Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fun Facts About Generators

We got a notice a while back that PG&E was going to be downing the power on our street in order to fix a transformer. Power was to be down all day, which unfortunately posed a bit of a problem since, well… We have all those computers and stuff we use to run our business.

Having survived the infamous “Gray Outs” where “rotating outages” would leave us sending everyone home when the place went dark’ I was in no mood for a repeat.

Then a brainwave hit: “I know!” thought I, “we can get a generator”

Thus began an educational adventure, as a result of which I discovered a number of interesting things:

1. They’re not as loud as you fear. It’s just like someone’s mowing the lawn…all the time.

2. If you actually want to plug something in to your generator which lives more than 20 feet away, prepare to spend as much on heavy gauge power cords as you would for yearly passes to the waterslide park for a family of four.

3. They are every bit as heavy as you feared. Luckily, they have wheels. This is when you’ll discover that the place you want to put your generator does not have pavement.

4. You apparently need about a million watts of generator capacity if you plan on actually using a major appliance–like, say, your electric razor. That’s because–at least according to the “sizing charts” that accompany generators–even the most innocuous appliances are given to wild streaks when–like the Hulk when you make him angry–they surge to 20 times their original power. That fridge you’ve been monitoring at 22 watts all year? According to lore, it can surge up to 1750 watts when something (the defroster?) sets it off. Consider yourself warned.

5. GFCI outlets and computers don’t mix. This is the big one, and really the whole excuse for writing this post. You see, a GFCI outlet (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is standard on most portable generators, and is used to make sure you don’t kill yourself by taking the genny with you as you take a quick dip in the pool. The idea is, if it ever sees even a tiny disparity in the generated power vs. What it senses on the neutral wire, it’ll throw the breaker so that your loved ones will be safe as they fish your body out of the shallow end.

Unfortunately (as my electrician friend explained it to me after a miserable day when the genny decided to throw the switch whenever we dared ask it to, umm… actually generate some power for us) the GFCI design also implies that any time you hook up a medium-to sorta biggish capacitor to the line (like the sort in UPSs, computers, and all that gadgety stuff), it’ll also think someone is drowning and blow the whistle.

So yes, that in short is why we were down all day, why me and the staff are a bit frazzled, but why the beer in the fridge (no big capacitor there–just an allegedly Hulk-sized defroster which didn’t cause a lick of trouble) is still icy cold.

And boy do I need one after today….

The Government owns How Much of California?

This came up in a conversation yesterday, and I tried to use Wolfram Alpha to find the answer (unsuccessfully, sadly). Google provided the following, however:

Short answer: 46.9% (!). And check out how much of Nevada is owned by the government for a real shocker.

The Stock Market Game Update

After the first day of play, mattress-stuffing Kelly is in the lead with $10,000.23 cents, courtesy of 1 day’s worth of interest on her Wamu money market fund at 0.0083% interest.

I similarly chickened out (but didn’t give myself the benefit of any interest, as my “cash” is presumably stuck in a brokerage holding account). I just didn’t see any stocks which looked like winners to me right now.

Neil went with BQI, a petroleum sands exploration company out of Canada. Had he been able to get in yesterday, he’d have made a nice profit, but for today, the stock treaded water and he’s still out the commission fee of $49.99

Lastly, Carolyn went with her “economic apocalypse” smattering of stocks which included gun makers Smith & Wesson and Ruger, defense company Textron, as well as the Gold spider fund. Textron was up significantly on a rumored buyout by Lockheed, but the others were slightly down, leading to a net loss of $26.15 for the day.

Thanks (an early Thanksgiving Post)

It’s been a crazy week, fully of 3:00 am programming sessions, server restarts, tech calls, web sites in need of updates, and a dozen other things that go into preparing for the final holiday sales push at this little software company that’s been my home for the past 15 years. As if that weren’t enough, today was update day, which means I not only needed to push out the update for this week’s new comic indexing, but also handle as many as possible of of the content corrections and updates that have been flowing in all week.

My own desk is piled with work and half-finished projects, but with everyone else in the office busily  working on their own deadlines, I started tackling the queue that had grown by some seven hundred new submissions in just three days. “Man!” I thought. “Why do I do this job? I could have gone into writing medical software, but nooooooo…“. I was ready to bang my head against the desk out of sheer exasperation.

But then, in between editing the appearance notes, cover colorists, and countless other entries sent in by dozens of people from around the world in the past few days, I had one of those quintessential ComicBase moments where I was simultaneously stressed out by the workload, ferociously proud of what our little company has built over the past decade and a half, and utterly humbled by the amount of effort, care, and goodwill that causes relative strangers from half a world away to deluge us covers for a hundred issues of Martin Mystere, or hold raging forum battles over the proper way to denote character names in anthology storylines.

Like I said, sometimes I don’t know why I do this job. And I don’t know why so many other people are willing work so hard to help us. But man, am I glad you do!

I’m a big believer in work, and I respect the heck out of anyone, in any job, that gives it their all. On a personal level, I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve managed to with ComicBase and Atomic Avenue—projects that started with me wanting to find a way to catalog and sell my own comics, then got well and truly out of hand.

But as proud as I am of all that our little company has managed to do over the years, I still have to stand back occasionally and simply marvel at the sheer volume of effort that’s been donated by people I may never even meet, much less have the chance to buy a round of drinks for at San Diego. From helping moderate the discussion boards to correcting the spelling of “Sienkiewicz”, to driving the editors here collectively mad with your insistence that we start crediting cover inkers and colorists, you folks are the one who made ComicBase and Atomic Avenue what they are today. This isn’t some kind of false modesty on my part, it’s simply the truth.

Thank you. For everything.


Quote of the Day

“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

— Linus

Road Trip Report: Pete vs. the Computers of Gettysburg

After weeks on the road, averaging more than four hundred miles a day, it was a relief to pull in my folks’ driveway in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for a record-breaking 4-day stay. The highlight of all this (and indeed the excuse for the whole trip) was being able to spend Neil’s birthday with his grandparents.

For the past four days, my Mom and Dad have showed us a grand time in Gettysburg: amazing battlefield tours, gorgeous Pennsylvania scenery, and enough fabulous, home-cooked meals to leave us all several pounds heavier as we prepare to hit the road.

But all of this hospitality came with a price—one familiar to anyone who’s the geekiest member of their family. Suddenly, I was Pete the Tech Guy, troubleshooter of everything from wonky printers to the labrynthine connections of their living room entertainment system.

And, as it turned out, I had become a serial killer, preying on my parents’ old computers.

My first victim was an old eMachines tower which had once been “The New Computer” back when my folks first moved to Las Vegas the better part of decade ago. Now, it was hopelessly glitchy and outdated, wheezing when asked to do even basic email and web browsing. For the past year or so, it had been gathering dust in my parents’ study next to the computer which had replaced it, but with nobody daring to send it on to the great beyond, for fear that perhaps some crucial file had not been copied from its ancient hard drive. Having had some recent experience in dispatching machines that had fallen on hard times, I gutted the old beast, stripped its hard drive for safety’s sake, then dragged the rest of My Computer to the Trash—the real trash—and emptied it.

Victim #2 was an old PowerBook 140: a computer that had been cool during the first Bush administration. Now it was cooling its heels in the back of my Mom’s closet. The 16 MHz processor emitted an unearthly scream when we attempted to boot it up, but Its black and white screen never showed us that famous smiling Mac startup icon. After a few more bizarre electronic shrieks, it joined the eMachine in the garbage bin.

By now, I’d managed to kill fully half the computers in my parent’s home, but my worst was yet to come. At last night’s dinner, my Dad has been desirous of a newer machine to replace the old Compaq laptop I’d loaned him as a replacement to his now-dead eMachine. Without even USB 2.0 support, the Compaq was decidedly long in the tooth, but my frugal father had decided to wait a while longer before replacing it. The wait ended just a few hours later when, after attaching a portable drive to it in an attempt to get it backed up—the machine stalled out during startup and wouldn’t allow for even a forced power shutdown. I eventually had to turn the machine on its side, press in a hidden reset button, then restart it. it came up again, but failed on the next reboot when the backup drive was attached. Another press of the reset button followed… and then it refused to do anything except blink for a moment when the power came on, then immediately shut off again. And nothing would set it to right. Ever.

A rattling sound from within the long-suffering laptop told the tale: the laptop literally had a screw loose — one which shifted from its previous, innocuous location to a new one which direct shorted out part of the motherboard when I had turned the machine over to press the reset button. Yes, I’d actually managed to kill a machine simply by flipping it over.

Three computers down; only my Mom’s “cheese grater” G5 PowerMac remains. And my Mom had been complaining that that one was getting a bit old…

…perhaps it’s best that we’re moving on tomorrow…

Those Wacky folks at JibJab

Heading for Home

I’m writing this from the departure lounge of British Airways in Frankfurt International. Like Heathrow’s infamous Terminal 5, there seems to have been a bit of…err… remodelling going on in this lounge. This caused the trip to the gate to involve a long and circuitous set of detours which led up and down multiple staircases, past janitor’s closets, through construction zones, and not a few empty corridors the sort which one envisions oneself being mugged in. Nevertheless, I made it, got our trade show display checked in (it’s going through Terminal 5, so I don’t need to see it for a couple of months), and am currently wondering whether to go for the “Coffee and water or softdrink.. only €4.70!” ($8). I think not.

Unfortunately, this little outpost of the airport doesn’t seem to have a newsstand, so my plan of blowing all my remaining Euros on German kids comics won’t be happening this trip. I may still luck out at Heathrow, however, and at least pick up a ton of Postman Pat and Fireman Sam comics. Or at least a bottle of water for less than $4.00…I hope.

That’s the boarding call… I’m off!

Comic-Salon Komplett… On to Frankfurt

At 12:20 in the morning, having indicated to British Airways baggage handling that, “Why yes, getting our trade show display in time for the trade show was… important”. A tired-looking delivery guy in a Deutsche Post van (!) showed up outside my hotel with the missing trade show display. The show would indeed go on.

Rudi Brandl, a customer of ours, had agreed to help us out at the show, and as the one really good German-speaker (he’s German, after all!), he was a lifesaver. Thanks *very* much for all your help!

When he’s not being Shanghaied into comic software-selling duties, Rudi runs a sign shop, and had actually made up a sign for us to post at our booth. In German, it said, “Our German is catastrophic. Our English is not so good. We speak pretty good American. But our software is terrific.” It was a very cool sign, and it got more than a few laughs (and knowing looks). Murphy’s law being fully in effect, My colleague Joe and I would inevitably wind up in long, stumbling discussions with folks at the show who spoke only German; as soon as we’d tag off booth duties with Rudi, he’d get corralled into a discussion with folks who spoke only English. It was a struggle at times, but we somehow muddled through. For what it’s worth, my German on the last day of the convention was considerably improved from the first day.

I hope to post pictures from the show later when I return (I didn’t bring a USB cable or card reader for my camera, unfortunately). In the meantime, I’m now typing this from a hotel room in Frankfurt. Joe went home today, but I’ve got a couple of days before my flight home. I’m hoping to see the city a little, visit a few comic stores, and maybe even take in a play while I’m here.

Off to Erlangen!

In about nine hours, I’ll be sitting in an airport getting ready to head out to Erlangen, Germany for the International Comic Salon. Even now, the whole thing is pretty surreal to me–with the move, Atlas, and everything else going on, I’ve really not had time to do more than try to make sure we had all the right power cords packed and that our bags came in under the maximum shipping weight.

I’ve never attempted to do a trade show in a foreign language (unless you count British English). I have no idea how the show’s going to go, but I do know that it’s bound to be interesting. Also, being Germany–one of the big “good food” countries of the world, I won’t lack for great eats. I just hope everything (including me) gets to the show in one piece, that things more or less function.

…and Away We Go!