Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chainsaw Blessing

In February, as I was ready to cut up a fresh supply of firewood for my work shop, my McCullough chainsaw decided not to run. It would start but die when I gave it any throttle. After dismantling it (and kicking it) for about an hour, I gave up and decided to take it to a professional.

So, I stopped by Specialized Small Engine Service in Champaign. It's the little blue block building between the library and the Do-It-Best hardware store. The guy fiddled with it for about 2 minutes and decided the carburetor was probably clogged. He'd be happy to fix it for $80-$100. Having done my homework, I knew that new Poulan saws run for about $140. Add to that the fact that my chainsaw has only worked right about half the time since I got it.

Although his saws were priced higher than average, he offered a discount in exchange for my old saw -- deal. I paid about the same as the box stores, and I disposed of my old saw in an environmentally conscious manner. So, I wrote the guy a check, then he got out his service plan, which is outstanding. He charges $32 flat rate for repairs, and you get put at the front of his work queue. So, if the new saw gets a clogged carburetor, it won't cost $100 to fix it. He should have advertised his service plan sooner. There would have been even less thinking and more paying.

I highly recommend visiting this place if you have small engine needs. The guy was knowledgeable and friendly.

My new 16" Poulan saw is great. I just spent the better part of the afternoon with it trimming trees. It starts easily, runs great, and restarts easily. It also has a tool-free chain tensioner which is extremely useful when the chain comes off.

Here's my new saw atop the wood pile.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Day!

It's a snow day, and since Kimberly and Atticus are out of town, it's just me and the "big boys." What better to do with their time than play outside in the 10 degree wind chill?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Router Debacle

This post is a tech rant, so don't feel forced to read the whole thing.

Our ISP constantly has horrible service, but more of that in a later post. After suffering through 100kb/s (slightly better than an old-school modem) bandwidth from October through December, they finally fixed the problem right before Christmas. It was beautiful to have nearly 1Mb/s service. We went from the internet unpaved roads to internet county-maintained striped roads.

Things were great for a couple of weeks until DNS name look-ups stopped working, well actually taking 90s to resolve, which is about the same as not working. This was really aggravating. You could surf, but just barely. My VPN worked great, so I knew that DNS was the problem. After a week of complaints, I finally decided to dig further into the problem. After a couple of hours, I discovered that our router (Netgear WGR614) was dying after about four years. A firmware upgrade fixed DNS, but then packets started getting dropped. Why can't these things just die? The slow death drives me nuts. This is the third Netgear router that has died an unobvious death.

So, I decided we needed a new router - one that doesn't bear the Netgear name. A few minutes of searching lead me to the Linksys WRT400N. It's a dual-radio 802.11n router. It got decent reviews, and Newegg had a great price.

Three days later ($1.99 3-day shipping), I proceeded with the installation...for two hours. For some reason, the router could not talk to our ISP. Our ISP provides a standard ethernet connection with a static IP, no authentication, no modem. Basically, it's the simplest possible connection. Linksys customer service finally decided that I had a defective router. Customer service informed me the next morning that they would not replace it. I would have to go through Newegg. Who doesn't replace (they called it "warranty") a DOA product?

Newegg, however, was quick and easy and provided me with replacement service, including all shipping costs. Newegg is my new personal hero.

After two weeks, I received the replacement. All excited, I quickly hooked it up and...had the same problem. After poking and prodding and searching, I finally found references on the internet to people who had problems getting the router to talk to older ADSL modems. This problem was solved by placing a switch between the router and modem. So, I tried this out, and just like magic the router worked fine. I finally decided that the router could not negotiate a 10Mb/s half-duplex network (provided by our ISP).

So, I called up customer support to find out why not...their customer service was Indian and barely understandable. He suggested such things as upgrading the firmware (no upgrades available) or returning the item for another. I finally hung up on the guy.

Newegg came to the rescue yet again by providing return shipping and a refund. I'm still waiting to see if I get inflicted with their 15% restocking fee.

On Friday I visited the Illini Apple Center and bought an Airport Extreme, which is what I should have done a few weeks ago. It doesn't have any problems talking to our ISP. All of the computers hooked up to the wireless without issue (although, all of our older 802.11b devices, including Nintendo DS) have to use the unsecured guest network because they can't do WPA2 encryption, which is the only encryption available with Airport Extreme. However, it's great to provide an easy, isolated, unsecured guest network. I hope no one drives all the way out here to steal our bandwidth...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Korean Barbeque

As we sat down to breakfast last Saturday, Kimberly said, out of the blue, "Korean barbeque sounds good." Well, as a sucker for Asian cuisine, I immediately reached for the Korean cookbook that I got for Christmas a couple of years ago. Although I've read it, I have never actually cooked out of it.

A quick phone call revealed that the Green Onion Market on Neil. St. not just carries bulgogi meat (Korean barbeque), but that they even have it pre-marinated! This place is great. They have a large selection of fresh items, including meats, vegetables, fish, and Korean side dishes. They also have huge jars of kimchi. No Korean meal is complete without it. They just happened to have a special on the bulgogi, and even had some cooked up for tasting. Excellent!

First, we prepared several banchan dishes, which are the small side dishes that are served with Korean meals. We made kohng namool (seasoned soy sprouts), shigumchi namool (seasoned spinach), gamja jolim (seasoned potatoes), and of course the kimchi.

For the kids, we made mixed rice bowls. These are similar to Chinese stir-fry, except each ingredient is stir-fried separately. They looked impressive, but only Ethan was very interested.

Finally, Kimberly and I ate the bulgogi Korean style: wrapped up in a lettuce leaf with some rice.

The whole meal required about 1 1/2 hours to prepare and was delicious. I'm sure we'll be having this again in the coming weeks.