not the best day to be under a car
Friday, January 4 2013
Temperatures today were considerably warmer than they had been yesterday, but not so warm as to be ideal conditions for one of the things I did with my time. I decided to try a different technique for silencing the noise coming from a missing gasket in the Subaru's exhaust system. In the past, I've had temporary success by packing furnace cement into that gap. But it always works its way out and the car goes back to sounding like something a moonshiner uses to transport his goods. Today's technique involved stuffing wads of fibreglass insulation into the gaps, wrapping the whole area with a sheet of the kind of fibreglass cloth used in making fibreglass repairs, and then securing it all with two large pipe clamps. To do these repairs required me doing something that is best avoided by any but the most desperate of apes: lying on my back in filthy, slushy snow under a jacked-up car. Luckily, the job did not take long to do.
I took the car on a shakedown cruise down Dug Hill Road and out to the Citgo on Hurley Avenue (next door to the Catholic high school that occasionally posts anti-abortion banners). There I bought a sixer of Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale and drove back home. But I could already tell my repair was a flop. The car was still making a lot of noise, and on top of that, the fibreglass cloth was releasing clouds of foul chemicals in reaction to the heat it was being exposed to. Evidently that cloth contains plenty of non-glass material that will burn off when heated.
This afternoon I added some debugging code to my Solar Controller's Master Arduino, but when I went to upload this new firmware to the Controller, the upload failed and the controller entered a useless state. This wouldn't have normally been a problem, but subsequent attempts to upload the firmware also failed. I tried with different serial ports and even on different Arduinos, but it always failed. It seemed something had mysteriously gone awry in my copy of the Arduino IDE. So I tried installing the IDE on a laptop, but it failed to upload the firmware even from there! I started growing despondent: was there now no way for me to ever upload from my IDE ever again? Was this whole six year experiment with Arduino microcontrollers a massive waste of time? But then I tried uploading a different Arduino firmware (which is, for some reason, referred to as a "sketch") and it uploaded just fine. After some more experimentation, I determined that the problem was with my non-stock bootloader, which is called "Optiboot." I tried using the stock bootloader and was able to upload my firmware once again, but after having used Optiboot for so long, the limitations of the stock bootloader where intolerable. It wasn't just that uploads with the stock bootloader ran at half or maybe only a quarter of Optiboot's speeds, but the stock bootloader also doesn't support the Atmega's watchdog, and that's a deal breaker. I can't tolerate a hung Solar Controller, and in the electrically noisy environment of the boiler room, the Solar Controller gets hung a lot. Basically, Arduino is little more than a toy without the watchdog. In the end it turned out that the Optiboot bootloader has a bug that prevents upload when the sketch size exceeds 28671 bytes. Supposedly this is fixed in more recent versions of Optiboot, but I couldn't figure out where to get those more recent versions (the "Optiboot homepage" seems to a zombie site).
After being reminded of the existence of the movie Boogie Nights by the explosion-punctuated aftermath of the beginning of 2013, I downloaded a copy and have been watching and re-watching various scenes. It's a great movie and I don't know why it has taken me so long to watch it again. One of my favorite series of the scenes are the ones where Dirk Diggler and his syncophantic buddy Reed Rothchild (another classic John C. Reilly role), having quit the porn business, try to make a name for themselves by renting time at music studio. The songs they (badly) perform are perfect parodies of everything that was wrong with 1980s rock and roll: aggressively-infantilized optimism, vapidly-sweaty meaninglessness, and unselfconscious bravado. Key rock and roll clichés; from that period are "nobody's fool," "the street," and "heat," a word that perfectly sums up everything that was repulsive about the 1980s (including Ronald Reagan). [It turns out that one of the songs Dirk Diggler performs is a actually a real song, though its only other appearance in our culture was in a toy-branded movie aimed at children.]
The other thing I love about Boogie Nights is demonstrated in the scene where another sycophantic member of the Dirk Diggler entourage, a pudgy internally-tormented gay boom operator named Scotty (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), tries to kiss Dirk on New Years, 1980. Dirk doesn't want to kiss Scotty, but there is nothing even remotely homophobic about the way Dirk rejects his advances. (You might also want to read my first encounter with Boogie Nights on August 15th of 1998.)
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