Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kludgy USB Cable

The other day Donna pointed out that once again, the summer season represented the time when I go more than a month between blog posts.

It seems this is usually the time of year when we combine a trip south with activities that just don't feel quite as blogworthy.

And as such, here's a quick post to try to relieve some guilt.

For backing up our family photos and files, I have recently switched from Dropbox, which recently announced a nearly 30-50% increase in the yearly fee, to Resilio.

It hasn't been totally smooth, but it wasn't too bad once I understood how it worked better.

 In order to make it work more like a Dropbox, it did require an always-on computer in the mix.  I couldn't provide one with reasonably low power requirements for cheap, but then I came up with a pretty useful solution - an nVidia SHIELD android box.  I could run Resilio on it.  As a side benefit, I could also run Foldersync on it (for full Dropbox emulation for clients), and it acted as a Plex media server.  So I feel smug and clever that I have it using Foldersync to both sync with clients' Dropbox accounts, as well as my own online seedbox.

But alas, all was not to last.  nVidia, to their credit, released an update over the past month or so that kicked in while we were on vacation.  It updated the SHIELD to a newer version of Android, and that ended up borking all my sideloaded apps.

I tried resetting, but that only cleared my settings.  Adding back Foldersync and Resilio just caused the lockups to return.  Argh!

I should note at this point that these two apps are sideloaded, as they are not officially supported on the SHIELD.  It's a shame, as there is no reason for them not to run on it, and in fact, they expand its usefulness exponentially.

I finally settled on flashing the device back to the "7.2.3" firmware, rather than the latest "8.0.0" which caused me so much heartache.

First up, I had to go to the city to find a wired USB keyboard - I have several wireless ones, but they didn't seem to detect properly on the SHIELD.

Then I also had to come up with a USB A Male to USB A Male - I'd only seen one of these once ever on an old external drive enclosure.

I found none at Best Buy or Marnics, but then there was one at Staples for $40.  Steep!  I bought it, but then right away found a multi-adapter kit at Wal-Mart that included the A to A male fittings, so I returned the one from Staples.

Arriving home I got all the stuff assembled and hooked up, but alas - loads of errors while trying to flash!

Eventually I read a few troubleshooters suggesting that poor USB cables cause those sorts of transmission errors, and the Walmart kit sure had thin, thin wire.

At last I gave up, and cut down two cheap cables I already had, and wired them together.  The transmission went halfway before giving up due to errors - progress?

I then went all-in, and the half cable with the thinnest wire, I cut right down against the connector, so now it was a short (about 30cm) cable, but with the thickest wires I had available.  Hooking this beast up worked right away!

That's a weird lighting effect around the ends of the cable.  Yes, that's scotch tape protecting my solder job.
I now have my SHIELD back to 7.2.3 - and strangely enough, I didn't lose my user account settings, although everything else was reset.  Later today I'll get on sideloading my apps back.  This will be super-annoying if my problems persist.  Oh yes, I also turned off auto-updating of both apps and the system.

Hmmm, maybe this post really belongs on Weird Tales of IT?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Flett Tunnel

A peaceful, idyllic trip planned to an abandoned railway line.

A group of enthusiastic young homeschoolers, eager for a romp through nature, exploring and seeking out fun and interesting geocaches.

Moms and tots, Dad and preteens, sunny skies and (relatively) few flies.

The entire group of us either trotting briskly with dignity or running screaming from the tunnel as a lumbering behemoth approaches.


How did we get here?  It all began over one hundred years ago as the Grand Trunk Railroad grew eager to take advantage of the budding Canadian identity's requirement to be linked coast to coast.  Content at first to build up a network of rail lines around the Great Lakes, they realized that the Canadian Pacific's westward expansion was turning into a bigger deal than they had expected.  As such, they planned their own line linking Fort William with Winnipeg.  Unfortunately, as they worked their way westward, creating alphabetically organized nodes, Alba, Baird, Crest, Dorval (?), Ellis, they reached a barrier at "F"lett - a rock formation that couldn't be avoided on their way to Griff.

Wait, that's too far back.  How about just four months ago?

That's when the Music Workshop School decided to book the Waverley Library Auditorium for their end of year recitals - thus overriding the "tech club" and our usual Thursday afternoon booking for two consecutive weeks in June.

We bumped our bookings to the local Gameshelf/Bookshelf, but then there was further discussion of maybe mixing things up a bit.

Kenny and I had long discussed visiting this tunnel that we had read about in some local hiking blogs.  Once again, we hoisted the flag of Flett tunnel, and saw a couple of fellow homeschoolers willing to trust us to lead them to a new adventure - in the real world!  What a radical notion!

We met at the Emerald Greens Golf Course promptly at 1:20 - amazingly for homeschooling families of various sizes and ages, we were all there not just on time, but early - Kenny could hardly believe it, but I had had faith.

I reiterated our directions - head west on Dawson Road/102 until Sistonen's Corners, then follow the highway to the right and onto the 11/17/Trans Canada Highway.  Follow that until Finmark Road and then turn right there.  Follow that until we either turn onto Flett Road, or it becomes Flett Road (conflicting maps and directions made it hard to say for certain - as it turns out, it bears to the left a bit more significantly than to the right, and there is a sign marked "Flett Road" pointing straight through at that spot).

Continue a bit further, until you're certain that the road will soon peter out, and then if you're lucky, your Google Maps GPS will tell you to turn hard left onto the old rail bed - it's perfectly driveable for most any vehicle.  Kenny and I were in our 2WD Ranger, followed by three other crossover type vehicles, and the going was just fine.

Eventually the rail bed started to get a little more...  potholy?  And then the look of the trees up ahead became distinctly dark.  The GPS announced we had arrived, although there wasn't much to see other than an inky shadow on the road ahead.  I pulled off a bit to the side, shut off the engine, and hopped out of the truck.  Ahead on the road lay the maw of the tunnel - it was at once surreal, exciting, beautiful and, dare I say, cool!

So uhm, is that it?  Or just a really overgrown part of the rail bed?
Puddles are never NOT interesting!


We examined our surroundings, collected the various children and gear we wanted to carry, and proceeded the remaining few metres to the tunnel entrance.

Large pools of water awaited at the mouth of the tunnel, but along the sides were wide, dry sections of crushed gravel that made it very, very accessible.  No need to get my slippers wet here!

The bugs, even at this time of year, were either not too bad, or else the wonder and interest of the place made them entirely forgettable.

We headed straight through the tunnel for our first run.  The children were already completely at ease, and had reached the far end of the 300 metre tunnel just as the grown ups were entering it.  I give them credit - it was very dark in the centre area, but the light at each end made it quite tolerable and comfortable to be in.  No sense of being closed in in the least.

I'm just approaching it, the kids are already at the far end!
Who knows what they are plotting?

Needs more lens flare!  JJ Abrams?  Where are you?
Graffiti was not nearly as bad as it could have been, and the garbage wasn't terribly offensive.  There were a few plastic bottles, a few cans, and only one glass bottle - intact.  We planned on gathering it up before we left - but then, due to the incident...  Well, I get ahead of myself.

Emma, Stu, I hope your love is as strong as this rock.  💘💘💘💘💘
N! joked privately with me about how fun it would be to make a loud train sound and to see the reactions of everyone there - I knew that Kenny had an authentic train whistle somewhere - but of course, we never thought to bring it.

N!, clearly contemplating something dark, disturbing and nefarious.
...or else thinking of Calvin and Hobbes, it could go either way.
At the far end, I walked a short distance beyond the tunnel and discovered a marked trail off to the left that clearly circled back to the top of the cave.  I wasn't interested in mentioning that to the group - I would not have enjoyed the notion of all those kids running rampant up around the unprotected roof-edge of the tunnel.

Teenage me - wicked cool cliff!
Adult me - keep those kids away from there!
Am I...  Old?
The TeamKim family opened up their geocaching app and proceeded to tell us that there was a cache hidden somewhere in the tunnel!  I returned to the truck and retrieved my phone, and there were at least three of us with our phone flashlights on, picking our way along the sides of the tunnel, seeking out a small "treasure-box".

Everyone was in on the search!
Luckily, I overheard the matriarch of their team remark that the cache was hidden close to the "Jeep" - I knew where that was!  I had taken a photo of it not five minutes earlier!

Jeep?  What Jeep?  (True confession - at first I thought it said "BEER")
Rushing down, we quickly found the small box behind a rock.  S! opened it up while everyone gathered around.  C! and M! enumerated the contents as we all basked in the sense of discovery, adventure and satisfaction at having found a modern-day buried treasure.

Suddenly, in a scene reminiscent of Stand By Me (props to LA! for posting this clip to the group within the hour), shouts of "Truck!" reverberated down the tunnel - a fully laden logging truck was barreling down the abandoned rail line - directly towards us!


We headed back to our vehicles at a brisk pace - some at a run, some a brisk walk.  This was fairly unexpected - although in hindsight, I do recall seeing at least one small sign warning of something like "warning - truck traffic" - but I didn't think at the time that it could be a very likely occurrence - and certainly no transport truck would be on such a road and willing to travel through the tunnel!  How wrong I was.

I'll take "Things you don't expect to find in an abandoned train tunnel for $1000 Alex".
Getting back to the vehicles, it was obvious that we hadn't pulled over far enough for a truck to pass unimpeded.  We quickly decided that we had had enough adventure for that moment, and turned our vehicles around.

Kenny and I led the way back along the rail line, pulling over in a wide spot with lovely lilacs on one side of the bed, and huge mountains of creosoted ties on the other.  The truck passed us by and disappeared around the bend as we waited to be sure everyone was re-assembled.

Convoy once again in formation, we headed back along Flett and Finmark road until we came upon the truck and driver.  He had pulled over (with enough room for us to pass) and was conscientiously re-tightening his load.

As I passed by I rolled down my window and asked him how often he encounters surprised hikers blocking the way.

"Every single day." he replied patiently, with a tight-lipped smirk.



Ice?  In June?  Only in Thunder Bay!







Donna spotted a king's face in this picture - pareidolia at work?









Post Blog Blooper Reel:

Heading back down Highway 11/17, Gary Numan's Magnum Opus blaring on the truck speaker (more relevant to our modern world than ever, I must say.  I *DO* feel safest of all when I'm in my car, cut off from society), suddenly my bluetooth kicked in with a jarring 8-bit version of "Ride of the Valkyries" - someone was calling me?

You get what you pay for, and I had paid for a $25 bluetooth stereo from Walmart.  I could just make out the voice of TeamKim leader asking if Kenny and I were game to search out another nearby geocache at Sunshine.

"Heck Yeah!"  we replied (well, actually, we fumbled for five minutes to turn off the bluetooth on my phone and then Kenny mustered all his enthusiasm into "I guess so").  We're always looking to keep the party rollin'!

We pulled over at the Sunshine Loop cutoff and assessed.  Unfortunately, LM!, N! and S! had to pass the vehicle torch, so they were going to take a polite pass.  L! was able to inspire C! and M! to agree, and Kenny repeated his new mantra - "I'm willing to try new things" - as always, in an utterly convincing monotone voice.

We followed the GPS about a kilometer and a half north of the highway where we met up with our old nemesis - well, I guess not that old - it was the same rail bed we had left about twenty minutes earlier!  In fact, it was basically the Ellis node location!

There was a rust coloured gate hanging limply across the rail bed to keep interlocutors out (that is to say, people who TALK about being interlopers).

We swarmed all over it, but found nada, zilch, nothing, the big goose egg.  Luckily, an errant finger poking into the open end of a bar of square stock felt something more...  plastic than steel.

Sliding out a small magnetic hide-a-key, we knew we had triumphed yet again!  Score two for TeamKim!

I'm quite certain that everyone appreciated being able to claim two victories in the hunt for treasure in a single day.  Perhaps we will expand our group interests into the realm of geocaching?

But that, is another story...





Saturday, May 25, 2019

Disaster Strikes my Wood Rack!

During the course of the winter, I observed the rack of wood that I had set aside for possible sauna construction begin to tip over.

I had hoped that it would hold out until the snow melted, but I guess it wasn't to be.  One morning I woke up to it being completely over.  No harm I figured - I'll unload it and all will be well again.

Hey, this stuff can be heavy!
I was wrong.  You can see that the legs on the back actually sank deep into the clay before it tipped, and that bent the legs terribly.

Awww, that's not right!
I guess I'll just use the angle grinder to remove the lower section of legs and have a slightly shorter shelf when I move it to a more stable location.

Live, and hopefully learn.