Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Notes on drilling stainless steel with DIY tools

I had to drill some mounting holes in a stainless steel tray I bought.  It was harder than I thought.

Here's what worked, in the end:

  • Use cobalt bits.  Home Depot sold some cobalt bits my Milwaukee called "Thunderbolt" that were expressly stated to work well on stainless and iron.  They did the trick for me where gold titanium bits just dulled and broke.
  • Use a slow drill speed.  The second-slowest speed on my 18V cordless did well.  I tried high speeds, and they just made the drill bit tip cherry-red, melted and useless.
  • Use moderate pressure.
  • Drill straight down.  Drilling on an angle makes it more likely you'll bust the bit off.
  • The above notwithstanding, I found a little bit of wiggle on the drill helped the bit gain some bite.  YMMV.  I wouldn't do this on thicker metals.
  • Use a nail or something to dent the metal where you want to start.  The "Thunderbolt" bits did a good job of staying put to start, as long as you went really slowly, but having an initial detent helps a lot.  It's a must with titanium bits, mine skated everywhere.
  • As always, start with a small hole and work your way up gradually.  Note, however, that thinner bits are weaker.  I had good success with cobalt 3/32" bits, but titanium 3/32" broke before they really bit in.
  • Oil it.  No idea why it works, but it does.  To some extent, the more oil I put on, the better it went (i.e. re-oil frequently).  Don't use WD-40 or something that evaporates.  They say to use "cutting oil", but Home Despot did not have that.  I used an old can of "3-In-1 oil" and that worked fine - I imagine any light oil would also work.
  • When using oil, you WILL see metal coming off - assuming you're making any progress.  If not, stop and fix what is wrong - dull bit, no oil, or wrong speed.  Keeping at it will do you no good.
  • Change bits frequently.  Even in thin stainless, titanium bits were only good for enlarging 1 or 2 holes before dulling in to uselessness.  That chromium makes it damn hard.
  • Once the hole has been made, gold titanium bits may be enough to enlarge it.  But the cobalt ones did a much better job for getting the pilot hole done, and would likely be better all around.  I only bought one size of cobalt bits, so I had to use titanium to finish up.
  • Don't try and get more mileage out of a broken drill bit.  Re-using the stub won't get you anything.  I tried.
  • Scrap all your dull bits right away.  You may cringe, but it's already worn out.  Don't keep it hoping for a few more pennies worth of mileage.  Bits are disposable, it's the cost of doing the work.

All of the above also applies to aluminum, with the exception that higher speeds work OK.  Not high speed, mind you, but 1 or maybe 2 notches over minimum on a cordless hand drill.

I've read that carbide bits, although hard, are not recommended for metals.  Ask around.  If in doubt, it's prudent to not use them.

If you're doing a lot, look at 'real' tool stores for 10-packs of bits.  HD does not have these.  I imagine 10 cobalts would be pricey, but the usefulness is 10x that of titaniums for this kind of work.

I will admit my first six broken bits came out of a 101-pc Ryobi master kit sold at Home Depot for a 'ridiculous' price.  So they were cheap - sue me.  They're drill bits, not gold jewelry.

The kit has been good enough for 99% of what I need, and has virtually every size and type of bit, which is far easier to manage than a job-by-job run to the store.  In the few cases it's not adequate, I go and pick up the specific expensive stuff for what I need.  Like today.

Final impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

Having had my stand set up for a week or so, I do like it.

The weight-assist mechanisms are set to the stiffest possible setting at the factory.  However, you can crank them down to minimum without bother.  The mechanisms never become loose or floppy, and it's designed so you can't accidentally unbolt anything.

My 19/22/19 setup does just fine at minimum stiffness.  It doesn't sag or move around on it's own.

The final height of my monitors did change, but after the first two hours I stopped noticing.  So by the next day you'll have forgotten anything was different.

Overall, I would recommend this unit.  It is well made and does a good job.

It's a good price - comparatively speaking, of course.  I spotted a comparable system at a local shop for $1800 with monitors - that's $600 per monitor, well over what each of those 23" LCDs are worth. 

Granted, it looked totally slick, used a different mounting system that guaranteed perfect alignment of the monitors, and had narrow-bezel units that made the screens appear as seamless as possible.  Still, it was vastly overpriced for what it was, unless you have money to burn.

Having triple monitors is nice - accelerates my workflow quite a bit.  It does confuse the wife, but I bet our kids will grow up loving it.

A few lonely voices of reason crying in the media babble

Please donate to assist in the Japanese disaster.  Visit for a list of reputable agencies that make a difference.

Two-plus weeks on, and the ludicrous media hysteria around Fukushima is finally starting to die a painful, gasping death.

We also start to see the occasional rational analysis of the entire affair:

Your Man In Japan
Praying for meltdown: The media and the nukes (The Register)

Fukushima scaremongers becoming increasingly desperate (also The Register)

Unfortunately, these are still few and far between.

As horrible as it may seem, one wonders what would have happened if all the affected nuclear reactors had simply been destroyed.

More lives would have been lost.  But they would only be a small fraction of the total lives lost, and probably wouldn't even be remarked upon by the mainstream media.

The nuclear fuel would probably have been scattered across the Japanese coastline.  A few might have ended up in the ocean.  Both situations likely gathering a few one-liners like 'Scientists are not expecting any long-term damage from the uranium fuel rods." or "Rescuers have been forced to contend with additional hazards such as building collapse, aftershocks, and even radioactive fuel rods from the destroyed nuclear reactors." Thanks, Julie, now we return to our main coverage.

A few "journalists" might have remarked that the loss of significant amounts of generating capacity would impact Japanese industry.  Of course, all the transmission lines, distribution stations, local transformers, and so forth WERE utterly destroyed anyway, so that wouldn't really be news anyway.

Not to mention the airports, factories and - oh yes, almost forgot - tens of thousands of workers (read: PEOPLE) who were killed, injured, left homeless, and deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, and clothing in Japan's bitter winter.  Surely that would be the bigger story, yes?

Conclusion:  if the plants had been wiped off the map, the mainstream media would not be giving Japan's nuclear industry a second look - because it wouldn't be sensational enough.

No, the worst thing that could happen did happen - after the worst disaster in recorded history, the nuclear plants remained standing, largely functional and adequately staffed.

They had some significant technical difficulties that were rapidly overcome.  These resulted in utterly insignificant amounts of radioactive material being released to drift over the ocean, to disperse to practical nothingness within a few days.

The disaster virtually isolated the plants, destroying all conventional routes for transportation and communications and all supporting infrastructure such as electrical power, water, sewer and so forth, compounding the difficulty.  And even with all of that, backup systems functioned, and the plant operators were able to invent and rapidly execute contingency plans to control their operations safely and with nearly zero casualties, including a couple of workers who got sunburned legs from

All of this because immensely dedicated staff, in spite of nearly unbearable personal loss from the disaster, stayed (and in many cases, volunteered to stay) at the plant and take on extremely stressful work under cramped, uncomfortable, 24-hour-a-day conditions with inadequate food, water, and other basic supplies.  They eat crackers, sleep on the floor with a single blanket, and heaven only knows where they toliet.

Dramatic, yes.  Heroic, absolutely.  Serious - yes, of course.  Disastrous?  Nope.  Chernobyl?  Not a chance - despite all the apparent hopes of news producers worldwide.  We are all thanking that they are disappointed, but really, they had unrealistic expectations.

The China Syndrome-esque reaction from the media regarding Fukushima defies description.  Really, it does.  Words fail cannot adequately express the impossibly braid-dead, fear-mongering, panic-stricken sewer water that vomited forth from every media outlet a soon as they espied the magic word, "nuclear".

Except, oddly enough, in Japan itself.  According to some, anyway, it's business as usual in the 90% of the country that is still intact and standing.  I believe it.

The cynical among us might even think that the news agencies were hungry for something - anything - to come along that they could make in to a nuclear "crisis".  Face it, most news is pretty boring, and every media outlet is under increasing financial pressure.  Minor wars in far-away countries seem to be dime-a-dozen these days, and it's hard to get too many people excited about a few practice astronauts doing a dry run to Mars in a wooden spaceship.

You know, people in some countries have been jailed for inciting panic in connection to Fukushima.  And yet every mainstream media outlet in the Western world has produced the same complete, one-hundred-percent pure-quill prime Grade-A pig feces that these individuals have been accused of.  It would be poetic justice if somebody, somewhere, made any of you account for your words.

You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fix: Windows 7 unable to delete read-only files in Samba share

Using the same Samba share, Windows XP would delete read-only files, and directories with read-only files in them.  It would, of course, prompt you with a "Are you sure you want to delete the read-only file" message.

Windows 7, for some unfathomable reason, did not do this with the same Samba share.  Instead, it came up with a very irritating message that said "File access denied", "You need permission to perform this action" message.  It would not progress past that.

This affected file moving and (I think) copying as well, in at least a few cases.

The simple fix, of course, was just to clear the read-only flag on the file and re-attempt, in which case Windows 7 will delete it quite happily.  This is stupid, however - W7 should behave like XP, and just bloody well do it if I want it to.

Thanks to this post, written by some other poor schmuck with the same problem, I found my solution:

In smb.conf:

map readonly = no
delete readonly = yes

In my case, the "delete readonly = yes" line, by itself, did not do the trick. 

I don't know what the map option does, but the combination appears to have fixed my difficulty.  Windows 7 now correctly deletes read-only files - oddly enough, without any confirmation or warning. 

(This is neat but I wonder why; I may have, at some point, turned off the confirmation messages.  You do a lot of tweaking in the first 48 hours of having a new machine.)

I suspect the problem comes about by a more robust implementation of the network communication protocols, where Samba is responding with a message that XP interprets one way, and W7 another (possibly better) way.  Looseness of interpretation is the bane of all standards.

How to install a Hewlett-Packard 2600n in Windows 7 x64

Windows 7 x64 doesn't ship with the driver for the 2600n, and won't recognize it if you try and add it.

If you try to get the driver for the 2600n from the HP website, you will find on run that it asks you to plug in the USB cable - which this printer does not have.  Good one, HP.

However, for some reason, running the package up to the USB connection and hitting 'cancel' installs enough stuff for Win7 to correctly identify the 2600n.

So, the recipe is:

1.  Download the latest driver from the HP website.

2.  Run it.

3.  When it asks you to plug in the USB cable, hit "Cancel" and quit.

4.  Go to Control Panel / Devices and Printers and run Add Printer.

5.  Select Network Printer, then IP address, and type in the correct IP for your printer.

6.  W7 x64 should correctly recognize the printer at this point, where previously it did not.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Second impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

I've mounted my existing dual-monitor setup on my Ergotron.  Everything pretty much went as expected.

The tipping hazard mentioned by others is real, but is not necessarily a given.  If you have relatively small side monitors, the unit won't tip over.  Put monsters on it and all you need are a few books to brace the unit while you mount monitor #3.

Because I have mismatched monitors, the bezels do not perfectly line up.  Part of the problem is the depth (thickness) of each monitor is different.  If you have a thicker monitor in one position, the bezel will be closer to you than the bezel of the neighboring monitor.

This didn't bother me - I kind of expected it - and like most other reviewers don't even notice it when using the system.  If you're a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations, trust me - you'll get over the "problem" in no time.

The spring-assist mechanisms in the unit are very strong, and were set to maximum from the factory.  My unit had nearly 30 full turns of adjustment, but the system never became loose or slack.

With the height and tilt settings adjusted to minimum, the unit was still essentially non-adjustable with only one 22" widescreen and one 19" standard monitor fitted.  No matter what, it would rise to the uppermost position and highest tilt - there just isn't enough weight with two semi-small monitors to make it behave!

I literally had to tie the arm down to keep it in place.  I hope a third monitor will make the difference; otherwise I'm in trouble.

After fitting the 22" and 19", it is evident that the stand can handle significantly wider screens (as per the specs).  My 22" diagonal widescreen is 20-1/8" wide, and the 5:4 standard is 15-7/8".  With them fitted, the arm has another 2.5" of linear travel available before the monitor mount won't work. 

So, to calculate if your monitors will fit add the actual width of the center monitor and one side monitor, and divide by two.  If it is 20.5" or less, you're OK.  In my case, (20-1/8" + 15-7/8") / 2 = 18, leaving me with 2.5" of margin. 

Because of the geometry, thickness doesn't play a major part in this, but if you're right at the edge with three identical monitors (that will line up nearly perfectly) you might want to leave yourself a bit of extra margin.  Personally I'd say 1/8" is enough.

The screens do rotate, but if you want portrait mode you'll need to keep the arm height tall enough to keep the rotated LCD from hitting your desk.  (Seems duh, I know, but you never know.)

Damaging the rear foot may have been a blessing in disguise, as I ended up removing it completely.  I have a desktop shelf (hutch) behind the stand on my desk, and the rear foot of the Ergotron ended up hitting the post of the shelf unit before I got it into the required position. 

I could have moved the post, but the shelf may have become unstable.  Removing the Ergotron rear support gained me two much-needed inches of depth. 

On removal, it is evident that the rear foot does serve a purpose.  With the monitor stand near or at the tallest position, it is possible for the stand to tip backwards ever so slightly.  The rear foot normally prevents this.  So don't remove it unless you have some kind of other support (like a shelf or wall) behind the Ergotron. 

(Ergotron would undoubtedly frown on this - the rear foot is screwed and glued, and they obviously want it there.  So do this entirely at your own risk.  You can re-attach the foot by re-bolting it on with a little epoxy if it doesn't work out.)

The problem diminishes once the monitors are on the stand, because the LCD weight forces the stand to lean forward on to the big front foot.  But if the arm is set tall it might still happen.

The stand is set pretty tall, and the monitor height ended up being higher than the height I had my desk stands set to.  That may be just me; I'm sure I'll get used to the new setup.  Maybe it'll keep me from slouching quite as much.

In the end, everything lined up quite nicely and tightly - I wouldn't be able to get the monitors any further away without hitting equipment behind them.  I have only two monitors fitted because my new triple-monitor workstation is not here yet, but I'm looking forward to the upgrade.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First impressions of Ergotron LX Triple Monitor Stand

To go with my new workstation I invested in a Ergotron LX Triple Display Stand (#33-296-195).  It seems expensive, but given what you get it really isn't.

I will post some pictures eventually.  To get an idea of the size of this thing, watch the YouTube video here, courtesy of

Obviously it's large, so one significant concern I had was how (or if) it would fit on my desk.  Unless you have a deep 'boss' desk, you might be restricted as to the total depth you have available.

As you can see in promo pictures, the stand has a foot, a post, an arm, and a mount that joins the arm to the post.  In my case, the size and positioning of the mount was important, because I wanted to put a shelf behind the stand.

A few points that may be helpful on this stand:

The stand will need to be about 9-1/2" away from the front edge of your desk, minimum.  Otherwise you won't really have enough space to make a standard keyboard work.

The mount sticks out backwards quite a ways.  However, even at the worst case, the arm mount does not extend beyond the rear edge of the foot.  In other words, the foot of the stand dictates your overall clearance requirement.

The foot is 15.8" (40.2 cm) deep, front to back.

The arm is 45.25" (115 cm) wide and is on an arc.  The arc is 5.5" (14-14.1 cm) deep at the deepest point, measured from the front faces.  Do the geometry yourself if you're curious as to the angle.

At the lowest possible adjustment, the arm is positioned about 11" from the floor, measured to the middle of the arm.  This will be the lowest center point of your monitor.

At the lowest possible adjustment, the mount sticks backwards between 9-1/2" and 12-1/2" from the floor.  In other words, it's 3" tall and centered 11" off of the floor.  This is important to know if you intent to position anything else, like a shelf, behind the stand.  If your shelf is lower than 9", it will not hit the mount, and you get more depth.

Putting the stand against the back wall, and measuring 7" off of the floor, the maximum depth before you hit the post is about 2".  Setting things up so your rear equipment "misses" the mount nets you an additional 2 inches.

I know some of this will be hard to visualize; hopefully the pictures will make it clearer.

I should note that setup for this thing is trivially easy, as it is almost fully assembled.  It needs only 4 screws to put it together.  The post is the heavy item, with an inner core of extruded box steel that must be extremely strong.  This is not a cheap post-and-bolt setup - it looks very high-tech and is very well made.

The spring mechanism has no way of locking it, so you can't pre-position the stand to test fit.  You'll need to add monitors, or some other kind of weight, in order to get the stand to position and stay in place.  Otherwise the arm will simply fly up to the top position and stay there.

You should also know that although the foot is very strong, the rear part of the foot that extends behind the post is not.  It is a separate part that is screwed to the post with two small screws, and is intended only for cable management (according to the manual).  If you lean on the spring-loaded arm to force it down, you may lever the post on to the rear guide and damage it (like I did).

Anyway, in my case, I have to cut my rear shelf down from 14-1/2" to 9-1/2", which looks like it will work out OK.  I won't really know until I get it all set up.

[Edit]:  Pictures available here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

[I, Cringely] - Flea powder may be saving lives in Japan (Repost)

Ever since the nuclear accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station No 1 began, the entire news media has been in an absolute frenzy.

And yet, for all of the improvements in the 'information age' - with updates happening in real time from the far side of the world (to us) - there is so little actual information.  The news sites talk, babble, scream, moan, and publish endless one-liners from so-called "experts" that range between guarded optimism to predictions of total apocalypse.  And yet they say nothing, all the while trying to generate excitement about their meaningless utterings.

The causes are many.  Certainly Tokyo Electric Power has not been saying a whole lot to reporters.  And why should they?  Do they not have enough to do without further goading the media machine?  Like talk to the IAEA, which they can (and should) be doing better?  Or maybe devoting every second of time towards pursuing every possible, potential solution to the crisis facing them?

Coverage at the sites is undoubtedly weak, owing to the massive infrastructure damage from the earthquake and tsunami.  Not to mention the fact that ordinary citizens are hardly likely to be allowed to wander a nuclear plant at will.  The risk of radiation is more than enough to keep nearly everyone at bay in any case.

And not to mention that there is an rather lot of other news to report - an entire country just got pounded, one way or another.  The hardest-hit areas have been surveyed by no one except, perhaps, the Self-Defense Forces and government officials.  And they don't have time to post the videos on YouTube - they have to find roughly 10,000 people that are missing and presumed dead, and provide aid to at least a half-million people that aren't.

Still, in my humble opinion, the best information to date on the Japanese nuclear situation may have been provided by Bob Cringely in his blog entry "Flea powder may be saving lives in Japan" .

Bob, you may be a dipstick sometimes, but not today.

And let's put a few things into perspective, for the record.  Chernobyl was unquestionably the worst nuclear accident in history, and no one would think to question the consequences of that.  But consider this:

  • The Chernobyl reactor was an astonishingly poor design, with no containment structure and an inherently unstable operating mechanism.  
  • It was horribly operated, starting with the decision to operate a reactor that becomes increasingly unstable at lower output at very low output, well beyond the boundaries of safe operating conditions.  
  • Training was bad, critical equipment was faulty or missing, and emergency procedures were absent or completely inadequate.  
  • Finally, the accident itself was covered up, with evacuations not starting until 12 hours afterwards, and then only after protests by foreign governments.
Does this sound at all like the situation in Japan?  Of course not.  Comparisons between the two are ridiculous.  And yet the mass media continues to spew nonsense about a Chernobyl-like disaster.

The contrasts between Chernobyl and and Fukushima Daiichi could not be clearer.  The Japanese reactors are a far, far safer design, and were built and tested to the highest available standards.  They were constructed with safety containment structures in place, and multiple "defense in depth" safety and shutdown strategies.

They have the best possible personnel and safety procedures, refined by 40 years of trade practice, were put into immediate effect.  And the Japanese government instantly deployed equipment from other sites, asked for immediate help from U.S. military assets and immediately took precautions to evacuate potentially affected areas before any real harm had occurred.

The depth of the Japanese determination is also quite clear.  Before anyone even realized it, they took the drastic (and costly) step to write off the reactors and contain them by any means necessary - including pumping damaging seawater into them.  While the true motivations for this will never be known, to my mind, this represents a corporate ethic on the behalf of Tepco that many companies should emulate: namely, placing lives before money.

And don't even mention Three Mile Island.  This was a massive scare, to be sure, and I do not want to belittle the people who had to live every agonizing, uncertain moment of it.  But the ultimate result was zero deaths, zero injuries (or, at least, zero detected injuries).  There was certainly widespread confusion and uncertainty at the time, resulting in resentment, anger, and a massive public outcry, but it was nothing like Chernobyl - a site that had to be sealed up twice, and still has a 30 km exclusion zone around it today.

I am sure it is absolutely no comfort to the survivors and legacy wounded of Chernobyl that their suffering was the alarm bell that the world needed to help ensure nuclear power safety.  And yet, their sacrifices paved the way towards saving other lives in this new situation - not a disaster, but a disaster averted.

Something similar might be said for the earthquake-resistant (not earthquake-proof) design of Japanese construction, in that it undoubtedly saved countless lives.  It is terribly unfortunate that similar measures do not exist to mitigate the power of the ocean, which destroyed huge areas, including at least one small city.