September 2011

This week I went to Castle in the Clouds with my employer and several customers. I enjoyed it very much, and managed to get this sunset shot. I’m not very good at landscape photos, so from me, this is as good as those get.

Sunset at Castle in the Clouds

Sunset at Castle in the Clouds

I have another big weekend planned… actually, the next three weekends. Tomorrow the Pathfinders will fan out across a neighborhood in Concord and execute phase one of our annual food drive. We distribute bags with notes in them explaining the purpose of the bags. Then on Sunday (after our regular Pathfinder meeting) we will go back out again and collect the bags (and presumably the food people have donated). The food is given to people who ask our church for help.

To that end, I have made up some maps dividing the target neighborhood into seven sections. Actually, I found the maps I made last year and printed them out. We will only have five teams this year, but that’s OK. I also bought another thousand T-shirt sacks at Sam’s Club (that is, those plastic grocery bags that say “Thank you!” on them. Va made 100 copies of our plea, and I made another 200 after work. The copier at church will not make more than 100 at a time or it overheats and jams. Thus, the two phases.

Tomorrow the Pathfinders will staple the sheets to the bags and then distribute them.

On the following weekend we will go camping (just our club rather than the whole conference), and the weekend after that will be our Induction ceremony during the church service. That’s a lot of stuff to plan, but luckily… I like to plan things.

Drying six tents

Drying six tents

I set these tents up in my yard Monday so that I could store them dry (otherwise they will mold). They were nearly dry Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to take them down before it rained. It rained all day Thursday, and a little bit this morning. It’s supposed to rain basically every day until Thursday, so I thought I should do something else.

This evening I moved four of them into the garage and one into the basement. The sixth one will not be used by us next weekend (one of my Pathfinders left it in our trailer last spring, so it was accidentally used last weekend). I sent a couple of the kids to the trailer to fetch the “four person” tent, and they found his instead. I didn’t notice until they had pitched it in the rain, and since it was already wet by then, I figured it would be best to just use it and then dry it out with the others. I will leave it in my yard and let it dry after this week of forecast rain passes.

I am back from the NNEC Pathfinder Fall Camporee, and sufficiently recovered now that I can type without falling over from exhaustion.

Executive summary: it was a huge success.

We arrived Friday evening about an hour later than I had intended. One of the kids was running late, and I didn’t think to force her onto the “late train” until it was too late. The “late train” is the vehicle that leaves last to pick up the kids who can’t get out of school early, and I know there was one seat available there. I got as far as calling the late train conductor and reserving a seat, and then calling the parent of the kid who was late. But by then she was within minutes of arriving, so we just waited.

It was pouring rain when we arrived. Luckily, our camp site had a lean-to on it, so we were able to pitch our little tents in the dry and then move them out into the rain and stake them down. I love using little tents, and I will add this to my long list of reasons why.

It poured all night and was raining when we woke up. I got everyone up at 6:00am and got the breakfast crew started on breakfast. Even with an early start like that, it still took forever to get breakfast ready. I am still trying to figure that one out. I think I am going to try to recruit a cook for the camporees. Most of the other clubs do this, and I understand that things go much more smoothly that way. I will still have the kids cook when we’re having a club campout and I am in control of the scheduling though, because they need to know how to do that. It’s just that I don’t think they need to learn that skill when we’ve got a ticking clock racing us.

We made it to flag raising on time, and three kids from our club raised the American flag. Then we had Sabbath School and church in a pavilion. During one of those service, the refugee girls from our club presented a song in Kirundi – the language of Burundi. It was very well received, and they did a great job.

About the time church was over, it finally quit raining. Then we had lunch. Mike Ortel, the president of our conference ate with us, and I enjoyed chatting with him. He’s a great guy. We also had Kurt Amos over for lunch. He’s a new area coordinator with our conference, and he was running this camporee. I really like him too. He was unable to stay for lunch though, as it was once again taking the kids an eternity to get the food ready, and since Kurt was running the camporee, he was unable to stay long enough to eat. I hope he found food somewhere.

By the time the kids finished eating, it was already time for the afternoon activities to begin. They had not yet washed their dishes, so I made the executive decision to send them along anyhow, and I did their dishes for them. David offered to stay behind and help me, and I very much appreciated that.

When we finished the dishes, we had the choice of finding our group in the activity rotations, or just relaxing a bit. We decided to relax, so we kicked back for half an hour and chatted. Then we caught up with our group as they finished the last two rotations.

Then it was time for a supper of grilled cheese, which seemed to go a lot smoother than the previous two meals. Maybe that’s because grilled cheese is so easy to make. Also, my friends Robbie and Coral were cooking for the Portsmouth club and had way too much soup. They gave us about two gallons of it, and it was delicious. That saved us from having to open our canned tomato soup (we’ll use it on the next campout).

We went to the evening program, the highlight of which is always a talent show (well – without awards or judging). David had written a skit (including lots of easy-to-learn parts for the kids). It was mocking an infomercial advertising “Stench-B-Gone” a fictitious deodorant. His skit was hands down the best one presented. If there had been awards and judging, this would have won.

We went to bed after that, and got up early Sunday to get ready to work the hurricane relief project I had lined up for the conference. Somehow, breakfast was ready in record time and we were ready to go when we needed to go.

Paul, David, myself, and two teen boys from my club drove up there together and checked in at the Chamber of Commerce where we met Sarah Shippee, who was our contact. She took us down to the park and explained what needed to be done.

I had intended to take lots of pictures while we worked, but found that if I did that, I couldn’t get much work done. It’s hard to shovel mud or pick up debris with a camera bag slung over the shoulder. I did get a few shots though.

Tennis Court

Tennis Court

This is the tennis court where the bulk of our work was done. We had about 90 Pathfinders there. The court was covered with mud about two inches deep, and we shoveled all that out. We also cleared the debris from the fence. The water line went up about 8 feet on the fence.

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Two of my girls (one being Beth)

Here are two girls from my club (one of them being my daughter, Beth) picking up sticks, leaves, and trash all embedded in the fence and caked on with mud. We did this for a while when Paul decided that having 90 people in this one spot was not terribly effective. He asked me to take a group to the other park Sarah had shown us and work on that. I think it was a brilliant move, as there was a lot of crowding in the tennis court and its surrounding area.

Here is the trash we removed from the other park.

Debris pile

Debris pile

There must have been a hundred miles of yarn in that debris. My guess is that a low-lying yarn store was just upstream. We also found a lot of fire wood. I found that particularly heart-breaking, thinking about some guy diligently cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood to warm his house this winter, only to have it all swept away in one night. We stacked the firewood in a separate pile. I hope somebody picked it up and will use it, even though we only found a small pile. Still it might have been enough wood to heat a house for a week.

Around 11:30 we headed back to the tennis courts. A lot of people from Wilmington stopped and thanked us. Some honked and waved, so we waved back.

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

A thankful resident with her two kids, Harry Sabnani, and Sarah Shippee

The lady on the left in this photo walked to the site with her two kids. She is a resident of the area and was just beside herself with joy that we were there. She cried and everything. The guy in the middle is Harry Sabnani, our conference Youth Director. Paul answers to him. The woman on the right is Sarah Shippee who arranged the project for us. She was fantastic too.

By lunch time we had finished clearing debris from the park as well the tennis courts. It was an amazing difference, and I failed to capture that difference with my camera. Sorry about that!

Some people from Home Depot had set up a free barbeque and invited our group to come and eat all the food we wanted. Little did they realize that most of our group was vegetarian, and that eating pork is against our religion. But they also had sodas, cupcakes, cookies, and bottled water which the kids gleefully accepted.

I talked with some of the people there while the kids ate cookies. He wanted to know who we are, so I gave him a briefing. He thanked us several times for coming out, and I thanked him for feeding us cookies.

Then we all headed back to Molly Stark State Park where we had been camping. We had our closing ceremonies, broke camp, piled in the car and ate a sack lunch on the way home.

I heard several people tell me that they thought this was the best camporee they had ever been on (in spite of the rain). I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to serve that community. I think it would have been a crime for us to camp in the middle of a disaster zone and do nothing more than roast marshmallows.

When I got home I had six wet tents to pitch, but I just tossed them onto the deck too exhausted to do anything about them. I pitched them this evening though, and when they are dry, I will take them down again.

I am still pretty tired! And now I need to go down to the basement and see if I can figure out why the washing machine doesn’t spin. :-/

Tomorrow we leave for Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington, VT to participate in the NNEC Pathfinder Fall Camporee. I am really looking forward to it, but it has made me one busy guy this week.

First, I was hoping to break away from the office at lunch time without burning up any vacation hours. To that end, I worked late every night this week except Tuesday. So at noon I’ll have my time in.

Tonight after I got off, I left Jonathan at the office while I went shopping for food. That took me an hour, and I forgot a few things. So I’ll need to go back. The total came to $163 and some change, which I think it pretty good considering we will be feeding 17 people 5 meals. That’s under $2.00 per meal. It’s still a losing deal for the club though, as I’m charging each member $20 to come along, and we have to pay the conference $16 of that. That means $4.00 is left for food for each person, and I spent $10. But I will charge $20 for the next campout too, and we will not have to pay the conference $16 per head.

Beth packed her own gear for this, her very first Pathfinder outing as a Pathfinder. She has tagged along on trips before, but this will be her first time as a club member. I like that her first campout will be at the same place where the boys and I first camped with the Pathfinders when we moved up here.

I told all the kids to pack their own gear – it’s not their mother’s job. When a kid’s mom packs the gear, the kid doesn’t know where any of it is, and when he can’t find it, he tries to tell me, “My mom didn’t pack that for me.” Well – that doesn’t fly with me. Especially when towards the end of the trip the kid finds that crucial item that Mom “didn’t pack.” Sorry kiddo – you should pack your own stuff.

I always have a very long list of items to bring on these because I am responsible for the group equipment as well as my own personal gear. Food is one of those things. This time we’re also bringing shovels and rakes for the cleanup effort we’ll be working on Sunday morning.

I also make up rosters. I know who is coming, I have their permission slips (except for two girls who will NOT be coming if they don’t have those signed when they get picked up), I know whose car they will ride in, and which tent they will sleep in. I know who is on kitchen duty for every meal, what they will prepare for that meal, and what ingredients they may use for that.

I used to have a hard time getting to sleep the night before a campout because my brain would not shut off as it poured over every detail. I would remember something and say to myself, “When you get up in the morning, don’t forget to pack your rain gear” or whatever. But a couple of years ago I started making a todo list on my computer. I update it for every trip and mark each “checked” item with an x in the first column when it has been taken care of. As I think of things I need to do for this particular trip, I add them to the list. So now my brain can go to sleep and not worry about me forgetting something in the morning. The computer will remember.

Tomorrow I will go to work, have lunch with Jonathan, and then have him take me to Ken’s farm so I can borrow his truck. I need the truck to tow the trailer. I will have to buy ice, load the perishables into the cooler, and then load all the food into the trailer, though that part can wait until I have kids around to help.

I also need to put the club’s wheelbarrows into the truck and make photcopies of all the medical release forms – one copy for each counselor. I had Va scan them all for me tonight, so I have digital copies on my computer and also on my camera’s memory card.

If all goes well, we should be able to roll out of there at 3:00 and make it to Molly Stark by 5:00.

I am pretty tired tonight from doing all this, but I will be even more tired tomorrow.

I spent part of last evening on the phone with some people from Vermont. Those of you who have been following this blog for the past month or so can probably guess what that was about – the Pathfinders have a volunteer assignment to help clean up after Hurricane Irene.

Our Conference Pathfinder Fall Camporee has been scheduled for Molly Stark State Park in Wilmington, VT for about a year. Actually, it’s been a little longer than that. It was either last year of the year before that we were scheduled to have our Camporee there, but there was a tremendous storm in the forecast, so we had to back away. This was more than a thunderstorm, but less than a hurricane. I think it has taken us two years to get back to Molly Stark.

My first Camporee in the Northern New England Conference was at Molly Stark, and I was looking forward to going back there.

Then came Irene.

It didn’t look like we would be able to camp there at all, since parts of Wilmington were unreachable by road. However, Molly Stark was (and is) still reachable, and it sustained little damage (even though it was right in the thick of it).

My involvement with Pathfinders and Adventist Community Services – Disaster Response (ACS-DR) put me in a unique position to try to get our organizations to coordinate and help out. I thought ACS-DR might deploy to set up a warehouse, but that did not happen (we do not have a formal agreement with Vermont yet). Then I asked our conference Pathfinder leadership if they would be open to having us help out while we were there camping. They were open to it if I could find us an opportunity.

So I went back through ACS-DR who went through Vermont’s VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster). Things were moving along, but slowly! Finally I got a deadline from the Pathfinder leadership – if we didn’t have an assignment by Friday, we would not be able to help. As Pathfinders, we needed time to organize the clubs in our conference and have them ready to work. That’s not a surprise we can spring on the clubs when they arrive ready to camp.

The organizations in Vermont got back to me initially saying that they were still buried. People didn’t know what they would be doing in two days, much less in a week. I was bounced back up the chain, and a guy at SerVermont kept at it. He put me in touch with someone in Wilmington, and she had the perfect opportunity for us – cleaning river debris from the municipal park.

I closed the loop with the Pathfinders last night, went to bed, and then had a hard time sleeping, wondering how we were going to manage to volunteer on Friday afternoon (we had proposed two times – Friday afternoon and Sunday morning).

I met with Paul at church this morning – this is the same Paul who has been teaching the Fire Safety and Fire Fighting honors to our club. He is the Pathfinder Leadership in our Conference, and he is a member of my local church. He had decided to cancel the activities that had been planned for the Sunday morning of the Camporee and serve that community instead. We were a go (he apparently thought that Friday was not a very workable option either). He sent the official announcement out to all the conference Pathfinder clubs this evening describing our assignment. The description included the list of tools I received from my contact in Vermont: wheelbarrows, pickup trucks, a few chainsaws, yard waste bags, iron rakes, flat shovels, work boots we can get wet, work gloves, and nitro gloves to wear underneath them.

I think it would have been a crime for a large youth-oriented service organization such as my beloved Pathfinders to camp in the middle of a disaster area and do nothing more than roast marshmallows.

All systems go.

Here are some photos I took while out for a walk on Sunday.

New England Aster

New England Aster

I believe this is a New England Aster, but all I know for sure is that it is a purple aster growing in New England. There are hundreds of species of asters, and sometimes you need a microscope to distinguish them.

Fungus with concentric growth rings

Fungus with concentric growth rings

I have identified this fungus in the past, but don’t remember what it was. I am just too lazy to look it up again.

Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua)

Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua)

This is a Bur Marigold. It blooms late in the year, and I don’t think I saw any of these until September. The seeds of this plant take the form of an achene with very sharp barbs that hook into pant cuffs and dog ruffs with no effort whatsoever. Effort is reserved for their extraction from said cuffs and ruffs.

Hawkweed (Hieracium spp)

Hawkweed (Hieracium spp)

This little hawkweed was brilliant. I don’t recall the exact species, and I have not sufficiently overcome inertia to look it up.

Yet Another Aster

Yet Another Aster

Again, asters are difficult to distinguish.
Yet Another New England Aster. Maybe.

Yet Another New England Aster. Maybe.

Purple. Aster. New England.

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus)

I may have misspelled the species name. I could look it up, but… you know. Then I’d feel obligated to look up the others.

White Campion (Silene spp)

White Campion (Silene spp)

Campion seems like it’s one ‘H’ sh ort of greatness. This is one of the few plants in bloom that is not a composite (such as daisies, goldenrod, sunflowers, and asters – all composites). We do still have blooming red clover, but I seldom photograph that.

The house is quiet tonight, as Beth is up in Maine with her school for Outdoor School. This evening, Penny and I walked down to Sandogardy (where many of the photos posted today were taken last Sunday). It was dark when we got home, so I didn’t get many photos. I haven’t even looked at them yet.

We had our first Pathfinder meeting of the year Sunday morning. That went pretty well. I have three new staff members this year. One is the parent of a new Pathfinder, and I am really looking forward to working with him. He travels a lot though, so he and my son David (my second new staff member) are double-teaming counseling duties for the Ranger class. This is David’s ninth year of Pathfinders, so I’m sure he will do just fine as a counselor.

The third new counselor is a 20 year old girl who I let in the club last year as a Pathfinder instead of as a staff member. She is a refuge from Burundi and still in high school. Her English is much better than my Kirundi, which is to say, I can’t always understand her. She is counseling three girls who are also from Africa (two from Burundi, and one from what is now South Sudan). They do not have any trouble at all communicating with her though, so I felt that I could use her effectively as a counselor this year. She really wanted to join again this year, and I allowed her if she agreed to be a staff member.

On Labor Day last week, Beth and I walked down to Sandogardy Pond in the pouring rain. I was in my rain gear, but Beth was not. She had already been playing outside in the rain, and I didn’t think she could possibly get any wetter. Penny came along too, and she didn’t mind the rain at all.

Unsurprisingly, the beach at the pond was abandoned. One of the first creatures I saw was this Sirenia crypticus (Or so I name it).

Sirenia crypticus

Sirenia crypticus

OK, that’s not really nature as I promised in my last post. But it should help us ease back into it.

Then on Friday I took a walk around my property. The weather was decidedly more clear, and I came away with some interesting shots. Here’s a mushroom (possibly some sort of chantrelle):

Inverted Mushroom

Inverted Mushroom

I liked the way the gills stood out on this one. I’ve been shooting a lot of mushrooms lately, as we seem to have them in spades. Also, there are not many flowers left (other than those in the Asterid family), so the mushrooms make an irresistible subject. I had Penny along while I was shooting, and she managed to kick me the ball just as I was taking this shot:
Penny, her ball, and an agaric

Penny, her ball, and an agaric

I usually manage to keep Penny out of my backgrounds, but when I looked at the composition of this one, I purposely framed her into the shot. The ball rolling by was a bonus.

Out at the end of my driveway by the road is a small stand of wild woodland sunflowers.

Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus)

Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus)

I have to be careful with these, as they are coming up smack dab in the middle of a patch of poison ivy. I haven’t done anything about the poison ivy though, because I don’t think I can eliminate it without eliminating my sunflowers as well.

Incidentally, Beth managed to get into some poison ivy week, as she has a small affected area on her right wrist. I expect she got that in the woods though, where she and the neighbors have been playing in the canopy of a fallen tree.

David, Beth, and I went down to Sandogardy yesterday too, but I’ll save those pics for another day.

Even though I started this blog to document “Adventures of an Ordinary Man,” over the past three years it has evolved into more of a nature photography blog than anything else. However, my adventures to stray into technology on occasion, and they have been doing that this week. My apologies to those readers who expect nature when they come here. I’ll get back to that soon, really!

This week I have started working on a new tech project to help me (and hopefully others) manage my Pathfinder Club. The Pathfinder curricula is structured such that when a member meets list of specific requirements, he (or she) achieves a level of recognition which is invariably recognized with the award of insignia. Pathfinder honors are like this, and they can be thought of as equivalent to Boy Scout merit badges. While an honor can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of months to earn, the Investiture Achievement (IA) curricula takes all year. I structure my club’s activities around IA. Some IA requirements are to earn particular honors. Actually some honor requirements are to earn particular honors too.

The problem is in keeping track of who has met what requirements to earn what insignia, and how many people have earned what insignia, and have I ordered that insignia yet, and have I given it to the person who earned it. With 20 people, that can be a daunting task!

And that’s the problem I am attempting to address with my new project. Over the past couple of years, I have been tracking this data in a tremendously huge spreadsheet. What I have learned from that is that a spreadsheet is not very good at being a database. So I’ve spent the past couple of days laying out a database schema which I think will cover all the bases.

Some honors have overlapping requirements. For instance, “Camping Skills I” and “Fire Building and Camp Cookery” both require the Pathfinder to bake bread on a stick. Once you’ve baked bread on a stick once, you’ve met a requirement in both of these honors. Other requirements are for the Pathfinder to do two out of five options.

My schema will handle this. I created an account over on SourceForge and committed some files. I have tentatively named this project “Achievement Manager,” and I apologize in advance for such a terrible name. Hopefully, SourceForge will let me rename it later if we find that necessary.

We? Well, I’m not doing all the work myself. I have a collaborator whom I met at, and we are working on this together. It’s still very much in the planning phase right now, but I think it’s moving along nicely.

When it’s finished, it should be usable by the Boy Scouts as well. They would just need to populate the database with their own requirements.

Now that the schema is laid out (or nearly so), the next task will be to build a data-entry interface so we can start populating the database with requirements.

Next post: Nature related. I hope!

Over the past few days I’ve seen a lot more mushrooms than flowers, frogs, or bugs. I have not attempted to identify any of these, but I’m not going to let that stop me from posting them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

School started for Beth a week ago last Monday. I had intended to make it into the school and do some major overhauling on the computers and network, but that did not happen over the summer. It had to wait until after school started.

As such, it has been rough-going. We scored a donated server last December, and I was finally able to bring it to bear this week. It’s a serious chunk of “big iron” as they used to call them.

I also upgraded a network switch, and that has unlocked the power of the gigabit Ethernet port on the big-iron. It is nice now, but as I said, it has been rough getting there.

Jonathan and I have spent several evenings at the school over the past couple of weeks getting it to this point. We upgraded to the latest release of K12linux – which is very nice compared to the previous version. With this setup, all the software runs on the server, and the student workstations do nothing more than paint the screen, play any audio, and forward mouse and keyboard data back to the server. Running all the software on the server is very nice from a maintenance perspective, because I don’t have to go around installing packages on all the student workstations – install it once in one place, and everyone can use it immediately. This architecture also allows the students to have the same computing environment no matter which workstation they use.

The old server used the same architecture, but it could not handle sound, and it was a slower machine.

I have gone back and forth between the old server and the new one several times during the upgrade because the new server was missing some important function, or performing one of its critical tasks poorly. But I think we’ve got it now. We’ll see what happens when our teacher unleashes a herd of kids on the network tomorrow.