darkoshi: (Default)
The little fig tree leafs are growing (bigger). There are a bunch of little figs growing too. The car is already getting lightly covered in pollen. This evening we had some wind and a small refreshing rainstorm. It was too warm inside, so I opened a few windows to get some of the breeze. Tomorrow it will be cooler, a high of 65. (Last week or somewhen, when the forecast was also for 65, I thought *eek* that will be cool, and then reminded myself that normally 65 in February would be nice and temperate.)

Feb 2017 weather history, Columbia SC
(click to enlarge)
(from https://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KCAE/2017/2/1/MonthlyCalendar.html)

Now that it is March, maybe I will stop feeling so disconcerted about the weather. In my experience, we could have cold weather and sporadic snow and ice up through the very end of February here. But March has always sounded like Spring.

Photos under cut... )


Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 06:33 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
Apparently I'm much more of an optimist than I realize.

I can't say how many times I find a problem in the code, fix it, and expect the fix to work fine, and there not to be any more major issues. Or at least, not until after I've verified the first fix.

Not that I don't know that there might still be other problems, but just that early in the day, I seem to have unbounded *optimism*. The kind of feeling that makes me think, I can test this fix, and then go on to test that other fix my co-worker put in, and then successfully retest the scenario the BA was having problems with, and then maybe even have time to debug the other outstanding issue. Like, I seriously expected I might be able to do all of that today!

It's not supposed to happen that in testing the first fix, I get totally unexpected results, and upon research determine that those results are due to stranded data from yesterday's failed tests, plus additional problems in the error handling logic, plus maybe the cursors needing extra conditions in them, plus who knows what else.

Please, not another can of worms. I've got enough cans of worms already!

*Optimism*, because this code was extensively tested in the past and was working pretty good back then. Even though I should be pessimistic due to all the issues we've already found, which have mainly been due to a large code refactoring project that was done last year.


Sunday, February 26th, 2017 02:47 am
darkoshi: (Default)
Ghost in the Shell (1995 version).

Cool opening sound effects/music.

The opening sequence of the naked female body seemed to go on way too long. I suppose they made the anime movie for teenage boys?

I started out watching it with the English dialogue. But that was hard to follow. So I switched to Japanese with English subtitles, and started it back from the beginning.

In the English dialogue, her answer to "What's with all the noise in your brain today?" was "Must be a loose wire".
In the English subtitles, her answer was "It's that time of the month." I wonder if that matches the Japanese version, even though it makes less sense.

The sequence of her disrobing and letting herself fall backwards over the edge of the building... I've seen that before, haven't I? Ah... right, there is a live-action version of this movie coming out, the one with that cool trailer. I wonder how long I've had this item in my Netflix queue.

"The Puppet Master. That phantom hacker, right?" .. "Internationally wanted on dozens of charges of stock manipulation, spying, political engineering, terrorism, and violation of cyber-brain privacy. "

Hmm. "Political engineering". That reference sure doesn't sound like the Wikipedia definition of political engineering. It sounds more like this: The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine. That's not the first article I've read about Cambridge Analytica. I already posted a link to another article about them back in November. This one is even more disturbing than the last one though.

When I searched Google on "political engineering", the ad shown at the top of the page was "How Liberal Are You? - theadvocates.org‎. Take the World's Smallest Political Quiz and find out in minutes." Mmm, no. I don't need to take a quiz to know how liberal I am. Someone *else* wants to know how liberal I am. So that they can build their profile on me, and feed me personalized ads as mentioned in the above article.

The Google results also had 3 other ads, at the *bottom* of the page. Having ads at the bottom seems new. Or maybe not? Maybe they've been there before.


"Hope? In the darkness of the sea?"


Oh well. It's too late now to watch the whole movie tonight.


Two Saturdays in a row that I've worked from home, after working extra hours on Friday too. At least it is enjoyable work, debugging and researching issues. That's why I did it... nobody specifically requested me to, but I have the feeling that I should, as we are near the planned release date and still having all these problems.
darkoshi: (Default)
you had inserted a DVD into the DVD player, but still had the TV source set to a TV channel which you were momentarily watching.

And then you hear a strange noise like muffled music... where did that come from? Must be a car driving by outside with their radio on very loud? Then a moment later you hear a roaring noise like a gigantic aircraft, so you run to the window and look outside, somewhat nervous... until finally realizing that the sound isn't coming from that direction after all.

snap crack

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 09:58 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
Two months later, and my neck is still doing that weird cracking thing every time I twist it in the right way. Fairly often during the day, I feel the need to do a quick twist of my neck to make it crack and momentarily get rid of that feeling of stiffness.

I'm getting so used to it that I've even started doing it while other people are around, at work. Today it occurred to me that I should take a video of myself doing it, to see how bad it looks/sounds. Because maybe it's something I really *don't* want to be doing around other people.

So I just took a video. Yegadz! It sounds awful! I should really go to a doctor or something. Except that I can't imagine a regular doctor being able to do anything about it. Heck, my spine has been cracky like that all my life. But when I stretch/unstiffen my back, it's good for a while. It doesn't keep on cracking like my neck can do. Maybe a chiropractor could do something to help, but the few times in the past when a chiropractor has adjusted my neck, it was scary! It makes me tense up... I'm afraid they might break my neck. So yeah no, I don't want to go to a chiropractor either.

It doesn't make sense to me, why my neck would have started doing this all of a sudden, without me having suffered any injury or trauma. If something had happened to cause it, surely I'd remember it? Unless it came from falling asleep in a bad position, maybe.


These exercises may help:
How To STOP Your Addiction To Cracking Your Neck

770 feet

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 11:18 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
The Oroville Dam, 17 years ago. It didn't look very impressive to me. I had no idea it was the tallest dam in the United States. I mean, come on, it looks like a grassy hill, doesn't it?

View of Oroville Dam from top

View of Oroville Dam from top
darkoshi: (Default)
Checking why it hasn't felt like winter to me, this year...

With the help of numbers from Weather Underground (a wonderful weather resource), I've determined the following for my area here in central South Carolina. All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

(although I wouldn't be surprised if I flubbed some numbers here and there in writing this post.)


The average December high temperature is 58, and the average low is 35.
This year (2016), the average December high was 60, and the average low was 40. So our December was 2 to 5 degrees warmer than usual.
The highest high was 82 degrees, on Dec 19.
The highest low was 54 degrees, on Dec 28.
The lowest high was 39 degrees, on Dec 17.
The lowest low was 24 degrees, on Dec 11.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 6 days where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 9 days where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 6 days where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 7 nights where the low temp was 32 or below.


The average January high temperature is 56, and the average low is 34.
This year (2017), the average high was 64, and the average low was 43. So our January was 8 to 9 degrees warmer than usual.
The highest high was 80 degrees, on 3 separate days: Jan 14, 16, and 19.
The highest low was 60 degrees, on Jan 23.
The lowest high was 39, on Jan 9.
The lowest low was 22 degrees, on Jan 10.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 11 days where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 17 days where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 4 days where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 6 nights where the low temp was 32 or below.


For February 1 through 11, the average high temperature is 58, and the average low is 35.
This year (2017), the average high was 68, and the average low was 41. So our February, so far, has been 6 to 10 degrees warmer than usual.
The highest high was 78 degrees, on Feb 8.
The highest low was 58 degrees, on Feb 9.
The lowest high was 49 degrees, on Feb 5.
The lowest low was 28 degrees, on Feb 6 and Feb 11.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 6 days (out of 11) where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 7 days (out of 11) where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 1 day (out of 11) where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 3 nights (out of 11) where the low temp was 32 or below.


Based on the overall averages for this area, the daily highs and lows usually hit their low point in the first week of January, at 55 and 33 degrees respectively; then they start rising again. (Though there are odd blips for Jan 1 and Jan 4, with higher average temps than the surrounding days).

Spring of February

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 04:43 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
It is such a gorgeous warm sunny day today. This whole so-called winter has been relatively warm. Other than a few cold nights and cool days, it hasn't even felt like winter.

The pink magnolia tree started blooming this week. The blooms don't usually last more than a week or two. Based on photos, in prior years it bloomed in early to late March. So this year is a full month earlier than usual, unless the years in which I didn't take photos had earlier blooms too.

The fragrant yellow jessamine on the fence is also already blooming.

There is a bush at Qiao's house, which I've been curious to know what kind of plant it is. It has thin stalks, some with reddish blossoms and some with white (unless the white ones are a different kind of bush). It started blooming right at the beginning of February, even before the pink magnolia. In the summer, it gets roundish green fruit that look like plum-sized small apples. They are surprising to see, because the thin stalks don't seem like they could support such relatively big fruit, yet they do. The fruit smells and tastes like bitter apples (too bitter to eat). So it's probably some apple variant. It doesn't look like what Google Images shows for crab-apples, though.

After doing some searches, my best guess is that it is a shrub quince, even though the fruit is green rather than yellow, and more apple-shaped than quince-shaped.

More photos... )

smell the rainbow

Saturday, February 4th, 2017 11:25 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
You know those hilarious PooPourri advertisements, such as Girls Don't Poop?

Today I saw a similarly amusing ad for a similar product, Unicorn Gold. This is the ad. Unlike the PooPourri ones, this one is both hilarious and disturbing to me (I wonder if other people feel disturbed by it or not). Today, I had accidentally opened the same YouTube video in 2 tabs, the same ad playing in both, so the audio was overlapping/echoing in a weird way. At first I thought it was meant to be that way, which made the ad even more intriguing. After stopping the double-play and watching more of it, I realized I had seen it before. When I see something really funny, I generally want to share it. So I had considered posting a link to this one before, but decided against it, because of how it disturbed me. But to avoid going through the same thought process again next time, today I'm posting the link.

locks and keys

Sunday, January 29th, 2017 06:45 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
I rekeyed two locks today; it was my first time doing that. One was an Andersen storm door lock, and was very easy to rekey. The other was an old deadbolt lock which both Lowes and Home Depot hadn't been able to do. Lowes had just looked at it and said "No", which makes me think they refused simply because it's a brand they don't sell. The guy at Home Depot, on the other hand, at least tried. But apparently because of it being an older style, he wasn't able to get it apart. I had watched him trying, and it looked like something was stuck. He wasn't able to get it apart, to get to the pins.

Today, I was able to get it apart fairly easily. The one end of the cylinder needed to be screwed off - maybe the Home Depot guy didn't realize that. I have a Kwikset rekeying kit. The springs in the kit don't exactly match the ones from the old lock. So I tried reusing them, but in the process lost one. I searched high and low for it, but it's disappeared into the ether. I ended up using one of the non-matching springs, which made it more difficult as it stuck out more. And my kit didn't have a tool that fit for keeping the bottom pins and springs pushed down (aka "follower bar")*, so I had to improvise. And the top pins fell out a few times, and each time the sizes of the pins didn't seem to match what I had written down before... weird. So I got out new top pins. I finally got it back together and working with the new key.

*which is probably a good thing, in hindsight. If I had found the right instructions, and if my follower bar fit, I wouldn't have seen that the springs and bottom pins had a lot of oxidation on them, which was making them stick. It was when I was cleaning off the springs, that the one sprung away and disappeared.

lilac twist

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 10:15 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
Best headline I've read so far, this year (via andrewducker):
75-Year-Old Texas Woman Flies Through Tornado in Bathtub, Lands in Woods Unharmed

Actually, both she and her son flew in the tub after having taken refuge in it. This article has a video interview with them:
A 75-year-old took a bathtub ride to survival during ETX tornado


Good cover of a good song:

Video title: kriill - Lilac Wine
Posted by: kriill music
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwXtKECKaLs

Their Facebook page: kriillmusic
darkoshi: (Default)
So I just realized it is the last day. Or was the last day. It is the last hours.


I am so sick of seeing online ads saying things like "Should Trump send Hillary to Jail?"
As if we don't have a judicial system; as if a president can simply send people to jail on his say-so. Is that what people want? A goddamn dictatorship?

Is someone trying to psychologically condition the rest of us into subconsciously thinking that she belongs in jail?


I got my heater repaired. I decided to only get the broken part replaced. Even if furnaces have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years, and mine is nearly 20, that doesn't mean that it can't still keep working for many more. If the average is 18 or so, then surely there are some that make it to 30 years or more


Portable oil-filled electric radiators:

If they smell of burning dust, even after you've cleaned off all the visible dust, you may need to remove the front and/or rear panels too, to get the dust out from those sections. Obviously, you need to be careful when doing that as there are wires and electrical connections behind the front panel.

When not using them, a perfect-sized cover to keep the dust off is a pillow-case!


Christmas Eve (yes, I'm that behind on writing about things. and doing things):

It was sort of rushed again. We started it earlier in the evening than in the past, as my nephew wanted to leave by a certain time. I went in my car to pick up one of my foster sisters, and my niece. The drive took longer than I anticipated, and by the time we got back to the house, everyone else had already started and finished eating! But at least the get-together was over by a reasonable time, before midnight rather than after.

I still haven't gotten around to ordering my mom the Christmas presents I meant to get her. But partially in my defense, she didn't choose which ones she wanted till after Christmas either.


Lower thigh muscles: I've been having nerve issues again, but more general soreness rather than nerve spasms like before. Sitting down for too long makes them achy.
It may all come down to not getting enough sleep, body not being able to recuperate.


I flushed the water heater last weekend. It's really not hard to do, at least the way I do it, just attaching a hose and not turning off anything. Carrying the hose from the front of the house to the back, and back again is the hardest part.


We're having 7:30am educational sessions for work 2 or 3 times a week, and it's killing me, so early. It's mostly stuff I already know, but I don't want to miss anything anyway..

7:30am isn't even that early, right? Especially when I can dial in from home. But it's still killing me.


thirsty tired too late heater yay snoring dogs xmas tree lights went out again need to try replacing fuse again.
where's my dessert? what's my dessert. maybe that'll do it.
good night, ch'all.

oh, subject. ummm.

hey, did I ever post ... I don't think I did... where did I ...


Video title: Boney M. - Felicidad America (Obama - Obama) ft. Sherita O., Yulee B.
Posted by: BoneyMVEVO
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKSRdpi15qc


Video title: Baby's Gang - Challenger
Posted by: zyxdance
URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vN1cekvzY98

I found both those videos on the same day. Both chipper, hopeful, poignant, and sad in terms of later events.
darkoshi: (Default)
I bought this adjustable shelf to try out as a standing desk setup. It's wide enough for both the keyboard and mouse, and deep enough that I can rest my forearms on it.

At home, my laptop is on an adjustable mount that can be lifted and lowered, so that is how I raise and lower the display. At work, I have 2 monitors, one on the desk for use while sitting, and one on a higher shelf for use while standing (to switch between them, it only requires an alt-ctl-fn key press).

The above is okay in terms of comfort. (Having my skin touch cool metal is unpleasant, so I cover the metal with cloth as in the above photo). But to switch from standing to sitting, I need to re-position the keyboard and mouse from the shelf back to the desk, and move the shelf away. The shelf, while light, is big and awkward to move around. So switching between standing and sitting isn't a very simple matter. (Though, if the keyboard were wireless rather than corded, that would help somewhat.)

I found the below setup to be more convenient.

I use a box (or a stack of books) to raise up my mouse & mousepad. I've found that using the mouse is most comfortable when my forearm is horizontal like that, not angled up or down.
I put a wedge (about 2" high) under the keyboard (or stick something else under the front edge so that it is higher than the back edge). Typing is fairly comfortable to me in that position, even though my palms & wrists don't rest on anything. Without the wedge, I would have to bend my wrists a lot, which quickly becomes very uncomfortable.

To switch from sitting to standing, I just need to move over my box, put the mouse & mousepad on it, and slip the wedge under the keyboard. It's much simpler than the shelf.
darkoshi: (Default)
With my broken heater, it's as I expected. I have to decide whether to get the control board replaced, or replace the whole furnace (as it is 19 years old). If I replace the whole furnace, I may as well replace the A/C unit too, as I've been worried about it for quite a while. It makes a moderately loud buzzing noise when running. 5 years ago (I didn't realize it was that long ago), I was told it might stop working any day, or it might last a few more years.

The furnace on the other hand, is sheltered in the basement and actually looks in pretty good condition to me. One part of me is thinking that they could possibly last many more years (although they might not).

I got a couple quotes on replacing the control board, vs the whole thing. One set of the quotes actually seems pretty good, though I need to ask some more questions and get more details. So one part of me is thinking, since I already went through the trouble of getting quotes, maybe I should go ahead and replace it all now, rather than having to go through the same thing again a couple years down the road. I might not even be able to get as good a quote/price later on.

Anyway, today I went down into the basement/crawl space to look at the ducts again, as I wasn't sure if I was remembering something right. While down there, I noticed a new wet spot on the ground. It was right under a copper pipe. I didn't see any leak in the pipe. There was a small amount of water on the pink insulation right above the pipe (touching the pipe), so I worried it was leaking down from up above. The bathroom sink was right above that area.

So I went back up and checked under the bathroom sink. Whoa. I had put a plastic dish with a sponge under the shut-off valve to catch any potential leaks (as it had leaked there a long time ago), and the sponge was all wet and there was water in the dish. But the water hadn't overflowed out of the plastic, and the cabinet itself was dry. So how could it be leaking down below? Was it just a coincidence? Eh?

I checked the basement again. Pulled down the insulation a bit to look at the wood. Dry. Hmmm.
Got a small mirror, wiped off the pipe, and looked at the top of the pipe using the mirror.

There's a very tiny pinhole leak. Just enough for water to slowly slowly start welling out and making the outside of the pipe wet. I put a plastic tub under it for the time being.
I hope it's not an indication of the overall condition of my plumbing pipes.


So I do some research as part of fixing one problem (broken heater), and I find 2 new problems, one of which just coincidentally, from initial appearances, appeared to be causing the other problem, but really wasn't.

That sounds exactly like a typical day at my work, debugging code.

little flies

Saturday, January 14th, 2017 01:41 am
darkoshi: (Default)
This morning, there was one of those little flies in my cube when I arrived. It flew in my face more than usual; it would definitely be a nuisance if it was always around. Not much later I heard a suspicious "smack" from my neighbor across the aisle. A little later after that, I heard a smack from the cube right next to mine. Upon which the coworker across the aisle got up and had a little chat with my neighbor. She asked if he's been having a bunch of little flies lately. Yep, he said, he already killed 6 this morning. He called them gnats. They discussed where they might be coming from.

So much for my visiting fly theory.

While I can handle, and even appreciate, a single solitary insect, the idea of having a bunch of them flying around in my cube, or anywhere else near me, is unpleasant and begins to be "something that must be dealt with", even if I don't like to kill them. It's sort of a contradiction, isn't it?
One = Why, hi there cute little bug. Let me help you out. So nice of you to visit. What's it like to be you?
Twenty+ = Agh, invasion. I suppose I'll have to kill them all. Kill, destroy, destruction.

little fly

Friday, January 13th, 2017 01:06 am
darkoshi: (Default)
Every day I've been at work, since about the week before the winter holidays, a tiny flying insect (not sure what that kind is called, but it's smaller than a fruit fly) has flown into my cube sometime during the day. It flits around between me and my monitor for a while, and eventually leaves again.

The first or second time it came, I thought it was stuck inside the building. I considered catching it to take it outside, but it didn't cooperate. I thought maybe it was thirsty, and put out a drop of water for it, which it didn't go near. When it kept coming back (even though I wasn't sure it was the same one), I figured it must be doing ok inside.

I didn't know if it was a single fly, or a different one each time (I had thought the lifespan of tiny creatures was likewise short, but maybe it isn't that short) but after a few days, it started to seem like it was. It feels like it purposely comes to visit me. I have to be careful when it does, not to accidentally smoosh or inhale it. (That would make me feel bad.) Today for the first time, it landed on my hand, walked around a bit, flew up, landed again, and repeated it several times. As if it finally trusted me enough to do that. It was the first time I had an extended look at it. Then it flew away again.
darkoshi: (Default)
My main journal is at darkoshi.dreamwidth.org. I switched from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth in 2011, but still cross-post to LJ. As of 2017, I no longer cross-post protected entries here; those are now only available on DW (so if you want access to that kind of stuff, try friending me there). I've also disabled comments on my LiveJournal cross-posts, so that all comments will be in one place.

If you don't have a Dreamwidth account and don't want to create one, you can still leave comments. The crosspost footer at the bottom of each post links to the corresponding DW page, where comments can be left.

Anonymous comments are allowed (but unless you really want to be anonymous, please include a name/nick in the comment so I'll know who it is from). In case I start getting spam, I may screen anonymous comments, but so far haven't had to do that.

You can also use the OpenID option to post comments on DW with your LJ user ID. You can even get email notifications when someone replies to your OpenID comments. For that, you have to actually "login" to DW one time with your LJ URL via the OpenID login option - from there, you'll be able to set your email address. You won't get the option for setting an email address, simply by posting a comment with OpenID.

From the DW OpenID FAQ:
When you log into Dreamwidth using your OpenID identity, LiveJournal will ask you if it can "pass your credentials" to Dreamwidth. Saying yes will not give Dreamwidth any access to your LiveJournal account. It will only let LiveJournal confirm to Dreamwidth that you do control the address you entered. This is why you need to be logged into LiveJournal to log into Dreamwidth with your OpenID identity: LiveJournal handles the authentication, and then tells Dreamwidth whether it succeeded or failed.

The first time you log into Dreamwidth using your identity from another site, you'll need to set and confirm your email address for use on the Dreamwidth site in order to be able to comment everywhere that allows OpenID comments and in order to receive emailed notifications of replies to your comments.

From the LJ OpenID FAQ:
Every LiveJournal account can be used as an OpenID identity. When the other site asks for your OpenID URL, use http://[your LJ URL].livejournal.com. You will then be redirected to LiveJournal, where you will be asked whether LiveJournal should identify you to the other site. You will also be asked to choose whether this identification should be given once only, or automatically.

The LJ FAQ also mentions a possible issue using OpenID, if your journal uses a custom style, and how to fix it.


Ever since I started crossposting from DW to LJ, my crosspost footer has always requested that comments be left on the DW page, but I didn't disable the LJ comments till now. Very few, if any, LJ users ever did comment on DW. I'm not sure if people don't bother reading the footer, or if they specifically don't want to comment on DW. But because of that, I know there's a good possibility that I may no longer get any comments from any LJ users. I will regret that, but let's see how it goes.


Monday, January 9th, 2017 02:09 am
darkoshi: (Default)
Something in the gas furnace (heater) broke today. Upon opening the bathroom door after having taken a shower, there was a light smoky smell in the air. Nothing in the house was burning, singed, or smoking, and the outside air was clear. Then I noticed the heat was no longer coming on. And upon sniffing the vents, even though the air was no longer blowing, the smell was stronger there.

So I have to get someone to come out and check that. (The hardest part is always getting someone to do it. I still haven't even gotten that gutter fixed, which got broken a year and a half ago; I stopped being concerned about it after 3 people said they'd fix it and then didn't.) I have no idea if it's something small that needs to be replaced, or if I might end up needing a whole new furnace. I will check tomorrow to see if there's a label that says how old the current one is. The outside A/C unit is 18 years old, so it wouldn't be surprising if the furnace is that old too.

In the meantime, I pulled out the oil-filled electric radiators, dusted them off, and am using them to keep warm. They're doing pretty good considering I only set them on medium. I always worry that putting them on high might trip a circuit breaker, even though that's not happened so far.

It's in the 20s (F) tonight and tomorrow night. We had a light dusting of snow here on Saturday morning, but it was mostly gone by the time I got out of bed. Originally, the forecast was calling for 2 to 3 inches of snow.

cleaning toilets

Saturday, January 7th, 2017 08:36 pm
darkoshi: (Default)
To get the water out of the bowl, don't bother turning off the water and flushing. Even when the tank has emptied, the level of standing water in the bowl won't go down. Instead, you can use a toilet brush to "push" the water down the drain. This will lower the level a good bit.

To clean a brownish stain which has accumulated around the water level, if scrubbing with a toilet brush doesn't work: don't bother trying baking soda - even scrubbing the soda in with a scubber sponge doesn't help much. But scrubbing the stain with a pumice stone does work well, and supposedly doesn't damage the ceramic.

I found these tips here: Cleaning Toilet Bowl Stains, and tried them out - they really do work.