Some Assembly (and/or Compiling) Required: Epson, Linux, and the ongoing quest for Windows 10


Despite being “mostly retired” here at Chaos Central, we are still heavily dependent on our computing resources.  Unfortunately, that also includes having at least one working copy of Microsoft Windows, in addition to a plethora of iOS devices  and the workhorse stable of Linux machines and servers.  Of course, the complete enterprise also includes a collection of paper-handling implements, like printers and scanners.

We’ve had a succession of laser printers since the early 1990s: an HP LaserJet2, replaced after 10 years with a LaserJet 1200, and in this century by a succession of Xerox Color Phaser printers.  The latest, a 6500, is on its 3rd set of cartridges.  A set of four “Genuine Xerox” high-capacity cartridges runs just slightly more than the retail price of a new printer, i.e., about $450.  As semi-retirees, that just won’t quite fit the budget, so we tried a 3rd-party set, priced at under $100, which has resulted in faded, muddy colors, absolutely unusable for business purposes, but more or less OK for printing recipes and mostly black-and white documents.  Lessons learned.

We also have gone through a progression of inkjet printers, mostly HP, a Lexmark or two, all with the same marketing principle: the ink costs more than a new printer.  Nevertheless, we keep feeding cartridges into them until they die or can’t color inside the lines anymore.  We currently have several in that condition: since most printers these days combine the functions of printer with scanner, copier, and FAX machine, we have long since consigned our dedicated scanners and FAX devices to the recycle pile.  We gave up our hard-wired telephone connection several years ago and second phone line with the demise of dial-up Internet access, so FAX, for us, is a relic of the 20th century, but the feature seems to come combined with the scanning function.

We do keep the old partially-broken devices around for scanning, though, and even bought a portable scanner to pack in the “on the road” system.  At the office, we used a Raspberry Pi as a scanner-server, to put one scanner on the network, accessible by other Linux systems.  The last of the inkjet printers failed, and with the laser printer quality not suitable for work, we were in the market for yet another inkjet.  Costco had an Epson multi-function system on sale, so it somehow slipped into our cart when we went shopping for bagels and dates, along with a book or two.

Out of the box, the new printer is our first wireless system, and the first Epson since the pin-feed dot-matrix days in the 1980s.  Setup was fairly straight-forward, and, since we have the Windows system we are trying to upgrade, we set that up first.  Despite taking “nearly forever,” that went fairly smoothly, and printed out a test page, because everything is designed to work with Windows: the install program comes on a CD in the box, after all.  The delays were certainly due to all of the updates being installed, not the least of these was the device driver for the new graphics card we hope will convince Microsoft to send us the Windows 10 update eventually–the upgrade status still says, “buy a new machine.”  We might have to wait another month for the update assessment to rerun and detect the driver and/or hardware–unless it has permanently written off our “new” old machine as hopeless.  But, I digress–back to the issue at hand, installing a new printer…

Linux was another issue:  manufacturers don’t publish drivers on their sites, but, thanks to the Common Unix Printing System (CUPS), used by Apple and all other Unix system vendors, Postscript Printer Description (PPD) files are available for almost every printer immediately after it goes on the market.  CUPS is Open Source, and the PPD files are essentially text files describing the printer features and settings (i.e., the “device driver,” a systems term that means the program or collection of functions that understands how to control the hardware device), so it is easy for Unix/Linux vendors to write their own setup systems, and for anyone familiar with the printer specifications to modify the driver to suit themselves, using setup programs they have written.  Of course, one can also modify the driver directly in a text editor, or via an existing setup program, and there lies the crux of our tale…

When I installed the Linux driver package (which essentially just installs the appropriate CUPS configuration file), the test pages and subsequent printouts were faint, with pale colors and grayed-out text.  Whoa!  I knew immediately that this was a function of the PPD file, because the Windows test page and the self-generated status printouts from the printer were normal, sharp, black on white.  A Google search quickly revealed a partial solution: set the print density to “High,” and gave a step-by-step procedure using the Gnome “system-config-printer” graphical printer administration tool.

On my primary system, I ended up opening the configuration file in a text editor (when you have the Source, use it) and selecting the “Normal” print density, rather than “High,” noting that whoever submitted the PPD file to the CUPS repository had left the print density setting in “Draft,” hence the faded appearance.  One could sympathize with the developer for testing in “Draft” mode to save ink, but the final step should be to reset to “Normal” and retest, as a courtesy to users who are not system developers or administrators, and to the Epson help desk, who won’t have a clue how to solve this problem.  In the Linux help forum article I found, the user had contacted Epson, with the usual ineffective “help” rendered to Linux users, which is usually less useful than the ineffective help rendered to users of closed systems like Windows, iOS, and OS/X–they were told to reinstall the driver, update the driver (i.e., download a fresh copy–of the one you just downloaded), and buy the special Epson paper. None of these “fixes” addressed the underlying problem: the driver default settings were simply not what most people wanted, and the settings were not intuitively obvious, but buried several layers deep in the configuration and used obscure descriptions.  Here’s what the file (the pertinent 9 lines out of 1200, anyway) and the graphical utility look like:

*OpenUI *MediaType/Media Type: PickOne
*OrderDependency: 20 AnySetup *MediaType
*DefaultMediaType: PLAIN_NORMAL
*MediaType PLAIN_HIGH/plain papers-High: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_NORMAL/plain papers-Standard-Vivid: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_DRAFT/plain papers-Standard: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType PLAIN_SUPERDRAFT/plain papers-Draft: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType LETTERHEAD_HIGH/Letterhead-High: "<>setpagedevice"
*MediaType LETTERHEAD_NORMAL/Letterhead-Standard-Vivid: "<>setpagedevice"

The original setting in the /etc/cups/ppd/WF-3640-Series.ppd file was “PLAIN_DRAFT.”

In the Gnome system-config-printer utility, the Media Type is set in the “Printer Options” screen, down in the middle of a menu, between what might be interpreted as “extremely advanced” and “void your warranty.”  Of course, “plain-papers-Standard-Vivid” doesn’t really translate to “NORMAL” in the minds of most users, unless they ignore the “Vivid” and assume “Standard” is what it means.  Programmers don’t often think about what gets presented to the user or how the users will interpret what they present.

system-config-printer "Printer Options" window on Linux Mint 17 MATE desktop
system-config-printer “Printer Options” window on Linux Mint 17 MATE desktop

The next issue is getting the scanner to work on Linux. For this, it appears, even though there is an iscan package available for “Network” connection, the printer/scanner itself does not support this: the device needs to be connected to a computer via the USB connection. Since our now preferred network appliance building tool is the Raspberry Pi computer, and the utilities and drivers are only packaged for RedHat-Fedora-CentOS and Debian-Ubuntu-LinuxMint variants, it is necessary to build the software from source. Of course, in both the binary packages and the source configuration files, some, but not all, the prerequisite packages and libraries are checked in the pre-processing, so the build process is a trial-and-error affair, tracking down and installing missing packages and header files (-dev or -devel packages for the libraries).

So far, an afternoon of trial builds has come up against a brick wall, finally, with at least one more library version to track down.  And, even if it does work, there is no guarantee that the Iscan system plays with the Xsane server software we currently use to provide network scanning services to all the Linux computers from one scanner.  However, the new Epson multi-function machine will scan directly to PDF and write onto a USB drive or SD memory card, which may be a better groupware solution than the user moving back and forth from the scanner to his or her workstation between pages.  The old HP scanner only produced image files (PNG or JPEG), which had to be embedded in a document file using LibreOffice or Scribus to convert to PDF.

So it goes, just another day at Chaos Central.   Always a new way to do old things, and problems to solve just to stay in one place.  After we got back from Idaho last week, the fan on my big laptop wouldn’t spin up, so it shut down from overheating.  I pulled the back off, spun the fan by hand, blew in it to see if it spun easily, wiggled the wires; did this a couple times, and it started working.  Naturally, we had to go out and buy something new to break in…

Tour 2015, Coda II — Wapato Point Transition Time

On the way from Montana to Lake Chelan,, we stopped in North Idaho over Labor Day weekend to visit with a friend who has a vacation house there: no phone service, no internet for the two days, during which we only left the house to walk around the area.  Monday, we traveled west: the GPS took us through the heart of the fire-blackened area east of the Columbia, where we passed a dump area of several hectares covered nearly a meter deep with apples.  At first, we thought these were from the fires, but a local resident told us that the warehouses are emptied of unsold apples from the previous year before this year’s crop is picked.

On the outskirts of Chelan stood the skeletons of several large fruit warehouses that had been directly in the path of the fire storm.  The fire blackened the entire north side of Chelan Butte, except for a few orchards, stark green squares in a field of black, but on closer examination, the outer rows of trees were turning brown.  Miraculously, the blackened areas stop at the edge of the lawns at the edge of town.  I had seen YouTube videos of a converted DC-10
slurry bomber laying a swath of red fire retardant at tree-top height behind the high school on the day the fire came to town.  Along WA 97A west of town, the brush and trees burned right down to the edge of the highway where there are no houses, but where there were houses, the buildings were intact.

Chelan Butte and the south side of the city of Chelan, charred down to the back yards of the homes on the edge of town.

At Manson, our destination, we were greeted by security guards at the entrance, a novelty for us.  We realized that, in the 20+ years we have owned a timeshare here, we have never come during the summer “peak season,” having traded our prime “red” weeks for longer stays elsewhere in the off seasons, or coming only during the winter “red” segment.  This week, with Labor Day at the start, is still classified as “red,” but, arriving on the last day of the holiday weekend, we found our condo complex nearly deserted.  There is no visible smoke in the air, and just a faint odor settled in after sunset, but I think a lot of tourists cancelled when the valley filled with smoke and was bracketed by flame in August.  The still-active fires surrounding the lake have quieted with the cooler weather and early September rain, but flared again with the return of warm weather later in the week.  Businesses have posted signs, “Yes, we are open,” but unless folks like us bother to look at the local conditions on the resort web cams and the wildfire information websites, the general impression is that the entire region is uninhabitable until covered by deep snow (which is a rare phenomena in the west in this century).

But, the emergency was real: locals related to us their days of no power, no phones or Internet, and even the local radio station went off the air during the height of the fire storm.  In Chelan, south-side residents feared for their homes, and say that, if not for the Wolverine Fire that had been burning uplake, from which air support and firefighting equipment was diverted, the entire town may have been lost.

Economically, the entire month of August was a dead loss for most of the residents whose livelihood depends on the short summer tourist season.  Meanwhile, the apple harvest is beginning, and the September tourists are here mostly on weekends.  Tuesday and Wednesday were quiet.

Sunrise at Wapato Point, from the balcony deck in our unit.

The process of downsizing for us includes divesting ourselves of not only the cabin in Montana, but the Lake Chelan timeshare as well: the reputation for summer wildfire and the slow economic recovery in general does not bode well for attracting buyers for resort property.  Right now, dozens of segments in our complex are for sale for less than the real estate fees, but still go unsold for years.  In many cases, the owners abandon the property, defaulting on the homeowner association fees, raising fees for everyone else, which makes the property even less attractive at any price.

We first came to Lake Chelan together in 1984, taking the Lady of the Lake ferry 90 km up the lake to Stehekin for a backpacking trip into the wilderness.  In 1989, we returned, taking our Santana tandem bike on the boat to Stehekin, staying at the horse ranch resort in a tent cabin and riding the road up the river nearly to the pass.  Naturally, the area was attractive to us as a vacation destination.

We have owned our timeshare unit at Wapato Point Resort since the early 1990s, when we thought it was a good idea to have our vacations scheduled for us, and thought that it would offer us cheap vacations in retirement if we owned a timeshare segment. Very soon, it became obvious that our schedules simply didn’t support that concept–we had to exchange weeks at least once during the Chapman University years, when my teaching schedule didn’t fit with our assigned week.  Our family obligations required us to take vacation to travel to them, so we spent some of our resort time as a non-vacation, telecommuting, a technically difficult feat when we had to make long-distance calls through the resort switchboard and then connect our modem before the answering computer aborted the connection. We brought FAX machines, when corporations didn’t yet have Internet email.  We brought sewing machines and looms, as those hobbies fit us better than water sports or fine dining.   We brought our bicycle several times and went riding in the hilly orchard and lake country around Manson, or ventured 20 km down the lake to Chelan.  Other times, we simply had to skip our vacation week, trying to rent the unit, or at least come for the weekend.  Having a Sunday-to-Sunday check-in week meant taking a Friday off at least to get more than a night in.

By 2000, we were able to “bank” our time with RCI (Resort Condominiums International) and use it to visit other resorts at our convenience.  However, even that didn’t always work out for us: we ended up skipping enough years while switching jobs so that our banked time was in danger of expiring.  For most of the 2000s, our vacations were primarily planned to consume “use or lose” time, with a 2-year limit on banked time.  Converting from a full-week schedule to “points,” that we could use to buy partial weeks helped, but each trip to a participating resort cost an exchange fee, plus annual membership in RCI.  Increasing maintenance fees from the homeowners association meant that the per-night cost of condominium vacations, ownership not withstanding, started to rise beyond our retirement budget.

We decided to sell our condo, but the economics of timeshare resale effectively lost the original investment in the condo unit, as prospective owners realized that the premise of economical luxury was a myth.  Meanwhile, we had become convinced that the “point” system and the “vacation club” model (for which we had purchased a partial share not long after we discovered the rotating week model wasn’t working well for us) was viable, as we could schedule off-season partial weeks to maximize the number of nights we could stay on our small share.  However, the value of those points in the shares continued to decline as demand increased the “price” of a night on one of the club’s properties, so that we were essentially forced to buy more points to be able to use what we had.  Of course, the vacation club also comes with annual maintenance fees, so with two plans, it is difficult to budget trips that don’t involve staying at one of the member resorts.

Selling the traditional timeshare means one less expense for our heirs to manage after we are gone, and less complication in liquidating our estate, since the timeshare comes with a deed to a share in the property.  Meanwhile, until the timeshare sells, we will continue to visit Chelan and Manson at the appointed times.  Next year, we have assigned weeks the first week in February and mid-October, which are more desirable for us than the summer season.  We’ve talked about going back to Stehekin someday, perhaps another bicycle expedition with camping, and, our other vacation club has a resort in downtown Chelan if we choose to vacation at the bottom end of the lake.

Tour 2015, Coda 1: Farewell, Tiny House in the Big Sky

Christmas, 2000. Earlier that year, we had replaced the front door with a half-light model. We stayed over the long holiday weekend, snowshoeing from the road, having dug into the snow berm far enough to get the car off the road.

When we listed our cabin for sale during our return trip from Grand Tour 2015, we expected a long wait, and planned to return in September to continue maintenance and upgrades to make it more “move-in ready,” if you can say that about a shelter with no running water and minimal solar/battery power.  To our surprise, there was a lot of activity, probably due to the amateur photo spread we produced to focus on the cabin more than the land.  In August, we got an offer, and negotiated a settlement that satisfied all concerned.

At the end of June, 2015, we retrieved most of our personal things, leaving the cabin fully furnished, and listed the property for sale.

The buyers are a young couple with a small child and horses, who intend to follow our dream of expanding the cabin into a proper starter house and future guest cottage while they build something more conventional.  Meanwhile, they have a place for their horses .and a “camp” that might see them into winter, with a few upgrades.

A new generation moves in, to finish the dream we started.

So, we went to Montana a bit early, to do a final walk-through and sign papers, before heading to a planned week’s retreat at Lake Chelan.  Again, we had planned that part of the trip to do some bicycling around the orchards and vinyards near Manson, but the still-active wildfires on both sides of the lake portended a smoky week, so we left the bicycle at home.  When we left, to visit a friend in North Idaho, taking a seldom-used route up the west side of Flathead Lake and west to Hot Springs, following MT 200 from Plains to the Idaho border, we left Montana for the first time in 21 years without a place of our own to go back to.  Truly, the end of an era, and the longest period of time either of us have owned property.

We left behind a lot of memories, the cabin evolving from a bare shell where we slept on an air mattress and cooked on a camp stove and lit the night with candles and oil lamps to a cozy little home with sheet-rocked walls and a real bed and solar battery-powered lights.  Our connection with the outside world advanced from trying to tune in Montana Public Radio through fading signals alternately from Missoula or Kalispell on a hand-crank-powered radio to a clear signal from the new Polson transmitter on an inverter-powered receiver.  But, even though the cabin was still unfinished (taping and spackling the sheet rock would require removing furniture and collecting enough water to clean up the dust), it would need even more maintenance, as would the two hectares surrounding it.  We simply no longer had the time and ability to keep up with it from 900 km away.  We’ll be back to Montana (this time, in only a week), with connections in Polson, Missoula, and Hamilton, but as temporary visitors.


Warm Showers, 2015 season (December 2014 – August 2015)

We’ve been members of Warm Showers, the bicycle touring hospitality network, since the spring of 2011, and have, to date, hosted 104 bicycle travelers, including a baby, two toddlers, and a dog, despite being on travel, recuperating from surgery, or remodeling the “warm shower” (bathroom) for weeks and months at a time over the years.  As the only hosts in this area reasonably close to the route that almost all cyclists traveling the north-south Pacific Coast take through Washington State, we get a lot of requests during the prime touring season.  We’re about one day out of Seattle, and two days out of Port Townsend or Port Angeles, the most common entry points to the Olympic Peninsula, and at the convergence of all the alternative routes from those points, not only for the Pacific Coast Route but also the Seattle Connector on the new Adventure Cycling Washington Parks loop around the Olympic Peninsula.

We do see a lot of other tourists passing through, those who don’t use Warm Showers and stay in local motels or whose daily mileage is more in the 75-100 mile range rather than the 75-100 km range, so they end up at one of the state parks to the north: Potlatch, Twanoh, or Belfair, at the end of a long day, or who ride on from further north to Olympia or Elma (where there is a popular hostel).  We occasionally get a call for advice or assistance from some of the mid-day transiting riders who find us in the Warm Showers directory.

We’re closing out our season summary at the start of Fall, even though we do often get guests through October, as we are starting on our fall travel season and will be in and out over the next few months and won’t be able to host tourists most of September,  October, and December. The 2015 season actually started in December 2014, when we put ourselves back on the “receiving guests” list after my recuperation from surgery, in order to appear on the roster for those who plan tours well in advance.  Almost immediately, we got a call from Eric, who was 15,000 km into an “Epic Tour” around the country, and who had encountered wind, rain, and the steep hills of South Kitsap County and had to be rescued from the storm just north of Purdy, 60 km northeast of Shelton, far short of his intended goal for the day, Olympia, 30 km past us.


We sent him on his way the next day, a bit drier, but still facing hundreds of kilometers of wet Northwest winter riding before reaching the warmer, drier climes of the northern California Coast. He eventually made his way to Moab, Utah, where he found work in a bike shop while preparing for the 4500-km Great Divide Mountain Bike Race this summer. We stopped by the shop on our own “Auto Tour 2015” to wish him well, just before the race. He finished, after– to borrow from the Cascade Bicycle Club brochure for my 1983 Seattle-to-Portland one-day double century ride–“a grueling test of endurance for those who have properly prepared themselves,” but nearly a month after the seasoned veterans and past champions (but not dead last), an adventure that included sore knees, broken bike, and funding issues as the ride stretched into July.

Needless to say, off-road endurance mountain bike racing is a bit different than road touring.   Experience is the best training–for next time, as it was for my one endurance attempt 32 years ago, noted above, coming in 750th out of a field of just under 1000, at one-and-a-half times longer than the race leaders (a tandem team, the U.S. women’s racing champions) and nearly three hours off the average time for the rest of us.  And, finishing counts, big time.  So does getting back on after a setback.  Our own personal comeback this year was reaching the 500-km mark for this season, the year after cardiac bypass surgery, in a couple dozen short rides of 15-40km.  We remain inspired and encouraged by our Warm Showers guests in their quest for adventure, whether it is qualifying for a criterium at 50, a four-day, 300km trial run, or a multi-year 20,000 km journey across continents.

In early spring, we got our next guests, Josh and Ganbold, Masters class bike racers from Seattle, who were participating in a criterium in Shelton the next day. Their lodging plans had gone awry, so we bent the rules a bit to help them out: they arrived by auto, with bikes in the back. OK, they had bikes, and they did ride the next day, so it worked out.


Ganbold was Mongolian National Champion, “back in the day,” and had his 15 minutes of fame on the podium (2nd place) of the Pan-Asian games in India in the 1980s, when we were all younger and rode faster and more furiously. Well, the racers are still a lot younger than us, and we may slow with age, but it hasn’t stopped us, yet, either.

We went off on our own epic 13,500 km auto tour (plus 288 km by bike) in May and June. The “season” caught up with us in mid-July, with back-to-back Warm Showers guests three days one week, then the usual once-or-twice-a-week flow, all north to south so far, some coming via Victoria and Port Angeles, some through Whidbey and Port Townsend, some from Seattle. Guests came from Australia, France, Canada, Texas, Alaska, Scotland, and Seattle.  The summer guests are shown below, in no particular order.  Bryce and Reynaldo, traveling separately, met on the road in Belfair, and arrived together, their routes diverging again at Olympia the next day.  That’s the second time that’s happened.

Albert cooked for us.
Ben and Naomi, from Sydney, Australia, are headed for Bolivia.
Benoit, from France, with his efficient one-wheel trailer. With his light rig, he could have gone farther, but Reynaldo, his Seattle host, insisted he must stay with us.
Cam and Brooke, from Brisbane, Australia, started their tour in Kelowna, BC, where Brooke has relatives. We had to leave early in the morning, so missed the usual departure photo with bicycles. Brooke was having knee problems, so took advantage of the inter-county bus routes from Port Townsend to Olympia to gain a few rest days while keeping on schedule, and Cam continued to ride.
John started in Alaska and is headed for South America, traveling very light with sleeping bag, tarp, “Bear Vault” food locker, and a few tools and clothing items, no electronics.
Michel and Mark, from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a short summer tour, Vancouver to San Francisco. Again, we had to leave early, so caught them before they loaded up their bikes with considerably more gear.
Stefan is from Texas, and rode the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail from New Mexico to Montana before heading west and now south. The Salsa line of bikes is to bikepacking as Surly is to road touring.
Zach and Angela, from Seattle, are on a short tour to Portland, for Angela’s first multi-day tour.
Reynaldo has been a popular Warm Showers host in Seattle for the past few years, and is now headed out on an extended tour that will take him to South America.

Reynaldo likes to help out with chores to thank his hosts, so we enlisted him and Bryce to help move our heavy Leclerc Artisat countermarch floor loom from the 2nd floor studio to the basement weaving studio.

Bryce is on a circumnavigation of the continental U.S., having completed the Virginia-Maine-Washington half of the circuit, with detours around wildfires in the upper Northwest.
Peter and Yolanda, from Scotland, on a Vancouver to San Francisco tour, our 4th tandem to visit.

Like recumbent riders Steve and Gordon a couple of years ago, the steep grade of East Trails Road  between WA 106 and Mason Lake Road was too intimidating for slow climbers like tandems and recumbents, so Peter and Yolanda continued along the scenic South Shore Drive to US 101, stopping at Hunter Farms at the Purdy cutoff junction for ice cream. In honor of their foggy and rainy homeland, the famous Pacific Northwest rains returned this week as they passed through.