I Don’t Want Your Mail

You can’t have my email address and I don’t want your junk.

There’s my grumpy old man cry, but it’s not without merit.  Too often, when I sign up for a service, I’m required to provide my email address.  Often, this is for practical reasons, but just as often, the site just doesn’t have a justifiable need-to-know.  They just want to send junk and promotions.

But rather than disconnect myself, I needed a solution.  To address this very problem, people often create a separate email account for these types of websites, knowing that it’ll become overwhelmed with junk, whilst leaving their primary email a sacred haven for more important correspondence.  Failing to find an alternative to the mandatory email-divulging requirements (because these sites always require that you confirm it’s a valid email by clicking a link sent to it), I, too, finally relented and adopted this solution.  But I’m a techie, so I’m not simply going to Gmail for this.  No, I’m not creating a run-of-the-mill dummy email, I’m creating an alter ego!  A doppelgänger!  An…Arbiter of Techno-Ethereal Ontology!

Okay, that might be a little cumbersome to adopt as a username, but as this mystical stand-in must remain a spectral whisper, I shan’t divulge its true name, because…you know…then you’d be immune to its powers.  Some LeGuin shit right there.

And because I don’t want to divulge its true name, I couldn’t use it as the email user name, so instead, I will use my server’s email platform to create…an alias!  That’s right, an alias to my doppelgänger–additional layers of mystery.  I shall become a shadow of the Internet.  WHOIS ain’t got shit on me!

Okay, “subscriptions” is a rather anticlimactic alias considering the pretentious melodrama from earlier, but I needed it simple to remember and type.

And so, I created the doppelgänger user account on the server,  then by leveraging the server’s mail software, I designated the aforementioned alias.  Now I can simply use the server’s Roundcube-based webmail client and sign into the doppelgänger account as needed (no push notifications!).  I sent a test email from my primary account to subscriptions@moorheadfamily.net and…

Success!  So why bother with this more difficult solution that essentially does the same thing as a free mail service?  Well, there’s the reason that I can, but also that I can then enable and disable the email address at will, without losing the inbox, so if I start getting too much junk mail in the dummy account, I’ll disable the alias and make a new one, which will cause all future junk mail to bounce, and I won’t have to change my login to the main doppelgänger account–just set up a new alias and forward that to the doppelgänger instead.

Why can’t all just play nice on the Internet to begin with?

–Simon

(2) Lilly

Lilly pondered the plot of earth at her feet. The plants no longer bore the spotted blight that had destroyed the prior year’s crop. There were contingencies, of course, but she missed the potatoes. The soft golden variety had always been a favorite of her mother’s, with the churned crème and topped with the wild onions she was so fond of gathering. She had been on one of those foraging ventures when she had gone missing. The town’s militia had mobilized a search, but no trace was ever found. Perhaps it was better that way. Without closure, she could hold out to hope.

But for now, the nostalgia of that potato recipe occupied Lilly’s consciousness. She bent down to examine the plant in greater detail, aware that her skin-tight blouse and short skirt (donned to cope with the day’s heat) was putting on a show for the young men in the field. But it was a small village, and reputations were eternal, so they pretended not to notice and turned a gentlemanly gaze back to their own crops. Inwardly, she smiled. Admittedly, she enjoyed the attention.

Her cool exterior, however, was shattered when her shouldered E-Beam rifle slipped out of place. She made a fumbled attempt to control it, but only managed to hook a forearm through the sling. The weapon crashed into the potatoes. She cursed, and inspected the damage. A snapped stem and some dislodged leaves. But potatoes were, after all, rather resilient to physical punishment, so it was a minor injury.

This was also why those working in the fields chose pistol variants. But the rifle was her mother’s, and she stubbornly insisted on carrying it as her required small arm. Her father, recognizing his late wife’s stubbornness, had long since ceased to argue on the practicality. And regardless, she was an exceptional aim.

One of the young men had made a move towards her upon witnessing her momentary plight, but had aborted once determining his presence would be unnecessary. He resumed his work, hoeing weeds—efficient and practical sidearm holstered at the belt line on his back—practical and out of the way. He pretended not to notice Lilly’s glower as she examined his weapon choice. She sneered, and made a mocking assessment of his manhood through the obvious correlation. Sensing the silent hostility, the man moved further down the row and resumed working.

Lilly turned back to her potatoes. This batch was starting to brown. It was about time to harvest. Prematurely, she dug her hands into the soft dirt and felt for a tuber. Successful, she severed it with her knife and withdrew a fist-sized potato. She smiled, examining its blight-free exterior, and became giddy in anticipation of the harvest pre-party. She would need to go on an onion search, but first she wanted to show father. He too would reminisce. He had also been deeply wounded by the prior year’s failed crop, as he appeared to have taken it be final confirmation his wife had taken the Grey Path. This would raise his spirits.

She stood, shouldering the oversized rifle once again, and grabbed her linen bag. She placed the potato within, then shouldered it too, on the other shoulder. Off she marched, along the row, careful to avoid trampling any desirable plants, and quite successful through years of practice. The rifle almost comically hung to the back of her knee, but it too was a burden overcome through practice. A breeze sent her skirt fluttering and she smiled again, knowing her egress was being monitored.

Father was on the roof of their brick cottage. The last rainstorm had brought hail, and while the damage had been insignificant to the crops, the slate roof tiling had suffered casualties. He was carefully fitting squares, securing them with tar. It was hot and difficult work. And father was getting old. Lilly felt the need to point this out.

“I can’t lose you too, you know.” She called out, jesting to cope with the still-open wounds of the family’s loss.

“The alternative is to enlist the help of someone younger, but for that, you’d have to make a friend.”

“I assume you mean one these local degenerates?”

“They won’t be young forever. Time mellows a man, and you’ll find them more to your liking once they get older. Perhaps you should go into town and meet some older ones.”

“Are you so quick to get rid of me?”

“I won’t be around forever.”

“So I need another man in your place?”

“Your path is your own, but it’s a lonely world. Don’t try to make it lonelier than it has to be.”

Lilly grumbled. Father had never been overly-protective, in spite of events. But he was also never hesitant to suggest she start considering starting her own family, not that he felt she wasn’t capable of solitary survival of course, but as he said, the world was a lonely place. He was right of course, and it was irritating.

She changed the subject. “The potatoes are almost ready. I couldn’t help myself. I cheated.” She withdrew the potato from her bag and held it aloft as if it were a sacred icon.

Father smiled. “It’s about that time of year, isn’t it?” He didn’t mean the time of harvest. He meant it was when mother had gone missing. It was why Lilly had brought home the potato a week early. It was the exact calendar week of that incident, though she hadn’t realized it consciously.

Lilly breathed deeply from sadness. “I was hoping we could make some of that crème, you know…so we could…” She trailed off, struggling to communicate that which didn’t need to be said. Father, knowingly, said nothing, but didn’t avert his gaze, either. He had grown patient with time, and always waited for Lilly to finish her thoughts, even though at the moment, she didn’t want to. Gradually, his stare softened.

“I have some fresh milk. The grass is in full swing this time of year. The milk is so rich.” He, too, had thought of the potatoes this exact week, and had bought what they didn’t normally keep in-house in anticipation.

Both knew where the conversation would go next, but father made Lilly say it aloud. “I have to go acquire another ingredient…” Father silently interjected, but the words failed him. He meant to protest, but made no motion to stop her, eventually yielding with a simple nod before breaking eye contact and resuming placing shingles.

Battlefield 3 (Part 2)

Part 1

[SPOILERS]

Following the cryptic interrogation in which I fervently explain that I did something  because I had to (although I still don’t know what it was), I start reliving that experience, presumably at some point chronologically before the thing that I did (that I had to do).

There’s some brief cutscene that explains we’re in the Middle East (Iraq-Iran, though they mentioned both so I don’t remember which), fighting terrorists (shocker!).  Riding in an APC with some fellow marines, general banter is exchanged.  This seems to be a common theme.  However this time, our vehicle does not explode.  Instead we are given some new orders, which require us to leave the APC (naturally, or it’d be a really boring game otherwise).

There was a lot of “go this way” and “go that way” and “follow your team”.  My team seemed faster than me, because I could never fully keep up.  Maybe I just wasn’t in very good shape, and passed my recent PT test on a technicality.  I mashed the left thumb stick to no avail, hoping to sprint, but it would seem that the game doesn’t have a sprint function, which was disheartening.

Then, I was prompted to sprint by pushing in the left thumb stick.  I did, and I sprinted.  I guess, until that moment in my life, I had never known how to run.  Already, I’m losing faith in the USMC’s training program.

A terrorist truck goes by, and I’m told to not engage.  But the terrorists didn’t seem very interested in shooting me as I stood in the middle of the road as it went past.  So, I didn’t even pose enough of a threat that I was worth shooting.  So far, the game’s taught me how to pick things up, squat, and run.  Maybe the terrorists were right–how big of a threat could I really be?

Then I was told to stack up for a room entry.  I got behind two of my guys, and waited.  Nothing happened.  Then I realized someone was trying to talk to me, but I couldn’t hear because the voice volume is way low.  I paused the game and checked the settings, but all I could do was switch between a few master settings (by the way: what’s the difference between “HiFi” and “Home Cinema”?  Can’t I have both?), and adjust the master volume.  But Liz was in bed so I had to leave it low.  Fortunately, the subtitles were on by default.  I was being asked where I was going, and then realized that there were two doors and I was supposed to join another guy at the other door.  Yep–I definitely wasn’t worth shooting.

We dramatically walked through the doors, through a garage, and into the open–which is always a good idea in a battle zone…or battle field.  Whatever.  To confirm my concerns with this tactical decision, a sniper shoots the the guy next to me.  Chaos ensues, and I’m told to grab my fallen comrade and drag him into the garage.  I do this by….guess how?  That’s right, by pushing “A”!  Ha!

I drag the man behind a pillar and then join the fight.  I quickly draw fire, and I mash “B” to duck, but “B” isn’t duck like it is in Call of Duty.  By the time I figure this out, I’m killed.

I respawn, complete the above sequence again, but this time manage to successfully take cover.  Our target is some dick with an RPG who keeps shooting cars next to us.  Some people just have no love for machines.  So I spray bullets in his general direction again and again, then go into the settings to turn down the sensitivity again.  Eventually, enough rounds make contact that RPG Dick dies.  Games always confuse me with bullet damage.  I get that enemies often require more than one shot for difficulty’s sake, but me–if I get shot with a 5.56X45 NATO, I quit.

After RPG Dick died, we shifted our focus back to Sniper Dick.  We ran inside to take cover, Sniper Dick shot through the windows at us as we ran, and one of the soldiers commented that it’s a .50 cal, which makes me question the bullet damage again–notably that the guy I drug behind the pillar didn’t die.  We’re talking about an anti-materiel weapon here.  I wouldn’t think it’d matter where someone got hit.  Grazes would still blow off appendages.

These are questions for another time I guess.  We ran up to the roof, took cover, then I was elected to shoot Sniper Dick with a missile launcher while everyone else distracts him.  They jumped up, I took the shot, and half the building he’s in disintegrated.  I really wasn’t sure if that was realistic or not.  I have limited experience with firing ordinance at urban structures.

Then we provided some support for marines on the ground.  I shot some more guys.  Then we had to run away real quick, because we got overrun.  So we ran away, fought our way through some buildings, found dead marines, then fled a tank.  Things weren’t looking so good.  The game was certainly capturing panic well.

Eventually, a friendly tank shot the enemy tank and we were saved.  Then we found an IED wired to a van, and once again I was elected for a task.  I followed the detonation wires to their source, which involved crawling through ducts.  I found their source, and then got attacked from behind.  I had to fight with another one of those “press the right button at the right time” scenarios, which I subsequently failed and died.

Reloading from the last checkpoint, I noticed that the game’s policy on saves are like those of an Asian game–infrequent, and not immediately preceding the events that kill me.  In the above scenario, the checkpoint was before I snaked my way through the duct work, not after.  So I had to repeat the irritating process.  But this time, I managed to savagely beat my assailant to death, whereupon he collapsed slack-jawed.  Go America!

Then I ran back outside to assist in holding the line.  I was directed to a pedestrian walkway above the road, and told to use the LMG conveniently sitting there.  I did, drew a bunch of fire, and died.  I repeated this cycle of death, because using the gun drew a lot of aggro, and because there was no place to hide up there on the precipice.  So on the third time, I ignored the protestations of my team and took the gun down to street level where I could actually hide, and behold–by ignoring my crappy orders, I accomplished the objective and lived to tell about it.

Then we had to defend the other side.  I ran over there with the big gun and killed a ton of people, until I ran out of ammo.  It was only then that I realized I was being told to jump on the vehicle-mounted gun and shoot people.  The enemies dutifully re-spawned infinitely until I followed instructions.  I shot a bunch more people, saved the day, then a convenient earthquake hit and a building collapsed on me, dramatically concluding the second level.

The game continues from here, obviously, or it’d be a pretty disappointing campaign.  But I think I’ve covered the quirks for a fair review.  I enjoyed the game.  It had it’s share of glitches, unclear objectives, obligatory irritating tank level, and some intrigue.  I did eventually find out what that thing I did that got me in so much trouble was, but you’ll just have to play the game to find out…or read someone else’s walkthrough.

Battlefield 3–a fair game and a long-overdue good Xbox Gold freebie.

–Simon

Electricity, EEEEEEEEEEEEEE-lectricity

Hehe, remember that one?:

During my recent plumbing project, I considered that connecting pipes, if done wrong, at least wouldn’t kill me.  Still, I found the process irritating, and after the pain of cinching down threaded pipe connections took its toll on my elbows, I concluded that I would much rather be doing electrical work.  Besides which, if I wear leather gloves, the shock of 120 volts is reduced to a mere tingle even if I screw up the breaker.

Still, despite this mitigated lethality, when I find something done wrong, I grow concerned.  So it was that I decided to tackle the unattached electrical outlet in the garage.  I really should remember to take before pictures, but I didn’t this time, so I’ll have to explain the setup.

First, I’ll mention that it was a 2-pronged ungrounded outlet.  That was part of the problem, as an obviously bad choice for the garage, which would presumably be more likely to power higher-amperage devices.  More troubling was that the outlet wasn’t bolted into the wall box, and the wall box itself wasn’t even attached to either the adjacent stud nor the drywall.  In short, there was an electrical line leading into a loose box, then wired into an ungrounded and unattached outlet–a hole in the wall with exposed hot wires.  What could possibly go wrong?

My main concern was that the kid might poke a finger in there, so I had taped up the cover.  And as the outlet lacked a ground, as mentioned, it was of limited use anyway.  But then, as I was shoving rolls of carpet into the attic one day, I considered: how hard would it be to run a separate ground to that outlet and make it serviceable again?  The basement has a ground line running through the joists, so perhaps the attic had one too.  I searched around, but no ground wire was to be found.  That seemed odd, seeing as this was the only outlet in the house which didn’t have a ground.  For a moment, I panicked, thinking that none of the outlets were grounded, but these fears were quieted when I opened a junction box and discovered that all the wiring was modern Romex with connected grounds.

I followed the wire from the box to the obvious spot where it dropped down and fed the outlet in question.  This wire, too, was grounded, which begged the question: Why wasn’t the outlet grounded?  And where was the ground wire?

Climbing down, I checked the outlet box again.  Turns out that the wire did indeed have a ground, but it had been clipped off at the point where the outer insulation had been stripped to separate the wires.  So someone had deliberately installed an ungrounded outlet on a grounded line, and had removed the ground.  Why?  Tugging on the line, I discovered there was no extra wire, so I couldn’t simply connect the ground to a new outlet as-is.  And of course, the box wasn’t mounted so I’d need one that would.  Sigh.

My motivation to complete this project coincided with Liz re-painting the living room.  With my entertainment center out of action, and the threat of being drawn into a painting project looming, I concluded that this electrical problem needed an immediate resolution.  Off to Lowe’s!

In the electrical isle, I wondered why both metal and plastic boxes were the norm.  Why would one be used over the other?  Maybe metal was for industrial buildings.  But for me, I rather preferred to use non-conductive material to house electrical wires.  I also bought a roll of 14 AWG wire to extend the ground.

Back at home, I followed the usual procedure of sequentially flipping breakers until the correct (and least logical) circuit was found.  Then I got to work removing the unmounted box, which wouldn’t fit through the outlet’s hole in the drywall.  I wonder how it got in there to begin with.  Was it installed before the drywall, but never mounted?  The prior owner had done some weird electrical projects in the basement, none of which inspire much confidence, so this could very well be one of them.

At least it was the garage, and the drywall isn’t painted out there, so I didn’t feel much hesitation in sawing through it.  I removed the useless metal box and installed the plastic one, having poked the wires through and extended the ground.  The outlets in this house are worn out, so I’ve been replacing them as demand necessitates.  This is the 5th such outlet to need replacing, so I have a supply of them on hand.

I patched the hole with leftover drywall and spackle.  It doesn’t look very clean, but it works and is far safer than the prior potential disaster.

What the hell was wrong with this guy?  You’d think that electrical work is something worth doing right the first time.

Fortunately, my project was finished quick enough that I was able to help out with the painting after all…lucky me.

–Simon

Standards (Part 2)

So in Part 1, I chronicled my woes regarding a seemingly simple task: connecting a garden hose to an unused water softener spigot in the basement.  In short, it was not as easy as I had thought, and I had resorted to an unconventional solution.  Unfortunately, that unconventional solution did not withstand the test of time, and when I used the hose later, the sealant popped loudly and water sprayed the wall.  The pressure was just too great.

Curious as to how much pressure was in these lines, I researched what standard pressure should be.  The answer: 40-60 psi, no more than 75.  This only served to cause more questions though, like how deep does water have to be to reach that pressure?  Hmm, back to the Internet.

The answer to this question: about 30-40 meters.  That’s…pretty deep.  I certainly wouldn’t ever want to be that deep under water.  And that’s residential pressure, after the reducer.  It’s no wonder broken fire hydrants turn into geysers, and why water towers are so creepily tall.

But back to the job at hand.  I was determined to get this project to work, so I decided on another tactic that I had toyed with at the time: splitting the washer hookup and connecting a hose directly to that.

This spigot has certainly seen better days

Once again, it was off to Lowe’s to stare at pipe fittings.  I admit–I rather enjoy just looking at components like this, formulating solutions in my mind, then allowing my attention to drift to potential future projects.  The trouble is, staring blankly at rows filled with utility infrastructure sends visual messages to those around, manifesting into thoughts such as: “This guy has no idea what he’s doing,” or “He’s going to break something or hurt himself,” or “Maybe I’ve watched too much 90s-style man-of-the-house-deprecating sitcoms and I’m judging him too harshly when I really don’t know what he’s capable of.”

I highly doubt that it’s ever that latter thought, however, so in general I try not to tarry too long.  Fortunately, my years of work experience have taught me a useful skill: how to look busy when I’m not, and how to look like I know what I’m doing.  I must have pulled it off, because no one approached me.  And besides which, figuring things out is part of the fun of a project.  I don’t want a detailed walkthrough for everything I do in life.

Anyway, I quickly found a copper hose splitter.  But–would this fit the laundry hookup?  I presumed it would, but I also presumed I would find something to fit the water softener spigot, thinking everything in plumbing was standardized and easy to figure out.  Also, the laundry hose stays pressurized, and since I didn’t want to leave a garden hose pressurized constantly, I would need to split the hookup, and then install a value on the hookup I would use for the hose.

Then it occurred to me: I would buy another wash machine line, which is designed to stay pressurized, then terminate it in a valve, then attach the garden hose to the valve.  Plus, having a washer hose in my possession at the store would allow me to determine if the splitter would fit.  So, I wandered over to the appliances, found a set of hoses, opened the box, and attached the splitter.  I was gambling, of course, that the existing hookup and hose were the same size, but since I couldn’t find any size other than 3/4 in the entire store, I took that to be reasonable confirmation that it was a standard.

The next objective: attach the utility hose to a ball-valve.  All the valves were female-threaded, so I had to find a male connector.  Fortunately, that was easy through trial and error, though I later found out that hose threats and pipe threads are different, but a male 3/4 pipe thread will still attach to a 3/4 female hose thread (though not the other way around).  And fortunately, the Internet was pretty unanimous in that doing this, while not the way things were designed, wouldn’t cause any problems.  So, I didn’t bother swapping this out for another 3/4 male pipe to hose thread adapter–which is what I attached to the other side of the valve for the garden hose.  For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me that utility hoses had hose thread–something new to learn I guess.

The difference is that hoses use pressure to seal against a rubber gasket, because they’re also designed to be removed if desired, whilst pipe thread is meant to be cranked down and left sealed eternally (bypassing the need for a washer), and is so threaded finer to reduce gaps.  For those who weren’t aware of or considered this distinction, myself included, there’s a brief explanation.

Having all the parts (splitter, utility hose, male thread connector, ball-valve, male thread connector to garden hose), I set off for home.

I never did use those hose clamps–they were too big

The splitter attached easily enough, followed by the existing utility hose, then the new one.

After doing this, I asked Liz how old that hose was, which we determined to be the one that came with the house, so it’s probably due to be replaced before it catastrophically explodes

Then it was the fun part: assembling the copper parts.  I really wonder how plumbers do this, because I applied the tape and cranked those bastards down until I ached all over, and they still leaked.  Eventually, after experimenting with additional Teflon layers, I got the leaks to stop…mostly.  The garden hose side still drips ever so slightly, but not enough to bother with taking it all back apart and adding more tape, and only when I leave it pressurized.

I let it sit for a time, ball-valve closed and the line under full pressure.  For whatever reason, I expected my handiwork to explode violently, embedding me with copper shrapnel.  But rationally, if anything were to fail, it would be that ancient rubber hose that’s been on the line since the 60s.

That silicon tape got a new use–it’s a much cleaner solution than duct tape, although eventually I might get the right sized hose clamps for a more permanent fixture

I feel much more confident with this setup, though my prolonged work back there with the piping shook my confidence with the existing pipework, like that old utility hose and the shutoff to the outside spigots that’s so rusted I can’t turn it.  Maybe next I’ll learn soldering.

–Simon