Trash to tools.

I had a really good week for general repairs.
The dryer would not heat. I traced the control circuit to a differential pressure switch that had gotten clogged.
A paper clip cleanout, a thorough cleanout of the dryer cabinet, and it was back is business.
Being able to read a control schematic is no handicap either. Cost to repair $0  Cost to replace $300

The food processor would no longer chop, Wendy said that it was slowing down.
I dissassembled it, cleaned the base, power shaft, re-greased the gearbox.
Ran like new. I got coleslaw that evening.
Cost to refurbish $0 from materials on hand. Cost to replace $35

I fished a Dewalt Professional Drill out of the trash. Troubleshooting revealed a bad 18v motor.
Ebay had one for $19.
$150 drill for $19, can't complain.

A Bissell Proheat Pet Deep Cleaning Carpet Machine was left next to the dumpster at work.
It ran, but liquid poured out the back.
Dissassembly, with a Youtube video as a benchmark revealed a water heater damaged by freezing.
I could have used a silicon sealer to fix the leak, but opted instead for a new heater assembly for about $30.
Someone who was less than professional had it apart, before I got it.
Screws were missing, and the internal plumbing was connected the wrong way.
The solution mixing valve was disengaged from the control knob and wouldn't feed cleaning concentrate.
I finally tore it down to basics and cleaned each part in the sink to get rid of the gobs and gobs of pet hair.
Ordered a set of replacement belts and a package of assembly screws to replace the missing ones.
Total cost to refurbish $45. Cost to buy new $145.

Dealing with the IRS!

October, 2014, the dreaded letter appeared.
"We have some questions about your alimony deduction."
Please send us the following documentation:"Court records, banking records, cancelled checks ...."

My accountant and I put together a package of the requested information and sent it..[Registered, return receipt requested].
30 days later.. we need MORE information.
My accountant and I put together another package, this time showing payroll deductions and quoting the applicable IRS tax code regulations pertaining to alimony.

Another letter arrived about 15 days later.
"Please disregard the previous letter, as we have not yet finished reviewing your case."

A very knowledgeable person said, "They are setting you up!"

The letter arrived. "You are found in discrepancy."
"You have maliciously and/or negligently prepared your taxes."
"Your instrument is defective."
"You owe us XXXX dollars and if you disagree you may petition the tax court."
(No forms, no information on how to file or how to contact anyone.)

What is a defective instrument? Did I forget to sign my return? I did not understand what was happening!

My accountant was bewildered as well.

I set up a meeting with a tax preparer and my ex-wife who had recently moved back to my area.

It took a couple of weeks, but the meeting happened (without me) and I was not priviy to the details at the time.

Luckily, a mutually acceptable third  party  counveyed the results.
My ex was a victim of identity theft

A fraudulent return had been filed on her behalf that listed her as MARRIED.

This invalidated my alimony deduction, as the alimony continued until my ex remarried according to the court records.
My ex filed an affidavit of Identy theft, I was given a copy.
According to the IRS, you must allow up to 180 days to resolve the issue.

I have 90 days to file for tax court.

I got a tax lawyer.

Yes, it is expensive, but dealing with a criminal record is much more expensive. I probably lose my security clearances in most of the customer sites I work, and would also lose my livelihood.
The charges of criminality also allow the IRS to start going back and pulling other returns and applying the same findings to them.
Now, after that, the STATE Dept of Revenue gets to work you over.
Total bill for giving up would be about $30,000!

My attorney is used to dealing with people who did not file, made bad decisions, or had hardships where they could not pay.
He has only had one or two clients with the situation where they did noting wrong!
He could only shake his head at the long string of documentation followed by the (or else) demand letter.

The attorney kept the documents so he could make copies, he promised to return the originals in a couple of days.

He gave a dollar figure to follw the case to conclusion. I wrote a check.(Ouch). But I am glad that I had the resources to write that check.

Next week, I have to settle with my accountant and pay for the consultation with the tax preparer for my Ex.
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Losing skillsets within society.

I recently experienced the worst possible scenario for an experienced programmer -the loss of the source code for a major project.
The chief programmer had retired, and the files were on his workstation and laptop.
"Can you make some changes?" I was asked by a salesman, "We have a customer that needs to add some new features."
"Sure, send me the project. I will need some time to review the data, and then I can give you some specific timelines and dollar amounts."

The files were e-mailed and I went through the code as preparation for a conference call the following day.

The call began innocently enough, I reviewed the major features of the code and then began to get into the specifics.

I made a suggestion, and was told - that the suggested feature was implemented at the last revision.

Frantically searching the files - I discovered that the feature was absolutely not there. The source code that I was looking at was nine years old, and was at least 3 full revisions out of date.

The following is a synopsis of the conversation with the person(s) who "Checked in" the laptop and workstation.

ME: What happened to the laptop?

THEM: "Oh, we reformatted it."

ME:The Workstation?

THEM: "That old thing was recycled."

ME: Where are the virtual machine images from the laptop?

THEM: "Were they in the Documents directory?"

ME: No, they were under Program Files.

THEM: "We didn't save those."

ME: Then you had better pray that the retired programmer kept copies of his laptop and workstation images.


At the time of this writing. It appears that all of the recent source code from the chief programmer was erased.

Scott Adams, did you see this one coming?

Kindle Fire Demo to Kindle Fire Full Function

My neighbor gave me a Kindle Fire Demo. He had purchased it not realizing that only the demonstration program on it would run.
The first order of business was charging it. We have several of the micro B usb chargers for cell phones. They fit and after consulting the manual on the Kindle and an overnight plug-in, the tablet was fully charged.

I hooked a usb cable to my computer, a removable volume appeared, but no data was visible.
I spent several days reading about rooting a kindle, but all of the menus needed to get started were unavailable.

I downloaded and installed the Android Device Bridge Software Development Kit. ADB-SDK for short.

After fighting with the device drivers, and reading the instructions for commands, I connected to the Kindle via usb and tried a few things.

I saw a Linux operating system structure residing on the Kindle, being no stranger to Linux. I did more reading and more studying.

I pulled the music and books out of the Kindle and archived them.

I used the One Button Root Kit to gain root access to the Kindle. I stopped using the SDK completely.

I installed the TWRP recovery program using Kindle fire Utilities and downloaded the latest Kindle Fire image from Amazon.

I transferred the image to the Kindle SD drive using the TWRP Program and then flashed the Kindle. I decided not to wipe the machine.
That was a big mistake. The flash never completed, although I waited about  a half hour before rebooting it.
I did not realize that the flash had failed.

A reboot and I had a BRICK.

Nothing other than the Kindle Fire Logo. No connection via the ADB, and no apparent way to reload it.

I found out about a special cable called the "Factory Cable" I researched the wiring and built one.

I started the Kindle Fire Utility, plugged in the cable and tried the USB TWRP boot menu item.

I was able to load the utility via the USB cable.

I then wiped the machine, transferred the image renamed to update.zip and installed the file.

About 5 minutes later, a screen asking me to register popped up.
Now successfully un-bricked!
It's great to have a new Kindle Fire.


Natural Gas Fires

safewrite pointed out a historically high number of fires and explosions involving natural gas.
As someone who installed and serviced furnaces and boilers, I can give some thoughts on this recent phenomenon.

Counterfeit materials: Pipe unions, couplings, and pipe with even a pinhole leak can cause a massive explosion, especially in a energy efficient "tight house."  The best prevention is having a traceable supply chain; knowing were the parts were manufactured, not just who sold them to you.*

Qualified personnel: Most of the old-timers who installed and repaired natural gas systems have moved on:  a lack of knowledgeable and qualified technicians may result in an installation that on the surface may be passable, but will fail months or even years later. It can also be a lack of qualified design personnel.

Meticulous installation: ALL joints need to be tested with a bubble leak detector after installation. Pressure testing of the gas main lines in the structure with dry nitrogen and a leak down test should be done before the service is turned on.

Damage to the infrastructure: Nicking of the protective sheath of a iron gas main by an excavator for a new sewer, electric service or water main is a major problem. The contractor doesn't want to have his job held up or be fined. Or the contractor may simply not notice the damage. Either way, the gas main is re-covered without repairs. Moisture will attack the iron pipe and the pipe will fail with often catastrophic results, sometimes decades later. The resulting forensic investigation can narrow down when and who did the initial damage.

*Example of counterfeit materials: A reputable contractor had to change out of the Square D breakers in a new central heating and cooling plant installation for a large building. The owner complained that some of the breakers failed thermal scans. The breakers were later found to be counterfeit. It cost the contractor several thousand dollars to replace the breakers with legitimate ones.


Updating the Main PC. Geek Alert!

There comes a time that every technician looks forwards to - or dreads, depending on the mood - updating the family PC.
New technology, more speed more technology, more storage, and new challenges are waiting for you.

I had a single CPU core AMD 3500 Sempron Based PC with one Gigabyte of Ram, a TNT-64 AGP4x Nvdia based graphics card, and 500 Gigabytes  of data storage.

So what I had was a machine that choked on Facebook games. Yep, like most machines, the Flash games soon outstripped the capacity of the machine.. Anime shows from Japan had to be downloaded at 480 pixel density format to play smoothly, and 720 was the standard.

I exchanged an old Dell classic Pentium II for a new motherboard, RAM and CPU. Not top of the line, but definitely a step up.
Funny, being a packrat  has its benefits.

The ASUS P8 H67 motherboard supported no floppy, (Darn) No IDE Drives (Darn again), and a staggering 14 USB slots (yeah!) and 6 SATA ports.

I bought a USED Antec case for $10 and put the machine together. I bought a massive 2 TB Seagate Drive to hold the data.

Now what? How to get the data on the machine. This is the main issue. I had a valid XP serial number on the case. I did not want to upgrade. The OS would cost as much (or more) than the machine.

Luckily, I had access to an Acronis Backup and Recovery boot disk. Not installed, but part of my recovery tools bag of tricks.
I first booted Acronis and backed up the entire machine to an external hard drive.(Total of 160 Gigabytes.) On USB 2.0, it took about an hour to complete the backup.

Well, that was the easy part. I set the machine to one side and booted the same CD on the new machine into recovery mode.

Time for a little pause. My old machine had actually two hard drives. A laughable 6G drive and a massive 500 G drive.
I decided to combine the partitions on the single drive.
I restored C, from the first drive, then D from the second drive on the new SATA-600 drive.
Followed by logical partition E.
System was on F. I restored it. I didn't realize at the time that the Universal Recovery was further down the menu, so I used the standard recovery. I recovered the Master  Boot Record to the new drive.

Tried to boot to the drive. A few lines and CRASH.

Undaunted, I  changed the Boot.ini file on the C partition: that made it worse.

 I fiddled with a technique called a Recovery install. That resulted in a new install with no programs and the needed documents in inaccessible directories.

Finally, I reloaded Acronis and found the Universal Recovery Option (I think that it is only available on Professional Licenses)
Reloaded F partition, and went back to the C partition and restored the Master Boot Record and the boot.ini .

Another reboot without the CD and the machine started XP.

A lot of missing drivers, but the machine was running!

Insert the Motherboard CD and start installing drivers.

About 30 minutes later, and I am on the Internet.

I look at the system layout on Windows Disk Manager, and I am informed that my Partitions are not aligned.

This is a recent phenomenon on drives at the Terabyte and above capacity, where the physical partitions do not line up cleanly to the logical boundaries. This causes a major performance hit, as the system has to locate where the data actually is through some programming gymnastics.

I had a copy of Western Digital's Drive Align, and it refused to act on a Seagate Drive. Seagate recommended a firmware update. No thanks. maybe later.

I remembered that GPARTED (www.gparted.org) would align the partitions, so I spent about 3 hours carefully moving and resizing partitions from back to front. But the C Drive refused to align. Finally, in frustration, I deleted C  and re-created it with GPARTED. A quick restore from Acronis (the backup was still there) and I was done.
In retrospect, I should have laid out the partitions with GPARTED LIVE boot CD and then restored the data.

I had one game that refused to run due to a licensing issue, but a Google search of the problem quickly resolved that.

Windows XP Professional didn't even hiccup about the license.

The hard drive benchmarked at 159 Megabytes/Sec. (Si Sandra) 92.5 percentile.

A Blu-Ray Quality video ran beautifully. All of the old files and programs worked faster than the older machine, and all of the existing accounts and folders were still present, And the old machine in the corner was still available in the event of a disaster.

A current backup of the data was available and I had learned a new skill.