Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fixing the RROD on Xbox 360

James, our foster son, has an Xbox 360 that hadn't been working due to the infamous "Red Ring Of Death", or RROD. Shoddy design or shoddy workmanship, my google-fu showed there seem to be a lot of problems with the 360.

Poor design lead to overheating of the 360, which caused cracks in the solder between the CPU and the motherboard. Presto-chango your Xbox 360 is a $400 door stop. There is a fix though, so I figured we'd give it a shot.

Lots of guides online for fixing, some free, some you pay for. Read up on the free ones, then spent an afternoon hitting every hardware and computer store in town looking for the parts. It is incredibly difficult to get uncommon sized metric bolts and washers in a small town. I ended up ordering a parts kit online for under $10 shipped. Came with a one page instruction sheet plus links to videos. A later edit - some fixes recommend a nylon washer. We used a metal lock washer that won't soften or melt due to the heat of the processors. The conductivity is not an issue if they are the correct size.

Cracked open the 360, it was filthy dusty inside. Heat sinks covered in dust, fans also dust covered, dust and crap throughout. I wasn't surprised it wasn't working. Disassembled further, got the heat sinks off the chips, and found the CPU was less than 1/3 covered with thermal paste. Nice workmanship, Micro$oft, no wonder it overheated. Cleaning the paste off the CPU and GPU was the most time-consuming part of the whole operation. Left red circle in the photo shows the brilliantly shiny clean CPU, right red circle shows start of GPU cleaning. We tried q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol, then toothpicks, it was taking forever. Diaper wipes turned out to be the magic trick. Folded one over a q-tip, finished the GPU in a few minutes rather than an hour.

New paste, new machine screws instead of the crappy "x-clamps", put it all back together, and then some deliberate overheating to remelt the cracked CPU solder. A couple hours work, would have been 45 minutes if I had known about the diaper wipes. Xbox 360 in working condition again, haven't seen James since.

Overall, it was about 3/10 on the difficulty scale. Didn't even need to watch the online videos, the one page instruction was enough. If you can read, use a screwdriver, and be careful, you shouldn't have any trouble at all. Have to emphasize perfectly cleaning the chips though. While inside, you should also liberally dose everything with compressed air and wipe dust off smooth surfaces.

Did have a generation gap moment with James when I asked him to get something out of a milk crate. "What's a milk crate?" One of those things you store records in...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Four - The Mystery of the Disappearing Poo

Nothing works for potty training than a little bribery. The promise of a treat improved Mars' potty success rate unbelievably. Potty action = special treat, that was something Mars understood very well. We ended up using caramels because they are small, individually wrapped, 'special' because he'd never normally be allowed one, and Daddy can sneak a few 'cause he likes them. After he warmed up to the idea, Mars would do his bit, then start demanding his special treat.

Still resistance to pooping in the potty, but close to 100% with pees and he would volunteer to pee in the potty rather than be reminded or asked. He'd even do it unsupervised. Mostly success, but Mars being Mars he quickly figured out how to work the system. If one pee = one treat, then two pees = two treats. Rather than emptying his bladder in one go, he'd ration it out in little spurts. A wee little pee, caramel, and after eating it another little pee and another caramel. I think he even figured out that he didn't actually have to make the second (or third!) pee if he finished his first caramel fast enough. There are no beaker-like gradations on the potty, so if he claimed to make another pee before the first one was emptied...

We ran into a little trouble after I realized this (I can hear that there was no new pee, little dude!). One day he ran up to me in the office demanding a special treat for making a poo in the potty. If it had been a pee, he would have just got the treat, but a poo, that was special. Special enough that the treats had been upgraded to a kinder egg for making a poop in the potty. Special enough for heaps of praise and Daddy coming out to inspect the evidence and praise some more. But there was no poo in the potty.

Obviously my first thought was that the whole episode was faked for a kinder egg. But he was getting pretty upset that he wasn't getting his special treat after going to the effort of making a poop in the potty all by himself. I took a closer look - there were poo marks inside the potty. Ah, what a good little boy you are Mars - made a poo all by yourself, took the potty to the toilet to dump it and flush it down! Nope, he said he hadn't done that. A quick check with Mummy in the living room, she hadn't flushed it either. His being upset combined with the poo marks in the bowl convinced me that he had made a poop. The poop had mysteriously disappeared!!!

Mars got his treat. Jake, our coprophagous hound, apparently got his too.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The monetary value of books, yard sale advertising tip

Went yardsaling today by myself. Leaf and the kids are down in the city visiting family, and James sleeps in like your average 14 year old. Managed to find a nice maple toy box with one of those hydraulic closers to avoid crushing little fingers. We had been meaning to add a closer to the existing toybox for a while now. Funny that a nicer box with closer was cheaper at a yard sale than a new closer by itself.

Also scored a book that I've been looking for - "Native Trees of Canada". We did a tree identification walk while we were at Geneva Park last month and the book was highly recommended. I've been wanting a tree guide for years and years, but didn't want to pay new book prices. Cost me a buck. The only tree I remember from the dozen or so "simple leaf" trees we examined at GP is Red Elm. We have a small one in the back yard, which is nice, but now I plan on figuring out all the different species on our property. I love how things that I want or need almost always show up at yard sales. Eventually! Delayed gratification is so much more rewarding.

Found a stack of books for Mars. Some great educational ones - bugs, leaves, minerals, gems, cystals, microscopes. Plus some Robert Munsch (a great children's author who came and read books to my class when I was a wee lad), and a stack of Magic Schoolbus books I'll probably give to my nephew Jovin who loves them. All the books were in like new condition. I happily paid the asking price of ten cents each. Two dollars and fifty cents. Adding up the retail cover prices comes to about $250.

One cent on the dollar is a pretty good yard sale price. I don't understand though. Books are valuable, but so many people don't value them. I see it all the time at yard sales. Ten cents, twenty five cents for mint condition books with retail prices as high as fifty dollars. Even popular novels are usually only 50 cents or a dollar. Compare that to DVDs. Your standard older or B-list movie is about the same price as a new softcover book ($9.99 to $12.99). New release movies and tv show box sets are similarly priced to new hardcover books ($29.99 and up).

If I offered a dollar for a used DVD at a yard sale, I'd either be laughed at or be the insulting lowballer they talk about for the rest of the day. But offer a dollar for a book and most people will figure you for a sucker. Which is why I never offer on books - the asking price is almost always lower than what I'd happily pay.

What is it with books that they aren't valued? I think its because books take time and effort and intelligence to enjoy, and they expand your mind. TV/movies/videogames just kill time and expand your waistline. I'll take books any day.

Incidentally, one of these days I'm going to write a post about tips for holding a yard sale. People are so stupid sometimes. Often. All the time? Here's a tip: if you're advertising your yard sale in the newspaper, spell your street name correctly so people can find it on a paper or online map when they don't know where it is. Same people also had the wrong street number in the ad.

This very same yard sale also committed the other cardinal yard sale advertising silliness - tiny printing. One of those store bought neon signs with "Yard Sale" in big letters. The space underneath was crammed with address, directions, dates, times, whats at the yard sale. I'm sure the font size 20 printing looked great on your computer monitor or when the sign is six inches in front of your face... but how are people supposed to read that from 20 feet away while in a moving vehicle? It also didn't help that the sign was at an intersection one kilometer and three turns from the sale with no other signs in between.

Day-of "yard sale" signs should only ever have one of two other things on them - your street name and number in giant letters, or a giant arrow pointing out every turn from the closest main road or highway to your yard sale.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Body Shop greenwashing?

Dumped a new load in the compost today and while turning over dug up the Body Shop bag. We don't shop there, I think we got it as a reused bag from a thrift store. I filled it with compostables and put it in the pile two years ago because I was curious about the claims on the side of the bag about it being degradable. Its still in excellent condition though.

So much for "will have completely broken down in as little as one year". Other than the holes where it was stabbed with the garden fork, it could be reused.

There are some other biodegradable bags visible in the picture. I use them to carry compostables outside, and they have been breaking down in a few months.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A quarter million steps

I wear a pedometer while refereeing soccer. Today while I ARed the U16 final, I passed 250,000 total steps as a referee. I always wondered how my steps compared to actual distance, so at last weeks tournament for the younger players, I also wore my GPS to measure and then compare to the pedometer. Works out to about 1666 steps per kilometer, so as a referee, I've run a total of 150km over two seasons. My first thought was "Wow, 150km!" but then I thought it doesn't seem like very much when spread out over games and 2 years. No doubt there are runners who do 150km a month. I know on the cross Canada bike trip years ago, I'd do that in a day.

I drew rough approximations of fields on the GPS track. This is three games before the battery died. Big rectangle was my field. I had no linesmen, so not exactly picture perfect diagonal system. Leaf and the boys came to visit at one point, the side tracks to the small rectangles are playing with Mars when he had to kick a ball in every net on the tiny fields. Curvy bit to the bottom leads to snack bar, playground and washrooms.

U16 final today was brilliant, a very exciting and close game. I was an AR (linesman) for the first time, and Center wasn't used to having ARs. Red team was undefeated all season. Blue team scored early to go up one nil, then should have had a PK but for confusion between referee and myself. I didn't raise the flag because he was five feet from play and I thought it should be his decision, but his angle was blocked so he looked to me. I should have done a better job discussing signals before the match. Anyway Red scored an equalizer, then the go ahead goal with seconds left in the first half. Blue with a equalizer in the second half. 2-2. Red coach calls a time-out! Ah, the delicious irony... For non-soccer fanatics, there are no time-outs in soccer. Delicious irony because it happened to be the only coach I've ever had to expel from the field of play. Earlier in the season, he disputed an offside call (it is not an offence to be in an offside position, coach!), then went on a ten minute profanity laced tirade at a U12 game. Anyway, a big part of his ranting was about the rules and how he understands all of them and tries to teach his players the rules but alas the stupid fucking referee doesn't know the rules, blah blah fucking blah. Nice knowledge of the Laws, Mr. Timeout!

Game ends up going to extra time, Blue scores the golden goal to win the championship. I feel bad for red! I coached them the last three years and had the same thing happen the first year - undefeated regular season, then a first and only loss in the final. Heartbreaking. Only one more game as a ref for me this summer, the Geriatrics Final (17 and older) on Monday. Then a break for 6 weeks until high school season starts up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Three - The Streaker

We were missing a lot of potty action due to the diaper delay. Well, mostly Mars delaying long enough that the pause to remove diaper rendered the debate moot. It's been a while since I pooed my pants... does it feel all nice and warm and comforting? Because he still prefers dropping a smelly load in his diaper to sitting on the potty.

We tried diaperless and it seemed to work reasonably well. Particularly for pees. It also had some drawbacks. Particularly for pees. The poop problems are contained in a small area. Pee mistakes spray droplets everywhere. A few times I was reminded of my childhood dog, Farley. Farley liked to mark every upright object when taken for a walk. He produced copious amounts of urine and often forgot to shut the flow off between targets. His package would swing back and forth, the droplets of pee would swing back and forth too. You could look back down the sidewalk and see a big sine wave of wet pavement.

We did get a pretty good success rate with Mars' peeing though. Nine times out of ten in the potty. Night times usually in the diaper, a few times on the carpet or on the chair. He's become quite fond of running around bareass and resists having a diaper put back on.

Mars passed out after a hard day of rollerskating bare bum. For some reason it makes me think of the Simpsons. Is there an episode where Homer rollerskates around with no pants on? I can almost picture it in my head, right down to the "woohoo!".

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Two - The Invisible Man

After that first successful trip, we had relapse. Mars would not go to the potty. Do you need to go to the potty? "No". End of discussion as far as he was concerned. I thought I had a breakthrough a few times when he would say "I want to go potty!", and I'd rush him over and start on the diaper and he'd throw a fit. Turns out he was really saying "I want to go party!" and it sounded the same to me. He had been to a birthday party and received cake, so he wanted to go back again.

We started to watch him closer to try and pick up the potty time cues so we could encourage him to use the potty when he needed to go. Always a step ahead of us, he'd turn into the invisible man. We'd be doing whatever and then suddenly notice he was gone. Hiding in the closet, in a cupboard, behind the chair, behind a curtain. "Hey Mars, do you need to go potty?" "NO!" Hard to believe that when he's squatting, grunting, and very, very smelly. A small measure of success, because after he was done in his diaper, he'd say "I need to go potty!"

Hail storm

A big hail storm this afternoon. Biggest I've ever seen at least. Started with pea-sized chunks, then marble sized, then as big as the ones in my hand. I know I saw a few golf ball sized, but too chicken to retrieve any while it was ongoing. Had to leave the sunroom at the peak because the noise of them bouncing off the tin roof was unbearably loud. Loads of rain, huge claps of thunder, and half a dozen power outages. In places, the grass was covered with a layer of hail. Nice damage to the VW, I'll have to add 'dented by a million pieces of hail' to the for sale ad. My garden isn't too happy. Could smell smashed tomato plants from the sunroom, but hopefully they will survive. Orange trees at least were safe in the greenhouse. The rhubarb that wasn't sheltered by the house took the worst damage, pounded to pulp. River is up over the third step with all the rain we've had in the last week.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I hate people

To be more precise, I guess I should say I hate ignorant people, but it sometimes seems like more and more people deserve that adjective. Admittedly, I've been grumpy this weekend. I'm an introvert, not an extrovert. The best description I've ever heard explaining the difference says that people are like batteries. They get run down. Extroverts get recharged by being around other people, introverts get recharged by being by themselves.

Needless to say, Leaf's annual family reunion at a campground is not recharging for me. I come back needing a vacation from the vacation. Seriously though, if I offered to rent out a tiny patch of ground with no electricity, running water, or plumbing in an overcrowded shanty town in a third world country for $30 a night, I wouldn't get many takers. But if I throw in a few trees, name my third world country 'Muskoka' and call my shantytown a 'campground', people would be making reservations a year in advance.

Campgrounds attract a lot of ignorant people. If you need to be told that sleeping families with children don't appreciate drunken shouting from 15 feet away lasting until 3:00 am, you are pretty ignorant. If such drunken shouting is mainly stories about drinking or being drunk in the past, present or future, sprinkled profusely with racist, sexist and homophobic comments, and one word out of every four is 'fuck/fucker/fucking', you have issues. If I ran the world, which sadly I don't, those type of ignorant people would be permanently sterilized for the good of the gene pool.

Ignorant people also blast their crappy music over the radio or stereo so that everyone within 50m can be disturbed by it. Maybe sterilization is severe for that one. But a few days locked in a room with 10,000 watts of stereo and the complete discography of William Shatner on shuffle play non-stop would cure that ignorance.

Let us not forget the ATV riders. Not just ignorant, but mostly fat. Sorry, I guess that is rude. Ignorant and gravitationally challenged. Smelly, loud, and dangerous. The ATVs are too. Used to be the rule at the 'campground' that ATVs were not permitted. Now, they can be used, but "only to get from site to site". I guess walking 100 metres is too taxing when you desperately want a $3 scoop of ice cream at the camp store. Sterilized to prevent spread of the LAZY gene.

Also, if you are stupid enough to shoot fireworks across other campsites, or throw them into a fire so you have no idea where they will go, then threaten to fight the guy who tells you not to... Lets just say sterilization is not drastic enough.

Cigarette smokers, the most ignorant of all people, deserve a post of their very own. I'll just say how sad I am that cigarettes don't kill faster.

Mars at least had a good weekend. Odin probably did too. Lack of sleep and long car drives have made them both cranky and screamy enough that I'm considering sterilizing myself.

Mars chilling in the ubiquitous camp chair.

Daddy and Mars getting ready for the 3-legged race.

BTW, none of Leaf's family had sterilization wished upon them this weekend...