Archive for November, 2010

life: family guidelines

Several months ago my wife and I were lamenting some of the things we saw weren’t going well in our family. So after some long talks, we came up with a set of guidelines for our family that really hits the nail on the head (at least for the issues our family is struggling with). There are three parts:

Love, Respect, Kindness. The bickering, mean voices, not sharing, and general selfishness are things we do not want in our home. It really sucks the spirit out when these things are going on. And it’s not right to be nice to strangers and mean to your own family. Close quarters does uncover the flaws in people, but we are all flawed and we need to deal with it. The attitude we have can make all the difference.

Do Your Duty. It’s not fair to have 5 capable people making a mess of the house and not cleaning up after themselves, leaving mommy to do it all. Do your homework before your recreation. Many hands make a light and even load.

Play Together. We need to have fun, and we need to do some of it together instead of in isolation. We need to budget time and money for family activities, and do things we can all participate in, whether it is a trip somewhere for a couple days, a handful of milkshakes, or a board game on a Sunday afternoon. We need to have positive interaction together and build memories.

I share this in the hope that someone else might benefit from what we’ve learned, and to see if there are suggestions from others.

life tips marcelk 14 Nov 2010 No Comments

life: four-wheel alignment on automobile

Having bought 4 new tires for each of my cars recently at around $700 for each car, that is something I would like to avoid needing again for a long time. So how to make the tires last long? There are really 2 things to do: tire inflation and wheel alignment.

The tire inflation ought to be checked at least a couple times a month. I just recently did this, and found one tire that had lost half its pressure, due to a slow leak. Ack! Running that low did cause some nasty wear on the outer edge of the tread. I didn’t catch it quick enough. I might suggest that you check the tire inflation at the same time you check the engine oil level. But I’d really suggest that the tire inflation is more prone to sudden change than the engine oil level, so perhaps the tire inflation ought to be checked more frequently. But a new engine is much more expensive than a new tire. Get yourself a good air pressure gauge (a round one, not a stick one), and either a stack of quarters or a small air compressor for home.

For the wheel alignment, this is something that can really only be done in a shop that has the proper equipment. Normally it will run around $60-$80 for a 4 wheel alignment. Even though the front wheels are more prone to being out of alignment than the rear ones (such as when hitting a curb while parking), you do want all 4 to be aligned, since you do have 4 tires.

Normally I dislike the subscription automotive services, but I stumbled across one I like quite a bit: a multi-year program for wheel alignment. I bought a 3-year program at the local tire shop so I can take my car in for 4-wheel alignment as many times as I want in that 3 year time period. The total cost for the program is $150 for each car. So for the cost of 2-3 alignments, I can get as many as I want in a 3 year period. I’d suggest getting an alignment every 3 months if you are on a program like this, or every 6 months (or hard curb impact) if you pay for each one without a program/subscription. So I think it is a really good deal. If a good alignment extends the life of the tire set by 50% by minimizing the wear, you can see that financially it is good deal and a worthy investment.

life tips marcelk 14 Nov 2010 No Comments

tech: open source

In our lab at work, we needed a way to schedule access to some dev/test machines, since we have more people than machines. A trivial Google search and I find phpScheduleIt. So on an existing Linux server in the lab I install an http server, MySQL, php, some Pear libraries, and the phpScheduleIt application. Follow the setup instructions, and we have a web-based scheduling application that fits our needs perfectly. It even deals with the timezone differences of our team members in Asia.

If I get time to create the LDAP authentication modifications I need, I’ll donate those back to the phpScheduleIt project.

Man, I love open source. Remember how hard this would have been 15 years ago?

tech tips marcelk 03 Nov 2010 No Comments

life: dryer repair

My clothes dryer recently broke. It’s an electric dryer, not gas-heated. The drum would rotate, the fan would blow, but the heating element never got warm. I figured calling a repairman to come on-site would equal the cost of a new appliance. It’s a shame we make items less expensive to replace than repair. So we end up with larger landfills. Time to learn something new.

I’ve been buying Sears Kenmore appliances. I don’t think they are particularly better than the regular brands. Actually, I believe they are from the regular brands, and just rebranded as Kenmore. But what Sears does really well is their parts management.

First, they keep track of your phone number when you buy an appliance. So if you call them for service or parts, they can look up what you bought previously. They also do this through their website,, which also allows you to keep track of non-Sears appliances.

Second, their online parts store offers exploded diagrams of all their appliances. This is really helpful for (a) figuring out how to disassemble an appliance, and (b) finding the part number for your defective piece, and (c) listing which Sears stores actually have the part in stock so you can drive over and pick it up without paying shipping. Yes, the parts are still really expensive, but you can find them easily.

So back to the clothes dryer. The hardest part was figuring out how to open the darn thing up. The parts diagrams didn’t help a lot, but I was eventually able to locate the panel that popped off (just under the front door), and was able to figure out how to pop it off (via some really difficult latches). Once the panel was open, you’ve got access to pretty much everything.

Make dang sure you unplug the dryer from the wall. You don’t want to meet 220 volts.

I figured the heating element would be the culprit. So off to the Sears store to buy a $60 part. Bring it back home, install it, still doesn’t work. Hmm. Some poking around on the forums and there is mention of the thermal cutoff and thermostat. They are located right next to the heating element, and I can see from the wiring how they are in series with the heating element. So I pull out my multimeter and start testing for continuity. Yup, the heating element looks good, thermostat looks good, ah the thermal cutoff has no continuity. So back to the Sears store to get a new thermal cutoff and thermostat (they come bundled together) for $30. BTW, Sears won’t accept the heating element for return because it is an electrical part that I opened and tried, even if it never got power. Replace the thermal cutoff and thermostat. Since I have a new heating element, might as well put that in too. Aha, it works! Clean the inside of the dryer out since I have it open. I note that the rollers for the drum have lint on them, that is why it was thunking a bit at the beginning of a cycle. Clean lint out of the dryer vent, since that may be what caused the thermal cutoff to trip.

So I’m out $90 and about 3 hours of labor (not counting driving to the store and back). Still a fraction of what it would have cost a repairman to come on-site, and I learned something new.

Now we can work on the backlog of dirty laundry. I don’t know why everyone dislikes putting their wet clothes all over the bonus room and turning on the ceiling fan.

life tips marcelk 03 Nov 2010 No Comments

tech: disable autoplay on Windows

From a security perspective, autoplay is just a really horrible idea. You don’t want programs to automatically launch when you insert a CDROM or USB thumb drive. You should disable autoplay on all your Windows systems. All the software I install is either downloaded from trusted sites, or in the case where I do have a CDROM I just find the setup.exe file and double-click it.

Here are some simplified general instructions, and here are the official Microsoft instructions. I was able to use the general instructions for XP Pro, but needed the Microsoft instructions for XP Home.

tech tips marcelk 03 Nov 2010 No Comments