Here’s to Your Health

After retiring my mother became an avid quilter. She made quilts for my sister and I, and then for our children. She had already begun to have symptoms of Alzheimer’s when she started the quilt for our second granddaughter. It was extremely difficult for her, and took much longer than usual to finish. The final result was heart-breaking. Mom had always been very precise, quilting by hand. This quilt combined many different types of fabric, including drapery and upholstery fabric along with the quilting cottons. Some of the seams were open, and coming apart. It was clear how much she’d lost. Our daughter-in-law still treasures the quilt, of course, but it’s too fragile to ever use.

We all know someone with Alzheimer’s, be it family or friends. It’s a terrible disease, one by which the patient actually dies twice: first by losing recognition of those they’ve known forever, and finally succumbing to the inevitable end. With my mother having had it, the odds of me getting it as well are 85% higher. Recently health care professionals have started calling Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes”, due to the fact that Type 2 Diabetes often leads to it. It’s become an epidemic and the costs are astounding.

From 18 months to six years old I was always sick, due to chronic spring and fall allergies. With a persistent sore throat I ate very little, and was consequently skinny. At the age of six my tonsils were removed and I began eating and putting on weight. The bad part about that is that I never stopped putting on weight. By the time our first son was born I was in the range of morbidly obese. I never “grew out” of the allergies, they just got worse. Trying to keep my weight to the point that I could buy clothes off the rack was a constant battle.

Mom’s decline motivated me to do something, and retirement gave me the time. We started walking, every day, rain or shine. Soon I was fit – and fat. Regardless of what the TV shows would suggest, you don’t lose weight through exercise. We tried various diets, losing on some. Becoming vegetarian didn’t really help. Fasting one day a week also did not accomplish much. Allergies were still a problem, and my overall health was poor.

It probably is no surprise that I spend a lot of time on the Internet. That’s how I happened to stumble across Mark’s Daily Apple, a website maintained by Mark Sisson. He advocates the “Primal” approach to eating, which is centered around eliminating grains and most sugar. This is not a diet, per se, as much as a lifestyle. It’s a modified form of what is popularly known as “Paleo” eating. Within a few weeks I started losing weight, eventually getting back to my weight at age 21. My health got better, but was not perfect. Allergies were easier to manage, but I still had the usual “old people” problems.

While I stopped eating sugar, either directly or in packaged food, I continued to indulge in fruit – heavily. The weight loss stopped. Some of my old health issues returned. At that point my doctor still classified me as “one of her healthy ones”, but I didn’t feel like I was where I should be. About that time Mark and his associate Brad Kearns released The Keto Reset Diet, building on the original Primal lifestyle. It’s based on the way that our ancestors ate, long before they started farming. I decided to give it a shot.

After six months on Keto I have lost 30 pounds and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is officially normal, for the first time in my adult life. But that’s not the real bonus. One by one my health problems have disappeared. After suffering with allergy for 68 years, I am no longer bothered by the spring pollen. Fall symptoms would normally be starting now, but this year they are not. Virtually every aspect of my life is better. Worldwide there is a growing community of people who have adopted the Keto lifestyle and they are having the same dramatic results. A documentary called The Magic Pill, currently showing on Netflix, illustrates the huge difference Keto has made for an autistic child and a senior diabetic.

So why I am I blogging about this here? At virtually every quilt show I have ever attended, the aisles are often blocked by scooters, used by people whose health problems are so bad that they are unable to walk very far without assistance. The majority of those who can walk are clearly overweight. I’m sure most of you have seen this at the shows you have attended. More than a few of these folks are going to wind up like my Mom, no longer able to do the quilting that they love. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our health care system is built on treating symptoms of disease, rather than preventing it. Selling prescriptions is profitable, teaching people how to avoid getting sick not nearly so much.

If you have stayed with me to this point, I hope that this information will help you or someone you love. I don’t know whether my experience will result in my having a longer life, but it will definitely be a better one. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.

Dealer Relationship Survey

To get a better idea about the state of dealer-customer relations I have created a short survey. Note that this survey does use cookies (small files stored on your computer), not for tracking, but to keep your place in class you leave the survey and come back to it later. No information is being collected from you, other than what is related to this survey, and results do not include any personal information about you or your dealer.

I will publish the results by the end of the month. This will help me focus on topics that will be of interest to the sewing community in general.

Are you part of a hacker network?

These days it seems like everything is connected to the Internet. Door bells, cameras, and even coffee pots are part of the “Internet of Things”, a vast array of devices that have WiFi capability. Unfortunately, like most things on the Internet, there is a dark side. The majority of these devices are made in China, and other parts of Asia, to keep them cheap. In many cases no thought is given to security and often the same password is used on all the products from a given company.

We all hate passwords. To be secure they need to be nearly impossible to remember, and it’s almost required to have a different password for each location. When you unpack a product that has the password printed in the instructions, it’s very tempting to plug it in and go, leaving that password in place. Hackers love that. If your network is not fully secured, and most are not, they can search for cameras, baby monitors, and other connected devices. Using the default password they can connect to these devices and change the software inside that makes them work. This gives them full control without you knowing a thing about it.

Sometimes they use this control to capture data. There has been at least one camera manufacture that was found to be uploading every image their cameras captured to a central server, all without asking for permission. Baby monitors are very popular for capturing conversations in the home where they are installed. That camera installed in your computer may be watching you! Some people keep a Post-it stuck over the camera lens when they are not actively using it. Even so-called “smart” TVs are getting into the act. Some track the programs watched and sell the information, and some can actually be hacked to spy on you.

Invasion of privacy is only one problem, though. A far more widespread use of hacked devices is to make them part of a huge network of robots. These “bot” networks are huge, comprised of hundreds of thousands of devices. The hackers that control them can use them to attack websites, crack passwords, or even “mine” cryptocurrency like BitCoin. The owners are unaware that they are unwittingly aiding criminal acts. Has your network been getting slower since you installed those security cameras? Does it take a long time to connect to websites? Your bandwidth may be going to the botnet.

The obvious solution is to simply unplug the devices, reset them to factory state, and start over. If you don’t immediately change the password, though, they will be reinfected quickly. One of the main jobs assigned to bots is to actively search for other devices to infect, so in just a few minutes a device will be compromised again. Changing the password to something different from the default is one way to avoid that. A firewall is also helpful. Most computers have a firewall installed by default, but all of the connected devices are outside the firewall, which makes them vulnerable. Installing a firewall at the router is well beyond the scope of this post. Consult the family or neighborhood I.T. professional for help with that. Before buying a new connected device, do a search of the brand and model to see if it has a history of being hacked. If you don’t need a device to be connected to your network, don’t give it access by entering the WiFi information.

The Internet has given us many benefits, but we should heed Sgt. Phil Esterhaus’ words:

Updated Video

The Stitch Composer video in the My 15000 app has been updated to reflect the changes made in the Quilt Maker upgrade. These changes are all cosmetic. Basic functionality of the program is unchanged. Here is a summary of what was changed:

  • The simulated stitch function has been moved from the View tab to a new tab labeled SimulationAll the buttons still work the same way.
  • A new button labeled Highlight has been added to the right of the Point/Move button. When stitches are selected in the Stitch List, tapping this button will show the selected stitches as red circles. Tapping it a second time turns it off.
  • The Finish button has been relabeled as Lock Stitch. It works exactly the same, just with a new name. Note that even though a lock stitch is required to end a composed stitch, it not be done when the custom stitch is used in combination with other decorative stitches. Only the last stitch in the combination will be locked.

Perspectives: Dealers

My wife, Diane, was a Janome sewing machine dealer for 25 years. For 20 of those years I worked with her in various capacities. That’s given me a view of both sides of the dealer-customer relationship. This post is the first of a series examining that relationship with insights from my point of view.

In the beginning the dealer and prospective customer have different goals. The customer wants the best possible value for her money, while the dealer wants to make a sale with enough profit to sustain the business. Obviously the best outcome is when both parties feel that they have achieved their goal. Unfortunately it doesn’t always end that way.

Some buyers have no local dealer, having to travel a great distance just to find any dealer. Most commonly this is due to the buyer’s city being too small to support a dealer of a specialized product like a sewing machine. In the US many small towns have lost all small retail businesses once Walmart moves in. That’s one of the hidden costs of those “always low” prices.

A buyer that has to travel a long way is at a great disadvantage, because the dealer knows they are unlikely to get any repeat business from the sale. There is no incentive to offer any discount or other consideration. After sale support will also be problematic, so the best a buyer can usually hope for is a great price. There are exceptions to this, and some dealers go the extra mile for service for remote customers. However training is often unavailable.

The dealer situation in or near large cities is much different. Competition is intense and there are different ways of dealing with it. For the buyer it often comes down to simply looking for the lowest price. This is a mistake, as the lowest price is rarely the least expensive. To counter this, dealers will agree to either not quote prices over the phone, or to quote only manufacturer suggested prices, thus putting them all on a level playing field. The intent is to force customers to go to each local dealer to get their “best” price, with the goal of making that process too time-consuming and onerous, so the customer will just settle for whichever dealer is closest.

From the dealer’s standpoint, this is risky. They are engaging in a “race to the bottom”. As Seth Godin tells us, the problem with being in a race to the bottom is that you might win. Or worse, come in second. At the time of the purchase the customer is happy with the low price. Disillusionment soon follows. One remorseful lady who came to our store had bought her machine from an “always lowest price” dealer. When she wanted to know how a particular machine function worked, she was told “It comes with a book. Read it!”

Selling only on price is at once easy and very difficult. The easy part is that the dealer is essentially engaged in a reverse auction, bidding less and less until the deal is sealed. But expenses like rent and salaries are fixed and must be paid in a timely fashion. The only way to pay them is from the profit gained between the difference in selling price and machine cost. Some dealers counter this by putting no prices at all on machines in the store. A potential customer is sized up, and a price is offered that may be even higher than the manufacturer’s suggested price. If resistance is met, then the negotiation begins to find the price the customer is willing to pay, but lacking that, the customer may unwittingly subsidize the low prices that others have paid.

After the sale comes the reckoning. Dealers who sell solely on price will almost never have any sort of training or help after the sale. The machines of today are much more complex than those of a few decades ago. Staying abreast of them requires dealers to invest time and money to attend training from manufacturers. That can’t be done if the goal is to always get the sale by lowering the price.

When shopping for a new machine price will always be a consideration, but that should not be the highest priority. Evaluate the dealership first. Look at their class schedule. If there is no class schedule that’s a red flag. Ask friends in your sewing club for their recommendations and experiences. Look around the store. What is on offer besides machines? Lack of accessories or sewing supplies usually indicates that the focus is on machines alone. A dealer who is not looking for repeat business likely won’t be interested in after-sale support.

If you have no local dealer the process is different. Rather than looking for the lowest price, you may be seeking the closest dealer, or even an online dealer. Either way, a little research online can be very helpful. If you are looking at a dealer that is 100 miles away and can find nothing positive online, look further. Driving an additional 50 miles might be worth it to get a substantially better dealer.

Whether shopping locally or online, the Internet can be helpful. These days almost every dealer has a website. Are there pictures from the store on the website, either of merchandise on display or classes? If the only photos are “stock” pictures of machines that might indicate a lack of interest, and inventory, in accessories and supplies. Do a web search on the store. If the only results are links to the store website and auxiliary websites such as online Yellow Pages, that might be another indication of where the dealer’s priorities lie.

There are many online sewing groups, including ours. These can be helpful in getting first hand information on dealers, either local or remote. Most people are reluctant to take the time to leave reviews or ratings, but are far more willing to help people asking about for recommendations. If you have a great dealer, you can reward her by giving an honest opinion in response to requests like this.

Buying a sewing machine is very different from buying a toaster or a television. You will be in an ongoing relationship with the dealer. Choose carefully and it will be rewarding for both of you.


Maximize the Life of Your Machine

Regardless of which top of line machine you have, it was an expensive purchase. Sewing machines have come a very long way since the days when $200 would get all the machine you could possibly want. Of course you want to keep your machine in good running order. Even if you upgrade frequently, having a well-maintained trade-in can only help you get the best deal.

So how do you do that? As your mother no doubt told you, it starts with cleaning. Every 20-30 hours of sewing you should remove the needle plate and bobbin case so you can clean out the lint that has accumulated. If you have trouble tracking how many hours you have sewn, simply do this at the beginning of each new project. That’s also a good time to put in a new needle. You may be tempted to just blow everything out of the bobbin area with “canned air”, but that’s not a great strategy. What’s in the can is not air, in the sense that you really don’t want to breathe it. A much better option is to use a small handheld vacuum. These are readily available, many with tools that can be used to get into tight places. Vacuuming prevents adding even more lint to your sewing room, and it pulls the lint out of the machine rather than pushing it down inside.

While you’ve got the bobbin case out check it for damage. Needle strikes can put bumps on the bottom of the case, causing clicking while sewing. If the damage is not severe you can usually smooth out the bump with an emery board. Otherwise purchase a new case. Next look over the needle plate. It should be smooth, both on the surface and on the edges of the holes that the needle goes through. If it’s pitted from needle strikes you may be able to buff them out with a fine file or a stone, but again, if it’s not looking great you need to replace it.

Before you put everything back together, take a look at the hook race. That’s the metal “basket” that you took the bobbin case out of. It should be completely smooth, both on the sides and especially on the narrow little ledge that the bobbin case sits on. If there is roughness anywhere you should see your dealer. She has a tool that can polish out the burrs, and if necessary she can replace the entire assembly. If you ignore any damage here, you are sure to have big problems down the road – soon!

Do you use spray adhesive or sticky stabilizer? Either of these can build up a residue on the hook race, bobbin case, and needle plate. The build-up attracts lint and gives those parts a fuzzy coat. This inevitably leads to stitch problems, such as loops that suddenly start appearing on top of your embroidery. Use a solvent to remove the sticky deposits. Commercial products, such as Goo-Gone, work. I’ve also used rubbing alcohol and a favorite of the Internet, Williams ‘Lectric Shave. A word of warning – don’t let any solvent get near the painted lettering on your machine, as it could cause it to disappear! Before you put the solvent away, use a bit of it on a paper towel to remove the sticky gunk on the spool pin left by thread spool labels.

Spray adhesive can also mess up your machine’s exterior. You never want to spray it into the hoop while it’s attached to the machine. Instead put the hoop in a box that you saved from your last Amazon delivery. Spray it there (outside if possible) so that any overspray goes in the box. If it’s too late, and your machine already has a coating of ugly splotches, just use one of the solvents mentioned to carefully clean it off.

Now that everything is nice and clean you may be wondering about oil. Back in grandmother’s day oiling was an important part of machine maintenance. That’s no longer the case. Machines now are built with a process that infuses the moving parts with oil. No user oiling is required, as long as you have the machine serviced at least every couple of years. You may think that no service is needed as long as you keep the machine clean. However lint will fall down inside no matter how often you clean. That lint builds up, absorbs lubrication, and can cause premature wear of parts that are expensive to replace. Your dealer’s service technician will remove covers to get at the accumulate debris, as well as lubricate parts that need it. If you sew every day you should schedule a cleaning at least annually. If you use your machine in a business capacity it could be as often as every 6 months.

Machine maintenance is not nearly as fun as sewing is, but doing it on a regular basis will ensure that your machine lasts a long time. And, let’s be honest, it’s still better than housework!


Why are there bugs in software?

If you have ever used a computer you have probably encountered a bug in a program. Bugs range from annoying to catastrophic, rendering the program completely useless. Why are there bugs? They are clearly mistakes, so why are they called bugs?

The term “bug” came about in the days of the earliest computers. This was before the era of the transistor. Computers then were built using vacuum tubes and relays. (If you don’t know what a vacuum tube is, ask your mother!) Computers in those days were very slow and very expensive. Use of them was carefully tracked for budgeting purposes and breakdowns were common. One such failure was due to a moth that had gotten itself stuck between the contacts of a relay. The engineer who fixed it logged the failure as “Bug in computer”. To this day program problems are called bugs, even though there are no insects involved.

The big question is “Why are there bugs at all? Don’t they test the software?” Of course they test. In fact, at least 50% of the time spent on a software project is testing and debugging. All but the smallest software publishers have people on staff who do nothing but testing. In spite of this, there are always bugs. How can this be?

One reason is the very nature of programs. In a very simple program, one that makes only 8 yes or no decisions, there are 256 possible outcomes. Most programs being written today make hundreds of thousands of decisions, and there is simply not enough time to test every possible path. Because of this complexity, a lot of effort has gone into improving the programming process. Writing software is a combination of rules and art. A good programmer tries to be both disciplined and creative. That’s why they usually command a high salary. Such people are scarce, and that has led to a majority of them being mediocre. Companies that try to save money by hiring the cheapest programmers they can find often wind up paying much more in dealing with the inevitable bugs.

The bug fixing process is also perilous. An old programmer’s joke says “I had 99 bugs in my program. I fixed one and now I have 117 bugs in my program.” This is again due to complexity. Fixing a bug often has the unintended effect of creating new bugs. This is especially true for programs that have grown over time to be many millions of lines of code. Microsoft Windows, for example, is now so large that it is thought that there is no longer any person who understands it in entirety.

In practice, programming is not unlike quilting. Precision is critically important. A small mistake in one seam can lead to squares that don’t match. Of course a programmer can fix mistakes with keystrokes, where quilting problems may involve multiple attacks with a seam ripper. Eventually the quilter says “Don’t worry, it will quilt out.” For the programmer this comes from management who says “Stop debugging and ship it!” As long as human beings are creating, there will be imperfections. This truth is evident in the exquisitely beautiful Amish quilts, where the artists will make at least one deliberate mistake in a quilt to underscore the frailty of humans.

Once we accept the inevitability of bugs in our software, we have to develop a strategy for dealing with them. Software updates are a large part of that. Updates are released as often to fix bugs as they are to introduce new features. Some publishers will release an update with no mention of bugs being fixed, but the fixes are there. If the problems being fixed are many, there are probably new bugs in the update as well. At some point, in any large software program, the number of bugs becomes constant, due to new bugs being introduced while fixing old bugs. This should not deter you from installing updates. In fact, before looking for help with a problem, you should always first check to see if there are one or more updates available. Installing updates may fix your problem, but if not you have eliminated what is usually the first thing suggested by technical support personnel.

The cornerstone of your bug strategy should be backup. Keeping copies of  tax records, grandchild photos, and other irreplaceable items is critical. External storage is less expensive than ever, and there are numerous “cloud” options as well. We recommend following the 3-2-1 backup strategy. It’s the best way to ensure that you have protection from loss, whether it comes from software bugs or hardware failures.

With software or sewing, sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want them to. If someone points out a flaw in something you’ve made, just smile sweetly and tell them it’s intentional, to prove you are human!