Monday, October 31, 2016

Flush Failure

I recently started exploring the idea that my kids might be budding water conservationists. The basis for this concept is the frequency with which they fail to flush the toilet following its use. I mean, you feel the urge, walk into an unoccupied bathroom, lift the lid of the porcelain throne, and BAM! Log jam right in front of your face!

It didn’t take long for me to reject my initial hypothesis that my kids were mainly trying to save water when they didn’t flush. This became apparent from the long showers that they regularly take. We even installed a digital clock and a separate timer in the downstairs shower. But this hasn’t seemed to reduce shower length.

If my kids really were interested in saving water they’d do what water saving extremists do. These people turn on the water long enough to get wet. Then they stand there shivering wet and naked while they lather up. Then they turn on the water long enough to rinse off, and they’re done. No luxuriating in the pleasantly warm water splashing down from above for these masochists. It’s hard for me to see the value in this practice, since only 4% of all water use in Utah occurs inside homes. If we all did what these self-torturers do the statistical reduction in water usage would be practically zero.

Since my kids aren’t trying to save water, I had to come up with a different hypothesis. Flush toilets have only been common for a few generations now. For millennia prior to that humans had nothing to flush. Every spring Ma would walk into the house after visiting the shanty out back and say, “Pa, it’s time to dig a new hole and move the outhouse. I’m afraid the pile is about to touch my behind.”

It seems like every time I read something about human behavior, there’s some muckety-muck blathering on about how we do thus-and-such because we were initially grunting hunters and gatherers, and that evolution hasn’t caught up to modernity. Thus, we’re not well evolved to sit at desks, drink milk, eat grain (as in the form of donuts), recognize reality, sit on toilets, etc.

Quite frankly, I think that most of these people are full of crap. They’re just making up stuff that can’t be tested in any real way, just to make themselves look all smarty pants. I think the evidence shows that humans are far more adaptable than these self-important gurus of guessed-at-and-mostly-made-up prehistory and human development suggest.

But if they are right, maybe the development of the flush toilet occurred such a short time ago on the evolutionary scale that my children simply haven’t evolved enough to press down that little lever on the side of the toilet tank with the kind of regularity that I think it ought to happen. But if that’s the case, how in the world are they able to operate their smart phones? Those devices seem somewhat more complex than a toilet handle.

Of course, there could be other mechanisms at play that I haven’t yet explored. Take for example the fact that, despite how seldom the other people living in my house flush the toilet after using it, the frequency with which they find it absolutely necessary to do so spikes dramatically when I am in the shower. When that happens I try to remind myself as I react to the rapidly changing water temperature (by screaming like a little girl) that I should be grateful that someone has actually flushed a toilet.

One economist says that toilets are the greatest life saving invention of all time. Professor Toilet says that “the advent of the toilet has saved more lives … than seat belts, vaccinations or any medical device….” So the next time you feel compelled to grovel at the feet of some great doctor for preserving life, maybe you should praise a plumber instead.

As I have pondered a possible solution to the lack of appropriate toilet flushing in our home, I have considered several solutions. On a recent trip to the commode aisle of a hardware store, I noted that it was possible to buy a see-through toilet seat. This would allow people to see whether the bowl had been flushed even after closing the lid. But somehow I doubt this would help someone who seems to have a cognitive disconnect between, “Hey, I just finished using the toilet” and “Maybe I should push that little lever on the tank.”

We are all familiar nowadays with self flushing toilets that use a sensor to determine when it’s time to flush. But those are mostly made for commercial grade systems that are far more expensive than most of us are willing to spend on our home toilets. Besides, have you ever been seated on one of those things when it suddenly decides to automatically flush? Let’s just say that I hope they don’t model self-driving cars on that technology.

My wife and I are at the point where we can envision a future of being empty nesters down the road a few years. I often hear people say that after your kids are gone you’ll miss the dumb things they used to do. I’m sure that’s true. But somehow I doubt that flush failure will be among those endearing charms.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chrome was crashing every time I signed in — Here's how I fixed it

I have used Google Chrome as my main browser for a number of years. I usually have one or two other browsers on that machines I use. One of my favorites is Waterfox, which is a pure 64-bit version of Firefox.

One of the things that I like most about Chrome is probably the main reason many privacy and security advocates avoid it. When you sign in with your Google account, you get the same Chrome experience no matter what machine you are using. While you can choose which features to synchronize via advanced settings (including synchronizing nothing), the default is to synchronize everything. Your browsing history, saved data, bookmarks, etc. are all available, regardless of which machine you are using.

After using Chrome relatively trouble free for years, I ran into a problem a couple of months ago where Chrome threw an error each time I tried to access a secure site. I spent a lot of time researching the SSL error. Many potential solutions are available, each with people reporting that the method had fixed the problem for them. Alas, none of them worked for me, except for the suggestion to install Chrome Canary, the perpetually experimental version of Chrome, instead.

After installing Chrome Canary, I once again had a placid coexistence with the browser until a few days ago. Suddenly Chrome began crashing shortly after starting up. I again spent a great deal of time researching the problem and trying a variety of solutions, none of which worked for me.

It seems like the main culprit for this kind of problem is a corrupt extension that has been added to Chrome. The general suggestion is to disable your extensions one by one until Chrome works. But how do you disable an extension in Chrome when you can't keep Chrome open for more than a few seconds?

I finally determined to take the nuclear approach, which was to uninstall Chrome, deleting all of the browsing data. In Windows 10 you do that by going to Settings->System->Apps & Features->Google Chrome and clicking the Uninstall button. Answer Yes when asked if you want to make the changes. Then an uninstall dialog box will appear. Check the "Also delete your browsing data" option and click Uninstall.

But reinstalling Chrome at this point produced the same problem for me. No amount of uninstalling, rebooting, and reinstalling helped. (I tried it about 10 times.) I finally found an obscure thread where a guy said that uninstalling and deleting all browsing data does not completely remove Chrome data. The extensions are still on your machine. They have to be removed from User Data.

It turns out that this presented a challenge. I opened Windows Explorer, typed in %LocalAppData%\Google, as directed. But when I tired to delete the Chrome directory, many subfolders and files remained. When I tried deleting any of them I was told I didn't have permissions to perform that action. What was more frustrating was that it said that I needed permission from ... me, the user that was currently logged in. By going to properties on any of these folders I could see that I owned them and that I had full rights. So why couldn't I delete the files? It didn't make sense.

It took a while to figure this out. After trying to fix permissions on all subdirectories simultaneously didn't work, I ended up going to the remaining folders one by one and performing the following actions:
  • Right click to bring up the context menu.
  • Properties->Security tab->Advanced button.
  • In the Advanced Security Settings window I could see three different listings for me (my user) in the Permission entries list. Two of them showed Allow in the Type column, but one showed Deny in that column.
  • Double-click on the Deny record to open the Permission Entry window for the folder/file.
  • Click on the Type drop down and select Deny. The funny thing was that this record had full Allow permission but also had every box checked under the Deny type.
  • Click on Show Advanced Permissions to expand permissions list.
  • Uncheck all Deny permissions.
  • OK to close Permission Entry window.
  • OK to close Advanced Security Settings window.
  • OK to close Properties.
  • Delete folder.
  • Answer yes to prompt.
Once all folders under Chrome had been successfully deleted I then emptied the recycle bin. On this site I found a reference saying, "Open the Registry Editor by pressing the Windows Key + R type regedit and click OK. Locate; HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google and delete it by right clicking it and selecting delete."

To be safe, I opened Chrome on a different computer, signed into my account, went to Settings and then Extensions, and disabled all extensions by unchecking the check boxes (see Manage Extensions). I read on one feed that the Trusteer Rapport extension had caused some problems. I followed the instructions and uninstalled the Trusteer Rapport software from my machine, knowing that it would otherwise automatically install and enable the related extension upon reinstalling Chrome.

After rebooting, I again installed Chrome. I signed in and held my breath. I waited one minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Nothing happened. Chrome just sat there without shutting down. I went to Settings and then Extensions and checked the various checkboxes to re-enable my extensions. I shut down and reopened Chrome and waited. Nothing.

Then I started using Chrome as usual. Everything worked fine. And Chrome has worked well since then.

If your Chrome browser is crashing seconds after you open it, you might consider following the steps I followed to fix this frustrating problem. I can't guarantee that it will work for you as it did for me. But it's worth a try.

Friday, October 07, 2016

LDS Scouting: Maybe it's not really mediocre; just different

I felt like a fly on the wall as I sat on the back row of a room where members of LDS stake presidencies and leaders of a BSA district were seated around a large table. It seemed almost comical to me that without assigned seating, the Scouting leaders ended up in one contiguous group with the church leaders in another. From the start it felt somewhat like an us-vs-them situation.

For the most part, the group worked collaboratively and effectively on a variety of issues. But I sensed a somewhat adversarial undertone that didn't start with that meeting. I have seen it often in interactions between representatives of the LDS Church and the BSA that I have witnessed throughout my adult life.

While working on a particular issue, members of both parties voiced frustrations. These sentiments weren't especially aimed at members of the other group, but it was plain to see that the two groups had fundamental differences in how they viewed the issues.

While many different things were said, I think they can all be effectively boiled down to the following exchange:
Churchmen: The BSA program is impossible to fully implement in our Church units.
Scouters: It would be far easier if people holding Scouting callings would just follow the program that has been prepared instead of trying to do their own thing.
Churchmen: The program is so complex that it requires professional level training. That's not realistic for most laymen. Many parts of the program aren't relevant to our youth today.
Scouters: That's because you aren't doing it right.
This is a gross simplification. But it's fairly representative of the same attitudes that I have seen on display for decades.

I want to stress that both groups of people were earnest and were deeply interested in helping young men. Many of the Scouters present had held leadership positions in the Church. Many of the church leaders present had been Philmont and Wood Badge trained in Scouting and felt like they were doing their level best to implement the Scouting program. But both groups felt frustrated that they were falling short of what they should be accomplishing.

The meeting was overseen by a stake president who had only recently been assigned to lead the group. He came across as a sage, demonstrating equanimity and deep interest throughout the meeting. He did an excellent job of summarizing the sentiments expressed and said that he needed to ponder and pray about some of the issues.

Several times during the meeting, this stake president reminded the group that the LDS Church's main purpose in sponsoring Scouting is to bring young men to Christ and to fulfill the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Since this aim differs to one degree or another from the aims of other Scouting sponsors, it should not be surprising that implementation of Scouting in LDS units differs from the way other groups implement the program.

Other thoughts expressed by the stake president included:
  • Local church leaders obviously feel that the Scouting program is too complex. Referring to a remark by another stake leader, who had said that his stake simply opted out of Varsity Scouting and Venturing, the stake president said that the choice should never be between perfection and not doing the program at all. Nor is it right to feel perpetual guilt about falling short of the ideal (which seemed to be the approach taken by most church leaders present). Rather, simplification is the answer.
  • The Church sponsors the BSA, not the other way around. The Church has ensured that the BSA offers broad flexibility in program implementation to meet the needs of the sponsor. Although the stake president didn't say it out loud, I sensed a gentle suggestion that died-in-the-wool Scouters should back off from their accusations of "not doing it right" when local leaders customize their program approaches.
  • While we will always speak about and desire the ideal, it is imperative to deal with realities. The reality is that all the haranguing in the world isn't going to get local Church members that are called to Scouting positions to become fully trained or to implement the program in an ideal fashion. A few will. But experience shows that most will not. After all, they have lives to live. (See my 10/2007 and 6/2009 posts on mediocre LDS Scouting.)
  • With Church aims in mind, and given the reality of limited resources, it is imperative to evaluate what Scouting has to offer and to implement those features that are most likely to achieve Church goals. Scouting has developed a strong culture with many traditions. Traditions that strongly support Church aims should be employed; others should receive diminished emphasis or should be dropped.
I was in attendance at the meeting as an Order of the Arrow adviser. It became clear during the meeting that few of those present had any understanding of what the OA was useful for. They all seemed to have a general understanding that it is a service organization. But so what? Church youth do service projects all the time. And after all, isn't that whole Native American re-enactment thing kind of, you know, not cool nowadays? And how does anybody get into that organization anyway? Mind you, some of the men saying these things had been members of the OA as youth.

In other words, it quickly became clear to me that the OA is likely one of those Scouting traditions that doesn't make the cut in the minds of local LDS Church leaders. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with my position anyway. I'd have more free time and less stress if I didn't have to do it. But I do it because of the good the OA did for me when I was a youth, in the hope that it might help another young man trying to find his way in life.

As the meeting concluded, I got the distinct feeling that pretty much everyone in the room was glad it was over. Since I have spent years hanging out with strong Scouters, I know that the "the Church is doing Scouting wrong" sentiment is alive and well among that group. I implore my fellow Scouters to follow President Uchtdorf's advice when it comes to judging others: "Stop it!" It's not helpful, it doesn't improve the Scouting program, and most significantly, it doesn't improve boys. The divine attribute of mercy is much more likely to further these goals.

Most of the church leaders present are doing their best. But Scouting isn't their only focus. Each has many other responsibilities. Most really are trying. And most have also been doing so under the constant weight of guilt that Scouting in their stakes isn't up to snuff. I would admonish these brethren to follow the counsel of the stake president provided at that meeting. Simplify. Do what you can and do it joyfully without guilt. Also realize that you need strong Scouters to support the program. Although they may bug you at times and you might not think you need them, you actually can't run much of a Scouting program without them.

For better or for worse (depending on your viewpoint), the LDS Church and the BSA are partnering for the foreseeable future. Young Men General President Stephen W. Owen recently told a group that the Church is "all in" when it comes to Scouting. Local Church leaders and Scouters need to work collaboratively to help LDS young men come to Christ, achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood, and achieve the character building aims of Scouting. Balkanizing into different camps won't do that. Loving collaboration will. Let's get to it.