Why are parts so expensive?

I have a Whirlpool dishwasher that’s about 12 years old. The racks that hold the dishes are corroded and broken. The jagged edges are a hazard to users of the machine. The dishwasher works well: the only problem is the racks. I called Whirlpool who referred me to an authorized distributor who quoted me a price of $377 for the three racks.

I can buy a brand new Whirlpool dishwasher today for $360, less than the price of the racks.

Given the age of the dishwasher, it makes economic sense for me to buy a new dishwasher rather than replace the racks. But the bigger picture is that if I do what is in my best economic interest, a usable dishwasher goes into the landfill, which is just not a good thing. This is not a rant against Whirlpool because the problem is everywhere. I needed a new rubber seal for my refrigerator door—about half the cost of a new refrigerator.

A fellow ran into the back side corner of my car at low speed a couple weeks ago. The repair bill (fortunately paid for by the other guy’s insurance) was over $3,000!

Growing up, my family was in the repair business. My father repaired watches and my uncle repaired radios and televisions. I have a wristwatch that my grandmother gave me at graduation. Just having this watched serviced (cleaned and oiled) costs more today than the watch cost. These days watches, radios and televisions are much more reliable and don’t need as many repairs, but when the time comes for a repair, chances are that the repair is not economically feasible.

If we as a society are going to get a handle on our trash, we need to address the issue of the cost of repairs.

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Surface v. Surface 2

I’ve been somewhat of a fan of the Microsoft Surface RT tablet computer. What I like about it is its productivity features, a big screen, nice keyboard available, Microsoft Office built in, and the ability to plug in USB peripherals. So for the things I do, watch movies, play games, blog, read email, social media and the occasional document or spreadsheet, it’s perfect. With one of the keyboard covers, it becomes something of a laptop replacement, even more so with an external mouse.

All of those good things said, there are a few things I wasn’t too happy with:

  1. The screen resolution is a little low for book reading. I found the Kindle app book text a little grainy.
  2. The resolution on the cameras isn’t all that high.
  3. It’s a tad slow starting programs.
  4. Connecting the charger cable is finicky.
  5. The battery life isn’t as long as I would like, and if you took it on a very long airplane trip (say across the ocean), you’d run out of juice.

So I’m selling my Surface on eBay—because—I got a Surface 2.

imageThe Surface 2 addresses all 5 of my dislikes for the original Surface.

In addition, the Surface 2 has a USB 3.0 port where you can plug in one of those huge-capacity portable hard drives. (You can plug those into the Surface too, but it’s only USB 2.0.) My son, the Microsoft guy, gave me a keyboard like the one at the right for Christmas and it works equally well on the Surface 2. Of course, by logging into my Microsoft account, all the settings and installed apps came across. I had to enter passwords into the apps again, and set up my network printer, but that didn’t take long.

The Surface 2 comes with two one-year freebies. You get 200GB of OneDrive cloud. Microsoft normally charges $100 for this much storage. I’ll never use it more than the 7 GB everybody gets. The other is unlimited Skype calls to phones for a year and access to their two million hotspots. This latter feature is one I will certainly be looking for when I’m traveling. The two hotspots nearest me are in hotels that provide free Wi-Fi to their guests anyway. The ones in the Atlanta airport are more interesting.

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Some of my best friends are black

A Story of Race and Inheritance

I grew up in rural Alabama in the days when George C. Wallace was governor. I actually heard him speak once at my high school football half time. I remember hearing his trademark campaign slogan: “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.”

Like many folks in my town when I was little, we had a black maid (her name was Minnie J____) who came once in a while. The only two other black people whose names I even knew in my town were the school janitor and the taxi driver (reputed to be the fellow to go to for a “prophylactic”). But apart from them, I knew no black people because my town and my school were segregated. The black state residential mental health facility was located about 15 miles away (Searcy Hospital in Mount Vernon, Alabama). It’s closed now. I was in quartet of local church boys and we would go over some times and sing at their worship services. That was the first time I shook a black man’s hand. (I also remember vividly a high school psychology class visit there to see a demonstration of electroconvulsive therapy.)


Searcy Hospital

When I went to college in Mobile, I was in the Baptist Student Union (which we didn’t call the “BSU” because that was already taken by the Black Student Union). Those were the days of “radicals.” There were a couple of kids in that group, Willie and Martha, who were black and we all sat around and sang Kumbaya and such. I was at Martha’s house once briefly. Willie wanted to be a mortician and I learn to spell his rather complicated last name, but they were just casual friends.  The relatively few black kids on campus rather stayed to themselves, and there were no black students in the Math department, my major, where most of my friends were.

When I went to work for the State of South Carolina, I hired a black fellow. I wouldn’t call him a good friend, but I did help him move a piano into his house, and I guess a friend is someone you can ask to help move a piano. He just couldn’t say “Vietnamese” right although the lady he was dating was that. He worked three jobs one of which was playing for some of the Masses at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

But afterwards, we didn’t have any black employees for any significant period of time, not by design, but because there weren’t many good black software developers in the area, and the ones that there were got snapped up by companies with affirmative action plans.

In the South neighborhoods and churches are still mostly segregated, by history if not design, and I really didn’t get to know black people. There just aren’t that may black Lutherans in upstate South Carolina. (There’s the humorous true story about the Yankee who was given directions, to go 2 miles and turn right at the black church, and was puzzled at never having seen a church painted that color.)

I meet the infamous anti-birther, Rikker, and his son, but that was pretty brief and in a large group. For whatever reason, the anti-birthers I know are mostly white. And in fact it’s only been since I joined the Civitan Club in Greenville that I had the opportunity to really get to know black people socially, and finally I can say that some of my best friends are black.

The subtitle of the story comes, of course from President Obama’s book Dreams from My Father. I can hardly imagine two Americans with such a totally unlike experience growing up as we two.

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Fixing the ELCA News webfeed

I run a couple of ELCA church web sites that use the ELCA news webfeed. It’s a nice way for a Lutheran church to add some dynamic content to its web site. Here’s what it looks like:


The problem is that at some point, the display became corrupt with certain characters appearing as a diamond with a question mark in the middle. That’s an indication that the character being displayed isn’t in the character set used to display it.

There used to be good resources at the ELCA for webmasters (webstewards as we call them), including a special forum for folks who run ELCA web sites. I don’t know what happened, but the forum’s not where it used to be, and the few documents on the ELCA site link to non-existent pages–particularly the one about web feeds is gone. I finally gave up searching the Internet and decided to fix it on my own.

The sites I run use WordPress, and I implemented the feed with some custom script in a Text widget in the sidebar. Here’s the old code:

<script language="JavaScript1.2" TYPE="text/javascript"

That snippet doesn’t specify a character set, so the web page’s set is used, and in my case it’s UTF-8. To fix the problem, I just had to specify the character set like this:

<script charset="ISO-8859-1" language="JavaScript1.2" TYPE="text/javascript"

You might ask where “ISO-8859-1″ came from: it was a lucky guess of a common alternate encoding.

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Playing Heroes of Might and Magic III on a tablet PC

I have the UBISOFT DVD version of Heroes of Might & Magic III and IV Complete and a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet PC running Windows 8.1. Can I play HMM3 on it? Yes, I can, and here’s a simple way to do it.

imageThe only real barrier is that the Dell Venue 8 Pro doesn’t have a DVD drive on it; however, thanks to a new Windows 8 feature, this is not much of a problem. The first step is to copy the DVD to what is called an ISO file, an image on disk of the DVD. You’ll need a computer with a DVD drive to do this. A number of programs can make ISO files, and I chose a freeware program called MagicDisc. After installing MagicDisc, run the program, which creates a small icon in the system tray. Right click on that icon and select “Make CD/DVD Image.” All you have to do is point it to your DVD drive, pick a place where you’ll save the file (which will be about 8 GB in size); I called mine HMM3.ISO. It will take a while to make the ISO file, but once it’s done, you copy the ISO file to the tablet.

Disk space is limited on tablets, and I chose to copy the file to a Micro SD card mounted in the tablet. You can either copy your file across a network, or write the SD card on your desktop computer and move it physically. Of course, you can put HMM3 on a SD card used just for playing the game, and load it when needed.

Now here comes the cool part. Windows 8 has a new feature that lets you mount an ISO file as if it were a DVD on your computer. Just right-click (or click-hold) the ISO file that you located with File Explorer and select “Mount” from the pop-up menu. (If the “Mount” doesn’t appear, go to Control Panel | Default Programs | Set Default Programs, then select “Windows Disc Image Burner” from the program list on the left, then click “Set this Program as Default” then OK.)

Once you mount the ISO file, it will appear in your file system just like a real DVD would. Then you run the SetupNow.exe program from the newly mounted drive to install Heroes of Might and Magic III as you would on any PC. When it asks about installing DirectX, say no. It may offer to install Rundirect (or was that Directrun?): say yes. You don’t need to install Adobe Acrobat—Windows 8 has something to read the PDF files. When you’re done, it will create an icon on your desktop, double-click and the game runs.

There are some things to keep in mind. The game will be too small to operate with your fingers. I have a stylus that has fine enough control to make it playable. There is also a Dell active stylus that may work even better (sold out right now). With my stylus and my finger, there is no mouse hovering, so you actually have to click on something to get the description of it. I think the better option is to hook up a Bluetooth mouse and play it that way.

So far there are absolutely no problems. There is no need to crack anything. It just works.

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