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Blog Archives for September 2009

Cooked Computers

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 - Comments (0) in Computers, Life, Work

I'm not sure what the deal is, but at work lately everything has been breaking. Unfortunately for me we happen to own a whole bunch of Dell Optiplex SX280 computers. These things have serious motherboard issues that didn't seem to surface until after the 3 year warranty expired. Dell effectively told me to take a long walk off a short pier when I suggested they fix them after the warranty period.

The boards have bad capacitors that have a habit of exploding. I'm not talking about exploding with a bang, but they'll bulge and eventually spring a leak. Once that happens the computer won't do anything. You hit the power button and the power light will just blink amber. This is annoying, but at least it's an easy fix. You have to take the whole thing apart and use a solder iron to replace the bad capacitors (note the plural use). For the past year or so this was all I had to do once they had the blink-of-death.

sx280 capacitor

sx280 capacitor 2

A few weeks ago school started up again and like usual tons of problems came up that nobody seemed to notice all summer even though the same machines were in use by camps and other groups. I've fixed a bunch of machines with bad caps, but so far 4 of them also had other bad components. I can't fix these things because they have 6-8 pins all soldered down at once. My feeble soldering skills can't handle that.

sx280 failure

sx280 failure 2

When you power on a machine and one of these components cooks it sends a cloud of toxic gas into the room. Ok, maybe not toxic but it certainly stinks. It's always disconcerting to see black smoke shooting out the back of a computer you just spend 40 minutes taking apart soldering stuff and putting back together.


Saturday, September 26th, 2009 - Comments (0) in Life

Last weekend I drove out to Albany for my friend Jason's bachelor party. One of the things we did was play paintball for a few hours. I had only played paintball once before at my own bachelor party but had a blast, so I was totally excited for this.

We played at a place called First Prize Paintball. We were able to get 10 people to go so we had a private party with our own referee. They have 4 different "courses" to play on: one brightly colored with inflatable obstacles, just like what you typically see on TV, an urban-like one with concrete ground and buildings, and two different overgrown woodsy fields with all sorts of obstacles. We played the majority of our games on the smaller woodsy field, it was the most fun.

paintball field

We also played a bunch of different games. Most of the time it was 1 or 2 shots and you're out. These were fun but sometimes could be too fast. Then we played "head-shots only", where you can get hit an unlimited number of times in the body but you're out when you get one in the head. These games took a LONG time; it can be luck just hitting someone at all, but actually hitting them in the head can be really hard. We played a few games of "capture the flag" which was fun but because they used an old dark shirt as the flag, it was really hard to see. There was also this game that involved medics. One person on each team was a medic and could heal people who got hit. This means the game keeps going until the medic get hit and then everyone gets out after him. The last type of game we played was all of us against the Jason. He could get hit as much as he could take but we were 1 hit and out. He won.

I got hit a bunch of times but only a few left lasting marks. My first hit of the day was right square in the ribs! It really hurt and left a nasty mark like a third nipple. I meant to bring gloves but forgot as usual and got hit right in the knuckle. This didn't hurt too much, but it looked nasty because it was bleeding.

third nipple

more paintball welts

paintball welt

At the end of the day when most of us were out of paintballs those who still had some left played a last game against one of the referees. It was all of them versus him, but he's practically a professional and had a fully automatic gun (like an Uzi that shoots paintballs)! I fully expected all of them to get slaughtered, but one of the guys (Shawn) ended up charging the pro while he was looking the other way and got him.

Scoot Scoot

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 - Comments (1) in Life, Projects

A while ago I was leaving for work at like 7:20am and as I turn out of the driveway I see a scooter in a pile of trash at the end of my neighbor's driveway! I immediately get out of the car and wheel this thing back into my garage. A closer look reveals that this is an electric motorized scooter in very good shape, but it wasn't going anywhere under its own steam.

It turns out both of the two 12 volt 8Ahr batteries were bad. One of them I tried charging this batter for like 12 hours and it only went from 7 to 9 volts. The other one took the charge in only a few hours like it should, but when it was loaded (like dragging my ass round) it would just give up. I was able to rig up two extra car batteries I had sitting in the garage and go for a ride! I found a guy on eBay selling very similar batteries to the original ones for only $13 shipped. I'm seriously considering buying two of them. That would give me back room for my feet and would probably shave off at least 50lbs of car battery weight, so it'll probably go even faster!

Right now this thing goes around 7mph. That doesn't sound very fast, but with those tiny handle bars and the even smaller wheels, it's still scary. With the extra weight of the car batteries this thing has a lot of inertia and can be tough to stop on a dime.

my awesome scooter

Cherokee Ball Joints

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 - Comments (4) in Cars, Life, Projects

For a while know I've had a little problem with death wobble. As it turns out, the ball joints on the driver's side were totally worn out and needed to be replaced. I could have paid some shop to do this for me, but it would have cost around $500 and I'm way too cheap for that. I got the parts and tools for around $140. I was putting this job off because I figured it was going to be a total bitch to get 23 year old joints out, but I had something to do in Albany in September and I didn't want to go that far/fast on the bad joints.

I was a little worried going into this project because this car is my daily driver, if something went wrong that I hadn't planned on, I'd be screwed. I knew exactly what I had to do thanks to the many sites online explaining how, but I was worried about getting 23 year old parts that were rusted together apart.

ball joint replacement 1

First I had to take the brake caliper, pads and rotor off. There are just 2 pins holding the caliper on, once they're out you can take it and the pads off. The pads (and the wheel) are the only thing hold the rotor on, so with them off you can just pull the rotor off to access the hub.

The hub was the first thing to slow me down. It wasn't that bad because I replaced it a few years ago, but it still took some serious persuasion to get it out. There are 3 13mm 12 point bots holding the hub to the knuckle. They came out pretty easily. Since I was removing the hub and axle shaft as one piece, I couldn't use a puller to get it out, I had to use a cold-chissle and a big hammer (BFH).

axle shaft and hub

steering knuckle

I was going to take the tie-rod end off the steering knuckle (far left in the above picture), but I couldn't get the cotter pin out, so instead of screwing around wasting time I just left it connected and rested the knuckle on my recycling bin when it finally came off the axle.

I already had all the tools necessary except for a ball joint separator. I found a pivoting type online that allows you to get way more pressure on it. I didn't have time to ship it so I had to hunt it down locally. Nobody had these things. Even the local places that had them listed online didn't have them in stock. I finally found one at a Harbor Freight in Buffalo. Luckily that day we were driving to Buffalo anyway for a family picnic, so we stopped by on the way and got it. Best $17 ever; it made the job so much easier!

ball joint separator

Once the knuckle popped off (with the sound of a shotgun next to my head), I was able to press the old ball joints out. The top has to come out first because to get the bottom one out the press has to go through the hole where the top one was. It took me longer to figure out the orientation of the press and all the adapters than it did to actually press them out. They were really in there though, it took some serious effort to get them out. The only serious injury I sustained was a poke in the thumb. I still don't know when or how I did this, but it REALLY hurt.

pressing out ball joint ball joint replacement injury

old and new ball joints

The second thing I was worried about with this job was pressing the new joints in. With the particular axle in my jeep, a Dana 30, the surfaces you need to press against to get the new joints in weren't perpendicular to the direction the joint had to go; they were angled slightly. There is a set of adapters for my press for this specific purpose, but it was like $75. I made an angled receiving cup at work out of a pipe, but it ended up being too long and wouldn't fit in the press. I had to resort to shimming it with a couple of washers to get the angle right. That worked out fine and the new joints went in perfectly.

The next problem I ran into was finding the right socket for the bottom joint's nut. The old joint took a 32mm. The new joint took a 33mm, which I now know they don't make. I ended up using a 34mm that was a little sloppy, but it only needed to be tightened to 75ft-lbs so it was okay. Later I found out that 33mm is almost the same as a 15/16 which they do make, but I still didn't have. Maybe I'll keep my eyes peeled for a cheap set of monster sockets.

Everything else went back together nicely. I found out that my front rotors need to be replaced; there is a nasty groove on the back side of the one I saw, probably from a rock or something getting stuck and a few pitted spots. When I replace those the brakes should work much better.

All together this was a great experience. I didn't run into any show-stopper problems, I had (almost) all the tools I needed and it only took me most of a Friday afternoon and an hour on Saturday morning. Everything worked perfectly when it was back together; my wheel didn't even fall off during the test drive! I have since gotten up to 70MPH on I490 and the wobble is all but gone. There is some slop somewhere else in the system, but I can only feel it when I hit a big bump while turning and going very fast. Good enough.

More pics at higher resolution:

Ground Bees

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 - Comments (1) in House, Life

My current nemesis is a hive of ground bees in my back yard. Usually I let bees do their own thing, but these guys are getting in the way of me mowing, and since it's my yard, they had to go.

First I tried hitting them with some foaming bee/wasp/hornet spray which killed a bunch of them (see the video), but they came back. That is what I did last year to the other hive when I got stung twice while mowing. It worked then but not this time.

Then I tried some other spray, which also didn't work. Then I tried some powder called Sevin that you sprinkle near the entrance and hope they take it back for the queen to munch on. This seems to have worked. The guy that suggested it to me said to "sprinkle liberally" and I did; I completely filled in the entrance to the hive. They then dug a new hole a few inches over and I just sprinkled this stuff around it. After doing this I still saw some activity a day or so later but for that past few days I haven't seen anything buzzing around there. I even got right up to the entrance to take this picture and survived to tell the tale. I think that did the trick.


Damn Squirrels

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 - Comments (7) in House, Life, Rants

They might be cute sometimes, but squirrels are just a pain in the ass. They made my shitlist when they started stripping my peach tree and now they're making a mess of my front yard.

I have a huge oak tree in my front yard that just started growing acorns. The little furry bastards seem to love the acorns and are littering my front lawn with shells and little branches. Since the acorns are way out at the tips of the branches they have to crawl out there and typically break the branches while trying to get the nuts.



nuts 3

It doesn't look that bad in the pictures, but in real life it looks awful. On Monday I was doing some yard work and I watched 4 squirrels in opposite corners of the tree all going to town on the acorns. I tried shooting at them with my little plastic pellet gun, but it wasn't accurate enough, I couldn't hit any of them. Don't worry, it wouldn't have done any damage to them, probably, but that's a chance I was willing to take. I tried to take some video of them in the act but every time I get out there with a camera they all seem to disappear.

Outer Banks

Friday, September 4th, 2009 - Comments (5) in Blackberry, Life, Vacation

This is the second year we've gone to the Outer Banks for a week at the end of the summer. My sister lives in Richmond so my parents drove down to her house a few days before and we flew down the day before. Then we all drove 3.5 hours from Richmond to Nags Head.

The plane ride down left a little to be desired. We got up at 3:45am (!!) to get to the airport by 5am to get on our flight that left at 6am. There were no food places open at that time so we just ate a granola bar before boarding. Then our plane was a little late arriving at JFK (of course) so we just had time to make our connection to Richmond. We sat on the runway for almost 2 hours (!!!) while someone decided an alternate route since there was bad weather somewhere along our path. We eventually made it to Richmond. It's a good thing we flew Jetblue and each had our own TV or I would've lost it and killed someone (or everyone).

Me in the richmond airport
Me while we waited for my sister to pick us up at the airport

The house we got was absolutely awesome: 4 huge bedrooms (two of which have attached bathrooms) and a big open living area on the top floor. It had a hot tub and most importantly, wireless internet! Monday morning while I was eating cereal on the deck I watched some crunchy hippy blow his nose in his hand while walking to the beach. He then wiped his hand on the ground, then a stop sign post, then some tall grass and finally on his swim trunks. We saw him a few times during the week, after this incident he was referred to as "snot-rocket".

The formula was basically the same every day: we'd get up around 8:30ish, eat some breakfast, work on the puzzle and then hit the beach by like 10. We'd go for a dip or just roast and then make our way back for lunch around 12:30. We'd putz around the house for an hour or so and make our way back to the beach around 2. Then come back around 4:30 and work on dinner. I'm used to eating dinner early, like between 5 and 5:30, and it would always work out that we'd end up eating at like 7 or 8 every night, it was killing me. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't wrangle everyone to make a decision until then.

The first day on the beach I got a wicked sunburn on the tops of my feet. I didn't have sunblock on, but I swear I was completely in the shade under my tent on the beach. I still don't know how it happened. That totally sucked because it really hurt to wear flip-flops to and from the beach. It was the worst coming back from the beach because the sand on my feet would get ground into my sunburn by my flops.

sunburned feet

Every time we go down the shore we do a jigsaw puzzle. My sister got my dad a puzzle this past Christmas that we attempted to complete. This puzzle was unbelievably difficult, it was a water color with the same colors everywhere and 1000 pieces. We worked on this puzzle for 7 days and just couldn't finish it. All the pieces left were yellow and all shaped similarly; it turned into a guessing game that just took too long. I was sad. It looks like a piece of cake from this picture, but it was a bitch.

This puzzle was impossible

In typical Reid fashion, hurricane Dan showed up at the end of the week. What wasn't so typical was that it didn't really affect us at all! We got about 10 minutes of rain one afternoon and then more rain over that night. The weather during the next day was beautiful, but you couldn't go swimming due to rip currents. I think this is the first family vacation where we didn't have major rain for a whole day or two.

The night before we flew home my Blackberry Enterprise Server at work puked; the hard drive failed. This server has been running for years, why wouldn't it fail while I'm on vacation?! So annoying. So I had to stop at work on my way back from the airport and work some magic.

Chris and Christine's Wedding

Friday, September 4th, 2009 - Comments (0) in Life

A couple of weekends ago we drove out to Detroit for our friends Chris and Christine's wedding. We were driving there and had a couple possible routes to take: we could have looped around the bottom of Lake Erie for a total of about a 9 hour drive or as we chose, drive through Canada and cut the time down to 6.5 hours.

This was the first time I've ever been in Canada, which I'm not quite sure why as we live like 80 miles away. You now need a passport to get in and out of Canada, or one of those enhanced NYS licenses which cost just about as much as a passport. My passport was right where I left it in my safe-deposit box, but Rachelle's wasn't. It was finally tracked down in one of Christine (the bride)'s purses from when they went to Europe for a school trip. The drive through Canada was really boring, there was really nothing to look at. There was this "express" highway called the ETR that is a toll road and not labeled very well as such. There aren't any toll booths either, they take a picture of your license plate and mail you a bill! We successfully avoided this road and made it with no problems. We had to wait at both borders (NY->Canada and Canada->Michigan) and that was a miserable experience. When we entered Michigan we waited for more than an hour in 20 lanes of cars all going nowhere. At least we made it through without any cavity searches.

I was really surprised by the state of the roads in Michigan, they're awful! They make all the cars there but have the worst roads ever.

The wedding itself was great. The ceremony was rather brief (always appreciated by the guests) and I was able to get some decent pictures. Since Rachelle was in the bridal party I figured I was going to be on my own to get to and from the church and reception, but I was able to hang out with another bridesmaid's husband (Fred) and a couple other people I know. They also arranged for a shuttle between the hotel and the reception, which was great because the reception was like 10 miles away.

We left pretty early the next day to beat the traffic at the border crossings. This worked out great and we had barely any wait at all at either border. It was still a long trip, but not sitting in line going nowhere made it much better.

Chris and Christine