Chip won’t work on your credit card? Try this.

Chip won’t work on your credit card? Try this.

If you’re standing at a checkout and the chip won’t work on your credit card, don’t give up right away. Here’s what to do when you swipe but can’t complete your purchase because your chip doesn’t work.

Chips are a new security feature, but it’s hard to appreciate them when a broken chip keeps you from completing your purchase. It happened to a longtime friend, and another friend of his provided a solution. I had to share it, because I know it will happen to others.

Read more

Why accordion-style flexible drain pipe is against code

flexible drain pipe
An example of a flexible coupling

From time to time I see accordion-style flexible drain pipe (also sometimes called flexible waste pipe) in use, much like the one on the right. St. Louis County inspectors take an exceptionally dim view of these, and I always wondered what the big deal was, since literally every hardware and home-improvement store in St. Louis County sells them. Why would they sell something if it isn’t okay to use it? Read more

How to make an LG LD301EL dehumidifier drain the water out of a hose instead of the bucket

I recently came into possession of an LG LD301EL dehumidifier. It was supposed to be draining out of the hose, but it wasn’t. I figured out why.

If you have one of these or a similar dehumidifier, chances are you have the same problem. The instructions on the back of the dehumidifier aren’t as clear as they could be and the diagrams are tiny. The manual doesn’t quite seem to explain it either. If you don’t have the manual and don’t want to download one from a dodgy web site–and as a computer security professional I recommend that you don’t (more on that at the end)–here’s how to get it done.

Read more

The Internet is at war. Please read this if you run a DNS server.

A Dutch ISP that acts as a spam haven is DDOSing Spamhaus, and they’re using DNS to do it. The attack is using spoofed DNS queries to create, basically, a smurf-like attack. And the sheer volume of traffic is likely to affect the Internet as a whole.

That might explain why my recruiters were complaining that it was taking forever to look up job postings today. (Yes, I can publicly admit that I’m talking to recruiters. That’s another story.)

But basically, if you run a DNS server, you need to check your configuration to keep lowlives from using your DNS as a weapon. Here is a useful page for those of you running BIND, the one of the most popular DNS servers.

This was the most common type of attack in 2012; it looks like some people are trying to up the ante in 2013. We can make it stop, but every sysadmin running a DNS server is going to have to pitch in to help.

Hey! That’s your teammate.

I don’t remember much about playing baseball in the fifth grade. I was an outfielder, but I don’t remember if I played left or right field that year. I don’t remember if I hit at the top of the order, or if I hit sixth.

My main memory of that year is one specific incident. I don’t remember the context, but either during or after a game, one of the players was hassling another player.

“Hey!” I heard my dad’s booming voice yell. “He’s your teammate.” Dad didn’t have to add the words, “cut it out,” because the bully understood. Dad’s stern rebuke, plus the glares from the coaches put an end to it.

Read more

If you need a deal on a Nook Simple Touch, they’re on sale

Sears has the Nook Simple Touch on sale for $70. That’s about a 30% discount. (Thanks Dealnews!)

I guess I’ve had mine for about six weeks, and I like it. It’s the #2 e-reader, and I’ve run into problems in the past buying the #2 just on the basis of technical superiority (Amiga, anyone?), but if being able to load books on an SD card and the availability of free public domain e-books isn’t enough, you can root the device, load the Kindle Android app, and turn it into a Kindle.

Read more

Google Chrome uses too much disk space

Sometimes, Google Chrome uses too much disk space. There’s an easy explanation for it, and there’s also an easy fix to reduce Chrome’s disk usage. Here’s how.

When Chrome updates itself, it doesn’t always delete the previous version(s). If you have a 3 TB HDD, that doesn’t matter much, but if you have an SSD, it sure does.
Read more

Recapturing the charm of someone else’s dad’s American Flyer train

My buddy Todd brought over his dad’s American Flyer train today. It had been a gift from his dad on his first Christmas. It was from 1938.

That was a peculiar year, because it was the first year that A.C. Gilbert, of Erector fame, built American Flyer trains. Previously American Flyer had been an independent company in Chicago.

This model was a Gilbert design, and at most produced from 1938 to 1941.Late last year, Todd had asked our mutual friend Tom about how to go about getting the train repaired. Tom referred Todd to me, since 3-rail O gauge isn’t Tom’s specialty. Of course Tom knew the answer: Marty Glass, of Marty’s Model Railroads in Affton.

So Todd took it to Marty earlier this year, once the Christmas rush had died down. Todd called me yesterday and said Marty had finished it. He brought it over.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he brought out an intricate 4-6-4 Pacific. It had far more detail than anything Marx ever made, and far more detail than any O27 locomotive Lionel ever made too. It had an intricate set of linkages, which turned out to be its downfall because they got bound up on us once. Marty had run the train for Todd when he picked it up–I suggested Todd have him do that, since 68-year-old trains always need some adjustments after they’ve been repaired. It ran fine on Marty’s layout.

Before we ran the train, I fixed the light in the Pullman car Todd brought over. He hadn’t taken that to Marty. The wire had come loose from the pickup on the underside of the car, and the light bulb was rattling around inside. I fished the bulb out, examined it (it looked fine; the old light bulbs in these trains is almost always fine, even after being shipped across the country), put the bulb in the socket, and re-soldered the wire to the pickup. I solder like a plumber, but judging from the pickup on that train, so did the Gilbert employee who built it.

With the car ready to go, I put it and the locomotive and tender on the track. We quickly found that the oddball American Flyer link and pin couplers didn’t line up right. Time for some more adjustments. I finally got the coupler heights adjusted correctly, then I hit the power, expecting since it had run in the store, it would run just fine on my layout.

Not so much. It ran for a few feet, then stopped in a shower of blue sparks, leaving a buzzing sound on the layout that I’ve come to associate with a short circuit.

The handrails were the biggest problem. There are two holes in the cowcatcher assembly that the handrails are supposed to slide into. Had I been doing the design, I would have made the rails longer, so they could be bent further underneath. But that’s irrelevant now. With the handrails not in the holes, they were pushing the cowcatcher down low, there it could short out the third rail. S gaugers can gloat that this wouldn’t be a problem on 2-rail S gauge track, but they really ought to respect their elders.

So I fixed the rails, and put a dab of solder on the underside to hold them in place (solder won’t stick to the zamac boiler). I noted the Phillips head screws Marty used to put it all back together. I’ll have to give him a hard time about that the next time I see him. Phillips screws didn’t come into widespread use on toys until the ’50s.

With that problem taken care of, it ran, but then it locked up hard. I gave it another thorough examination, and found that some of the intricacies on the drive rods had come misaligned, causing it all to bind up. I had to take it apart to free up enough space to realign everything. I took off the front truck, then the cowcatcher, guided everything where it was supposed to go, and reassembled everything.

And what do you know… It ran. It was a bit herky-jerky at first, but in my experience, old motors are always that way when they’ve been sitting for decades. They seem to need to get some running time in before they get used to running smoothly again. Todd told me that Marty said the motor was fine; the only problems he found were structural. From the sound of the motor, Marty obviously had lubed it–they tend to squeal a lot after 50 years, let alone 68, and this motor sounded like new–but I guess that’s all it had needed.

I found out the hard way that this locomotive (an American Flyer 531) really hates O27 curves. It derails every time, even on curves where you lead into the O27 and back out with a wider curve. So we moved it from my inner loop to my outer loop, which is mostly O42 except in one corner, where I had to do O34 to make everything fit. It made me nervous on O34 curves, but it did manage to stay on the track. It was much happier on the O42, which makes sense, because American Flyer O gauge track was 40 inches in diameter, just like its S gauge track.

Once we were confident it was running, we packed it back up. Todd was going to go surprise his dad with it. It’s been a long time since its last run. I hope he’ll enjoy seeing it roam the rails again.

Now that I’ve seen some of the late prewar 3/16 scale American Flyer up close and personal, I have a new admiration for it. I own a number of the Flyer freight cars from that period, but none of the locomotives. The detail is very good, and they run smooth and are geared low, so they have plenty of pulling power.

I’m sure Todd’s dad will be happy to see it running again. I know I sure enjoyed fine-tuning it.

Excuse me while I go check eBay…

First impressions of VMWare

I’ve been setting up VMWare ESX Server at work, and it’s quirky, but I like it. I shut it down improperly once (logging into the console on its Linux-based host OS and doing a shutdown -h now resulted in a system that wouldn’t boot anymore) so I’m afraid of what may happen. The upside is since every virtual machine is just a collection of files, disaster recovery is dirt simple: Build a VMWare box, restore those files from backup, point the VMs at them, and you’re back in business. No more need to worry about locating identical or close-enough-to-identical hardware. For that reason alone, I’d advocate running all of my Windows servers in production environments on VMWare, since Windows isn’t like a real OS that will allow you use a disk or image on dissimilar hardware with minor adjustments. We get some other benefits too, like allowing us to put all the toy servers in one box with RAID to protect us in a disk crash. We’ve lost far too much to disk failures on desktop PCs recast as someone’s pet-project server.
It also appears to try to only allocate to machines the amount of memory they’re actually using, so theoretically, if you were doing server consolidation and had, say, four servers with 256 MB of RAM, you could potentially get away with putting them on a VMWare host with less than 1 GB of memory.

I also like VMWare for tasks you don’t like to dedicate a single machine to. For instance, DNS on NT is totally brain-dead. It’s slow to propogate. It works about 99.9% of the time, but that .1% of the time that it feeds wrong answers will infuriate somebody, who will holler at you, and the struggle to fix the problem will infuriate you worse.

If you want DNS that works, your best bet is to load Linux or BSD with BIND on something and use it. But if you don’t already have a production Linux server somewhere and you don’t have a machine you trust to give the job, carve out a server on a VMWare box. Allocate 16 megs of RAM and a couple hundred megs of disk space to it, and give it a thin slice of processor time. DNS lookups don’t take a lot of power, so it won’t detract noticeably from the other hosted servers.

It ain’t cheap (the price isn’t listed on the web site for a reason), but software’s cheaper than hardware.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux