each folder I found folders of photos that belonged in subsequent years, and as I slowly moved things to where they should be it became clear that I hadn’t lost anything. I also weeded out gigabytes of duplicate images that had been spread out among the folders, which freed up a bunch of space.
Next up is installing a small SSD boot drive in the spare slot above the DVD drive, so that I can keep all four internal slots free for data. I’m going to try to trick it to load 10.11 so that it’s running a somewhat more up to date OS. (I’m running 10.11 on a MacBook Pro through deception that is the same generation as the tower and is arguably less powerful).
Given that we’re not really going anywhere these days, the cars have hardly been driven. I think I’ve put more miles on the Scout than the other two cars combined—it’s a miracle the Accord still starts (note to self: go start the Accord.) We took a drive in the CR-V on Friday and I was shocked at how rough it was running at startup. It’s got 130K on the odometer, and we’ve been taking good care of it, but it’s due for some serious maintenance. I had it in for new tires last year and the tech showed me the bushings and lower control arms are worn out in the front suspension. I’m sure there are other issues that need to be handled, but I’m going to start with some super-easy things I can show Finley: the spark plugs and air filters. I’ve never done this in either Honda, as they come from the factory with iridium 100K-mile plugs, but this is long overdue. I’m clearly not used to modern engines because I went hunting for plug wires online to no avail and then realized the CR-V uses coil packs instead of wires.
It rained all day Saturday so I putzed around the house. In the basement, I culled two rubbermaid tubs full of UMBC paperwork and projects to the recycling pile. Given that they haven’t called me in a year to teach and we’re pretty sure classes will be online for the immediate future, I figured it was safe to ditch 9/10 of this stuff; all of those students have graduated and there’s no need to keep a paper trail for any grading complaints. Now I can move some stuff from the office down there to clean up my workspace.
There’s a lot of legacy electronic equipment, cameras, and computer gear I’ll clearly never use again that’s also taking up space. While I like having collections of that kind of stuff, it’s just piling up around here and I need to clear it out from underfoot. I have a hard time doing stuff like this when I hear I might need that ____ someday in the back of my head. There have been more times than not when that packrat mentality has saved me time and money—but there’s only so much room downstairs.
Another thing I’ve been meaning to get to is backing up photos from 2019. They’ve sitting on an external drive on my desk but I’m out of space on the server in the basement and they’ve never been backed up to our Amazon Photo account. I set up a workflow in Lightroom to go through the 2019 catalog and export JPGs of all those files (many of them are in RAW format, which Amazon doesn’t like). Then I uploaded them to Amazon, ready to be catalogued this coming week. It’s clear I need to increase the storage on the basement server as well.
My tastes in beer have moved to the citrusy, which is good because there’s a flood of “hazy IPA’s” on the market. This strain of IPA takes its name not from added citrus (that would be a shandy) but from particular breeds of hops added late in the boil and then in the fermentation cycle, which react with the yeast and add a citrusy flavor without being sickeningly sweet. The shelves are saturated with choice, so I’m going through them as much as I can. My current favorites are Stone’s Tangerine Express and Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing. I’m getting low in the fridge, so I’ll have to go out tomorrow night to restock.
I thought I might be able to get to my homebrew kit on Sunday afternoon, but time just got away from me. Jen has convinced me the new 5-gallon batch I brewed needs to be dumped down the sink, as I don’t enjoy it enough to drink it—which breaks my heart.