Archive for July, 2010

Obvious Programming Tip: Check Those Bit Patterns

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Sometimes, when tracking down a bug, you’ll get a bit of console spew, an exception log, or a crash log that contains a ridiculously large number. Sometimes, that is the result of a memory smasher.

Sometimes, though, it is because of a type conversion problem.

For example, if you see a log message indicating that the value 4294967295 is causing a problem, it is probably because something archived -1 on a 32 bit system and then unarchived it on 64 bit improperly.

This has come up often enough that I like to leave the Calculator app open in Programmer Mode. Then, I can copy/paste the value into Calculator and see both the bit pattern or the hex value (which will often show patterns that base-10 does not).

An aside, I have generally tried to break myself of the habit of relying upon knowledge of magic values (like 4294967295). Sure, I’ll use ’em as clues, but I focus much more on refining my tools to make recognition of said values unnecessary as there are a slew of different values that look non-obvious in decimal form that become darned obvious in binary or hex.

Dead obvious, I know.

Outdoor Light…. Wait, What the HELL IS THAT?!

Friday, July 23rd, 2010
Light with Bug Infestation

Now, as you look at this particular photo which isn’t that good in the first place, you might ask yourself, “Why the heck has Bill posted a photo of a random outdoor light?!?”.

Well, look closer. See that pile of what looks to be wood shavings or something inside the light?

Yeah. No. Not so much.

Light with Bug Infestation

You see, that is a gigantic pile of dead bug larva.

I have no idea what kind of bugs they were. Look kinda like ants, but I have never seen white ants before.

Termites, maybe? But why would termites take up residence in a seemingly all metal and glass light fixture!?!

In any case. FREAKY!

The light post is in front of Apple’s De Anza 6 building. The photos were actually both taken with the Camera+ app (using the image stabilization feature) on an iPhone 4. I’m very impressed with the camera. Sure, can’t compete with my T1i. Often, though, the best camera is the camera you have. That it also happens to be a really good camera is bonus!

Air Mover: Why Didn’t I Get This Years Ago??!?!

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

As we start into the second phase of remodel where we are living in the house, there is the occasion when there are stinky fumes from the work site that I want to keep out of the livable areas.

Enter the Air Mover.

Now that I have one, I’m stunned that I didn’t pick up one before! In particular, our climate is such that it can get really damned hot during the day and still cool off at night. Even with all the windows and doors open, the interior of the house can still take a bit to cool down.

No more.

With the 1600CFM air mover pictured at left, I merely drop it on the picnic table outside our back door and put it on high. Within 20 minutes or so, the temperature inside the house is down to something quite comfortably cool.

Better yet, our garage faces south west and, thus, gets baking hot by the end of the day and doesn’t cool off until after midnight. Again, no more as the air mover does a brilliant job of pushing cool air from in the house, through the garage and out the front.

Brilliant tool. Why the hell didn’t I get one years ago?!

I picked up the one at left from Home Depot for $199 (7/17/2010).

@Ian: We have an attic fan in Missouri, too, but it tends to pull ash out of the fireplace(!!). Of course, an Eichler has neither an attic or a crawl space….

@Philippe: Push air into the house, though I’ll sometimes set it up to pull air through the house, too. As far as pushing dust in the house is concerned, we leave the doors open anyway. There aren’t really very many bugs in California (save for swarms of June Bugs this year) and the dust doesn’t seem any worse with the fan on (i.e. it is still quite dusty around here).

Miele Incognito Dishwasher; Just A Bit of Design Stupidity (In An Otherwise Awesome Product)

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

We have had a Miele Incognito dishwasher for quite a few years. Mostly, it is a wonderful machine; does a great job of cleaning the dishes and does so extremely quietly.

It does, however, have a couple of design flaws that I wanted to record here for other Miele owners to potentially stumble across when googling their frustrations.

Recently, or dishwasher would intermittently stop mid-cycle and flash the “Intake/Drain” light, indicating that the dishwasher either had no supply or the drain had failed. When this first happened, cleaning the filter basket was enough to let it complete the cycle (even when the filter basket didn’t have anything in it). Lately, the dishwasher wouldn’t even complete the initial drain cycle (the dishwasher always fires up the pump when first turned on to clear any sitting water).

Apparently, this is not an uncommon problem.

Once the filter basket is removed, there is a bit of wire that holds down the drain pipe on top of the pump impeller. For most with this problem, taking off the drain pipe reveals that the impeller is jammed by a bit of glass, a pit, hair, or other debris.

Not in my case. The drain pipe is actually not just a pipe, but a gravity/pressure activated ball valve. It exists to prevent backwash from the disposer or sink from entering the washer. That ball valve was entirely clogged with debris.

In particular, there was an olive pit wedge behind the ball valve such that the ball valve was barely opening. This led to bits of food being wedged between ball and pipe, quite effectively clogging the drain pipe. Once fully cleaned, the dishwasher works just fine again.

The real problem is that once there is any kind of problem in the dishwasher that prevents drainage, removing the filter basket causes whatever food bits that haven’t settled into the filter basket to end up falling into the pump intake area.

To avoid this, use a shop vacuum out any standing water (and food) in the bottom of the dishwasher before removing the filter basket.

On the inexcusably stupid front, the dishwasher — like most dishwashers — has a filter basket at the bottom of the dishwasher that is designed to catch bits of food and stuff before it hits the pump. The sump filter basket has a hinged bottom so you can open it up and clean it out periodically.

Unfortunately, the hinge isn’t actually a hinge. Miele’s designers cut a corner and the “hinge” is really just a thin spot connecting the door to the filter basket. Obviously, it is cheaper to make a single injection modeled piece than to actually have a mechanical hinged connection.

Expect the hinge to fail every 3 to 5 years. Replacement cost? $135 as of the spring of 2010.

Galapagos April 20, 2010 (2 of 4): Zodiac Tour Of Punta Vicente Roca (Isabela Island)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Isabela Island Cave

Anchoring off Punta Cicente Roca after our long journey around Isabela Island, we were greeted with quite the geological smorgasbord of coastline.

Cliffs of Isabela Island

Beyond this rather stunning point of green with cave below, you can see a much rawer bit of dark lava to the right.

To the north — just beyond that cave — are long stretches of coastline that are largely raw, relatively, fresh lava flows with swaths of green where the lava hadn’t flowed in the last 100,000 or so years. Even in this relatively small bay, there were sandy beaches, weathered cliffs of a sandstone like rock, broken tumbles of lava boulders and dramatic sheer cliffs.

With all of the different kinds of coastline in such a small area, this was clearly a spot worthy of further exploration.

Before diving into one spot (literally), we took a zodiac based tour of the shore to see what critters might be around.

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Galapagos April 20, 2010 (1 of 4): Crossing the Equator

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

During the night, we crossed the equator while traveling northward on our way to the westernmost islands of the Galapagos archipelago. Specifically, our destination was snorkeling off Punta Vicente Rosa (Isabela Island) followed by a hike over lava flows on Punta Espinosa (Fernandina Island).

First, though, we had to get there.

At about 6:30am, we were woken by an announcement that a couple of large schools off dolphins off both sides of the ship.

And large they were!

Literally hundreds of dolphins cruising through the water on the way to wherever dolphins go at the crack of dawn.

Common Dolphin (Delphinus)

But not just swimming. Quite a few of the dolpins seemed to want to fly, leaping high out of the water, twisting about, and splashing along.

The captain of the ship circled us about for a while amongst the dolphins and we had nearly an hour amongst these magnificent creatures.

Photography aside: This is when the Canon 100-400mm lens really came through. The dolphin were mostly far off from our boat. Having an image stabilized lens with 400mm of reach on a 1.6x crop factor camera body made these images possible.

That and a bit of patience, a touch of luck, and a willingness to burn through a few hundred exposures before 7am.

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