September 2009 Archives

latitude c400 x3

I have been watching Latitude C400 auctions on eBay to get an idea of what they sell for. There have been a few decent ones that have sold for less than $40. Most have one or two things wrong with them, but nothing that can not be fixed with a $10 part. I figured if I got the C400 from Danika's mom up and running and liked it enough I might try to get another one to have a spare and/or use for replacement parts. After playing around with it for a while I decided it was a fairly nice laptop--small, light with enough horsepower to run most of the applications I use. I saw an auction come up for two C400s that the seller said he had gotten at a garage sale. He included the Dell tag numbers, so I could look them up on Dell's support site and see how they were configured when they originally left Dell. The price stayed pretty low, so I ended up bidding on them and winning them for $70 ($35 each).

bonita justice

Danika went back to work today. We managed to work it out so she could go back part time. Her office allows people to work part time, but you need to find someone to share the week with. One person works three days and the other two. They more or less consider it one position and the person working three days gets all the benefits a full time employee would, but the person working two days gets none. As you might expect finding someone to work the three day portion is not too difficult but finding someone to work the two day portion is another story. All three of us are on Danika's medical plan and losing that benefit was not something we wanted to happen. It seemed unlikely that she would be able to find someone willing to work a two day week so she could work a three day week.

About a week ago she got a call from the office asking if she was interested in going back part time. Someone had heard that she may be interested, so when an opportunity came up, they called her about it. It was a three day position, so she could get to keep all her benefits. She and I discussed it, and she discussed with her mom and her sister (since they would have to rework the child care plans) and the next day she called her office to accept the part time position. We had planned for her mom to watch Graham when she went back full time, so watching him three days a week worked for her as well. Danika talked to her boss, and if she had gone back full time, she would have been on a trial rotation with lots of long hours, so I am really glad we were able to make this work.

kudos to dell

Dell does not have great Linux support, but they do at least have some. The other day I needed to update the BIOS on a Dell laptop, so I went to Dell's support site to get the BIOS files. I was not surprised to find the only options were to use Windows and DOS to updated the BIOS. I eventually came up with a solution where I copied (using dd) an image of a DOS install onto the empty laptop hard drive, mounted it, copied over the Dell BIOS DOS executable, put the hard drive in the target laptop and then booted to DOS and ran the executable. It was a bit of a pain, and if I did have an extra laptop hard drive laying around I would not have been able to do it.

Since then, I have discovered that Dell actually makes a tool to install BIOS for Linux users called biosdisk. It essentially automates the process of creating a DOS floppy image with the BIOS executable, coping the image and syslinux's memtest into the /boot directory and adding an entry into the grub boot loader menu to boot the image. I have not tried it out, but it was nice to see that Dell acknowledges the fact that not everyone runs Windows and they have alternate solutions.

Dell's biosdisk page:

new spouts for the ventmatics

My kegerator is equipped with Ventmatic forward seal faucets. These are great faucets for taps that are "infrequently" used. Regular beer faucets seal in the back and not all of the beer in front of the seal drains out. After a couple of days of non-use the beer in front of the seal gets sticky and faucet locks up. A stuck faucet was a fairly common occurrence with my kegerator until I got the Ventmatic faucets. They are really nice faucets with a high quality of workmanship. Unfortunately the company went out of business, so getting any sort of parts for them has been a bit problematic. Recently I discovered a small CNC machine shop that makes spouts for the Ventmatic faucets.

grub on a usb drive

I typically use PXE to boot PCs when I am not booting them from the hard drive, but I really like the convenience of USB flash drives. They are extremely portable, cheap and most systems can boot from them. I have been playing around a lot with GRUB lately, so I thought I would spend some time setting up a USB flash drive with GRUB. The setup is pretty similar to setting GRUB up on a hard drive (which I have outlined in other post). This post outlines how to setup a USB flash drive to use GRUB to boot memtest86+, FreeDOS, a Fedora Install kernel, an Arch Linux Install kernel and Parted Magic Live.

booting the c400

The Dell Latitude C400 has a number of boot menu options, but few that do not require a docking port. Without a docking port the boot options are limited to the hard drive and NICs. I have done network (PXE) boots before and they are pretty easy to set up. After having done a few, I actually prefer to do PXE installs since they typically go faster if the install does not need to read from a DVD/CD (I usually have a copy of the DVD/CD image on the hard drive). For two of the C400s I was able to setup PXE and boot from their on board NICs to install a Linux distro.

powershot s400

Our 4-5 year old Canon PowerShot S400 (Digital Elph) started acting strangely. In capture mode the LCD is all black or looks like it is on acid. Taking a photo captures the weirdness (see the image below), usually very distored and purple-ish. The LCD works fine, so you can still review photos and use the menus. I did a bit of searching and found that the problem is most likely a known issue. I called Canon and they are sending a prepaid label so I can ship the camera to them to evaluate it. If it is the known issue, they will fix the camera and send it back to me free. I would expect this if the camera was 90 days to 1 year old, but I am very pleasantly surprised since it is 4-5 years old. Here is a link to Canon's Service Notice.

Update (09.30.2009)
I got the UPS label from Canon and sent them our S400. I received an email from them today stating:

Based on our initial examination, we will start the necessary repairs at no charge to you. You can expect the repair to be completed and returned back to you within approximately 7 business days.

Update (10.05.2009)
I got email from Canon on Saturday with a FedEx tracking number. They have fixed and shipped the S400. FedEx tracking says it should arrive tomorrow.

Update (10.07.2009)
FedEx tried to deliver the camera yesterday, but it required a signature, so they did not leave it. I signed the slip they left and they delivered it today. It appears to working great, and not only did Canon fix the issue with the CCD, they replaced the two housing parts that had dents in them. Thanks Canon!

Captured weirdness
Weirdness captured

Distorted Dax
This is a photo of Dax

backyard brewing handles

Here are couple of tap handles I modified into Backyard Brewing handles. Nothing fancy, but they were also pretty easy to make. I had already created the graphic, so I just scaled it to a size that would fit each handle, printed them out on label paper, trimmed them and stuck them to the handles.

Tap Handle

more mn visitors

Graham was very excited and happy to meet his great aunt Pat and uncle Tony this last weekend. They were on there way to Victoria, BC (driving from MN) and were able to spend some time in Seattle. We got to have dinner with them on Friday and hang out most of the day on Saturday.

bagged and vacuum sealed

I just got done bagging and vacuum sealing the Hamilton hops for 2009. They are in the freezer and ready for brewing. We ended up with 2 lbs 13oz this year, less than last year, but only by a bit.

Temporary storage

Bagged and vacuum sealed

brewing time lapse video

Here is the time lapse video of the brewing session we had a few weeks back. The images were captured once every eight seconds and played back at 25 frames per second (every 10 seconds of video represents about 30 minutes of actual time). We captured most of the brewing session, but the camera stopped taking photos before we finished. The video is missing the last 20 minutes of the brew session (which was mostly just scrubbing the pots and putting everything away). Thanks to Danika for uploading the video to youtube.

the sea of green

I spent some time over the three day weekend getting all the cones picked of the hop vines. I ended spending about six hours total pulling the vines down, loading them in my truck and then pulling all the cones off. We ended up with about one and half garbage bags full of hops. They are now hanging in my basement in a "hop hammock" drying. It looks like we will end up with close to the same amount as last year. Once they finish drying we will weigh them, vacuum seal them and put them in the freezer.

Picking the cones off the vines

Drying in the "hop hammock"

hamilton hops 2009

Hop prices still remain high. Not as high as they were last year, but still quite a bit higher than when I started brewing with Marc. We have friends that grow hops and have offered them to us, but before last year, it never seemed worth it. Picking hops isn't all the difficult, but it is a bit time consuming. Spending hours to get enough to brew a beer never seemed worth the $5 we would save. Last year, however, hops were really expensive and a number of varieties were not even available.