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Hit the Breaker!

June 23, 2007 at 10:43 PM

It's become something of a saying in our household, as my parents and I have been saying those three words for quite awhile =P

It started a day or two before we went on vacation to North Carolina last year. When we were running water, it would - with no warning - go from a strong flow to a weak trickle, and then stop entirely. This happened when washing dishes/clothes, watering plants, taking a shower, and so on. When it happened, if there was another family member in the house, whoever was running water would have to yell "Hit the breaker!" (or something similar). After that, they would have to wait for them to go the basement and flip the button/switch for the water pump (and later on, the circuit breaker controlling the pump, which is when the saying actually came around) to restore the water pressure...until the next time it went out.

This was especially troublesome when washing dishes or clothes, as you don't want the water pressure to just go down like that all of a sudden. This was a problem for Mom when running the dishwasher or washing machine, as she would have to stay there the entire time in the event the water pressure went down again.

The problem first happened when our well's pump reached the end of its life and went bad, so we had no choice but to replace it. One thing that was found when replacing it was that a wire was worn bare in one spot - it apparently got caught between something and had its insulation rubbed off - but it was not considered to have caused this problem, given its age.

A second pump was put in after that, and we thought this problem would be fixed...but we were wrong: almost every day, at least once, the water flow had suddenly stopped, and one of us (usually me, if I was home) had to run to the basement and press a button on the pump to restore the water pressure. A few months later, we thought that maybe the switch was causing this problem and had replaced it with a new one. This time, however, the water just trickled constantly instead of stopping entirely when the problem occurred, and a switch (instead of a button, as it was a different model) had to be flipped to fix this. Rather than immediately restore the water pressure, it took a few seconds between turning it off and on to work properly, but even turning off any running water for 10-15 seconds also worked. Eventually we just started using the circuit breaker in the laundry room for this, as it was quicker to get to and easier to find.

A few months ago, since this problem still wasn't solved, we thought that maybe our well was collapsing, since nothing else we tried had worked...but if it were collapsing, why did the use of a button/switch/breaker fix this? If anything, the problem should have gradually become worse over time...but it didn't get any worse than when it had started, so that couldn't be it.

On Wednesday of this week, Dad and Pappy put in a third pump, and it had the same problem as the second one...which meant the pump wasn't causing the problem, either - or so it seemed. We were out of water until around 9:00 PM, when they finally figured out the problem, putting an end to this nuisance once and for all. From what Pappy told me, it turns out that - with the second and third pumps - the space between two check valves in both of the pumps was too short. This caused those valves to either come into contact with or bump up against each other, temporarily locking them in place and causing the water flow to shut off until they could be separated (by turning off any running water or messing with the switch/button/breaker). How did they fix this? All they did was put a piece of pipe in between those check valves, which ensured that there would be more than enough room for them to operate without bumping into each other.

We won't have to worry about the water pressure going out all of a sudden anymore, and that's a great thing to know =D

A New Modem and JResult Client Application Suggestions

June 2, 2007 at 6:08 PM

The release of the revised county website is going to be delayed a bit - I can't do much more work on my own, as I've reached the point where my supervisor will have to look at the site and see what might need fixed up before it's released. Unfortunately, he's very busy with getting the county government's network backbone upgraded, as well as work elsewhere in the buildings, and that makes it difficult to get things finalized here =/

Also, here's anything interesting I've been doing lately:

  • March 30 (possibly late March 29, after I went to bed) to April 2: My modem stopped working (like the last one, it was running 24/7) =( I originally noticed it Friday afternoon and thought there might have been a temporary outage or maintenance being done, so I waited until Saturday...and saw that it was still out. I called up support at Comcast, and found out I would have to wait until Monday before they could fix it.

    On Monday, I got a replacement modem - this time around, instead of buying one, we rented one at $3/month. Last time we rented a modem (which was when we first got a cable modem), it was $6/month. The reason we went back to renting one (aside from it costing only half as much as it did before) is that, if something goes wrong, they have to come out and fix it.

    They also replaced the cable line leading into our house - it's been there since before I was born, and it was actually the wrong grade of cable, weaker than what should have been used for underground burial. Part of its casing was worn away, and they said they were surprised it held up so well for so long. They replaced it with a new cable (the proper, stronger grade this time around), which was buried sometime in April. This fix dropped 10-15 db. on the line - I originally thought they meant "decibels", but later found out it actually meant "deadband" =P

    They also said our cable lines in the house were split up too much, which is why the signal on a few TVs was weak. Some cables were switched around, and one was removed - that cable was for the TV in the living room, since it had to be switched to a different outlet sometimes when the furniture was rearranged (all that's needed to work around this is to go into the basement and switch the outlet the cable is plugged into). Except for one TV (whose quality remained unchanged, though that might be an issue with how it plugs into the wall), the signals on them are cleaned up now =)

  • April 30: As mentioned in my previous post, I went to Red Lobster for my birthday dinner. I got coconut shrimp (which was pretty good), as well as a cake when we were all done eating =)
  • May 15: The county's 2007 Primary Election was held on this day. I worked my usual shift, and (like I did in the previous elections) a second one at night. The laptop hooked up to the projector in the main hallway was going real slow, and I used the Task Manager to keep closing out processes until it ran properly. When on the desktop used for uploading results online, the FTP account I used wouldn't work - even though I could see the files - and I couldn't figure out why. I went over to the I.T. Department and found out that the door was locked. I got someone to unlock it, logged on to my desktop, and finally realized what happened: I was supposed to be using a different account. I found out the day after that, for some reason, the old account used for uploading data no longer has write permissions (even though it still has read permissions), which is why that other account was made.

    After I figured out what was going on, I went back over to the other building, logged into the FTP program (this time with the new account), and could finally upload the results! I then went back and forth between the desktop and laptop to upload results, like I did last year...but some people in the hallway complained about having to wait for all the results to go through to see the ones they wanted, which ended up taking over 20 minutes given the number of races being shown. I mentioned that (from what I could tell) the program goes through the results alphabetically, and since the political party is listed first (but not for all races), that's why the results were showing up in that order. They told me to wait a few minutes so they could see the results, but then asked if I could speed it up - fortunately, I could, and just kept hitting the "Next" button until the results they wanted to see were there. I kept doing that until all the precincts were in and went back upstairs to do the last upload. After that, I was finished for the day (er, night =P), called home, and left.

Given how things went with showing the results, I came up with some improvements for how results could be uploaded. Currently, the results file is burned onto a CD, given to me, I head downstairs to upload the laptop's results (for those watching the projector in the hallway), then head back upstairs to upload the desktop's results (for those watching the website), and finally take the CD back to wait for the next set of results to be burned to the CD. The improvements I suggested would be to have another laptop available, this one with a wireless connection - after being handed the CD, I could upload the results to the site (by FTP), as well as wirelessly to the laptop downstairs and remotely refresh its results (by VNC), all from the same computer - no running around required =)

I also typed up some things which could be done to improve the application (the JResult Client, made by Diebold). These were basically suggestions (I also had reasons for doing so, but forgot what they were right now ^_^; ) , as I don't know about the inner workings of the program:

  • For HTML results:
    • Add links to allow the user to go to whatever race they want to see.
    • Convert all HTML code for formatting into (valid) CSS code, presented as an external stylesheet.
    • Ensure HTML output for results is actually valid HTML, preferably HTML 4.01 Strict.
    • Ensure that, with only minor changes to the code (most likely to the doctype and line breaks), the page would be valid XHTML as well.
    • Allow a choice between presenting only the code necessary for the results (to allow pasting into a template page or CMS) or creating an entire page (to be uploaded as-is). The user would also be allowed to select which doctype it should validate against, so that the page is formatted properly.
    • Allow web feeds for the results, so users with feed readers could keep up with them without having to visit (or refresh) the results page.
    • Create a background application (on the server hosting the results) that could automatically update the HTML results page when the results file is updated.
  • Create a JavaScript file that would augment the usability of the HTML results page. It could provide capabilities such as showing a few races at a time and automatically scrolling through them (like how the Java applet works), automatically refreshing the results after a set period of time (since they'd be live results), drawing graphs for the results, sorting the results by district/race/party, allowing the user to automatically go to a particular district/race/party, or filtering out only the districts/races/parties they want to see. If the user doesn't have JavaScript enabled (or if their browser doesn't support it), the HTML results page will still be usable, just without the functions described in this item.
  • Create a Flash version of the Java applet for those who don't/can't have Java installed or have issues with how it runs on their system. It could also make use of the suggestions for the JavaScript version above, for improved usability.
  • Upgrade the Java applet to make use of the suggestions for the JavaScript version above, also for improved usability.
  • Ensure the results file could be used by the JavaScript and Flash versions mentioned above, in addition to the Java applet, so that their results would always be in synchronization. Modifications to its structure may not be necessary in order for them to use the same file, but this might prevent the use of the features described above if it is not modified.
  • If the results file structure is modified, include a converter that could be used to upgrade the result file's code for use with the JavaScript and Flash versions (and the upgraded Java applet as well), as well as downgrade them - if necessary - for use with an older version of the JResult Client.

I typed up these suggestions and gave them to my previous supervisor (who I still work with for the elections, but only during the elections now), and asked her if she could somehow forward them to the company that made the application, if possible. It's worth a shot - I have a feeling I'm not the only one who wants to see improvements to that application ;)

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