March 2010

A little while back I noticed that critters had found a bag of sunflower seeds I had stashed in the garage. Not wanting them to set up house in there, I decided I needed to do something. I used to have a bird feeder, but stray kicks of soccer balls (by me!) seemed to have its number. So I decided to go low tech and dump the seeds about an inch deep on the big rock in the north yard.

This rock is about twelve feet by eight feet, and I guess it’s three feet high. It also has a nice bowl in it, though the bowl does drain nicely. So I figure that was a pretty good place for the seeds. It took the birds about a week to find it – chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches. So far, I’ve only had to refill the “bowl” once, but if my Dad’s experience is anything like mine will be, that may become a daily routine.

I hung out in the yard the other day and tried to take pictures of the birds, and I did manage to get a few. But none of the shots were spectacular. I have to zoom way in (40x, which is the max), and that just doesn’t make for good photos. They turn out kinda grainy. Here’s the best I could do with that technique:

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

But I also have a secret weapon: CHDK.

CHDK stands for the Canon Hacker’s Development Kit. It is software I can load onto my camera’s SD card, and then the camera can run it. When I remove the card, the camera is just like it was before, so there is no risk at all to the camera. One of the scripts I pressed into service was a motion detector. When it detects motion, it takes a picture.

But for good results, I needed to set things up ahead of time – the auto mode is not recommended. Luckily, I’m not bad at setting things up manually, so that’s what I did tonight. I only saw chickadees this evening, but that’s OK. I positioned the camera on the rock, adjusted the settings, set off the script, and then backed off 60 or 80 feet. The chickadees were wary, but those seeds were temptation aplenty for them to overcome that little obstacle. They were at it again in under five minutes. Here’s the best shot I got:

Mo-cap chickadee

Mo-cap chickadee

It was overcast all day, so the light was pretty weak today. I think if I have a sunny day soon, I can get some way better pictures. With better light, I can reduce the shutter time, bump up the f-stop, and jack down the ISO setting. That way, it won’t matter too much if the bird is twitching when the camera snaps a shot. This is but a beginning!

I’d also like to set this thing up in the woods behind the house overnight sometime – with flash – and see what I can get that way. Exciting times!

Today Va brought David into Concord when she came in to pick up Beth from school. Jonathan and I joined them for lunch, and then the boys and I headed to my office while Va went to the school (presumably to work on the library card catalog).

David and I set out in search of his seeds. We found the black locust first, and on our way to the burdock (I think I said it was Canadian thistle yesterday, but it’s burdock – they are very similar) we came across a pile of horse chestnuts and their husks. I have no idea where they came from, but I do know where two horse chestnut trees are not far from there. I picked one up and offered it to David. He asked if it would be OK to use that instead of the two species of acorns we collected yesterday. I figured he might prefer that, and I was right!

When Beth got out of school Va swung by the office to pick up the boys. When I got home, we had some supper and then David took photos of all the seeds. Now all he has to do is write it up.

It poured all day. Finding seeds in the rain isn’t really all that bad if you’ve got rain gear (which I did).

David attempted to dissect one of the geraniums tonight. The main thing that he learned is that it is not very easy to dissect a geranium. So we went to Tilton to get him something else. I had intended to go to Shaws (grocery store), but accidentally drove to Walmart instead. I didn’t realize I had done that until we walked into the store. I figured we should just turn around and not waste any time there, but David thought otherwise. I think that’s because he saw a display of tulips in the aisle.

So we brought a pot of them home. I guess I’ll plant the geraniums, tulips, and hyacinths somewhere in the yard.

He has another project in that class where he needs to collect 8 seeds. Two from plants with fleshy fruits, two from pods, two with hard shells (i.e., nuts), and two that stick to animal fur.

That’s a pretty tall order for spring time. He’s kinda lucky to have a wild flower hobbyist as a dad, so we were able to collect six of his eight, and I know where to find the other two in Concord.

For the fleshy fruits, he had already found some wintergreen berries. He prolly didn’t know that we also have partridge berries in the woods, because they sure look similar. Found some, and he picked it. I also found some American hog peanut pods, so that covers one of the seeds-in-pods. For the other, we’re going with black locust (in Concord). For the stick-to-fur, he got a wild carrot. We still have a few standing from last year, and the tiny little seeds are very spikey. I looked for some beggar-ticks, but couldn’t find any. They pretty much disappear over the winter. We’ll round out that category with a Canadian thistle that we’ll collect in Concord tomorrow. I guess I’d better bring my raincoat though, because we’re supposed to get 2-4 inches of rain.

For the hardshells, he had already found an acorn from a white oak. I suggested we find one from a red oak too. He wasn’t sure that would count, but hey – they are two distinct species, so I say it surely does count. Also, I can tell the difference between them. Those are the only two species of oak (aka Quercus) on my property – white oak has long acorns and red oak has little short ones.

So by tomorrow, he should have all the seeds he needs for his next bio project.

I was too tired to write last night, so I skipped it. Va, Jonathan, and I drove up to Freeport to hear Beth play at Music Clinic. David stayed home and helped Penny hold down the fort.

It’s a three hour drive to Freeport. I was having a hard time staying awake, so I pulled over and traded seats with Va. We got there around 4:00. Beth wasn’t there yet. They were still back at the hotel, but they’d be there shortly.

Jonathan and I took a walk. There wasn’t too much too see, but I did take a few photos of a flock of Robins. I don’t remember seeing them in flocks like that before, so I’m assuming it has something to do with migration. Then Beth showed up and gave us a tour of the campus. She was excited.

She went on the stage at about 8:00pm or so.
Beth playing "Oh Susanna!"
As soon as she was finished, we packed up our stuff and left, and didn’t get home until 11:30pm or so. Beth slept in the car.

Today we had inspection at our Pathfinder meeting. My friends Paul and Barbara (Paul is the Associate Pathfinder director of our conference, and his wife Barbara is an Area Coordinator) came to perform the inspection and to teach a new honor we’re going to propose. The meeting went about as smoothly as I could have wanted, and I was very pleased about that. Paul led us around the building and performed a fire inspection (the honors we’re piloting are Fire Safety and Fire Fighting, so a fire inspection was one of the requirements). I think that opened a few eyes, especially as we got to the labyrinth of narrow corridors behind the baptistry. I wouldn’t want to have to go back there during a fire!

Our assignment now is to make an exit map of our houses. I will probably work on an exit map for the church. It has to show the locations of all the pull alarms, fire extinguishers, meeting place (outdoors), and of course… the exits.

We didn’t even come close to getting through this one. Paul will return again in two weeks and we’ll work on it some more. But we aren’t going to finish it even then, and our Pathfinder year is starting to wind down. We only have three more meetings left, and then comes May. We have no meetings at all in May because May is always eaten up with other things: Spring Camporee, Mother’s Day (we can’t meet then without getting in trouble), Spring Escape (which is an Adventurer event, but it soaks up a lot of our staff), Club Campout, and then Memorial Day weekend. On Memorial Day weekend we will conduct a flag retirement ceremony and have our annual yard sale. So there’s just no time in May for a regular meeting.

So we will continue working on this honor in the Fall. I don’t like that, because we’ll have a different mix of kids in the fall, but it really can’t be helped.

I stayed late after the meeting getting debriefed on our inspection. I haven’t counted how many things they check, but I’d guess its over a hundred. Of those, we got “good” check marks on all but two, and those are both pretty minor. I’m thinking we will have them addressed by next year, but I thought the same thing last year too! We’ll just have to see.

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) about to bloom

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

The trailing arbutus is almost ready to open. This one is growing in the woods along the south side of the house. The outdoor hyacinths are ready to open too, but to my knowledge, they haven’t yet.

I spent the evening writing some code to run a quiz game tomorrow during Sabbath School. I call the game “Who Wants to be a Kingdom Heir”, and it’s based pretty closely on the “Millionaire” game. I only came up with one set of questions though, because only one kid has qualified to play so far.

I did take some significant departures from the TV version, not least of which is the million dollar prize. I don’t have a million dollars, so instead, I will be giving them T-shirts. Which I have not yet made. There are only 10 questions, not 15, because it’s hard to write that many. I always take the questions from what ever we’ve been studying, and that’s kind of the point. To get them to study and pay attention. It worked when I did it 8 years ago, and I suspect it might work again now.

Since there are fewer questions, they only get two life lines. One of them is “ask your classmates” and the other is “look it up”.

In “ask your classmates” I put the question to the rest of the kids and have them raise their hands for the answer they think is right. When I did this before, the kids would always go with what Jonathan and David answered, and ignore what the rest of the class said. They knew the lessons.

For “Look it up” they get thirty seconds with their Bible. These are best used when the question is for them to complete the memory verse, especially since I list the scriptural reference in the question.

If they get five right, they get to choose a prize from the (currently non-existent) basket. If they get all ten right, they also get the T-shirt. This is a big deal to 10-13 year-olds.

Anyhow, the webpage looks just like it was coded by an engineer instead of a graphic designer. I should have tossed in a database, but instead, I just hard-coded the questions and answers right there in an array in the php script. It will be easy to modify, but I really ought to have a database in the future. I also ought to add graphics to show them how many questions have been asked and what life lines are available, but… not tonight.

Beth left for Music Clinic up in Freeport, ME this morning. She went with one of my Pathfinder staff members and her staff member daughter. Va and I will drive up Saturday afternoon to listen to their performance and bring her home.

Just before she got out of the car this morning, Beth asked Jonathan if he would come to the performance too. He said he might, but then we’ll have to leave David at home with Penny. I’m sure he won’t mind.

After supper tonight Jonathan and I went back up to the attic. We hung two more half-sheets of drywall. That was enough for me. I guess if we do a little each night, it will eventually get done.

I’ve been thinking up ideas of how I want to finish the space up there. I plan to build drawers into the knee walls on the north end, and make it more of a conventional space. I’ll prolly do the same thing with the south end, but I’ve been having a hard time driving the idea of Bag End out of my head. It’d be pretty cool to fix it up like a hobbit hole (even though hobbits don’t like second stories or above).

We have a wintery mix in the forecast for tonight. It prolly won’t amount to much though. I did find another species in bloom yesterday – Corylus cornuta, aka Beaked Hazel. It has male and female flowers. The females are tiny little anenome-looking things, and the males are catkins similar to what you’d find on a birch or an alder.
Here’s the female flower:

Female flower, Corylus cornuta

Female flower, Corylus cornuta

I didn’t notice this in bloom until well into April last year, but that’s probably because these flowers are so inconspicuous. This one is less than a quarter inch across.

Tonight after work I tried to visit a local nursery, but they weren’t open yet for the season. David needs to dissect a flower for his biology class, and I figured I could either blow some money on a bouquet, which would be thrown in the trash in a week or so, or I could buy a crocus or two. Since they are the first flowers to come up in these parts, I’d kinda like to have some.

Finding the nursery closed, we proceeded to the Agway in Tilton. They don’t sell crocuses in the spring, as they are best planted in the fall. But they did have some hyacinths and some geraniums. Both were in bloom, so I bought one of each. I’m not sure the hyacinths are open enough for David’s purposes, and the geranium blossoms are a tad on the smallish side. I imagine he’ll need to examine stamens, anthers, etc, and they look pretty tiny on this particular specimen. Didn’t notice that in the store. I may have to buy him a bouquet after all.

Va took Beth to a book store this evening after supper, and I figured it might be a good time to fetch a sheet of drywall out of the garage while her car was out of the way. I want to hang it in the attic so the insulation isn’t always falling down on the stuff we have up there.

To get it into the attic, I needed to make it turn a 180° corner and go through the attic door. I have concluded that this is an impossible feat with an 8’x4′ sheet of drywall. So I quickly converted it into a pair of 4’x4′ sheets of drywall. More joints to finish.

Jonathan came up and helped me hang the first two half sheets. That was all we could do before the battery on my cordless drill gave up. Luckily, I have three other “cordless” drills, which is what I like to call my brace and bit collection. Those things work remarkably well, but they do get their power from the user, and that pretty much wiped me out for the night. I’m exhausted.

It really bugs me how a little job like that can so completely wipe me out these days. When I was a teen (and when I was a tween), I used to do that kind of work with my Dad all the time. Yeah, I got tired, but I could do it for eight hours at a stretch with a break for lunch in between. These days it seems like I’m only good for about an hour of physical labor. I guess that’s what a career as a chair jockey gets me. Time to get in shape I guess!

This evening after work Jonathan and I swung by the school. Our mission was to install Klavaro on the LTSP server. Klavaro is a typing tutor program for Linux.

It was quite a job getting it on there too, although I must say that once I finished chasing false starts, it went in pretty easy. I could go into all sorts of painful detail, but since this isn’t really a technology blog, I’ll spare you most of the details. The condensed version is that I went here, downloaded the package, and installed it.

Then it was a matter of running it, selecting English (it defaulted to Esperanto of all things!), and then propagating that preference to all the other user accounts (students and staff).

Not much to write about today. We’re having a cold rain right now, so I didn’t take the dog outside or look for new blooms when I got home.

But I did download some photos off my camera. This one is from my hike with Beth and Penny down to Sandogardy Pond on Sunday:

Old water heater in a creek

Thomas the Tank Heater

Beth and I saw this water heater in the creek that empties Sandogardy Pond. It looked like Thomas the Tank Engine to us, so I took its portrait. I guess Sir Topham Hatt thought he was naughty or something.

Today after breakfast Beth and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. It was a nice walk. It wasn’t quite as warm today as it has been through most of the week, but it was still fairly pleasant. The ice on the pond is beginning to break up now. I could see that it was drifting relative to the pond’s bed, but it must have been a pretty huge chunk that was drifting. I guess it must have been going about four inches per minute – fast enough to tell it’s moving if you look at it long enough.

When we got back, Jonathan and I went up to the attic and resumed the insulation project. I’d say that a bit more than a third of the roof is insulated now. We’ll prolly take another crack at it again sometime soon. It would make sense if we were to organize the basement first and then move a bunch of stuff to there from the attic. That way we wouldn’t be moving it every time we turned around.

We had a late lunch (which followed a late breakfast). And then a little while after that I took the kids to the church for a Seder. Va had intended to go, but she was not feeling very good and opted to stay home instead.

We rent our church building to another church that meets there on Sundays (Adventists meet on Saturdays), and we and our renter church were having a joint celebration of Passover. The other church had made most of the arrangements, and a couple from Jews for Jesus were there to lead the service. It was really quite fascinating. I had been to a Seder I guess 15 years ago as well, so even though this was not my first one, I still found it pretty interesting. During part of the service, they break the matza in half and hide it. Near the end of the service, the children all try to find it, and Beth was the lucky one! She found it pretty quickly, but I know she wasn’t peeking, because she looked some other place first. She was pretty stoked.

We didn’t get out of there until 8:00pm, and then it was well past Beth’s bedtime. So she’s trying to get to sleep now, and I find that I’m having a hard time staying awake myself!

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