school


My sister wanted to see photos of my driveway and sidewalk after I cleared it, so here you go sis!
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It’s not as impressive looking as it seems it should have been. I think the drifts settled a bit overnight. It was a pretty fluffy snow, and less so today. I didn’t see any snow walls adjacent to the cleared areas that was more a foot or so deep.

But that was at the house. Concord got 24″ of snow (second highest snowfall amount on record) which was probably 8-10″ more than we had we had at the house. Here’s what I found there when I went in for the Pathfinder meeting today.

School's main entrance

School’s main entrance

Beth and another one of my Pathfinders (Hi Joy!) cleared this door, plus another one the school uses, plus an emergency exit near where I park the club’s trailer.

Tomorrow I will clear a path from the parking lot to the woods. The lower lot is currently surrounded by snow banks, so when that starts to melt, it will have nowhere to go. This path will be primarily for snow melt (and kids can use it if they want to). A couple of years ago we had six inches of water in the lot as a result the surrounding snow banks, and had to call in a backhoe to cut a channel. Two years ago I shoveled a drain myself by hand (it’s not that hard), and I’ll do the same again tomorrow.

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Sorry I haven’t posted anything here in a while. I just checked and saw that I hadn’t written anything since I went for a hike on New Year’s Day. Time flies by when you’re having fun!

I’ve spent a lot of my time this week working on one of the cedar strip canoes I bought on behalf of the Pathfinder Club back in August. This one will be named “Miss Nancy” after Nancy Nichols, a much-loved member of our church who died a couple of years ago. The other three will be named “Miss Emma” (after Emma Haggett), “Miss Sally” (after Sally Machia), and “Miss Margaret” after Margaret Meyers. All of these women are deceased members of our church, and all were connected with the Pathfinder Club to some extent or another. I like having them named this way.

Anyhow, here’s what I found when I stripped the glass off Miss Nancy’s stem:

Miss Nancy's Stem

Miss Nancy’s Stem


She was a mess! I wiggled the stem to see how sound it was, and snapped off a six inch section. I will have to fashion a new one. It might be tricky getting it installed, as that normally happens before the planking goes on (the planks are attached to the stem). But I think I can manage. I’m going to try to heat it up to get the rotted stem out. I’ve already traced the shape onto a piece of cardboard which I will transfer to a piece of particle board. The new stem will be formed around that. Then I’ll have to add a rolling bevel. I’m going to also make an outstem while I’m at it, so this canoe will have a proper and complete stem!

Shaving the hull.

Doesn’t that look so much better?

Once the glass was off, I still had lots and lots of epoxy on the hull. I’ve been working on getting that off too. If it were just a light layer of epoxy, I’d leave it alone, but it’s a quarter inch thick in places! So off it comes. My preferred tool for that is a spokeshave, and that will be followed by a random orbit sander. Unfortunately, the velcro on my sander’s foot pad has lost its grab, so a disc stays on for about a minute. I have ordered a replacement part.

The problem I had with using the spokeshave is that this canoe is unsupported. Thus, when I apply pressure to the spokeshave, the canoe gives, so I can’t really press the blade into the wood without just pushing the wood out of the way. Normally when smoothing (or fairing) the hull, the canoe is still on the form so it doesn’t do this. But I don’t have a form for this one. But I do have my own canoe, and since Miss Nancy has her seats, gunwales, thwarts, and decks removed, she fits nicely inside mine. So I lowered mine from my garage ceiling and found that it made a pretty decent mold. By doing this I was able to spokeshave off a lot of epoxy (and smooth the planks so they are no longer offset from one another).

I have to be careful in doing this, because a spokeshave is a lot like a hand plane, and a sharp, well-tuned hand plane is my favorite tool. When I built my canoe I enjoyed the planing a little too much, doing so with what Alan Greenspan at the time would have called “irrational exuberance”. The net effect was that I reduced the thickness of the hull to zero in one spot. I ended up replacing that plank, but the lesson was learned – don’t overdo it on the planing!

I got my car back from the shop on Monday. It’s nice to have it back, but somebody put a canoe in its parking place! Since I’m waiting for a part for my sander, I decided to just hoist Miss Nancy and my own canoe up to my canoe’s regular parking spot.

My canoe embraces Miss Nancy

My canoe embraces Miss Nancy

Now I won’t have to scrape the frost on my windshield in the morning. Speaking of which, at least until my employment situation changes, I will be teaching computers (and programming) to the grade 6-8 students at our school starting tomorrow. This is a volunteer position.

I guess I need to prepare a lesson!

Yesterday I dropped my car off at the body shop. It will be there for about three weeks. Then Va and I went to the church to wait for Beth to get out of school. I decided to explore the wetland behind the church. Before I got to the edge of the woods (before the wetland) I came across this iris pod lying on a bed of moss.

Iris pods

Iris pods

A little further into the woods, and we find some of the forts that Beth and her schoolmates build on a routine basis.

Teepee fort

Teepee fort


I like that they get to do this. I think the most fun I had as a kid when I was Beth’s age was in building forts in the woods. This generation appears to be fairly adept at the practice too.

I finally got to the wetland.
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I found I could navigate my way through it by hopping from one clump of trees to the next. After about five minutes of that I broke through to the other side and came to a tiny creek that drains he wetland.

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I had to walk along its banks for about thirty yards before I found a place narrow enough to cross. From there it was an easy trek back to the church (over higher ground).

Today at about 10:00am, Jonathan came into my office and told me he had just found out that he had been selected as Senior of the Year for his department at NHTI. He also told me that the award ceremony was at noon, and there he was in a tee shirt and jeans. I had him call Va to ask her to bring him something decent.

She scrambled and got to Concord just in time. The ceremony was about two hours long, and we were also surprised that a member of our church was there for a different award. She is the parent of one of my Pathfinders, and I had no idea she was attending classes there. She told me afterwards that she had no idea she was getting an award. They told her to be in the auditorium at noon for a meeting. I took her picture and will send it to her tomorrow (when I get to the office where we have a faster Internet connection).

I took one of Jonathan too:

Jonathan on the right, not wearing a tee shirt

Jonathan on the right, not wearing a tee shirt


Some award recipients actually wore pajama bottoms to the ceremony. Jonathan said he felt over dressed, but I think that his attire was perfectly appropriate, and he was not the only one wearing decent clothes.

David came to the ceremony with us, and said later that as a result, he was suffering from Post Traumatic Boredom Disorder. Ahh… brotherly love.

Yesterday I stole a few minutes while I was exercising Penny and we went down the road a couple hundred yards where I gathered a bag full of Japanese knotweed shoots. I brought the camera with me, but didn’t take any photos – not even any bad ones! So I had to take one while I was cooking them.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)


These are delicious. They are very tangy, and have been described by others as similar to rhubarb, but since I have never knowingly eaten rhubarb, I can’t vouch for the similarity. But I can indeed say they are tangy. As usual, no one else in my family was even remotely interested in trying them, so I ate them all in two sittings (but in one evening – I had to come back for more).

Japanese knotweed is a highly invasive non-native plant, so if you have it in your area, you’ll be doing the ecology a favor by eating some for yourself. It is illegal to cultivate it in NH (and probably in many other localities) but there is no rule against harvesting it from the wild. The problem with this weed is that it takes over an area and crowds out native flora. It is nearly impossible to eradicate too. If enough people ate it though, I would imagine we could make a good sized dent in it. So bon appetite!

SpectraAccess came to the school today and got us hooked up with an antenna and modem. We now have much faster access to the Internet. As soon as I saw that it was working, I called HughesNet and cancelled our satellite Internet feed. This is sooo much better. With no satellite latency to suffer through, double the download bandwidth, no bandwidth cap (daily, monthly, or otherwise), it is about like going from dial-up to broadband.

Our new connection comes with a static IP address, so I will be able to remotely log into the servers at the school and make any necessary adjustments without driving out to the school. I have a very long list of things to do to the network now, including migrating to a new server, and repurposing the old one. I can move the card catalog off a PC at my house and onto a server at school. The possibilities this opens up are manifold!

Today I felt I had a severe case of the Reverse Midas Touch – everything I touched turned to… not gold. I was having a hard time getting stuff to work at the office. It used to work, but it refused today. Then I got an email from Beth’s teacher.

Last night after work I went to the school to bring the new terminal server online. It’s a very beefy server. I did the install at home, so it was mostly ready to plug in and run – I just needed to copy user files over to it, add user accounts, and make a few other adjustments. That took about two hours. When I was finished, I turned on the client PC’s and saw them boot. I logged in, and saw that that worked too. I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Until I read the teacher’s email. Nothing was working. So I hopped in my car and drove right over. After fussing with the new server for 30 minutes or so, I decided to just switch back to the old server (which was still in there, but off). I had made a few changes to it as well to move it out of the way, so I had to unchange that. It took me another 30 minutes. Then I rebooted the clients again, logged into each one, and saw that everything seemed to be in good working order. So I drove back to the office.

Someone had parked in the spot I had been in. There were no more spaces left in the garage, so I tried the outdoor lots. Both were full. So I went to the city garage and parked there ($2.30 – not a bad deal really). When I got to the office I found another email from the teacher. Nothing was working. In fact, it seemed like whatever had taken out the new server had struck the old one as well. The symptoms were about the same. I wrote back – I’d stop in after work and try to sort things out.

I was so upset that I didn’t feel like dealing with a dirty bowl – so instead of making one dirty, I ate some soup cold right out of the can. Soup is always better when it’s warm, but it was not sooo much better that I was willing to wash a dish – today at least. Then it was back to the grind of figuring out why things I get paid to work on were no longer working. I made little headway, but there was some progress.

After work I drove back to the school to sort out the server situation. The teacher was still there, and I asked her a few questions – and that’s when I learned that her second email had been sent before I had gotten there the first time. There was no problem. Everything was working perfectly. The reason the second “problem” sounded so much like the first problem is because is was the first problem. What a moron I am.

So I was miserable all afternoon and ate cold soup for nothing.

I will go back again sometime when I have a little more time and debug the new server. It is a much nicer machine. I think I may even know what is misconfigured on it, but that remains to be seen. Hopefully I will be cured of the reverse Midas touch by then.

Corvus brachyrhynchos

Corvus brachyrhynchos


I took a walk at lunch time today just to see if I could find something to take a picture of. That usually means flowers, but not in January in New Hampshire. Instead I was looking for animal tracks. That was not productive either, as the the snow on the ground now is basically ice. The only tracks I saw were those left by cats and dogs. So I looked for birds, and voila – found one.

In other news…

I finally found an alternate ISP fr our school. We’ve been using a satellite link from HughesNet, and everything about it has been horrible. It is painful to use. There are no wired Internet connections within a mile of the building, so the only options we have are over-the-air. We could have gone for a Verizon cell link, but they have a 5 gigabyte per month bandwidth cap which when exceeded costs 50 cents per megabyte. It’s not difficult to envision a five digit Internet bill with a policy like that in place. No thanks! Hughes also has a bandwidth cap, but it’s daily, and when it is exceeded, they simply clamp the flow down to less than a dial-up connection. We’ve hit it more than once, but it did not result in a five digit bill – only pain and suffering.

The problem with a satellite connection is that the satellite has to be in a geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles (or so) up. Given that the speed of light is not infinite, that means it takes a little more than a tenth of a second for the signal to travel from the ground to the satellite. And then it has to go down again, which translates into a quarter second delay. And that’s just to get your request for information onto the Internet. It has to traverse the same path in reverse to get back again – so there’s a half second of delay for pretty much everything. That renders interactive web sites exceedingly painful to use – some become completely unusable.

But as I wrote earlier, I have found an alternative. My employer uses something like three ISPs, and one of them (SpectraAccess) provides a line-of-sight terrestrial radio link to our building. I knew they were in Manchester, so I assumed they would not be a possibility for our school. (We don’t have line-of-sight from the school to Manchester.) But I asked our IT guy about them anyhow. Apparently, though their offices are in Manchester, they have an antenna only two miles from the school – we have a direct shot at them.

Our company pays them an enormous (to me) amount of money each month, but that’s for a pretty hefty link. I called them expecting them to quote me $300/month or something like that, but instead they quoted $60/month. That’s less than we’re paying Hughes.

Our Hughes connection is 3Mbits/second down and 128Kbits up (which is pretty terrible). The connection SpectraAccess quoted is 7Mbits down, 2Mbits up. That is a pretty substantial speed increase. Further, they have no bandwidth cap at all, and the price includes a static IP address.

Nice!

Having a static IP means I can log into the school servers from anywhere and do maintenance from home in the evening, or from work for an emergency. I can also move the library card catalog server out of my living room and into the network closet at the school. Since it’s web-based, that means I will also have a public-facing web server I can play with again.

All I have to do is get the school board agree to pay the installation fee of $200 or so. I don’t think that will be a problem.

One of the parents at our school donated a new server last month too, so I have that at home now and have been configuring it for the school. It’s a fairly hefty machine: Dual 3GHz processors, 6Gigs of RAM, and a 5 SCSI disk hardware-based RAID array. Nice. That should speed things up at the school a bit, but truthfully, I am far more excited about this new Internet connection than about the server. It will have a greater impact on the system’s usability.

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