Thursday Apr 14, 2005

New flatpanels....

I have space on my desk at home now.

I used to have 2 nice 21" Sun monitors sitting on my desk. One was attached to a SunRay (which was tied to an Ultra-60 that I put down in my basement because it was warming up my office too much) and the other was attached to my PC.

This was all fine and dandy because they are beautiful screens, but they weighed 72lbs each and sucked 130W each in power (at leat accoring to the Sun System Handbook.) Actually, the weight and power consumption wasn't that big of a deal to me. What I did start to notice though is that they were just plain big. 20" deep. I found that with the desk that I had them on I was sitting less than 6 inches away from the screen at times. Not a good thing.

So on Monday, one of Office Administrators that I help out with technical issues came asking me for help with her iWork JDS PC that I set-up for her a while back. (She baked me cookies, so its a fair trade in my opinion.) Her CRT monitor had died. I impressed her by asking, "Did it die with a loud "POP?!?!?" I think that's how all CRT monitors die. Of course, it did die in that fashion. Anyways, she and her husband had gone out looking for a new montior to get to replace it and had found a good deal. Her JDS PC got the hand me down because the new LCD panel went on their Sony Media Center PC and its LCD went on the JDS PC.

Her problem now was that she couldn't get a display on the LCD panel. It booted up, but when it was supposed t go to a login screen, the graphics die. It was a simple fix because the system was trying to use a refresh rate that was way too high for LCD panels. I just put the JDS PC into the lab and hooked it up to one of the CRT's and kicked the refresh rate down and then attached it back to the LCD.

Another problem solved, and I'm getting cookies out of it too. Well, maybe not cookies. She said that I might just get some Schell's Beer out of it instead. That's fine by me too.

She started to talk about the new LCD panel that they found. Office Depot had a great deal on some LG 19" flatpanel monitors. They were selling the Flatron L1930B for $494. That by itself isn't a great deal, but they had $220 in rebates on it. This kicks the price down to something like $320 after taxes. (You might figure that I wouldn't buy another LG item after the fun with the dryer. Even though the parts for that dryer wound up being $90 for whole gas valve assembly, I still like LG and I wouldn't try to take apart an LCD panel myself and this one has a 3 year warranty anyways.)

Near as I can tell, the Flatron L1930B has been discontinued, which probably explains the huge rebates on it. There were some newer ones at the Office Depot store that had better contrast and refresh rates. (The L1930B has a 25ms refresh rate while the newer ones have a 12ms refresh.) For what I use them for, the slight change in specs don't justify a $200+ price jump.

I picked up two of them. I have space on my desk now and I'm not looking at the screen from a distance of 6 inches anymore.

Now all I need is a new PC. My old 800MHz Athlon is getting long in the tooth and the video card fan on it is making a nice grinding noise. I'm really leaning towards a Mac Mini or a Power Mac G5. I know its a big difference in price and horsepower. I won't decide until the end of this month when Tiger is released. I really want to do a bunch of video editing and that's the way to go. If I didn't do that, then I'd get a Athlon64 PC and put Solaris 10 on it.

Friday Feb 18, 2005

"I don't usually sell to end users..."

So my wife was complaining about stuff taking far to long to dry in the dryer. When she first mentioned it, she was having problems drying a large load of towels. I figured that it was due to the fact that towels like to hold water and it was a pretty big load so I didn't think anything about it.

Yesterday, she called me at the office to tell me that she had a bedsheet in the dryer for well over an hour and it was still cold and wet. I promised to look at it when I got home.

Getting home, I put a load in the washer and then into the dryer. Firing up the dryer it looked like things were going fine. It was getting hot and life was good so I let it run for a while.

After about 15 minutes, I checked on the dryer again. It was still running... well, it was still tumbling, and it was also ice cold. This isn't good. So I got out their troubleshooting manual:

Problem:                Solution:

No heat                 Check circuit breaker

That solution would be fine and dandy, but this is a gas dryer and the circuit breaker is obviously OK because it has power.


I decide to pull it away from the wall and take a look inside through the rear vents. I start it, and I can see the heater element (replacement for a pilot light) glow red and then go out. After a minute, it tries again. No fire at all.

Either the valve is damaged or the heater element isn't hot enough. I start to take it apart. (Though it is only 1.5 years old, its out of warranty so if I can fix it myself, I will. I know what service technicians charge.)

Fast forward over an hour as I remove a bunch of screws to panels while trying to figure out how it come apart. I finally get it apart and give the valve a whack with the screwdriver to see if its stuck.

I get a flame this time. This is good. Being a good techie, I stop it and wait a few minutes and try again. This time, no flame.


Either the valve is really stuck, or something else is wrong. I give dad a call to see what he thinks. (I'm a computer geek, not an appliance geek. He's an appliance geek, not a computer geek.) Solenoid coils either are busted or aren't getting voltage.

Haul out the voltmeter. I get a resistance of 1.8 KiloOhms one of the 2 coils and an infinite resistance on the other. Not good. Broken coil. Check the voltage for the power to the coils with the dryer running. Yup, they get voltage when the heater element is on. I now know what's broke.

Go to LG's website and see if I can find a way to order parts. Nope. I get a listing of service dealers. I call them and they state they don't sell parts. They fix them, but don't sell the parts. I call LG directly from the number on their Owner's Manual. They have an option to order parts right off the main menu.

I talk with the woman that answers and tell her about the problem. The conversation goes something like this:

LG: "Are you a technician?"
Me: "No. I know what the problem is. One of the electronic valve coils is bad. Can you help me find the part number and let me order it?"
LG: "I don't usually sell to end users."
Me: "OK. So can you help me me find the part number and let me order it?"
LG: "I don't usually sell to end users."
Me: (Realizing that this might be a problem.) "What do you mean by that? You don't usually or flat out won't sell me the part?"
LG: Silence...
Me: "I know where the problem is. I just need the part. The dryer's not under warranty anymore and I'd like to avoid having to pay someone to fix something that I can do myself."
LG: Silence...
Me: "This is very frustrating. Can you help me or not?"
LG: "Well you don't have a service manual with the part number."
Me: "Its not published in the user's guide. How else would I?"
LG: "With the service manual."
Me: "Well can you help me figure out what the part number is and let me order it?"
LG: "I think I can help you find the part number but I'll have to check with my supervisor as to if I can sell you it. What's the dryer model number?"
Me: "Its DLG5932W. The broken part is the electronic valve coil."

She finds that there is a gas valve assembly and gives me the part number.

Me: "So can you sell it to me?"
LG: "Let me check with my supervisor... I'm sorry. I can't. Only a qualified service technician."


I've get the names of a few authorized service centers. They all are assuming that I'm still under warranty and are a bit surprised when I ask for labor rates. I get prices for labor. $69 - $89 for the first 1/2 hour plus $20 for each 15 min... plus the price of parts.

I scheduled one and actually talked to the technician about the problem. He agrees that the coil is shot and he'll order the appropriate part. Maybe I'll get it by the end of the next week.

I really don't like the attitude of "we won't sell you this part because you're not qualified" for something in the consumer space. I'm not asking them for warranty service and I don't carry a service contract with them so what do they care? Its not like they make money off of the local technician doing the work.

The only thing that I can figure is that if I do the gas valve wrong that it could leak and I'd find a way to sue them. I look at it as I wouldn't take it apart if I didn't have at least some idea what I was doing.

The $.20 coil will probably cost me a $150 when its all said and done. Hopefully less if I can get the technician to just drop the thing off and let me do it. I was happy to see that I'm not the only person to have this kind of experience. Though I don't think my wife would like it if I painted the dryer yellow and put Space Invader decals on it.

Tuesday Jan 18, 2005

Kinda nerdy...

I am nerdier than 82% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out! I guess that I am one of the High Nerds. I thought that I'd be much more, but my wife cleans our bedroom and when I get home from work I don't usually get back in front of the computer.
There are those here that are far nerdier than I am. Find out who.

Monday Dec 13, 2004

Fun with humidifiers

After spending last winter in my new home walking around and seeing (or not seeing) my cats run in fear at my approach due to massive amounts of static electricity buildup, I decided to put in a humidifier. It was going to happen eventually, but I got around to it this past weekend.

For those that don't live in northern climates, or places where it doesn't get colder than freezing, you probably don't realize the need for a humidifier in the house. While the summer up in Minnesota sometimes makes the air feel more like soup, the winter makes it very dry. Cold air doesn't hold much moisture and when its heated up, well, that doesn't help it much either. You get all of the nice benefits of dry skin, waking up in the middle of the night with cottonmouth much worse than normal, fear of doorknobs, light switches, and scared housepets.

We moved into our new house last year and I've been very happy with it. Most things have been well thought out in their location and access, in terms of normal household things like lights, water main, fuse box, electrical circuits, etc. I had thought that it was good thing that the furnace was nice and tucked in a corner, as opposed to being in the middle of the basement. My mind has changed now.

The humidifier that I bought is the bypass style. Essentially, this style involves cutting a large opening in either the hot air supply or cold air return to place the unit that consists of a solenoid valve, and a mesh screen/filter that water gets poured over. Its called a bypass style because you need to cut and install ducting from the opposite supply or return. This creates air-flow that goes through the filter and evaporates the water into the air. Its simple enough of a concept.

My problem here is that some homebuilders (or mine at least) haven't figured out that this is something that 99% of the people living in MN will install one of these units and provide space to give a save place to cut into the ducting without cutting something else that lives inside the ducting like the A-coil for the air-conditioner.

The problem in my case lies with the furnace being tucked into the corner. The cold air return was accessible, but the hot air side was up against a wall on 2 sides (with only about 3 or 4 inches clearance, had the cold air return running down next to it on the 3rd, and had ducting coming out of it on the front. The ducting coming out of it in the front wouldn't have been a problem to tap into, but they put a vent (presumably for basement heating) immediately at the first place one could cut in to put in a vent. My bypass had to start out about 3 feet from the furnace to run back to the humidifier which is attached to the cold air return. I had no other place to put it. Luckily, they included enough ducting with the unit to make the distance.

I will say that I do appreciate people that do this sort of thing for a living. I suppose that having the appropriate tools for sheet metal does help, but doing it everyday likely helps more. The instructions for the unit said that installation would take about an hour. I stopped after 3 because it was 10pm on a Sunday night. I'm down to the last step, which involves installing the self-piercing valve for the water supply. I figured that cutting into the water supply at 10pm after all of the hardware stores have closed was not a good idea. I'll do that tonight.

Hopefully my cats will appreciate it.

Friday Oct 01, 2004

Power Outage!

So I'm digging through my email this morning, suddenly mozilla stalls. Not a terribly uncommon thing when I'm reading email. Its infrequent, but not unheard of. I just switch to the next folder and start though the next email alias. This morning was no luck with that either.


Gee... I get no response from my lab boxes either. Did the VPN connection drop? (Working remote today.) Nope. I still can surf.

Maybe routing is screwed up. I log into the corefile server in Colorado. I can get to that, but I get a big 'ol:

Could not chdir to home directory /home/pwags: Permission denied
That's wierd. The corefile server can't ping my office either.

So I make a call to our local office Administrator. Yup. Power's out in the building.

Nice. Guess a UPS on the server doesn't do much good when all of the other equipment goes dead now does it? At least I can blog.

Thursday Sep 02, 2004

Forgot something...

As someone pointed out, you can't go to the Fair without getting the Mini-Donuts. I actually did get a bag of Tiny Tim Mini-Donuts. I think that I had one or two of them (which is probably why I forgot about them!). My wife at the rest as a snack later because "they'd go stale."

MN State Fair

My wife and I took the day off yesterday to go to the Great Minnesota Get Together. Its otherwise known as the Minnesota State Fair. Its a good time to go watch people, pigs, sheep, cows, geese, rabbits, horses, chickens, and llamas. Its also not really a place to be on a diet.

So, starting with the food. Here's the list of what we ate, which is down from last year.

  • Blueberry pancakes
  • Corn Dogs (aka. Pronto Pups)
  • Australian Potatoes
  • Lots of Milk (at least half a gallon)
  • Strawberry Malt
  • Cheese Curds
  • Reuben on a Stick
  • Assorted soda's and water

We watched the Purina Incredible Dog Team Show which is also known as the Frisbee Dog Show. It sounds a bit of a stupid thing to do, but these dogs were pretty neat. They could jump 5 to 6 feet in the air, while catching Frisbee's. (I suppose since I don't know if they were true Frisbee's, I suppose that they should only be called flying disks.) Its was good, high-energy show.

We also took time to watch the show put on by the Minnesota Raptor Center from the University of Minnesota. They had a falcon, a Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, a Kestrel (I think that's the name of it), and a Bald Eagle. It was a good, educational show.

The Big Pig was only 1220 lbs this year. Considering that the average pig, from what I remember doesn't get much bigger than 700-800 lbs, its still pretty big.

Of course I stuck my head into the Wonders of Technology building. Its alway good because usually 3M gives away something good, like duct tape. This year it was transparent Post-It Notes and a Mouse Pad. Still some good stuff.

Of course there were some politics going around. From my unofficial observations, there were more people around the John Kerry booth and wearing Kerry buttons than there were for the other guy.

Wednesday Aug 25, 2004

Need another vacation to recover

So I got back from my 2 weeks of vacation on Monday. It almost felt like I needed (and still need) another vacation to recooperate from that one.

So to start things out, I spent the first weekend (August 9th) pouring concrete. I'm building a deck and had to pour the foundations. I had 80 bags of concrete from Menards at 60 lbs each. Not a huge amount, but quite a bit anyways. I'm just glad that I rented the 6 cubic foot cement mixer instead of the 1 cubic foot one like Dad said to get.

Monday, my wife and I headed out on a camping trip up to the UP of Michigan. (Had to let the concrete set!) We did 2 days up at Porcupine Mountains. We had a very nice campsite (Number 11) which is right next to Lake Superior. It was excellent. We took a hike for about an hour or so when we got there on Monday evening.

About the time that I lit the campfire to do the traditional hot dog roasting and sacrificing of marshmallows to the camping gods, it decided to rain. I rained for the next two days!

Even though it was raining, it didn't make sense to just stay in the camper all of the time. So we took hikes out to Mirror Lake, the Union Mine Trail and saw the waterfalls on the Preque Isle River as well as the Lake of the Clouds. We got a bit wet, but that's OK. As we had the tent trailer we could always come back to a nice warm and dry camper after the hikes. I still feel sorry for the campers that were in tents.

So from there, we drove up to Copper Harbor and to Fort Wilkins State Park up at the very tip of the Keewenaw Penninsula. This time the sun came out so it was beautiful up there.

Wilkins doesn't have nearly as many trails to follow in the park, but there are ones around the area. We took walks out to Hunter's Point. This was quite exciting for our dog (A year old black lab mix) as he'd never really been to a lake. We found out quickly that he's like every other lab that I've seen and proceeded to spend the time "rescuing" large rocks from the lake.

We also took a hike around Estevant Pines. Its a privately financed nature preserve that's open to the public. Its an old growth pine forest. Quite nice.

We only camped for 4 days total, so Friday was the drive back home. Then it was time to start on the deck.

All I can say about the deck is that I know now what mistakes to avoid next time I build one. We had fun with Beams that were set an inch off (so one side had an inch too long outside the joist and the other an inch too short) as well as anchors set in the concrete that weren't quite in the right places.

In any case, its mostly up. Though it proved to be a cooler week here in MN that normal (maybe 70 for highs), it was perfect weather to do deck work. I could be out in the bright sun without roasting in the heat. I even somehow managed to avoid getting too bad of a sunburn.

Let's also say that I didn't have any problems sleeping during the week.

I never did get to clean out the garage...

So now I'm back at work and in need of another vacation. I started the week to 2700 email messages. (Most of them are email discussion aliases, but its still 300 that I had to read directly.)

Friday Aug 06, 2004

Freedom! (For a little while...)

Ah... Its Friday.

I'm on vacation for the next two weeks!

My list of things to do:

  • Pour Concrete Footings for deck
  • Spend a week up in the UP of Michigan camping
  • (Start) Building Deck
  • Clean the garage out
Whether I actually accomplish any of these things remains to be seen. I'm sure I'll do the first two, but the rest of them I don't know. See ya in two weeks!

Friday Jul 30, 2004

Still Here...

Here we are now at the end of July. This month has completely flown by. Along with that flying, it seems that the wind blew things around quite a bit too.

Starting out, my youngest brother got married. It was a nice ceremony and my wife and I had a great time down there. I'm not going to say it was a wonderful ceremony though. I'm still a bit upset about him deciding to get married in Texas... In July... at 4pm in the afternoon... and making me wear a tux. He should remember that we're from the frozen tundra and not used to heat.

I spent a week out in San Diego (La Jolla actually) out at Hitachi Data Systems taking some training on their NAS blade. As you may or may not know, Sun resells/OEM's HDS's 9910/9960 and 9970/9980 arrays. The NAS blade basically acts like a CHA and provides gigabit ethernet instead of fibre-channel out to NFS/CIFS clients. Its a pretty slick implementation.

While in San Diego I got to see both the USS Nimitz as well as the USS Ronald Reagan in port. The Reagan came in the day that I was leaving. I didn't get to see it steam in, but I did get some good pictures of both of them.

Okay, so why the "Sill Here..." title? Its the end of the month... so what? Well, the reason its "Still Here..." is that I'm still here!

Sun had a pretty significant RIF (Reduction in Force, aka Layoffs) this past week within Enterprise Services. A chunk of it was restructuring and pulling out a layer of management (this is a good thing). There were also some good people that were let go. Some services were changed and altered as well. I don't really expect to see any drops in service for our customers.

Along with the changes in structure, I got a promotion. Though its not really a promotion, more of a name shift. My title now is Area SSE, instead of Regional SSE. The change was due to the elimination of the Regions and having one big area. It shouldn't affect my day to day job at all. Stuff still breaks and I'm still there to fix it.

Friday Jul 02, 2004

Summer break!

Its the 4th of July weekend finally. This will be the first time since I've been with Sun that I've actually taken it off. Up until the last 3 or 4 years, we were running will full staff in Service over the week of the 4th. Recently, apparently due to some accounting discount/writeoff we can take by forcing people to use vacation time (There are a LOT of Sun people that never take vacation) Sun started to shutdown over the 4th of July.

I always opted to work because 1) I hate dealing with the crowds on the 4th and 2) I take a 2 week vacation towards the end of August that usually had me wind up in Glacier National Park and one sometime earlier in the year to Las Vegas.

This year is different. My youngest brother is getting married. Poor guy. Of course his wedding is in Texas... In Texas in July. Its gonna be hot out.

We'll see how that goes. It looks like I'm going to have to come up with some ideas for some form of a bachelor party. His Best Man isn't flying in until late on the night before the wedding and I don't think that anyone else is coming up with anything. This could be especially challenging as I've been told that the county that Austin is in is dry! (aka. Nothing stronger than soda pop!)

More when I get back.

On a side note, my cars fixed. Just need to go pick it up now.

Tuesday Jun 29, 2004

Busy, Busy, Busy...

So to start out this week, (1am on a Saturday night / Sunday morning is the START of the week isn't it?) I get a call from my wife about her car not starting. She tells me that the alarm on it is making a funny noise. Wonderful. I need to drive downtown (20 miles) to pick her up and get the car started.

At least the car problem wasn't that serious. Battery terminals are corroded so after trying to clean them there, I just jumpstart the car (being good midwesterner I have jumper cables in the back of my car all of the time) and drive it home. She follows in the other car.

Of course, the other car, err, SUV has had issues of its own lately. I've got a nice whine that sounds like its a pump or something going out. That's not that much of a concern at that moment. What does turn into a concern is the check engine light that comes on while she's driving back. She'd been seeing intermittant flashing of the O/D off light even though she's not turning off the overdrive. Okay... look that one up in the manual. Ahh... "Possible tranmission issue. Please have it serviced immediately." Transmissions are not something I like to play with. Of course I'm not going to deal with it at 2am on Sunday morning.

Next morning, I need to fix the battery issue with my first car. Little bit of baking soda, a toothbrush and a battery terminal wire brush fix that problem.

Can't call car dealers on Sunday 'cause they're not open. Must be some old law saying that selling cars is imorral, right along with liquor stores. Go figure.

So I can't work on the car problem so I spend the rest of the day doing housework (Mowing lawn, etc.) along with doing work on my boat to move the trolling motor battery from the bow where it is in the way, back to the stern where it should be along with the same gas tank, starting battery and oil tank. That only takes a couple of hours.

Monday rolls around. Drive into the office for the district meeting with the check engine light still on and worrying that the trannie is going to destroy itself on the drive down. Make a call to the dealer. I still have the remainer of the warranty so this shouldn't be a problem.

Drop the car off, get a rental. Go back to office. 'couple of hours later I get a call from dealer saying that the is a Torque converter slippage code being spit out by the engine. They'll need my authorization to tear apart the trannie to find the part and look at it. Sure, no problem. Oh, by the way, the dealer informs me, you were supposed to have the trannie serviced at 30,000 and 60,000 miles. They don't have a record that this was done so unless I can provide some reciepts saying that it was done by someone else the extended warranty folks will likely NOT pay for the repair.

Huh? Where was that documented? (Documentation is a good thing.)

Go dig through the car's recommended maintenance schedule from the manufacturer's website. No mention of the trannie being touched until 150,000 miles? Download the PDF of the maintenance schedule from my handbook. Mentions at 30,000 miles, and I quote:

"Change automatic transmission/transaxle fluid on all vehicles equipped with AX4S, 4F50N, 
4R100, 4F27E. Inspect automatic transmission fluid level on all other vehicles, if equipped
with dipstick. Consult your dealer for your particular requirements."

What the heck is a AX4S, 4F50N, 4R100, or 4F27E?

I do some more digging around and I find a maintenance record from 30,205 miles when I had it in to be worked on for something else. Gee... no mention of them ever recommending that the trannie be serviced at that time! I figure its kinda resonable to assume that since up until that point I had been having them change the oil every 5000 miles as well as do all of the work. Something is fishy here.

Call back and talk with service manager to tell them what I've found. Oh? Service manager says that she looked into it a bit more and my car has a G4SE (or something like that) transmission that is treated more like a manual trannie and thus doesn't need to be serviced every 30,000 miles. She'll get the extended warranty people to pay for it.

I wonder how many times people haven't argued something like this?

Today the car is still in the shop. Maybe it'll be done tomorrow.

Tuesday Jun 22, 2004

First Entry

OK. So here I am. My first Blog/Weblog posting. What do I talk about here? Someone said "Be interesting. Be yourself" or something there abouts. So here goes. Name, Rank, Serial Number...

I'm a RSSE (Regional System Support Engineer) with Sun Microsystems. That's SYSTEM support, not Sales support, or Software support. Its System support. Kinda like Sun isn't just a software company, or a hardware company, or a storage company. Sun is a systems company. We make systems.

So, you may ask, does an RSSE do? Well... the best description is that I'm a troubleshooter. Basically, if you've got something with a Sun logo on it that's not working right, you call me. Well, then again, that's not quite correct either. You'd call 1-800-USA-4-SUN, and talk to the Solution Center, who would then possibly dispatch an SSE. If the SSE ran into trouble or this was something of an ongoing issue, then I'd get involved. I work field escalations. Big, hairy, nasty problems that can't be narrowed down to one component or area are what I do. I'm tasked with coming up with action plans, analyzing data, filing bugs, and being the occasional Sacrificial Sun Engineer to go babysit systems.

So what areas do I focus on? Well, I do anything hardware related. This ranges from the low V20z's up through the Older E3x00 - E6x00 Enterprise systems through the MidFrame SF3x00 - SF6x00 up to the Starcats. I also do storage. This includes SAN, DAS, VxVM, LVM (DiskSuite) and all of the hardware Sun sells in those areas from unipacks to the SE99x0 (Hitachi) arrays.

I don't do corefiles, and I don't do SunCluster, and I don't program much. I've got a pretty good understanding of those topics, just not that much experience.

In a nutshell then; Sun makes systems. When those systems aren't doing what they're supposed to, I'm called in to help fix them. I've been doing it now with Sun for 8 years so I'd like to think that I'm doing something right.


Phil is an Area Technical Engineer in the Central Area of Oracle's Field Service in North America. He has 15 years of experience supporting Sun's entire product line.


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