Archive for July, 2010

The harvest (at last).

July 30, 2010

Well, today having been a fairly cool one (compared to the scorchers of recent), I decided it was time to get the yard mowed. As with a lot of tasks, once you start one thing, it reminds you of something else. In this case, that “something else” was the getting the potato patch dug up.

So, yard mowed, mower stowed, out to the storage shed to get the turning fork. I have to admit, turning forks have got to be one of the more useful garden tools you can have. In this case, it proved its worth while moving the straw aside, then digging into the earth to turn up the spud crop.

Yeah, about that crop………

I went over the patch not once, nor twice, but THREE times, before I gave up and admitted it: my harvest was pretty pathetic. Grand total from this second harvesting: about two pounds, maybe, of potatoes. Mind you, the bulk of that was made up of potatoes  that would have been laughed out of your local grocery produce section, but they’re still plenty good to eat! Proof of that came a couple of hours after the last dirt was turned when the largest went into the pot to make tonight’s supper: mashed potatoes. Damn good mashed potatoes, if I do say so myself.

There are still some left after that meal, and I think if I put them all in the pot and am very careful, I might have enough to make another meal’s worth of mashed spuds. So, from the left-over and sprouted spuds came (I hope) enough potatoes to make two meals. Not as much as I’d hoped to get when I first planted them, but not a complete loss.

Not bad for a science experiment, hey?

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A Lesson learned.

July 29, 2010

Have you ever had to lay flooring? The work itself is not easy, as you’re on your knees on a sub-floor most of the time, bending at the waist, and generally uncomfortable all the time. If that weren’t enough, there’s the problem of actually laying the flooring itself. If you’re working in a newer structure, things aren’t so bad. Usually the walls are straight, the sub-floor itself is level, and the process is fairly straight-forward.

Older houses, on the other hand, are another matter completely.

Finding a wall to work off of that’s straight is somewhere between difficult impossible You find little dips and hollows in the sub-flooring if you’re lucky, outright patches and major swales or dips if you’re not. Then there are any and all openings in the sub-floor to worry about. These can be anything from air vents to (in bathrooms) drains and toilets that need to be accommodated. What you do next depends on you. If you have the time and money (or skills), you can rework the room, leveling the sub-floor and bringing the walls into something approaching straight lines. If your budget (or skills) don’t allow for this sort of mass rebuild, then you go to Plan B: you make the flooring fit the job at hand. Where the walls aren’t quite straight, you set a point to call “square” and work away from that. You adapt to the changes in the wall by “scribing” or trimming the flooring to allow for the variable straightness of the existing wall. You fill in the dips as well as you can and accommodate the bigger deviations as well as you can. When you get to an opening, you take a ton of measurements, double check them, make a pattern to make sure everything will fit when you go to lay the flooring in place, then you cut the flooring and hope like hell you’ve thought of everything!

If you pay attention, if you take the time you need to to check and double check yourself, what you end up with might not please a contractor, but it will be something you’re not ashamed to let other people see. In short, it gets the job done and that’s what’s important.

Life is a lot like that. You can run into a problem, set there, draw up what you think is the ideal plan, then try to make everything work to fit your plan. Alternately, you can look at what you’re likely to be able to do, and what you can reasonably expect to get done, and work from there. You can either fight to get things perfect as you see them, or you can ‘scribe’ you ideas to fit the way things are going. Some people see the only way to get something done as following the first path, to come up with the perfect plan and stick with it no matter what. Other people come up with an idea, then figure out how to get as close to it as they can given the situation at hand.

Guess which one more often succeeds? If you picked the latter, congratulation! The world belongs to you, now figure out your best path forward.

On speaking too soon.

July 22, 2010

I guess I should have known it would happen. I wrote about my new high-speed Internet connection, tempting the Fates, and they decided it was time to administer a good smacking to me.

The connection was everything I described it to be in my earlier post….up until Sunday morning. When I decided to log on, the connection was, well, slower than the dial-up service was. Worse, it would die part way through bringing a Web page up, and the only way to get things started again was to stop the web page and hit the “Refresh” button. Things were getting frustrating, but I had hopes that everything would clear up, so I took time out to get lunch.

Problem is, once I got done with eating, when I tried the connection again….nothing. No connection at all, not even an occasional connect. When I trundled out the ‘big guns’, which in my case means a copy of the WireShark IP packet monitoring program and firing up the “Command Window” so I could use commands like “ping” and “ipconfig” to look at what was happening with my network connection.

They all agreed: it was dead.

Pings produced nothing but a string of “Host not available” replies, WireShark kept showing a connection to the router, but nothing going beyond that point. Great, the beast has died. I’m not ready to just write it off, though, so I try adjusting the antennas, seeing if somehow they might have moved and that was causing the signal to drop off just enough to make the connection break.

Nope.

Nothing I can do about getting technical help from the provider, it being Sunday and all, so I just unplug the wireless bridge and go back to my old stand-by, the dial-up connection. It’s no faster than it ever was, but having a solid, reliable connection is something to almost be cherished. So, item #1 on the agenda for Monday is contact my wireless provider and find out what the hell is going on.

Fast forward to Monday……….

I get to the office of my provider as early as I can (I’m one of those folks who is a lot harder to ignore in person than over the phone, and it comes in handy from time to time) to see what I can find out. What I find out is that they don’t have a clue why my connection might go from functioning to DOA, but they’ll send their tech guy down (yet again) to take a look at it. Now, all I have to do is wait for him to show up…..on Tuesday.

Tuesday comes around and I’m up early, waiting for the service call (no, they don’t provide any sort of time frame for when their representatives will be there).

And I wait.

And I wait.

And I………….

Noon arrives with no visit. So I call the office, ask when the tech guy is going to arrive (“He hasn’t been there? Well, it should be sometime today….”), and decide to get lunch together. Well, I not only had the time to eat a leisurely lunch, I even got the dishes taken care of and got watching some TV. So what happens? The tech guy shows up, of course! What followed was almost a farce. He took a few looks around, looked at how I had the antennas arranged inside the window, and told me to take them outside the window. My question, as you can guess, was simple: what happens if that doesn’t work? Then, my technology guru tells me, I’m screwed.

He leaves, I go get the ladder, do some climbing and wire fishing, and get the antennas out in the Great Outdoors. So, what was the result of all this effort, what was my reward for my efforts?

The damn thing still won’t connect!!!!!!!!

So, back to the phone, back to talking to the main office, where they assure me they’ll contact Tech Guy to pay me Yet-Another visit. That was Tuesday afternoon, and it is now Wednesday night, and he still hasn’t been back. Some part of me knows that, odds are, all he’ll do when he does come back is tell me that I can’t use the wireless connection. So that will leave me back where I started, with no high-speed connection. Part of me wants to just throw in the towel and say “@!*%$ high-speed connections!!!!”, but the reasoning part of my mind knows I’m going to have to find some sort of connection that’s faster than what I’m using at this moment. What it will be, whether I’ll be able to find another wireless provider, or a DSL line, or giving in and going over to the Dark Side with a cable modem, I don’t know. I do know that all of this has left me with a very sour taste in my mouth as far as high-speed connection providers go, and that’s something I don’t like to experience.

A harvest…..of sorts.

July 19, 2010

Well, with two of the potato plants pretty much dead above ground, I decided to do some digging, make a first harvest, see if all the effort and time was worth it.

Maybe not.

The weather here is, as in many other parts of America, hot. I’m not talking about warm, or even to the point of being noticed, I’m talking miserable. Not just the heat but humidity, the type of humidity that makes it a chore just to breath, let alone do something. Like an idiot, I went to the shed and got the turning fork out, in the middle of the afternoon no less, and did some digging. The ground around the first plant was an interesting study: dry right where the ground had been left uncovered but moist where the straw mulch was in place. This is several days after the last rain, mind you, so that part of the mulch’s mission was well served. Pull back the straw a ways, to give some distance to make sure I don’t accidentally hit a spud with a fork tyne, shove down, lean on the handle to break the ground, and….nothing. Move to another spot, shove the fork in again, and nothing….no, wait! I see a small spot of red, and as these had been red potatoes, my mind thinks jackpot.

My mind is a very optimistic thing at times, and this turned out to be one of those times.

What I found, once I picked up the clod of dirt and broke it further apart was, well, a micro-spud. I use that term aptly, as this was a potato the size of a smallish marble. Disappointed but not-yet daunted, I dug in again. What I found was a whole lot of nothing, at least at that particular plant. So I moved to the next plant. These two, by the way, were some of the last plants to come up, so my mind began to wonder if maybe I was in for a disappointment. This time, my mind was at least getting close. After a through dig around the second plant, I was rewarded with a large number of potatoes….all of them tiny in size. None of the second batch was even as big as a golf ball, and while I managed to find about ten potatoes, I’d guess that the total weight of them might tip the scale at, oh, enough to half feed a hungry person.

I haven’t given up hope just yet. There is still the rest of the patch, and it’s not only been up longer, it’s still growing, well, for the most part. So, for now at least, the results of the experiment are not all that promising. On the other hand, I may not grow enough to do more than give me one good meal’s worth of spuds, but at least I know now that it can be done. All I really need is to get the sets in the ground earlier….and keep the Japanese beetles away….and the weeds…..and keep them growing longer…..and…….

As science experiments go, it’s been cheap and easy, so I shouldn’t complain. I was, though, hoping to feast on my own potatoes this fall. Guess that’s one goal I’ll have to put on hold for now.

I get high-speed (well, sort of)!

July 16, 2010

The tech guy didn’t show yesterday, but he did today. I can understand why he wasn’t able to come around and handle my problems (one of their DHCP servers ate itself, which meant it was all-hands-on-deck! time), and once he was here, getting the problem sorted out didn’t take too long at all. Turns out, I just needed a better set of antennas than the ‘rabbit ear’ type ones that the bridge came with.

Mind you, I had to go pick them up….and get them swapped in…..and then figure out the best position to put them in to get a really good signal, so I had at least a small part in getting the new connection up-and-running.

And it is that: running!

Those blasted animations are still there, I still can’t stand them, but at least it doesn’t take half the life of the Universe for them to load up. I even got some of my anti-virus software updated without a sojourn to my high-speed “access” point of recent (the computer lab of the college I attended this spring), which is good. Now, all I have to do is get all the other software on my machine updated too and everything will be fine.

Hot damn, we’re cookin’ with gas now, boys and girls!

Well, not exactly.

I get good service….when the link is stable. Problem is, even with the new antennas, I’m still in a “marginal” signal area, which means that the link can crap out at any time. So I keep an eye on the page activity and a set of figurative fingers crossed that it doesn’t do a crash-and-burn in the middle of anything important.

So, I guess to crib Dickens, “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times”. I just hope that the new solution doesn’t turn out to be worse than the old one.

I get up-to-speed (well, almost).

July 14, 2010

One of the things I love about this site is the lack of animation. No, I don’t mean animated discussion or thought, I mean animation! You’ve seen them, haven’t you? The stupid ads that seem to be plastered every-freaking-place on nearly every site on the Web, with the jumping woman to draw your attention. Or the clown who seems to pop out of nowhere. Or…..well, if you’ve been online for a while, you not only know what I mean, you probably remember a time when you went to a site, any site, and while their might be a few ads popping up now and then, they were just like an ad in a newspaper: static. So why is an animated ad more annoying than a static ad? One word: bandwidth!

You see, being none too well off, my access to the Internet is via the cheapest route I can find…..and that means dial-up. Yes, that’s right boys and girls, you are reading something written by someone who is not part of The Modern Age Of High-Speed Internet Access. I have been fighting a rear-guard action to try to keep it that way too.

Why?

Well, you might see those ads on TV for cheap access via cable, or get a mailing from your cell provider telling you they’ve got Such A Deal!, but when you look at the fine print, it ain’t all that great. Most of the cable offers I’ve ever gotten have short-time “special” offers, followed by rate structures more byzantine than the worst Rube Goldberg construction you ever saw. As far as wireless providers, or even getting a DSL line from the land-line companies, well, they’ll give you a connection all right, but you better watch your time! Nearly every one I’ve seen has limits on how much you can receive over your connection, and you pay dearly if you go over that limit. Now a few hundred mega of received data might seem like a lot, but when you figure that even this slow-assed connection will routinely take in twenty or thirty megs in the course of a none-too-long session, then it gets clear that you’re going to chew through those limits pretty darned fast!

The culprit, of course, are those damned animations! It takes bandwidth to get them into your computer, more of it to keep them updated, and of course your connection still has to monitor your computer for any changes in what you’re viewing on a page so it can change what’s on your screen, so……. yes, it not only makes life miserable for someone with a slow connection (who has to wait for those #*^ animations to load before the page will do anything), it also eats into the usage of those folks who have metered plans as well!

DAMN THOSE ANIMATIONS!!!!!!!

So, in the end, I decided I’m going to have to get connected, high-speed style. Not because I want to, but because I’m getting tired of nearly falling asleep while I wait for the next web page I want to go to to actually LOAD UP!!! Specifically, I’m going to use a local wifi service that offers (semi) reasonable rates and decent connection speeds. The paperwork went in, and a wireless bridge was brought to me…..but it doesn’t work. The provider said it might be an iffy connection from my place, but this isn’t iffy, it’s non-existent. No problem!, they say, one of their techs will be around to look at things tomorrow. If he can’t get it working? Then Plan B kicks in: they install an outside access point……at a cost of $65!

Boy, do I hope that tech can get this thing sorted out!!!!!!!

More when I know more…………

Potato patch news!

July 11, 2010

It’s been a while since I wrote about my experimental potato patch, so I thought it might be a good idea to bring the state of the patch up to date.

Unfortunately, that state isn’t all that good. Locally, Japanese beetles have become something of a plague. For those of you who are not familiar with this particular pest, the Japanese beetle is a ¼ to ½ inch long, iridescent eating machine. It will eat practically anything and usually does. In my case, it started with the usual late-season infestation of my berries. I don’t mind their predations that much when it comes to my berries, as I always end up having all I need and enough extra that I am always giving them away to almost anyone I know even vaguely. What I wasn’t counting on was their finding an appetite for the leaves of my potato plants. At this point those of you who garden with chemicals will be saying “Oh, if that’s the case, why not just grab the sprayer and hit them with some ________” with the blank filled in with the name of their favorite bug spray. I, on the other hand, am an organic gardener, so the ‘super-duper, knock’em dead’ bug spray is not an option. I’ve been experimenting with different solutions to the problem, but to date, none have been a screaming success. That, in turn, means that some of my potato plants have been nearly denuded, leaves eaten to little more than a token of surface area.

So I guess here the second experiment will come into play, one that I hadn’t thought I’d have to undertake: can a patch of potatoes survive a heavy attack from Japanese beetles? More to the point, can they survive and produce a crop worth harvesting? I’m not sure, but so far none of them have shown signs of dying (knocking wood very hard), so I am at least slightly hopeful. The next few weeks should tell the tale, though, as if they’re going to die off, the hot and humid ‘dog-days’ of summer will be the most likely time for that to happen.

Further news as it becomes available……..

More fun with MySpace (no, not really)!

July 11, 2010

My last post was a query about MySpace, and I thought that I’d add a few observations to what I placed in that first post.

I’ve noted several quirks/oddities/bugs in the site. One of the most annoying is what I call “phantom email”. For those of you not familiar with MySpace, you are required to have an off-site email address so that you can get a lot of things from the site. Things like your confirmation link, to make sure that there really is a you out there by requiring you to follow the link to open your account. Things like notification that a person you have invited to be a “friend” on MySpace has accepted your invitation (a “friend” is someone with special access to your account, able to see things like photos you choose to keep between yourself and those you want to know). Most important of all to this piece, it also lets you know when someone has sent you an email via the site’s mail system.

The idea of doing all this stuff off-site is actually a pretty good one. It means that people can check to see if someone’s trying to contact them or if there is any other activity on the profile without tying up computing power on the site itself. Problem is, the site’s software seems to screw up the email function more than often than not. A case in point:

This morning I logged onto my contact account to see if I had anything I needed to take care of. Yes, it said, I had no less than seven emails awaiting me. So I close out that account and log onto my MySpace account. When my profile finally opens the little indicator that shows I have mail is up, and it is showing that I have……four emails waiting for me. It gets better! When I go to check out my inbox, it too says I have four emails waiting, but the window where those emails should be displayed says I have, in fact, ZERO emails in my inbox! This is far from the first time I’ve run into this little “gem” of a “feature”, and like the other times, I went to the contact section of MySpace to let them know that something is most assuredly wrong on the email front. Mind you I expect the same result I’ve gotten so far to my complaints: an electronic “form letter” telling me to remain calm, that nothing is wrong.

So, not only am I being hounded by emails from phantom women wanting me to give them my off-site email address, I’m getting email dumped on me that doesn’t even seem to exist at all! If you’re thinking this is aggravating me, you’re right! So here again is my question restated: does anyone really find MySpace useful? Anyone at all???????

Who uses MySpace?

July 7, 2010

I set up a profile on the famed “social networking” site, and so far the only people who pay any attention to it are the Internet scammers trying to convince me that I just have to give them my off-site email address and they’ll be interested in me forever.

And this is considered useful? Or even better, enjoyable?

Some reflections on the Fourth of July

July 5, 2010

Today is the Fourth of July.

It has been marked as a special day in America since the very earliest days of the nation. It marks the declaration that we, the people of this nation, were a free people. When it was announced, the Declaration of Independence was a death sentence to all of those who signed it. America, an upstart colony of the greatest power of the time, was walking away, and that was something no one had ever done to the British Empire. For their part, the English came into the subsequent war with every intention of not only forcing the colonies to return to the fold, but of crushing and eliminating all of those who had put forward such radical ideals as freedom and equality. Several of the people who signed the Declaration were caught by the English and hanged for taking the position they had. Others served in the fighting, where they died in the service of the cause they had pledged their lives and fortunes to. Some were to pay the price not with their own lives, but with those of their sons or the loss of family members caught up in the tit-for-tat fighting between the rebels and the loyalists. Many saw the fortunes they had labored to build vanish, either confiscated by the English or destroyed in the fighting. It was a fight with few of them were sure they could win, yet they went into it and paid the price to give us the freedom we enjoy today.

As I think about all of the above, I am brought to consider how wide the gulf is between those brave men and the people who purport to carry their legacy forward today. Many of the loudest voices of the modern conservative have never risked their lives in the service of their nation, and none of those same people have asked such service of their children. None of them goes anywhere without an entourage of not only followers and flunkies, but security guards to protect them from every sort of modern inconvenience, not just threats real or imagined. And as for fortunes, one of the single things that seems to unite the modern conservative movement is not to risk their fund in efforts to change things, but the need to keep those fortunes safe-and-sound, growing as fast as ever they can manage to make them grow.

In my contemplation of the modern conservative movement, when I hear one or more of them bray about how they are somehow upholding the spirit of the Founding Fathers, I am seriously tempted to laugh out loud. That a group of timid (if not openly cowardly) money-worshiping loud-mouths who’s idea of ‘risk’ is to occasionally hear someone who disagrees with them, could even think to compare themselves with those who risked everything to see this great nation born would be laughable, if it were not so openly sad. That is the state of our modern world, though, and I fear we as Americans are the worse for it.