May 6, 2023 — Because Titles Are Silly

Jeff Powell
8 min readMay 6, 2023

Greetings!

It’s been a week, but largely not the one I expected.

The big change was caused by getting sick. Not with COVID — I’ve tested negative repeatedly — but something else. A cold or the flu. I got it from Anne, who had it for an entire week before passing it on to me. It’s mostly causing congestion for both of us, and as a result we sound like death warmed over when we’re both coughing.

On Friday Anne went to an urgent care clinic and talked to a doctor. He agreed she should go on antibiotics. Me too. I already had some on hand for a dental issue that never materialized, so I’m on those and Anne is on whatever she was prescribed. Hopefully we fight this muck off because…

On Wednesday my mother arrives for a visit. We’re looking forward to seeing her, and this time she’s coming when it’s not snowing, so that’s good. What we will do while she is here is still undecided. We’ll just have to see.

Getting ready for her arrival meant hanging the rest of the art back up, since it was all over the guest bed. Here’s a photo of the hanging process:

You can see I was using my laser level in an attempt to get things properly positioned. And Giselle (Hi!) will recognize the triptych.

It’s nice to have the art back up. The living room feels much better with it in place.

What else can I share?

Well, depending on where you are in the Vancouver area, cherry blossom season is either upon us or over.

Those are on 49th street, near Cambie, and they seemed to need a photo as I walked by one day.

Oh, and last week I mentioned attending opening night at the Langara Fine Arts Grad Show. What I didn’t share was a URL to the exhibit: https://langarafinagradshow.com/. There you can see some of the art on display, if that appeals to you.

On the work front I continued to struggle with our computers. And in fact I wish to make a general announcement to everyone working at software companies these days:

Not every computer is connected to the internet!

Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.

We have a number of computers that are not allowed on the campus IT network. That’s because we manage them, and if we put them on the campus network we’d lose administrative rights to work on them.

As a result, doing some things is not exactly simple.

To take a random example, say you want to create a bootable thumb drive containing a Windows 10 installation image. Maybe you are testing some new software that needs Windows 10 (or later) and you were given a computer to use, but the IT people who handed you the computer couldn’t find a Win 10 installation drive at the time. “You can get one. Just google it. The Windows activation key is in the BIOS these days.”

OK, you can do that.

So you google it up and sure enough you find the page on the Microsoft website that says you can download the ISO image for Widows 10, and a tool to create a bootable thumb drive. Great. Using a computer on the campus network, you go to the website and visit the page that is supposed to let you download the image itself. But when you get there Microsoft — being very helpful — only offers two options:

  • Update the computer you are currently using to run Windows 10. But of course you can’t do that because (a) it’s not what you want to do and (b) you don’t even have administrative permissions on that computer.
  • Download the tool to create the bootable thumb drive. Which is confusing because how are you going to create the image when you couldn’t download the actual image file? But you try it anyway only to discover that the tool requires administrative permissions to run, which you don’t have on this computer.

In desperation you decide to try this from a computer that is not running Windows. Say, a Chromebook. This time things go better.

  • You go to the web page that lets you download the ISO and it actually says something about “you’re not running Windows, would you like to download the ISO?” You respond in the affirmative, answer a few questions about which version and language you are looking for, and a 5.9 GB file gets downloaded to your computer. Great. Halfway there.
  • Next you go to the page that lets you download the tool and it does so very simply. Now you have the .exe file that will create the bootable thumb drive from the ISO image. Or so you think.

But clearly these things can’t be run on a Chromebook. The tool only runs on Windows, and you already know it needs administrative permissions, so you’ll have to run it on a computer that is not connected to the internet, where you know the password for that.

Copy both files to a thumb drive and… oops. Disk error. The file is not usable. Hmm. Have you spotted the issue yet? It took me a while before I did. By default most thumb drives are formatted with the FAT32 filesystem, and that has a maximum file size of 4 GB. But the Windows ISO is 5.9 GB, so you cannot put the Windows 10 ISO file on a thumb drive, at least not in one piece.

But you’re an old hand and have dealt with this before — admittedly in the computing dark ages — so you have a clue. The fix is to split the file up into pieces, copy those pieces onto the thumb drive, and then put them back together on the target computer. But how do you do that on a Chromebook? More googling reveals that the solution is to install an app which will split a large file into parts.

So you install a file split utility and tell it to split that 5.9 GB file into chunks of 1000 MB each. That takes a few minutes to get done. Then you copy all those pieces out to the thumb drive, along with the MS tool for creating the bootable image. That takes 22 minutes because thumb drives are not exactly speedy. Next you go to your selected Windows computer, and copy all of that stuff onto the local disk. Great.

Time to rebuild the image file. How do you do that? Well, your earlier googling indicated that the Windows copy command can do it, in this rather bizarre format:

copy file1/b+file2/b+file3/b newfile

That will concatenate three binary files (named file1, file2, and file3) together in a new file (named newfile). The syntax is a bit ugly, but it seems to work. And handily MS provides a way to confirm that your file is OK. They publish the cryptographic hash of the original file, and tell you what command to run to generate it on your side. So you can do that and confirm that your reassembled copy is correct. Perfect.

Now you can you fire up the tool to create the thumb drive and… it says it can’t run without network access.

But you have the silly file, right there. All it needs to do is make the bootable thumb drive. Why would it need network access?

In disgust you once again do some google searches and discover that there are several other tools for creating bootable thumb drives from ISO image files. One that pops up regularly is named “rufus” and the website for it has a long explanation from the developer saying he doesn’t want money and please just use the damn program without feeling guilty.

So you download rufus, copy it onto the Windows computer and run it.

Miraculously it does what you expect. It asks for an ISO image file and which thumb drive, and then it spends a few minutes building the bootable image. It doesn’t even require admin privileges!

All of the above has taken many more hours than it should have, mostly thanks to Microsoft trying to be extra smart and helpful. If they’d have just let you download the ISO and build a bootable drive without requiring admin privs, you’d have been done ages ago.

Now you can finally try installing Windows 10 on that new computer you were given. Remember that? Ages ago? Yeah, me neither.

So I repeat myself: Not all computers are connected to the Internet, and that is OK! Please don’t design and deploy things that always require an internet connection!

Wow. That was quite the tirade. Sorry.

In other work news, last week I also mentioned resin pouring and said I would provide a photo:

That’s the big example. The hole in the countertop was about 7" across, but as you can see it was not regular. And there was another small hole to the right of it as well. We don’t even know what these holes were for.

To fill them I attached wood to the bottom of the bench with screws, and used construction adhesive like caulk, to seal up the seam completely. Then I cut bits of plywood to mostly fill the space and glued them in. Finally I poured resin into what space was left and let it cure. I think I filled the big hole in three pours. It worked out really well, and the table top is much better now. You can actually use it.

I also indicated I was recessing the wood cover over a trough sink:

This was my proof of concept. The old cover was ripped down to the right width, the end was rounded off, and a new opening drilled into it to let cords out. Legs of a sort were attached, and wood screws were used as adjustable feet, to let us raise or lower the piece to be even with the bench height. Props to Philip for suggesting the screw idea. I was plotting something much more complicated, but eventually I realized it wouldn’t have worked anyway. The sink runs the entire length of the bench and has a drain at only one end. At the shallow end it’s only about 4" deep, and that didn’t provide enough room for my plan. But Philip’s idea worked beautifully.

I was trying to accomplish more of that when when I ran out of time (on Thursday) and stayed home sick (on Friday).

And finally, I continue to work on getting the new version of the software for the laser cutter figured out. We’re getting closer. I have had installation issues of all kinds, and weird problems that no one can explain, but I am finally closing in on being able to use different software to drive the laser cutter. With luck, that will get resolved soon so we can go into the purchasing process for it. But we still have to do some actual evaluation once we have it working at all, so we’re not quite there just yet.

That’s it for this week. Sorry about all the typos!

Cheers

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Jeff Powell

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