Penny, our Border Collie has a thing about the TV. I’m not sure what it is, but when anyone is sitting in the family room and gets up, Penny goes into full alert in case we’re headed to the living room where the TV is. Usually we’re not. We watch very little TV at our house. But when someone does turn on the TV, Penny goes into a frenzy. She’ll pick up one of her toys and shake it violently as she spins around in circles.

Then we found that we don’t even have to turn on the TV to get her to do that. I think David was the first one to aim his empty hand (mimicking a remote) at the TV and say “dvvvvv” (which is the noise the TV makes when it comes on). Penny went wild.

There are several other things that will trigger this response, including the following phrases:
“Can I watch TV?”
“Where’s the remote?”
“Curious George”

Aiming a cell phone does this too. Or aiming an empty hand. We don’t even have to be in the same room as the TV. Sometimes we’ll do this just to make Penny look like an idiot. Va says we’re being mean, but I see it as letting Penny perform one of her “duties” for us. It’s no less useful than some of the other things she does for us (stick collection).

Every morning when I leave the house to go to work and drop Beth off at school, Penny always darts out ahead of us, rounds up a soccer ball (or a basketball), and brings it to me. If I ignore this, she will as often as not manage to wedge it under one of the cars. I have popped more than one ball by running it over. So now I am always sure to kick it into the woods for her. I usually kick it once, then put my laptop in the front seat. By then, she will often have the ball in the driveway. If I try to leave then, there’s a good chance I’ll pop yet another ball, as they are pretty hard to see in the driveway when I’m backing out.. So I put the keys in the ignition while she brings the ball to the garage. Then I kick it back into the woods as hard as I can. She tears after it, and I dive into the car, start the engine, and back out. Then I buckle up. Penny will watch with a big smile on her face as we leave, satisfied that she has done her most important duty of the morning. Then she’ll take care of her other “business” before asking Va to let her back in the house.

Such is life with Penny!

Today after work I ran about eight dozen errands.

I was going to go to a pet store first, but there’s an L.L. Bean in that same plaza, and I have some birthday money (thanks Mom!) So I went in there first and looked around. But I didn’t buy anything.

Then I went to the pet store. I was looking for a dog whistle. Penny has been getting after Beth, and we need to do something to disrupt that. The only whistle I found said it was shrill and loud, and that it was meant for dog training, but I wanted something beyond the range of human hearing, and this didn’t look promising. So I went on.

Next stop was to drop off a blank permission slip for one of my Pathfinders so she can come on the camp out this weekend. Check. Then I was off to her cousin’s house to do exactly the same thing. But as I left the housing development, cousin’s mom was driving in. So I did a U-turn and caught up with her. Check.

Then I went to Ken’s farm to take down the tents I had suspended beneath a tarp last week. I saw Ken’s mother (Emma) and visited with her for a few minutes. She’s really looking good. She had been shucking corn and snapping green beans. Ken and his two sons (both Pathfinders) were busy putting Tyvek up on one of the barns. I chatted with them for a few minutes. Then I headed down to the woods and got the tents.

Then it was off to a different pet store to see about a dog whistle. While I was there, I also wanted to price out a training collar (the kind that delivers an unpleasant electrical stimulus to the dog when you press the button on the remote control). Those things are expensive. I may end up getting one anyhow though.

They had dog whistles. I got the one labelled “Silent Whistle.” Then I went across the parking lot to a sporting goods store to look for camping chairs. We threw three of those away in Oshkosh, so I needed to replace them.

It took an eternity to do that though. I found the chairs quickly enough. Problem was that none of them were marked. I chased down an employee, but he was busy with another customer. I eventually gave up on him and made my way back over to the chair section. When I got there I saw another employee and snagged him. They had three styles of chairs at three different prices: $10, $20, and $30. The $20 and $30 chairs both claimed to be capable of support a 350 pound occupant. The $10 one was rated at only 225 pounds. I went for the $20 model.

Then I set out for home. As I was waiting at a traffic light, I opened the “silent” whistle and gave it a test blow. It was most decidedly not silent. I read the instructions – it has an adjustable pitch. Unfortunately, it looked to me as if it were already adjusted for its highest pitch. I made adjustments anyhow, and as expected, the pitch went lower. Bummer.

When I got home I had Beth give the whistle a try. It didn’t seem to faze the dog AT ALL, so I’m going to take it back. Also, it is NOT silent. Next step is to try one of the remote trainers. I guess. I’ll price them online though, as they are far from cheap.

Today at lunchtime, Dennis and I walked over to Moe’s Deli. We took the long way round because it was about 70 degrees outside, and nothing short of a gorgeous spring day. I kept my eye out for blooms and did see a red maple (Acer Rubrus) in bloom – first one of the year.

When we got to Moe’s, this overly enthusiastic woman came out to meet us saying, “Welcome to MOE’S 50th birthday celebration!” She continued, “We have FREE BIRTHDAY CAKE, and after you make your purchase, you can SPIN THE WHEEL and WIN A PRIZE!” She sounded something like a morning radio host, and indeed, that’s exactly what she was. I never listen to morning radio shows because I find them so annoying. But Dennis does, and recognized her by her voice (the “Morning Buzz” car parked in the lot probably didn’t hurt either).

I looked at the prize wheel. About the only thing on there I really didn’t want was the Whoopie Pie, so of course, that’s where the spinner stopped. Oh well. Then the Morning Buzz girl gave me a scratch-off lottery-style ticket. Scratch off six squares that say “Moe’s” and win $50,000. I didn’t win that. Then there was the consolation prize, which was a free small bag of chips. I took a picture of Dennis with Miss Radio Star and emailed it to him.

I held onto the “lotto” card until I got back to the office, and then a nefarious idea popped irresistibly into my head. I would put the card in the change dish in the kitchen. That’s where we deposit money when we take snacks out of the snack basket (40 cents a pop). The basket has chips in it. I had no intention of using the lotto ticket to pay for chips – I just wanted to make Joan think I had. Of course it’s all fun and games until someone’s blood pressure shoots through the roof and dies of a heart attack.

When I got home I toured the catchment pond. It’s still full of mosquito larvae, water striders, and frog spawn. It may have been my imagination, but the larvae seemed less energetic today. Maybe the dunks are slowing them down already. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part. I checked my frog spawn, and then found another wad of it. This one is most definitely newer than the first. It was under a leaf at the edge of the water, but it had a much greater proportion of jelly in it than the original clutch. Then I found a third one, but it was on the bank. The waterline has been receding rapidly and stranded this clutch. I don’t know if the eggs die if they hatch on the bank, but I’m assuming they will. I almost tossed them back in the water but thought it better to not interfere.

I found four more trailing arbutus plants whose blossoms had opened too, and I took several photos – nothing spectacular. Then I invited Beth to grab her camera so we could walk the trail and see if there was anything to photograph. She took several pictures, but I haven’t looked at them yet. I do know she got one of a shelf fungus colony growing on an oak sapling. I assume that sapling will probably die soon, as I don’t think healthy oaks support huge colonies of fungi. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Penny bathing in a vernal pool

Penny bathing in a vernal pool

While we were in the woods, Penny flopped down in another vernal pool. We’re going to have start scolding her for that in an effort to get her to stop. Because earlier today when she did that, she came in raining mud water all over the linoleum and was headed for the carpet before Va intercepted and ejected her from the house. She had the boys wash her down. They couldn’t get the hose attached to the outside faucet, so instead the carried her up to the bathtub. Didn’t use dog shampoo (or any other form of soap) though. Just water. And they griped about it too. C’mon guys! We don’t want to live in a mud hole! Don’t gripe about that!

Penny is crazy. This afternoon, I suggested that we go for a walk down to Sandogardy Pond. All three of my kids took me up on this, which is rather unusual. We took Penny with us.

The snow has been receding at a breakneck pace, but there are still plenty of patches of it, and it’s still a foot deep here and there. But I think there is more bare ground now than snow-covered. We got to the pond, and saw that it was still frozen over, though it’s melted at the edges. No way would I venture out there now.

I went to the edge of the pond to see if I could find anything in bloom, but I found nothing. So far, the only blossoms are still those crocuses in Concord. While I was crouched down looking into the water, Penny came splashing in. She flopped right in the water and started drinking. Need I remind you of the snow? Or mention that this is ice water? Didn’t seem to bother her in the least.

Penny taking an ice bath

Penny taking an ice bath

Then she picked up the stick she had brought with her and ambled on out. She shook herself dry, and was ready to chase that stick some more.

We walked through the forest-cum-field on the way there and on the way back. It really looks like a scene of total devastation with shattered tree trunks and branches scattered everywhere. I guess the branches are 6 inches deep over most of the area. It makes for a challenging hike.

Beth expressed concern that we were going to get lost in the vastness of the place, but I scoffed, telling her that I thought I was more than capable of leading us through a field without getting lost. We could, after all, see the roads on all three sides.

Beth and Jonathan making their way through the bush

Beth and Jonathan making their way through the bush

That said, the place is totally unrecognizable, and in spite of my navigational prowess, I misjudged the distance we had walked. We went a bit too far and had to turn around to hit where the trail used to be, leading to the road. I guess we could have just cut west and made our way to the road, but that would have led us through people’s backyards. I didn’t want to do that, so we did double back. I can’t believe I got us “lost” in a field. Maybe that will teach me to boast!

Yesterday the electric piano we had ordered for Beth came in. She’s been taking lessons since sometime last fall, and she’s still very much into it. Up until yesterday, she had been practicing on a toy piano. Problem with that is that the keys are smaller than the ones on a real piano, it only had 3 octaves, and the volume of each note was the same no matter how hard you pressed the key. Also, it did not have a sustain pedal.

Since she has been sticking with it, and she has been making some really good progress, we decided it was time to spring for something that will hopefully suit her needs for years to come. I could have had an acoustic piano for free if I had been willing to talk a friend or two into helping me move one. Free pianos come up on craigslist all the time. The caveat is that you always have to move it yourself. But even then, we just don’t have a place in our house to put an acoustic piano. Acoustic pianos are big!

The one we got is very nice, IMO. It sounds like a piano. Plus it has 482 voices to entertain a geeky dad like me, including helicopters, machine guns, footsteps, barking dogs, galloping horses, gurgling brooks, laser guns, starships, etc.

I was playing around with it last night after everyone went to bed. Penny was in the same room, but she was pretty much just ignoring me until I selected the “scream” voice. “EEEEEEK!” sang the piano, and Penny about leapt out of her skin. She quickly came over and sniffed at the piano. I played a few more screams. She cocked her head. Then she pawed at the keyboard and played one herself.

Now that’s entertainment!

In other news…
This morning Beth told me that they had been having a bit of trouble with the computers at school, and Mrs Brace wanted me to look into it. So I did. One of the kids did something to her account so that the keyboard no longer worked. I knew the keyboard itself was working, because we were able to log in to her account. And her account was the only doing that – at first. Mrs Brace logged her into a different kid’s account so she could get her work done (most sysadmins would freak about that. I don’t like it either, but I do understand the necessity). In short order, she managed to magically disable the keyboard in that account too. That’s how I found it when I got there.

I poked around, but I really didn’t see anything obvious. Not being of much use, I decided to head on to the office and kick off a few Internet searches while I did my work. Also, I wanted to consult with another Linux geek (Dennis). Dennis was as puzzled as I was. But then I hit paydirt on the Innerwebs. Here’s what was going on.

There is a feature built into the desktop environment (KDE in our case) that was designed for handicapped people. This feature is called “Slow Keys”, and when enabled, the keys don’t “take” until they’re held in for half a second or so. This feature is for amputees (et al) who may accidentally, and momentarily strike several keys with a stub before settling on the one they really want. It’s also useful for quadreplegics how type with a stick held in the mouth. Or at least I think that’s what this feature is good for. Anyhow, this feature is activated when the shift key is held in for 8 seconds. A screen popped up, and she just clicked “Continue” either without reading it, or without understanding it. Thus, it appeared that the keyboard was disabled, when really it was in an “accessibility” mode.

I went back to the school after work and fixed her right up. Sure enough, that’s what it was. Mrs., Brace also complained that the Internet had really slowed down this week (which coincides with all the work I did switching us to a new firewall and bringing the new ltsp online). I verified that indeed, the speeds were horrible, but also found that it was only the DNS lookups that were taking forever (where forever equals one minute). THAT will certainly slow things down! I haven’t figured out why it’s doing that yet, but knowing what it’s doing is more than half the battle.

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.

We were away from the house from 8:30 to 8:30 today (and a little more, actually). After church we went to the Haggett Farm for the annual Adventurers Farm meeting. Maybe there’s a better name for that, I dunno. But every year, the Adventurers Club goes to the Haggett Farm on the day of the Harvest Party and does farmly things. A little later, a lot of other people from the church show up for the party too, and we light a big fire.

The weather was nothing short of perfect. It was cool, but not cold, and there was not a cloud in the sky. I made a second copy of the Aloo gobi and brought that. A lot of people said they liked it, but the objective measure says “not so much.” I had a bout a pint of it leftover, which I have put in the fridge now. This time when people brought enough food to feed eight people, they also brought more people (not eight, but say… five?) But the upside here is that Jonathan finally got a taste of it (he said he liked it, and I’m pretty sure he would say he didn’t if he didn’t), and I got to take some home for myself. Yay!

While we were there I found some cheeses, aka Malvo neglecta. This is a plant I have actually been looking for for about a year and a half, beause my Edible Wild Plants book says it should grow here. And it does! It’s serving as a weed in Ken’s garden! I couldn’t remember which part of it was edible though. It was in bloom though, so I have logged it on the Bloom Clock.

Jonathan spotted a turkey track in a cow patty. Ken suggested that we scoop it up and take it home with us, but I didn’t think Va would like that too much!

David had me write “Meanwhile: In the future” on his Dinosaur Comics T-shirt. That mostly confused people. We also brought Penny with us, and I think she really had a blast. There was no shortage of people to throw sticks for her. She’d pretty worn out now.

And… so am I.