Saturday, December 13, 2008

New network topology

Annoyed by the constraints of the old setup, and wishing to make use of the Draft-N cards in so many of my computers, I bought a Linksys WRT310N, which has both GigE and 802.11n.

The GigE is valuable because the WHS can't support N, but does support GigE as well, so a cable between them gives me fast access to the server over WiFi.

This means I can sever the wire between the WHS and the MCE, and the desktop can also be wireless.

The new topology is generally simple: each computer is connected only to power & its peripherals. The exception is the TELCO -> Actiontec -> Linksys -> WHS -> external HD.  (The interconnects are Cat 1 telephone -> Cat 5 100Mb/s Ethernet -> Cat5 1000Mb/s -> USB 2.0.)

Because the only wires coming out of that section are power and telephone, I have a little more flexibility about where they should live.  I pulled the old stereo cabinet out of the garage to hold it all, and it looks decent.  The other equipment in my "rack" is a UPS and the printer/scanner. (The last has WiF, so it could be anywhere, but this is the best spot.)

There are a few other benefits of this change:

- The Actiontec Wi-Fi is outside the firewall, so I turned off security. Anyone who needs internet can use it without hassle.

- Ripping DVDs to the server can be done at any computer, transferred over 802.11n (not just at the MCE over Ethernet).  

- Since the MCE doesn't have to write to the server any more (and it always authenticates as Guest), I can restrict Guest on the server to improve security.

- A lightning strike on the phone line can't reach the rest of the network.

Now that it's all done, and my mind has relaxed, I find myself wondering how to improve things. Imagine if the laptop supported 802.11n, and SATA. I could put 2x 500GB drives in it, and a second Wi-Fi in the PCMCIA slot. It could replace the linksys, working as a wireless access point, NAT for the home, firewall to the outside world. It wouldn't have to be wired to the Actiontec, since it could uplink over wifi. It wouldn't need to set on the UPS, since it has battery backup built-in. The only wire would be power.

The drives would cost $230; the laptop could be a Dell D630 for about $500 on E-Bay.  After other items, shipping, etc., it'd be $1000, which is way to much. But I can imagine for free.

EDIT: One of the things I dig about this setup is that almost every item was under $100.  (The laptop was $300, a couple years ago, so its value is close to $100 now).  If someone breaks in to my home & steals equipment, it won't be that difficult to replace, and I have good backups.  

Old network topology

I recently purchased a new router, which triggered a set of cascading changes in my home network.  First, the old setup:

Actiontec GT704-WG.  Qwest DSL used to require you to have an Actiontec GT701-WG, which has a DSL modem, a 100 Mb/s Ethernet port, USB, and 802.11b/g.  I managed to fry mine with a sloppy firmware upgrade, and bought the 704 at Best Buy to replace it, with the assurance that it would be well-supported, since it's almost the same thing.  Unfortunately, they're both junk. Neither Qwest nor Actiontec provides firmware updates, and their feature sets are somewhat limiting.  There aren't any open source firmwares for them, like Tomato or DD-WRT.

Windows Media Center on an old Dell 400SC.  This was marketed as an entry-level server, but really it's just a desktop PC like any other.  I've added a WiFi-N card.

Windows Home Server on an old Dell D600.  This is a laptop, which seemed like a great idea for a WHS.  I love that it has a built-in keyboard, monitor, mouse, WiFi, and battery backup.  Unfortunately it only supports IDE drives, so I'm limited to 250GB, and they're expensive.  When I ran out of storage, I added an external drive, and eventually replaced that enclosure with:

A 2-bay external SATA enclosure.  This contains a 1TB drive and a 300GB drive. 

Also: A desktop with a Wifi-N card, a D600 (used as a laptop, gasp!) with 802.11g, and a new Lenovo T61, with WiFi-N builtin (sweet, sweet laptop).

Constraints: The only phone line is in the kitchen, which isn't a good place for electronics.  The video collection lives on the server, but is played on the media center, and 802.11g isn't fast enough for DVD playback.  Pushing data between the desktop and the server over WiFi was really, really slow.  The WiFi in the Actiontec unit is really bad at doing in- and out-going traffic at the same time.


- server sits right next to the media center, with an ethernet cable between them.  It doesn't need to be a crossover, because everything is autosensing these days.  It doesn't have any DHCP; both devices complain that there's "limited connectivity", but they can still see each other just fine.

- A long phone cord runs over the door from the kitchen to the main desk.  It plugs in to the Actiontec, which has Ethernet to the desktop (making desktop<->server links much faster).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

computer = laptop

I once thought of a laptop as being a special-purpose computer, with miniaturized, slower components, a built-in screen/keyboard/mouse, and a battery, for 3x the price.

These days, the speed & price difference between desktop and laptop computers has gotten smaller. Battery life, screen size, and portability have improved to the point where laptops are useful for general-purpose use. I guess that's why laptop sales exceeded desktop sales 5 years ago.

Now I think of a desktop as being a special kind of computer, with important components missing (screen/keyboard/mouse/battery), that takes up too much space. In exchange for giving up all that important stuff, it's a bit cheaper.

"Computer" now means "laptop" to me.

(Ironically, the first laptop I ever bought is a server.)

I wish Vista sleep was a little smarter

Maybe it's just because I have kids underfoot, but I often need to put the laptop down in a hurry. I want to close the lid & slide the laptop under the sofa where it's safe. A minute later I'm ready to work, and I have to wait for wake up & log in. It's about 10 seconds, but I want it to be less than 1 sec.

I wish Vista hybrid sleep worked like this:
  1. When I close the lid, the display turns off immediately.
  2. After 2 minutes, standby
  3. Later, hibernate

(Yes, I'm assuming we're talking about laptops. What else is there?)

What I really want out of this is that I can close the lid and open it again soon, before standby and session lock.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New blog for code

I decided to create a new blog just for coding-related stuff:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Live Mesh

I recently installed Live Mesh here at home. You point it at a folder on your computer, and those files are copied / synchronized over the internet.

If you put Mesh on another computer, you can have those files synch'd there. Microsoft also provides 5GB of storage on the internet that is kept in sync, too. You can use a web browser to access those files from anywhere.

This isn't a new idea. Even Microsoft's Groove did basically the same thing, as did FolderShare (Which Microsoft bought), and DropBox, which was recently mentioned by Joel. It's done particularly well, though.

If you have more than 5GB, you can still sync the files to other computers, just not the Microsoft-hosted "Live Desktop". And get this: you can still reach those files at because it takes care of funelling them there. Nice.

I pointed it to my "Documents" folder ("My Documents" in Windows XP), so now when I put a file in there on one computer, it's waiting for me on the others. I also pointed at my "Favorites", which is very convenient. I was using Google Bookmarks + Google Toolbar before, but I like this a little better.

My brother sent me a hard drive with all his photos on it, as an off-site backup. Now that I have Mesh, I've copied his data on to my WHS and added it to Mesh. It's too big for the Live Desktop, so I told it not to sync there. Then I made him a co-owner. He will point mesh at his copy. The delta will be kept in sync, so if his entire island burns down, he won't lose any data. My plan is to sync my data to him the same way. (Using a hard drive over USPS for the initial sync is probably quicker than DSL.)

I always wished WHS had federation; this gets us most of the way there.

Monday, August 25, 2008

You'd think hotels would figure this stuff out

I'm pretty used to the idea of living spaces being a little quirky. If you miss something in the original plans, and want to fix it later, it's expensive, dusty, and inconvenient to change plumbing or drywall or whatever.

But you'd think hotels would figure this stuff out. The rooms are small, they're all very similar to each other, and this is their area of speciality, right?

So I'm sitting in a room near Niagara Falls, at the desk. My laptop power supply is plugged in to an outlet on the ugly lamp on the desk. But get this: the lamp has to be on for the outlet to work. I'm not talking about a wall switch that controls a wall power outlet; this switch is 3in (7.6cm) from the outlet.

The bathroom (washroom) has a little cubby with an extra sink. There's no where near the sink to hang a hand towel. There's a blank wall in just the right spot to put a towel bar.

There's a scale for guest use. It's the kind I remember from the doctor's office. A balance scale. It's in the room with the indoor pool, right next to the entrance to the showers. Probably quite expensive, and accurate (and precise!) throughout its range, at least when new. There's a sign on it saying that it's off by 8-10lbs (so much for Canadian metric....). And a sign on the wall next to it asking that you not use it while it's wet, because it is rusting. But it's by the pool. If you don't want it to get wet, don't put it by the pool. Duh?

It said that Dylan was 36lbs, Zephyr 42, and I 282lbs. I don't know how to map from that to real weights. *shrug*.

Friday, August 08, 2008


We used to order Paggliacci Pizza, before I quit work. Now we're trying to save money, and the pizza in PT is not quite as good as Paggliacci, and we think we can make more nutritious pizza.
We started by buying premade sprouted-grain crusts, adding toppings, and heating. These were definitely good pies.

Then we found frozen dough made by Village Bakery, which is just across the bay in Port Hadlock. It's white flour, which is a bummer, but wow is a good, fresh dough fantastic.
Here you see two pies that we made recently. They're similar, but spiced differently - kids vs. adults. Olive oil, garlic, pepper, oregano, mozzarella, kalamata olives, mushrooms, sausage.

This is a bicycle?

A couple years ago, when I started taking Reid to school in the mornings, I got a tandem trailer for the bicycle. It bolts on to my bike, giving Reid his own seat, handlebars, pedals, and wheel. No brakes, of course.

When the twins were big enough to go along with it, I took one of those enclosed trailers for 1 or 2 kids and pulled them around in it.

Sometimes I wanted to pull all 3 kids somewhere, so I'd hook it all up together. Bikes + passengers were 450+ lbs. 5 wheels. Impossible to back up. Tight turns need extra clearance. It was certainly good for looks & comments of passers-by. I finally got a picture of the "full train" as I call it, to share with you, dear reader.

Reid got comfortable riding his own bike this spring. He was also getting so big that there was too much flex in the rig when going slowly up a big hill. It was time for him to graduate to riding on his own.

I wasn't sure if I should hold on to his tandem trailer for the 1.5yrs or so until the twins were ready, or sell it now & look for a replacement when the time comes. I don't know how I'd take both of them anyway, since two of these things bolted in tandem would be very unstable. I've seen a picture of one with two seats, for two kids. But I don't think they can be found in the US. Maybe I could get a kidback tandem and bolt a tandem trailer on to it. Maybe I'll learn to weld and build something custom. Who knows?

I decided to offer the tandem trailer as a loan to some friends, and at the same time, post it on Craigslist for a high price. I figured that if it sells at a high price, then I can use that money to buy whatever I decide I want when the time comes, and have less clutter in the meantime.

Sure enough, someone in town decided to buy it. So, it's gone for now.

If you're considering biking with kids, remember that flex will matter a lot. The extra weight of the load + the extra pedal force you put in trying to pull it will push your frame harder. If you have a cheap bike, or a racing bike, it'll suck. My touring bike is built stronger than average, and I still wanted more stiffness. If I was doing it over, I think I'd go with the Burley Piccolo, which connects to a rear rack, not the seat post. It's stiffer, and the tandem trailer leans properly in turns.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bobcat sail #7

It was a pretty day so we took the boat out again.

I'd like to find ways to make the whole process faster. Right now it looks like this:


  1. Hook trailer up to the van
  2. Back it up the driveway to the garage
  3. Remove cover & stow
  4. Load and secure spars
  5. Load, test, and secure battery
  6. Load life vests
  7. Ensure all lines are in order

I know that sounds simple, but yesterday I was doing it with a couple 2-year-olds underfoot, so it took 1/2 an hour. Then of course there's the non-boat prep: sunscreen, clothing, water, food, etc.


  1. Hang launch pass on rear view mirror
  2. Remove spar supports
  3. Remove trailer lights & wire
  4. Place sail hoops over mast partner
  5. Climb up on boat, lift mast up & step it
  6. Stow spar supports in van
  7. Place spar/sail bundle in place
  8. Tie boom and gaff parells; hank sail on to hoops
  9. Reeve sheet through 3 blocks, fasten to boom
  10. Remove all but 2 sail ties
  11. Untangle the 4 lines that run aloft (would be 5, but I don't have a flag halyard yet)
  12. For each of peak halyard, throat halyard, and topping lift:
    1. Untie the ends
    2. Reeve one end through deck block & tie stopper knot
    3. Tie other end to the appropriate part of the gaff

  13. Pass lazyjacks through boom, tie off
  14. Mount motor
  15. Attach motor leads to battery; test it
  16. Mount rudder on stern
  17. Mount tiller on rudder
  18. Set out fenders
  19. Uncoil dock lines; ensure they run fair
  20. Remove strap that holds boat on trailer

That seems to take me about 35 minutes solo. When I did it with Jack's help, it was much, much, faster. At this point, I drive around to get in line for the boat launch.

Yesterday there was only one person ahead of me in line, but he was solo and very, very slow. The tide was almost exactly at mean low low. That made the launch ramp quite long. He backed his truck down, then walked all the way up the ramp & down the dock. Then led the boat to the trailer, then walked all the way up & back down, etc. I'm not complaining, though - gotta have patience at the boat launch.


  1. Back down ranch (a long way this time, but I did it pretty smoothly)
  2. Pass dock lines to Reid on dock
  3. Cast off bow hook
  4. Push boat back
  5. Drive away & park
  6. Walk back to boat
  7. Don PFDs
  8. Lower motor; test it
  9. Cast off
  10. Let Reid motor out of the marina
  11. Raise fenders

Of course, we're not sailing yet.


  1. Turn in to the wind
  2. Cast off sail ties
  3. Haul both halyards
  4. Turn off & raise motor
  5. Go!

There, that's the list. I wonder what I missed? I'll edit this blog post later, and probably carry a printout as a checklist.

On this trip, we took the same path as the third trip. If you look closely on the satellite map, you can see the old railroad spur that would carry train cars out over the water to interface with boats. A big section of that trestle was removed, but the piles are all there, cut off right below the mean low low water level. By putting the centerboard up, and the motor part-way down, we were able to thread our way between them, but just barely.

On the beach, there was no where to tie up, because the water was so far out. So we just held the painter for the 10 minutes that we were there.

In the background in this picture you can see a bald eagle perched up high. We also saw a raccoon swim the stretch between the rock wall on the left and the railroad structure on the right. I didn't know raccoon could swim, but I guess I'm not surprised.

Reid wanted to stay ashore, so I took Zephyr in the boat on the way back. I didn't want to deal with the under-water piles again, so instead we sailed the narrow, shallow, but sandy-bottomed gap that you can see behind the boat.

It was a quick run back, but Zephyr got annoyed with me for tacking back and forth, instead of going in the right direction, heh.

I sailed the whole way back through the channel and up the dock. It helps that I'm getting to know the tacking quirks better. It also helped that the wind was coming from a favorable direction, from one side of the channel instead of straight down it.

After hauling the boat out of the water, I wash the trailer down thoroughly, undo all the rigging work that I listed above, and go home. At home, there's more to be done to put the boat to bed. Last night I skipped it, because I think today I'll go sailing again. And maybe tomorrow, too!

EDIT: Fixed photograph to link to a big version.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bobcat sail #6 - the rest of the family

Today I got the chance to get the rest of the family in to the boat. Reid was at a day camp that went to Fort Worden. There's a boat launch there, and a lot of beach, so we decided to go sail & play.

Picked up a cheap $7 life vest for Julie, so we'd be legal. Eventually she'll probably get a more comfortable vest, but having a spare adult PFD is always a good idea.

Even though I have an annual launch pass from the Port of Port Townsend, I still had to pay $7 to launch at Fort Worden, because it's a state park. *sigh*. The ramps was also covered in thick sand, and there weren't any fresh water hoses to rinse the salt off afterwards. Well, at least there were two ramps, so no waiting (especially no waiting for the folks behind me).

While the twins played at the beach, I rigged and launched. Then Julie + twins came over & hopped in the boat. We motored out and put up the sail. Dylan was scared for the first 10 minutes, but then got in to it. Both twins had a blast. Julie found a little niche where she could sit without being in the way. A 12' boat with 4 people in it is tight!

We pointed for the open channel trying to get a little more wind. There wasn't any, but there was a little more wave action, which was interesting. Especially on the way back, as each wave zoomed us forward toward the beach. Weee!

I sailed as close to the beach as I dared, showing off the boat the the beach-goers. When we got to a good spot, I put up the centerboard, ran up on the beach, and hopped out. I think it was a big surprise for the folks on the sand! I dropped off my passengers and pushed the boat out in to the water.

While the twins continued to play on the beach, I played in the boat. Sailed around until I found Reid (he was too into his play to talk to me). Headed away from the beach a little and then figured out how to pee in to the water (kneel at the transom). The wind was dying as I was heading back. Then after 15 minutes or so, I saw a broad stretch of dark water along the beach: wind! It had stopped while changing direction. The new wind was strong & smooth, and carried me quickly back to the boat launch area.

I set up a perfect approach to the dock: got a little upwind of the entrance, headed for the end of the breakwater, dropped down at the last second, rounded up at the dock, and had to bail out: there were kids jumping off the dock to swim. I ended up "walking" the boat up the dock, hand-over-hand. Got 3 splinters. One was long & thick, and broke off when I tried to pull it out.

View Larger Map

Backed the trailer down, picked up the boat, and down-rigged. There was a lot of sand in the boat, thanks to our shenanigans, so I decided to try to wash in salt water. There's a drain plug in the stern, so I pulled it out, and backed the trailer down in to the water to flood the boat. Well, it put a few inches of water in, but the boat was floating still, and lifting the trailer! I guess that's good for safety.

Then, with the extra weight of the water in the boat, I couldn't get up the ramp. The drive wheels kept spinning in the sand. I was able to clear sand from the tires' paths and get out. Ran the bilge pump while I helped Reid de-sand him self & get in dry clothes (he was so cold!), and then we came home.

At home, the routine looked like this: back the trailer up the driveway (wee!). Remove the spars and hang them from the garage rafters. Hose down with fresh water to remove salt: every bit of metal on the trailer I can reach + some parts of the van. Then hose down the inside of the boat, too. Pump out the bilge again. Take the battery to the bench by the charger. Drive the 20' to park on the street. Unhook the trailer, and unload most things from the boat. Lift the tongue up as high as I can, and hold it there while water drains out the stern. Say "I am He-Man!". Put trailer back down.

There, now I'm caught up blogging about the sailing trips.

Bobcat sail #5

Even though my friend wanted me to build a new rudder before going out again, I wanted to sail more. We found a day of nice weather, and Reid & went down to the marina.

Reid says he doesn't want to sail, but he does want to motor. Once we exited the marina, I let him motor until we had some sea room, and then had him point the boat in to the wind while I put up sail.

As an experiment, I didn't raise the sail up quite so high (you can pick where it sits on the mast). I saw two significant effects: the boom keeps hitting me on the head (duh), and the peak doesn't sag, since the peak halyard has a better angle on the gaff. That means better sail shape (yay).

I got to practice my tacking, and felt like I learned to do it a bit better. Learned another trick: when stuck (or almost stuck) in irons, ease the sheet. Sheeting in will make the boat weather-cock, so sheet out stops the wind from spinning the boat. For a little more help, push the boom out far, which will make the wind actually spin the boat the right way, helping to complete the tack.

Reid complained of boredom eventually, so we dropped the sail and I let him motor back to the marina. This boat is a little quirky under motor power, because the rudder hits the prop if you push the tiller one way, and the prop hits the rudder if you turn the motor the other way. The most effective steering is to operate boat the rudder and the motor together, but it's tricky. Reid is getting the hang of it through, and safely got us back in to the marina. I decided to have him motor up the channel to the launch, which meant that I could go forward to handle the bow line. It worked pretty well, and Reid loved it.

Bobcat sail #4 - seek professional help

Having had trouble tacking the boat in small quarters, I went looking for help. An aquaintance here in Port Townsend has been boating here and elsewhere, on a variety of boats, for many years. He has a boat in the marina. 4 boats parked next to his house. A couple in the workshop. And an inflatable in the garage. Sheesh.

He offered to come out sailing with me and see how the boat did. We loaded up, headed down to the marina, and got in line for the boat launch. Normally I rig the boat first, and then get in line, because it takes me 35 minutes to put everything in place. Plus, I usually go on weekdays when there's no line. But we figured we could rig the boat quickly together.

So, we got in line, unhooked the bungees that held the spars in place on the road, and then the line moved. I started the van up to move forward, but it wouldn't shift out of park. Weird. I had never seen this before, and wasn't sure what to do. We waved the next people in line on by, and started trying random things. Fuses seemed like a good bet, so I checked each one in turn. In my tow vehicle (the family minivan), there are some fuses by the engine, under the hood, and others in the cabin under the steering wheel. After checking the first set, I found myself in the awkward position of putting my head where my feet normally go to look at the inside fuse box. Lucky me, I was also sitting on dog shit that was deposited in the road. I figured that since the shifter won't go out of park without the brakes on, maybe I should look at brake-related fuses. Sure enough, that one labeled "STOP" was blown. Replaced it, shifted in to D, and pulled forward.

I later figured out the problem: one of the wires to the trailer lights had pulled out of a butt connector, and I had twisted the wires together in a hurry to get going. The bare wire had hit a ground, shorted out, and blown the fuse.

Anyway, we rigged, launched, and parked the van. Then we noticed that the motor wasn't doing nothing, as the battery was dead. Still don't know why - it has been holding a good charge otherwise. Oh well, we can sail on and off the dock, right?

Headed out of the marina, and played for a while, taking turns at the tiller. We studied the way this boat tacks, shifting our weight around for different effect, and getting stuck in irons. Wow, getting out of irons in this boat is a pain. After I had trouble with it, my friend took his turns, and was also frustrated with it. Well, glad to know that I'm not the only one.

Figured out 2 important rules for tacking this boat, especially when going slowly: don't steer too much, or the rudder will stall and just be a brake, and make sure you turn far enough that you can start sailing again, or you'll just get stuck.

What I later figured out, after much pondering, is this: the rudder in this boat is small and oddly shaped, which makes it work well when going fast, but it does nothing while going slowly. Also, when the wind pushes on the sail, it wants to turn the boat in to the wind (presumably because the sail is out to one side, off-center). When the boat is moving very slowly, the turning force of the wind is still there, but the rudder is doing nothing, so the boat turns in to the wind. So, if I tack badly & lose all my speed, the boat then tries to turn upwind and tack again. If I try to steer to counter the effect, the rudder stalls, brakes the boat, and makes the situation worse.

So: turn far enough that I can get speed up before the boat weather-cocks and tacks again, and steer gently until I have that speed.

My friend sailed us back in to the marina, around it a few times for practice, and then headed for the launch dock. He got caught in irons a few times, the situation being worse because of the squirly wind in the marina. But he did figure out another trick for dealing with the situation: get out the paddle and do a sideways stroke over the transom. This will kick the stern out, completing the tack, and let you get going again.

I'm very grateful to him for coming out and helping me learn to sail this boat better.

He has suggested that I build a new, larger, deeper rudder to replace this one. A taller one that lets the tiller come over the transom, instead of through it, so the tiller can be hinged up to get it out of the way. I'd really like to master the boat as-is, but I also want it to sail well. I'm going to build the new rudder as an exercise in boat building, and to hopefully make the boat handle well, but I don't know which rudder I'll keep using. We'll see.

I was amazed by how many people recognized him & said hello. Guess he's spent a lot of time at the marina.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bobcat sail #3

It was time to take Reid out & actually let him control the boat. The whole family drove down to the marina, and Julie helped rig. Launch went smoothly, and then Reid & I motored away from the dock. Once we were out of the marina, I let Reid take over. He was really interested in motoring, so I let him drive under power the whole way around the marina to the beach. We were going pretty much directly in to the wind, and we kept getting blown off course, which was challenging for Reid to handle.

When we got close to the beach, I sent Reid out on the bow with the painter. He threw it ashore to Julie, and we hopped out. The painter wasn't long enough to tie up anywhere, but I always keep a couple long lines on board, just in case. With a sheet bend in place, I tied up to a large piece of driftwood.

After 10 minutes talking to passers-by and using the shore head, I noticed that the boat wasn't rolling back and forth. The water level had dropped a little, and the boat was on the sand. A firm shove got it afloat, and I started to make plans to head out. Reid decided to stay behind and play, so it was just me for the trip back.

It was amazingly cool to walk down the beach with just my feet wet, with the boat by my side. Empty, with the centerboard up, it only draws a few inches. The rudder doesn't even have to come up, because it has an unusual design that keeps it very shallow.

With the sails raised, I shoved off the beach, and sailed away. The trip back was very fast... until I missed the marina entrance, and had to beat back up to it.

View Larger Map

If you've been following my story so far, you know that tacking this boat has sometimes been tricky. Well, now it was time to tack a lot. It took *forever*. A gaff catboat doesn't point nearly as high as a Marconi sloop with a big genoa, so you're making a lot less progress to windward on each tack. Also, when going slowly, the boat loses nearly all its forward momentum when tacking. And finally, sometimes things go all to hell mid-tack I the boat stops working and I get all stuck and confused. So, it took me like 20 minutes to go 50 yards. Sheesh.

I had considered trying to sail up the dock to the launch ramp, but after that ordeal, I knew I wanted to put the motor back in. I am proud of how that went, though. I made a plan ahead of time of what I was going to do. I tested the motor to make sure it was read, and sure enough, it was not. The leads had come off the battery. Good thing I checked! I reconnected and headed in to the marina. At a certain point I had planned, I took up the topping lift, scandalized the sail, put out fenders, dropped the motor, and headed up the channel. Arrived gently at the dock and tied up.

When loading on to the trailer, I finally got the trailer depth in the water just right. It needs to be deep enough that you can pull that boat on without superhuman strength. It needs to be shallow enough that trailer actually holds the boat, or the boat will just drift away. Bigger boats typically are pulled up with a winch, but I don't have one. Smaller boats are easy to pull on to a trailer, or even lift right out of the water by hand. I'm just in between.

It was about 5 hours from when we left home until we got back. I hope I can find ways to speed this up, since I enjoy sailing much more than rigging!

I need to figure out how to tack this boat well.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bobcat sail #2

My 6-year-old had heard my promises of making him "first mate", and was disappointed that he didn't get to come along on the maiden voyage. The next day we were free, we drove the boat down the hill to go out again. This time I was going to take him along.

The whole family came along, including the in-laws. It was getting late in the day, and the weather was cooling and the wind was picking up. The ringing of halyards against aluminum masts filled the marina. It was pretty gusty, so we put a reef in. The plan was for the 5 landlubbers to go play on the beach while Reid and I sailed. Secretly, I wanted to sail over to the beach and meet them there.

The launch went fine, with the quirkyness I mentioned before: no rudder control at low speed coming off the dock.

The gusts still had me uncomfortable, so I decided not to let Reid take the helm, and not to sail out of the marina. He was disappointed again, but coping. We sailed around inside the marina, and then headed back to the dock to call it quits. A couple times I had trouble tacking, like before, but not too bad. Coming up the narrow channel to the launch, I got stuck again, and had to fend off and bail out. Damn. Then I turned on the motor, hoping it would help me not stall through the tacks, but it didn't help.

Eventually I dropped the sail and motored back to the dock. I asked Reid to step ashore with the bowline and tie up. He was pleased as punch to finally have a job. You should have seen the super-secure cleat hitch he invented.

We pulled the boat out of the water, put her to bed, and went home to eat supper.

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Bobcat sail #1

My in-laws came to visit just after I bought the boat. I spent a couple days sorting out the lines, deciding how I wanted to bend on the sail, etc. I probably put the mast up half a dozen times, getting things worked out.

I had never driving with a trailer before the day I bought the boat. Launching requires backing up, so my father-in-law and I went to the high school parking lot to practice backing up. (It's summer, so the lot is empty). I got the basic feel of it, enough to try the real deal.

I tried to find a used life vest, because I really don't like buying new things if I don't have to, but I didn't see any at the "Marine Exchange". However, they did have cheap, ugly galvanized cleats, so I bought a couple to put where there were some matching holes. I ended up getting a new vest at West Marine (and I hate buying at chains, too), but I wanted to get on the water. $30 got me an annual launch pass (but it's only for the next 6 months).

The missing cleats would have been a good spot to tie fenders. One fender ended up on a halyard cleat. One on the pin that holds the centerboard up. One on the mainsheet cleat. Also, no cleats aft for dock lines, so I put one on the CB pin. Make do with what you've got, right? Unfortunately this allows the boat to spin around its center. Oh, well.

My father-in-law helped me rig the boat & launch. As I sailed away from the dock, I discovered the first quirk of sailing this boat: if you are trying to turn downwind from a broad reach, at low speed, well, you can't. The long sail, sitting way out, creates a lot of weather helm. The rudder, being pretty small, doesn't do much at low speed. So, instead of turn downwind to head out of the channel, the boat just sailed straight towards a hard thing. With a few feet to go, it picked up enough speed to make the rudder work, and turned.

I sailed around inside Boat Haven, and then, with a little confidence, headed out of the marina. A couple small loops, and then made my way back in to the marina.

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Now, I'm not an old salt, but I've sailed a number of boats in close quarters, and almost every time I docked under sail. I've done it in boats from 8' to 35'. But today was apparently not my day. I was trying to tack up the channel, and suddenly everything went wrong. The boat didn't move the way I thought it would. It wanted to run in to hard things. I was totally confused. I decided to fall off, head out, and try again, and had to fend off hard things because of the quirck I mentioned before.

The second approach, things started to go haywire again, so I fired up the little electric motor. It's mounted oddly, well outboard, and causes the boat to turn to port. It also blocks the rudder's full range, which makes compensating difficult.

Finally the boat was moving under power, things seemed to be going smoothly, and I was headed back to the boat launch. I decided to add a little more power, turned the motor up to full, and wham! the motor jumped off the mount! It fell in, completely submerged, hanging by the wire, and continued to run, spinning every which way. I reached in and turned it off, coasted to the dock, and tied up.

The remainer of the trip was without incident, which is surprising, since I had never retrieved a boat on to a trailer before.

30 minutes of sailing across a 5 1/2 hour trip.

Several people approached or called out and asked about the boat. It seems to get a lot of comments. I enjoyed the attention.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Deer & the esophagus

Deer come to our yard pretty often, which I really dig. Recently we've seen a fawn on occasion.

But check this out:

Boat update

Good news on the boating front.

First, I followed Jake's advice and talked to Rob at the Wooden Boat Foundation. He got me hooked up with an "intermediate" class, which goes beyond the basic tacking and jibing. We motored, docked, picked up moorings, anchored, navigated by charts, and the like. We did it in Townsend Bay, so I got experience with currents, waves, salt, and tides, which don't happen on Lake Union.

The class took place on a Thunderbird, and I just happened to notice one for sale on Craigslist.

Saturday I went down to the Center for Wooden Boats for a sharpie class, in preparation for the upcoming festival. Man, people at CWB are SO FRIENDLY. Wow. I guess I had forgotten just how nice everyone there is. I am now checked out on sharpies at CWB, which means I'm allowed to skipper Betsy D. and Colleen Wagner with a boatful of non-sailers.

To get to CWB, I ended up driving from PT to Bainbridge and taking the ferry. I wish I could have done buses, but they just don't work well on Saturdays.

After CWB, I drove up to Mukilteo to look at a boat for sale. A 12' Bolger/Payson Bobcat/Tiny Cat. I decided to buy it, but the buyer wanted cash, and the ATM wouldn't give me enough money. I gave him a $200 deposit, and caught the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry home. Drove up Whidbey to Keystone, and parked the car on the side of the road. This way I could walk on the ferry, which is much cheaper.

The next morning after breakfast, I saw that the ferry was about to leave, so I hopped on the bike, zoomed over to an ATM to get out another $1000 in $20s, and then got to the ferry just in time. Parked the bike at the terminal, and walked on. Then drove the van back to Clinton, ferry across, and back to the boat.

Handed over 92 $20 bills and a $10 bill. Then we talked about each of the bits and peices, and rigged the boat in the driveway. Downrigged and loaded the bits and peices in to the van.

We were about to hook up the trailer to my brand new hitch, and saw that my hitch ball was 2" but the trailer was 1 7/8". (Why are there 3 hitch ball sizes? Arggg.) The seller had agreed to give me his hitch, but we couldn't get the bolt loose. It had been on for 8 years. I thought about taking the ball and tongue together, but the receiver socket was a different size. (Why are there multiple sizes? Arggg.)

WD-40, rap with a wrench, then get a good pulling position on the ground and off it came. However, we couldn't get my ball to come off, either. It was brand new, but had a lock washer and had been torqued down tight. We tried WD-40. A vice. Different tools for leverage. Eventually we decided to seek professional help.

The seller gave me directions to a U-Haul place. The directions were good, but it turns out the SR-99 isn't marked as such in that area. Weird. Eventually I had to ask for help, and finally found the U-Haul. There was slow line, but eventually I got some help. The guy was really nice, and very helpful. He had enough leverage to take the ball off, no problem. But then the other ball's screw was too small for the hole. (Why are there multiple sizes? Arggg.) He gave me a shim, put things back together, and sent me on my way, no charge. Thanks, U-Haul!

Back to the boat. Put it on the hitch, plugged in the lights, and took off. Got to the Mukilteo ferry terminal about 30 seconds too late, and had to wait for the next boat. Ferried to Clinton, back up to Keystone, but missed the ferry. I was there in time, but they didn't have enough room on the little ferry, and I had to wait 90 minutes. It was a beautiful day, so I took a nap in the boat.

After driving off the ferry at Port Townsend, I stopped for the bicycle and threw it in the boat.

The kids spent the entire evening playing the my new boat. And much of the next day.

Last night I measured all the lines that came with it, and today I'll be rigging it in the driveway.

I still need to figure out where to attach dock lines & fenders (seems to be missing a few cleats), and get some PFDs, and learn to back up with a trailer, and the maybe I'll get to go sailing.

7 ferry rides in 2 days.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Perfect Boat

Since moving to Port Townsend, I've been longing to go sailing. I'm very greatful to the generous folks who have allowed me to come along on their boats, like Mycia. But what I am missing the taking a boat out myself. I've learned a lot on other people's boats, but there are some things you can only learn when you are responsible for the whole outing. The Center for Wooden Boats gave me the chance to do these things, but there's nothing like that here.

So it's time to break the first rule I set for myself when I started sailing: don't own a boat.

First, I have to decide what I'm looking for. Here's a short list of everything I can think of:

  • Traditional wood construction, which I love
  • Within my ability to maintain (which isn't much!)
  • Small enough to pull behind the bicycle, since I abhor driving
  • Small enough to car-top, so I can skip the car trailer
  • Small enough to launch at a beach, so I can avoid the boat launch
  • Small enough to row, so I can skip the motor
  • Cheap, so I can continue my adventure without running out of money
  • Safe, stable, and dry enought to take the kids out on Townsend Bay
  • Big enough to be comfortable.
  • Big enough to carry not just the 5 of us, but also our dear friends in Mill Creek, who are also 5.
  • Big enough to take a multi-day trip with the family, and explore various anchorages
  • Capable of transporting us to visit my brother in Hilo.
  • Big enough for us to live on, as we explore the 7 seas.

Obviously, there are many contradicting items on my list. Note that speed is not on my list. Nor is status of a fancy boat.

After pondering my options, I decided to buy a cheap, used El Toro or similar. It meets the small, easy to launch, easy to haul, etc. However, I got advice from some wise folks, and decide that I needed something a little bigger to be able to sail in comfort & safety, especially with a kid on board. So, I'm now looking for something between 10' and 22'.

Wish me luck finding the right boat!

Monday, June 09, 2008

23rd Classic Mariner's Regatta

This past weekend was the Classic Mariner's Regatta in Port Townsend. I headed down to try get on a boat, as I haven't been sailing in a while.

First stop was the skipper's meeting. The sun was out, and the sky was gorgeous. I was worried about a sunburn, and didn't bring a hat, so I bought a hat from the Wooden Boat Foundation with "23rd Classic Mariner's Regatta" on it. In case I forget. Before we had cast off, the sky had clouded over, and we didn't see sun again all day.

There were two other folks who were looking to crew but didn't have a boat. All 3 of us ended up on Mycia. She's a 73' LOA schooner, with a large deckhouse. We came on board & met the other crew who were already there.

After getting the grand tour, I realized that I hadn't brought enough food for the full day. The skipper said we had 15 minutes. We were docked right by the Otter Crossing Cafe, so I went there to order a sandwich and use the shore head. Turns out they were really busy, and took 25 minutes to make the sandwich! I stepped back outside, and saw that I had missed the boat.

I considered going home, but all my gear was still on board, including my keys*. They bay was now dotted with sails. Finally, I saw one more boat motoring through the marina. I ran down to the end of the dock and hailed them, asking for a ride out. They pulled up close, and I stepped on. Once out on the water, they motored to Mycia. Mycia was pulling an inflatable dinghy, so they came up next to the dinghy, and I jumped down in to it, sandwich in hand. Then I hove on the painter, boarded the schooner, and said hello to my shipmates. What a way to start the day!

I had a blast. Worked my butt off heaving on lines to get things trimmed as best we could. My hands were sore all the next day. Thoroughly enjoyed my sandwich (egg and bacon on a tasty roll). Plenty of wind, which Mycia likes. And after the race, we kept sailing out towards Fort Worden, where the wind was even stronger. She was heeled well over, and really moving. Finaly we came back in to port, said goodbyes, and I headed home.

I was so tired that the next morning I got up, made fed breakfast to the family, and was back asleep by 10:15am.

Today I took a paint pen and wrote "CREW" on the bill of my cap. Again, just in case I forget.

I want to thank the boat that delivered me. I didn't get her name, nor the chance to properly thank her captain. One notable thing about the boat: the cleats and winches for the jib sheets were held in place with woodworking clamps. I figure that's a good way to experiment with positioning.

I left my phone number with Mycia's skipper. I look forward to getting out with them again.

*Keys to my bike, of course.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Dinner with Alexander

While in Richmond for the wedding, I asked my grandmother to help me learn some of her cooking. I grew up eating this stuff, and it has deep meaning for me. It's to the point that feeding people is a way of showing them my love. I think it's the same for her, and I've watched her feed & otherwise care for us all for many years.

I wasn't able to do as much hands-on as I had hoped, because I was chasing my 3 kids around and needed to spend time with other family. Still, I got to learn more about how to make these dishes:

When we got back home, I first made a batch of hummos, which turned out awesome. I particularly like hearing Dylan say "hummos". I also cheated at making lebneh, by just straining Strauss whole milk yogurt. Good news, though: it's really good yogurt, so the result was very tasty lebneh. Unfortunately the food co-op put Strauss yogurt on sale, so now they're out of stock.

Yesterday I made wara' dawali. It turned out really good, especially considering it was the first time I made it on my own. I particularly liked the fact that it tasted like what I grew up with, which is different than what you get at retaurants around here. I used way, way too much salt, but still not as much as my grandmother!

I still have some leaves left (I ran out of rice, and couldn't stuff them), and I need to figure out how to get brown rice to cook well in this context (my family always uses Uncle Ben's converted), so more practice to come.

I look forward to making this dish for friends.

Guess who got married?

I have a new sister an law! Chances are if you're reading this, you already know that. Here's what you don't know: the minister is an awesome kisser. Thanks Alane! I guess that's a priviledge of being best man.

Mixed thoughts: I think these two make an awesome couple. Their leis looked very cool. I got to help dress the groom. At the reception, I toasted them without a mic. I know I was loud enough, becausehwen I screwed up, the people in the back laughed.

I didn't lose the rings.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Adventuress Crew

After helping with maintenance on Adventuress, I agreed to be a tester for their new web site. The first thing I saw was an announcement that they'd be training volunteer crew. Volunteer crew? Perfect!

I spent a Saturday on board in training, which included a sail around the bay.

The next day was the first public sail of the season. Since my family is a member of Sound Experience, we got to come on for free. We set up the bicycle train & all 5 of us rode down. The twins explored the cabins, including standing on my shoulders to peek out the focsle hatch. They eventually fell asleep as the trip was coming to an end - great timing! Reid got to look at plankton in a Microscope.

Monday I took Reid to his homeschooler's gymnastics class. It's held in the post office building, of all places, which is a fancy, century-old structure perched up high over the bay. From there I got to watch Adventuress sail around while he was in class.

Monday night I looked at Adventuress' schedule and saw that there wouldn't be many opportunities for me to volunteer, so I better get with it. They sail from a variety of ports, but only a handful of trips are from Port Townsend. They do day sails for a few hours, as well as 3-7-day trips, but I don't think I can fairly leave the family overnight.

First chance was Tuesday. So I showed up at the docks Tuesday morning, and they said they'd put me to work. It turns out that the group that was coming out was a homeschooling group, some of which had been at the gym class the day before. Funny.

Next chance was a public sail on Saturday, but we were out of town for a birthday party.

Easter Sunday we planned to do an egg hunt, but it was rainy, so we had a small event in our living room. Then I headed down to the docks for a public sail that afternoon. It was a pleasant sail, with enough wind to get us going, but not enough to make it "interesting". That is, until we were putting the sails away. We were training to furl the enormous mainsail, when a squall hit, and winds climbed to about 25mph. We could barely get the main under control, and it was suddenly cold, dark, and rainy to boot. When we were back at the docks, the weather cleared up, and we did what we could to make the boat neat -- shipshape.

Monday was the last day sail I can do for a while. It started off well for me. As soon as I stepped on board, I got to climb on top of the main gaff to downrig some extra lines they had placed up there for the wind. I enjoy the feeling of being able to climb; something I used to think I couldn't do. The participants were school kids, mostly 8th graders, who had come all the way from Yakima. It was quite a full ship, with 45 kids + 2 adults + crew. When we were headed back to the docks, I got to take the "small boat ride", zooming along in a little inflatable dingy, to be dockside when adventuress came in. Weee! When we were furling the staysail, we all sang "lean on me". There's a lot of music on Adventuress, and I love singing, but I'm not used to doing it with any kind of audience. Maybe in time... At the end of the day, I said my thanks and good-byes to the crew, and they responded quite heartily.

Wednesday there was a postcard from Adventuress, signed by many of the crew & staff, saying thanks.

I love the fact that we both feel indebted to each other. I am grateful for my chance to go sailing, to learn so much more about sailing in general, and this boat in particular, to see this beautiful ship in action, and to give others (passengers) the chance to get on the water, as well. I know that Adventuress & Sound Experience benefit as well: they got my help, and I know that organizations like this also feed on the energy that volunteers bring. Mutual indebtedness is the basis of a strong community. Bring it on.

At the beginning of May they'll be back in PT for a day; I hope I get to go out with them again then. After that, it's September, around the Wooden Boat Festival.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Adventuress maintainance

Reid & I spent Sunday working on Schooner Adventuress. I had the opportunity to sail on her a couple years ago, and when I moved to Port Townsend, I was looking forward to the opportunity to connect with them again.

They do maintainance work over the winter, and invite folks to volunteer for a "work weekend" each month. We went to help in January. Reid found another kid & the two of them played. I watched the kids & sorted the fasteners (huge collection!).

This time I spent the morning scuffing the varnish on the deckhouse, in preparation for a new coat. They were getting ready to sway up the main boom, and Reid helped tie some lines on for the purpose. He learned the marlinspike hitch and put it to good work.

The afternoon was spent with spars. The main boom and main- and fore-topmasts were stowed on deck, being the most unwieldy (least wieldy?). We swayed up the main boom, with folks pulling on lines in 8 directions to keep it under control.

Once it was secured, we were sent to "spar land" (a storage space far away) to get the other 4 large spars - main gaff, fore gaff, fore boom, and "club" (which I'd call the jib boom, but what do I know?) . They had a dolly made of the rear axel + wheels of a car w/ a small superstructure. A spar was hauled out of the shed (up to 8 people to lift them) and balanced on the dolly; a second spar placed next to it. We then walked the spars to the dock, and carried them down the dock to the boat. My shoulder has a sore, red area from bearing the weight.

Once the spars were placed on deck, we cleaned up and called it a day. The crew of Adventuress will sway up the remaining spars on their own, they being much smaller than the main boom.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The end of the world as we know it

Every time I read something by Charles Eisenstein, I love it.  I usually feel like he's saying what I want to say, but I don't even know it. 
Yesterday I read his Waiting for the Big One, and it was no disappointment.  I particularly liked his list of "doom and gloom credentials", which begins with:

First and foremost, I am aware of the environmental crisis: climate change, desertification, coral bleaching, tree death, topsoil erosion, habitat destruction, irreversible loss of biodiversity, toxic and radioactive waste, the PCBs in every living cell, the vast swaths of disappearing rainforests, the dead rivers, lakes and seas, the slag heaps and quarry pits, the living world reduced to profit and pavement.

I am aware of Peak Oil and the dependency of all aspects of our economic infrastructure and food supply on fossil fuels. And I realize that no conventionally-recognized alternative energy source can possibly hope to replace oil and gas any time soon.

and goes on and on.  In my printed copy, this list filled 2 pages.  
A couple years ago I went to an unconventional doctor who claims to be able to ask your electromagnetic aura questions, and get answers.  Things like "is mercury in your body the cause of that skin condition?".  I was sick at one point, and he suggested an antibiotic.  I told him that I try to avoid antibiotics, and so he asked my aura which of several treatments I should choose, to balance my principles & need for treatment.  The answer was grape seed extract.
I have no idea what an "electromagnetic aura" is. I'm generally a rational science-loving type of person, and nothing that he does fits in to my understanding of how the world works.  5 years earlier I would have laughed at him and gone on with my life.  But, thanks largely to Charles Eisenstein's writings, I've learned that there is dramatically more truth than science can find.  Science has strict rules about what it can do, which is fundamental to why science is great, but it's also very limiting.  If we lived our lives relying only on scientifically-proven truths, we would live incomplete lives.  At some point you have to make a decision based on something else.  That something else is "faith", although I hesitate to use the word.  I don't mean "things you believe regardless of contradicting evidence", but "things you believe when evidence can't help".  I can't prove that this doc is a quack; I can't prove that he's able to do what he claims to do.  I know that I need more than what conventional medicine can offer, so I accept what he tells me.
I've been suffering from restless legs since I was a teenager (now it has a name & web sites & there's medication, but for a long time I couldn't even explain it to people around me.)  This doc told me that it was emotional; that I am angry; that the target of my angry is mankind in general; that I am angry that people could act so badly, and allow people to act so badly. 
He's right that I have this anger, but I hadn't really identified it before.  However, when I read through Eisenstein's list yesterday, it suddenly made a lot more sense.  That list is exactly what I am angry about.  He nailed it for me, exactly.  It was an intense experience for me to see the list, and see the complete outline of my frustration.  I plan to read through it again, to see where it takes me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Dear Diary

Good sleep last night.  The baby slept on my from 11pm to 7am or so.  Then Julie kept the twins while I slept another 90 minutes.  Still tired, but Julie is sick & shoulda been the one to sleep in.  Found that last night's chicken noodle soup (what's a chicken noodle?) was out all night; put it on LO to simmer until lunch time.  Breakfast as usual (eggs w/ sausage & cheese, tea w/ milk and honey, toast w/ butter & jam). 
Clear skies & sun.  Took the kids out to play on the bike while Julie slept.  Pulled all 3 in the bike trailer over to the house with chickens. No one home, so we rode on through the neighborhood, and then home.  Zephyr & I played outside another 1/2 hour.  He says "bike" now, but says it as "kai-ka", after Dylans "bike-a".  Cleaned the garage & prepared the speakers for sale.
Got Home Server back on line.
Lunch of hot, dense, overcooked, delicious soup.  Played Black and White 2 Demo with Reid while everyone else slept.  Kids now watching Curious George.  Again.  Gonna play a little more now.
Tomorrow is a big day. Doctor; Laurel arrives.  Must clean a bit. 


Monday, February 11, 2008

Dylan, Zephyr, and Terra

They were cute. My camera phone's color correctness is disappointing, but I think it still works.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Port Townsend construction irony

This morning we awoke to find conutility workerrs outside our house.  There are a bunch of trucks with flashing lights.  All the workers are wearing bright orange vests.  Two guys are holding those stop/slow signs at the ends.
The irony is that traffic on this street is so very, very light.  A couple cars per hour is normal here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Signs of Port Townsend: Getting to the library

One of the reasons I was looking forward to moving to Port Townsend was that I was hoping for a place where I could live without the car. So far it has gone well - the car pretty much sits in the driveway, untouched for days.

Today we walked to the library for a story time event for toddlers. We put the twins in the double stroller for the trip there. When we arrived, we saw 3 strollers already parked outside. I think that's a good sign.

On the way home, Zephyr refused to ride in the stroller. As he walked, he stopped at each puddle, observed the relationship between the reflection and the real objects, dropped a rock in & observed the corruption of the image, then picked up the rock and walked on. He had a fantastic time. When he got home, he was cold & wet, but 15 minutes later he was warm & asleep.
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