Archive for the 'Personal' Category


Little Tikes Drawing Art Tracing and Activity Desk with chair – power supply replacement info

s-l1600This is just going to be a quick post about the power supply that you need for a Little Tikes desk with light and tracing table. These are great little activity tables and you can find them in garage sales and thrift stores all over the place. Often times you find them with a missing or frayed power cable. Cables and little kids have a strained relationship, so this doesn’t surprise me. Little Tikes doesn’t supply them any more, because this great desk is discontinued.

What you need is an adapter that outputs 12V AC 1A. If you search for “12V AC adapter 1A” on Amazon you should be able to find one for under $10. I was lucky enough to have one laying around in my big box of wall warts. Just open up the desk and splice it to the internal wire where the plug was snipped and you should be in business. I picked up two of these desks for nothing and now have a killer drawing area for my preschoolers.

The bulbs for these desks are cheap and easy to replace. They’re listed as #912 (sometimes there are letters preceding the number, depending on the brand) wedge type lights and you can find them auto parts stores for a couple dollars a pair. You’ll need two, one for the tracing table and another for the desk lamp. They look like this:




USB type-A male to USB type-A male cables not available at Radio Shack

USB cableI have this drive enclosure that I got from my dad a while back. It’s got a couple jacks to connect it to your computer. You can either connect it via a standard USB Type-A female jack (type-A is regular-ass rectangle USB) , or you can plug in an ethernet cable and connect it to your router. Pretty easy. I decided to go the simple and direct USB route. It should have been simple, except I don’t have a type-A male to type-A male USB cable (pictured above). I used to have dozens of these all over the place a few years ago; they came with every new gadget I bought, and I had a few still in the plastic. Yet, when I needed one, I couldn’t find any in the house. I have type-A to micro, type-A to mini or type-A to the “chunky square one that connects to printers”. What I don’t have is just a plain old USB to plain old USB (pictured above). I figured I’d pick one up at Fred Meyer electronics. No big deal, since I had some shopping to do anyway. I scoured the place. Nothing. They had lots of variations, but no male-to-male type-A cables. The guy there said he hadn’t seen any in years. Feeling like I just stepped out of the Twilight Zone, I decided that I should just go to Radio Shack and be done with it.

I walked into Radio Shack, which is apparently a cell phone store now, and attempted to find my cable. I had a strange disembodied feeling and momentary vertigo. Was it possible that I imagined that these cables ever existed? No, of course not. They were completely commonplace a few short years ago. Still, as I scan the shelves I can’t seem to find one…and this is the store that should have every conceivable combination of consumer electronics cable.

Right as I’m about to leave, one of the never-helpful Radio Shack clerks walks up, and asks if he can help me find anything. [Side note: Radio Shack clerks are minimally trained in electronics, and heavily focused on loss-prevention. You are a thousand times more likely to be profiled than helped in their stores. They also try to position themselves between you and the racks of cables and adapters that you’re trying to scan through.] This dingus, whom I finally realized hours later to be the embodiment of the Zack Galifianakis’ pretentious illiterate character , asks what I’m looking for, then proceeds to tell me that no such thing (like the one pictured above) exists, nor has it ever existed. He tells me that USB cables always have something besides a type-A male connection at the other end (unlike the one pictured above). He says “I’m sure that if you go home and look closely at the drive, you’ll see that it has this connector” He shows me one of the square-type connectors that I mentioned above. I reply “Actually, I looked at the drive very carefully last night, and it doesn’t. Which is unfortunate because I do have those cables.” He then pulls a Microsoft Easy Transfer cable down off the rack, which is USB Type-A male on both ends, but has a giant chunk of mystery electronics in the middle of the cable. These are specifically for transferring your user folder from your old computer to your new computer and they cost $40.  He says “ah, this is what you’re looking for”. And I reply, “no, that’s a specific cable for transferring data directly between computers, and it’s also quite a bit more expensive than what I need.” He says “Still, I’m pretty sure it will do the job.” Skeptic Chad was skeptical.  Then I say, mostly thinking out loud, “This is really strange, because these cables used to be everywhere a few years ago.” At this point the guy delivers the line of the evening: “Clearly the world has moved on since then.”

In a flood of crimson rage, I reach out in a cobra-strike and press my fingernails into his windpipe. “Listen up you smug little shit!” I hiss through my gritted teeth, “You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about!” I shove him up against the rack, knocking adapters and cheap glittery iPhone cases everywhere and sending his glasses askew across his face. “I LEARNED TO CODE ON A RADIO SHACK COMPUTER TEN YEARS BEFORE YOU WERE EVEN CONCEIVED! EVER HEARD OF A TRS-80? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT “TANDY” IS? YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TELL ME ABOUT TECHNOLOGY, PISSANT! I’M FIVE AND A QUARTER INCHES FLOPPY AND YOU’RE TWO AND A HALF INCHES SOLID STATE! YOU DO NOT MESS WITH OLD SCHOOL GEEKS! I WILL FUCK YOU UP WITH BASIC!
10 CLS
30 GOTO 20

None of that last paragraph actually happened. I just muttered “I guess I’ll look around online.” So I did. Four bucks on Amazon. I’ll be damned if I don’t get fucked right in the ass every time I attempt to shop brick and mortar.

The author as a young boy on his TRS-80. (Re-enactment.)


Hidden Comcast/Xfinity data restrictions

Let me just quote this to start, it’s from a hidden Comcast FAQ  related to a data usage cap that was not disclosed during any part of the service order/contract process:

What will happen if I exceed 250 GB of data usage in a month?

The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold. If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used. When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily. If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months. We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call. If your account is terminated, after the twelve (12) month period expires, you may resume service by subscribing to a service plan appropriate to your needs.

The back story

I recently switched to Comcast because Qwest had been unable to provide the level of service that I’ve been paying for; typically delivering around 1.5Mbps rather than the advertised 7Mbps. At peak times Qwest performance would drop to near dial-up speeds, and at best we would clock close to 5Mbps around 3am with no one else using bandwidth in the neighborhood. We’ve been streaming a lot of movies on the Xbox recently, and this requires a fairly steady data rate for uninterrupted playback. Qwest just hasn’t been able to keep up. Picture quality is dynamically adjusted by the Netflix Xbox application to attempt to account for bandwith issues, but even with the picture at low quality there are still times where we can’t maintain a playable stream at all.

So when a Comcast rep knocked on the door offering higher speeds for roughly the same price, we decided to give it a shot. After a few hiccups (they wouldn’t drill through stucco, so we had to have a separate contractor put in the jack) we got Comcast internet yesterday. This morning, a graph appeared in my Customer Central page that wasn’t there last night. The graph shows my total data usage out of  a max of 250GB, already at 6GB used. It’s been a little over half a day’s worth of use. My math says we’ll be over the threshold about 21 days into a 30 day cycle. So then what happens? Like I said at the top, I had to do a little digging to find the answer.

Let’s take it point by point:

  • “The vast majority – more than 99% – of our customers will not be impacted by a 250 GB monthly data usage threshold.”
    • Decodes to: If you exceed this limit, you’re an oddity. The problem is You the customer, not Us. Granted, my internet usage is heavy, but higher than 99% of all Comcast internet users? Even those that purchase the top tier speed package?
  • “If you exceed more than 250 GB, you may receive a call from the Customer Security Assurance (“CSA”) team to notify you of excessive use. At that time, we will tell you exactly how much data you used.”
    • Decodes to: We have a special department to meter, micromanage and badger you about your internet usage. I haven’t dealt with this kind of heavy handed bandwidth management since the days of the local ISP operating out of a small office with a T3.
  • “When we call you, we try to help you identify the source of excessive use and ask you to moderate your usage, which the vast majority of our customers do voluntarily.”
    • Here’s where it starts to get nasty. Comcast is now judging my internet usage and applying the term “excessive” and then hinting around at a threat: “We can do this the easy way or the hard way, buddy.”
  • “If you exceed 250 GB again within six months of the first contact, your service will be subject to termination and you will not be eligible for either residential or commercial internet service for twelve (12) months.”
    • Ah-HAH! The threat at last. Decodes to: If you don’t stop using the product which you are paying a heavy monthly fee to use, we will kick you off the internet for a year.
  • “We know from experience that most customers curb their usage after our first call.”
    • Decodes to: We are very proud of the fact that most customers are sufficiently intimidated by our threat that they stop using the product that we’re billing them for.

I find this interesting. Comcast is unable to provide the level of bandwidth that they’ve contracted for, so they avoid embarrassment by pushing the blame back onto their customers. In the modern era, 250GB of data is a lot of data, but certainly not the unreachable limit that they make it sound like. We watch by far less streaming programming than the average family watches TV, but we prefer the option of being able to choose when/what we watch. There’s nothing really “excessive” about it. It’s a feature that is offered on all standard game/entertainment consoles, and even smart phones and iPads.

So right now the plan is to watch our usage for the first month, and if necessary invoke the 30-day service guarantee. But I’d much rather have the best of both worlds, the unlimited usage we had with Qwest, and the speed that we’re getting with Comcast. I don’t fancy the idea of having to closely watch our data usage. This should be transparent to the end user, especially when you’ve contracted for the top tier of residential bandwidth.


Swissgear Pilot 20 Carry-On case + MacBook Pro 17″

I just wanted to post a quick note on my blog about this because I tried to Google it while I was in the store and couldn’t find an answer. Hopefully this helps someone else out there. A 17″ MacBook Pro…I dunno what you Mac geeks call ’em – the one with the aluminum finish and slightly rounded corners, but not the fancy new aluminum block  body and glossy screen. Yeah, that one. It will fit into the laptop pouch of a Wenger Swissgear 20 Pilot Carry-On bag. Just barely. It’s a squeaker, but you can get the 17″ MBP in and out of this pouch without tearing or modifying the case. It’s a tight fit, and you might not be able to do it quickly while everyone on the plane is waiting for you to take your seat, but still…it works.

I will be traveling a lot for work soon, to exotic locales, and I wanted to be able to do it without checking luggage. The Pilot 20 should be an excellent option.

Swissgear Pilot 20

Update: The newer aluminum unibody MacBook Pro 17″ also fits well into the laptop compartment of this excellent bag.


Cash is king. Citi fails.

After many, many years as a Citibank credit card customer, I elected to terminate my account today. As has been widely reported, Citibank decided to reward many of its loyal customers with huge rate increases. The real bitch of this is that it wasn’t done as a penalty for cardholders who were late on payments, it was applied across the board. I don’t even carry a balance on my Citi card. So this change wouldn’t have affected me in any way – at the moment. However, if at some point in the future I do need to use credit for a major purchase, I don’t want to be stuck with an account that has rates that are normally reserved for deadbeats. This is a blatant cash grab by Citi, and I find it disgusting. That’s why I terminated my business with them.
What really surprised me was the total lack of any sort of customer retention strategy on Citi’s part. I called to opt out of the rate increase and the whole process took about 3 minutes. There was no hold time at all, and there was no “let me transfer you to a specialist”. Just press 1 for English, then speak to a rep for about 45 seconds, and the account is closed. They didn’t even counteroffer with anything to help take the sting out of the rate increase. I was surprised. Anyone who has ever closed a credit card account has probably experienced the usual tactics where they try to throw you a bone to keep your business. Low balance transfer rate? No payments for 90 days? Nope. Nothing. Just “OK, Mr. Jihad, your account is now closed. You’ll receive a confirmation letter in 5-7 days. Kthxbai!”


I’m going to sleep like the dead.

The last couple nights I stayed up really late. Last night, I took the last ferry home. I didn’t get home until after 2am. Didn’t get to sleep until around 3:30. Had to get up for a meeting at 9:00 in Seattle, which means I had to be on the 7:20am boat, which means I had to get up at 6:00, which means I went to work on 2.5 hours of sleep. This is the price you pay for going out on a weeknight if you live in Bremerton. There’s no boat home between the relatively mild hour of 10:30 and the irresponsibly late 12:50 boat…(which, ironically, is never late enough to catch the last band at a club – you know, the one you paid to see.)
What’s worse, I had plans for today that would last the entire day, including a lunch with some higher-ups on the software dev teams that I support, and a “friendly” game of broomball late in the evening, in a town that’s pretty freaking far from where I live. OK, so I’m a fucking zombie and I’m way overbooked. Not good. To make matters worse, something I ate the day before had me running to the bathroom every hour or so. I suspect the pho. There I am at the end of the work day. I’ve been falling asleep behind the wheel, and at my desk, all day long. I have to go play this game, which I’ve never played, with guys I don’t really know, way out in Renton. I’m not athletic, in the least, and I have the shits. Super.

So all day long I’m like “This is ridiculous! Why am I torturing myself? I should fucking bail!” but then another voice is saying “Don’t puss out. You don’t want to look like a puss, do you? And besides, you never do anything like this!” Anyway, I guess the desire for novel experience, and the fact that I’m so cheap that I didn’t want to forfeit the $20 I’d paid to participate won out in the end. I made my way down to the ice rink, put on some sweat pants, and passed out in my car. I had about a half hour to kill before the other guys showed up. I snoozed as best as I could with the grim spectre of athletic embarrassment hanging over my head.
The other guys showed up, minus the guy who invited me, who happens to be the one I know the best. Crap. It ended up not being so bad. The other guys were super friendly and welcomed me to the game. I put on my gloves and knee pads and started getting REALLY nervous. Some of the other guys had helmets. Shit. I had no helmet. I’ll fast forward through the half hour of milling about in an awkward social situation (that is any social situation, for me) and get to the action.
Broomball, if you’re not familiar, involves running around on a rough non-Zamboni’d ice surface in street shoes, flailing a wooden broom handle with a rubber paddle on the end, batting a ball into a goal at either end. Think of it as the back-yard-football of hockey…for people who can’t skate. I forgot to mention, it was fucking freezing in there. I hadn’t planned for this somehow. (They have to keep the ice frozen! What was I thinking?) I was suitably dressed, as it turned out. Moving around on an ice rink in tennis shoes takes quite a bit of effort, both to start and stop, and also to keep your body from falling in a painful way. I generated a lot of heat and was sweating profusely by the end.
In all honesty, I’m not good at sports. I’m afraid of getting hit in the face with the ball, any ball, in any sport. Soccer is right out. I’m also overweight and have a hard time running constantly, especially when the cold air makes my mouth taste like blood after 5 minutes. After 5 minutes I was exhausted, wheezing, bruised up from falling several times and sliding and I felt like I could barely walk. I dove after the ball and lunged at it with my stick and took another spill. You know that part of the movie Parenthood where the kid’s singing “When you’re sliding into first and you’re feeling something burst…” Turns out that’s pretty much true. I very nearly made an already embarrassing situation incalculably worse. I hastily excused myself and took a quick bathroom break and sanity check. What the fuck was I thinking running around like this on no sleep, with intestinal distress and so out of shape that I was probably risking a coronary event? I coughed, hacked, pulled myself together and made my way back to the ice. One of the guys, sensing my sorry state, asked if I’d like to goalie for a while. That gave me a chance to catch my breath, and also make a couple saves. It’s nice to feel like you can do something useful for a team. And since taking up space is something I’m good at, I guess goalie is the best place for me. I did let one get by, but nobody’s perfect. After my turn at goalie, I rotated back in and started playing other positions. I started breathing easier, I’m not sure why. Endorphins? I had a few more rough spills and twisted my knee at one point, but nothing that kept me from finishing out the game. There were a few guys there who were superstar maniacs, running and diving and flipping over everything that came their way. That’s just never gonna be me, but I did my best and I had a good time. I’m glad I went, and I’m glad I stuck with it. But most of all I’m glad I didn’t shit myself in front of a bunch of coworkers.
I drove home through snow and rain, still coughing from the cold air, and got home around 12:30am. I am beyond tired, but I felt I had to record the moment because it’s so out of character for me. Thanks for listening.