Monday, March 31, 2014

Mexican Milkweed Blooms Again

The Monarchs are Flying,
The Milkweed Blooms,
I guess I have a job to do.

As the Chief Irritant on this quirky little island, I've noticed that the Monarch Butterflies are flying around the neighborhood. 

The windows were open most of last week, it's our secret season. A Secret because we've all kept our yap shut over just how beautiful March in South Florida can be.  It can also be near the 90s and humid so when it's this nice we'll just take advantage of it.

I got growled at one day for keeping the windows shut and the air conditioning on.  In March.

It was more due to the fact that it was in the mid 70s outside and beautiful.

My tolerance for a warm house is pretty high, and as long as there's a breeze going through I don't notice until the indoors are into the low 80s.

This wasn't the case.

I had the air conditioning off that morning and being a house made of concrete blocks, the cool will stay inside for a while.   The house hadn't warmed up yet as a result.  Sitting in my comfy bouncy Poang chair, I was watching as one after another Monarch Butterfly would float past the front windows of the house.  The breezes were gentle and off the ocean.  They would later switch to be a land breeze.  When that happens, the palm trees flop over to the East and I know that a front would be coming through.

But for today the conditions were right for my orange and black Monarchs to windsurf past the window.

Time to open the house up anyway.

I had noticed that the Mexican Milkweeds that I had in the yard were eaten down to a stick, which might explain why the Monarchs were back.  Around the corner and down the way, the Mexican Milkweeds had ripened and the seed pods burst. 

So I have a job to do.  Grab one of those pods and be Johnny Milkweed Seed again.  There's a little bit of open land near the river that needs a few flowers.   Not that anyone asked me to, but as Chief Irritant, one of my responsibilities is to make sure that the world is safe for future butterflies.

Plus I need a few seeds for the back yard as well.  They always seem to turn mine into sticks, and it is a rare plant that gets as far as going to seed.

The ones here are some of the Monarchs that will begin to migrate North.  In a month or two they will be up near the big Cities, and in two they will make it as far as Canada.   We will still have a few.  They will dance on the breezes past my window and rise on thermals in small spirals over the flowers in the park.

But they will need places to lay their eggs so future generations will make the trek North to delight people as they float past their windows in places that they can't overwinter.   

Somewhere up North in a month or two, someone will look out at their garden, notice their own Milkweed has opened up and is beginning to set forth silver starbursts of fluff on the breezes to make those same homes.  They will grab a few seeds to scatter and pay it forward for the little creatures to find later.

The cycle of butterflies.  They could use a little help now and again.  After all, Canada is a long way away from South Florida.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Japanese Shogun is looking for a new Samurai

A Japanese Shogun is looking for a new Samurai

He summons three swordsmen, one of them Jewish, to his palace to showcase their skills.

The first swordsman stands before the shogun with a sword and a small box. When he opens the box, a small box. When he opens the box, a fly flies out. With one swing of his sword, the fly is dead.

The second swordsman again brings a sword and a small box. When he opens the box, an even smaller fly comes out, and he kills it with one swing. The shogun is impressed.

At last, the Jewish swordsman walks up. He is also carrying a sword and a small box. He opens the box and an even smaller fly comes out. He swings his sword around many times, but it doesn't seem to affect the fly.

"I am disappointed," says the shogun. "You didn't kill the fly."

The Jew replies, "A circumcision is not meant to kill."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Doctor and the Veterinarian

The Doctor and the Veterinarian

Two lifelong friends, a doctor and a vet, are in a bar. Over the course of a few drinks the topic of conversation moves to work.

"You are lucky" says the vet "Your patients come in and tell you what is wrong with them. It would make treating them so much simpler"

"Ah" retorts the doctor "But you forget the social pressure and reliance upon which I must do my job. If I make even a small mistake, I could be sued for everything I have'

Neither the Vet nor the doctor wish to concede that they have the easier job. So the vet suggests a challenge. "Next time I am ill I shall come to see you but, as with my patients, I will not say a single word. If you can treat me I shall admit defeat" the doctor agrees and they enjoy the rest of their night.

Months pass and both men are very busy with work but one day the doctor hears a knock at the door. It is the vet who simply enters and lies on the couch. The doctor is initially confused but soon remembers his late night bet with his friend. The doctor begins to do a routine physical exam, looks the vet over, takes his temperature, all the usual tests. This goes on for a while with the doctor seemingly making no progress. The doctors frustration is evident on his face. He eventually signals for the vet to stand up and take his leave. As the vet approaches the door the doctor hands him a prescription for some basic antibiotics and says

"Here take two of these and if you're not better in the morning I'll have you put down."

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Security Camera View On The World

Lately I've been preoccupied.

When we're home, I have video to look at.

What you see here is my view on the world.  I have another three cameras to place, and we already know where they will go.

It started with me getting "A Deal" on a security camera set up.   It came with no hard drive, so once we got one of those, dropped it in the machine with a cable and four screws, we were on our way.  Not too shabby for $150 US.  It came with eight cameras and a bunch of wires, mounts, and power bricks. 

Low price to live on the set of The Truman Show.  No, I will not allow cameras inside the house.  That's just Beyond The Pale.

The machine is self maintaining, so none of the usual "Operating System Twiddling" that everyone was used to.  There is a whole world of terminology to learn.  I had done all this before.   I "Specified, Procured, and Deployed" two of these same units at the mall that I was the IT Director for.

The hardest part of setting the second one of these up is running wires in uncomfortable places. 

The hardest part of setting up the first is learning all the terminology.

Things like "TVL", IR, and PTZ become second nature after a while.

You have to know that the more TVL you have, the better the picture.  TVL being TV Lines, which is just how "HD" your HDTV Picture would be.  These cameras are only 640 lines so they're below HDTV spec, around the same as your old square Standard Def TV used to be.

IR is Infrared.  In this case, each camera has a ring of 28 infrared LEDs around the lens.  They glow red at night, and some may not even be able to see that frequency due to color blindedness.  In my case, they're quite bright and give me a view on the world of everything that goes on at night.

PTZ is something I truly want simply for the flexibility and the Coolness Factor.  Stands for "Point, Tilt, Zoom" and it's something you need to be able to do even if you never get a camera that will support it.  It will allow an operator, you or me, to Point or Tilt the camera at something, and then Zoom in on it.

Just like any technology, there is a world of jargon to fool the outsiders. 

Add to it that the Chinese who wrote the manual wrote it in crystal clear "Engrish".  Which is to say there was a passing acquaintance with the rules of English Grammar.   They passed the rules when they were on the bus in the town center.  They were in the book store they rode past at 50KPH.  They didn't read the rules, but the book was there.

So you have to step back and read between the lines.  The documentation is there, and you just may be able to figure it all out.  Once you do you can twiddle and I have a stack of settings that I can twiddle with.  Getting all that set just so is the goal.  Motion Detection should be just enough that you're not looking at 8 hours of uninterrupted video every night.  The IR light should not be reflecting against the eaves of the house so you're looking at solid grey video.   There is a screen where I can block off certain areas of the screen from Motion Detection at all meaning if something happens in the upper third or the neighbor's house, I don't care.  I can tell it not to record during certain hours which I'm trying to figure a reason that would be helpful. 

All that is really quite involved.  Just like anything it's the sum of the parts.  A lot of little parts make a system.

Unfortunately, the software has limits.  The web interface only runs on Internet Explorer which runs like molasses on my i7 laptop, and like crap everywhere else.  The query function is creaky.  I could write some serious improvements to the system if I had "root access" to the operating system but even that isn't available.  The help messages are written badly, more of that Engrish. 

That's one very strong reason why this sort of thing should be open.  Chinese Software is horrid.  Give me a LAMP server and let me write my own PHP code or Java.

But it does work, after a fashion, and it is open enough that third party software will work with it - if you are brave enough to try to get it to.

So if you're coming down the block, wave hello to the camera.  I'm sure I'll get to watch it on the DVR.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Baking Bread and Bagels and Breaking Boredom

I was in the middle of a software project and realized I was squinting.

Getting a headache is never a way to build a web server, so I pushed away from the computer.   It was time to do something else. 

This PC stuff can get tired after a while, so I had something else to clear my mind.

Since my freezer was getting low on stocks, I knew that I had to make some rolls.   Actually I started out making Challah Bagels with Raisins but since the dough turned out a bit wet, I went with rolls instead.  The reason was that the raisins needed to soak in water to plump up.  All that water had to go somewhere, and it went right into the rolls to make things taste sweet.

Trying to make a bagel shape with sticky dough is annoying on a good day and I needed to relax. 

The main difference between a bagel and a roll is not the shape.  Bagels are "par-boiled" 30 seconds a side in a bath of water and malt sugar, molasses, or some other semi sweet "goo".  If you're taking notes, it's 1 tablespoon per cup of water.  

I started up the challah dough in my big mixer and realized I was out of "regular rolls" too.  So out came "Mother" and I started the bread machine making sourdough dough at the same time.

Yes, I had two different processes going at once.

Timing being what it was, I got the Challah dough done before the Sourdough came out of the bread machine.  80 grams per roll, 120 grams per "baguette". 

I was able to let the Challah rolls rise while making up the sourdough rolls and took a break.

All better.  The house began to fill with the scent of rising bread.  Very few simple pleasures are as fine as the scent of rising dough and baking bread.  It's elemental.

After I realized that nothing was rising any longer, I started on the parboiling of the Challah rolls.  That was why they ended up so dark brown.  I managed to get the rolls to have the chewy outside that you expect from a proper Bagel, but had a shape that would hold my breakfast.

A little butter and they would toast up well on the skillet the next day.

I tend to underbake my rolls anyway.  I  could leave them in the oven longer and go for the Golden Brown look but the sourdough is intended to be toasted.  If you toast them and they're dark brown you may not get the desired results. 

Brown and Serve rolls are basically slightly "underbaked" so you can put them in the oven to finish them off.

After all was done, I managed to eat up an afternoon plus one of those bagels rolls.  My head cleared nicely and I got the LAMP stack on my Debian Linux computer working quite nicely indeed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Have Got To Stop Finding Things, And That Includes Dogs!

Basically, I'm a bit rattled by this.  More that it ended up that I wasn't really able to do much about the situation other than move the problem to a safer spot.

I'm usually up well before most of my neighbors.  I go out and walk around the city.  I have my circuit that I do with the dog.  

So I see things.  I've found oddball items before.  Wallets I will drop off at City Hall if there is no ID in them.  More pens and pencils than I can count.  People have lost their eyeglasses, which surprise me more than most items. 

Don't you need that to find your way home?

Walking through the parking lot past the bars, I made it to the Chic Optique.  There was nobody in any of the shops, save Michael who was setting up Java Boys for the morning caffeine rush.

My faithful sidekick, Rack, stayed close.  At this point he simply sat down.  He does that when he doesn't know what to do about something. 

He's sitting there dusting the floor with his tail and I hear dog tags.

Yes, you guessed it, I found a dog.  At least temporarily that is.

This was a tan or fawn colored Jack Russell Mix.  Seemed like a nice enough dog.  He came over to Rack with good manners, even when Rack started doing the play stance and thumping around.

A 45 pound McNab Dog's paws make the most interesting thump on the pavement when they slap it in play.

I reached down to say hello and the stranger backed off.

Hey, what's up little guy?

At least the dog wasn't aggressive.   He simply stepped back away from my hand and out of reach.

I stood there looking confused for someone, anyone to claim this dog.   If he was a stray, he was a new one.  Still looking clean and cared for, he could have just stepped out of the yard for a quick sniff around to the neighbors and kept going.

Rack was still hoping for Play! but needed to poo instead.

After cleaning up, Stranger Dog got in a good long sniff.  He did fall in line.  

Stranger paid attention to me when I said "Lets Go Home".  Unfortunately he really didn't go in any one direction.  More intent to follow us around town than lead us somewhere, he fell in with the pack.

I thought that the best thing I could do was to get this stray off of Wilton Drive.   It may be posted at a 30MPH speed limit, but nobody ever does drive that there.   That includes the Fort Lauderdale Police who I have seen speeding through town just to stop off at the local diner (true) or the Dunkin Donuts (Stereotype but true).

If I had been able to catch the dog, there was a Wilton Manors police cruiser directly across the street from me.  I could have walked him across the five traffic lanes and gave the officer something else to do toward the end of their shift. 

Hey, Officer, wanna dog?

"Come here, boy?"  Nope, this dog simply wanted nothing to do with being caught, at least by me.

When I am out with Rack, I don't tend to walk fast.  I'm being towed around the neighborhood, but I am slowing him down more than him speeding me up.

Me, Rack, and the Stranger walked off the drive and past the park.  He stayed near to us.  Never right on top of us, but near enough to where we are.   Every time he realized that he had been too far away, Stranger turned around and looked at us and waited for us to catch up.

When a car came by, Stranger cleared off the street and back toward us. 

But we did walk further on and eventually ended up at my house.

When I turned off the street and onto my driveway, Stranger was less than two feet away.

I turned around to see where he was and Stranger was trotting East on my street. 

"Come here, boy!" I tried again, to no avail.

This all ended with me being confused, Rack getting his feet washed, and Stranger walking through the puddles of the yellow street lights and out of my life.

I wasn't able to help at all unless you consider getting a stray dog off of Wilton Drive and into the neighborhood helpful.

Not much else has happened.  I have been watching my security cameras to see if Stranger shows back up.   If I see him, I'll try to get him indoors.  While we don't need a second dog, I certainly wouldn't fight a foster until the owners could be found.

It's just so (exasperated sigh!) frustrating!  Can't help, don't know what to do.  I'm sure someone was missing the little guy, I just hope he's safe.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If You Want The City To Yourself, Walk The Dog In The Rain

Waking up early is my habit.

There is a clock across the room.  It is clear, my eyesight at that distance is better than 20/20.  But it is also dark.

So there's a choice I had to make.   Ignore it and just lay there looking at the inside of my eyelids, or reach up and turn on the light and wake up the dog.  The watch on my wrist wasn't glowing so it was of no use, and the little reading flashlight I keep in the nightstand was just not being found by my exploring left hand.

Not to matter, the dog was awake well before I turned on the light.  That's their job, to watch over you.  30,000 years of training and breeding can not be ignored.

It was a quarter to six in the morning.

Pulling the earplugs out of my ears, I heard it.   Rain.

Saying the word, Rack's ears flapped down against his head and he came over to me.

"Boy, we're going to have a wet walk."

I put two and two together, got myself out to the front door just in time.  Rack needed out to water the rock by the driveway anyway.

I hear stories about people who allow their dogs to tell them when and if they will go out for a walk.  It's said My Dog Won't Walk In The Rain. 


That's training.  Your dog trained you to buy into its own dislike of being wet.  "Buck Up" and get yourself outside, there's a world waiting for you.

In our case, we were between two lines of storms.  These weren't thunderstorms, I won't walk in those either.  It's just foolhardy to walk your dog outside in a lightning storm carrying a metal framed umbrella.

This was just a light dribble.  Not enough to worry about.  The trees were dripping more water than the skies were.

Going outside and off the property was a bit of an experience.  The air was crisp and sweet.  The rain was the main sound that I heard.   Being in an urban environment, you grow used to hearing the highways around you.  Regardless of how quiet your area is, if you listen closely and wait, you will hear a car at some point.  The only time I ever heard absolutely zero traffic noise was when I would take my Jeep out to the New Jersey Pine Barrens and turn off the motor.  There is a sand road back there, a fire trail actually, that is far enough away from everything that you literally hear nothing man made.  It is an experience that most urban dwellers never get.  Since the majority of us Americans are urbanized, most people will never get that experience, I would wager.

The traffic was muted.  Sound was scattered, and it was early as well.  We didn't hear much other than the rain. 

Rack looked up at me and smiled when I said "It's quiet, boy!".

Nearby Dixie Highway had a random car here and there, but the wet roadbeds were keeping people's speeds down. 

The rain also keeps the usual flocks of birds quiet here as well.  They don't want to be eaten and if they don't make a sound, it is harder for a predator to find them.

The white noise of the weather surrounded us.   A distant grumble from a cell that was in a front over the Everglades made it to my ears.  While it is urban here, there aren't a lot of concentrated tall buildings to muffle sounds.   Things carry well.

Anyone who says they don't talk to their dogs when they walk would be fooling themselves.   Dogs are great listeners, even to the blather that I spout when I am half asleep.  This morning was no different from usual in that respect.

"It's chilly out!  Enjoy it, this is going to be the last cold snap before summer."
Doggy smile.

It's late March.  We never got a large block of cold weather.   What's cold for us is Room Temperature for more Northern Climes. 

Yes, it was chilly.  All of 20C/68F.   That's what passes for Winter Weather in South Florida.  I have met people who say that if you put on long pants, it's winter.   Maybe they were right, but the cool water merely felt invigorating on my skin.

We made it to the corner.  Having walked the block behind our house, Rack wanted home.   It wasn't due to the rain, he's getting lazy.   Or rather, he's getting slick.  He's realized that he needs to go outside and do his business in the morning.   If he waits to eat until he gets back, it will be more comfortable to him.  On the other hand, I only get a half mile walk in the morning when he pulls this stunt so I'm not completely blameless.  My coffee was calling me.

"Come on, Rack!  Show me Walk!".

He turned back to look at me and then turned to the house.

"One more time, show me walk!"

I get a wag out of his tail.  We're going home.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Dog Leading The Dog Agility

It was late, and time to go.  We five had been sitting in front of Wilton Manors City Hall on the wall and we were ready. 

It is our habit to sit there long enough to get my McNab Dog, Rack to calm back down again.  He has many fear issues with noise and if you present them in a safe way, eventually through time, he will get over some of them.   Over the eleven months that we have had our boy, he went from a complete mess to merely skittish and wary.

Heading South on Wilton Drive, Rack turned into the parking lot between the Thai restaurant and the bar.  I haven't managed to convince him to walk next to me for any length of time but as long as he's not towing me anywhere, I'm not going to complain too much. 

It was a normal evening here, there was a commotion in the bar, a little woman was sitting behind the Thai restaurant smoking a cigarette, and we said hi to the Valet as we walked past.

At that point Rack got a spring in his steps.  He walked directly toward the first cone when he saw them.  Ellie was behind us.  Ellie is a "middle aged" pit bull mix, who is a part of our pack.  She's The Protector.  If Ellie sees something that she doesn't like she barks, loud, with "authority".  If Rack barks at something, Ellie will bark to warn them off too.   One of those pack mentality things I think.  

With three humans and two dogs, there's always something to bark at.

Rack weaved around the first cone to the right.  I knew he was going to repeat his trick.  With a Rescue, you aren't usually sure what sort of training they got before they got to you. 

I know Rack changed hands a couple times and ended up in a Vet Clinic in central Florida for 36 days before I found out about him, and he was shut down completely by that point.  He was abandoned as an Owner Surrender in Rome, Georgia at only five months old so we had no idea what sort of training he was given.

As rare as a McNab Dog is, especially outside of the California Ranch Country the breed originated in, I have to wonder how someone would find a jewel in the rough like my Rack and give up after only two months just to turn him in like an unwanted present over the xmas holidays.

Apparently he was trained at some level with Agility Training.  Just as water will seek its own level, a dog will create its own opportunity for fun.

WeaveWeaveWeaveWeave you will see some herding dog bending itself into serpentine waves around Weave Poles made out of plastic pipe in a competition. 

This is much more laid back and deliberate since I'm not really interested in running agility at 9:30 at night.

But Rack was.  He weaved left around cone two.

So did Ellie.   We were onto something.

Rack completed the course with two more cones done correctly, Ellie was now being trained in Agility because she weaved four cones on her own.

Right, Left, Right, Left, and then "Lets Skip This Last One".  Rack headed out to the parking lot to the left and back out into the neighborhood behind the bar.   He wanted to go home. 

We were all getting a laugh out of it.  Our little pack was having its fun doing Instinctual Agility.  Where one dog led, the other will follow. 

At that point, Rack looked up at me, nut brown eyes sparkling in the yellow light, smiled and led us home.   Our little shut down puppy was finding his own way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Selling War Insurance

Selling War Insurance

Airman Jones was assigned to the induction center where he was to advise new recruits about their government benefits, especially their GI insurance.

It wasn't long before Captain Smith noticed that Airman Jones had almost a 100% record for insurance sales, which had never happened before.

Rather than ask about this, the Captain stood in the back of the room and listened to Jones's sales pitch.

Jones explained the basics of the GI Insurance to the new recruits, and then said: "If you have GI Insurance and go into battle and are killed, the government has to pay $200,000 to your beneficiaries. If you don't have GI insurance, and you go into battle and get killed, the government has to pay only a maximum of $6000. "

"Now," he concluded," which bunch do you think they are going to send into battle first?"

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson Go On A Camping Trip

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip.

After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
"I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes." Replies Watson.

"And what do you deduce from that?"

Watson ponders for a minute. "Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately quarter to four. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?"

"Watson, you idiot!" He exclaims. "Someone has stolen our tent!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Cream Biscuits and Gravy - Story and Recipe

Getting up early, you can get a lot done.  Unfortunately, that usually means you actually have to be awake to start.

I got up and walked the dog, and by 6AM I was standing in the kitchen debating breakfast and making coffee.  I didn't want the usual, it was time for something different.

Having done the leg work, I had two jars of commercially made Sausage Gravy from the supermarket sitting on the counter staring at me.  I just didn't have biscuits to go with it.

Sipping the coffee and looking out at the backyard, I was thinking if I had enough cream, I could make some biscuits.   I didn't think I had the stuff, but if I did this needed to happen.  The cream was from October, had a Best If Used By Date of Thanksgiving, and I'm writing this on the second day of Spring.

Yeah, it was old.  In fact, it was lumpy from settling in the back of the refrigerator for all those months waiting for something to make.   I had made cream biscuits before with this same carton last year.  Then some whipped cream well past the Best Date.  It still smelled good. 

Tasted it... strangely it was good.

Ok, this is all a bit too Bachelor for words, but I was going to chance it. 

After complaining on Facebook, and a quick back and forth about it with a friend, I remembered that "Past Due" cream in the refrigerator.

Yeah, Yuck, right?

Hunger had driven me out of my chair and I found my recipe that I had written on the blog.   It was dead simple before, and if there wasn't enough cream, I'd add a little 2 percent to make up the difference.

Gingerly pulling the cream out, I sniffed the carton.  Hmmm, it smelled good!

Pouring out a cup into the two-cup-measure, I noticed lumps.  That's normal, the fat will settle out and you end up with buttermilk anyway.   Shaking the carton, I managed to get the full cup out.

Lets recheck that recipe -

  • 2 cups Self-Rising Flour - Check!
  • 1 1/4 Cups Cream - We're working on that!
  • 1 Tablespoon of Sugar - Check!

I managed to get the rest of the cream out and a little to spare.  I promised myself to use the tablespoon of cream leftover in my coffee tomorrow.

Mixing the wet-with-the-dry ingredients, I managed to make a batter that was more like modeling clay than I remember.  A little sticky, I was able to get a dozen "rightsized" dough balls.  I reached up and preheated the oven to 450F and waited to put it in.

This cooked in exactly 10 minutes to "golden brown"!

The cream tasted good, even if it was at least six months removed from being inside Mrs Cow!

The biscuits?  Perfect.  I was in shock.  Light and fluffy, even if not from the original Gold Medal Flour recipe I prefer.  I simply wanted Biscuits Now! and I got them.

Popping open the gravy, I poured a measured 1/2 cup on top and I got my Biscuits with Red Eye Gravy.

Surprisingly good actually for a commercial gravy, if a bit strong on the black pepper.

Next time, I'll serve with a cheese omelette! 

All in all, not a bad way to finally use up that blasted cream!  Next time, Get A Smaller Container of Cream!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

First Day Of Spring

Ok, test your batteries in the Smoke Detector.

There are other things you tend to do every season, it's a good day to consider it at any rate.

It's the first day of spring.  Actually since I write these a wee bit ahead of time, It is still winter for me.

While the first day you can plant things outdoors without fear of frost is getting closer, you might want to consult a USDA Zone Map for that.   In the big cities, those days vary.  I always took my plants out today when I lived in Philadelphia but I would watch the "lows" on the forecast until the "official" day of April 1.  Your zone will vary.

You see, you live on a ball.  We call it the Earth

That ball is tilted about 23 degrees in respect to the Sun.  That causes seasons as it works its way around the Sun.  During the year days get longer and shorter as a result.

Two days a year, first day of Spring, and first day of Fall, the day is actually 12 hours long.  The Sun appears to cross over the equator on its way North in the Spring, South in the Fall.

Or Autumn.  I'm fine either way.

So today at 12:57 Eastern Daylight Savings Time, the Sun is right over top of the Equator. 

Here in Wilton Manors, I am at 26 degrees North, roughly.  90-26 is 64 so the Sun should be 64 degrees up in the skies  at 12:57 today. 

If you really want to be absolutely correct about it, there are websites that tell you where exactly the Sun is overhead at any moment and the place it crosses the equator.  It looks to be off shore in the ocean near the coast of Ecuador by this link.  If you were there, you would look "due up" and there's the Sun.

Yes, that's a bit much isn't it?

If you are South of the Equator, you are upside down and you are going out of Summer into Fall.

My smoke detector just beeped when I pressed the button, so I'm good for a few more months. 

As for the butterfly, it was posing for me a while back when I walked through the park with my camera.

We've got butterflies the year around here in South Florida, and I make it a point to plant things they like.  As a result, it is rare that my Mexican Milkweed isn't eaten up.  But I do like watching them float by the front window on their little butterfly way of doing butterfly things.

Perfect picture for the first day of Spring.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Dad's 8-Track, My First Big Fix

Being That Kid, the one who gets into things, can cause problems. 

Some kids were destructive.  They grew up to do things like be demolition experts or construction engineers.  You know the kind, they'd love to break things just to see how it worked.

In my case, I used to break things to fix them.  Sure, I loved to see how they worked, but I'd get things people would stop using because there was a minor problem and then repair them and say "There, better than new because it has a history".

Ok, maybe I wasn't THAT well thought out as a wee brat, but you get the picture.

I would fix my things, things around the house, and neighbors stuff.   Kept me busy and kept me from being bored.  I was the kid who rebuilt a switch on a radio that popped open once when I went to New York City to visit my Aunt Betty and Uncle Sal.  Those old "Double Pole, Double Throw slide switches" didn't always hold together as well as they should.

My sister has a strong memory of my bedroom being crammed full of electronic "projects" in various states of repair and disrepair stacked chock-a-block in every cranny I could make.   Add to it the potted plants in the windows and the big fish tank, and that bedroom was a very full room over the garage.  If I had the storage for the stuff, it would have made this hobby a lot more manageable, but it wasn't to be.

One day a new project appeared.   Dad brought in his 8-track player.  He had it in his big Buick Limited that eventually became my car once he passed on.   The player was his pride and joy, and when we'd go down to Glassboro for a Saturday Night Out with Ann-Ann and Uncle Frank, he would slap in some of His Music and we'd go down The 295 to Delsea Drive in style. 

This was where I got my love of Glenn Miller, The Dorseys, and The Andrews Sisters to this day.

We stopped listening to His Music after a while and I never really put it together why.  We'd find something else, Middle of the Road music, most likely and glide down on our visits.

That 8-track player appeared in the house with a warning to me:  Don't Touch That Player!

Being the curious pre-teen that I was, we all knew that wouldn't work.

The player sat there in its yellow/beige plastic housing with Buick on the faceplate staring at me.  For a while it taunted me until I took the time to find the dreaded Phillips Screwdriver.   It was going to be looked at.  Time to take it apart.

I got the plastic housing apart, then the metal case came off in short order.  Metal Case?  Remember those?

Looking inside of the unit it was very obvious what was wrong.  The unit had thrown its belt and it was no longer attached to the motor.  That belt would move the tape around inside the cartridge and make everything work.  I tightened the screws on the motor so that things sat where they should, then stretched the belt taught.  Sealing things up I put it all back together.

Dad came in shortly thereafter.

"Bill... what.. are you doing?"
"It's your 8-track, I fixed it!  It was simple!"
"I told you not to!  Umm..."

The conversation went back and forth and eventually he calmed down and we took it out to the beast of a car sitting in the driveway.  Plugging it back into the weird connectors that the car had for this purpose, the 8-Track was now plugged in.

Success.  The Time-Life Swing Era Collection for 1936 came to life with the Toy Trumpet song joyfully playing on the South Jersey Prairies. 

I got a strange look that I now know as "Kid, back off, this is my toy, you could have broken it once and for all". 

"Thanks, Bill, we'll have music now!"

Feeling proud, I handed him the little piles of sheet metal screws and the #2 Phillips screwdriver and we replaced the unit in the car.

To the day that we finally got rid of the car, that 8-track sat there with Pride of Place.  Every time I would get in the car and knock my right shin on it, I'd remember the day we put it back in the car.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Replacing the Heatsink Fan in a Thinkpad T60

I have an old workhorse of a laptop that had a fan go bad on the heatsink.  It sounded like someone was rolling a plastic jar down a table with a marble in it.  We replaced the machine, but I didn't want to throw this one out.  I kept it for "parts" but kept it running.

Finally one day I decided to try one last time to find a cheap heatsink or fan for the old machine.  Instead of throwing out a machine that worked, I was able to replace the fan for $7 from a vendor on Amazon.  It took three weeks to get here from Shenzhen in China, but after about 15 minutes of work, I now have a perfectly good computer. 

The fan works like a champ, and now the computer breathes instead of rattles.

Remember, this is more than a basic repair to your computer.  Your mileage may vary - it is completely possible to have an accident that will render your computer unable to be used.  In otherwords, you can break your computer if you aren't careful so you are following these instructions at your own risk.  There are guides online at the website at Lenovo that will also help you.   A search for "T60 Repair Manual" found me this guide that I distilled to make these notes.  Please be careful, this is something that pretty much anyone can do it they take their time, but I have seen people kill their computer because they weren't careful.

To replace the fan, you have to remove the keyboard and loosen the back.  I have had this machine apart a number of times, so I may have misplaced a few screws.  Yes, go ahead, I do have a screw loose.  Why else would I write a blog for four years?

Make certain you have a clean work area and have discharged your static electricity since that could kill your computer.  Remove the laptop battery and power cord from the back of your T60.

The picture below shows the location of the screws circled in Yellow. 
Well, strictly speaking, they are "O"ed since Photoshop wasn't behaving.  18 point Transport font of a Capital Letter O worked fine.

Look for the icon on the back of your machine that looks like a Keyboard.   There are five screws to remove.   Set them aside for the eventual reassembly of your machine.

This will allow you to flip over the machine and remove the Trackpad mount.   Remember to be gentle since the trackpad is connected to the motherboard with a thin ribbon cable.  The cable will pop off the motherboard with a snap.

Second, remove the keyboard.   It should lift right up, however, there is a thin ribbon cable underneath it connecting it to the motherboard.  As you can see in the next pictures, I simply set it back on top of the computer.  Depending on how brave you are, you can do either.

The seven screws holding down the upper bezel, the heat sink clamp, and the heat sink itself can be removed now.  Set them aside.  Remove the clamp for the heat sink, flip the grey wire out of the clamp that holds down the bezel at the top center of the laptop, and finally you can remove the heat sink itself from its place on the motherboard.

Remember that there will be a wire for the old fan that needs to be removed from the motherboard.  Make a note of where it goes and how the plug goes back onto the motherboard for later.

When all the pieces have been gently removed, your laptop will look like this picture.

At this point, your machine has been disassembled.  You now need to bend vertical the copper clips holding the fan to the heat sink so that the old fan may be removed.  Do so gently, but firmly.  You need the copper clips to be intact to attach the new fan, so don't break the things! 

The fan will be held in place with a piece of tape, in the case of my machine, Aluminium tape.  It will also have the wire held in place with a clip.  Gently remove the wire from the clip on the heat sink.   Bend the fan out of the way so that the tape is holding the fan.  If the fan does not lift up from the heat sink easily, check to make sure the clips are all bent away from the old fan.  I removed the fan from the tape - you will need that tape so that air flow will be maintained.

To mount your new fan, place it in the same spot as the old fan.  Attach the tape to the fan to hold it in place, then bend the copper clips in place as the picture above shows.

The replacement of the heat sink goes as follows:

I cleaned off the three contact points on the motherboard - The CPU, Video Chip, and the third contact point (what ever the thing was!). 

Then, I reshaped the grey heat sink putty to be more square for when I replace the heat sink.  I placed one drop of heat sink grease on each of the heat sink putty blobs since I had it, but I doubt it is strictly necessary.

I lifted the bezel and connected the wires for the fan to the motherboard.

I slid the heat sink assembly back in place.

Screwed down the heatsink, then the silver clip, then the bezel with the screws that I removed before.

Placing the keyboard ribbon cable in its connector, then the keyboard in place, followed by the Trackpad ribbon connector and the Trackpad mount were next.

Then I flipped the machine over and replaced all the five screws that I removed at the beginning of this exercise.

At this point you may replace the power cord and battery to the computer.

I was able to power on the machine and it came back up.  Allow the machine to come to operating temperature and you will hear the fan the entire time if you place your ear next to the heat sink vents.

If you forgot to connect your fan to the motherboard, the T60 will beep at you and display "FAN ERROR" on the screen, then immediately shut off.

In my case, I was able to use the machine immediately and allow the machine to out and update the operating system while playing a few games and surfing pages.  My old machine was fully functional again!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Stopping Windows From Expanding Full Screen When You Move Them To The Side

I finally gave up.  I got so annoyed at this that I had to find the answer and yes, of course I'm writing about it.

It may be "again" because I have gone through this one before.  Every time I have to set up something on a new computer, I go in and turn this off.  Since I recycle and repurpose computers frequently, it happens.  For most of you, this is a set it and forget it thing.

It's a case of someone insisting that their way is easier, and they added it as the default, but it gets in the way of the 99.9 percent of the people out there who have a way of doing something and see no pressing need for a change.

Ok, maybe we're wrong and need to adapt but "we" don't have to.

I was watching my security camera system here while it was being worked on.  We were adding another camera and using it to look around the attic.  No problem there, until I had to move the window over to the one side.  Windows saw that the top of the window hit the top of the screen and helpfully made the window go full screen.

No, Windows, I didn't want that.  I wanted it to simply "stay where I put it" whether it is partially "off screen" or not. 

Let go of me, I know what I'm doing.

I pulled the window back and it insisted on making it go full screen again.

After three or twenty trials of this, I gave up and looked it up.  Here is how to permanently defeat this on Windows 7.  It may work on Vista and Windows 8, I haven't tested it.

Go into Control Panel and follow these prompts:

  • Click Start button
  • Select Control Panel and view All Control Panel Items.  (Default for me).
  • Select Ease of Access Center
  • Select Make The Mouse Easier To Use
  • Click on the box that selects "Prevent windows from being automatically arranged when moved to the edge of the screen.".
  • Click Apply.

Done.   Really, if you need to put a box in a control panel to turn something like this off, shouldn't it be the default to be off to begin with?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Farmer and his Wife are Riding Along

A Farmer and his Wife are riding along

An old farmer and his wife are riding along a dirt road in a horse drawn carriage. The road is rather weathered and beaten down, making the long journey an unpleasant ride.

The horse stumbles on a hole in the road and violently jerks the carriage. The old man pulls on the reigns and brings the horse to a halt. He calmly climbs down from he seat and walks up to the horse. Looking the horse straight in the eyes, the man says, "that's one." He then returns to his seat they all continue on their way.

Again, the horse stumbles; this time on a rock. The old man climbs down, walks up to the horse, looks him straight in the eye, and says in a more stern voice, "that's two." He climbs back to his seat and they continue on once more.

A while later the horse trips on a fallen tree branch and stumbles a third time. The old man climbs down, walks over to the horse, looks him straight in the eye and says, "that's three." He then produces a pistol from his waist band and shoots the horse in the head. The horse collapses, still fashioned to the carriage. The man's wife is nearly thrown from her seat.

The wife storms over to her husband and shouts, "What the hell is the matter with you!? I could have been thrown on the ground and broken a leg! How are we going to get home now!? Do you know how much it's going to cost us to get another horse!?"

The old man looks her straight in the eye and says, "that's one."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Disorder in the American Courts

These exchanges were recorded verbatim by court reporters and published in the book, "Disorder in the American Courts"

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget..
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?
WITNESS: How would I know?

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn't it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn't know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: The youngest son, the twenty-year-old, how old is he?
WITNESS: He's twenty -- much like your IQ.

ATTORNEY: Were you present when your picture was taken?
WITNESS: Are you kiddin' me?

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?
WITNESS : Your Honor, I think I need a different attorney. Can I get a new attorney?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?
WITNESS: Take a guess.

ATTORNEY: Can you describe the individual?
WITNESS: He was about medium height and had a beard.
ATTORNEY: Was this a male or a female?
WITNESS: Unless the Circus was in town, I'm going with 'a male'.

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All of them. The live ones put up too much of a fight.

ATTORNEY: ALL your responses MUST be oral, OK? What school did you go to?

ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m..
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: If not, he was by the time I finished.

ATTORNEY: Are you qualified to give a urine sample?
WITNESS: Are you qualified to ask that question?

And the best for last:

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: I see, but could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pay It Forward - the different levels of support for a friend

I had a chance to pay back someone in a way I didn't realize I knew enough actually have it work.

It's great when that happens, you certainly get a warm feeling when you are able to pay it back.  Or forwards depending on your view.

I'm That Guy.  The one most people call for tech questions.  If I can just fire off a quick answer without spending a lot of time on it, I don't generally mind.   Most Tech People are that way.

Hey, my computer is acting funny!
Did you try turning it off and on again?

Hey, my CD isn't reading!
Did you try cleaning it off?  Did you try turning it off and on again?

That last bit is the mantra of most tech people - so much so that the British comedy "The IT Crowd" would mention it on average more than once an episode.

When it gets to the more complex things, doing free support becomes something that you need a lifeline for - "Call A Friend" like the quiz shows do.

We all do oddball projects on the side.  I have a habit of taking old hardware, repurposing it or reusing it.  I've passed on old PCs to people for years now.

Sometimes you can just set something up and let it roll.  One of those fringe things I got into a while back was setting up servers, whether they are windows or not.  It's not always the kind of thing you do right the first time.  "one and done" isn't always the case.  If you find someone who makes these things look easy, they've made the mistakes before and it might just be old hat.

I've been setting up linux servers for my own use and never really thought all that much about it.  Most people don't want to try to learn new if they can avoid it.  Path of Least Resistance.

I have "done it right, done it wrong, done it right again".  That's the learn while you do process.

It's a different way of looking at things.   I had this discussion with someone who was learning Windows at the same time that I dropped my old Linux Laptop on him.  He told me that very thing followed by "It really isn't hard, just slightly different".

But we all have someone that knows a bit more about a subject.  I'm a great generalist, I can tell you what you want to get your job done as a functional tool.  But when I get stuck, I have my lifelines to call. 

The other day, one of my lifelines called me.   Strangely enough I was able to answer.   Setting up Linux on standard hardware is fairly simple if you get the right tools.   Setting it up on "non standard" gear can be impossible.

The problem is that if someone did something they may be able to do it again, but can they tell you if they had?   That's the difference between the levels of support.

Level 1 "Have you tried turning it off and back on again"
Level 2 "Did your spreadsheet crash?  Have you got the file access from the server..."
Level 3 "Do you have permission to use that resource?"

And it gets more specific from there.

No matter what the hardware or software you're using, it's worthless if you don't know how to use it.  That may not be YOUR problem since most documentation is missing something.  The difference is that someone in a higher level, that person knows how to bridge the gap.

The specific problem I'm thinking of was some bad documentation.  Even after you read it, read it twice, then a third time, it didn't quite work out.  A person did one task and set it up for you to repeat.  Except they forgot to complete the documentation so that someone who doesn't know the product would know how to repeat it.  They needed to build a bridge between the two steps when there's a missing step in the middle.

A non baker forgetting that bread tastes more complex if it rises completely.  But more complex may not be what you want if you are making bagels.

A tech guy forgetting that in order to get the Wifi Card to connect to the network, they need to get the drivers for this thing.

A lot of playing with computers is just luck.  Getting the right piece of hardware and making sure that the software is set up correctly.  Following instructions are great, making sure the instructions are correct is a step further that somewhere, usually, something gets skipped.

So, did you try turning it off and back on again?  You did?  Is it working?  Great!  Now, go install...

I'm just glad I was able to help someone who has given me a LOT of help in the past.  It's a strange project you had, and there were a lot of bridges to build in order to make that documentation work.

With a lot of us, the fun part isn't using it, but merely getting it running.  The first time you start your car after you did the full tune up and making sure you didn't switch two of the wires on the distributor cap.

Remember Red Wire is always Positive, Black is always Negative. Otherwise it would be bad, Mmmkay?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Giving Me The Bird

Have you ever felt you were being watched?

I mean... Really watched?

Going out into the yard to do a little puttering, I got visited.

I have a half dead bottle brush tree out there.   After every storm, I check the thing.  I'm hoping that the dead pieces can be removed and it's hanging on for dear life.   If I can cut off the dead, then the Termites won't have something to eat so close to my house.

Unfortunately, nothing ever really falls off that "old snag" of a tree.  The flowers that look like a bottle brush keep blooming, and the green parts are staying green.

I should be happy about that except I planted a cluster of screw palms on each side of it, and a real palm tree in front.  The 'island' it is on in the yard is a bit crowded, and I'm waiting for it to be cut down safely.

I am not rushing matters because there is a spectacular "air plant" in it.  They only grow when trees are shedding nutrients, so that means that either it's the "right" kind of tree, or the tree it is growing on is dying.  The air plant is about the size of a watermelon or a small kick ball, so I really don't want to disturb it.

Rooting around the yard, I heard some chattering above my head.   I was trying to get a picture of the bottle brush flowers, and I have those, but this was more insistent.

This little bird was arguing with me about my right to be in the yard.

I don't go out there often because I don't like to feed my other pets.  The clouds of Mosquitoes that have claimed the yard have also used me for feed more than once.  My pets.  Would you like them?  I didn't think so.  Blasted Tiger Mosquitoes...

The bird actually flew in frame.  One second it was just ... there!

So I did what any Red-Blooded photographer would do.  I took a purty picture.  Actually I took THIS picture and realized there was a twig in front of the bird.  I would be able to photoshop it out, but since I doubt anyone would do more than look at it in passing, I thought I'd just post it here.

The bird flew off as soon as it realized I wasn't going to annoy the other bird in the tree.  I guess it was a bonded pair, or at least it seemed that way to me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Patch Tuesday is Following You

Got Windows?

When you get a chance, today, I'm giving you a task.

Shut down your PC.

There, simple, right?

Want the reason behind it?

I didn't think so but here it is as simple as I can phrase it:  Microsoft found some nasty bugs and they're fixed.

All better?

Seems like this sort of thing is happening more often, Windows demands you to shut down the computer in an orderly fashion because there's something scary that needs to be replaced. 

How do you know?

This effects all versions of Windows that are supported including Windows 8 and 8.1.  Touch Screen people, have a look.  If you see a shield, shut it down and come on back later.

In Windows 7 and earlier, Click on the Start Button.  Look at the "shut down" button.  If there's a gold or orange shield next to it, save all your work, then click it.   It will close all your apps/programs/and what have you, then do its work.

You may continue to have messages come up after you click shut down, but just leave your computer alone, it will do what it needs to do.

After you come back to use it again, you know - turn it on?, it may go through some more churning before you can go back to surfing and playing solitaire.
Oddly enough this effects Mac OSX as well since there's a security violation over there.  Microsoft Silverlight is the culprit.

If you are still using Windows XP, enjoy it while you can, you're out of luck on April 8th, 2014 unless Microsoft has a change of heart and decides to fix things.  They're pulling the plug there and if you don't replace Windows XP with a newer version of Windows, or install something like Linux on it, you will be serving ads for some spammer in short order.

If you don't want to go through that, you can buy a new machine that is probably 4 times faster for about 300 dollars.

Now if your old machine is a really cool and thin laptop and you want to rehome it safely, do let me know.  I'd love an Ultrabook to put Debian onto.

Not that I need one mind you, but it would be cool. 

I can also install Debian Linux for you for a minor fee.  The operating system is free and most of the things Mom and Pop like to do on it are free too so you can go on about your business with your old machine, new software, and some street cred while you're at it.

You know, Surf, Solitaire, Letters... that sort of thing.

But Windows People, Shut Down your computer today.
Mac Folks will be told they have an update.

My Linux Machine ... it just keeps going on without a problem.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Rack Will Wear Me Out First

At this moment, it's a cool morning.  I have the windows open and I'm lying to the dog.

You see, anything scary I tell him it's Kirby or Kirby's.

Rack loves Kirby, our neighbor across the street and over one.  We're not sure, it's probably because Kirby acts the most excited of all of our neighbors when he sees the little guy. 

On the other hand, it really is Kirby's truck that's roaring past.  A big black diesel Ford F250 extended cab that will shake your fillings loose when he kicks in the turbo and rolls past the house.

I've got to borrow that thing next trip to Ikea, even if that is a stereotype.  Hey dude, can I borrow your truck?


The day started on a similar bend.  Me handling the dog.

I get up, get him ready, we walk.  He refuses to eat before we go, so I guess he really does have to go.

Peering through the half moon above my door is normal for me.  I want to make sure that I don't have a black and white dart charging out to greet anyone.  On the other hand, if he didn't think anyone is out there, Rack simply doesn't act up.

I open the door and leave it open to walk to the mailbox regularly without a care.

This morning, I must have been half asleep.

Open the door and step out into the cool predawn.  I spot them a half second after Rack does.  That's because my right arm is now being yanked by 45 pounds of dog jumping into the air five feet alternating with him going back into a sitting position and dusting the asphalt of my driveway.

Spring-sit-spring-sit.  What a weird critter.

There is a neighbor from a block or three over who has his little white dogs with him.  A pair of havanese or maltese or bedroom slipper dogs acting excited to see my goofball.

Belatedly, I pull it together and manage the situation.  Not too well, but I manage.  Besides, they like it too.

We're playing Leash Macrame at 5:55 in the morning in front of the house.  

It's a brief explosion of canine energy followed by my grabbing the purple harness and unthreading him from the other two leashes.  Silly mutt.

We wander off and before we get home, he manages to find another pair of dogs and we go through the same ritual. 

Getting home, I now have a black and white door stop in the middle of my kitchen.   He's had his food, now he wants mine.   "Not For Dogs" isn't having its effect so we go into the stare down posture.  Six inches from a wet black nose, I repeat myself.  Instant avoidance, he wanders off a few feet until the kettle boils.

I have to reach over him to get the water for coffee and later tea.

When I get the ice out of the freezer, he's back under foot.   What is it with dogs and ice cubes?

I give him the ice cube and am able to put a dent into my breakfast.  "Rack, Out back?" gives me another 90 seconds before he realizes that he may be able to get something out of me before I finish the white plain yogurt with banana slices.

"Not For Dogs" isn't really working for that either.

We settle in after I "stiff" him a snack.  My arm is now a new dog toy.  I'm covered in slobber and nibbles.   Handed The Rope, he's chewing it on the wrong end.  I guess he really wants me to give it to him.  Upside down on his back he's chewing on a multicolored cotton rope and reminding me that when I vacuumed yesterday I didn't get under the big chair when his tail begins to dust the supports for the thing.  Oh well, he put wet footprints all over the living room so we are even.

Floors don't stay clean here for long.  He's got really bad aim.  Colossally bad aim when he's watering a tree.  He's a rare breed of yellow footed collie called a Mc Nab Dog.  The foot wash station on the front porch and lap around the yard to wipe the water off is routine now.  Some day he'll learn.

It's all a part of having a rescue.  A dog that comes to you partially trained may have deep secrets that will bubble to the surface in quirks.  It's always entertaining.  What was new yesterday is old hat today.  Sounds like a certain kid I watched grow up. 

While they can't speak they certainly can be heard.  Would you want it any other way?  I know I wouldn't.

Monday, March 10, 2014

First World Photography Problems

Ever since I moved in this house, I have been entertained by looking out my kitchen window.

I can see the pool, the hedges, plantings, and enjoy a little slice of heaven without stepping out of doors.

I roll the window up, push the popcorn popper out, and I can roast my coffee without turning the entire house into a Melitta Factory like I grew up a mile and a half away from.

Somewhere around that distance, at any rate.

Standing at the sink, I will have my breakfast.  I've heard it is "just like a bachelor" to do this, but it gives me a chance to look out on the world and contemplate nature.

A few days ago, I noticed that my Amaryllis had popped into bloom.  Immediately I decided to take pictures "just at the right time".

Now, Photography is a strange hobby.   I say hobby because, while I enjoy it, I have never made a dime from it.  I have a trusty Samsung 8 MP digital camera that I beat up.  It fits in my pocket and as a result the LCD has a stress crack in it.  Someday, I'll find an upgrade, but for now it works.

I "fix things in Post Production" from time to time on Photoshop or GIMP and then add text to illustrate what I was thinking.  Then I post it here.

So I've taken all that time just to get the right picture, then "sully" it by dropping text on top.  Lately it has been "MV Boli" as a font and every time I use it I think that it is just a little too close to Comic Sans.

Yes, I'm a font geek too.

In the case of this particular picture, I have been waiting for just the right time.  It turns out that it was 9:20AM EST on Sunday, March 9th, 2014.  Right smack dab in the tail end of the Golden Hour when the sun is still rising, but not yet "white".   We get so much sun here that pictures easily take on an "overexposed" look.   Think of those Grecian Islands with the white houses and blue trim where everyone has closed their windows because it's just too bright.  Philadelphia looks dark to me.  Pictures of London always look gloomy.  I've been in Florida long enough to appreciate the sheer brilliance of high noon when the sun is directly overhead and your shadow is a puddle at your feet but it makes for a washed out picture.

You take your best pictures in the Golden Hour, you just haven't realized it.  At least you do in the middle latitudes and the semi-tropics, like here in South Florida.  Your mileage may vary.

Except I have tried for days to get it right.   The sun wasn't up.  Rain.  Clouds.  Sprinkler system watering the plant.  The dog one time wanted to play.  The blooms weren't open yet.

You get the picture.

By that point, I got really quite frustrated.  I started walking around the yard randomly taking pictures of things. 

Bottlebrush tree.  Bird landed on a limb and let me take a picture.   Bees near a bottlebrush flower that didn't show up in frame.  Hibiscus.  Jasmine.  Orange Blossom that was too dark. 

Plenty of Orange Blossoms this year, it looks like there will be a good crop in the Ag Area, North of here near Lake O.

At the end I took a flash picture of the flower and was going to call it done.  Nah, when I got up from my coffee I looked out the window one more time. 


The sun angle was perfect.  I walked out back and grabbed this one picture and immediately went through the machinations of getting it set for the web.

Ok, so the composition isn't perfect, I could have zoomed back a wee bit.  It's too high in frame.  But for the most part it's not terrible.  I may be able to crop it better for later.  Surprising what you can do with a good crop and some minor touch up.

Not bad for a Point And Shoot camera that I got for $1.14, huh?

If you are a perfectionist, don't take up photography.  You will spend your days second guessing yourself.  Trust me, I do.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Daylight Savings Time

Daylight Savings Time started at 2AM this morning.  Check your clocks, I'm going to be doing that for a while.

I started setting the things yesterday morning, and most of them will be done this week.   It's a day I look at each clock and watch and wonder why on Earth do I need all these things?

We've got a microwave that has a helpful clock on it, but I can't set it since the one button is stuck.   What I will do is at noon on the dot, I will walk into the kitchen and unplug the bloody thing so it will at least blink the correct time.

One thing though, if you have an heirloom clock, be careful.  It may be easier to stop the clock and wait until the correct time to set it.  Mom's clock isn't an heirloom to anyone but me, but it did get that treatment yesterday.

As for me, I have never readjusted to Eastern Standard Time.  My body kept getting up at 5AM thinking it was 6, so now I'll have the rest of the world getting up with me.

Too bad, I was enjoying the first walk of the day with the City to myself!

Remember:  Spring ahead, Fall back!

If you want to read more about the subject, this helpful Wikipedia link will take you there.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Honest Lawyer?

The Honest Lawyer?

The city miser was on his death bed, as his last request he asked to be alone with his lawyer, doctor, and priest. “I know I am going to die” he said ” and I would like to take my money with me, so I am going to give each of you $150,000 and I want you to each make sure the money gets in the coffin.”

It was a few days after the funeral when the priest over flowing with guilt finally confided to the other two that he only put $100,000 back. “I’m glad you brought it up” said the doctor, “because I have also been feeling guilty, I only put $80,000 back.”

“You people should be ashamed of yourselves” stormed the lawyer “stealing money like that, am I the only honest person here? Here look at this” he said pulling out his check book, “look I wrote out a check for the full $150,000!”

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dancing In The Aisles

I'm not above "making a fool of myself in public".

Some people actually enjoy my antics, at least my friends seem to.

I'm big and scary to others and this helps soften the edges, or that's what I tell myself.

I had a treat.  I got to visit with a good friend from New York, Karyna.  She comes down every year to visit with her friends that are splattered across the South Florida area, and she's a fascinating person.

A True Case of Opposites Attract.  Her life is probably as different from mine as two lives can get.

It also meant I had to "Leave The Island" for the day.  I got into the big black Jeep and drove the 30 miles from here to the very northern part of Miami.  When we got there, she asked me where I'd like to go.

I think she wanted to go to South Beach, and my friends here will laugh when I say I didn't go there.

South Beach is a bit too wild and crazy for my tastes.

But she did like going to Aventura to hit the mall.   It's got a food court there that is chock full of "one off" restaurants and no large chains.  It does have a Five Guys but we didn't do that.  I mean, you're in South Florida, why get something you can get elsewhere.

No offense to Five Guys, but I really wanted something a bit more local.

I settled for the Cuban place next door.  We could have gone down to Calle Ocho and hit one of the restaurants there, but that would have probably had me going into my shell since I'm not used to driving at all.   I told her that I put between 500 and 1000 miles a year on my Jeep.  I really don't need a car but since I have it I keep it.

Plus it's a blast to drive.

We walked the mall chatting about our divergent lives, and basically having a good time in a crowded space.

When she got a call from her mom, it gave me the time to check the phone for any messages, and glance at weather.

Oops.  Red inverted triangle with an exclamation point.  Duck and Cover.

There was a tornado warning up for the entire of our area.  By that I mean anything below Orlando.

Mind you I love watching weather but not when I'm in DJ crawling on the roads. 

D.J. is "Darth Jeep".  That's his name.  If I call it, he'll know how to come home.

At least that was the story that was told to me years ago.

So we piled back into the big black Jeep and headed the 10 miles back to the house that Karyna was staying.  She needed to make a short stop to get some eggs and supplies for the visit so we stopped at the first place that was on "Our Side Of The Road".  This happened to be the Whole Foods in North Miami.

Cool, I like the places even if they're pricey.  But when you're on holiday and just need a gallon of water, a dozen eggs, some turkey sausages, and some other oddball item you just get it and go.

Go being the operative word.   The skies looked biblical with a Wall Cloud looming steel grey overhead.

I let her off at the door and parked my iron friend beast in a stall.  After setting the cap on the steering wheel and the alarm, I was off to find her.

Yes, cap.  It's a giant steel frisbee that fits over the steering wheel that I thread a lock through.  Looks imposing and tells Ne'er-do-wells to get lost.

It's a Jeep Thing, you wouldn't understand.   It's also a convertible thing so that explains it to the civilians.

Going inside the building, I wandered along in a Search and Destroy mission - find eggs and Karyna.  After colliding with a goodie station, I spotted a little black boy dancing in the aisles.

Have you ever heard the phrase?  "If a child gives you a toy phone and says it's for you, Answer it!"?

I have.  It's given me great joy to act the fool to kids and get away with it in public.  I don't see many children and that's mostly a good thing, but this was one of those moments that was too cute to pass up.

His mom was nearby and beamed a 50,000 watt smile when she heard me say "Wow you're a better dancer than I am!".

I heard from him "Now your turn!  Your Turn!".  

Naw, I can't... not here!

Your Turn!  Your Turn, Come on!  He insisted.

Ok, doing my best imitation of the "Where the Heck Is Matt" video, I danced.  In front of the eggs.  In the back of the Whole Foods in North Miami. 

We drew a crowd.  I think I made a kid and his mom very happy.

Karyna spotted me dancing in the aisle, and laughed without realizing it was me acting the fool.  
I called her over for her eggs and we got on our way.

Mom thanked me for the dance in the checkout line on the way out.

If you're big and scary and a kid asks you for a dance, by all means do it!   You may not pass this way again and you'll make someone's day.

We piled back into the Jeep and headed down to the house.   I had to get out of there fast.  I know how the people here drive, and it's not pretty.  It took me an hour and 45 minutes just to go the 30 miles on a trip that should have taken about 1/3 that.

Stuck in traffic isn't something I do often, but when I do, it's usually in Miami heading home.  Listening to the local dance channel, smiling about the day and the dancing when I should be grumbling about these people driving like an Atlantan in a dusting of snow. 

The dance with the little kid, and the visit with Karyna was a warm spot of sunshine on a very grey day.

So why the picture of the butterfly?  No reason, other than I like Monarchs.  It was taken a little while back in the park near my house.

Wanna dance?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Strawberry Season is Not For Dogs!

Standing in my kitchen listening to Armin van Buuren back when he still announced in Dutch, thinking I sort-of understood what he was saying reminded me of a story.

I was cooking and reminded of a story about a friend, Tim who went to Apeldoorn in the Netherlands.  Staying with a friend there, he had a conversation with the friend's mother.  Speaking no English, and him no Dutch, he said they managed to get the point across.  Not perfectly, but they did seem to understand each other when they had a bilingual conversation.

In the middle of Armin announcing that the next song would be Saltwater by Chicane, I started hearing it.


I knew it wouldn't be a quiet half hour.

Instead of hearing one of the more beautiful Trance songs written in the last decade, I was going to have to cook to a Parrot Symphony with Dog Accompaniment.

Breakfast was going to be creative.  I had some egg and raisin bagels I made and froze.  Shaved onions onto the skillet, prosciutto was going to be fried.


A slice...



Of Swiss Cheese would be melted on the bagel after it toasted in the butter on the skillet.


Head tilt, stare.

I was getting the full Monte.

I said hello to Oscar and said "Not for Dogs" to Rack.  Luckily he understands that "Not For Dogs" means you're not getting any.

Yes, I've created Pavlov's dog as well as Pavlov's parrot.

The parrot wasn't going to back down any time soon.

The kitchen filled with the sweet and savory smell of frying onions, the meaty scent of prosciutto, and the butter that I used to cook it all, as I reached for my...



Can I walk away from the skillet long enough to get the cover?  Put the bird cage on the floor?

A Parrot's bond is not a friend bond.  It is a Mate bond.   If you consider that you want a parrot in your life, it really is a long term bond.  30 years is not uncommon and I've had my Oscar since 1986.

Armin said some more things in Dutch, and I picked up Art of Trance, Madagascar.  Another truly beautiful Trance track.

The first phase of breakfast was made, the dog had trotted out to stare out the back door.  Pavlov would be proud.  He's gotten used to having the tail end of my yogurt in the morning.  So much so that when I finish...


with the bowl, he goes over to his food bowl to check if I put it there, even if he is watching me eat it.  I open the back door...


and he trots over to the bowl expecting me to have already placed it there.

He's just early.  This is also where Oscar goes into high gear.  I'm slicing strawberries.

It's Strawberry Season here.   I'm the guy who once bought a flat of strawberries in a flea market in Melbourne, Florida and drove up the coast snacking on them while having two conures walk all over my arms trying to steal a bit.  One was my sister's present, the other I had for a couple years after.

Yes, I do like Strawberries.

I also...


Like yogurt, and I make my own.   Add a little whole cranberry sauce for some sugar and it makes up a rather nice bowl.  Two grams per calorie, Strawberries are easy on the diet.   I sliced up a large bowl...


poured a large serving of yogurt on top, and the rest of the can of cranberry...



on the bowl.

This was getting annoying.  I stared down the dog, which goes badly when you have a very passive dog.  He trotted back out of my little kitchen.  I took the bowl of fruit and yogurt and did what I had to.

I ate it in the laundry room.


I did give Oscar a strawberry.  He's eating it now.  I didn't know that I could give them to the dog, but I'm on the fence with that.  Yet another food obsession.

At least the season is short.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Oops! Taco Pie Recipe

After you spill your taco seasoning on the stove, and stop swearing and cleaning the mess, what do you do?

You look at the box that all this came in and wonder why you bought the kit in the first place.

The kit contained:
  • Instructions.
  • Seasoning.
  • 4 Soft Shell Tortillas.
  • Cheese Sauce
We stood there and literally said, we can roll our own!

So we did.

What you need to Roll Your Own Taco Pie is the following:

  • The Taco Seasoning Recipe from yesterday.
  • 1 Cup Water.
  • 1 Pound Ground Beef, Chicken, Pork, Turkey, or Meat Substitute like Tofu or "crumbles".
  • 4 9 Inch Soft Shell Tortillas. 
  • 8 ounces of Sharp Cheese - A Mexican Cheese Mix or Nacho Cheese Sauce from the store will do nicely, although we used a mix of Cheddar and other oddball cheese we had around the house.

I'm going to give you the instructions from the box:

Step 1:

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Brown Ground Beef in a Skillet and Drain.
  • Add in Water and Taco Seasoning.
  • Heat all of the above in the skillet until boiling.
  • Cook Uncovered for 3 to 4 minutes stirring frequently until the filling thickens.

Step 2:

  • Place a Tortilla in the bottom of your ungreased pie pan.
  • Spoon about 1/2 cup of the filling on top of the tortilla.
  • Spread the filling evenly toward the edge
  • Repeat Layers ending with Filling on the top.
  • Add your cheese sauce or grated cheese over the top of the filling, spreading evenly to the edge.

Step 3:
  • Bake Uncovered for 15 minutes or so until heated through and the cheese melts. 
  • Optionally top with Salsa or anything that you like.
  • Refrigerate Leftovers.

Step 4:

Enjoy Leftovers.  They were great the next day.

The benefits are that you managed to make something that had entirely too much salt in it and make it much more healthy as a result.  Since I personally don't like having to drink that half gallon of water after eating their store bought recipe, I'll use my own next time. 

Sure you saved a few bucks but that really isn't what this is all about.  It's about making something you like and making it taste more to your own liking and therefore "Better!" in the end.

It's also not about "slamming" a product that I did enjoy in the past.  Just knowing that you can do it yourself is a really nice way to have a meal.  It's not that hard to do it yourself when you have someone here to help.