Deals Galore in Mount Vernon

Published at 18:09 on 30 July 2017

Last fall, I took my old single-burner Coleman stove camping. It was the first time in decades I had used it, but I knew how badly canister stoves acted when temperatures were in the forties, and this was a trip to Wyoming, where lows could be expected to be in the twenties each night.

The pump didn’t pump well when I tried it. After some research with a search engine, I fed it a couple drops of household lubricating oil and waited a few minutes. It pumped perfectly. I filled the tank and did a test firing. The stove operated just as I had remembered it from years back.

And it was very nice to have a stove the just belted out the heat, no matter how chilly it was. Gone forever was the “tank is only partially full, so performance sucks in cold or even cool weather” syndrome. But it was tippy, vulnerable to the wind, and difficult to make it simmer reliably.

I had been lusting after an MSR Dragonfly, but those are way too spendy to rationalize on my presently limited budget. So I’ve been keeping an eye on the local Craigslist instead. Most of the Dragonflies there were still $70 and up. Then I spied a Coleman two-burner car-camping stove on sale for $35, about $10 less than the norm for such things, in the “items available in nearby areas” section. Its picture showed it in very good condition, atop a stack of other such stoves, and the ad mentioned the seller being hard of hearing. Ah, thought I, a fully checked-out and restored stove from a retired tinkerer with a hobby business to pass the time. Probably every bit the deal it appears to be.

It’s not lightweight like the Dragonfly, but I seldom backpack anyhow. My Dad had (still has) one and used it for years on camping trips and (when burn bans were in place) picnics. It never let him down. It was not tippy. It simmered easily. It performed acceptably in the wind.

But it was for sale in Mount Vernon. Add the ferry tolls and gas and it’s totally not a justifiable expense. Except that I was going to Lopez Island this weekend, and Mount Vernon is essentially on the way there. So I contacted the seller and said that if it was still available Sunday (today), I was interested in buying it. It was, and the seller was basically as I had sussed him out. He demonstrated the stove worked, we chatted a bit, and I left with it. It set me back 1/4 the price of a new Dragonfly.

My ride partner had asked to be dropped off downtown, so he could visit a used book store he liked. While the proprietor was ringing up my friend’s purchases, I remembered a highly-regarded (and out of print) book on mosses I had been wanting for some time. I asked where the botany section was and darted off. And there it was, priced at $9.95. It sells for $40 and up on Amazon. It followed me home, too.

Tech Work and Alternate Plans

Published at 21:20 on 26 July 2017

Well, chalk up another blown interview. I’m not sure if it’s just age discrimination at work (and deliberately creating impossible hurdles as a pretext) or just trends moving in ways that I am fundamentally incompatible with (so much of the “agile” trend might more accurately be described as “give software developers as little privacy and personal space as possible, and maximize the number of interruptions they are subject to”).

Whatever the reason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that today’s tech workplace is probably not for me. I could make yesterday’s work, but that was yesterday, and yesterday is gone.

So I’m increasingly thinking it’s time to move on to something else. The big question is what.

Sodium Sesquicarbonate, the Best Floor Cleaner?

Published at 17:35 on 23 July 2017

Some years ago, I was renting a room in a house. In the utility room was a box of a product called “Dirtex,” which could be used for, amongst other things, a floor cleaner. Because I needed to clean a floor that day, and it was handy, I tried it. It worked wonderfully.

A glimpse at the ingredients showed that it was mostly “sodium sesquicarbonate,” a compound new to me at the time. It’s basically a double salt of sodium carbonate (a.k.a. washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (a.k.a. baking soda).

I couldn’t find that product after I moved to Bainbridge Island, but the grocery store here sells both washing soda and baking soda, and I have a gram scale. So it was a simple matter to weigh out 286 grams of washing soda (being a decahydrate, it has a high molecular weight) and 84 grams of baking soda, and mix the two.

No, that’s not making true sodium sesquicarbonate unless I dissolve and recrystallize the result, but given that I’m just going to be dissolving it in a bucket of mop water, it makes no difference to the resulting solution. And yes, I’m sure there’s a little bit of variation as the powders separate and settle, but mopping the floor isn’t a precision science. It works well enough.

Which, to the best I can recollect, is about as well as the commercial product worked, which in turn is quite well indeed.

Really? A Four-Hour Timed Test?

Published at 16:16 on 11 July 2017

Just to be able to talk to an actual person at the company? Does this anonymous employer have any idea how onerous a demand that is on someone’s schedule?

Demanding a four-hour time investment just to be able to speak to a human, even a personnel droid, is bad enough. Demanding it be in the form of a timed on-line exercise that cannot be paused takes the cake. Now it has to be four consecutive hours, blocked off in one’s schedule. That’s nearly as big a time commitment as a half-day on-site interview!

And realize, I do poorly on timed exercises. My style is to shelve things and think about them “in the background” for a while while working on other things. Timed exercises are fundamentally incompatible with that technique. So it’s hardly a surprise that the number of job applications that have gone further as a result of attempting such things are, in my case, exactly zero.

With those kind of odds, you can bet I am not falling over myself in eagerness to start the exercise. I may still attempt it, but frankly, there’s things right now I can do that have more promise than this particular time sink.