Monthly Archives: July 2006

2,000 degrees in the Valley

It’s 99 degrees at 9 o’clock at night — hell, it hit 110 today on both of my outside digital thermometers. One hundred ten. The air conditioning can’t keep up. We’ve had it on 80 for the past two weeks — otherwise it stays on all the time. Now it’s on 80 and the house refuses to dip below 82 degrees. There’s just too much heat.

We did escape. One of the grandmas babysat the almost-3-year-old, and we went to a barbecue in Pacific Palisades. Yeah, it was sort of cool enough to be outside, but not really. We left at 5 p.m. schvitzing plenty, just in time for the 106-degree return.

It’s all numbers. And way too many over 100.

Gotta prep for tomorrow’s 6:30 a.m. tricycle ride. See ya.

Recent rants


In keeping with the Daily News’ recent outpouring of blogging, I’ve been doing a lot of ranting and raving over there. Here’s a summary:

Get ready for Talk Like Gordon Ramsay Day

It’s called ‘raw food’ because it’s not cooked

The New York Times discovers the Valley, sort of

And over in computer geekdom:

Wireless Internet — so close … so close and yet so faarrrr-rr

Wireless woes

I’ve spent the past month trying to split the difference, getting a good wireless signal in The Back Room, home to This Old PC, and the house, home to the iBook G4, especially without having a 2.4 GHz wireless router chugging away next to my head while I’m sleeping. Call me crazy, but I don’t want microwave RF, even at a watt, that close for that long. So I’ve been trying to keep the Netgear MR814 router (802.11b only) in The Back Room, where This Old PC connects easily over wireless from about 12 feet away. It’s that far because to get any kind of connection, I had to place the router directly in front of the french doors facing the house. Sometimes the signal is good to the house, other times awful. I changed channels on the router, going to Channel 11. That took care of my 2.4 GHz cordless phone interference, but a sniff for the neighborhood routers, of which there are many, shows that they’re all between channels 9 and 11 for some reason. So back to Channel 1 I switched, but that didn’t work at all.

So I admitted defeat, pulled the DSL modem into the house and plugged it directly into the iBook. I left the wireless router connected in The Back Room for more testing — which is what I’ve been doing and what I recommend to anyone trying to set up a troublesome wireless network: Keep your DSL modem plugged directly into your computer via Ethernet, but also keep your Internet-less router running so you can check the signal. If you can make a wireless connection, even only at certain times of the day, you can do things like change channels, or moving the whole damn thing, and still check the signal strength via the wireless capability of your PC, even if it is getting Internet via Ethernet. That’s what I plan to do.

I’m hamstrung, as it were, in placement of the wireless router and DSL modem, because we have a VERY small house, and it isn’t exactly teeming with available phone jacks and electrical outlets, especially not both in the same place.

One candidate is the drawer at the “telephone table,” which is, not suprisingly, the home of our main (cordless) telephone and answering machine. Oh, and now the cat‘s litter box. Long ago, I installed a double phone jack, so there’s room to install the modem’s phone plug. The electrical outlet is home to two wall warts (you could call them “AC adapters,” because that’s what they are), one for the phone, the other for the answering machine (it’s a digital Phonemate that’s been working with little trouble for YEARS). And this drawer, though filled with crap, does have a lot of stuff we use all the time — stamps, address labels, keys, cell-phone chargers. If I somehow found a place to store all this stuff and emptied out the drawer, I could fill it with all this junk. Two wal warts, DSL modem, wireless router, extension cord. And it is CENTRAL to the house, the best place from which to broadcast a wireless signal. Hmmm. But no.

The other candidate is the “coat closet” near the front door. It’s the most northwestern part of the house and would probably do well for the iBook in the bedroom. But would it reach This Old PC in The Back Room? I’d have to do a test. The problems: the coat closet is filled with stuff. Coats, boxes, etc. Now there probably would be room for the equipment, but there’s no electrical outlet OR phone jack. (Yeah, I don’t have a phone jack IN THE CLOSET — can you believe it?) But there is a non-working overhead light. I could screw in one of those light-socket extension cords that terminates in a plug, and if I fixed or replaced the light (I’ve got a few somewhere in This Old Shed), I’d have power. And it wouldn’t take all that much to run a telephone extension in there. Who doesn’t love being under the house? Actually, it’s cool down there, and during these 100-degree days, that’s somewhat enticing. Not as enticing as an air-conditioned interior, but …

And there’s always trying to boost the signal from The Back Room via a different antenna, or placement of the antenna.

Another solution: a wireless repeater somewhere in the house. They had them at Fry’s for about $30 recently, and I could plug it in somwhere in the house — it would retransmit the wireless router signal inside the house, making it strong enough to connect reliably throughout. But there could be problems, especially with WEP-encrypted transmissions. That’s what Netgear says in defense of their own product, which they claim doesn’t have such problems.

Yet another solution is Ethernet over power lines. For between $50 and $100 per device, these things will turn your house wiring into 85MB Ethernet.

And I could also run Ethernet cable between the two buildings. Yeah, I’m DYING to do that. Bruce would do it. Bruce has done it. Bruce is nuts, but he taught me at least half of what I know.

New Jody Fisher album

Jody Fisher has a new album out of solo guitar, called “Wistful Thinking,” this time entirely of original compositions. There are extensive samples here.

At $15 each for his most recent two albums, it’s quite a bargain — I think Jody is one of the best solo jazz guitarists out there. He manages to bring a whole host of influences together (Joe Pass, Ted Greene, Lenny Breau, George Van Eps) to create a very musical, flowing presentation. As I’ve said before, I consider him the heir to Ted Greene, as far as this kind of playing is concerned. I’ve got to take the plunge at some point and get his solo guitar instruction books/CDs, “The Art of Solo Guitar.”

Ted Greene site controversy


I followed a link to the Ted Greene memorial site, and it seems that due to a dispute between Ted’s siblings and those who run the Web site (including Ted’s girlfriend Barbara), the site has been taken down. Only forums remain, where it’s pretty easy to follow what happened. Leon White (producer of the “Solo Guitar” LP) and others say lawsuits were threatened, and that led to suspension of the fast-growing compendium of Ted’s lesson materials, recordings, etc.

Go here to follow the thread.

If you go through the various parts of the forum, you’ll stumble across gems like this. Blogger isn’t cooperating when it comes to uploading photos, or I’d post one of the many on the forum here.

This Old Heathkit


I have a vague memory of The Heathkit H8 computer. To supplement its bread-and-butter amateur radio business, the Heathkit company made quite a stab at staying relevant as the years went by, offering early computers, robots and other things you could build at home and save a few bucks on while learning the art and science of electronics. This fascinating ad and way, way more are available to see at Modern Mechanix. Go to Communications or Computers first.

I remember the Heathkit catalogs from the ’80s — I think the company pretty much faded out by the early ’90s. You could build kit versions of ham transceivers and accessories, to be sure, but I think they also had kit TV sets, stereo equipment, even small radios for those who didn’t have a mint to drop on something that might not work once you got done with all that soldering. I think Heath had a diagnostic service — you could send the finished kit back to them if it didn’t work, and they would help you out. But part of the kit and its instructions were troubleshooting instructions, and I also remember that for ham radios, you needed a VTVM — a vacuum tube volt meter — which itself went for about $100 in the ’80s in order to properly align the circuits.

I bet there’s quite a market for Heathkits, assembled and the rare unassembled ones, on eBay. I wish I saved some of those old catalogs, that’s for sure.

Not to get off track, but this gets me to thinking about old Radio Shack catalogs, which I remember getting every year from one of the local stores — we had one in the now-mowed-over Laurel Plaza shopping mall in North Hollywood (where I built about three “Perf Box” shortwave radios, cost $7.98 each, with coils wound around AA batteries — and none of which ever worked) . I always wanted one of these DX-160 shorwave receivers. This is the kind of thing that fuels eBay — buying the stuff we could never get as kids but which now is cheap, even if it doesn’t work all that well.

System 7 Today

For those running Macs of a certain vintage, especially the PowerPC era, the way to get the most out of your computer is to run System 7, primarily System 7.6.1. How do I know this? I learned everything from Dan Palka of System 7 Today. Dan makes a very good case as to why you should run 7.6.1, even if you have enough memory to go to System 8, and even if you think you’re happy with 7.5.3, or something even earlier. Dan is also active on the e-mail lists at Low End Mac, my other beacon of old and moldy Macintosh knowledge, especially the Powerbook list.

More on Low End Mac later. On System 7 Today, besides a lot of knowledge, Dan provides plenty of free utilities and software to make your old Mac as productive as it can be. It was through him that I procured the one program that turned out to be the saving grace of This Old Mac: Internet Explorer 5. Don’t laugh. In my opinion, it is the best browser for 7.6.1. I’d like to say iCab is better, but while many Web sites look better in iCab, it just isn’t as stable as IE5.

And don’t get me started on e-mail programs. After much testing on my part (and some of this is due to my ISP, no doubt), the only way I can get e-mail through a POP account is with Netscape 4.7, which though supposedly “tuned” to the PowerPC chip is very slow. But it does work, and it allows offline reading of mail and Usenet news. Now my “lifestyle,” or should I say computing style makes it better for me to read mail via the Web, so I’m sticking with Yahoo! and IE5 as the best solution for the moment. For those who can run OS 9, I do recommend Netscape 7, but that is pretty much a pipe dream for Mac OS 7.

Anyway, Dan is a very good guy to know, and what’s amazing is that he’s in his early 20s. Now it’s not unusual for somebody that young to have a lot of computer knowledge. But about systems and software that is 10 years old?

Irving Berlin and D# minor


I knew that Irving Berlin couldn’t read or write music, but can’t believe this from his Wikipedia entry:

In spite of his musical career, Berlin never learned how to play a piano or read music beyond a rudimentary level. He reportedly was unable to compose in any key other than F-sharp major (or, presumably, D-sharp minor, since he also wrote songs in minor keys) and owned a special piano that mechanically transposed keys while an assistant wrote out the music scores.

He could only play in one key? Since a lot of show tunes modulate like crazy, how did he handle that? Did the “special piano” transpose on the fly somehow?

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

A Transposing piano is a special piano which can be adjusted by the player (e.g. with a lever or pedal) to transpose. There are not many in existence, but they have been used, for example, by people whose skills are restricted to playing in certain keys, or by those who need to transpose music, but lack the necessary skill in so doing.