Archive for the ‘Things that give you hope’ Category

Hi ho! Hi ho! I’ts off to work I go!

September 12, 2011

Yes, that’s right! In about an hour, I’ll be working again. How well (or poorly) I’ll do, I haven’t a clue, but I’ll find out shortly.

Living in the Land of Unreason

August 26, 2011

Last year, a small college in Indiana made a decision to change it’s traditions. You see, through it’s history, Goshen College, a small college founded by the Mennonites, had never played the national anthem at it’s sporting events. So when they decided to start playing an instrumental version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, it was something of a shift for them, a shift that, it turned out, did not go down well. After a year’s worth of playing, the school had heard from many sources. The student body spoke up and gave it’s opinion. The alumni of the school also voiced their opinion. The input wasn’t unanimous, but the voices saying that the school should not have changed it’s traditions were much louder than those who thought the playing of the national anthem was something the school should be doing. The objections to “The Star-Spangled Banner” was simple and specific: it describes a battle, and the Mennonite faith is one based on pacifism. By playing a song that glorified a battle, it was felt the school was going against it’s deepest religious traditions. The school did feel that a song that spoke of pride in our nation was not out of place before sports events, so the decision was made to replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” with “America the Beautiful”.

All of this would amount to pretty much next-to-nothing in a world where reason prevailed. Unfortunately, we live in modern America, and as soon as the decision was announced, the conservative wing of American politics cranked up it’s venom machinery. I first read of this whole story in a story (which I didn’t bookmark and can no long find) on Yahoo. Like most online outlets, the story had an attached comments section, and the pure hatred and malice that was expressed by people on the Right was a shock even to myself, who’d seen it many times. All the traditional insults, “traitors” “anti-American”, “PC ‘liberals’”, you name it, it was there, along with much far worse. In their minds, this was an assault on “American values” and another sign of “what’s wrong with this country”.

But how is that so?

A group listened to it’s members, and the majority’s opinion was heard. That opinion was that the group’s religious beliefs should not be shunted aside to please others. So democracy, the will of the majority, standing up for one’s principles and beliefs, all these things are now “un-American”?

When a group can condemn another group for upholding the ideals it professes to hold dear, what does that say of us? Have we, as a nation, become so polarized, so set in our ideas of “Right” and “Wrong” that we can’t see when opinion leads people to stray into the absurd? If it has, then democracy, that most basic of our tenets, is dead, and it will have been killed by those who claim to hold it most dear.

Does anyone else see the irony in all this?

Paying a visit to the ‘old neighborhood’

August 12, 2011

A couple of decades ago, one of the things I loved to do was go out at night and take photos of the night sky. I actually got started doing this for several reasons. Comet Halley was one of them. When it made it’s last appearance in the 1980’s, it was predicted to be one of the brighter of it’s many visits to the vicinity of Earth. Another was my interest in space and astronomy in general. Back then, I was reading and writing about space and space exploration a lot. So it seemed a natural extension to begin paying attention the stars in the sky. Last, but far from least, the images I captured, primitive as they were, had a beauty to them that is hard to describe. There is no secret to how to capture a night sky image, you just need a camera that will allow you to open the shutter for an extended period of time so the film can gather the maximum amount of light possible. The fact that I used “film” should tell you that I’m not lying about how long ago this was. Back then, the few CCD cameras that existed were the property of either the government or some of the high-end educational institutes. Of course, it was no where near as easy as I describe it. For one thing, keeping the shutter open required some sort of mechanism to to both open and close it without causing the camera to shake or move in any way. Most decent SLR camera had a “manual” setting, which when engaged, caused the shutter to remain open for as long as the shutter release button was kept depressed. Of course, you couldn’t just hold your finger on it, because no human is completely still all the time. So trying to hold your finger on the button would cause the camera to shake enough that what you’d end up was a lot of strange-looking squiggles on a dark background. A better route was to use what was called a shutter release cable, which screwed into a small opening in the center of the shutter button. Once in place, you just pressed a button on the end of the cable and the shutter opened. A second, concentric button could then be released whenever you were done with the exposure, releasing the button and closing the shutter. Now, because as I said earlier, you shake all the time, you could not actually hold your camera. No, to take night sky images, you needed a tripod that was strong enough to take your camera (plus the weight of any telephoto lenses you might add to get more detail out of an area you were imaging), and stable enough to not shake if the wind happens to start blowing. I had all this, but to really, really get good images, you needed to be able to track the stars as they slowly move across the sky. This requires what is known as a sidereal drive, and it was both expensive and in no way a snap to set up properly. Not being graced with a ton of money even then (and not being sure I could ever learn to properly adjust the drive so it could function as it should), I opted for what is known as “unguided” photography. If you limit yourself to fairly short exposure times (less than a minute), the results aren’t all that bad. You get a view of the brighter stars on a background that is often a field of deep grayish-green (the sky doesn’t come out black because of a lot of factors that aren’t important to this missive). If you go beyond that limited time frame, what you end up with is more stars, but they’re not pinpoints, but blurred lines stretching across the background.

For really stand-out objects, things like bright comets, the Moon and the brighter stars that make up the constellations, unguided photos will give you very nice results. They’re even fairly good for some of the brighter galaxies (I was once lucky enough to capture a fine image of the Andromeda Galaxy as a fuzzy patch of light on my image, lucky because I couldn’t see it in the viewfinder!). But to capture the real beauty of the night skies, the fainter stars, nebulae and other objects, you need to go to guided photography, preferably with the camera connected to a telescope. That, coupled with way too many experiences of having a camera shop develop my film, then tell me it was “unexposed” because “it was all dark, there weren’t any images on it”, lead me to eventually abandon night sky photography. I even stopped just going out and looking at the night sky.

A bit of boredom, coupled with a chance reading of a story about the Perseid meteor shower and the forecast of a cool, clear night led me back out under the night skies. Without any film, I didn’t have the option to get my old camera out and try capturing any meteors streaking across the sky, so I decided to just go see what my eyes could see. Living in a small town, fairly well away from large cities, finding a place to go watch wasn’t hard. What you really need, more than anything else, to enjoy the night skies are dark skies. Cities, unless the power fails, are never dark enough to really bring out the splendor of the night skies. No, to see the stars, and more important, to see dimmer objects like smaller meteor, you need to be in the country, well away from any source of light. For me, such sites are within less then half an hour’s drive. So, with the meteors forecast to really start putting on a show after midnight, I decided to go to bed early and get up at midnight to go out to see what I could see.

The alarm drove me out of a sound sleep, and in that befuddled state you often are in in such a situation, I got dressed, got in my car, and headed out. It didn’t take me long to spot a place that interested me: a perfectly-black stretch of land off to one side of the road. At the next crossroad I came to, I turned onto a gravel road and started hunting for someplace in that wonderful blackness. A second, crossing gravel road came out of the headlight’s glare, and I turned again, moving deeper into the unpopulated area. At this point, I slowed down and began to watch for a ramp off the road, one the farmer’s use to access their fields. This sort of spot is ideal, as it gets you (and your car) off the road, while providing a solid base to park on so you have less chance of ending up stuck in the middle of nowhere. One presently presented itself, and because of the orientation of the road to direction I wanted to watch, I worked the car around so I was backed into it.

Now was when all the things I’d learned, and should have remembered, came flooding back to me. Usually, if I’m planning on lying on my car (a favorite and convenient place to relax), I try to remember to bring an old blanket. This both protects my car’s paint and also keeps my clothing from picking up all the crud that is usually on my car. Well, I hadn’t remembered to bring one, so I had to be careful how I moved, and know that the clothing I was wearing was going straight into the dirty cloth when I got back home. A blanket also gives you the option to pull a flap out and cover yourself if things start to get chilly. You can also take a light jacket to put on if you get cool, but like the blanket, I hadn’t thought to bring one of those either. I also hadn’t thought to grab the little clip-on bug repellent I sometimes use. The chill air kept the damage on that front down considerably, but I still managed to collect a few bites.

So how did things go? Well, you can get away from the lights of the cities, but there’s one light you can’t get away from if it’s present: the Moon. Being within a couple of days of full, the Moon was bright enough to allow me to walk around without tripping within a minute of the car lights being shut off. This limited what I could see in the way of meteors quite a lot I’m sure. As it was, I saw three meteors I’m sure of, plus another four I think I caught out of the ‘corner of my eye’ (the most light-sensitive part of the human eye) in the course of an hour’s time. By that time, it was feeling decidedly chilly to me in my tee shirt and jeans, so I decided to go home.

Wasn’t it all a waste, you ask? No. I got out under the night sky again, got familiar with the constellations once more, and remembered all the other reasons I love to be out doing things like this. While the bugs might have bitten me, I got to listen to their night songs once more. I also was reminded of just how well sounds can travel if there’s not a lot to drown them out. Out there in the countryside, I could hear trains blowing their horns, trains that were never nearer than fifteen or twenty miles. Cars on the road I’d first turned off sometimes got me to looking around, wondering when they’d come up on where I was parked. Beneath all that, lingering at the edge of perception, was the slow thump of my own heart.

They say you can’t go home again, but sometimes, you can pay a visit to someplace you loved and find you still enjoy the ‘old neighborhood’. Last night, I got a chance to do that, and I think I might just start visiting again soon, and as much as I can, because the night sky is a neighborhood we should all visit from time to time. It’s a beautiful place, so if you can, get out someplace near you and enjoy a visit.

Catching up on old business

July 27, 2011

A couple of past blog posts have spoken of things I wished I could have given images of.

Well, in both cases, I had an image to go with the post, I just didn’t have it in my possession. You see, I don’t have a digital camera, which makes importing images to this blog a major problem. What I do have is a sister with a ‘smart’ phone, and in both cases, she took pictures for me of the subject in question. The things she did not do until just the other day was forward me the images! Well, now I’d love to pass along her work and a few of my words.

In “Evolution is beautiful”, I spoke of the white violets in a nearby yard. Here’s an example of one I brought home with me.

Beauty in the hands of a beast.

The other post was “An embarrassment of riches”, in which I spoke of my recent black raspberry harvest. Here’s an image of one day’s pickings, about 3/4 of a gallon freezer bag full.

This is one day's worth of berries!

 

So that’s that. The berries are gone now, with neighbors and friends supplied for another year. The birds (again, as usual!) repaid me for leaving some for them by dive-bombing my car with their rather-distinctly-colored poo!

Hopefully I will someday be able to afford a digital camera, though when that event will occur I have no idea. Until then, I hope I can bring a few more images to this blog in (hopefully!) a more timely manner.

Grow, grow, grow!

June 23, 2011

Last year, I launched into an experimental garden with my potato crop derived from a few sprouted spuds. If you read this blog, you’ll know the results were somewhat less than great. With that in mind, when I got the urge to garden again this year, I decided it might be a good idea if I gave my small garden plot a rest to (hopefully) regain some of it’s fertility.

So, with that decision out of the way, I was left with two possible courses of action:

Find a section of the lawn I could turn and use for planting, or

Find some sort of containerized gardening solution.

Having past experience with going from lawn to garden, I knew this meant a lot of work and the problem of a bare spot after I decided to move my garden. So, container gardening it is!

I know some folks who have used those hanging plant containers, and they all report that while they look odd (and are occasionally cumbersome to get planted), they’re very effective at producing healthy plants and fairly good harvests. The problem, of course, is cost. Most of the hanging planters come without any dirt, so you have to pay for both the planter, plus whatever you use to fill them, be it bagged topsoil, compost or anything else. On my budget, cost is Factor #1, so the less costly a solution is, the better I like it. This lead me back to the tried-and-true system of planting garden plants directly in a bag of whatever soil/medium I was going to use. A bit of shopping around turned up the cheapest bags of suitable planting medium, specifically composted cow manure, at the local Wal-Marts (yes, I know, I’m no big fan of theirs either). Given the space I was going to have available to me (the corner of the same porch last year’s potatoes had grown next to), I figured that I would have room for two, perhaps three bags. Rather than try to squeeze the maximum number of plants into the space and risk them shading each other too much, I opted for only two bags. What to grow was a lot easier: tomatoes and bell peppers. Here I caught a break: the local grocery store was selling garden plants, and not only did theirs look better than those on offer at Wal-Marts, but they were offering heirloom plants that were priced cheaper than the Wal-Marts ‘specials’ too.

In the end, I chose an heirloom tomato plant, a “Brandywine”, and a more modern “Valencia Orange” hybrid pepper plant. As with a lot of things, once the decisions were made, Fate stepped in to have it’s say. In this case, it happened that while I was unloading the bagged compost, I managed to snag one of the bags along the edge and tear it. The usual approach when doing this sort of approach is to lay the bags down flat, just as they were stacked where you bought them, and open the upper surface to allow the plant to be planted. With an opening already in the bag, it wasn’t a hard decision to make to turn the torn bag on it’s side and just expand the opening already there. Well, that was the theory at least. You see, what with being stacked up and all, the compost inside the bags gets pretty well compressed. That, in turn, means that what you’ve got inside the bag is sometimes less like garden soil and more like cheaply-made concrete. In my case, it wasn’t quite that extreme, but it definitely took a good deal of work to break up the compost into something that could be planted in without leaving it in huge chunks. The resulting bag was much thicker than it would have been, and seeing as how tomatoes like a good, deep bed to grow into, the place to plant my “Brandywine” was decided. After it was in, the other bag for the “Valencia Orange” was slit open and the compost inside it broken up in the immediate area under the opening. Getting it planted took even less time than the tomato had (the bag wasn’t nearly as neatly opened or controllable on the tomato bag) and I was done. Plants planted, garden ready to start growing.

Or so I thought.

Like last year, things happened that gave me options I hadn’t thought of before. In this case, it was some garlic I’d bought. I needed some fresh to season a dish, but I didn’t need the whole clove. So I put the rest aside, thinking that it would be safe to leave it lying around. No, it wasn’t. In this case, the weather took a hand in making the decision for me. After a couple of says when the local temps shot suddenly into the mid-80’s, I happened to look at my left-over garlic and found that almost all of it was sprouting. When I took the clove apart, I found six segments had sprouted. I knew these would not last long, and with nothing to use them in, I decided to do what I did last year: plant them. As a general rule, garlic like to be planted in cooler weather, but with the only other choice being throwing the sprouted segments out, I figured I had nothing to loose. Because of the way the bags were lying, the bag holding the pepper plant had more space, so it drew one segment at each corner of the bag. The tomato bag took the other two, one at each end. That was about three weeks ago.

Right now, the garlic is growing like a proverbial weed, with the tops already six or more inches tall. Whether they’ll form cloves or just go to seed is something I’ll find out in the next month or so. Both of the ‘non-volunteer’ plants are doing well, with strong growth on both plants. The pepper has already flowered twice without showing any signs of fruit forming, but it’s early in the season, so I’m not discouraged. One thing I had not thought of, and that I’ll have to tackle soon, is how to support the tomato plant. “Brandywine”, like many other heirloom tomatoes, has a tendency to grow big and grow fast. Mine is already showing signs of wanting to take off in it’s own direction, so some sort of support to keep it upright is going to be a necessity soon. What that support will be, well, I guess you’ll find out shortly after I do.

I hope anyone who reads this will give serious thought to growing something for themselves. It’s getting a bit late to be planting things like tomatoes and peppers, but not too late if you have a long warm season. There’s also plenty of time, even in the shortest of warm seasons, to grow things like lettuce and other salad greens. A bag container is a good solution for these sorts of crops too, and between the satisfaction of ‘growing your own’, the savings on your grocery bill and the generally better quality of crops you grow yourself, it’s a good thing to do. So give it a whirl.

Evolution IS beautiful!

May 10, 2011

There’s an abandoned house not too far from where I live. The owner moved out and just left it setting, I’m not even sure they bothered to lock the front door. With the return of warm weather to my region, the lawn is slowly starting to get shaggier and shaggier. No doubt someday soon, someone will be around to mow it, but for now, it’s slowly going a bit wild.

The nice thing about a wild yard like this isn’t the long grass, though after a long, snowy winter like the one that haunted this part of the country, all that green does help to remind you winter is over. No, what’ really nice is the weeds.

You see, the yard has already started to sprout a healthy smattering of dandelions, and their bright yellow flowers are quite an enjoyable sight….at least as long as you’re not expected to get rid of them. The yard also sports a very nice selection of native violets. Most folks consider them to be a weed to, but in this case, I figure ‘most folks’ don’t know what they’re talking about. The violets actually come in two distinct varieties: one is your “traditional” violet, complete with it’s characteristic color. They’re quite nice looking flowers, and their color stands out well on the green background. The other variety, though, is a white violet. It’s the same shape as it’s “normal” cousin, and it springs from from an identical plant, but instead of the purple with a yellow/gold ring in the center, a white violet is just that, white, and has a pale violet ring around the center. I walked among them today, looking at them. My own yard has a small colony of white violets, but seeing as how I actually live in my house, I’m expected to keep the yard mowed, so mine never achieve quite the glorious stage that these have, both in size and quantity. I noticed that some of the white violets in the abandoned house’s yard looked odd and bent down to pick one to see if I could figure out what wasn’t right. What I saw was that, on some of the flowers, the violet ring had nearly disappeared, leaving only a small patch of pale purple on the lowest point of the central ring area. A truly white violet was arising by simple mutation!

I wondered how people who insist that evolution is a “myth” would explain my small discovery. Would they claim God had somehow decided to change a small patch of flowers? Or would they think Satan had put them there to “tempt” someone into believing the “false doctrine” of evolution?

Me, I see a small change in a single plant, spreading as that plant produces more copies of itself. I don’t need to see ‘the hand of God’ in it, I just see a small, random change producing something quite beautiful. That beauty is enough for me.

One man’s weed, another man’s beautiful moment.

something to share

February 25, 2011

The reason we do things like this is to share some of the things we find that we also enjoy. I found this today and thought I would share it with anyone who reads this:

http://www.welovedonegal.com/dunkineely-trad-music-festival.html

(Mis)Adventures with Linux

October 4, 2010

A while back, I wrote about getting on MySpace and how I was wondering if it was worthwhile.

I am beginning to think it was.

I’m back in school now, trying to learn enough to help me get a job. I’m hoping that job with be in computer networking, and one thing that became clear to me was that, at least as far as servers and the hardware that keeps the Internet going, the Linux operating system has a major presence. So, I figured, if I’m going to have to deal with this stuff, at least a little bit, it might be a good idea if I learned something about this operating system.

There are times when I just ain’t too bright, and I am beginning to think this is one of those times!

Linux, at least at it’s base, is a “command line” operating system, or OS. For those of you out there who, like me, are old enough to remember back before Windows, back when, if you wanted to make a computer run, you usually ran DOS, Linux is kinda like that…..only a whole lot worse! Linux is obscure, multi-layered, confusing and just generally hard as hell to get your head around. I am slowly beginning to get some sort of a feel for it, but it’s more like I can feel the rope sliding through my hands and I know there’s not a whole lot more of it left than like I’ve got a firm grip on things.  Linux has another oddity to it, one that might help you understand why it hold such a place in the operations of the Internet: it’s free. You can Google the word and come up with a long list of places where you can go and download all manner of different “distributions” of Linux (think various versions of Windows, each with slightly different characteristics). I was even given a CD of it last year by an instructor, which should tell you how cheap it is. This is because Linux is considered “open source”, software that is written, debugged and supported by the users. It’s a powerful idea, and the OS is supposed to be rugged and fault-tolerant (meaning it doesn’t curl up it’s toes as easily as Windows can still do from time to time).

The above statement comes with a proviso: when it’s properly installed!

Actually getting Linux up-and-running is not an easy thing. Many of the distributions need detailed information on the machine they’re being installed on, things like the precise specifications of the CPU, or the way that the mother board talks to things like USB devices, or even what chipset is used in your video display system. Some make it a bit easier, with installation software that can (supposedly) use the same internal software in your computer to find out all the information it needs to get up and running. It’s the details, however, that can come around and bite you in the ass, and believe me, they bite hard and have good teeth.

When I decided to load Linux onto my desktop machine, I used the Ubuntu distribution, to be precise, the 9.04 version. I’d had it setting around for several months, though, and in the meantime, Ubuntu had come out with a newer distribution, 9.10, and the first thing my older version did when it installed was to tell me that a newer version was available, and to suggest I upgrade. Well, the software is free, I’ve got the speed now to make it so that the software would actually download this year, so what the hell, let’s DO it. Once I gave the okay, the software said it would take a couple of hours to download the new OS, clear away the current version, and get everything all installed, so I let it run and got doing other things.

When I came back, the OS was waiting, ready to finish the install of the new version of Linux, only needing my final approval. So I gave the okay, sat down, and watched as the install finished. Once it was done, I had to fill in things like my name for a username, plus a password (Linux is also very, very good about security), and then the new OS started up. All I could think was “WOW!!!”: a Windows-like environment, complete with mouse, icon-based control of different functions, and enough goodies in the way of accessory software to make me almost drool. I was thinking I had one sweet deal, a new OS I could use both to learn and also to actually get something done. Things were looking good……

Yep, you guessed it, now was the time when those pesky details turned around and sank their fangs into my ass. It wasn’t anything obvious, no sudden puff of smoke rising from the computer or anything quite that dramatic, but it was disturbing. I’d be working away, surfing the Web, playing with some of the neat toys (that version of Linux had a kick-ass chess program I loved!), and suddenly, with no warning, the computer would stop doing anything. The cursor would move around the screen when I shoved the mouse around, but I could click until my finger got sore and nothing would happen, nothing at all. That wouldn’t be bad, but like an ordinary Windows machine, the only way to shut the machine down is to click on the button on the screen to turn the computer off. So, here I was, with a computer that was doing nothing but setting there, making noise, using up electricity, but that was it. I guess I am lucky, I have the power strip that controls my machine where I can reach it easily, so when I couldn’t get the machine to shut off any other way, I just turned the power off to it. I was seriously tempted to just wait, to see if I could live with the odd problem and maybe figure out why it was doing what it was doing.

Here, absolute stupidity, at least on my part, stepped in.

You see, with mine being an older version of Ubuntu, developments had gone to the point were an entirely new version of the OS was available. This was not compatible with my current, updated version, and from time to time I’d get updates for my old version, along with a notice for the newer version. One of these hit about the time I was starting to wonder what was going on, and not thinking too deeply, I decided to give my computer the okay to go ahead and upgrade to the new distribution.

Mistake. BIG mistake. Okay, HUGE mistake!

When I gave the okay, it was getting late in the day and the software said it would take at least a couple of hours for the new OS to download, clean up from the old version, and install itself. With no desire to set around watching the computer chuckle to itself, I decided to let it take care of the details and I’d check the results in the morning. So I went to bed and got some sleep, thinking I’d have a nice, shiny new OS to play with when I got up the next day.

Boy, was that wishful thinking!

When I went to the computer the next day and turned on the monitor, I was somewhat amazed to find that it would not, in fact, respond to anything at all, but remained stubbornly black. After trying just about everything I knew, and swearing a blue streak, I killed the power to the computer yet-again and started it back up. What I found out was that the new OS had crashed during install, and I didn’t know enough to even begin to figure out why. Now is where things got interesting. I did the classic move in our modern age, I Googled Linux help and found a site that was supposed to be the best, linuxquestions.org. There seemed to be tons of material there, plenty of knowledgeable folks, so I signed up and made an introductory post telling a bit about myself and mentioning my problem. At the same time, I also posted to the computer section of MySpace telling of my latest (mis)adventure with Linux. What followed was a lesson in how cyberspace can be deceiving. The “experts” on linuxquestions.org proceeded not to offer advice or help, but to lecture me on how ignorant I was and how I should learn more, lots more, before I even bothered to ask any question of them. At about the same time, the folks on MySpace started to reply with advice and suggestions, including a link to a blog post someone made dealing with the precise problem I’d been having with my earlier installation. It turned out that, despite reading the information Windows uses to know what hardware is present on a system, Ubuntu expected certain hardware minimums, and if those weren’t present, it would default to it’s own choice. That this would not work with certain, shall we say, older hardware (yes, like my machine) and could cause it to behave oddly is something that is not mentioned up front. So my machine loaded the new OS, tried to work with it, but eventually the incompatibility between it and what Linux was expecting caused Linux to crash. To their credit, I notified Ubuntu of the problem, and they in turn pointed me to some not-too-easy-to-find notifications addressing the problem. So I now know how to get things fixed. All credit to the kind folks on MySpace, and none to the self-described “experts” on linuxquestions.org.

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!

“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.