Sunday, December 9, 2018

PC Repair & Upgrade

 My PC (a Dell Inspiron 20-3052 All-in-One) is barely three years old and already it's been giving me trouble, It'd just hang, head out into the weeds and not respond to anything I typed or clicked. Oddly, if I just walked away - sometimes for half an hour - I'd find it had recovered when I returned. Odd!

 My go-to computer guru is Dan Miller who suggested early on it was a hard drive problem. But after diagnosing it further he became convinced it was a memory problem. I give him plenty of credit: he was right in both cases.

 I ordered memory first. It was the cheaper of the two. I also upgraded from 4G to 8G while I was at it. The Timetek memory was $43.99 through Amazon. Dan stopped by on November 28, opened the case on my bed, removed the old memory and installed the new.

 As I told Dan, I wouldn't have wanted to open the case, yet alone attempt any repair work. But Dan just jumps right in and soon enough the case was lying open on my bed.
 Unfortunately, though things were speeded up by the new memory, the glitches continued. Time to order a solid state drive. Dan suggested I not get another standard hard drive.

 So I ordered a Silicon Power 480G SSD ($58.99 at Amazon). I've had a computer since the days of the Mostek 6502 chip in about 1976, embedded on a bare circuit board and it was fairly large. This solid state drive was shopped in a padded envelope. How things have changed!

  Dan switched out the drive on December 5, Pictured above is the old memory (the Timetec package is new) and the old hard drive. The Toshiba drive was manufactured in September 2015 and I bought the PC during the Christmas holidays that same year.

 I can't think that three years is a very long time for this PC to survive  But Dan was able to get the computer running again for less than $103.

 How is it? Perfect. No hangs and it's much faster than before. A sincere thank you goes out to Dan.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Ice Storm

 Yes, it's just the middle of November ... and it's not even winter. But we had our first ice storm overnight. There's a substantial accumulation of ice, too: about 1/4" on branches. The ground seems fairly safe to walk upon and traffic passes the house at what seems like normal speeds. But school is on a two hour delay and nothing is normal.

 There have been lots of power outrages, too. I woke at 6:45 am when the power briefly went out. But it as quickly came back on. Still, I was awake so I got up to read the rain gauge. 0.77" is a substantial rainfall for any time of the year and that much was unexpected. So, too, this much ice (1/10" was predicted).

 But the main story is the aerial ice. It's pretty to look at, from inside where it's warm and dry.

 It's likely that we'll get above freezing by noon (it's just 31° at 10 am). That'll quickly melt the ice and return us to autumn. But if weather surprises can come this early, what does this say about the rest of the season?

Sunday, October 28, 2018


 If Stephen King can have his Tommyknockers, why can't I have my Tom-o-lantern?

 I haven't had a full-sized pumpkin in years. A week ago Bob and Nancy brought Tom and I a couple of those tiny ones (perhaps Jack Be Little) and we have them on the kitchen windowsill. Tom even threatened to carve his. But last Wednesday he arrived with a full-sized pumpkin in tow and the next day he set about carving it.

 He also bought one of those carving kits, complete with templates and tools. Here he "saws" the bottom opening.

 And then proceeds to scoop out the "guts".

 I got a bucket for the guts and I threw away all but the seeds which I washed and set aside for later roasting.

 Tom takes his time, scooping the fleshy interior as clean as possible to forestall rotting. Really, we have less than a week and the weather has been cool so longevity isn't much of a concern.

 Tom taped a template on the smoothest face of the pumpkin and used a rotary tool to mark where the cuts needed to be made. He started with the eyes and nose.

 I suppose the process took a couple of hours ...

 It's just beginning to look like an owl sitting on a tree branch ...

 ... and then it was finished. But the true test is how it would look at night.

 Tom's obviously done this before. I have seen the kits in stores but have never bought one. I'd never have ended up with something this good.

 Tom also bought a small orange LED to light the interior. There are two lights on the small fixture: one stays lit, the other flickers to give the impression of a candle flame.

 My part of the project was roasting the seeds. I cleaned and dried them for a day ... on newspaper rather than waxed paper. Some picked up newsprint but I figured it was soy-based and probably edible. I roasted them well. I prefer seeds of this sort a little browned and crunchy.

 We had some that evening with popcorn, two salted and buttered treats on the same plate.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dropping More Pines

 This week has seen six more pines cut down. We're losing them at a prodigious rate. Is it the change in our climate or are they merely old? I planted all of them myself, beginning in 1987. One after another begins to show brown needles and soon they are standing there dead.

 Tom removed two a few days ago with a new electric chain saw he bought, Though dragging an extension cord can be inconvenient - and we can't reach everywhere - the saw is amazingly powerful and efficient. It's what we've needed for year. The gasoline-powered chain saws are often hard to start.

 Yesterday Bob stopped by and helped take down another four. So we lost six pines this  week.

 Here's Tom and Bob making the final cuts in one of the trees that was closest to Clayton Road. Tom cut two trees down there. Bob helped cut the trunks into manageable lengths and he took both stumps out. You can't even tell there were trees there.

 Then to the meadow where three trees were removed this week.

 That's one place I can't go when the weeds are high. My allergies cause me to break out as soon as a green leaf touches my skin. Then, too, I'm sneezing as soon as I step outside.

 Finally the guys removed a tree at the rear of the property. The largest dead pine wasn't even touched. It's a major project and one we'll probably wait for nature to begin taking it down for us. It's not near anything if it falls.

 The wait probably won't be long.

Mounted Rain Gauge

 It'll be 32 years since I moved here and one of the first projects I intended on doing was to mount my rain gauge in concrete. Instead, to buy time, I cheated. I sat it at the edge of the driveway and covered the "feet" of the tripod holder with concrete blocks. And there it was remained all these years.

 On the bright side, it's never blown over. But it sure looked like hell. The three legs had sunk into the gravel and keeping the whole affair level was a challenge.

 So about a week ago I drove over to the hardware store and bought a couple of bags of concrete. I dug a hole (about 9" deep), made a wooden "box" 15" square and carefully poured the concrete. I put plastic wall anchors into the wet concrete.

 Having a level surface for the rain gauge is very important. The readings have to be perfect.

 After several days drying time, I mounted the holder on the concrete pad.

 And then added the rain gauge. After more than three decades it's again properly mounted.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Lazarus Lizards

 When I visited Tom in Cincinnati on Saturday (10/6/18) we took a number of walks and visited a mutual friend. It seems everywhere we went we saw what I thought were skinks. They were climbing on rock walls and out of concrete crevices. Here at Pinehaven I am most familiar with the young skinks that have red tails. I have understood that as they become adults the red tails fade and they become uniformly one color.

 It turns out that the Cincinnati creatures aren't skinks at all. They're called Lazarus Lizards.

There are various stories of how they came to inhabit Cincinnati because they are not native. The Cincinnati Enquirer printed an interesting story last summer about them and gave a number of stories explaining their origin. Most likely is this:

 A ten year old boy named George Rau collected "about ten" of them while on vacation in Northern, Italy, in either 1951 or 1952. The location was said to be near Lake Garda, about 80 miles east of Milan. They were released in the backyard of his family home on Torrence Court in East Walnut Hills.

 Cincinnati and that part of Italy have similar climates. In any case, the lizards took to their new home quite happily and have now multiplied into "estimated millions" according to the Enquirer.

  While several other origin stories exist, a University of Cincinnati biology master's student took genetic samples from both the lizards of northern Italy and those in Cincinnati and deemed them "family".

 Rau is the stepson of Fred Lazarus III who said he collected some of the lizards on a family trip to the Alps. Lazarus said he released them in his Cincinnati backyard in 1953 to eat mosquitoes.That's where the name came from.

Scientifically they are named Podarcis muralis maculiventris. Since 2005 the Cincinnati lizards have been "officially a subspecies of its ancestral Podarcis muralis".

 Close-up they look like tiny dinosaurs. They are not particularly skittish and will stay in one spot long enough to be  examined. Eventually they tire of the scrutiny and slither on. It seems Tom and I saw samples everywhere we went. They are also called "wall lizards" for their favorite habitat.

 The original article on the Lazarus lizard may be found by clicking here.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Gatlinburg Trip

 Bob and Sam are on their annual hiking trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They left (and arrived) yesterday, October 3. I'll post pictures with brief captions.

 Today's hike: Chimney Tops

 October 4, 2018:

Bridge crossing on the way to Chimney Tops 

Trail to Chimney Tops 

 Chimney Tops - Showing fire damage
Chimney Tops 

Bob and Sam hiked less than four miles today
Bob called it "very strenuous"

 October 5, 2018:

Trail at top of Mt. LeConte 

Cliff tops at Mt. LeConte 

 For more information on Mt. LeConte click here.

October 6, 2018:

Bridge across creek at Ramsey Cascades

Spider along path

Deer along the path

Old growth tulip trees along the hike 

 Bob said they hiked a 5 mile stretch today, from Greenbrier to Ramsey Cascades.
 On Sunday, October 7, Bob and Sam, returned home. "Yesterday we saw a barefoot hiker descending  from Mt. LeConte.  How do you hike barefoot?" Bob said.


 I expected the corn harvest to begin at any moment. Last weekend while Tom and I worked in the yard we heard equipment threading through nearby fields. The corn north of the woods (nearest Hemple Road) was picked about a week ago.

 So yesterday morning, while I was reading a book on the sofa, I heard a harvester lumbering up Clayton Road, clanging as they are want to do, turn into the field just to my south. Of course I got up to look and saw the corn between me and Erisman's begin to quiver as the harvester began digesting its first row.

 It was about 10:45 am as D R Coffman began this annual chore of taking in the crop. Corn alternates with soybeans in a never-ending cycle.

 Turning corners with so large of a machine must be a challenge. Once the first rows are down the rest appears easy. There must be the same - or better - satisfaction in harvesting as there is in mowing a yard. Those straight rows appeal to my sense of order.

 Coffman worked all day. Except to take a load to the local market, I never heard him stop. He began with the south field and then moved to the field behind my house (west). Late in the day - about 7:30 pm - as the sun was setting, he still worked. Great clouds of dust rose into the sky on a stiff breeze. How odd is it in the first week of October to have a sunny 85° day with not a cloud in the sky?

 Later still, the combine is hidden by the high corn (it grew to well over six feet this year). It felt like I was living at the bottom of a box, surrounded as I was by high corn, and with its sudden removal, I could now see my nearest neighbor again. While I enjoy the privacy, there is some comfort in knowing others are near, even if that connection is no more than a nighttime light.

 The sun inches ever southward and now sets just to the right of Sam's house. Those large trees serve as a gauge to me, a living graph, and I might know the time of year by watching where the sun sets. The calendar is written there.

 It's getting too late to harvest now and the light sinks quickly. I don't know when the sound quit but I never heard the combine being driven from the field. Likely it is left there all night.

 The next day, though, dawns wet and a steady light rain is falling by 7:30 am. The harvest will not continue until the corn dries again.

 It's an interesting cycle, this planting and harvesting. The crop changes, the dates slide lazily back and forth ... but not by much. The crops grow with the summer sun and the clouds sweep the fields with occasional rain. It seems too perfect to be real.