Mar 182018

Anybody interested in hiring a competent TV repairman?

No, just kidding. Nobody makes a living from TV repair anymore. (On the other hand, if you are interested in hiring a competent IT contract professional… but I digress.)

Still, I have this compulsion, trying to repair broken things even when they have little or no practical utility. So it came to be that I felt compelled to repair this old SANYO AVM-2664U analog 26″ CRT TV, with a circuit board that was buzzing louder than a hive of angry wasps, as shown in this thermal infrared video which I made while I was hunting for possible hotspots on the circuit board:

Eventually, I managed to track down the problem: One lousy little capacitor.

As I told my wife, it would be fun, doing this for a living. Unfortunately, nobody is likely to pay hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars to repair an old television set that not even thrift stores want anymore (too heavy, too obsolete). Yet another perfectly useless skill in the year 2018.

 Posted by at 5:57 pm
Mar 102018

There is a very interesting concept in the works at NASA, to which I had a chance to contribute a bit: the Solar Gravitational Telescope.

The idea, explained in this brand new NASA video, is to use the bending of light by the Sun to form an image of distant objects.

The resolving power of such a telescope would be phenomenal. In principle, it is possible to use it to form a megapixel-resolution image of an exoplanet as far as 100 light years from the Earth.

The technical difficulties are, however, challenging. For starters, a probe would need to be placed at least 550 astronomical units (about four times the distance to Voyager 1) from the Sun, precisely located to be on the opposite side of the Sun relative to the exoplanet. The probe would then have to mimic the combined motion of our Sun (dragged about by the gravitational pull of planets in the solar system) and the exoplanet (orbiting its own sun). Light from the Sun will need to be carefully blocked to ensure that we capture light from the exoplanet with as little noise as possible. And each time the probe takes a picture of the ring of light (the Einstein ring) around the Sun, it will be the combined light of many adjacent pixels on the exoplanet. The probe will have traverse a region that is roughly a kilometer across, taking pictures one pixel at a time, which will need to be deconvoluted. The fact that the exoplanet itself is not constant in appearance (it will go through phases of illumination, it may have changing cloud cover, perhaps even changes in vegetation) further complicates matters. Still… it can be done, and it can be accomplished using technology we already have.

By its very nature, it would be a very long duration mission. If such a probe was launched today, it would take 25-30 years for it to reach the place where light rays passing on both sides of the Sun first meet and thus the focal line begins. It will probably take another few years to collect enough data for successful deconvolution and image reconstruction. Where will I be 30-35 years from now? An old man (or a dead man). And of course no probe will be launched today; even under optimal circumstances, I’d say we’re at least a decade away from launch. In other words, I have no chance of seeing that high-resolution exoplanet image unless I live to see (at least) my 100th birthday.

Still, it is fun to dream, and fun to participate in such things. Though now I better pay attention to other things as well, including things that, well, help my bank account, because this sure as heck doesn’t.

 Posted by at 12:59 pm
Feb 152018

Our smallest cat, Pipacs, continues to do well.

Four weeks ago, we thought we were on a death watch: The kitty was severely ill, no longer able to poop as his intestines were blocked by an invasive bone growth. Laxatives, even several enemas were of no use.

We were convinced that the only alternative to a slow, painful death was euthanasia.

But then, he suddenly pooped. (What a relief. Especially for him.) Since then, we’ve been able to manage him with medication.

I don’t know how long he will still be with us, but for now, he is doing okay. The bone growth distorting his pelvis is quite large now, making it all but impossible for him to use one of his hind legs, but it doesn’t appear to bother him too much, except when he is trying to use that leg to scratch an itch. Just watching it is frustrating! (How do multiple amputees scratch themselves when they have to?)

But he is eating well, he is pooping well, and when the other cats aren’t chasing him around, sometimes he chases them instead.

 Posted by at 10:33 pm
Jan 312018

Here is a beautiful picture of the contents of one of our litter boxes:

What makes it beautiful, you ask? Why, it is a thermal infrared image. And it shows some unambiguously fresh poop. Fresh poop produced just a few minutes prior by our kitty Pipacs, whom we were about to write off two weeks ago, as we were certain that his digestive system shut down, him being unable to poop as his bowels are obstructed by an invasive bone growth.

But Pipacs still has a few of his nine little lives left. I don’t know how long he’ll stay with us; we take it one day at a time. But with the medication he receives (a combination of laxatives and stool softeners) he is coping for the time being.

 Posted by at 4:48 pm
Jan 272018

Concerned as we were (and still are) about the health of our smallest kitty Pipacs, it helps to remember that we have two other felines in the house, both in good health as far as we know (fingers crossed and all that.)

The orange tabby on the left, Kifli, will turn 17 in April. He will be old enough to vote in next year’s federal election! He has not stated his political preference yet.

And despite their similarities, the two cats are not related. The cat on the right, Rufus, was a stray. He was approximately one year old when we adopted him in the fall of 2014.

 Posted by at 9:38 am
Jan 182018

Much to our surprise, not to mention relief, our kittycat Pipacs is a lot better today.

We noticed yesterday afternoon: he began eating again. He seemingly felt better. He groomed himself. He even played with us a little.

And then this morning: a nice, big poop in the litter box.

So his digestive system is functioning again. Probably with difficulty, so he is going to be permanently on a diet of laxatives and stool softeners, but so long as he is able to poop, he should be okay as otherwise, other than the bone growth on his pelvis, he is healthy.

This bone growth is not going to go away, so we’re living on borrowed time. But borrowed time is still a lot better than no time at all.

I already called the vet and canceled the scheduled visit for tonight. Thinking of Murphy’s law, however, I asked them not to process a refund yet, just keep the amount we already paid on our account.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Jan 172018

This beautiful creature, who has been our companion for ten and a half years, give or take, is Pipacs (Hungarian for Poppy, pronounced pi-patch or something like, with the ‘i’ as in the word hit, the ‘a’ in the word bark, with emphasis on the first syllable.)

Unfortunately, Pipacs is very ill.

He was diagnosed with a growth on his pelvis three years ago. Even back then, the only treatment option was drastic surgery: Removal of a large part of his pelvis along with the leg on that side.

Pipacs has always been a very skittish cat. He was a stray when we adopted him, probably about a year old in late summer 2007. He is very easily traumatized. This, and the very low risk of such a growth spreading to other organs led us to the decision not to opt for surgery.

One thing we did not anticipate is that the growth, which increased in size rather dramatically in the past few months, would encroach on his digestive system and eventually obstruct his colon.

Which is exactly what happened. Simply put, beyond incidents of explosive diarrhea after receiving enemas, Pipacs cannot poop anymore. And sadly, surgery is no longer a viable option.

Which is why our veterinarian is scheduled to make a home visit tomorrow with her euthanasia kit. And my heart breaks as I am writing these words.

 Posted by at 8:27 pm
Jan 032018

When will news portals finally learn that autoplaying a video at maximum volume in the middle of the night guarantees only one thing: that I close the tab in a mad panic while I curse the news site, its creators, editors, their parents and grandparents and just about everybody they ever did business with for scaring me witless and waking up my household?

 Posted by at 1:52 am
Dec 242017

It’s the same, each and every Christmas. As Christmas Eve approaches, I remember that famous moment from 49 years ago. The astronauts of Apollo 8 just orbited the Moon. It was Christmastime. These three men were a thousand times farther from the Earth than any human being in history. It was an awe-inspiring moment. Once radio contact with the distant Earth was re-established, the three astronauts took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis. Frank Borman then closed the broadcast with words that, in my mind, remain the most appropriate words for this evening: “good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.

 Posted by at 7:49 pm
Dec 142017

And since I seem to be posting cat pictures today, here is an “artistic creation” of Google Photos’ AI bot, depicting our youngest cat, Rufus:

I think this picture clearly explains why we often address this feline as Master Rufus.

 Posted by at 5:10 pm
Dec 142017

OK, I published a picture of Pipacs yesterday, so here is our oldest cat, Kifli, who turned 16 earlier this year.

I think he is a very respectable fellow, but he is also very playful, especially considering his age. I hope he remains this way for many more years to come.

 Posted by at 5:07 pm
Dec 122017

It may not be obvious, but this amorphous thing in this picture is a cat.

This is Pipacs (Hungarian for Poppy), our smallest cat. He is a little over ten years old (exact age unknown, as he was a stray.) He was diagnosed with a bone tumor a couple of years ago, but after the doctor explained that for cats, bone tumors rarely metastasize, we decided to take a risk and not have the leg in question amputated. The main reason is that Pipacs is a very skittish kitty, and we were deeply concerned that such a drastic operation (not to mention multiple, often painful vet visits) would have traumatized him.

So far, so good. That was two and a half years ago. Fingers crossed, but although the growth is there and quite noticeable, accompanied by a small limp, it does not seem to bother him. He remains active, with no signs of pain or discomfort, and no indication of any trouble. We just hope he will stay this way for many more years to come.

 Posted by at 12:09 am
Dec 052017

Our townhouse was built in 1981 or 1982. It came with a washer and a drier installed. When we moved in, just over 20 years ago, those machines were already nearly 15 years old, but still working flawlessly.

Many years later, the washer developed a problem: A pressure regulator valve in it failed. A technician temporarily fixed it by bypassing the valve and just turning the shutoff valve to reduce the pressure. He didn’t even charge us for this work; he said he’d be back once he had a chance to order the right replacement part. He never did, and as he was one of several technicians I called from the Yellow Pages that evening, I could not even remember who he was. So I never got a chance to thank, not to mention pay, him for his labor.

The temporary solution then became permanent. The washer worked well for many more years. Until Saturday morning. Just as my wife, on her way to a craft show, was trying to wash a few freshly knitted hats, the washer refused to spin and refused to drain the tub.

I was somewhat hopeful that the cause was just a bad interlock switch, which is designed to prevent the washer from operating with the lid open. This switch stopped functioning a while back; the washer ran always, lid or no lid. But who knows, perhaps now the switch failed in the open position? I opened up the old beast, located and removed the switch and bypassed it.

It could have worked. In fact, it almost did. With the switch bypassed, the washer was no longer completely silent when it was in the spin/drain position. The motor buzzed.

But only buzzed. That angry, 60 Hz buzz that you hear when a motor is seized. And sure enough, after about 15 seconds I began to smell, and then see, acrid smoke.

This was the moment when I knew that after a remarkable 35-year run, this old White–Westinghouse washer had its last wash. It was, unfortunately, finished.

So then came the annoying task of having to find a new washer. Fortunately, I was prepared, as I already contemplated the possibility that our old washer might die (35 years!) Lately, I stumbled upon a brand: Speed Queen. It appears that they mostly make commercial washers, for laundromats and other commercial installations. But they do have a few home models.

Oh, they are pricey. More than two and a half times as expensive as the cheapest washer that you can find. Still… based on the reviews I read, I thought that it might be worth the price. When I make a purchase, I either buy cheap (and then I know that I am buying cheap) or buy quality. Now quality is not always available. And often, reputable brand names turn out to be just pretty labels attached to the same cheap, er, excrement that is sold under other names at half the price.

So Sunday, we went to see this washer in person, at a local appliance store that carries the brand. The comparison was convincing. The weight difference alone between the Speed Queen and other washers was revealing. And of course it was a top loader with mechanical controls, a rarity nowadays, but the kind of machine that is precisely my wife’s preference when washing freshly made wool hats, mittens and such in her own special way.

So we opted to buy the Speed Queen, and it was delivered earlier today. Installation was my job. It’s not very hard; you hook up the hot and cold water, install the drain hose, level the machine and power it up. It powered up nicely, and the first test wash went like a charm.

So here we are, with a brand new, yet very conventional, high quality washer installed right next to a 35-year old clothes drier that still works reliably, and now that I cleaned it, looks almost new.

What can I say… apart from the damage to my wallet, it was a fun day. I am glad it happened now, not a few weeks ago when I was struggling to meet some deadlines, having freshly recovered from the flu.

Will this machine last 35 years? Who knows. But I certainly hope that we won’t have to worry about buying another washer for a long time to come.

Oh, and the package contained an interesting surprise: An order sheet for the parts manual and service manual for this model. I think I will buy those. I hope the machine will never need repairs, but if it does and it’s no longer under warranty, maybe I can fix it. Often the hardest bit is knowing what to do, and that’s where a factory service manual can be of immense help.

 Posted by at 10:00 pm
Nov 302017

Here is a short segment from a piece of music that I am trying to identify:

For the life of me, I cannot. It is especially annoying because I heard this piece of music on SiriusXM Symphony Hall earlier this morning, but I didn’t get the title and cannot find a playlist.

This music was played during the end credits of the main evening newscast in the 1960s, perhaps the early 1970s, on Hungary’s state owned television network.

Update (Dec 3, 2017): Mystery solved. It is the Scherzo from Schumann’s 2nd symphony:

 Posted by at 1:01 am
Nov 282017

The other day, I bought a cantaloupe for my wife.

Today, as she was about to cut it in half, she noticed that it had two sticker labels. Not only that, but held just the right way, the thing looked just like a character from South Park:

Bon appétit.

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Nov 262017

OK, so today was a Sunday, I have recently finished some projects, so I had a bit of time to work on long overdue things around the house. Actually, it had to do with an attempt to repair an old TV, which needed to be vacuumed first, as it contained more than two decades’ worth of accumulated dust. But quickly, my attention turned to our vacuum cleaner instead.

It is a Kenmore vacuum cleaner, one of the house brands of soon-to-be-defunct Sears Canada. It is reasonably decent. But…

Well, it has a HEPA filter. It is supposed to filter the exhaust of the vacuum, to ensure that it contains no microscopic particles. The HEPA filter is a small rectangular piece made of cardboard and other materials that fits behind a cover on the back of the vacuum. The vacuum was barely a few weeks old when this cover first fell off. Putting it back on didn’t help; it fell off increasingly often. Taping it on didn’t do the trick either. Eventually, I affixed it with two screws, and it seemed to hold afterwards. Even then though, I had a nagging suspicion that there is something odd about this vacuum cleaner…

But first, let me digress. Let me mention a building, a six-story apartment building in the Hungarian city of Pécs, which is the building where my wife grew up. This building is odd, as its stairwell and elevator shaft are housed in an entirely separate building, connected to the main building on each level by a hanging corridor. Rumor has it that the original architect simply forgot to include a stairwell and elevator shaft in the design. Kind of hard to believe but…

Anyhow, back to my vacuum cleaner. My nagging suspicion was this: after the air goes through the HEPA filter, where does it go? It is surely not going to exhaust through the solid plastic filter cover (the one that kept falling off.)

Lately, our vacuum cleaner was making weird noises. When I looked at it more closely today, I noticed that one of the screws that I used to affix the HEPA filter cover was gone, and that the filter cover was slightly off. The weird noise was the air whistling through the resulting gap. Well… this did it. Hard as it is to believe, I was forced to conclude that whoever designed this vacuum cleaner forgot to include an exhaust in the design.

Out came my trusty drill (bought at a Sears store eons ago when Sears was still the best source for quality tools) and a few minutes later, the filter cover had a bunch of holes in it:

I put the cover back on, affixed it with screws again, and tested the vacuum cleaner. It was working just fine, running more smoothly than ever, and significantly cooler to the touch than ever before. And when you put your hands over the holes that I made, you could feel the tremendous outrush of air… air that previously had no place to go other than exhausting through cracks between plastic bits. No wonder the pressure was high enough to push off the HEPA filter cover even when screws were holding it in place.

Before writing this blog entry, just to be sure, I double checked. I don’t want to make a fool of myself after all. But no… there truly is no exhaust, none whatsoever, on this vacuum cleaner.

What engineer in his right mind designs a vacuum cleaner with no exhaust?

Hmmm. Maybe an engineer from the same school that trained the architect who designs buildings without stairwells.

 Posted by at 11:03 pm
Nov 262017

Yesterday, I went grocery shopping.

I came home with groceries and a TV.

You see, Loblaws was selling cheap 32″ smart TVs at the checkout counter. Only 150 dollars (Canadian), and they even paid the sales tax.

We were in need of a TV. The TV that we have in the bedroom (rarely used, but good to have; it’d have been nice earlier this month, when I spent a few extra hours in bed on account of feeling miserably sick) is old, useless and broken. Useless because it’s an analog TV, and there is no analog service anymore, nor do we have an extra settop box for upstairs. And broken because… well, even when it was still actively in use, we needed to whack it every so often, as after it warmed up a little, its picture became elongated and discolored… but a good, well-aimed whack fixed it. Lately though, the picture was permanently distorted and in addition, the TV made a horrible, rattling, buzzing sound (and no, it didn’t come from its speakers.)

Anyhow, we now have a new TV in the bedroom. It picks up OTA digital channels just fine using a small antenna, and it works well with Netflix and YouTube. Perfect. And I managed to haul the old TV downstairs this morning. (It’s incredible just how heavy these larger old CRT televisions are.)

Before throwing it out, I decided to open it up. Who knows, maybe I can fix it and in that case, it can still have a second life at the Salvation Army or whatever. The later it becomes landfill, the better for all of us. So I decided to check this old beast’s innards. Which, in case anyone is wondering, looks like this (yes, I took several pictures just in case I disconnect something that needs to be reconnected the right way):

After removing the back cover and then vacuuming out a few pounds of accumulated dust, I powered it on, listening for the buzz. I also looked at the circuit board using my IR camera. My attention was quickly drawn to the left side, where there are some rather hot parts, but that turned out to be a bit of a red herring: the hottest part is a high-wattage resistor that is meant to shed a lot of heat. Next to it though… what I thought was an inductor turned out to be a relay. And that’s what appears to be rattling!

I checked online. Surprisingly, this is a standard part, not model-specific, still being sold. But the first price I saw was something like $12.50 US plus shipping. Way too much to invest into a 23 year old CRT television set. But then… I found an offer from China for the princely sum of 75 US cents, plus 35 cents shipping. $1.10 in total. Of course I ordered it.

So now I wait. When the part arrives, I’ll attempt surgery. If it fixes the TV, we’ll find a good home for it. If not… landfill, landfill, here we come.

Incidentally, this television set was assembled in Canada. How about that. I don’t think there are many television sets assembled in Canada these days.

 Posted by at 10:45 pm
Nov 072017

In case anyone is wondering why my blog has been sitting idle for the past two weeks…

It’s a damn cold.

I haven’t had a cold or a flu in years. In fact, I was beginning to think that I might have become immune.

Er… nope.

Nearly two weeks ago, my wife began to feel sick. The usual: a bit of a cough, a bit of a runny nose, and a fairly high temperature, actually. The next morning when I woke up, I felt perfectly fine. Until I coughed a little, that is. And it felt like a sharp knife stabbing me in the middle of my chest. “Damn,” I said to myself, “I caught it.”

And caught it I did. I was sick for many days. Something that has not happened to me in decades: I even stayed in bed for half a day a couple of times.

OK, now I am on the mend. I still don’t have much of a speaking voice, I still get coughing fits, and my stomach is still a bit queasy, but I feel generally okay.

My wife recovered a little more quickly than I, but even she is still coughing occasionally.

I hope that we both paid our dues to the demons of the common cold or the evil spirits of the flu for several years to come.

Meanwhile, I already had a lot of catching up to do before I fell ill… now, my TODO list looks bad enough to make me feel desperately, depressingly sick again. Will I ever catch up?

 Posted by at 10:39 pm