The Rule of Threes

Matt - Ken Steinhoff build computer 1-10-2014When I told Kid Matt I was running out of storage space on my computer because photos and videos are BIG files, he offered to help me upgrade my old computer. Of course, like any construction project. It is subject to the Rule of Threes: it is going to take three times as much money as was budgeted; it’s going to take three times as long as projected, and it’s going to take at least three trips to the store for every component involved.

The project meant I needed a larger computer case, a different motherboard, a bigger power supply, a new RAID card and some extra drives.

He ordered the case and power supply through Amazon prime and specified the free two-day shipping  so we’d get it Friday for a weekend installation.

TWO big boxes arrived

When we got the tracking info, we saw they were promising delivery next week, not Friday. Matt called Amazon to complain, and they said they’d place a new order and give us overnight shipping so we’d get it when we needed it. As it turned out TWO big computer boxes arrived on Friday. The tracking info must have been wrong. The power supply arrived on time from a different vendor.

Matt wanted to go for a bike ride on Saturday, so he asked if we could start playing Friday night instead of doing a Saturday build. Sooner is always better when it comes to new toys, so I assured him Friday night was good.

Looking down inside the new box before most of the stuff went in was looking down on a futuristic city out of a science fiction thriller.

This is only going to take 45 minutes

Matt - Ken Steinhoff build computer 1-10-2014Matt said building the hardware piece shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes – “45 minutes, tops.” Restoring the programs and data was going to be the long part.

After about an hour, we (meaning him) had enough pieces/parts together that we could fire it up to see if it was going to boot. The fans started spinning and a red LED next to the CPU lit up, then everything went quiet. Time after time after time.

Matt started frogging (swapping) components into different slots, trying different video cards, trying different RAM. No joy.

Three or four hours later into our 45-minute (“tops”) project, he swapped out the brand-new super-duper power supply with one out of an old computer. It worked. The power supply was defective.

The RAID controller won’t work

Matt - Ken Steinhoff build computer 1-10-2014The magic thing that was going to make more efficient and safer use of my data drives was a new-fangled RAID controller. That sounds like an electronic moat drawbridge to keep invaders out, but Matt assured me that I didn’t have to know what it was or how it worked. I just needed to know that I was going to see my internal storage space effectively double, from four drives and 3 terabytes to six drives and six terabytes of mirrored stuff. He did some kind of crazy math thing where he said that four times two terabytes equals six terabytes of usable storage, but my eyes glazed over like they did in Grace Williams’ math class, and I just nodded from time to time like I understood what he was saying.

Magic wands and ritual sacrifices

The only problem was the computer didn’t recognize the RAID card, no matter how may times he waved a magic wand at it. He was muttering something about ritual sacrifices when I headed him off before he saw the grilled chicken I was planning to snack on.

He actually pulled out the docs at one point, that’s how desperate he was. Finally, at 4:30 a.m., I jerked awake and realized that I had fallen asleep with my chin on my chest. It was time for a nap.

When I got up at 5:30 a.m., he was gone. He figured out that he wasn’t much more awake than I was, so he left for home at 4:45 a.m..

More fans than Elvis

Matt - Ken Steinhoff build computer 1-10-2014We (he) took another crack at it late this afternoon. He took an approach that was going to take longer than the quick fix we had tried last night, but it was going to be better in the long run. It will be doing some software gyrations tonight while we sleep, then we’ll finish it up in about 30 minutes (“45, tops”) Sunday.

Let me tell you, this new box has more fans that Elvis Presley and is twice as cool. To assure you that they are running, they are lit with purplish LEDs that are supposed to comfort the inner geek.

Thanks to Wife Lila for documenting the event. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Thanks to you readers for using the big Click Here button when you shop Amazon. That helped pay for some of the new equipment.

Thankful? Support Ken Steinhoff and Cape Central

Buy From to Support Ken Steinhoff

Howdy, all. Special guest post today by me, Matthew Steinhoff.

If you like Ken Steinhoff, the CapeCentralHigh web site and want to support them both, please click the above magical button and go about your regular, online holiday shopping business.

How Does This Amazon Thing Work?

Malcolm Lee and Kenneth Lee Steinhoff, Circa Chistmas 2005
When you click the button, Dad gets a 6% referral fee from Amazon based on your purchases made in the few hours after the click. Spend $100, Dad gets $6. Amazon doesn’t mark up your bill. The products aren’t more expensive using the link. I really like Amazon because it typically has the lowest prices; if your bill is more than $35, shipping is free and, in most states, there is no sales tax.

(Of note, if you have a local business you want to support, please do so. My cousin owns a really great antique shop in downtown Cape and I’d much rather you do your shopping at Annie Laurie’s than Amazon. But, if you’re anything like most of America, you’re probably going to do $400 worth of online shopping anyway. When you do that shopping, I’d love for you to click the above link and shop Amazon.)

Why You Should Click

Malcolm and Matt enjoy good pie at the Pie Bird Cafe.Mostly, this blog is a giant money pit. Which, more or less, is fine because Dad is retired and would drive Mom absolutely nuts if he didn’t have some venture to keep him busy. Plus, this blog entertains far more people than if he took up golf and chased a little ball into the gator-infested ponds of Palm Beach County.

That said, creating the content is very time consuming and pretty darn costly. Dad has spent at least a third of the year outside the state of Florida and has driven several thousand miles. There are the raw materials (cameras, disk space, computers), services (online backups, mobile data plans, travel expenses and web hosting (bandwidth, power, storage). And then there’s the pie. Pie doesn’t grow on trees.

How You Can Support the Site

1. Purchase a 2014 Cape calendar. Get more than a year’s worth of Cape Girardeau photos! Simple and easy.

2. Buy from Amazon. Dad gets about six-percent of your total. We have no way to knowing it was you who bought the 11-pound jar of Nutella.

3. Click the yellow ‘Donate‘ button in the upper left-hand corner of the web site. This is my least favorite option because it doesn’t get you anything but a warm feeling deep in your soul. At least with the first two items you get a little something for yourself.

What You Should Buy From Amazon

1. Gift Cards Trust me: this is what your kids and grand kids want. Probably your spouse, too. Gift cards are tacky, require little thought and lack creativity. Still, they are easy to buy, easy to mail and are always welcome. You didn’t really want to spend the next few weeks knitting that sweater anyway, right?

2. Digital SLR-Style Cameras Everyone has an iPhone they take a bazillion pictures a day. But those photos aren’t real photos. If you or someone you love is ready to take a step up from a smart phone, a dSLR is the way to go. Dad shoots with a Nikon D7000 but the camera I’m lusting after is a throw-back to simpler days. The Nikon Df has all the new whiz-bang digital guts but the look and feel of Nikon cameras from the late-1970s and early 1980s. Everyone who absolutely loved the Nikon FA, FE or FM is going nuts trying to get the Nikon Df.

3. Apple iPad If you don’t already have an iPad, get one. So sweet! Once you have one, you’ll never be without one again. Worried about not being able to figure it out? No problem! Gran is 92 and uses hers every day. Got questions, call Gran. Need an endorsement? Call Gran. Still don’t have a smart phone? You don’t need one. Get an iPad instead. That way you still have a small cell phone you can take everywhere but still have all the smart phone features in the easily-readable format of an iPad.

Black Friday ~ Cyber Monday ~ Overspend Wednesday

Don’t worry. This is just the annual fund drive. We’ll sprinkle in a few Amazon links (Haunted Cape Girardeau: Where the River Turns a Thousand Chilling Tales) on our way up to Christmas then I’ll take my hand out of your pocket for another year.

Thank You, Readers!

Loudmouth-Golf-PantsFinally, a word of thanks from me to all you… Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Thank you for sharing your stories and memories. And thank you for giving Dad an outlet to tell old stories and a reason to make up new ones. As long as you’re a willing audience, I don’t have to see Dad in golf pants.


[Editor’s note]

You can tell when your kids are getting worried that your outgo is getting bigger than your income. Sons Matt and Adam are so sure there won’t be anything left that they’ve stopped jockeying for top spot in the will.

Here’s a bunch of suggestions I made last year. If you click on the links there, you may find that newer versions of the product have come out. At least the links aren’t broken.

The Pie Safe

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to pie and presents. Sharon Rose Penrod and her Pie Safe in Pocahontas can help you.

Let me go on record that I support buying from local businesses like The Pie Safe, where most of the ingredients are locally grown. Some of the vegetables come from a 100-year-old garden on on a farm owned by her husband’s family since the 1880s.

Pie Safe used to be bank

The Pie Safe started out as the Pocahontas Bank in 1910 with deposits of $10,000, but it didn’t survive the Crash of 1929. It served a variety of uses over the years, including being an insurance office and a home.

Safe has 24-inch walls

The ornate safe with its 24-inch-thick concrete walls still dominates one wall.

“It found me”

Sharon Rose and her husband, Monte, had been active in Jackson’s farmers market when she decided to turn her talent for baking into a business. “I didn’t find the bank, it found me,” she said of her building. The cafe has been open since June 12, 2012.

No real menu

The Pie Safe doesn’t have a formal printed menu. There’s a whiteboard with the specials scrawled on it, but “some days I run out of stuff, so I’ll tell customers, ‘Here are the ingredients I have. What would you like to make me out of them?'”

I showed up the other day just before closing time. “I’ve got my heart set on some of your coconut cream pie (topped with REAL whipped cream, not “calf slobber”).

“I don’t have any left,” she said.

The lip quiver worked

I put on my saddest face and gave her the patented lip quiver.

“OK, I might be able to whip one up while you’re eating,” she relented.

“I’ll chew slowly,” I promised.

When I finished up, she said, “I don’t think this is going to have time to set up.” I offered to eat a piece and take two with me.

“I don’t want to sell this”

“I really don’t want to sell this,” she remonstrated. “The whipped cream is sliding into the base. I’m not going to be able to cut it.”

“How about if I take the WHOLE pie? I’m headed up to the museum at Altenburg. I can pop it into the fridge in 20 minutes.”

Against her better judgement, she let me take it.

For the record, she was right. It never DID set up solidly, but Mother and I didn’t care. We were more interested in taste than appearance. We managed to polish it off in two days.

Got her baking skills from mother

She says she got her baking know-how from her mother, Shirley Schroeder Petschke, whose photos grace the walls.

Where is it?

If you can find Pocahontas, which is north of Cape Girardeau and south of Altenburg, you won’t have any trouble finding The Pie Safe, which is in the heart of downtown. (Don’t blink.)

It’s open from 6 am to 2 pm Wednesday through Saturday. The phone number is 573-833-6743. You can send Sharon Rose email at

Tell her Ken said “Hi” and to start working on a coconut cream pie for when I come back in a couple of months.

Pie Safe photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

Backup, Backup, Backup

I’ve had a very frustrating (and expensive) last two days. I’m a pessimist who believes that Murphy wasn’t an only child. I usually have not only a Plan B, but Plans C through E. In fact, a pessimist is someone who is actually DISAPPOINTED when Plan A works.

Optimists, on the other hand, don’t have Plan Bs because they are SURE than Plan A is going to be successful beyond anyone’s dreams.

How do you fight Murphy?

I have about 50% of my data on a pair of external 2-terabyte drives. The drives are mirrored, so the information is duplicated on both drives at the same time. If one fails, then you slap in a replacement and the mirror rebuilds itself.  We used this technology on equipment in our telephone switchroom, and it saved our voicemail system and what we called the “cash register,” the equipment that supported our circulation and classified advertising call centers. There’s no more sinking feeling than seeing the alarm, “Drive Fail>’

On the other hand, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction when you slide in the spare and watch your world – and your job prospects – become infinitely brighter.

Backblaze puts out the fire in your tummy

To be even safer, I back up the mirrored drives to a second external drive, and I also use on offsite, “cloud” backup system called Backblaze. You can’t beat the deal. It costs five bucks a month and you can back up unlimited amounts of data. (It was an even better deal for me: Son Adam prepaid a year of the service as a Father’s Day gift.)  The advantage to a cloud backup is that it’s not in your house where it can get stolen, flooded or burn up.

I wasn’t their normal customer. I have so much data that it took about four months to upload it all. One it’s there, though, it constantly monitors the files on my computer and sends changes to the cloud almost immediately.

I just signed up to become an affiliate, so if you click on the Backblaze logo above, or this link, I’ll get credit if you sign up for the service.

If you are an optimist, this is a good Plan B. If you are a pessimist, this will probably slot in at about Plan C or D. Five bucks a month is less than some folks spend in Starbucks a day and it’ll let you sleep a lot better.

So, what happened?

Last month, my RAID drives gave me an alarm that one of them had taken a dirt nap. These drives have names. The bad guy was the primary, the good guy was the secondary.

I ordered a replacement drive under warranty. It arrived in a couple of days. I popped it into the slot and watched with satisfaction as the primary synched up to the secondary in about six hours. All was good for about a month. Then, two days ago, the drive in that slot failed again. The vendor had sent me two drives by mistake, so I pulled out the replacement and replaced it with the second drive.

Just before I turned the drive back on, I decided to do a backup on my external drive G. I kicked it off just before going to bed and it finished just about breakfast time. That means the data exists on the secondary, on Drive G and in the cloud with Backblaze.

Life just got uglier

I pushed the new drive in, powered up the enclosure and got an error message that the drive had to be formatted. Format is a scary command. If you screw it up, you’ll wipe out all the data on the drive. To be on the safe side, I removed the good secondary drive, then formatted the primary. I’d never had to do that before, but…

I put everything back together, turned on the power, then watched, first with satisfaction, then with horror, that the mirror was being rebuilt. The little arrows were going the wrong way. The little arrows SHOULD have been pointing FROM the secondary to the primary. Instead, they were going the other way, meaning that the blank primary drive was overwriting all my data.

The pessimist in me was satisfied

This was a bad thing, but, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that I had two other sources of the data, both fresh. I logged into my Backblaze account and started a download of the data. It’s a lot faster to restore from a local drive than from the cloud. (If I had REALLY been in a hurry, Backblaze would have sold me an external drive with my data on it.) Downloading everything on that drive was going to take about 50 hours, even with a fast Internet connection.

Here’s where I made a minor error. Backblaze has everything that was on the drive. When I did my backup to local Drive G, I elected not to copy over a couple of directories of nice-to-have-but-not-essential files. I would have been better off to have requested a Backblaze download of only those files instead of EVERYTHING. It would have saved a lot of download bandwidth and time. Still, this is a nice practice run and will give me a good idea of how good the service is.

THEN what happened?

I decided that the problem was probably in the piece of equipment that holds the drives, not the drives. I pulled out the primary drive, booted up on only the secondary, and copied all my data from the local external drive to the secondary. It worked fine. I decided NOT to try to rebuild the mirror.

I called Son Matt, who has been trying to convince me that I should buy a magic Drobo S Beyond Raid 5-Bay USB 3.0/FireWire 800/eSATA/SATA 6GB/S Storage Array with Drobo PC Backup by Drobo  because he had good luck with them both at home and at work. The magic part is that you can put a mixture of drive sizes in it to use old drives or you can upgrade them if you need more storage. Wife Lila is out of town on a cruise ship in Alaska, safely out of cellular range, so I felt safe in ordering the Drobo.

The bad news is that it cost $553.14 (without the drives). (That’s one of the reasons you should click on my Amazon link at the top left of the page. It helps pay for these kind of glitches.)

The worse news is that I clicked on the item to create the links on this page, and saw that the price had DROPPED in the few hours since I had placed my order. A very nice woman said they don’t normally do price matching, but they’d make a one-time exception for me and refund the difference between $553.14 and the new price of $518.49.