Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hiking in the late autumn woods

I've been doing a good deal of walking this last week, and enjoying it enormously. The weather has been good, Aimee and I have both been off work, the pre-winter honey-do list has been whittled down to a rump of odd jobs that are low-worry, and the woods are free of bugs and heat. The trails behind our house have all been trimmed by our neighbor Hamiliton, with a brush cutter towed behind a four-wheeler motorcycle. I can't remember a better walking season on the Great Farm.

This is the usual destination for my daily walks, the beaver pond complex on Great Farm Brook, about a mile to the southeast of the house. It makes a good psychic turnaround, better than just an endless woods loop. The dogs love to sniff around the beaver trails and even to splash a little around the edges of the brook. They don't go in deep, though. Shepherd dogs are not water dogs.

If you look carefully in this photo here you can see both of them in among the meadow grass. The old beaver lodge is in the background, currently disused, so there must be a new lodge somewhere. There are certainly plenty of beaver trails, indicating a large family.

All this walking has been good for man and beast. I would bet that my blood pressure, which is generally quite low in any case, has been lowered yet by the exercise, and I've certainly hiked off a couple of pounds of flab. Our current routine is to do a couple or three hours of grading in the morning, and then get out and hike, making sure to check the entrance track for fresh tire tracks or parked cars and trucks, which would indicate a deer-hunting party has entered the woods.

Hiking in fall in Maine is not without risk. A hunter got shot to death by another hunter just the other day in south central Maine. I don't care to be shot or have my dogs shot, so I'm very careful.

There's really only one way in and out of this section, at least for our local hunters who seem thoroughly truck-bound. The fact that they don't like to hike much is good, because that makes it safer for us. I can usually tell immediately when there's a group of hunters in the woods, from the obvious tracks. Even so, we make the dogs wear orange bandanas. I would wear an orange vest if I had one handy, but all my vests are at work, waiting for a search and rescue call out. I haven't felt worried enough to drive all the way to work. I haven't really wanted to drive anywhere for days. I'm happy here.

Hunting season ended yesterday in any case, so I should be able to stop worrying. Today is the last day of our Thanksgiving break, and we'll be back to work for two more weeks of the regular term, and then a week of finals and grading, and then our Christmas break. This will be a busy time, this last three weeks, so I doubt I'll be able to walk much, but I would bet I can walk every day of the Christmas break.

By then it will be winter and we may be post-holing, snow shoeing or skiing, but we'll get out in the woods.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Computer cluster

No photos today. And possibly a slow month or so for blogging, depending on what happens next. My old 2008 MacBook computer, which I use for just about everything at work and at home, has died. There was a click and then the dreaded black screen, and then it was impossible to fire up -- you'd get the grey screen, and it would cycle through the first five percent of the start-up process exactly twice, and then you'd get the black screen.

I had some hopes for a while there, because it would start and run from a Mac start-up disc, and therefore the processor and disc drive were working fine, but none of the disc repair options, neither the ones from the original Mac start-up disc's Disc Utility software, nor a couple of commercial ones, would work. The hard drive was toast; most likely irreparable. And the file-saving disc imaging option in Disc Utility wouldn't work, either. Although i could hook up an external hard drive, I couldn't image the Mac hard drive to it.

I am, however, able to access and save all my files by ones and twos and by folders. This is because long ago I partitioned the drive and installed Windows on a small corner, in order to run a half-dozen or so software programs required in the energy industry that don't run on Macintosh systems. This option has been available to Mac geeks for many years -- in effect the best of both worlds. I could either shut down the system and start it up as a Windows computer, or using a virtual machine window, run the Windows partition as a desktop window on the Macintosh, and run programs like the Department of Energy's "eQuest" or NRG System's "Symphonie Data Explorer."

I never realized before that one other useful purpose for this second operating system would be to run the computer if the Mac system broke down. Now, with a corrupted portion in the Mac side of the hard drive partition, I can reverse the logic and access the Mac files from the functioning Windows partition. Using the start-up option window, I can access Windows, which starts up and runs just fine, and then by using a commercial file-reading software called MacDrive, I can use the Windows side of the computer to access the many thousands of useful or important files there are on the Mac. Accordingly, I'm copying them over to an external hard drive, several folders at a time. I've already saved the most important ones.

Luckily, long ago, I saved all the essential files to Google's cloud storage service. The only files I still had on the MacBook were more or less optional ones, that I could manage without if need be. But still, it's nice to have them. There's a lot of working history on that computer, a lot of documents and drafts of documents and spreadsheets and pictures, many of which items will come in useful one day.

This process may take a while. I don't really know what I have, nor what I need, until I need it. I'm thinking it would be a mistake to cut the file-saving process short until I'm sure I have it all. Until the college gets me a replacement for the old MacBook, I have a loaner from the college library, which is what I'm using now. But I can't do very much at all with it because I don't even have a basic computer entry password, let alone an administrator's password.

For someone as competent as I am with computers, especially Macs, this is not a happy state of mind to be in. And Aimee has been teasing me about having to resort to the hated Microsoft products to save my Mac's files, the implication being that the Windows software is more reliable, which nonsense I of course heartily dispute. After all, the Mac hard drive ran as much as fourteen hours a day for five years without a hint of a problem before.

But at least I can get my files, and at least I'm still online.

And the college says it will get me a new Mac soon, possibly even before Christmas.

As The BBC TV Test Card used to say whenever there was some kind of glitch, "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Killing the fatted leek

Yesterday was a half-day at work, despite being a Saturday, and as a result I had to postpone the ongoing honey-do/pre-winter list work until the afternoon. The first problem was to deal with the rodent infestation in the basement. I had been working to keep them at bay, but after a busy week in which I didn't make time to get down to the basement, I was totally gutted to find a bunch of damaged tubers. This was very upsetting to me, because we don't grow all this lovely food to feed the bloody rats!

We've never had even so much as a mouse down there before, but now we seem to have invited the whole clan of barn rats down into the basement. Not fun. They'd damaged or half-eaten a lot of the spuds, and crapped or urinated on some of the rest. Our potato crop was at risk of being completely lost, unless we did something, and pronto.

I transferred the as-yet untouched spuds, about four-fifths of the total, to a hopefully rat-proof wooden bin, and added poison baits and a large kill-trap to the plastic baits that were already down there. I'll check daily until I know for sure that they're gone.

Then I wanted to use up the best of the potatoes that had already been nibbled, as well as cook up some of the other winter vegetables that are still available from the garden patch, primarily carrots and leeks at this point, although there should be some Brussels sprouts soon, perhaps in time for Thanksgiving. I washed and cleaned the nibbled spuds very carefully, of course. I had to throw out around ten pounds of completely written-off spuds. Aimee, for her part, assisted not at all by looking up Hanta virus on Wikipedia and reading the information aloud, between giggles at my expense! Very helpful.

(None of this stopped her eating the potatoes, once they were par-boiled and home-fried for today's breakfast.)

Despite this unasked for aid, while I was making par-boiled potatoes for the week, as well as some sautéed carrots, I still made leek-and-barley soup for Aimee, her favorite. This is the massive leek I used, just one of the ones we grew and not even the biggest.

Today, after a good breakfast of home fries, sausage and egg, it was back to the list. There was a place in the half-finished gable wall where the rain was getting in, the sheeps' water to sort with water heaters to protect against the frosty nights we are getting, the banking to do to prevent cold air getting into the kitchen, a crack in the hallway wall that has been leaking cold air into the conditioned part of the house from the cellar, the workshop to tidy and seep out, and a bunch of other smaller stuff.

It's already snowed once, thanks to the nor'easter that come by this week, adding to the misery of Hurricane Sandy's victims to the south of here. We had about three inches on the ground for a short while until it turned to rain. This of course gave me an excuse to drive the Land Rover to work Tuesday. The drive in to work was fine, with the plows having done their job well enough, but I ran into a hard-falling ice storm on the Dixmont/Jackson Route 7 pass on the way home, in the dark to boot (I teach night classes Tuesdays and Thursdays), and I was very glad of the four-wheel drive. I even used low range to descend the other side. With other vehicles in similar conditions, including the four-wheel drive Nissan truck, I've had to turn around on this pass before and go another route -- it goes up to 900 feet above sea level and also stops the breeze from the sea only fifteen miles away, and so gets some very nasty weather in a nor'easter. But there was no turning back this time -- the Rover did the job safely and gave me great confidence.

And so the Land Rover was used for what a Land Rover should be used for, and it worked just fine, considering it's nearly 42 years old. A veteran, but still fighting the good fight.

It's Remembrance Sunday in Britain and the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Association is of course marching with the other veterans at the Cenotaph in Whitehall as usual. I'll watch later on the BBC. Our college's services will be tomorrow, when the US Veteran's Day will be observed.

Just another week of work left until Thanksgiving, and only three weeks after that until Christmas. It will be a sadder Christmas for me and my sister, with my Mum and Dad both passed now. (Mum died last December 27th, and Dad the summer before.) But I'm sure we'll manage to be festive. I'm looking forward to it.

Aimee just turned on the Sunday football, so it might be time to end this post. Yea, Sunday!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fall-back activities

After the skunk incident, which passed without too much lingering skunk smell, it was a good weekend for getting things done, cold air but relatively dry weather. 

I plugged away at the long "honey-do" list I've been listing and re-listing since fall began. The number of things that simply must get taken care of between now and the first serious snow seems staggering sometimes. The hurricane didn't help much, and neither are the various rodent tribes that are invading the house and barn to find nice places to spend the winter. But the list gets shorter each weekend, and I do believe we could have a couple feet fall and stay tomorrow and live to fight another day.

You can see the dogs, now allowed in the garden area, playing in the top left of this photo (click to enlarge). I began putting the garden to bed a few weeks ago when the onions were pulled. I harvest each section, then pull the stalks and till. Too much tilling is bad for soil nutrients, but we add so much in the way of soil amendments from our giant compost piles, I'm more interested in the quality of tilth and in killing weeds and weed seeds than I am worried about nitrate loss. My feeling is that the material we add contains such relative slow-release sources of nitrogen, it probably doesn't evaporate as fast as, say, anhydrous ammonia does.

Bentley was put in with the ewes and promptly went to work, with, however little seeming success. The ewes don't like to stand still for him, and why should they? He's such a stranger to them, living alone in his private pen/fortress most of the year.

Aimee did manage to catch a shot of this momentary engagement with young Ritzpah. (Where does she get these names?) Fleeting success, because the ewe promptly lay down after this, but fleeting is all it seems to take with sheep. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

Winter storage of farm equipment is a problem around here. We could use more storage sheds and so on, but I'm waiting for the time and money to build my big new four-season workshop, the one with the overhead crane and the two-post car/truck lift. The glass greenhouse is already full of truck and lumber for the winter, including the grain crib recently dismantled form the barn. I decided the Troy-Bilt tiller could go in the new greenhouse, once I pulled all the tomato plants. On my to-do list is to take the ad-hoc storm lashings used during Hurricane Sandy down, and replace them with purpose built proper lashings, with decent, deeply pounded re-bar tent pegs.

The small tiller needs a new fuel line, but when I can get one fitted, I'll till up the soil in here and put in some kale starts and seed, and some spinach seed for the spring. There will still be room for some equipment in the middle aisle, even if there are seeds in both beds (along the sides). On the right hand side, you can see all the wasted Juliet- and Green Zebra-variety tomatoes, this despite me picking at least two gallons a week for three-four weeks now, and roasting them down. That's a couple of rather leggy kale plants on the left that were growing among the tomatoes.

We had an awful lot of very nice tomatoes this year, which sort of makes up for the blight we've had in previous years. I think we know how to beat the blight now, at least in years when the weather cooperates.

Anyway, the extra hour of time I had to meself this morning, thanks to putting the clocks back Sunday, has now evaporated, and I must get up and go to work. At least I don't have to worry (much) about the pre-winter "to-do" list.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Trouble at t'mill, redux, 5am version

I'm an early riser, especially when there's a science paper, history book, or news article I want to read. My life is very busy and I don't have the time or energy to read unless I get up early and make time.

So, it was with some satisfaction that I woke early, got up, and made coffee this morning, looking forward to catching up on all the hurricane and political news.

(I don't much like reading about the hardships people are facing with this hurricane, or about all the partisan attacks this election season, but I feel a responsibility to know it, and I was upset I hadn't time earlier this week to find out about it all.)

But then Ernie the Womerlippi sheepdog came downstairs too, and in the way of all dogs, had to be let out to piddle. I went out with him, and he went off into the shadows to do his thing. I was admiring the moon and stars as usual, when there came a short "wuff", and then, before I could stop it (because I knew instinctively that it was a skunk), the unmistakeable squeal of a dog getting a full facial dose of skunk spray, followed by the almost physical shock of the skunk odor permeating the dooryard.

Stupid bloody dog! Arrggghhh!

Clearly the skunk we'd evicted from the barn last weekend was still around and looking to wreak revenge for his eviction. Horrible, nasty, peevish little pole-cat.

But now what?

It was only around five am, and Aimee was fast asleep still. Not wanting to wake her, I put Ernie on the porch, and went back to my newspapers and coffee.

But the skunk smell began to creep into the house. And, of course, a husband that might be blamed for skunking up a dog and a porch is one thing, but a husband blamed for skunking up the inside of the house, on the first day of a nice weekend off, to boot, well, that's no husband at all.


So I duly got up and gently woke Aimee and told her what was up and what all the banging and noise and smell would be about and then told her to go back to sleep, which she did.

Then I carried multiple buckets of hot water out to the dooryard, where the dog's washtub sits. Ernie got a good scrubbing with the skunk shampoo. (Which was, indeed, right there under the sink, as per last weekend's wifely advice.) Flame also got a good scrub. The two dogs went into the garage to dry off, no ifs, ands or buts, while I pulled out the porch rug and hung it on a fence rail for the rain and wind to take care of. Then I sluiced out the porch with five gallons of the left-over skunk shampoo water. This was left for a while, hopefully for the remaining active chemical to do its work.

While I waited, I took a shower and threw my skunky clothes in the washer. Then I dried off the porch floor with the skunky dog towel, and threw all the cleaning and dog-scrubbing accoutrements out on the lawn to deal with later, once the daylight arrived.

It was during the final besoming of the porch floor, when I was sweating on my hands and knees, that our neighbor drove by. I'm not sure what he thought was going on, with the yard lit up like a Christmas tree and Mick on the porch floor scrubbing and sweating at five in the morning.

But, in mustelid emergencies like this, you can't be too worried about what the neighbors think.

Has the smell gone? So far, so good. I think we'll need to launder the futon cover on the porch futon, but the worst seems to be over. And that cover needs to be laundered every couple months, skunk or no.

Meanwhile, with almost full daylight, Aimee sleeps on still, completely blissfully, restfully unaware.

What a good husband. Do you think I'll get credit?

And don't you just hate skunks in the dooryard? I do.