Archive for November, 2010

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Monday, November 29th, 2010

Our Thanksgiving vacation is over, and we have all returned safely to our respective residences, which is yet another thing to give thanks for.

On past vacations I carried more technology than I thought I should, and felt slightly guilty about enjoying it. This time I changed it up a bit, took even more than usual, and decided not to feel guilty about it at all. The fact is, I enjoy connecting stuff up and making it work, and I enjoy the access to information, even the marginally useful stuff we so often feel can’t wait another minute, much less a day. gearSo, yes, I took a Mac Mini, monitor, keyboard, mouse, USB modem (our only access was dial-up!), two wireless access points (Airport + Airport Express), printer/scanner, 3-piece sound system, iPod, iPad, digital camera, external hard drive, and a tangle of power and extension cords, data cables, and adapters. And that’s not counting what other people brought. At one point we had 5 computers and a gaggle of iPhones under one roof. (You can click on the pics for a bigger view.)

It wasn’t a totally high-tech vacation. We canoed, played indoor and outdoor games, cooked, picked, spun yarns, visited, and watched almost every sunset.


We sat around a fire at night, Fireand just generally enjoyed the quiet solitude, and not being at work.

footbookWe even kept track of the date and the day’s activities with “The Footbook,” our manual bulletin board.

We enjoyed the company of four dogs and three cats (who pretty much stayed in their own part of the house, by choice). The dogs frequently exemplified the constant human struggle for supremacy, as shown in this video clip.

Dogs On Deck

I even experimented with the panorama setting on my little Kodak EasyShare camera. The results aren’t perfect, but it was surprisingly easy, and the camera did all the work.


And the presence of this posting is evidence that I managed to get all of the technology back in one piece, and most of it restored to normal duty.

I hope your Thanksgiving was as fun and guilt-free as mine.

Tug of War

Monday, November 22nd, 2010


We are staying in a house on a tidal creek that winds through a marsh. It is mostly quiet, the weather is nearly perfect, and I have been doing more eating and sleeping than anything else, although I did go for a nice walk yesterday.

The house is comfortable, but it is beginning to show the effects of weather and time. The owner has made some improvements since last year, but repairing everything that needs attention would probably not be a wise use of his resources, so he has to be selective.

The van that brought us here is in a similar state. It is still reliable, but is beginning to show wear, from mileage, from cargo, and just from the habits of the driver, who slides into the seat the same way, always puts his feet at the same angle, and his arm in the same place on the door. You can tell by the wear patterns.

There is a dent in the back right corner of the van, from a concrete post in a parking deck. (I have observed that protecting their principal occupants from damage is not a significant parking deck design priority.) After obtaining a rough estimate of the cost to repair the dent, I decided to leave it alone. The paint still seems sound, so it is unlikely to rust or get any worse on its own.

When I pack for a vacation trip I almost always take a few objects intended for mental, physical, and psychological self-improvement. Exercise clothes and shoes, a blank journal, some puzzles, some books, including a few that I feel like I “need” to read, canoe and paddles, sometimes even a bicycle or our rowing machine, depending on space and time. And energy. And predicted level of motivation.

Like the owner of the old house, and the owner of the van, I have to make upkeep decisions about myself. This week I’m trying to discover the balance between striving to make myself a better person, and learning to live with myself, warts and all. The first is an admirable pursuit, but with the mileage on my odometer, I wonder how much flexibility I still have to change. I am quite aware of many of my flaws (including the recursive flaw of not knowing all of my flaws), but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should accept them.

Trying to change feels like work; self-acceptance feels lazy. It’s a quandary, a tug of war.

There’s an analogy found in the theology of my youth. It says (more or less) that we are created in the image of the Creator, and yet it is our nature to stray. We are echoes of the Divine, yet we “inherit a mind and an environment inclined toward sin,” as one writer puts it. So, I have the potential for perfection, yet I am pulled in the other direction.

I haven’t received any ultimate epiphanies yet, but I have been reminded that change is inevitable. There’s a new fence by the old house marking a previously-ignored property line. That portends an impact of some sort on our peaceful haven. There are some soft places in the wood on the porch that I don’t remember. I had to put new tires on the van, and the “check engine” light came on during the trip over. I think it was due to the load of all of my self-improvement paraphernalia.

This afternoon I think I will just sit here and enjoy being who I am. Tomorrow may bring more motivation. Or perhaps just more calories. We’ll see.

Zoomey Sound

Monday, November 15th, 2010

MyPad posting notwithstanding, I don’t intend this as a product review site. Plenty of those already exist, and it takes actual work to do reviews right. On the other hand, I’m not hesitant to mention things I like.

My cousin invited us to a pickin’ this weekend, something we’ve been doing since our teens. The music, instruments, cast of characters, and energy levels have all changed over the years, but a pickin’ is still great fun.

On the way out of town, I stopped by a music store and bought a Zoom H1 digital recorder. My cousin has been trying to use a mini-disk recorder for quite a few years with mixed results. The technology has caught up to, and passed, the mini-disk, and I’ve been trying to talk him into an upgrade for several months. Since he is as averse to change as most of us, I finally figured out the only way it would happen would be for him to experience the difference.

Fact is, I had never used one of these critters myself, but the tech specs look good, and I had heard good reports about them, so I figured it was worth $99 to get smarter. And I might even be able to get my investment back if my cousin liked it.

How did it turn out? Well, I don’t have a Zoom at present, but I do have a check in my pocket from my cousin. We recorded about 3.5 hours of music over two days. The sound was good, the recording time was amazing, and I don’t think we even came close to using up the AA battery.

Although I operated it most of the time (translation: push the big red button to start recording, push it again to stop), he was comfortable that it would be easier to manage than the mini-disk.

I was going to describe my favorite features, but I really don’t know where to start. It’s light, flexible, really just generally amazing. This link has more technical details.

Maybe the best thing to do is to just post a couple of recordings. These were recorded in Jimmy’s living room. There were 2 guitars (Jimmy and Bo), a mandolin (Brant), an upright bass (yours truly) and the singers (Melinda on the first song, and Bo on the second). I just stuck the H1 on a tripod a couple of feet back from the middle of our semi-circle and let ‘er rip.

I used Audacity to clip these two songs out. The performances aren’t perfect (since none of the pickers are), but I thought they make a pretty good demo of the Zoom. The stereo separation is great, particularly if you listen with earphones.

So I’ll close with these two numbers. I may post some other songs if there’s any interest, so, as we say to the twelve-string guitar players, “stay tuned.”

My Window Faces the South

Nine Pound Hammer


Monday, November 8th, 2010

Several events over the past couple of weeks have led me to think about water. I had fun making a list of water and water-related things I have personally encountered.

Diapers (cloth, paper, diaper-service), towels, washcloths, paper towels. 

Toilet bowls, toilet tanks, flush valves, flapper valves, wax rings, sanitary pipe (PVC, cast iron, oakum, molten lead, and a plumber who sang gospel hymns while he worked), septic tanks, field lines, urinals, outhouses, outdoor urinals (Peachtree Road Race), portable toilets.

Streams, rills, rivulets, creeks, rivers, lakes, beaver dams, the Hiawassee hydroelectric dam (including turbines and tools so big they require their own overhead crane), both American oceans, and the Gulf.

Water skimmers (also called ‘Jesus bugs’), water moccasins, beavers, bass, bream, catfish, rods, reels, nets, stringers, bait, and fish-frys.  

Boats (sail and ski), rudders, inboard motors, outboard motors, propellers, canoes, kayaks, wave runners, oars, personal flotation devices, swim suits, flippers, swim goggles, ear plugs, swimming pools, pool filters and vacuums, pool skimmers, and chlorine. 

Clouds, rain, thunderstorms, snow, sleet, hail, ice, frozen lakes, ice skates (but not on a frozen lake in Georgia – are you kidding?) raincoats, hats, umbrellas, waterproof boots, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, shingles, tar paper, fiberglass roof panels, tin roofs, roofing tar, flashing, and chimney covers. 

Gutters, downspouts, French drains, ditches, culverts, storm sewers and pipes.

Water treatment plants, iron pipe and pipe threaders, copper pipe (soldered and compression), PVC pipe and purple primer, faucets, valves, faucet washers and stem packing, stoppers, shower heads (plain and fancy), pipe joint compound and teflon tape, pipe wrenches tiny to large, and rinsing dishes with a sink sprayer.

Dishwashers, washing machines, dryers, water heaters, refrigerators with ice makers and cold water dispensers, water coolers in the office, and not breaking my teeth on the porcelain-and-steel water fountains of my youth.

Fountains (after all, I grew up in The Fountain City), koi ponds, water falls, especially Amicalola and Niagara, Old Faithful, and the sulfurous ponds of Yellowstone.

Steam engines, steam turbines, tea kettles, tea bags with their tiny little staples, tea cups, mugs, coffee makers (including percolators large and small, Mr. Coffee, espresso machines, and an original Chemex manual drip maker), glasses (crystal, glass, plastic, tin and paper cups, especially the small ones that hung from a gimbal-mounted dispenser glued to the bathroom wall in the 80s; or was it the 70s?), buckets, washtubs, foot tubs, dishpans, and sinks.


Pumps, including manual well pumps with leather seals, centrifugal pumps (well and pool filter), automobile water pumps,. condensate pumps (one a replacement for the air conditioner, and one I installed at a coffeehouse to pump drips from the espresso machine to the sink on the other wall) and one small hydraulic ram pump.

Garden hoses, radiator hoses, panty hoses (I just threw that in to see if anybody actually read this far), nozzles, spouts and spickets, which I am told is actually spelled spigots, but that’s not how we pronounced it.

Dew, mist, fog, and the steam rising off lakes and rivers as the sun comes up.

Bottled water.

Sweat. Drool. Tears.

If I keep going in the biological direction I will get back to diapers, and potentially in an infinite loop (lather, rinse, repeat).

Or I just might be all wet.

Wetness, and poem as neutrino

Monday, November 1st, 2010


If you are eating as you read this, you might want to postpone one of those activities, at least for the first topic. As I mentioned in my last post, we discovered water on our floor last Saturday, and not just any water, but septic backwash. I removed the den carpet, which had only seemed slightly damp, but was beginning to emit increasingly foul aromas, and decided that a homeowner’s insurance claim might be in order. That decision led to a flurry of phone calls and discussions, and to various workers arriving at the house. Some uncovered and opened the septic tank100_1121 (wherein they found the clog that caused the problem), some poked the floor and walls with moisture detectors (with which they discovered unacceptable wetness), and some measured the dimensions of the damaged flooring (for which they will presumably offer us a replacement settlement.)

Because the offending fixture was located in a somewhat central location on the ground level, some or all of the flooring in five rooms (including one layer of sub-flooring in places) has now been removed, and we have been living with multiple dehumidifiers and air circulators running day and night. Fortunately our sleeping areas were not disturbed, but meal preparation has been a bit of a challenge, so the local restaurants have profited from our loss.100_1137

I have a few thoughts to share:

  • Waste disposal systems are generally quiet, nearly invisible, and easy to ignore, until they act up, in which case they wield great power.
  • The folks from the fire-and-water restoration company have been capable and professional, and they offer skills, tools, and experience beyond the scope of the average do-it-yourselfer.
  • If you are going to schedule a similar disaster at your own residence, fall is a good season. Winter or summer would have made it much less agreeable.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this episode later, but for now, that’s all I got.

Poem as neutrino

Sunday morning I took a cup of coffee, the newspaper, and MyPad out to the deck to escape the noise of blowers and dehumidifiers, and just enjoy the early hours. A series of clicks from the Writer’s Almanac to The Poetry Foundation led me to a lecture by poet Mary Ruefle given on November 20, 2009, at the University of Chicago. The lecture is almost an hour-and-a-half long, and I haven’t finished it yet, but about ten minutes into the lecture, she caught my attention with some comments about the Big Bang, antimatter, and how a poem is like a neutrino.

Rather than try to capture her thoughts poorly, I’ll just say that the portion I heard was quite enjoyable, the neutrino comment was a very pleasant coincidence (?) and I have embedded enough links in the preceding paragraph to build a decent length of chain, which you may use to attach yourself to some good poetry if you wish, plus two self-referencing links to my previous postings about antimatter and my iPad, which you can use if you are sleep-deprived or into self-abuse.