Archive for September, 2010

The Rights of Fall

September 17, 2010

You, of course, have heard of the famous “Rights of Spring”. I would like to submit, for your approval, a few of what I wish to call the “Rights of Fall”.

One of the best of these is apple season. For those of you who live in parts of the US (or, for that matter, the world) that aren’t graced with an apple season, you don’t know what you’re missing. Most every place where apples can grow also has orchards, many of them which allow you to not only buy apples they grow, but also to go out into the orchard yourself to pick your own. A fresh apple is a thing to savor, but one fresh off the tree, especially one picked in the morning, before the sun has had a chance to really warm the apples, is a thing that stays with you for the rest of your life. The flavor seems far more intense than any apple you get in the store, but that is also true of an apple you get from the orchard store too. It also holds that chill, the small bit of coolness that makes the texture and flavor of the apple really jump out at you, to make them seem to sing in your mouth. Not all people like apples, and not all apple lovers like the same type of apple. For myself, my tastes run towards the tart apples, preferably ones that are sharp enough to really make you take notice of it when you bite into it. A good Cortland, which often grow to a size where downing one can almost be a challenge, is a good point to start the tart apple season, though Jonamacs are a good second choice. Later, Spartans and others like Stabrites can keep you coming back to follow the harvest. Towards the close of the season, Braeburns, an apple that, when it’s right, almost bites back, are a favorite of mine. There are others, and if you like different flavor types, or a particular texture type, odds are your local orchard will be able to set you up. Most will have a chart, somewhere in their store, showing the qualities of the various apples they grow, and often they will have a list of the particular apples that are ready for picking. The real test, though, and in my opinion, the real fun, is going into the orchard and picking an apple you haven’t tried before to see how it tastes and eats. I’ve never run into an orchard that object to this practice, at least not very strongly, so it’s a great way to broaden both your pallet and mind. It is also something that children love, and an actually healthy adventure they can share with their parents for years to come.

Fall is also the season of that less-than-enjoyable Right, leaf clean-up. A yard full of trees gives you a house that has plenty of shade, one that’s a lot easier to keep cool in those hot, humid summers we so often seem to endure. The down side, of course, is that when fall rolls around those leaves fall off the trees and land on your yard (or, if you’re very lucky, your neighbor’s yard!). They also fall on your roof, which means that you’re probably going to collect a fair number of them in any gutters your roof might possess. Gutters full of leaves don’t drain well, take it from someone who has a lot of trees and a fair count of gutters too. It’s a chore, and a none-too-pleasant one too, but there is a positive to it all: the colors. I once wrote a (very bad, no doubt) poem about a tree I have in my yard. It’s a maple, and while most of the other maples around it have leaves that turn a mottled shade of yellow, this one’s leaves turn a mixture of orange and red, with leaves showing an admix of those two shades thrown in for good measure. It is currently at the height of it’s glory, slowly transitioning in color from one side to the other (another oddity of it’s behavior) and shedding it’s many-colored leaves all over the ground around it. Elsewhere around me, both in the town I live in and out in the country, the trees are putting on a similar show. Even in these times when gas is far from cheap, and money not terribly plentiful, people will often drive out just to see this fleeting display. It too is something that many parents share with their children, a cheap but fun get-away from the every day world into a place where nature’s beauty is there for the viewing.

There are other Rights, other yearly events that mark the coming of Fall. Things like the shortening hours of daylight and the increase in cooler and cooler nights, things some think not to be very enjoyable. Then again, after this summer past, when places all over experienced heat and humidity at record levels, those cool temperatures are to be savored. Yes, the cooling will continue, down to the point where you won’t be able to go outside without dressing up in layer upon layer of clothing, but for now, enjoy the moment.

Happy Fall, one and all!

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Are people this stupid where you live?

September 14, 2010

A friend of mine is working one of those “shovel ready” jobs the Republicans keep saying don’t exist and he passed along a story to me I couldn’t believe. The job involves ripping up the streets of a small town to replace some outdated storm drains. The area they’re working on right now includes a section of road that usually  sees a good amount of truck traffic going to some industries located in the town. To get to where he is working at, you have to turn off a main road which has signs up indicating that the road is closed ahead. Then you come to the spot where the detour begins, which has more signs indicating that the road is yes, in fact, closed. If that weren’t enough, at the same spot, there are a set of barricades that partially close off the street (it can’t be completely closed off because there are several residents who have to have access to their houses on a section of road that hasn’t been torn up). The final stopping point is a solid line of barricades just a few dozen feet from where the road ends and the construction site begins.

Now, with all of that, you’d think the chances of them seeing any traffic that shouldn’t be there would be slim, but you’d be dead wrong. The guys working on the job routinely start the day with a pool: everyone puts in a dollar for one chance to see who can guess how many semis will ignore all of the above warnings and end up looking at them from the other side of that last line of barricades. He tells me there hasn’t been a single day, since the job started, when they didn’t see at least one truck driver looking at them like they couldn’t figure out why the road was not open. To make matters worse, this is a town street, only two lanes wide, so when the truckers get to that point, all they can do is try to back down the two blocks, past the first line of barricades, and to the point where they should have turned…..if they’d been paying attention, that is!

Now some folks will no doubt claim that these are just people falling afoul of services like MapQuest or GoogleEarth that blithely tell them, yes there is a road here and it is open, but how can that be? When one driver gave the work crew the eye, a laborer shouted out “What part of CLOSED do you have trouble understanding?” He was right. Even if they were getting their directions from some place that didn’t allow for road work, to just drive past all those warnings and then act amazed that they were telling you the truth speaks to either an underlying arrogance, or simple abject stupidity.

For myself, I’m not sure which is at play in this case. I do know that people seem, in many instances to be becoming more and more arrogant, to act as though the rest of the world revolved around what they wanted/needed to do. From the speeders who seemingly could give a damn about how closely they pass, to the folks who pull out in front of you because they ‘need to get going’, to the people in stores who seem to think they can just step in front of you no matter how long you’ve been waiting for help; they’re seemingly everywhere in our society. How we got to the point where bores and fools like this are tolerated is one of those societal phenomena that seems to have escaped me. One thing I do know: this is not a good development for any society. When bad behavior, especially behavior that can put people’s lives at risk, is tolerated, we all loose. I guess I just hope other people will wake up and see what we’re doing to ourselves and, maybe, start trying to put a stop to it.

Yeah, I know, asking for a miracle yet-again, but I can hope, can’t I?

“The need for speed”: further adventures in the high-speed lane.

September 4, 2010

A while back, I wrote about the trials and tribulations surrounding my move from a dial-up Internet connection to a high-speed cable connection. It all came out right in the end, but as with many things, there were consequences that I did not foresee of this change.

For one thing, I suddenly found out that my computer had a virus, several actually. How some of them got on my machine I do not know, but after seeking advice online (and getting some sterling help from the denizens of the MySpace computer forum), I think I’ve managed to get rid of those nasty little bits of unwanted software (he knocks on wood very hard!).

One thing that I had turned off early on was automatic updates, a feature Microsoft built into it’s Windows platform so that it would regularly “phone home” to see what screw-ups the folks at Redmond had managed to find and fix. It’s a decent feature, but it almost demands a high-speed connection to the Internet. Well, once I had gotten up to speed, I thought it might be a good idea to turn the feature back on and see what happened. It wasn’t nearly as messy as I’d feared, but there were a ton of updates, upgrades and just general fixes my machine found it needed/wanted. What the hell, I figured, let ET talk to the folks and let them know what it’s like out here in the hinterlands.

Sometimes I just ain’t too bright, and this was one of those times.

Anyone who’s dealt with Windows knows one fact that I overlooked in this move: when Microsoft says “upgrade” or “update”, you can just bet your last cent that what they’re delivering is software that’s a lot bigger, fatter, and generally bulkier than what you already had. Boy, was that true in this case! My machine had been a decent computer, no speed demon true, but a solid, stolid platform that got things done.

Not after the updates!

Suddenly I had a machine that would take ten or more minutes to boot up. Worse, once you got into a task, especially one that involved accessing Web pages, my stable workhorse suddenly began to freeze up and do all manner of truly odd things. At first I thought I had been reinfected, that somehow during the downloading and updating process, my machine had received some new virus. It was only after multiple scans with several software packages that I admitted my error: I didn’t have a virus, I had fat software, software that wanted more memory than I had, lots more memory than my machine possessed. Being an unemployed student, cash isn’t something that I have dripping off of me. So, after finding the specifications for the type of memory my machine used, it was time to go shopping online. I found tons of place selling memory, and the prices weren’t too outrageous, but all of them wanted you to pay via credit card, a method I don’t care to use because of the interest charges. Time to ask around and see what I could find in the area before making up my mind what to do. Like everywhere I think, there are a couple of Best Buys nearby, so they got my first call. Yes, they had memory I could use….. memory that was far faster than I needed…..and that cost nearly twice what the online vendors were asking There were a couple of other chain-type stores in the area and I figured I’d call them too in order to try to get an idea of how extreme the Best Buy was trying to gouge me, but first I figured I’d give one of the local PC repair shops a call to see what they had.

Well, first problem: I didn’t have a business card from them, even though I’d been there several times window shopping. Better still, when I looked in the phone book, they weren’t listed. Fine, the weather was cool and I could use the exercise, so I decided to stroll up and talk to them face to face. No, they didn’t have precisely what I wanted, but they could give me the same amount of memory (1G) if I would be willing to use two memory modules. They made no bones about it, this was used memory that had come out of a machine as part of an upgrade, but then again the price was lower than even the online supplier was quoting. I was a little leery when I saw that the modules were from different manufactures (usually A Bad Thing in this case), but the owner offered to let me try them and, if they didn’t work, bring them back and he’d hand me my check back. With that, I figured I had about the best deal I was going to get and a check was duly cut, followed by memory being handed over.

I should say at this point that, because my machine had been so dependable, I hadn’t had it out since I’d bought it, and had never been inside it once. You would not believe the amount of just-plain-old crud that can collect inside the case of a computer! I found this out when I managed to figure out the latching system that held the main access panel in place. I ended up using a collection of Q-tips, damp paper towels and my fingers to collect as much of the dust and other junk I found inside that case as I could. The memory installation itself was almost an anticlimax, at least after I figured out which way the modules had to be oriented. Then it was back onto the desk, still open on the side, to find out how my used memory would work.

Fine, it turns out, as I’m now working with it. And, yes, my machine is working much faster too! I even decided to do something I’d contemplated for some time and installed a copy of the Linux operating system in a separate partition on my hard drive. It’s very different in some ways, but it offers a Windows-like interface makes getting some of the basics done as easy as when I’m working under XP. I figure it should come in handy in the Unix class I’m taking this semester, but for now I’m just glad to have my old workhorse back in the traces again.