November 2008

Today was my last day off until Christmas break, and I made the most of it. I got up and had breakfast (Sunday is pancake day). Then I went to Lowes and blew $200 on some gutter heaters. When I got home, I began installation, and I worked on that until I finished the front of the house (pretty much).

I still ought to install an electrical outlet up near the eaves. Right now I’m running it on an extension cord. I’ll also need to install a switch so I can turn it off when it’s warm outside, or when there’s no snow in the forecast or on the roof. Last year we had a nasty ice dam up there. It didn’t leak into the house, but it was pretty thick. The ice nearly tore the gutters clean off the house, so I figured I ought to do something to prevent that this year.

I had intended to hang Christmas lights too, but that will have to wait. I might do it tomorrow after work – in the dark.

About 1:30 Va, Beth, and I set out for Concord. Today was to be a brush clearing day at the church, and Va had some shopping to do. We figured we’d get some dinner after that. Beth stayed with me, and Va went on her way. Beth and I were the first ones there. I let her in the church and she sat down to read a book. Then I went out and started clearing brush. I mostly used some mondo pruning shears I have, but I also used a bow saw a bit. I kept working, waiting for someone else to show up, but no one else did. Or maybe they came, saw no other cars, and left without me noticing. That’s a distinct possibility, because Va drove up at around 3:00 and called me on my cell. I didn’t know she was there until she told me so. Beth was quite bored by then, so Va took her with her to the mall, and I continued working alone. I did manage to clear an awful lot of brush, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if others had shown up to help. I threw it in at 4:00, gathered up my tools, and called Va. She came to get me, and then we went out to eat. I was soaking wet by then because of a) perspiration, and b) snow. It started snowing almost as soon as I got there. Maybe that’s why no one else showed up, who knows. I was also pretty tired.

After we ate, we went into J.C. Penny’s and bought me three new shirts. I really like the St John’s Bay brand that they carry. Those shirts invariably become my favorites until I wear them out. I have several that I guess I ought to retire now that the reinforcements have arrived.

Va ordered my new camera for me too (before we left). She also got me a memory card for it and a carrying case. Woot! I can hardly wait until it comes in. I have missed having a camera that will focus.

By the time it quit snowing (I think it’s raining now) we had about an inch on the ground, and that was right in line with the forecast. Hopefully it will be all taken care of by the time I need to drive Beth to school in the morning.

Not a lot happened today. I brought in a tiny little orange I found on the ground at the arboretum yesterday. Well… Johnny found it buried in the leaves. This thing was about the same size as a golf ball, and I understand that they are very bitter to boot. When Ken was about to go make the announcements at church this morning, I handed him this little orange. He used it when announcing the deadline for ordering citrus from the Pathfinders as the main reason we get our fruit from Florida instead of from New England.

We didn’t have anything going on after church today, so we came straight home. David said that it was finally a “normal” day, but I suggested to him that he was incorrect on that count. “Normal” for us is to HAVE something going on after church. He agreed.

We had some lunch, and then I took a nap, which felt really great.

After the nap we had some dinner, and then I helped Beth with her piano lessons. She is really doing quite well – enough so that we are thinking about getting an electronic piano. We have a real cheap one that’s sorta doing the job, but not quite. If you press softly on the key you get the same tone as if you really hammer it. That was highly unfortunate when she was working on the difference between forte (loud) and piano (soft). But she has shown so much improvement since she started, and is still showing enthusiasm, that I think it’s time to upgrade.

I got up at 7:00 this morning. Va had gotten up sometime in the middle of the night not feeling very well. We had been planning to go to the arboretum to meet up with SB Johnny, an Internet friend of mine, but she wasn’t feeling up to it. I got Beth out of bed and fixed her some breakfast. Then I fixed one for myself, and the two of us set out for Boston.

We got there a little before 10:00, and Johnny showed up at about 10:20. He came with his wife and four year-old daughter. Johnny knows his trees!

Years ago when I was at the National Zoo in Washington DC, I would see an animal and try to identify it before looking at the plaque. I found that I was wrong most of the time because they had such unusual animals there. I;d cite an example, but I cannot remember a single one now. It was the same way at the arboretum. I know trees pretty well, but for the most part, I had no clue what trees I was looking at. It didn’t help much that they were mostly leafless this late in the fall. But Johnny knew most of them immediately. He majored in horticulture and has something of a nursery business though. For him, trees are a living. For me, it’s a fascinating hobby.

So while I had an expert’s attention, I asked him about a tree that has defied all my identification attempts. There are several of these growing along the streets in Concord. They look a bit like a cherry, but the leaves’ margins are crenate. For a while I thought it might even be some sort of elm. With that description, Johnny pegged it as a Zelcova. And before we were finished talking about it, we came upon one. There were still leaves on the ground, and sure enough – that’s what it was. I guess the main reason I couldn’t identify it is because they are not native to North America. They are, however, in the same family as the Elms. Johnny said that these were introduced here to replace the elms that have been dying off from Dutch Elm Disease. So… now I know. But I have already forgotten the word Zelcova several times already today.

I guess we walked around for a bit over an hour. Most of that time it was drizzling. I had a hard time keeping Beth’s hood on her – it just didn’t want to stay on. Johnny’s wife and daughter decided to head off somewhere while Johnny, Beth, and I went to a restaurant for some lunch. His wife suggested the “Purple Cactus” – a Mexican restaurant. So I drove us there (it was only a couple of miles away), and the food was pretty decent (though not cheap). Beth ate a cheese Quesadilla, which really surprised me. I had a squash and corn burrito. It also had beans in it, so I called it a “Three Sisters” burrito, referring to the Native American practice of planting beans, corn, and squash together. That’s actually my plan for this summer’s gardening experiment.

I took Johnny back to his wife’s relatives’ place, and then Beth and I headed back for home. I stopped at Lowes and bought some halogen bulbs for the light outside the garage, and when I got home, I put those in. After that, I kind of dozed in and out with an upset stomach. I liked the burrito, but I guess it didn’t like me.

I’d like to go back to the arboretum sometime when the trees have leaves, but I know myself well enough to know that that’s pretty unlikely to happen any time soon.

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. I was tired and not feeling good, but I just couldn’t get sleepy. Maybe that’s because I slept in yesterday morning. I finally went to bed a little after 3:00. And slept until 11:00. Hopefully, tonight won’t be a repeat of last night, but it has all the makings…

We went to our neighbor’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. They invited us and our next door neighbors over. The next door neighbor will be moving to Germany soon. His plant is closing down, so he’s taking a 3 year assignment on the other side of the pond. Sounds exciting. I’m just glad I’m not trying to sell a house in this market.

I do hope that we get replacement neighbors as good as they have been. It would be easy for our neighbor situation to be much worse than it is.

We hung out over there until about 7:00pm, and that’s about when all the kids (except my own, surprisingly) started to fall apart. I guess there was just too much excitement for them for too long, and they were all tired.

Other than that… nothing else to report!

This morning I rolled out of bed at 10:00. That is an extraordinarily rare treat for me, and I enjoyed it very much. When I did get up, I went to Walmart and bought some interfacing for the costume I started on yesterday. I also bought a seam ripper and one of those tomato pin cushions just like Mom had some 40 years ago. I can’t believe they still make those.

On the way home I bought some gas, and the stupid pump didn’t cut off and overflowed on me. At least I wasn’t pouring $4.00/gallon gas on the ground though. I was busy washing the gas off my car when I realized it was too late to tell the pump to give me a receipt. So I went in to ask for one. I also mentioned that the pump didn’t cut off. The clerk said something like “Yeah, it does that sometimes.” Man. If they already knew about it, why don’t they fix it? I oughta call the EPA on them. Then I went on home.

Part way through my costume attempt, the sewing machine just gave up. I could no longer rotate the balance wheel past a certain point in either direction. So I started tearing it apart. Turns out it was a semi-mangled plastic spiral gear that runs the shuttle. I removed it without dreaming of the potential consequences and smoothed out the munged teeth as best I could. Then I realized the enormity of what I had done. I had totally screwed the timing.

A sewing machine’s bobbin mechanism (i.e., the shuttle) has to be in a particular position relative to the needle, and I had no idea where that ought to be. I did a little searching on the Internet and even found where a guy offered to email retiming instructions to another hapless web surfer. So I sent him an email asking if he’d be willing to repeat the favor for another perfect stranger.

But he didn’t email me back within 5 minutes, so I continued my search and hit pay dirt. Armed with a couple of diagrams, I tore into it again and managed to retime the thing. Now it sews again. But I really ought to replace that plastic gear. No telling when it’s going to jam again, and I still need to crank out four and a half more costumes. Total time spent repairing the sewing machine: about three hours.

I did email a “nevermind” to my potential retiming guru. I think that’s just common courtesy.

I have not felt good at all today. I have a foreign particle lodged in my sinus, and for me, that always leads to a sinus infection. I’ll spare you the details, as it will suffice to say that I feel pretty crappy. Also my mouth tastes just like I feel, and I’m sure my breath is no bouquet of roses either.

As soon as I get Beth down for the night, I may cut out the cloth for the cloak that goes with the tunic I made. I prolly won’t run the sewing machine though, as the noise it generates is incompatible with sleeping children.

Or maybe I’ll just veg out for the night.

Beth had a half day of school today, so I drove her (and our riders) in. I came home after that and had the idea of making a fly for one of those mesh tents I bought this summer. David used it on our backpacking trip, and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how well it fared in the rain (hint: not well at all).

I planned to use some superfluous interior tents walls for this, so I laid a couple out on the floor and took some measurements. They are not quite right, but I think I can stitch a couple together without too much difficulty. And so that’s what I did. But that’s as far as I got. Maybe more on that tomorrow, we’ll see.

When Va was ready to leave the house this morning, I volunteered to go with her so we could pick up some fabric. She’ll be running the Adventurer “Camp In” in February (?) and the theme is “The Jerusalem Market Place.” We will therefore need several costumes. We picked out a couple of prints for the villagers, but they didn’t have enough of it there for two of the three outfits. So we bought enough for one villager outfit. Also some for a rabbi and enough for two Roman soldiers.

But all that was after we picked up Beth. Today was the first day the school kids got on the computers I set up for them. They were all pretty excited about that, and Camille seemed to be happy with it too. That’s a good thing, because we are piloting a Linux Terminal Server setup, and if all goes well and it meets all their needs, the software will cost exactly $0. Plus, I know how to set up and maintain such a system. I’m pretty helpless when it comes to Windows (see yesterday’s post). So if this doesn’t meet their needs, I will not be of much use to them.

After the fabric store extravaganza, we came on home. I started working on a villager costume, but could only take it so far. I need some interfacing. Oh well.

Then I helped Beth with her piano lessons a bit and put her to bed. After that I started researching the ancient art of thatching. As in straw roofs. There’s a Pathfinder honor from East Africa for that, and I thought it might be an interesting one to tackle. To my surprise, I found a couple of pretty thorough resources on d’web. I also ordered a book from a retired thatcher (not Margaret!) from England for $16.00. Cool. Right now I am thinking that I will thatch the log cabin I’ve been building for Beth for three years. Maybe this will spur me to make some progress (though I suspect a chainsaw might spur me even more). I was originally inspired to build a log playhouse by Richard Proenneke, but man… a chainsaw sure would be nice! But right now I’m excited about the prospect of thatching the roof, and documenting it as I go for the Wiki answer book.

It has been rainy all day. It may have snowed a little last night, but that was long gone by morning. We may get some snow tomorrow, but with the high forecast at 40 degrees, I’m not expecting any trouble.

I also got a call from an Internet friend today about a meet up. He’s the guy who founded the Bloom Clock project, and he’ll be up here for T-Day. Currently, we’re considering a meet up at the Boston Arboretum on Friday. If that happens, I’ll bring the family.

Well, that oughta be enough for tonight! Thank you both for reading!

As noted earlier, I was planning to take the day off from work. And I did. I was getting ready to take Beth to school when once again, we lost our wireless connection to the network here in the house. I decided it was probably the fault of the wireless router, so we up and decided to just buy a new one. Va had a coupon for a major office supply chain (I will no longer name store names or brands, because when I mentioned a carpet cleaning machine by name yesterday, I ended up with FIVE comments from a carpet cleaning, Internet surfing robot).

To use this coupon, we’d need to spend $100 though, and routers don’t cost that much (unless you really want them to). She figured she could find enough other stuff we actually needed to top $100, so she came into town with us. We picked up our riders and dropped them (and Beth) off at the school. Then we went to the office supply retailer which shall remain unnamed, except to note that they might be named after the primary consumable item that gets loaded into a stapler. Plural. Stupid robots.

We also bought a jug of carpet cleaning solution, and then we came home. I handed the router to Jonathan and said “Go!” and he went. Then I started picking stuff up off the floor so I could crank up the carpet machine. We also dispatched David to his room to do the same. He does not keep a tidy room, and it did not smell…. fresh? So his room was priority two. The living room was priority three.

I did have to help Jonathan get the router set up, but Va’s PC just refused to connect to it. I have no idea why. The most helpful hint I got from Windows was that I needed to look into item 871122 on the Microsoft Knowledge Base. Great Microsoft! I’ll just click on the link you didn’t provide and use the network feature that isn’t working to get right on that! It’s like a message I saw the other day: “Mouse failed. Click OK to continue.” or the classic “If your computer cannot access the network, send an email to the tech support group.” This has such obvious problems, that I was astounded they even put it in there. Are they trying to exasperate people? *gasp!*

OK – so I did have two other computers in the house that were both on and connected to the Internet. So I held my nose and looked up item 871122. They eventually told me to click on a tab that was not there. Gotta love those guys!

Eventually, Va had to take David to the church so the pastor could proctor a Spanish test. I futzed around with her PC for another 30 minutes or so, but I eventually threw in the towel and ran an Ethernet cable around the perimeter of the room and hooked her in with a physical wire. I dunno when I’ll get into this again. Probably what needs to be done is a complete reformatting of her hard drive, and then reinstall everything from scratch. If I had my way, the reinstall would not involve Windows. But it’s her computer, so I do what she wants. But not without complaining about it!

My day got a lot better as soon as I quit messing with Windows though. I hopped in the car and returned the carpet cleaning machine. Then I drove over to the school to see if David had finished his test and maybe needed a ride home. The test had not yet started. So I figured I might just cut some brush. Just as I was getting ready for that, Va called me inside. Camille (our teacher) had some questions about the computers I set up in her classroom (and which do NOT run Windows). So I answered them. She’s going to get the kids going on that tomorrow. I offered to be there if she needed me, because I’m taking off tomorrow too.

I also figured it was high time I got all six of those PCs configured to boot off the terminal server. I changed the BIOS of PC number 5, and it booted off the network straight away. But PC number 6 is as dead as a doornail. A little research revealed that it has a deceased motherboard. An ex-motherboard. A motherboard that is no more. So we’re down to five PC’s instead of six. I’m going to look into setting up another, or perhaps two more.

Then I did go and cut down some more brush. I cut down a white pine that was about seven feet tall. I couldn’t help but notice that it was very Christmas tree like, and that’s when the thought struck me. We could probably sell it as a Christmas tree if we wanted to. I looked around and counted six more like it. All are in the area we’re clearing out, and all were 6-8 feet tall and nicely shaped. I mentioned this to the pastor, and he told me he had had the same idea. We concurred that perhaps the best thing to do was to mention it to the people who come to clear brush this Sunday – anyone who wants a tree can cut it down and haul it home. Donations accepted. Any that are left will be set aside in case someone else wants one.

About the time I’d had enough brush clearing for the day, one of my Pathfinder parents showed up with some baked goods for our bake sale (we took orders in advance). She had made an extra dozen multi-grain rolls for us to sell, and they smelled so good I bought them on the spot. They tasted as good as they smelled too.

I took the riders, Beth, and David home then (school was out), and Va went to do a little shopping. When I got home I hooked up the new cordless phone Va had bought over the weekend, and recorded pretty much the exact same message on the new machine as was on the old: “You’ve reached our answering machine. Please leave a message at the tone.” I used the same vocal inflexions as before too. No one will know it’s a new machine unless they read about it here. Or unless someone who reads it here tells. But that would be such a mind-numbingly boring topic of conversation that I can scarcely imagine THAT would happen! I’m sorry for even writing it! (But not sorry enough to delete it.)

So that’s been my day. Except for fighting with Windows, it was pretty enjoyable too.

The Pathfinders cleaned all the carpets in the church today. I rented four machines for that. In the past, we’ve rented three when we did this. I don’t know what it was, but the kids seemed more focused this year on actually working. In past years, we seemed to spend half our time telling a kid to get busy. This year, when a machine cycled through all its water, more water was ready and waiting. In short – they did pretty good!

The bake sale was a bit of a bust though. It sneaked up on me and I didn’t get the word out until Tuesday. We had orders from less than half a dozen people. The upside to that is it didn’t take a lot of time to bake for them. The downside is that it was a lost opportunity for raising money.

I took one of the four carpet cleaners home with me tonight. It’s not due back at the store until 2:00pm tomorrow, so I’ll put it to good use here at the house. I’m sure Penny will just love that!

Scott’s sermon was good yesterday. I was on the platform with him, and I also had the children’s story. It was beginning to feel like a one-man show until it was time for the sermon. Beth helped me with the children’s story – not so much because I needed help, but that she really REALLY wanted to. She did a good job though. It was about a boy walking home after dark in India and being trailed by a snow leopard. Beth was the snow leopard.

After church yesterday I had to hang around for a bit. There was a memorial service for a member of our pastor’s other church (Laconia) and they asked me to run the PA system. So I did. I made two mistakes. The first was that I did not turn on the power amp in the sanctuary. I had some monitor speakers in the PA room, so I could hear just fine. But I eventually figured it out and turned it on. Oops. The second mistake wasn’t really mine, but I could have prevented it. But that would have taken perfect foresight, which I lack. Someone moved the mic stand over to the piano because she was singing a song while she played. Problem is that the connection doesn’t hold on very well, and the mic came unplugged from the cord. After the service I investigated and found that to be the case. This had happened once before, but I dismissed it as a fluke. Twice in a month means its no fluke though, so when I reconnected, I also tied the cords into an overhand knot. Shouldn’t happen again!

After the memorial service I came on home. Va had made a delicious pot of chili, so I gobbled some of that down. Then we went BACK to the church to watch a DVD on the big screen: The Secret of the Cave. This movie was based on a book that Va had read aloud to the boys a couple of times when they were little. They did a pretty good job on the movie version too, though one character was cast as a girl – it was a boy in the book. But I guess that adds a love interest. Movie makers tend to take liberties I guess.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight.

I felt pretty good a quitting time today at work. I was able to resolve on of the emergencies that had been dropped in my plate. I ended up writing a short application to exercise some features of our card, and it really turned out to be a beautiful piece of code. I like it when it starts working and the code hasn’t deteriorated into a messy heap. Sometimes it does, but not this time. So now I’m off for a week. I decided to take vacation days for Monday-Wednesday to make the Thanksgiving break extra long. I can sure use the break, that’s for sure.

Tonight I finished writing up answers to the Home Nursing honor. That was the last unanswered honor in the Health and Science series. I was thinking I’d order a printed copy, but just remembered a few minutes ago that I need to revisit the Brain and Behavior chapter first. Several of the images I used in that one had been removed from the Wikimedia Commons because they did not have an appropriate license. Once I replace them (by finding new images or creating them myself), I may go ahead and order a printed copy.

Tomorrow one of my old Pathfinders will be preaching the sermon. Scott was brought into our church by his now-wife when they were in high school. I am very fond of them both and am looking forward to hearing Scott speak. They are both attending school at Atlantic Union College, and Scott is thinking about entering the chaplain corps in the U.S. Army. His dad has been in the army for almost 30 years, and has spent plenty of time in Iraq (both in the current conflict there, and the first one back in the 90’s). So I think he has a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into. I wish him the best of luck in that.

My brother speculated today that he thought Microsoft might be a good stock pick about now. His logic was that during the depression, people turned to the cinema to leave their cares behind. In the current economic crisis, they will turn to computer games instead, and MS is a player in that market.

I told him that I wouldn’t touch MS with a 39 and a half foot pole. Here’s what I wrote (with a few spelling corrections):

Microsoft is running on pure momentum right now. They have been losing money on their Xbox division since its inception. Their cash cows have always been Windows and Office. The move towards cloud computing will make the OS not matter.

Apple is in a pretty good position, because they are moving their crown jewels to the iPhone and to content delivery. The pundits are saying that mobile platforms will almost completely replace the desktop. I don’t know if they’re right or not.

Vista has been a disaster for MS, and by the time Windows 7 comes out, the OS will not matter. How can that happen?

Google has been building and deploying data centers in shipping containers. Toss it on the back of a truck, plop in in a lot somewhere and plug it in. I think they may come out with a netbook-sort of device a bit like a laptop, but without a hard drive. Plug it into the Internet, and it will boot over the network. The apps will run on the servers in the shipping containers, and that’s also where the data will live. The netbook will only need enough computing power to paint the
screen, play audio, and forward keyboard and mouse strokes to the data center. You will also be able to do this with a cell phone. These netbooks will cost about $100, but Google may give them away.

This will be both good and bad. Good because people who are not good at keeping their computers maintained will no longer have to maintain computers. That will be the end of malware. Google will maintain the servers with a team of professionals instead.

Bad because Google will have all your data. If you think MS had lock-in, just wait. Google will then say “All your data are belong to us.”

I am not looking forward to this. Google will use your data to figure out what to market at you. The terrist fighters will be one subpoena away from all your data, and you will never know they looked at it. You should have no expectation of privacy. George Orwell’s greatest fears will be realized on a scale most people could not have imagined.

MS will struggle for a while and try to compete, but I just don’t see them ever catching the clue train. They will survive for a long time because they have a tremendous amount of cash. They will spend it all in a long, horrible spiral of death. If I had any stock in MS now, I would unload it ASAP.

Apple will move into the content delivery business a la iTunes. They will provide the music and video you stream to your netbook and cell phone. They will prolly do OK. The netbook and cell phone will eventually merge into a single device, maybe with a built-in projector so that any nearby wall can become your screen.

Or none of this will happen, I dunno. But I would stay away from MS stock.

Man… now you’ve got me all depressed.

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