I have a lovely new desk and I am way more proud of it than I ought to be

This is a story of a teensy-weensy victory that has really put me in a good mood. I am way more proud of this than I ought to be because it’s really a very minor accomplishment that anybody with a small drill and the ability to read instructions can do, but these days even tiny little moments like these in which things all come together in a fulfilling way are very rare for me.

I always thought I had rather modest requirements for a computer desk, but it looks as though I was wrong. Ordinarily I’ve got the left side of my computer desk up against a wall with one computer partially underneath the left side of the desk, more or less up against the wall. Because of this setup, I always sit at the right side of the desk. That’s why I like to have the keyboard tray on the right side of my desk. Either that, or a keyboard tray that extends from one side of the desk all the way to the other side.

I had to replace my desk since it was ruined during Sandy. I thought it would be easy to find a desk with a keyboard tray on the right but it was surprisingly difficult. I found a few but none of them had any shelves or drawers or any other sort of storage space. I prefer a desk with either a couple of shelves or drawers to store cables and adapters and miscellaneous things like that.

I finally had the bright idea of buying a desk with storage features that I liked and then adding a keyboard tray myself. This was bold on my part, because I’m not someone you could ever call “handy”. I decided on the $99 IKEA Vallvik. It has shelves that you can choose to put either on the left or the right. It’s also just about the perfect width for a keyboard tray and it’s made of solid pine instead of that honeycomb stuff some IKEA products are made of, so I was pretty certain that the screws would hold in place well enough. Here’s the desk before I began my little project:
vallvik01

I had a look online at some ready-made keyboard trays but I didn’t like the idea that they wouldn’t run the full length between the shelves at the left and the right side of the desk. I wanted my keyboard tray to span that entire space. So I bought a set of 18-inch side-mount drawer slides (Fulterer 5000) and mounted them under the desk. I thought it was neat that these drawer slides come in different colors. I bought the black ones to match the desk.

If you're smart, you'll get a friend to help you install these.

If you’re smart, you’ll get a friend to help you install these.

I was super lazy and didn’t even remove the stuff from my desk while installing these. That didn’t turn out to be a problem, though it sure was difficult installing them alone. I ended up stacking a bunch of books on the floor to hold the slides up while I drilled some holes to screw the slides in. If I had somebody to hold the slides for me I would have finished in much less time and I wouldn’t have bumped my head on the underside of the desk nearly as many times as I did. The best way to do this would have actually been to disassemble the desk and lay the two side pieces in which the drawer slides get installed flat on a table.

The next step was to measure the distance my keyboard tray would need to be. According to the instructions for the drawer slides:

Check that the side clearance between drawer and cabinet side
is at least 12.7mm (1/2in.) on each side. Maximum allowable
clearance is 13.5mm (17/32 in.)

The distance from one side of the desk to the opposite was 28 inches. 28 inches minus two halves of an inch is 27 inches. So I got a board 27 inches long. The other two dimensions don’t matter too much as long as the board is not so wide that it doesn’t fit under the desk and not so thick that it looks silly.

So I got a board 27x18x1 inches. It was unfinished pine so it was a very light color, similar to the color of the table in the far left side of the first picture on this page. It would have looked lousy if I installed it as-is. So I got “Minwax Dark Walnut 2716” wood stain and a polyurethane finish. I followed the directions on the can and did 2 coats of the stain, allowing 4 hours drying time between each, followed by 2 coats of the finish, letting it dry 24 hours between each coat of finish. Now my board is a work of art.

vallvik03

All in all, it took 4 days of on-and-off staining, finishing, and drying before the board was ready for installation. I probably would have been just fine without waiting the full 24 hours for each coat of finish, but I wasn’t in any hurry so I was happy to wait.

Again, it would have been much easier to have somebody hold either the board or the slide while attaching the “drawer profile” pieces, but I managed to get it done myself with only a few minor splinters. Thank goodness I sanded that thing so well beforehand or else I might have bled to death.

The final result.

The final result.


You can see when I use the flash on the camera that the color doesn't match quite perfectly, but it's not noticeable under normal light conditions.

You can see when I use the flash on the camera that the color doesn’t match quite perfectly, but it’s barely noticeable under normal light conditions.

People should really erase their tablets before selling them (p.s. I have a Kindle Fire now and you don’t so ha-ha)

What a waste of an e-reader.

What a waste of an e-reader.

Note that I actually wrote this thing in late October 2012 and forgot to post it after, you know, getting my ass handed to me by Sandy. I checked my records and it looks like October 22nd was the day I got the Kindle Fire. That means I had a grand total of 7 glorious days to play with it.

I’m perpetually a generation behind. As is my wont, I went ahead and purchased a Kindle Fire the other day, shortly after reading about it’s successor, the new Kindle Fire HD. I have a Nook Color on which I run Cyanogenmod 7 and love it, but I found a good deal on a Kindle Fire listed as “bad battery” on eBay. Well, it turns out the USB port is the problem, not the battery. The USB port must be coming loose from the mainboard because it won’t charge unless it’s held in a certain position. Presumably this is why the seller took it to be a bad battery.

In any case, though I deny all accusations of being a stalker, I do enjoy the sort of voyeurism purchasers of used tablets are given opportunity to enjoy. The previous owner of the last tablet I bought seemed to use the device for nothing other than logging into his profiles at multiple online dating sites. Other than a few shirtless pictures of what I presumed to be him taken in front of a mirror using the built-in camera, there were hardly any multimedia files on the device at all. I checked the man’s email (which he had neglected to log out of) and found that he used it for nothing other than dating sites. He had even received via email nude pictures from a few ladies. He left himself logged into Facebook, too. I had a look at some of his friends’ profiles but got bored quickly. There weren’t any naughty or incriminating pics. Nonetheless, there was enough information available to me so that I could have found out where his house was and gone to kill or burglarize him had I had the mind to.

So it’s a fun thing to do, snooping through the stuff left on pre-owned devices, that is, not killing people. Of course, I always restore to factory settings after getting bored perusing the previous owner’s emails and other personal information and it should go without saying that I’d never actually reveal information that could be used to personally identify the previous owner or take advantage of it, since I’m an ethical sort of person. But I certainly could, if the mood struck me.

It’s both funny and a bit frightening that people don’t take the precaution of removing personal information from devices before selling them or giving them away. Sometimes it’s understandable, such as in the case of tablets with cracked screens. But other times, such as with this Kindle Fire or the shirtless man whose email I was able to read, there’s no explanation other than carelessness. On the other hand, most people, I would hope, even if given the opportunity to log into the previous owner’s online accounts, would take the high road and refrain from doing anything naughty, instead simply chuckling privately at the previous owner’s quirks and vices and then promptly wiping the device.

Pages and pages of novelty apps.

Pages and pages of novelty apps.

When you buy something like a Kindle Fire, you expect there to be some books on it. My generation 3 Kindle keyboard had lots of books on it when I got it, including Fifty Shades of Grey. Incidentally, an e-book reader is the best way to read a book you’re too embarrassed to be seen with. This Kindle Fire is well-used yet there’s not a single book on it. The reason I know it’s well-used is because of all the non-book shit left on it. There’s several hundred megabytes of useless apps on here. There’s a baby adoption app, ice cream shop simulator, daily joke, truth or dare, child lie detector, and something called “Fake iPad” which, when opened, simply throws up an image of an iOS screen to make your tablet look like an iPad. There are pages and pages of apps like this. Almost none of them do anything useful.

Out of the countless apps on the device, there are only a few that I would ever consider choosing to reinstall after I restore this device to factory settings and register it to myself. Pandora radio is one of them. Christmas is coming and I refuse to buy an entire album just to annoy my family with Wham’s “Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)”. The previous owner and I differ in our taste in music though. I opened up the Pandora app (which logged me into her account automatically) and the sounds of ‘Lil Wayne immediately spread through the entire apartment because the previous owner had left the volume set to maximum. This, by the way, was my first opportunity to listen to the speakers of the Kindle Fire which, I was pleased to learn, are incredibly loud and clear. I’m not an audiophile by any means and don’t know the first thing about speakers so I’m not speaking from a technical perspective, but from a practical one there’s no question that they’re much better and significantly louder than the speakers in my Velocity Cruz PS47, T301, or Nook Color. Heck, they’re actually a lot louder than the speakers in my Acer laptop, although part of that problem is a less-than-ideal driver implementation in my OS. After being blown away by the volume of the speakers I tapped the back arrow in the Pandora app to see if there were any other stations that the previous owner had created. There were seven or eight others featuring artists I’d never heard of. There was one with a name that I did recognize though and that was the Justin Bieber station.

The previous owner's Pandora radio stations.

The previous owner’s Pandora radio stations.

It’s not exactly my intention to ridicule (although that is always fun), but I can’t help but find it peculiar that someone would buy a Kindle Fire just to listen to Justin Bieber and play the ice cream shop simulator app. The previous owner was still logged into Amazon.com so I decided to check her recommendations. Interestingly, as far as I could tell she had never purchased physical goods from Amazon. She had purchased dozens and dozens of apps and had lots of recommended apps, but no matter which category of physical goods I clicked on — even music — Amazon reported that they had no recommendations, which is most likely because the previous owner never actually bought anything other than digital goods.

Of course, on the one hand I am very much a believer that every person ought to spend his or her money and time as he or she likes, particularly if it doesn’t harm anybody else. So it’s fine with me if someone wants to buy a Kindle Fire and never read a single book or periodical on it. It just seems to me though that if the chief reason you’re buying the tablet is to kill time with apps and listen to music, then why buy one marketed as an e-reader that lacks access to the ordinary Google Play store and costs $199?

Meh, probably the same reason I need four tablets and an e-ink Kindle.

I really do wonder if I’m blacklisted by the USPS

Today I had the 5th consecutive parcel I’ve attempted to have delivered go straight to the post office instead of to my home address. None of them have had signature confirmation. They’ve all been either priority mail or parcel post. Most had DC. There was one that didn’t. Either the USPS has blacklisted my address or they’ve put a new carrier on my route who is consistently doing his job terribly wrong.

It really adds insult to injury when, in addition to having to travel every single day to pick up junk mail and letters, you also have to travel to the post office to pick up parcels. There’s no reason to pay extra for signature confirmation if the recipient has to travel to the post office in person and show I.D. in order to get a parcel that doesn’t even have DC on it.

Maybe I’ll stop defending the USPS now. In the past 2 months they’ve destroyed one parcel, sent 3 to the wrong city, and decided to send these 5 parcels to the post office for pickup when they should have been delivered by a carrier.

Extracting Wii save files from a BootMii NAND dump

My water-damaged Wii. Believe it or not, this image has a happy ending.

My water-damaged Wii. Believe it or not, this image has a happy ending.

So other than all my furniture and my apartment itself one of the various items that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy was my Wii. Replacing the hardware is easy since a Wii is only about 60 to 70 USD these days and will presumably just continue to drop in price since the Wii U came out. The thing that’s impossible to replace is the save data. That’s why I wanted to see if there was some way of recovering my save data and copying it to my replacement Wii.

My Wii console, AV cables, and power brick were destroyed. My controllers and WiiMotes were in a box on a high shelf so they were fine. This includes a Gamecube controller, which I found out was necessary for this process.

My place was not safe to enter for months and still isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a chance to retrieve some stuff though. I took the Wii, placed it in some bubble wrap, and put it in a box that went straight to a storage facility along with everything else that was in the apartment.

It was just about a week ago that I had my first opportunity to see if it had been damaged. I disassembled it to check and found that it was absolutely covered in rust on the inside. I went ahead and tried cleaning it up a bit with cotton swabs and some alcohol and actually succeeded in getting it to boot. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a WiiMote with me at the time so I turned it off. That was the last time it ever boot normally.

Every time I tried to boot it afterwards it would show the green LED, the blue LED on the front panel would flash once, and the fan would spin up, but there would be no audio or video on the TV screen and no WiiMote would sync to it. The TV did detect a signal but the screen would just stay black.

Fortunately, I had Priiloader installed on it. I held the reset and power buttons at the same time to boot to Priiloader. I inserted an SD card prepared with Bootmii and used the option in Priiloader to launch Bootmii as IOS (since I hadn’t been able to install it as boot2 when I first got the Wii). I needed to use the Gamecube controller for this since no WiiMote would sync.

Once in Bootmii I made a NAND backup. It was from this backup that I was able to extract my saves. I used ShowMiiWads to extract the files from the nand.bin. I was then pointed in the right direction by this thread on WiiBrew. In the “title” directory of the extracted NAND dump there’s another directory called “00010000” with a bunch of directories inside containing the saves for each game. I copied all of these directories into a folder called “savegames” on the root of my SD card.

Once copied, I added “00010000” to the beginning of the name of each folder that I copied to the “savegames” folder. Then I moved the files inside the “data” and “content” folders into their respective parent directories.

For example: SDroot://savegames/00010000534e5445/

Inside the “00010000534e5445” folder are the actual save files such as “save.dat” and “banner.bin”. I’m not sure if the “title.tmd” files from the “content” folders are necessary, but I put them in there anyway. This whole process of dragging and dropping was a bit of a pain in the neck because I had saves for something like 30 different games.

I then used Save Game Manager GX from this link on the Wii to install the save files from the SD card to the Wii. It took many attempts because I kept having to try different versions of the program since I kept getting one error or another. This is the one that worked for me. Of course, you do have to already have a save game on the Wii for each save you want to restore. So I just started up each game and made a save before trying to restore my saves from the old Wii.

Ultimately I was able to restore somewhere in the area of 200 gameplay hours worth of save data to my replacement Wii from the old one. It did take me a few hours of research and trial and error to figure out how to accomplish this, but I think it was worth it, especially considering that there’s nothing much to do around here while I wait for the co-op board to get off their asses and hire someone to do repair work. They won’t let us hire our own people. Pfttt…

For the record, I think the problem with the water-damaged Wii is that, though the motherboard itself is fine, either the Bluetooth module, the WiFi module, or both were damaged by the water. The DVD drive may also be bad. I read that a Wii will boot properly without a DVD drive, but it will refuse to boot if either the Bluetooth or WiFi module is damaged or missing. This means the system could actually be fixed if I replaced those two boards but I don’t think it’s worth it now that I have a replacement Wii and my save games so I’ll probably just see if I can sell it on eBay. The reason Priiloader worked, I suppose, is that it must load before the Wii checks to see if the BT or WiFi modules are damaged.

Stupid USPS keeps wasting my time

Normally I’m the first person to defend the USPS. I’ve generally had good experiences with them. I’ve only had a few packages permanently lost in my entire life. This time, however, I must complain.

When I send and receive parcels I nearly always use delivery confirmation. The way this works is that the carrier scans the package using a handheld scanner when it’s delivered. This way the seller can confirm that the item arrived at the destination. This is useful in situations where the buyer claims the item was never received and asks for a refund or a re-shipment. With DC you can just point to the confirmation of delivery on the USPS website and the would-be scam artist gets shut up.

Signature confirmation is like a much more extreme version of delivery confirmation for more paranoid sellers. It’s more or less the same as what happens with any UPS delivery. The carrier must give the parcel to a human being at the address and get the signature of the human being. If there’s no human being to accept and sign for the package, it doesn’t get delivered. With DC it’s possible that someone other than the intended recipient will steal the package (eg. it’s left by the mailbox and the neighbor steals it before the addressee arrives home). Signature confirmation is a pain in the neck if you’re the recipient for obvious reasons: you must physically be at the address and answer the doorbell when the mail carrier arrives. When you’re like me and your mail carrier arrives anywhere between 1:30 pm and 5:30 pm depending on the day of the week, it’s a terrible inconvenience to wait around all day.

Registered mail is about equally inconvenient as non-registered signature confirmation parcels if you’re the recipient. It’s better for the seller though because supposedly registered mail is handled in a more secure manner than non-registered mail while in transit. I don’t know the details, but registered mail automatically requires a signature so for the recipient it’s more or less the same hassle as non-registered mail with signature confirmation, regardless of class.

Anyway, I always try to use only ordinary delivery confirmation. Regardless of whether we’re talking about media mail, parcel post, first-class mail or priority mail, I always try for just delivery confirmation when ordering packages. Ordinarily my mail carrier just leaves the DC parcels outside the mail box and I pick them up when I get home. The last three parcels I’ve ordered with DC, however, have all gone straight to the post office and I’ve had to go pick them up. I find that very annoying. DC is DC. There’s no requirement, as far as I know, for a human being to physically accept the parcel if it’s just got DC. That’s the point of the handheld scanner, if I’m not mistaken. That’s also why signature confirmation (which ensures a human being accepts the parcel) is more expensive. If DC required a human being to accept the package, there wouldn’t be much use for signature confirmation since it wouldn’t add any protection that DC didn’t already provide other than the name of the specific human being who accepted the package.

Anyway, it’s just annoying that the USPS would suddenly start requiring a human to accept parcels at the exact time that my apartment was destroyed. It’s enough of a pain in the neck having to travel to the remnants of what was once your home to pick up the mail without also having to travel to the post office, wait in line, and show an I.D. every time a piece of mail with delivery confirmation is sent to you. I’m starting to wonder if maybe the USPS started blacklisting addresses of destroyed homes.

In defense of USPS, I do understand how some people might see this as a an upgrade to the DC service, since requiring the addressee to travel to the post office and show identification makes it much more likely that the intended recipient gets the package, rather than some neighbor or even somebody else (such as a family member) who lives at the same address. Of course, it doesn’t stop an impostor from picking the package up using a fake or stolen I.D. card, but it’s still much more secure than leaving the package at the mailbox.

I don’t see it as an upgrade though. That’s because I’m not ordering any sensitive materials. If I were, I’d use registered mail with signature confirmation or maybe FedEx.

Anyway, hopefully this is just bad luck I’ve had on my last three parcels and not an indication of an actual change to the way delivery confirmation works.

I wasted my entire stupid day troubleshooting this stupid Arris modem

So I’m living elsewhere temporarily while my apartment is being demolished. I’ll be here until it’s rebuilt. Who knows when that’ll be. But that’s not the point. The point is that I have Time Warner Cable here and I’ve had the chance to use Road Runner for an extended period of time now. I’ve used Road Runner at friends’ homes several times in the past and had opportunities to do speed tests and the like, but I’ve never had the chance to use it on my own terms, with my own computers and home network equipment. I’m very upset at somebody — I know not whom — about a grievous oversight in the instruction manual for the DOCSIS 3.0 modem/router TWC gave me. The trouble is that I don’t know who to blame. It’s an Arris TG862G. Frankly, I had never even heard of Arris before they gave me this thing. The installer, who mentioned, by the way, that he has FiOS at home, said that the device is both a modem and a router, but that TWC doesn’t let customers change the SSID or the passphrase on the network, so if a customer wants to change that information, he or she must use his or her own router. I didn’t really care, since I do have my own router and I figured I’d just have to live with a suboptimal home network split on two different subnets (192.168.0.xxx on the Arris router and 192.168.1.xxx on my router). I didn’t think I was able to have TWC put the Arris in bridge mode since the TWC connection is on the account of the owner of the place in which I’m living (though nobody else will be using the connection). I figured I’d either do the 2 subnet thing or I’d simply use my own router as a switch and actually use the Arris router as a router. I figured I’d decide once I logged into the web configuration pages on the Arris and saw what features it had. If they compared favorably with my own router I’d just go ahead and use the Arris and use my own router as a switch (I have a real 24-port switch, but it, along with most of my stuff, is in storage until the apartment is fixed)

Anyway, the reason I’m angry is because either Arris wrote bad instructions or TWC made a slightly modified firmware for the Arris modem with an annoying feature. The manual says you can access the web GUI at 192.168.0.1, which of course is similar to most routers. I connected my computer directly to the Arris via Ethernet cable with nothing else connected to the modem but the coax cable and the AC adapter. I set my computer to get an IP address automatically to rule out the possibility that some pre-existing configuration on my computer was causing problems. I typed in the address, waited… and it timed out. After trying all sorts of other combinations (10.0.0.1, 192.168.1.1, 192.168.1.100, 192.168.0.100, etc…) I finally figured out today (2 days of web searching later) that you can only access the web configuration GUI if you unplug the coaxial cable from the Arris modem first. If you have the coaxial cable plugged in and you try to access 192.168.0.1, it’ll just time out. The fact that this isn’t mentioned in the manual is a major oversight which caused me a huge pain in the neck. All I wanted to do was access the port forwarding settings page, which should be the simplest thing in the world but because I lacked this simple bit of information I had to go on a wild goose chase of searching through forums and support pages, none of which actually mentioned this. Hopefully posting this information will save somebody a bit of time configuring his or her Arris cable modem/router in the future. I just wish I knew whether it’s Arris that made this feature or if it was an adjustment that TWC does to the units they send to customers. I know that Comcast uses this same modem for some of their customers, so I’d be interested in learning if they also suffer from this “feature”.

P.S. The connection tests about 35Mbps/5Mbps to test sites in the NY/NJ area.

I’ll be offline for some weeks

This is the only water-related picture I have handy at the moment.

my apartment is flooded by Hurricane Sandy. Most of my hard drives are undamaged because I managed to move them to high shelves, but a few were submerged. Anyway, the damage means the place is not presently safe to live in, though it’s just as well since all the furniture was ruined. Once the place is fixed and I get some furniture I’ll be back online.