update on the Ukrainian outsourcing team
Wednesday, April 27 2022
Back before the appearance of cheap Raspberry Pi Zeros (which cost $10 and can run a graphical Linux-based OS), the cheapest solution for building a headless Linux computer that could operate a camera was to use an old router flashed with open-source DD-WRT firmeware. This meant that every time I was at the Tibetan Center thrift store, I was always interested in the old routers (particularly Linksys WRT54Gs, which have a distinctive shape and color). I'd usually Google most routers they had (unless they were being sold for high prices) to see if they could be reflashed with DD-WRT. Such habits die hard, and I still pick up the occasional old router, either from a thrift store or, as happened last Sunday, from a pallet of e-waste. It's a little absurd to try to use such devices given that Raspberry Pi Zeros generally have more of the features I want and do not consume anywhere near as much electricity. But old routers do have a couple useful features, such as multiple ethernet ports and, occasionally, full-sized USB ports. They also often are dual-band and have antenna jacks, allowing for more impressive WiFi capabilities. I was thinking I might use the Netgear WNDR3400 I picked up from the e-waste pallet as a repeater up at the cabin, allowing for better WiFi coverage, possibly expanded down to the lakeshore. But then yesterday when I went to install a version of DD-WRT on it, I screwed something up and left it unresponsive. I assumed it was bricked and put it in my scrap electronics bin, assuming I would never have time to unbrick it.
But then this morning, possibly due to a recreational 150 milligram dose of pseudoephedrine, I had burst of motivation to unbrick that router, even though it's not really worth much even to me. Sometimes I just like the ritual of fixing things. So I opened up the router, soldered header pins to the six-pin serial port on the router's motherboard, and then hooked up a USB-to-serial adapter (it didn't initially work because Windows 10 has disabled drivers for counterfeit serial port adapters like I tend to buy, but there's a workaround of course). Once I had a serial console working, I could see the router was far from bricked, and it still had a working low-level command-line interface that allowed me to easily upload new firmwares. In the process of experimenting with these, I discovered that DD-WRT just wasn't reliable on WNDR3400. So I uploaded OpenWRT, the other open source router firmware (something I've successfully uploaded to Netgear routers in the past), and that worked reliably.
At around noon I made a run out to the Home Depot to get some supplies: a replacement quarter-inch drill bit for one from the Bolt's toolkit I broke this weekend installing the cabin dog door, a couple tiny 1/16 inch drill bits, a whole set of drill bits specifically to keep at the cabin, a toilet sealing ring using non-wax technology, a cheap replacement sink drain, a bunch of hinges, and several clapboard planks (which is my new idea for how to make a surface for the medicine cabinet door in the cabin's upstairs bedrooom). I'd brought the dogs, so I let them sniff around the parking lot while I tied the clapboards to the roofrack atop the Forester.
Early this afternoon, the UPS man dropped off a two large boxes that contained Charge-brand battery-powered bicycles. I pulled one out (it was scarlet tanager red) and found it had a cracked rear panier rack, which the company will hopefully be replacing. I took it for a ride and found the power decidedly underwhelming. It didn't seem any better than my cheap Chinese battery-powered scooter. Maybe it can be hacked to provide more power, something I'd also like to do to my scooter.
It was an usually windy day, with the wind repeatedly knocking over the large boxes that had contained the bicycles. At one point the wind also knocked the new red bike right off its kickstand, further scratching the rear panier rack. But that'll soon be replaced.
This evening after Gretchen got home from working at the bookstore, she immediately picked me up and drove us to the Stockade in Uptown Kingston, where we were going to have drinks with my old boss Alex and his wife Celia (who is Gretchen's friend in the poetry world). But the Stockade was closed and Gretchen had left her phone at the damn bookstore, so how could we possibly coordinate a backup plan? But then there Celia and Alex were, parked right behind us. We ended up walking to Rough Draft, the bar/café/bookstore, stopping to pick up vegan snacks at Maressa's bakery along the way.
The evening had turned unseasonably cold and the winds were still blowing nearly as strongly as they had this afternoon, making being outdoors (particularly in the wind tunnels created by Uptown's buildings) a decidedly unpleasant experience.
Most of the conversation happened between just Alex and me and between just Celia and Gretchen. Alex kept joking with me about how, now that we no longer work together, I never call him. But even when we did work together I never called him; he was the one always calling me. He had a lot of photos to show me of the renovation work he's been doing on the mansion he and Celia bought on Virginia's eastern shore. (Before he showed them to me, he asked if I wanted him to increase my boredom, and I said that sure, that at the time I was insufficiently bored.)
Alex has been in contact with our old outsourcing team in Ukraine, and he gave me a person-by-person update. They'd been based in Kharkiv, which is a large city near the Russian border. But, despite the intense fighting near there, none of them had been hurt or suffered serious losses. Mst of them have relocated to Lviv (near Poland), where they are still working, but at about 60% capacity. None of them have felt the need to take Alex up on offers to help them get work permits to relocate to the United States.
The one shared part of the conversation in which all four of us participated concerned the cabin north of Gloversville. In addition to how far along it's come, Gretchen told the horror story of Farrellgas delivering our propane to the wrong customer and then, when they finally got it to our cabin, left it venting audibly into the air.
We also touched on all the troubles we've had with our off-grid solar power. This reminded me of something that had occurred to me earlier: solar installation companies probably get away with a lot of shoddy installations, because most are for customers who are connected to the grid. If the panels work poorly or even not at all, there's a chance the customer will never notice. They'll just think they did the "green" thing and seeing the panels on their roof will be enough. It's true that some people will notice that their electric bill didn't go down, but that could be caused by other variables. With an off-grid solar installation, though, if it doesn't work or doesn't work well, it will quickly become apparent because there will be little or no electricity. The fact that our solar installers turned out to have no experience making off-grid installation suggests to me that they might've been skating on customer ignorance for a considerable number installations.
Somehow I managed to drink two beers while we were there. They were both IPAs and neither one was very good.
After we left Rough Draft, Gretchen drove us all the way to Woodstock just to pick up her phone, since she'd be needing it tomorrow to coordinate with Erik the Painter and perhaps others.
This evening I sipped on an Imperial Stout while watching Beanie Mania, a documentary about the rise and fall of the Beanie Baby phenomenon. I hadn't taken diphenhydramine, but I got very sleepy anyway, and eventually had to stop the video and go off to bed.
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