Ray Bradbury and Modern Life

By |June 6th, 2012|

I just read an interesting article about the digital house of the future. This quote from the article, “You wake up in the morning and use the bathroom, your toilet takes a quick health check-up and emails the results to your doctor.” reminds me of a science fiction short story I read a long time ago.

As I recall it was an exposition on “modern life” including much of what’s described in the article I quoted above. What caught my eye was the bit about emailing the doctor. In the story I recall the scene was that the kids, and dad, were grumbling about the tiny portions they got for their meals. Portions that were under the control of the “machines” that ran the house.

Well, you can probably guess what’s coming … one day mom got her regular food, and then more and then even more! Yes, the “machine” knew she was eating for two long before any one else, and so increased her food rations. And there was much merriment and celebrating (and of course the reader was left to ponder what life might be like in the future).

Anyway, just thought I’d share this memory. It was likely brought on because I’ve been re-reading some Bradbury today (the Veldt is more chilling than ever). Iwould love to know the name of the story I just described; I don’t think it was by Bradbury, but it could have been I guess.

Worth noting, I couldn’t find any dead tree Bradbury stories in the house. No problem, I’ll just buy a couple for my Kindle. Hah! Turns out Bradbury was against e-books, so the only available versions are PDF files. Weird that one of the leading science fiction writers of all time was against the use of a relatively mundane 21st century technology.

Amazon Warning

By |January 4th, 2011|

UPDATE: On February 4th, we received a check for the full amount in dispute.  It was a bit of a pyrrhic victory considering how much time it took to get resolved, but in the end Amazon did the right thing.

UPDATE: Amazon contacted me to tell me the check would be returned and that to be safe I should also have my bank do a stop payment. Kind of ridiculous to make such a suggestion given that the check has already been cashed! And I wonder how they plan to return a check that's already been returned, (by virtue of it being cashed).  I know they're powerful and all, but still.

If I weren't such a mellow person all this would start to make me angry.
Original article:
Short and to the point.
If you have an Amazon credit account and mistakenly send a payment to Amazon at their Des Moines processing address, it will not get processed correctly.  You will find this out a few weeks later when you get a call regarding the lack of payment.
That makes sense, so I made the payment and attempted to clear things up with Amazon. That was a complete and total failure.
What doesn't make sense is that after 3 hours on the phone no one at Amazon could determine what was to be done about the mis-addressed check.  That they did deposit. But can't find in their records.
The thing is, I sent the check to an Amazon address, and it was deposited.  Now either Amazon has the check, or their mailbox has been abandoned and some fraudster is cashing the checks sent to that address.  I would think Amazon fraud and security units would take this more seriously!
Their only advice was to contact my bank.  I did, but to what end? From the bank's perspective, I wrote a check and it was cashed.  What's the problem?
In fairness, after 3 hours the Amazon rep said they filled out an internal form that should cause the situation to be reviewed.  Why did it take 3 hours to get to that point?  It should have taken less than 10 minutes.  Oh, and did I mention that I talked to at least 7 different Amazon reps? They were all very nice, and completely unable to address my situation.
And while I understand the realities of out-sourced help desks, Amazon's was really terrible.  No, not the accent of the customer service reps.  They were, for the most part, quite understandable.  The problem was the low-cost VOIP phone system they use.  The hiss and static was so bad that almost every word of every conversation had to be repeated!  This wasn't a problem when speaking to folks in North America, only when talking to the Amazon folks overseas.
I'm extremely annoyed with Amazon.  My bank account is pleased with my (temporary, to  be honest) boycott of Amazon.

Toyota Highlander Heater Control Head Repair

By |November 9th, 2010|

I got a call today regarding the repair of the heater in our 2003 Toyota Highlander. They wanted $850 dollars to get things working again; almost $700 of that was for the "heater control head." 

Background: we've had problems for years where the heater would come on, full blast, and would only turn off when we rapidly jiggled the thermostat control. We mentioned it many different times when bringing the car in for routine maintenance and were always told "can't fix it if it ain't broke; bring it in sometime when it stays broke." 
So as we're chatting I reminded the dealer of this history. He took a little off of the price so I told him to go ahead and order the part. I mean it's almost winter. In Kansas. A heater is non-negotiable. And to their credit they were going to give us a free loaner overnight as the part had to come from Kansas City.
But then I got to thinking. I know that on occasion Toyota has had systemic problem with different functions on various cars over the years. I googled "highlander heater control head (HCH)"; and the very first entry led to a web forum where there were 21(!) pages of discussion about the broken heater and how it could be easily repaired.
All of the discussion and photos led to the realization that this was something I could do myself! I called the dealer and had them cancel the order for $700 part. I then spent 40 minutes removing the broken HCH, too long soldering the broken wires back in place (hey, it's been a while) and then less than 20 minutes reinstalling everything (not counting the time spent looking for the lost nut!) 
What's going on is a design flaw, pure and simple. The thermostat potentiometer (pot) is connected to the logic board by 3 short wires. Did I say short? They are so short that if the pot moves, even a little bit, one or 2 of the 3 wires breaks off.
There's no excuse for such a shoddy design.
Anyway, to wrap things up, I had to replace the lost nut with one from my Fender telecaster volume pot (thank you Leo Fender!), but the car is put back together and both the heater and air conditioner are working fine. 
And you know, the thing is that after a while it wasn't about saving the money. It was about not spending $800 dollars to solder 3 lousy pieces of wire! Here's the link to the first page of discussions about this well known problem (how well known? Well, why do you think they didn't fix the problem when the car was under warranty? Uh huh, I thought so):
Here are a couple of pictures showing the broken wires and one of the gaping cavity in the middle of the car while it was being repaired:

Highlander heater control

Highlander heater control

Highlander heater control

Rice Paddy Art 2009

By |August 17th, 2009|

It’s time for this year’s installment of Rice Paddy Art. The crop art is created by strategically arranging and growing different colors of rice plants and the results are impressive!

Thanks to Pink Tentacle for the original story, which includes many more photos.

You can also visit the original Japanese blog, からぽねやみの絵日記 and see much larger versions of these fascinating images.

Here are a few of my favorites to whet your appetite:

rice paddy art 2009

rice paddy art 2009

rice paddy art 2009

Cardinal & Oriole

By |May 11th, 2009|

As Sheryl put it, it was a Mother’s Day gift from nature when the cardinal and oriole posed for me late Sunday afternoon.

It wasn’t as good as the return of our apparently lost for good cockatiel, Ginger, would have been, (she flew off a few days ago and hasn’t been seen since), but we’ve been trying to attract orioles for some time now and it’s finally paying off.