Friday Again?

Jeff Powell
9 min readMay 26, 2023

What the heck is Friday doing here already?

Sheesh.

I didn’t ask for this.

So… let’s see…

Mom is still here and doing fine. We have been out a couple of times now, but not to the big, touristy sites. Yesterday’s stop was the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, which — to be fair — is a lovely building, with a roof garden and patio on the 9th floor. It’s quite striking. We were picking up a book she needs to read before returning to Chicago. She’s taking a class from her library down there about mysteries, and this time the theme is mysteries set in Africa by African writers. One of the books is hard to find, but the VPL had it. So we wandered down there via the SeaBus, got her book, and enjoyed downtown for a bit. On the way home we stopped at a local game and toy store on the Quay to pick up some things to keep us entertained in the evenings. We also had a lovely dinner out at a local sushi place.

In other news, I didn’t work this week. Well, I didn’t work for Langara, but a few things have definitely kept me busy.

First up, there is the new computer problem. I installed the usual morning batch of OS and application updates from Ubuntu, and shortly thereafter discovered that Chrome will no longer display spreadsheets properly. Chrome itself did not update, but something changed. A spreadsheet I created the day before is unusable now, but only in Chrome. If I use Firefox it is just fine. It even works in Chromium — the open source version of Chrome. But it won’t work in Chrome itself. The display comes up all garbled.

I’m growing tired of Ubuntu Linux at this point. I am not a fan of SNAP, their application packaging technology, and I have had some hangs when using YouTube in Chrome. I have been toying with installing an all new Linux distribution as a result, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. This may have forced my hand.

However, it’s proving less than simple. I downloaded the XFCE version of Linux Mint and built a bootable USB drive with it, but my computer won’t boot from the thumb drive for unknown reasons. That’s not good.

I am toying with replacing the computer entirely, as it is old and slow by modern standards. But it also still has a CD/DVD drive in it, and I have a lot of CDs in the collection that still need ripping, so I can’t get rid of it just yet.

And to make matters worse, my other computers are also nearing their EOL dates. The Chromebook will actually stop getting security updates in a month or so, and the Windows laptop is not able to upgrade to Windows 11 for some reason. Heck, even my Pixel phone is three generations behind.

I may have to get new computers of several kinds soon. Not sure how I want to tackle that, but it seems to be important.

Another thing that kept me busy for a full day this week was working on this:

I know you can’t read that, and Medium won’t let you enlarge it. But you can go here to see the actual thing:

That’s the spreadsheet where I track the local Covid wastewater numbers. That is, the local authorities test our wastewater plants for Covid virus, and publish the numbers. But their charts are terrible. (Really, they are awful. You can see for yourself.) So I decided to take their data and build better charts.

I’ve been doing this for quite a while now, and things have been fine. But back in February they changed the testing scheme. The new test is more sensitive to the virus than the old one was, which meant you can’t compare numbers before and after the date where the test changed.

That was a problem, and when it happened I had to redo the charts (basically from scratch) because that was the only way I could get annotations to work. (Bless you Google… if the column for annotations is not present when you create a chart, you cannot add it later and get it to work. Instead you have to add the column and then recreate the chart. Stupid stupid stupid.) I used the annotations to label when the testing scheme changed, the various Covid waves, and one other less critical testing change that happened back at the beginning of 2021.

Fast forward to a month ago, and we stopped getting data. Usually they publish new data on Fridays, but they started pushing the publishing out for no obvious reason.

When we finally started getting data again — a month late — it came with a note saying they had retested all of the wastewater samples going back to the fall of 2021 with the new test. If true, the new numbers would move the big discontinuity in test results back to before the Omicron wave arrived. I checked and they were telling the truth. Every number in my spreadsheet from 9/25/21 through 2/24/23 was now wrong, and the new numbers were much higher.

If you look at the chart you will see the vertical axis is in “trillions of copies per day”. That is, trillions of copies of the virus going through a given water treatment plant each day, adjusted for wastewater flow. Under the old regime the Omicron peak was at a bit under 400 trillion. The new peak is nearly 1800 trillion.

I had to download all the revised data and replace the old values in my spreadsheet, but it was not simple. In ten cases the values got so large that Google Sheets turned them into scientific notation when I exported the data to CSV format, which meant a loss of precision. I had to hand edit those values back into correct numbers in the CSV file.

I also wrote a Perl script to reformat the data to make it match the size and shape of my spreadsheet, so I could copy and paste it into place. I spent hours beating that data back into shape, and discovering just how rusty my programming skills are. But in the end I succeeded, and all the revised data is now in the sheet.

At the moment I am waiting for the next data update, which will let me add another week to the charts and see if our local virus levels continue to drop or not.

Another big time sink has been working on the June issue of the Blueridge Bulletin. I am slowly training people to get me stories early, and it might be working. What that means is I can spend time spread out over the last two weeks of the month rather than concentrated in the last three days.

Well, sort of. Those last three days are still busy, but they are less busy than they would be if everyone dumped their articles on me at the last moment.

It occurs to me that I haven’t pointed at this publication here. A couple of my readers are actually locals from Blueridge, but the rest of you have no idea what I am talking about. So, here’s the May issue:

I have no clue if that will be readable or not. I haven’t tried linking a PDF file in this app before. If it fails, try this link instead.

I think that edition is 26 pages long, which sounds crazy, but there are images all over it, and ads at the end. We have a pretty strong community here, and this publication has a long history of being part of that. Why the immigrant / new arrival winds up being the one to tackle it now, I really cannot say. Stupidity on my part, possibly.

The June issue has a number of articles about a local event called Blueridge Good Neighbour Day, which is a traditional gathering here going back a long while. This is the first year it will return since Covid, and a lot of people are really looking forward to it.

I think that’s everything. Or at least everything I can reasonably remember.

Nope. Wrong. I have a new pond pump as well.

You all remember the water feature in the backyard:

Well, it needs occasional cleaning, and it’s kind of a pain. We haven’t really cleaned it at all since we moved in. Sludge builds up in the bottom, and Anne objects to that. I’ve been looking for a way to automate at least some of the cleaning, and I might have an answer for part of it.

As you can imagine, there is no Roomba for a pond. Even the things that work in swimming pools won’t work for a pond lined with rocks, so you need something different.

One of the things I learned from my time in the volunteer fire department is that there are things called trash pumps. They can move water around even if it has debris in it, at least within reason. And you might imagine that those of us loading water into a water tanker or fire engine up in the Santa Cruz Mountains — where there are no fire hydrants — might make use of a pond and thus encounter debris.

My thought was to use a pump like that to suck water out of the pond and run it through a filter. Then, while that is running, I would just stir up the pond to get the gunk and sludge up in the water and sucked into the pump. But our existing pump can’t handle that, so I started looking around for an alternative more like the trash pump I was familiar with, but smaller.

I found something that looked possible, and ordered it. It’s sitting in the box here right next to me because it’s possibly too big. It will fit in the pond and the enclosure will submerge — barely — so at some level it should work, but it’s probably too much pump.

You see, back when we first cleaned the gunk out of the existing pump I tried to look it up so I would know what to buy when it came time to replace it. My best guess was that it is a 1000 GPH (Gallons Per Hour) pump, based on what I found that looked like it. (Alas I found no model numbers on the pump itself, but I probably ought to look again. I am notoriously dumb about such things.) Anyway, based on size and shape and comparing it with other pumps available online, it looked like a 1000 GPH pump. So when I ordered this new pump I ordered the smallest one I could find, which was 1000 GPH.

Imagine my surprise when the new pump arrived and it’s at least twice the size of the old pump.

At the moment I am sitting on this new pump trying to decide if I want to try it or if I should send it back. (Note: I want to try it. It should be amazing.) The problem with sending it back is that I didn’t find any smaller pumps that would handle solids. This thing will pump gunk up to 1/4" in size without an issue, which is the vast majority of the cruft in our pond.

I also still need to figure out the filter itself. I’m thinking of using a garbage can with some filter materials of one sort or another in it. I think I can make it work and keep it reasonably efficient, but it requires a trip to the local hardware store, and possibly some specialized fittings to attach the output and overflow pipes to the can itself.

Thus, this is still a project going on inside my head, rather than actually being built. Should I get it working, I will share photos of it here.

OK… I think that is everything. Next week I am back at work on Monday and Tuesday, trying to get the Trotec laser cutter beat into shape for the fall term. I have no idea what else the week has in store for me.

I hope your computers continue to function, your data is properly organized and correct, your viral loads are falling, your newsletter articles arrive early, and your pumps are all the right size. Cheers!

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Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.