December 2008

Woo! Party! Right now I’m at the church with the Pathfinders. For the past couple of years, we have had a New Years Eve party as an incentive for the Pathfinders to finish up their Bible reading and do good on their merit points. We also had a meeting (from 5-8) to make-up for the one we cancelled due to bad weather a week and a half ago.

Except that we’re having a snow storm right now. Attendance is pretty low. I almost postponed the party, but didn’t know when we could do it again. New Years Eve comes but once per year.

The boys brought their Wii and have hooked it up to the projector. So we’re playing some big-screen Wii. Actually, that’s what they are doing. I’m doing some web surfage.

Ahh… I have been challenged to a game of Scrabble.

This morning I got up pretty early for it being a day off. I ate an orange and then took out the trash. To my surprise, we had a fresh inch of snow on the ground, and it was still falling. It stopped shortly after that, so we didn’t get much more than an inch.

Then I drove into Tilton. My plan was to go to Lowes, but I passed a True Value hardware store in the “old” part of town and decided to go there instead. I guess that store has been there for a hundred years, and I love browsing around in a place like that. I was looking for mineral spirits and a paint brush, which I found. I also found a bracket that I will use to hang Beth’s bird feeder Sometime Real Soon Now™. It was a delightful store, and I will go there first from now on.

When I got home, I took Penny for another walk down to Sandogardy Pond. I saw several hundred squirrel tracks (no exaggeration), and photographed a couple. This one turned out the best:

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Va and Beth went into Concord a little while later. Beth was all excited because they were going to open a savings account for her. The boys and I fended for ourselves for lunch, and after that, I got to work on a costume for Camp In.

That has been an exercise in frustration. The sewing machine didn’t want to run at first, but I gave the shuttle a nice WD-40 bath, and it was soon humming away. Then it started making a messy tangle of thread on the bottom side of the seams. I know what causes that – maladjusted tension on the bobbin. I dug around for the sewing machine manual, but was not met with joy. I looked all over the machine for an adjustment, but didn’t see anything obvious. I adjusted the tension on the top thread, but that didn’t seem to make much difference. If anything, it made matters worse. I eventually resorted to hand stitching some parts, because there wasn’t that much to do. But tomorrow, I will have to find that manual.

I spent the better part of this evening going through my photos, tagging each one. They are mostly wildflowers, and I am tagging them by species using their proper Latin names. I’ve saved 5,467 photos (and taken almost 20,000), so this is going to be a long process. I’ve already tagged 3,844 of them, so it’s not going to be that much longer (I’ve been working on this for a couple of weeks).

I also have several insect photos, and up until now, I have not tried to id them down to the species level. But that has now begun to some extent. For the most part, I have been tagging them by their taxonomic Order (Diptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, etc). Last night I started taking the diptera (flies and mosquitoes) down to the genus or species level (if I could). I’ve also started down that path with the Coleoptera (beetles), but I’m going to save the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) for some other time. It takes a while to figure some of these out. is a tremendous help.

I’m tagging my frogs down to the species, but haven’t done that with the salamanders yet (though that should not be hard – there are only about a dozen species of salamander in NH).

So far I’m tagging the fungi as… Fungi. I’ll drill down on those later. Same with the Bryophytes (mosses) and Lichens.

It has been interesting doing this, as these nature photos represent about two years worth of field play (can’t call it “field work” if it’s really just play). My photographic skills have come a long way since I started. Some of the early attempts were pretty pathetic. This new camera promises yet another leap. I have so far been able to apply what I learned on my previous camera, so that’s a definite bonus.

This morning I got up at the crack of 9:30 and set to work squaring the door to Beth’s bedroom. Shortly after we moved into this house (i.e., right after it was built), her door was unable to close. In the past, I would have whipped out a plane and a chisel. I’d have planed the top of the door, and I’d have moved the strike plate. Then the door would have closed and latched.

But these days I know better. The door is already square, and the strike plate was mounted in the jamb at the factory. It is already in the right place. What is not in the right place though, is the door frame itself. So I carefully pried off the facing, both inside and out. I had bought some shims yesterday, so I wedged them in at the top of the door, and tapped them in while checking the frame with a square. Once it was square, I quit tapping. I tested the door. It closed. It latched.

Then I went to the basement to scrounge up some finishing nails, but the only ones I could find were the wrong size. I needed little ones to attach the facing to the jamb, and larger ones to attach the facing to the wall. Plus I wanted a mondo finishing nail to spike through the door frame into the stud. It looked like a trip to the hardware store was in order.

Va and Beth came along too, and we pretty much made an afternoon of it. The first order of business was lunch at Pizza Hut. We saw our friend Sharon there with her daughter Sarah (who teaches fourth grade). In fact, we waited in line with them and had a nice chat. Va asked Sharon if she would run a booth during Camp In next month, and Sharon agreed (she’ll run the basketry booth). Sarah was interested too. She’ll either hang out with Sharon, or she’ll run the pottery booth, but she wants to check her schedule before committing (always a good idea).

Then we went Shaws, Home Depot (got some nails!), and Michael’s, where we bought a bird feeder for Beth. The other day Beth told me that she wanted to become an expert at birds, just like I’m and expert (her words!) in wild flowers. She wanted a book, and I told her we already had one. This morning she went outside with the book and my binoculars, but she came in disappointed after 15 minutes. No birds. I suggested a bird feeder, and she was delighted with that idea. So we picked one up for $2.50 (using a 50% off coupon).

Then we went to Walmart so I could get a new pair of glasses. I almost bought some a while back, but they were all so expensive, and my prescription hadn’t changed. However, I have a tax-free medical expense account that expires at the end of the year – if I don’t spend the money in it, it’s gone forever. So glasses sounded like a good idea.

My brother has been making fun of my glasses for about the past five years (which is about how long I’ve had this pair). “The lenses are HUGE! You look like a relic from the 70’s!” etc. Well Mike – maybe you’ll like these better. I put aside my own preferences in favor of yours. I hope you approve! I won’t get them until after the new year, but luckily, I got to pay for them today (before my money turns into a pumpkin!)

After Walmart, we went downtown, and I made the mistake of driving on Main Street. That’s usually dicey, and today, it was a particularly bad choice. They had torn out a lane and had a hydrant opened up, so traffic was a tad on the sluggish side. I parked at my office and dashed in for the Fedora DVD, but I couldn’t find Dennis. I figured he might be back in a few minutes, so I hustled down the street to the bank and made a deposit. Then high-tailed it back to the office. Still no Dennis. I checked my office on the odd chance that he might have left the DVD on my desk (I had Skyped him earlier and told him I might drop by). It was there! I went back to the car, and then we drove home again. My errand to buy some nails (I also bought some drill bits) only took three hours!

I finished Beth’s door to my satisfaction (it now closes and latches), but it will need to be repainted now. Nail holes.

Then I took Beth’s bird feeder to the basement and slapped a coat of varnish on it. While I had the can open, I also applied a coat to a dining room chair. That’s been on my to do list ever since we moved in here in 2004. I didn’t have any paint thinner or mineral spirits though, so the brush will be a lost cause. Maybe tomorrow I can run in and get some thinner and a new brush. With any luck, I might even get it all done in under three hours!

Black and Blueberry Dewberry Pie Update

Judgement is now unreserved, and it is delicious! It’s a bit too runny though. If I could do it over again, I’d add some cornstarch to thicken up the filling. But it sure tastes good. A dollop of ice cream is the perfect topping.

This morning after breakfast I went straight back to bed and slept until 10:30 or so. Then I went outside with Penny. We tramped through our woods a little bit, and I found a couple of patches of moss. The moss was sporting its spore caps, so I took several pictures. This is the best one:

Moss Spore Caps

Moss Spore Caps

We had some errands to run, so all of us got in the car and went to lunch first. Then we went to the church where Jonathan and I fiddled with the computer network while Va did some photocopying for her Sabbath School class.

While Jonathan was working on the computer, I thought I might go outside and look for things to take pictures of. To my surprise, I found a wasp of some sort. It was above 40 degrees outside, so maybe I shouldn’t have been too surprised. It was a sluggish wasp though. I have not yet determined the species, but here it is:

Winter Wasp

Winter Wasp

After we got home, Va asked me if I was going to ever bake the pie I had been talking about. Last fall Beth and I spent a lot of time picking tiny amounts of blueberries and blackberries. I guess three or four tablespoons at a time. But each time, I would pop them in a bag (or a plastic container) with the rest of them, and stick them in the freezer. I ended up having maybe enough to bake a pie. So I whipped out the cookbook to see how one would go about baking a pie.

A blueberry pie requires a top crust. I had asked Va to buy me a crust, and she did, but it was only a bottom crust. So I decided to try my hand a crust making too. Maybe it came out OK – we’ll see. I sure didn’t come out pretty, but that was because I couldn’t roll it out into a round enough shape (the top crust that is). I settled for sort of a patchwork top crust.

Then I turned my attention to the filling. It called for five cups of blueberries. I didn’t think I had five. I dragged them out of the freezer and measured them: 2 cups. Then I measured the blackberries: 3.5 cups. And I decided right then and there to make a black and blue berry pie.

I looked for a blackberry pie recipe too, just to see how different it was compared to blueberry. They didn’t have a blackberry recipe, but the did have a raspberry recipe. Same genus! I figured, “close enough!” Actually, some of my blackberries were dew berries, but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference just by looking at the berries. Anyhow – the raspberry pie recipe was almost identical to the blueberry recipe, so I chalked that up as a win. Of course… I haven’t tasted it yet, so perhaps I should reserve judgement?

Black and Blueberry, Dewberry Pie

Black and Blueberry, Dewberry Pie

Today after church (and after lunch), I grabbed my camera and hiked down the Sandogardy Pond. None of the kids wanted to go, but Penny sure did. We have about a foot of snow on the ground still, but it was raining a little (no wonder they didn’t want to go!). Actually, it only looked like it might rain, but it never did more than spit a little. My hat and coat kept me dry, and I was glad to be doing something outdoors for a change.

Most of that hike is along the road we live on, but then there’s a trail through the woods that I always take. It’s not any shorter, and may in fact be a little longer. But that’s the way I usually go because it avoid us having to walk in front of a house with loose dogs. They bark and threaten, but they seem pretty harmless. Sometimes they come and exchange sniffs with Penny. But just the same, I’d rather avoid the confrontation, and the trail through the woods is generally a lot prettier than walking along the road anyhow.

I was a bit surprised that no snowmobiles had been on that part of the trail yet. It was pretty much virgin snow. I was wearing my hiking shoes too, so the snow filtered in easily enough. Oh well – it was maybe a quarter mile to the next trail where the snowmobiles had been.

We crossed Sandogardy Road, and I let go of the leash. Penny will stick around as long as there are sticks around. I threw plenty of them, and she dutifully retrieved them. Here are some of the photos I took:

Foliose Lichen

Foliose Lichen

The foliose lichen is on the right. That’s a fruticose lichen on the left. Other than the conifers, lichen was the only green thing in sight, and there was plenty of it. I noted that most of the branches that had been torn from their trees during our ice storm this month were lichen-covered. The lichen was there before the storm. I don’t know if the lichen attacks weakened branches, or if it weakens them in the first place.
Alder Cones

Alder Cones

These little cones grow on alder trees and they do contain the plant’s seeds. The alder is a deciduous tree, so it’s a little odd that it has cones. I don’t know of another cone-bearing deciduous plant, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

Creek draining Sandogardy Pond

Creek draining Sandogardy Pond

We walked around the edge of the pond (throwing sticks), and then hooked up with the trail that runs along the creek that drains the pond.

I also took this shot of… a fungus? I’m not sure if this is a fungus or a lichen. It’s prolly safe to call it a fungus since lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungal species and an algae. But I thought it looked cool. There was a lot of this too, and I saw that it was growing only on the underside of tree branches.

Fungi on the underside of a branch

Fungi on the underside of a branch

Soon we came back to cross Sandogardy Road again, so I picked up the leash. Penny missed her freedom. I decided to brave walking along the road this time, as the untrodden snow really was a bit too much for my low cut hiking shoes. The dogs barked, but they stayed put. When we got close to the house I took the leash off. Penny associates the leash with free passage over the invisible fence, and without it, I wasn’t sure she’d want to cross the line. But she did. On the way up the driveway I checked that the gutter heaters were doing there job and found that they were. I do need another 30 feet or so on the back of the house. The last 10 feet of gutter plus twenty feet of downspout are icing up. The eaves are fine though, and that was the main reason for putting the heaters up there.

After all that, I forgot to take a nap.

Today I had to drive to Concord for a 10:00am rendezvous with a citrus customer. I placed an ad on Craigslist in hopes of getting rid of some of our surplus grapefruit, and two people responded, and each bought a case of fruit. Yay! I ran a few other errands while I was there, including the purchase of three shear pins for the snow blower. The only ones I had until I bought these are installed on the snowblower now, so if one broke… that makes it hard.

I’ve been going through my digital photo collection tagging everything. The vast majority of my collection consists of photos of wildflowers – most of them not very good. I’m tagging each of those by species name. I’ve also got an impressive collection of mushroom, slime mold, frog, insect, and spider photos, with a handful of snakes for good measure. I’ve been making attempts to identify the insects and spiders, but the fungi can wait until some other time. Maybe later this winter.

And speaking of which… I can hardly wait for the next snow. I am eager to try out my snowblower now that I have fixed the clutch.
I also stopped at the office to pick up the Fedora 10 DVD, but I couldn’t find it. I somehow managed to break sound on my laptop, and I’ve already spent more time trouble shooting it that I did installing the OS in the first place. At this point, I’m ready to just take the plunge and do a reinstall.

Then I came home. A little while after that, Va and I went back to Concord and left the kids at home to fend for themselves. The boys had the laundry train going, and Beth expressed a desire to stay home. So it was just the two of us. We ate at Olive Garden, and went to Michaels and Walmart. At Michaels, I bought some clay sculpting tools. I intend to sculpt a lapel pin of my Wikibook project. One I have it in clay, I will cast it in plaster. Then I’ll use the plaster to cast it in something else with a pin backing. Dunno if I’ll use brass or plaster (probably plaster first, and then try brass. I want to give these out to the people who have contributed to my Wikibook project. I could have them professionally made, but there’s usually a minimum order of 100 pins, and I’d be out $200 or so. I don’t need 100 pins, and I don’t want to spend $200 on this either. I’d like to learn how to do copper enameling, but the equipment needed for that is more expensive that having pins made commercially.

I really wish I could think of a way to make the clay version four to five times larger than I need, and then reduce it. I’m sure it would look better that way. I suppose I could design a milling machine, but now we’re looking at money (and time!) again. No thanks.

We opened our presents last night, and everyone seemed pretty happy with what they got. Besides my new camera, I got some moccasin slippers which are nice and cosy. We were in Target yesterday and Jonathan picked out a pair of headphones for himself (his were broken). SO we had to tell him he might want to put them back and wait to see what Santa brought him. Surprise!

This morning I slept until 10:00am. Beth woke me up so I could watch her horse show (we had gotten her a pretend horse for Christmas for her dolls). The horse show lasted about a minute (the rider was thrown).

After the horse show, I got busy working on the snowblower. I cut the caulk gun apart and fashioned a clutch handle from it. Then I installed it and replaced the bolts on the scoop guide. I now have a working clutch! (Thanks for the prompting Dad.)

Caulk gun clutch handle

Caulk gun clutch handle

The hardest part of this for me (aside from actually doing it) will be throwing away the parts of the caulk gun I did not end up using. I know I will never have a use for any of it, but… springs! levers! Arrrgghhh!

After that, Daniel (David’s friend) came over and they wanted to go sledding. I thought that was a fine idea, but Va had just thrown Beth’s coat and snow pants into the washing machine. I told them we could go after lunch.

And we did! Beth, David, Daniel, and Penny all piled into the car and I took them to Tilton. They have a legendary sledding hill right downtown, but I hadn’t ever been to it, or even know exactly where it was. There were maybe another dozen sledders there. The sledding lived up to its reputation too. Penny got plenty of exercise chasing David and Daniel down the hill (with a stick in her mouth, as is her regular practice). I went down a couple of times, and on my second trek back up the hill happened to spot some car keys in the snow. They were mine! I’m sure I had lost them on the first trip down, and I was very thankful to have found them – even before I knew they were lost!

I got a letter from Australia today. It was from the South Pacific Division Honours Committee. I’m pretty sure I wrote about my contact with them last summer. They have been going through the process of reviewing every Pathfinder honor and re-doing the documentation on them. During that process, they came across the Wikibook project I’ve been working on for the past three years. They basically adopted my answers to their Wattles honor, and in the letter, they included the patch and declared that I had earned the honor! How cool is that? Here’s the letter:

Letter from Australia

Letter from Australia

Wow. This is something that I find very exciting. I was not expecting to get the Wattles honor for quite some time, thinking that I would have to take a trip to Australia to meet the last requirement. The “Law of Equivalency” means that if a Pathfinder cannot meet a given requirement, something requiring equivalent effort can be substituted. I will admit that coming up with the answers to this honor DID require a lot of effort, more than most of the others in fact. So it’s fair that they’ve awarded me the patch. Also, they certainly have the authority to do that!

I will sew this patch to the front of my sash, near the top.

Tonight Dad called and we chatted for a bit. Most of the family news had already been posted to the family web portal, but it was still great to talk to him. Maybe it was his intent, but our conversation prompted me into taking action.

Dad was worried about my snowblower. It runs great, but it doesn’t stop great, and yes, that is a dangerous situation. So after I hung up, I hopped in the car and drove to Lowes to see if I could buy something with which to cobble together a clutch lever

First stop… the snowblower section. Not to shop for a new snowblower, but rather, to see how they implemented their controls. Then I went hunting for something that looked like a sturdy handle that I could hack up and turn into a clutch lever. I settled on a caulk gun. I seriously considered the $1.97 model, but then decided that I might be better served buying the $8.87 one instead. It has a bigger lever, and since I’m going to expend a significant amount of effort adapting it to my needs, I don’t want something that’ll simply fold up under pressure. Of course… that could still happen.

I also bought some carriage bolts for the scoop guides. And I saw a set of tin snips for $10.00. I probably should have passed on those, as a good pair of tin snips runs $25, and here were four pairs for $10 – basically an order of magnitude cheaper. But it did include left and right-handed snips, and I have been wanting some of those for about two decades. Merry Christmas me!

Tomorrow we’re supposed to get another 2 inches of snow followed by sleet and ice. Then rain. I’m not sure I want to go to the office. If it looks nasty, I will extend my vacation by a day. I was planning to take off all the days between Christmas and New Years, but maybe I’ll take Christmas Eve as well. Also… maybe I’ll take January 2 off (it’s a Friday!)

When I got to my office I found it to be snug and cosy. My duct tape window repair job is holding up pretty well, and I no longer have wind and snow blowing in on me.

The Fedora install makes my PC feel more like home. I’ve been using RedHat distributions since 1995, so I kinda know my way around that neighborhood a little better than I do Kubuntu. I haven’t yet fussed with the automounter. But my connection to the mail server was still royally hosed. So I spent some quality time with Dennis (another Linux user), and Bill (our IT department). Eventually, we figured out that there’s a managed switch on the network sitting on the IP address that the DHCP server assigned to me. That means there were two computers on the network both claiming to be the same computer. Mine would make a request, and it would be granted to the other machine. It’s a miracle I was able to use Skype or surf the web at all. No clue why the mail server failure was so complete. Once I got a different IP, everything was roses.

Later, Dave’s mom dropped by and gave him a couple of platters full of cookies… for Dave’s co-workers! That means me! Hooray! These are some really excellent cookies too, chock full-o-nuts. The major bonus there for me is that my kids do not like nuts, so I get them all to myself. Yum!

So during my break I imagine I will spend some time fashioning a clutch lever out of a caulk gun. I will also spend some time sewing costumes for February’s Camp In, but I may attempt to outsource some of that. We’ll see. And maybe I’ll get some extra napping in. Sounds like a plan!

I finally decided to give up on Kubuntu and return to Fedora. (For those who may be confused by this, Fedora and Kubuntu are both Linux distributions).

I have been using Fedora (or its ancestor, RedHat) since 1995. I switched to Kubuntu when I got my new laptop, but it doesn’t work the same as Fedora. Maybe I’m getting old and set in my ways, and I just don’t want to learn something new. Or maybe… I just liked the way Fedora worked.

There were a few things on Kubuntu I never did manage to get working. Chief among them was the automounter (which automatically connects me to network drives on other computers). I also never figured out how to get it to run a custom script during startup. Which meant I always had to run it by hand.

Today, it refused to connect to my company’s email server. I’m still not sure why it did that, but it was the last straw. I bit the bullet. I installed Fedora 10. And of course, there were complications, which I resolved by installing it three more times. But it seems to work now, and I’m now seeing what Kubuntu had that I am going to miss (the speaker-mute button is one of them).

But let’s back up. The alarm went off at 6:30 this morning, and I groaned. I did not want to get up, but the driveway was still under three inches of snow. Va got up too and went downstairs to check the answering machine. School would open two hours late. So I went straight back to bed and slept until 8:00. Then I got up and cleared the driveway. Naturally, whenever I use the snowblower, I end up having snowblower anecdotes to relate, and today is no different.

The throttle was a little stiff. I was able to push it into the open position with some effort, but I was not able to push it back. I figured the cable was clogged with ice or something, and that it would loosen up when the engine warmed it. I cranked it up and got to work. It was really cold this morning, and the choke wanted to be a bit more open than usual, so I set it that way. Once the engine warmed up though, it wanted the choke closed down again, but stupid me didn’t think of that. I just kept running it as it kept wanting to die (but never did). I never gave the choke a second thought. As I finished the job, I headed back to the garage with the snowblower. As I neared the door, I cut the throttle. Or not. It did NOT loosen up like I wanted it to. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may recall that my drive clutch is also stuck in the engaged position. And now so was the throttle. I fought the rising panic and manhandled it around, pulling out a U-turn just in time. Then I reached around the engine and disengaged the master clutch and wondered how I could shut this thing off. I opened up the choke (and that’s when I realized that the engine prolly wanted me to adjust it a long time ago). But the engine sputtered on. I went in the garage and grabbed a hammer, which I used to bang (lightly) on the other end of the throttle control. I was able to get the cable unstuck and shut it down.

Then I moved my car out of the garage, cranked up the blower again, and “drove” it into its parking space, throwing the master clutch as I neared the wall. Whew!

I just know that if I bought a new snow blower, it would work great for a couple of years, but when it broke it might as well just be thrown away. Lawn equipment seems to be built so shoddily these days that the manufacturers likely consider their wares disposable. And that galls me. So I will keep tinkering with this one. It’s been running since about 1971, so I’m sure I can coax another decade or two of usefulness out of it.

I guess I need to take the throttle cable off and give it a good soak in some WD-40 or something. I also need to rig up a handle for the master clutch. And replace some of those bolts that hold the scoop height adjusters in place.

When I got to the office, it was about 12 degrees in my office. I suffered with that for a little while, and then turned my attention to my window. My window has those idiotic slats in it that can be cranked open, and pretend that they can be cranked closed. It USED to also have a storm window wedged into place, but it didn’t quit fit. A couple of years ago, the business downstairs from us was stripping their floors, and the fumes were just rolling into my office. So I made the mistake of trying to unwedge that storm window so I could avoid asphyxiation. That’s when it shattered. I called Joan, and Joan called the landlord. He came in and picked up the glass. Job done! Except that the slightest breeze had no trouble finding a course around those ill-conceived slats. I was told that the landlord was getting ready to replace all the windows and that I should just be patient. Well – that was three years ago, and I still have the same crappy windows. When the first winter set in, I got some packing foam and stuffed it up against the slats. Then I got some cardboard and taped it in place over the foam. In other words, I have a cardboard storm window now. For three years.

Cardboard Storm Window

Cardboard Storm Window

Problem with that is that the tape never wanted to stick to the aluminum frame. I grabbed my pinwheel, which I use to indicate gale conditions, and stuck it in the edge of the cardboard. It spun as little bits of powdery snow zipped through its vanes.

I reasoned that the aluminum frame was just too dirty for the tape to stick. I went downstairs to the manufacturing lab and got a sheet of sandpaper. It gummed up immediately, because the aluminum had been painted. So I grabbed some scissors and employed them as a make-shift (but quite effective) scraper. I scraped it down to bare metal, then sanded it. Then applied the duct tape. Which doesn’t want to stick to the cardboard. I might have convinced it to stick for a half day or so though – we’ll just have to see.

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