Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More about the Snow

I'm not sure the snow ever turned to rain. We ended up with about an inch of snow, enough to cover the parking lot and roads except where cars were constantly traveling. The temperature got down close to freezing, but not below according to my thermometers which are at second-floor level.

The snow is melting. It's mostly gone from the roofs I can see. It's been pretty easy to see where all the rafters are under those roofs, which probably means they're not well-insulated. The parking lot has a little slush left and there's more on grass and dirt, but it's very slushy as well.

The temperature is 38F now. I think most of the snow should be a memory by dusk tomorrow. With a forecast of rain tomorrow, that's pretty much assured.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


According to the Intellicast metro radar, it should be raining right now, but instead it's snowing. So far it's just big fluffy flakes and the radar's showing the precipitation in whatever form shouldn't last too long. It might change to rain, but for now, it is snowing. Unless we got a little very light snow at night back when it was very cold, this is the first snow of the season. I went out on my little deck and took a picture with the camera aimed north and zoomed in a bit to mostly crop out the apartment complex buildings:

Then I pointed the camera at the fir tree between my building and the one about 20 feet west. Since the tree is dark, the exposure blurred the flakes:

There's been enough to accumulate a bit on the bush outside the window beside the computer:

It's been maybe fifteen minutes since I noticed the snow, which was just starting as I looked out while coming back to the computer with my coffee, and already it has nearly stopped. That's fine with me, and it would also be fine if that's all we get here this winter. 
There's been at least one winter where we got a mini-blizzard for about an hour in mid-December and that was it for the season. Of course, it had to hit just as I was getting off work at the call center about 2 1/2 miles away and down the slope toward the Columbia River. The road got a bit slick but fortunately everyone was able to keep moving in spite of several traffic lights.

OK, it's picked up a bit once more, and it might keep snowing until the precipitation stops. The radar is still showing rain, but the mixed area and snow is creeping closer (the red dot is where I am):

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rolling Along

What are those things? They're called snow rollers, formed when wind and snow conditions are just right. Phil Plaitt, creator of the Bad Astronomy blog, explains it all.

In his book Death from the Skies, Plaitt explains different ways the world could end. They include an asteroid impact like the one that did in the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, a poisonous atmosphere, and several others. It sounds scary, but Plaitt presents the science behind it all, and notes the very low probabilities of each deadly scenario.

If you like science blogs, Phil Plaitt's Bad Astronomy blog is a good one to add to your list.

(I learned something about adding these Amazon links: write the text first, then add the link, otherwise any attempt to start a new paragraph beside the link results in the cursor jumping to a point below the link, leaving empty space beside it.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Lights

Yesterday morning I decided to get another set of lights to put around the 6' x 4' window next to the computer, so I made another trip to Walgreen's. It was late afternoon when I started putting them up. I turned them on before stringing them, and I thought they all worked, but perhaps not. When I finished and turned the lights on, only half of them worked. There's two tiny fuses in the plug, but changing them didn't help, so I pulled them off and stuffed them back in the box. As I did, I noticed someone had written an "R" on the front (or back) of the box. Although the lights looked like they'd never been unpackaged when I opened the box, it's possible someone had returned the set.

Back at Walgreen's it was easy to exchange them, then I made sure the new set worked before I started stringing them. They still worked when I finished.

By then it was dark enough to turn on all the lights, then I got the camera out and took some pictures. I was using the monopod on the camera and when I took a picture from the parking lot of the porch and computer window I only took one shot. I also took a picture of a neighbor's lights.

Back inside I took a look and realized the one shot of the porch and computer window was blurred. I was in a hurry because I had only had a few minutes before Keith Olbermann's show started.

This morning I went out again and took a bunch of shots without the monopod, figuring at least one would turn out to be sharp enough. At least one was.

Bedroom window:



Window and porch, taken this morning:

The camera you see to the left of this text isn't the camera I own. It's the one I would like to own. Amazon and Google recently partnered with a way for Amazon associates to easily add links to products to blogs. Since I've been an Amazon associate for a while I thought I'd give it a try.

Normally I have some ad-blocking software running on Firefox and I have to turn it off in order to see the results of adding a product link.

A couple of years ago I got a Canon Powershot S3i. It's been great, compared to the old Kodak digital I'd had since 1999, but it would be nice to have the T1i. Probably by the time I can afford it there will be a newer model out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Lights

The Winter Solstice occurs today at 9:47 a.m. Pacific Time (17:47 UTC). That's a little over an hour from now as I start this post.

I've lived in this apartment since February 2002 but I never put up any lights. This year I got the urge to do it when I was getting something at Home Depot earlier this month and saw light sets that didn't cost a whole lot. But I'm trying to spend very little, so I didn't buy any. Last week I thought about it again and went out looking, but Home Depot, Loew's and Fred Meyer only had clear lights and I wanted colored lights, so again I didn't get any.

Then yesterday I recalled seeing a sign at the Walgreens only a few blocks away about lights, so I stopped in. They had colored lights in sets of 100 for $3.99. I looked at the length and figured I could use one set to outline my 8' x 3' bedroom window and a couple of sets would probably go from my porch light, up to the rafter ends behind the gutter, then down to the railing and back to the light.

Besides the lights, I also needed a little plug outlet that screws into a light fixture. There weren't any at Walgreen's, so I ended up going to the Home Depot, a six-mile round trip for something that cost $1.72. That trip was made only after making sure there wasn't one in my overflowing toolbox.

It was raining and dark when I got back, so all I did last night was tape up the lights around the bedroom window. I put the porch lights up this morning. The lights for the bedroom window plug into a power strip I'd freed up while rearranging stuff on my computer desk a while back. So with the porch light, all I have to do is flip a couple of switches to get everything lit up.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Moon Outside My Window

This morning around 8:45 I happened to look out my window and saw the moon, which is just past full. When I look over the apartment buildings, the view is dominated by a few Douglas firs, one of which has a split top. The moon was getting near them and I decided to take a few pictures. I would've liked to have gone out on my small deck, but then the building next to mine would have gotten in the way. You can see a little bit of its roof in the lower left of the first picture. I had to settle for shooting through the window, making sure the camera's autofocus didn't focus on the window frame instead of the moon and trees.

I didn't have time to get out the tripod since the moon was getting close to the trees, so I had to try to be as steady as I could while shooting. Fortunately I have a lot of practice doing that. The camera has a 12x optical zoom and I rarely go beyond it to use the digital zoom. This was one of those times. The really zoomed shot isn't all that fantastic. A tripod really would have helped, but I tried anyway.

Because of the extreme zoom, not all of the moon got in the frame. I tried again and did get it all in the frame, but the first extreme zoom shot was clearer. Then I noticed a jet getting close to the moon, so I shut off the digital zoom and took another shot at 12x. Getting the zoom right meant the jet was past the moon, but considering I only had seconds to work with, it's close enough and I like how the contrail just intersects the top of the moon.

Here's another image of the same shot with the jet, cropped to make the moon, contrail and jet a bit larger.

The view outside the window, which is in the dining area off the living room (I've never had a dining table - it's my computer area instead) isn't all that great, but at least I can look outside and see trees and sky. Once in a while something interesting happens out there.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Questionable Content

OK, maybe some folks my question stuff I've posted here, but the title really is also the title of a webcomic by Jeph Jacques from Northampton, Massachusetts. He started Questionable Content in 2003. It's a slice of life/romantic comic about a group of friends in that town. There are a few odd things, though, since it's set in a sort of alternate universe where there are little AnthroPC robots and some people are already living in orbit and they're not just astronauts.

The characters are all 20-somethings living in the alternate Northampton. Marten Reed is the main character. Early on he takes in Faye Whitaker, whom he had just met. She managed to burn down the apartment building she lived in thanks to a toaster mishap. She works at Coffee of Doom, a shop run by Dora Bianchi where much of the action is set. Marten has an AnthroPC named Pintsize who's always up to something nefarious and occasionally destructive. As the strip develops the cast grows larger. Some of the additional characters are decidedly odd and relationships among the characters can be rather complex .

I found out about QC a month or so ago from a mention in Danielle Corsetto's webcomic Girls With Slingshots. After reading for a while I decided to go back to the first strip and read all the way through to the current one. That takes a while since Jacques has done 1,547 of them so far. It was definitely interesting. Jacques has been making a living from doing the comic along with a line of merchandise, mostly T shirts. He was so successful at marketing T shirts and stuff (at one time he posted a note about going off to buy $1200 in postage for sending out shirts) that earlier this year he joined a group of other webcomic artists who market their merch through a company called TopatoCo.

TopatoCo also markets things for Wondermark by David Malki (he was at Wordstock at the Portland Convention Center several weeks ago) and Christopher Baldwin, who did Bruno, the first webcomic I got interested in. They've got 34 artists overall.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I Only Missed One Day

I'd hoped to post something here every day as part of National Blog Posting Month, aka NaBloPoMo, but I missed a day in the middle. It was kind of silly to miss because I was posting "Sundancer's Fairy Tale" and all I had to do was a little copy, paste and make a few words italic. Oh well, I did post the other 29 days, and I did better than October when I missed three days.

Sometimes, especially after I finished the story, I found myself stuck for something that intrigued me enough to blog about it, especially these past few days (except for Saturday, when The Thistle & Shamrock was such a good show).

I'd thought using StumbleUpon would make it very easy to come up with something each day, but a lot of what I see tends to get repetitive. Lots of photo collections, humor that isn't always that funny or intelligent, just less than I thought I'd find, I suppose. Also, I haven't wanted to get into politics or religion.

I guess I'll come close with politics on this one, though. It's Sen. Al Franken doing a freehand drawing of the United States, and he does pretty good at it. He does it state by state and it all fits together quite nicely. I have always loved maps and could probably do a fair job of it myself, but I doubt it would look nearly as good as Al's.

Now that I've gotten through November, I'm still trying to decide whether I want to keep up with posting every day or just when something truly interesting comes along.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Little Extra Cash Would Be Nice

I was chatting with a friend earlier when he asked me about being an Amazon Associate. At first I thought maybe he was thinking of becoming one, but really he wanted to know how it worked, then said he was thinking of buying something somewhat pricey and if he gets it through Amazon he'll click on one of my links. I let him know that clicking on any of my Amazon links doesn't commit you to having to buy the item the link takes you to. Once you get there, anything you buy counts.

I've seen some pretty strange things show up that I've gotten commissions on both in my Associates page for stuff that are direct links from me, and also on some of my Squidoo pages where some of the items, all of them on some pages, er, lenses, and none on others are links that mean Squidoo gets half the commission and I get the other half. That actually works out better for me most months because I don't get all that much action on my links and half of Squidoo's commission is a little more than I'd make if I put in one of my own links with my Associate ID. The more items an Associate sells in a month, the better the commission, and Squidoo of course makes top commissions.

So, if you're thinking of getting anything from Amazon, I'd appreciate it if you used one of my links here in this blog. This link to will take you to their main page and you can take it from there.

You should know it doesn't cost you anything to get to Amazon through my links. You get the same deals, same prices, everything is the same as if you'd just gone there on your own. I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it in mind.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Thistle & Shamrock

I just listened to this week's program of The Thistle & Shamrock, the NPR program hosted by Fiona Ritchie. While it was probably one of the least Celtic shows, it was one of the more memorable ones as Fiona traveled to the home of Pete Seeger, who spoke of his life and music. Fiona interspersed his reminiscences with songs he wrote and/or made famous sung by people such as Dick Gaughan, Nanci Griffith, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bruce Springsteen and of course Pete himself.

There's three possibilities for listening. One would be to catch it as it airs on your local NPR station. Another is to check the ThistleRadio website to find it's list of streaming radio stations to find when you can listen online at a time convenient for you. The third is to check back to the website's main page and click on the Listen Again link.

Pete Seeger turned 90 last May. He's a living link to the history of American folk music from the 1940s on to the present day. I had a chance to see him live once when he appeared at a benefit for some workers in Gardner, Massachusetts in the 1980s.

If it's at all possible for you to catch this edition of The Thistle & Shamrock, I think you'll find it's an hour well spent.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Town by any Other Name

...probably wouldn't be as interesting.

I've always been fascinated by places with odd names. This site tells about 21 of them. Of course, I know of quite a few more, and I was pleased to see at least one favorite: Lake Chargogagogmanchaugagogchaubunagungamog in Webster, MA.

I live not far from Boring, Oregon. One of these days I'll have to find out how it got its name.

My friend Dick Ford lives in Mize, Mississippi, which isn't all that far from Hot Coffee.

I've wondered if there's a trash disposal place in Pahrump, Nevada. It would be the Pahrump Dump.

Up in Washington along the Puget Sound there's Pull and Be Damned Road. I encountered the name during one of my phone jobs and later looked it up on Google Maps.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Linux: It's Not Windows

OK, that title seems to be stating the obvious, but a lot of people seem to expect Linux to be so much like Windows as to make no difference. But of course, Linux is quite different. For one thing, it's free open source software, so you don't have to pay for it. For another, it was not developed by a for-profit corporation that provides paid technical support.

Recently someone in the Go Firefox! forum on Delphi linked to Linux Is NOT Windows, written in 2006. Since then Linux has gotten easier to use for people who aren't all that geeky.

I'm a little bit geeky in that I did take a couple of courses at Boston University ten years ago for building computers and Windows NT. As part of that, I ended up learning quite a bit and did installations from DOS up through Windows XP. I can often figure out things, or at least find web sites that will explain stuff when I run into problems.

But there are limits to my geekiness, so when I decided to try Linux again I looked for something that would pretty much work right out of the box. Of course, there was no box, so I did have to know how to download an .iso file and burn it to a disk so it would boot, and I had to do that using Windows.

The article does a very good job of explaining the differences between Windows and Linux without getting overly technical. So many people have grown up with Windows that they may expect Linux to be very Windows-like without appreciating why is isn't and why the differences are good things. The article explains, again without getting overly technical, how Linux started and how and why it was developed and why the open source way of doing things is better once you accept certain things.

Realizing that open source software like Linux and the many applications that run on it are developed by volunteers who don't owe users anything is pretty important. If you have a problem, you can ask for help, but you have to realize people aren't being paid to help you, so it's best not to expect or demand instant gratification. I didn't have any problem with that in part because I'm used to the helpful information sharing I find on Delphi Forums and other places. Delphi's Go Firefox! forum is a place where people can ask for help with problems and people volunteer their knowledge to help solve them, but nobody's getting paid to do that.

I have to disagree with some points made in the last couple of paragraphs of Linux Is NOT Windows, and that probably has a lot to do with improvements in Linux over the past three years aimed at newer users. The author suggests if you want an operating system that does just about all of the heavly lifting for you, stick with Windows and make sure you've got a good firewall and good security software in place, or get a Mac and use OS X. Now three years later I'd be willing to bet that many people who might not have been good Linux candidates then would do very well with Linux Mint. At least, it was my choice. There are other versions out there that other people may find more to their liking, especially if they like playing around with geeky stuff more.

Linux Mint 7, aka Gloria, is the most up to date official release as I write this, and Mint 8, aka Helena, should be released very soon. I found that right off the CD Mint worked just fine for me. One thing I had to do was install a Dreamweaver substitute, Quanta Plus, so I could make some changes to my home page, a graphical web page of linked icons that resides on my computer, not on the web. I had to learn a few things to do that, but to me they didn't seem too terribly geeky. Anyone willing to search and follow instructions could do it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Was Ahead of the Bad Astronomy Blog

Yesterday's entry here was about a site that shows the Solar System to scale, with one pixel equaling a thousand kilometers. Today while checking my Bloglines feeds, I saw that Phil Plait, the astronomer who does the Bad Astronomy blog on Discover Magazine's website, featured it.

Of course, Plait has something I don't: thousands of readers every day. It's a pretty interesting blog if you have any interest in space and science in general. The site is called Bad Astronomy because Plait often takes to task people who misuse astronomy or just get it wrong. Needless to say, he thinks, correctly, that all the nonsense about Dec. 21, 2012 is a bunch of hooey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Solar System to Scale

I think I've found what just might be the widest graphic on the Internet. It's the Solar System with the Sun and all the planets shown in a scale of 1 pixel = 1,000 km. It's not just the Sun and the planets out to Pluto (I think this was made before Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status). It includes all the space between as well.

To get some idea of how big this is, I started on the left side and began scrolling by holding down the right arrow. At first it didn't look like anything was happening after the Sun scrolled off the left of the screen, but eventually a small image slid into view. It was Mercury and since it's to scale, there's not a whole lot of detail. I kept going and eventually Venus slid into view. More patience, then Earth and later Mars. After Mars I had to pause while I listened/watched with Klara McDonnell.

When I got back to the Solar System and resumed scrolling, I figured it had taken about 20 minues scrolling time just to get out to Jupiter. That's only about 1/7th of the way across, meaning it would have taken close to two and a half hours to get all the way over to Pluto. WikiAnswers says Pluto averages 328 light-minutes from the Sun, so that would mean the scrolling speed on my computer is about twice the speed of light. I guess that's pretty close since WikiAnswers says Jupiter averages 43.8 light-minutes from the Sun.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has this to say about space:

"Space," it says, "is big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space."

When you spend 20 minutes scrolling at twice the speed of light to get from the Sun to Jupiter, you begin to get an idea how big the Solar System is, and that's far less than peanuts compared to the galaxy, which is immensely tiny compared to the universe.

It would take over two years of scrolling at the scale of the Solar System graphic to cover the distance to Alpha Centauri, by the way. I think my finger would get tired.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Memories of a Disaster

While using StumbleUpon, I came across a little page showing a brief online chat conversation between an AT&T customer and a customer service representative. I spent a little less than a year on the phones as a Cingular/AT&T CSR, a time that went wrong pretty early on.

I have a blog over on Delphi Forums that I started about three years ago. I pretty much stopped using it last May since for some time I'd been writing posts here and copying them over to the other blog. When I started blogging here again in late September after a few months of not writing, it didn't make much sense to just copy stuff over, so the only entry I've made there since starting up again is one explaining I'd only be using this blog.

Delphi changed things around at the beginning of November and since then their My Forums page, which shows an index of the forums I've visited and includes the blog, has been showing I have over 300 blog entries, including "25 new to me," indicating I haven't read them. For the forums I visit, all I have to do is read a message on a forum, then when I go back to My Forums I'll see the number of unread messages has cleared.

That hasn't worked with the blog. As with forums, I thought calling up the blog page and reading would clear the "25 new to me." It didn't. Even the post about not posting didn't clear it. So yesterday I looked back at all the messages I'd posted on that blog right back to the first post in 2006.

There were a lot of posts about my time at AT&T in there. Let's just say I can sympathize with Darlene.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Avoiding Apostrophe Catastrophes

Apostrophes are handy little marks that are usually used with possessive nouns and contractions. The rules seem deceptively simple at first. Then you run into the exceptions. Once you realize there are exceptions, it's easy to get confused.

For instance, I just used "it's" as a contraction for "it is." That's simple and follows the rules for contractions: if you leave out some letters, replace them with an apostrophe.

Then there's the word "its" without the apostrophe. "Its" is a word that is used as the possessive form of "it." Usually when indicating possession, the normal rule is to write the noun and make it possessive by adding an apostrophe and an "s." The word "its," which shows something that belongs to "it," is an exception. To show that "it" possesses something, you leave out the apostrophe. This confuses a lot of people, and I used to be one of them. Then I got tired of being confused about using or not using an apostrophe with "its" and "it's" and looked up its proper use.

People get confused about the apostrophe and "s" when indicating possession, especially when the noun is plural, like "men." You'll see signs in some establishments indicating the "Men's Room." Some establishments with that sign have a corresponding sign for the "Ladie's Room." "Men's Room" is right; "Ladie's Room" is wrong. Many places have signs that just say "Men" for one and "Women" for the other, avoiding confusion, but a few places still like calling women "ladies" so they have one sign that says "Men" and another that says "Ladie's." Nice try.

Then there's our way of writing about decades using numbers. Possible choices are "the 60s," "the '60s," "the 60's," or "the '60's." The second one is correct. The apostrophe takes the place of "19" and the "s" indicates the plural nature. Of course, you could avoid the whole thing and write "the Sixties."

Recently, while using StumbleUpon, I saw a page that lays out the proper use of the apostrophe. It's a handy page if you find apostrophes confusing. It was long after high school before I felt confident about using apostrophe's apostrophes correctly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 19

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 18

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 17

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 16

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Not My Day

One of the first things I realized this morning was that I'd managed to not post to this blog yesterday, which means I'm out of this month's NaBloPoMo competition. Blah! I was doing so well, too, posting a new bit of "Sundancer's Fairy Tale" every day and occasionally something else. Guess I'm too easily distracted by stuff on the computer sometimes. OK, maybe a lot of the time.

So I was reading the Bad Astronomy blog this morning and today's shuttle launch was mentioned. It was set for 14:28 Eastern time, or 11:28 Pacific time. Great, I thought. I'll watch Klara McDonnell on from 10 to noon (6 to 8 p.m. GMT) then tune in an hour and a half later for the launch.

You see the problem, of course. I'd misread 14:28 as 4:28 p.m. so I thought the launch was two hours later than it actually occurred. I never realized it until around 1 p.m. when I went to and saw immediately that I'd missed out. Double blah!

Oh well, at least I got LiveIreland's stereo feed set up on Rhythmbox Music Player on Caristiona, the second computer, so I can listen and see the song titles just by turning my head instead of changing windows to Rhythmbox and back again.

A few days ago I'd moved Caristiona out of the bedroom back to where the computer cart had been for years until I decided to try setting up a computer in the bedroom by running two 50-foot cables, which required taping cable across the rug at the bedroom door and again at the entrance to the two closets that flank the bathroom entrance, along with hiding the cable in a couple of cord covers that gets the cable for TV across both entrances to my little kitchen area.

It was a nice little experiment and it worked, but I realized with a little reorganizing I could put the computer cart back, this time without all the junk it had accumulated, with Caristiona all set up.

In the process of moving the cart around, I did a lot of rearranging. I realized there were a whole lot of things that had sort of accumulated, accreted, grown, etc. on top of and behind my main computer desk. I had power strips all over and had lost track of what was plugged in to where. There were several power transformers still plugged in for stuff I no longer used and two or three computer power cords plugged in to the strips but not into computers. Once I started looking at that, I found so much stuff to unplug that now only two power strips are left. One of the emptied power strips was plugged into an extension cord that has three outlets. Rather than get rid of the cord I plugged my Vonage box and the phone into it.

Sileas, the main computer, used to be on the floor at my feet under the desk next to Caristiona, with enough space for me to put my feet. I moved her up to the top of the desk's hutch and discovered she had accumulated an awful lot of dust while sitting down there. With that cleaned out she should last a bit longer.

I've got a big upholstered chair behind where I sit for using the computer. The idea in putting it there was to have a more comfortable place to sit while watching videos on the monitor. The trouble is, a chair has horizontal surface above floor level, and with me that means junk tends to accumulate. Working through those layers is a little like archeology as I discover stuff unseen for months. I came across some CDs I decided to put in my 300-CD changer. While messing about with that, I realized my dual-cassette tape recorder hadn't been plugged into the stereo receiver for a long time because I rarely play tapes any more. So I plugged it back in and discovered that a 24-year-old tape of the Short Sisters (Kim Wallach, Faye Baird and Kate Seeger) still sounds OK even after sitting in the car for several years. It was nice to hear them again.

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 15

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 14

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 13

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Star Wars Meets The Godfather

Help me, Obi Wan Cannoli, you're my only hope.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 12

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 11

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 10

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 9

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 8

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 7

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 6

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The ThinkPad Lives!

Just for fun and because I've heard Linux can work on older machines, I tried installing Linux Mint 7 on my ancient ThinkPad 1400 from 1999. It has a noisy fan, but it does run, although I need to use AC for power. Mint didn't work. After chugging away for a long time, it finally told me the kernel needs "cmov" and my CPU doesn't have it. I don't really know what it is. All I know is it's needed and the ThinkPad doesn't have it.

I looked that up online and found I'd have to look for a small distro that works on older machines. After some research, I tried SimplyMEPIS 8, but that needed the cmov thing too. After more research, I downloaded Puppy version 4.3.1, the latest one. This looked more promising. It didn't take nearly as long to go through the black screen and it allowed me to make some choices for language, country, time zone, etc. Eventually it got to a graphical desktop, which looked quite nice except for one thing. The mouse pointer wouldn't move.

I dug out a trackball and plugged it in, then tried again. Same results. I was using a PS/2 adaptor on the trackball, so I took that off and connected to a serial port. Unfortunately, that didn't work either. Back to the intertoobs, where I saw a post on a Linux forum where someone had chosen "test" for video. There was a "change mouse" option and I chose a serial mouse. This time, on the very primitive screen that came up, the mouse pointer moved, so I went on. Got to the desktop once again, and the mouse pointer wouldn't move.

More research. This time I read about someone saying things changed between versions 4.2 and 4.3 regarding mouse choices. So I downloaded version 4.2, burned it, and stuck it in the CD drive on the ThinkPad. This time I went through everything and when I got to the graphical desktop, the mouse pointer moved. Success at last.

I ended up burning three CDs from downloaded ISO files and Mint's CD burning software, Brasero, made it so easy. The download window allowed me to chose to save the file in the burner software, and then I was informed that because the file was an ISO file, it could be burned right to disk without a lot of fiddling around. It was so simple. I was initially skeptical because I've made wrong choices with ISO image files in Windows and ended up just burning the file to disk instead of creating a bootable CD, but that didn't happen this time. They burned and they booted.

Usually I don't need a laptop, having two desktops that run fine, but now and then I might be able to use it. It would be handy to look at pictures I take at Faerieworlds next summer. All I'd need is someplace to plug in the ThinkPad and I'd not only see the pictures much larger than they show on the camera viewscreen, but I could share the viewing with friends there. I'll have to take a few pictures of something and see how feasible that idea is.

Moving a Computer

About a week and a half ago I rearranged my bedroom, and it created more space at the foot of the bed, which is now in one corner of the room. I have a rolling computer desk about four feet wide and a 19" CRT monitor. I hadn't been using either and the desk was cluttered up with all sorts of junk.

I went to Frys on Monday hoping to pick up some super cheap stuff to resurrect one of the older desktop boxes, but didn't see stuff as cheap as I'd hoped and decided against getting components. Instead I got to thinking about moving Caristiona, my older machine, into the bedroom. So I got a new trackball for Sileas, a card reader that can read SD cards and Compact Flash along with other types, and a network cable coupler. I knew I had two fifty-foot cables around and while it would have been better if one were a 25-footer, I didn't want to buy another cable.

This morning I began cleaning junk out of the rolling desk, then I got it moved into the bedroom. Next I had to figure out which wires went to which set of speakers and get the speakers separated from the tangle of wires that's proliferated over time. I also took out the KVM switch because I'll only have one computer in the main area which is usually used as a dining area. I also needed to find different outlets for some stuff because I wanted to take one of the uninterupptable power supplies to plug Caristiona and components in. In the course of all that I spotted several wires for stuff I'd once had but wasn't using any more. There were things like USB cables, wires to power transformers that weren't being used. In short, a mess, but now it's a little simpler.

Eventually I got all the necessary stuff into the bedroom and hooked up except for the network cable. The computer worked, although I had to reset the date and time. Then I ran the cable, which included taping it down where it crossed the bedroom entrance and the entrance to the bathroom. The network setup didn't work right away. I had to unplug the router and plug it back in, but once I did that, Caristiona connected to the intertoobs.

My next project is to try and get a version of Linux on my old IBM ThinkPad 1400 from 1998. It still runs although the fan is noisy and it needs to be plugged in to AC to run. But it does run, so perhaps I can find uses for it if I can get stuff set up with Linux. I've learned I need to find a distro which doesn't use something called "cmov" which is not on the ThinkPad's CPU. I'm thinking I might be able to use it to look at photos at Faerieworlds next year.

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 5

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 4

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ashokan Farewell

More than once in "Sundancer" and "Sundancer's Fairy Tale" I mentioned "Ashokan Farewell," a fiddle tune by Jay Ungar. It's very familiar to anyone who has seen Ken Burn's great documentary The Civil War, where it was the major theme. It's also the only modern piece of music Burns used in that miniseries; all other music is from the 19th century.

In this YouTube video, Jay Ungar talks about how he came to compose the tune, then he plays it accompanied by his wife Molly Mason.

Here's a version played by Mairead Nesbitt of Celtic Woman:

I'd heard the tune before it was used in The Civil War, most likely at the Old Songs Festival in Altamont, New York, which is perhaps an hour's drive north of Ashokan. Jay Ungar probably played at that festival, since it is local for him, although I don't specifically recall. I went to Old Songs every year except 1988 from 1985 to 2000. It's where I got my first bowed psaltery in 1987. I've learned to play "Ashokan Farewell" on it, although I'm sure I subject it to considerable folk processing. That's a fancy way of saying I don't play it exactly the way Jay Ungar wrote it, although if you heard it you'd probably recognize it. I sometimes think of my version as "Ashcan Farewell."

After I first posted this entry I clicked on the link for the Old Songs Festival just to be sure the link went to the proper place (it did). I spotted a link to a review of the 2008 festival by Nova Scotian Jeff Doran. There were a number of things I liked about his review aside from the memories it brought back. Like me in 1985, he got lost trying to find the festival site. He mentions doing a capella versions of "What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?" to the tune of "Greensleeves" and vice versa. (Yes, it really works.) He also mentioned you can sing Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" to the tune of "Hernando's Hideaway," something I hadn't encountered since it was mentioned a long time ago in one of the Whole Earth Catalogs.

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 3

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 2

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sundancer's Fairy Tale - 1

Brewer, who runs the tavern in Sunrise Harbor along with his mate Weaver, has written the story of my first cycle (two and a half Earth years) on Dahroona, the planet I wanted to call home. The story’s name, "Sundancer," is my name too, of course. I think he did a pretty good job of it, and if you haven’t read it, you probably should before you go on with this story. He tells how I came to Sunrise Harbor on the southeastern Quastrana coast, became a part of that community, then almost lost it all to keep one of my lovers alive.

The day I was told I could remain on Dahroona was both a very happy day and a sad one. I was happy because I would be able to go back to Sunrise Harbor. But before I could return, I’d have to sail halfway around the planet, and I’d have to do it solo aboard my sailboat Wind Dancer. I knew I could do it, especially with the help of my star cruiser Sileas, but it was going to take around sixty days, and that was sixty days without the company of Harper and Midnight, my two dahroonae partners. I would sorely miss their love and their music. I loved dancing to their harp and whistle at sunrise and sunset, loved playing fiddle with them at Brewer’s tavern in the evenings, and of course, I loved loving them. I knew they’d miss their Sundancer, but at least they had each other in my absence.

Judge Bluestar, who had presided over the hearing on the Orbital Tower and who ruled that I could stay on Dahroona, was very firm. I was allowed to return Brewer, who had been the only Sunrise Harbor resident to be at the hearing, back to his tavern, but I could not set foot on the planet at that time. After the hearing, Sileas took us to Sunrise Harbor, which was on the opposite side of Dahroona from the Tower. Part of the reason I’d chosen Sunrise Harbor to live was because it put the whole planet between the Tower and Sileas, who took up a geosynchronous orbit south of the town. We flew in low at close to midnight local time so Sileas could transport Brewer into the patio area at the back of the tavern. It was a beautiful night, with Brin, Dahroona’s larger moon, high in the sky. My heart ached at seeing Sunrise Harbor and knowing I couldn’t go down there.

“We’ll see you soon, Sunny,” Brewer said as he hugged me. “I know you’ll get back here as soon as you can.”

“I will, Brewer,” I said, trying hard not to cry. “Tell Harper and Midnight I love them and miss them. I’ll miss you and Weaver too!”

I stepped back from the transporter pad, Brewer straightened up, and Sileas activated her transporter. Brewer faded out, and on the viewscreen that showed the tavern patio, he faded in. He waved, then went inside. I’d told Sileas not to include sound. Harper and Midnight were playing in the tavern. Hearing my loves’ music would’ve been too much for me.

“We should go, Sunny,” Sileas said. “The sooner we get over to the area off Marathoona, the sooner we can get Wind Dancer in the water and you can start your voyage home.”

“Of course, Sileas,” I said, tearing my eyes away from the screen. “Let’s do it.”

Sileas rose as quickly as she could without breaking the sound barrier and disturbing the folks in the town. As soon as she’d gained enough altitude, she headed off toward a point off the coast of Arralta near the Orbital Tower where it was close to highsun. The plan was that we’d put Wind Dancer in the water just over the horizon from Marathoona, and I’d sail in and pick up some supplies. Marathoona was an old port town - it was old long before Dahroonans went into space and built the Orbital Tower. The tune “Leaving Marathoona” was the one Midnight had first played on a whistle when Harper, Brewer and I had taken her to Luthier’s instrument shop in Sunrise Harbor. She’d played it so wonderfully everyone within earshot stopped to listen, and Harper and I knew we’d gained a new musical partner. After my stop in Marathoona, Judge Bluestone’s plan was for me to sail to the Candara Isles and spend a few days there. Then I could really do what I’d claimed I’d done a cycle ago - sail halfway around the planet solo to Sunrise Harbor.

When I had first arrived in Sunrise Harbor aboard Wind Dancer, nobody knew I was from another planet. When I left Earth, I was a short green-eyed redhead with an artificial human body. My body looked, felt, and, to outward appearances at least, performed like any human body, but people knew it was artifical, and there were a fair number of people who had a problem with that, just as they had a problem with the T’Gungans, the aliens who had intervened in human affairs to keep us from totally screwing up our planet. Those humans also had a problem with the Peacekeepers, the young humans who had been selected by the T’Gungans, partnered with star cruisers, and helped make war into a nonviable option.

One of those Peacekeepers was Rhiannon Davies. Rhiannon was a six-foot, two-inch redhead who had just graduated from the University of Vermont with a journalism degree and was about to start a job as a reporter in Burlington, Vermont when the T’Gungans, in the person of Niaria, showed up and recruited her to go off to T’Gung and return as a Peacekeeper. As part of the partnering process with the star cruisers, the T’Gungans wanted to make a copy of each Peacekeeper’s mind in case of any problems. Rhiannon volunteered to be the first of the humans to undergo the partnering process, known as Integration. The T’Gungans weren’t expecting any problems and thought the copying process was just a precaution. But they’d never copied a human mind before, and while Rhiannon remained in her own brain, the copy, stored in a T’Gungan computer, gained awareness.

That copy was me, and let me tell you, my first few mirns (a mirn is a Dahroonan measure of time roughly equivalent to a minute) of existence separate from Rhiannon’s brain were no picnic. I was totally deprived of any sensory input. Even though I, as Rhiannon, had never believed in an afterlife, I thought I was dead. Scared doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I’ve been told the T’Gungan technician monitoring the computer I’d been fed into was pretty alert and was able to provide me with rudimentary sight through a lens, hearing through microphones, and speech through a speaker. She did it within mirns, but it seemed a whole lot longer.


[Edit November 29, 2010] Originally I went on to post the rest of this story. I've removed the other posts because I'm interested in publishing this story, along with "Sundancer," possibly with Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes & Noble for the Nook and other .epub devices. At this point I'm not sure how long it will be before that actually happens, but I didn't want to leave the story here for free when I'm hoping to make at least a little money by e-publishing it.

A Quiet Halloween

For the first time in several years I got some candy to hand out in case any trick or treaters showed up. There's never been a lot of activity around here. There are a lot of apartment complexes on the road I live on (the MAX light rail runs along it and limits street crossings). I live on the second floor of a two-story building.

The city of Gresham was promoting 3:00 p.m to 5:30 p.m. as the time for trick or treating - daylight, in other words. I didn't even know that until nearly 5 o'clock. Heck, I didn't even start getting things ready until nearly 5. I decided to wear my wizard costume from Faerieworlds, the one with the black robe with the silver leaf trim, plus the wizard hat with all the stuff on it. I wrapped a red T shirt around a small lamp with a compact fluorescent bulb that doesn't get too hot. The light was near the door. On the bookcase behind the door I burned a stick of incense early, then lit a couple of apple-scented tealights set on upturned coffee cups on the bookcase, where I also put the little sitting faerie figurine that's usually on top of my monitor. I had my wizard staff by the door and the candy was in a basket.

I cued up my collection of Faun, the German Celtic/medieval band that was at Faerieworlds. At 6 I switched to The Thistle & Shamrock on public radio, then played more Faun for a while. After 7:30 I didn't think anyone was going to show up.

After the first group of three kids at 7:50 another group of three showed up abut 20 minutes later. That was it. I'm glad I bought candy I like because now I have enough bite-size Milky Way bars to last for several weeks.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

NaBloPoMo for November

I'm on the blogroll at NaBloPoMo, aka National Blog Posting Month, for November.

Now all I have to do is be sure to post here at least once a day. I tried that in October but managed to miss two or three days. Still, it was good practice for this month. Originally NaBloPoMo was intended to be for November only, but some folks who'd joined wanted to keep things going, so it is now possible to sign up for any month. November is the month for which prizes are awarded. Each month there's usually a theme. For October it was "Haunted." According to the site's home page, "The theme for November is there is no theme for November."

I'll be posting my second Sundancer story "Sundancer's Fairy Tale." While "Sundancer" was told in first person from tavernkeeper Brewer's point of view, the second story is told from the POV of Sundancer. Originally I thought it would just be about Sundancer's trip halfway around Dahroona in her sailboat Wind Dancer and possibly some events after that, but early on the story took a turn when someone showed up.

In Open Office Writer, the story takes up 46 pages. I'll be breaking the story up into approximately two-page chunks depending on how it looks for breaking up the story. Overall it's about the same length as "Sundancer" or maybe a bit longer. "Sundancer's Fairy Tale" will start tomorrow.

In other news, after trying various different ways to get computer #4 back in operation, it looks like it's not going to happen. Although I know the CD drive works (discovered by switching the ribbon cables of the hard drive and CD drive and seeing the machine boot the Super Grub Disk) it appears the machine simply won't see there's a keyboard attached. I may attempt reseating the CPU, which is in a strange vertical holder that for some strange reason was a little too small for the socket, but I was able to keep it in by jamming some pieces of toothpick in the sides. Sounds odd, but the machine did run for several years without problems. If that doesn't work, I'll just put the 120 GB drive into Caristiona for extra storage.

I had another bit of strangeness occur on Sileas, the main computer a few days ago. When I use the keyboard/monitor/mouse switch to go from one computer to the other, the mouse often does crazy things and stuff gets opened without my input. At one point when I tried to access messages in Delphi Forums all I got was a mostly blank screen with the forum title bar in the middle. I could get into forums using Caristiona, so I knew it had to be something affecting Sileas only. I posted about it in the Firefox forum and got no response initially.

Then I added a bit more detail after I tried deleting cookies with no change and also discovered I could get to messages by changing part of the URL from "" to "" Then someone asked if maybe I had AdBlock Plus installed, saying it's possible the mouse craziness might've added a filter. Since the time I'd switched computers was a time when Delphi Forums was open on Sileas, that sounded logical. I checked filters on AdBlock Plus. That took a while because I block a lot of big signature graphics on Delphi through it, but eventually a filter blocking the forums showed up. It died a quick death upon discovery. Now I can read forums on Delphi again.

Be sure to tune in again tomorrow for the start of "Sundancer's Fairy Tale."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween on

There was a special show on today with Klara McDonnell, who usually does a show from 6 to 8 p.m. Dublin time on Mondays. As you can see, she was in costume and had a good time.

I had fun playing with the screenshot app in Linux Mint, which makes it easy to take shots not only of the whole screen but also of selected areas of it. That's how I managed to take these shots. It's not the easiest thing because for each shot I had to go to the Mint menu, choose the screenshot app, then chose to take a selected area, click on "Take Screenshot" and define the area, then hold the mouse button down with the area defined and wait for a good moment to release it. It's releasing the mouse button that determines when the screenshot is made. It took a couple of tries before I realized that.

She had her friend Linda in the studio with her and at one point they did a little Irish dancing. I did get a shot of it, but webcams don't have very fast shutter speeds, so that shot came out pretty blurry. A couple of times she showed off the vampire bite marks on her neck, but that happened too quickly for me to go through the steps to catch that in a screenshot.

The studio has undergone some renovations lately and it's looking good. Daithi, who does all the techie stuff, says there's more to come. He's upgraded the main computer in the studio and there either are or will be more webcams.

From the VID Blaster logo in the upper right corner of these shots, it looks like they're trying out something new in software as well. Before Klara came into the studio today there was a screen showing four different views including one of Crow Street and a couple of different studio shots. After Klara's show the view went back to the more usual shot of the street.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

And Another Thing...

It was only a few weeks ago that I learned there was going to be a sixth book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series. Before he died unexpectedly in 2001 at 49, Douglas Adams had talked about doing a sixth book. The 30th anniversary of Hitchhikers is this month, and in August of 2008, Adams' estate contacted Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series about a teenage criminal mastermind. It's Die Hard with fairies, according to the author. People are always asking Colfer (whose first name is pronounced "Owen," by the way) why he was chosen to write the book. He says it's because Douglas Adams' widow and daughter thought he was funny.

I'd decided I'd get the book, And Another Thing... in the near future, then I learned he would be appearing this evening at Powell's Books over in Beaverton where I'd seen Sarah Vowell a couple of weeks ago. I didn't feel like paying full price for the book, so I made a trip to the nearest Barnes and Noble, where it was 20% off and started reading. Then I drove over to Powell's, leaving early enough so if traffic was heavy I'd still be there in plenty of time. That left me plenty of time to continue reading, and by the time the event started I was up to page 99.

All the regulars are back: Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian and Zaphod Beeblebrox. Marvin the Paranoid Android may not be in this book; so far I haven't seen him. It's a bit into the future and while everyone's still going, they've had some help, since it's mentioned at one point that Trillian, who has had a successful career as a galactic reporter, is 105 years old. Even so, she has a child, Random Frequent Flyer Dent who is a teenager in this book. She was introduced in Mostly Harmless. Trillian had gone to a galactic sperm bank and since Arthur was the only donor of the same species, he's the father. From what I've read so far, And Another Thing... is worthy of being the sixth book in the series. There are frequent references to characters, species and events from the previous books, and the humor is just as offbeat and crazy as anything Douglas Adams ever wrote. If you liked the first five books of the series, you'll like this one.

Colfer didn't do a reading, choosing instead to talk about how he came to be the one to write it, which including talking about how he and a group of friends read the original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy back around 1979 and loved it. When And Another Thing... was launched earlier this month all of the group of friends and their families were at the launch event. He also took questions, but I couldn't think of anything intelligent to ask, so I didn't.

This event was a bit different. You needed a free ticket for the signing and people were called up in groups of ten according to the ticket number. They also had a raffle. There was a $10 gift certificate, a large poster on foam board that stood in front of the podium, 20 small black towels with the book title and "Don't Panic!" on them, and about the same number of small books containing reviews of each of the six books in the series. People filled out slips of paper with their names and emails which then went into a box. I almost never win anything in these raffles, and tonight was no exception.

Normally I'd have a picture, but I managed to leave the apartment and get almost to where I get on I-84 before I realized I'd never even thought about the camera and by then I didn't want to turn around.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nice Try, But...

I've had a three older computers sitting around not doing anything, so I thought one or more of them could be set up to run Linux. Things did not go well, unfortunately.

I started with the least old one. I'd previously installed Ubuntu on it but never really used it much. An attempt to try again by installing Mint instead did not get far thanks to a loud SNAP! which may just mean the power supply went out.

The next oldest one would not boot from the disk like it's supposedly set up to do. Booting into Windows got me to the screen where a password is required, but it wouldn't take any password I tried. After trying to find ways around that, nothing was working, so I decided to take the C: drive out and put it into my second machine.

Once it was in the second machine, I put in the Mint install disk and installed Mint on the drive. Then I moved the drive back to it's original place, where it promptly failed to boot. I messed around some more, even pulling out an older HP machine I hadn't run in a long time to see if I could install Linux on that, but that hard drive made ominous clicking noises and never booted. Putting the hard drive with Mint on it in that machine didn't work either. So now I appear to have only two working desktop machines, although I will see about that power supply. If that's the problem with #3, that'll be good, especially if I can switch the power supply from #4 into #3.

Most of that messing around took place last night and this morning. Then I discovered another problem. When I'd installed Mint onto the disk from #4, I'd messed up the boot file on Caristiona, the second machine. That's how I found out about GRUB, which is somewhat like the Master Boot Record on Windows machines. I did some looking around the internet on Sileas. I found one site that gave simple instructions for fixing GRUB, but it didn't work.

Fortunately, in my looking around I found references to something called Super GRUB Disk. So I downloaded it, burned it to a CD and stuck it in the CD drive on Caristiona. At first, I just chose to boot, and found out I could get into Linux and everything was still there and working. But when I took the disk out and rebooted, I got the error again.

The next try was to put the SGD back in and look around a bit. From reading help files, and trying a few things (carefully) I eventually managed to select the right options and got a message that SGD had succeeded in putting things right. I restarted, popped the disk out, and Caristiona booted into Linux just like before. Just to be sure, I rebooted and confirmed everything's OK.

While I did eventually find out what I needed by reading some Linux forums found in Google search, I had to read through a lot of verbiage. Many people, instead of just presenting a solution, seem to have a need to berate people for things like not giving enough info or for being dumb enough to mess things up in the first place, and then threads tend to digress. So it took a fair amount of searching around.

With all that messing around, I'm essentially back where I started except #4 no longer has Windows on it. That's not a big deal because Windows is not in my future. Linux is the way to go and the price is right. Also, I do now have Super Grub Disk in case I have any future problems.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sundancer - Page 13

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sundancer - Page 12

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sundancer - Page 11B

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sundancer - Page 11A

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Linux

Today I decided to make my second computer, Caristiona, into a Linux machine without Windows at all. I wasn't having any success getting it to boot from the Mint disk. I thought there was something wrong with the CD drive until I put a different CD in and it was visible. I wasted some time by downloading Mint again and burning a second disk, then I discovered I had the computer's boot sequence set wrong. It was set to boot from a floppy first (yeah, this one's old enough that I built in a floppy drive), then the hard drive, then the CD-ROM. I reversed the order and it booted from the CD.

My 120 GB drive was partitioned into two equal parts, but the stuff on the D: drive just barely fit onto a second 80 GB drive. Once I'd moved stuff, I did the Mint installation so Linux occupies the whole C: drive.

One thing I've noticed it I can now run both Sileas and Caristiona without the network connection dropping, so I can access the internet from both computers. Under Windows, the connection would drop within a half hour of starting up the second computer, and it didn't matter which one I started first.

Network connections seem kind of off and on, so I probably need to learn some stuff to make it more reliable. I wanted to copy over the files for my home page from Sileas to Caristiona, but couldn't make it work. So I copied the files onto my 160 GB Seagate USB external drive, unplugged it from Sileas and plugged it into Caristiona. Then I copied the folder onto the 120 GB drive and set it up as my Firefox home page. That saved me from having to edit things so all the icons show up because I'd already fixed it.

I'm finding that I'm not going back to Windows on Sileas very much at all. I suppose I'll keep the Windows partition on that machine for a while. I do have some programs that might prove useful now and then.

One very nice thing about Linux is I don't have to be concerned about viruses. Overall, I'm pleased that I finally got to making the switch on a computer I normally use. I may be using Caristiona more often too. I'm writing this post on that machine, for instance.

Several years ago when I bought Sileas, I didn't really need another computer, but she's faster and the price was right since she's a refurbished HP machine. Caristiona, one I built, was only about two years old at the time I got Sileas, so I expect there's a lot of life left in her.

The name Caristiona comes from an album by George Jackson and Maggie MacInnes. It's the title track from the album which came out in 1984.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sundancer - Page 10

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sundancer - Page 9

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Sometimes Things Go Right

I got my Comcast bill in the mail on Saturday. Often I don't open bills because I do most payments online, but I opened this one. I noticed I was being charged $15.99 a month for HBO, something I don't recall ever having ordered.

After some checking, it appears the charges started back on June 2nd, the day I called to change my cable plan to one that cost less. The HBO was free for three months from that day, so after seeing the amount on the next bill in July was lower, I didn't pay much attention. I guess I didn't actually look at either the printed bill or the online bill for the details. Not a good idea, obviously.

After calling up enough bills online to see just what had happened, I gave Comcast a call and got connected to Steven. I told him I didn't recall ordering HBO. He confirmed to me when it had been added and the time I'd actually been billed for it. Then he said, "Let me do some math here." After a few clicking calculator sounds, he said the amount I'd been charged was $41 and some change and he'd credit that amount. He also explained that the current bill for the period which started yesterday would still include HBO, but the next bill would reflect the credit, including for the current bill. Also, he discontinued HBO.

It was that simple. I was prepared to argue, although it's not something I enjoy doing, so it's good it never came to that. I suppose it's possible back on June 2nd I'd gone along with an offer of three months of free HBO, in which case it would've been smart for me to note the date and cancel it before the three months were up. On the other hand, I was trying to reduce my bill, so saying yes to such an offer seems unlikely.

I'll be sure not to accept any such free offers in the future unless I'm prepared to pay for the service after that time is up.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mint Condition

I've been interested in Linux for some time and now I've finally got it installed on my main computer, Sileas (both the computer and the star cruiser in "Sundancer" get their name from the Scottish harp duo of Mary MacMaster and Patsy Seddon).

The other day I downloaded Mint 7 and burned it to a bootable CD. Originally I was going to put it on another computer that already had Ubuntu. I never got too enthused about Ubuntu, and for some reason strange things happen when I have more than one computer running on my little network. For one thing, the router keeps dropping the internet connection. For another, some of the mouse and key functions get wonky.

I was getting set to install, but when I rebooted the computer, there was a rather loud snap, and the monitor showed only a dark screen with the message "Out of range." That snap must have been something on the video card.

Next I thought I'd try the disk on Caristiona, which was my main computer before I got Sileas four years ago. But even though it should've booted from the disk, it didn't. It's probably something simple to fix, but since I wanted to try it out, I decided to put the disk into Sileas's CD drive.

When a computer boots, the monitor flashes the screen resolution. It usually reports several before it reaches the point where the resolution I've set shows up. The monitor will show a resolution of 1360x768, but with Windows that's not an option for some reason. For a while I'd run it with 1024x768, then changed to 1266x720. While the wider screen was nice, it was 48 pixels short of full depth and there were black bars of 47 pixels on either side of the screen. And when I first switched, there was dark screen burn on the right side, although that faded in a couple of weeks.

Sileas accepted booting from the Mint disk and as it finished booting, I got a pleasant surprise. The final screen resolution that flashed was 1360x768. I'd thought the limitation was due to the video card. I'd looked into replacing it, but any decent video card would have required more power, and Sileas' power supply is on the puny side, so it would have meant replacing the card and power supply - more money than I can spend on computer right now.

Suddenly I knew I would be installing Mint on Sileas, which only has one built-in 160GB hard drive, although over time I'd also attached a couple of USB drives. One is also 160 GB and the newer one is 1 TB. I'd freed up a lot of space by moving stuff over to the 1 TB drive, and earlier today I moved even more stuff and deleted several programs I'd installed and then hadn't used much, plus I got rid of Microsoft Office, which like so many Microsoft programs, ate up a lot of space. I've been using the much smaller (and free) Open Office.

Once I'd move stuff and deleted, I had about 88 GB free space on the C: drive. But when I began the installation, I found the choices a bit confusing. I unplugged the two USB drives, but once I'd done that, I wasn't comfortable with editing the partitions within the Linux installation procedure.

I backed out once again and located a free disk partition program online. It allowed me to partition the C: drive into two partitions, and appropriately enough, the program told me the new partition would be L:. It took a long time to partition the drive - about three hours.

Back to the Linux installation program and this time I saw what I wanted - I could set up the L: partition without bothering Windows on the C: partition. The instructions I'd read weren't terribly clear about the swap partition, but I went ahead and the installation program eventually gave me the opportunity to carve out space for that from the L: partition. Once that was done, it did take about 20 minutes for Linux Mint to install.

So far I've gotten Thunderbird email set up, although there's more to do there, but at least I can get mail with it. Also, I figured out how to copy over the files for my home page on Firefox, which is on the computer, not the web. So I'm able to get to everything online I'm used to getting, including this blog.

It looks like finally I've found myself on Linux and I'm hoping as time goes on Windows will fade. I'm already thinking I may take Windows off Caristiona and just have Linux on it. It'll be interesting to see if the networking between the two works.

Now I've got to get this posted - it's less than 15 minutes to midnight!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sundancer - 8 of 13

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.

I've been following the webcomic User Friendly for several years now. One of its features is a Link of the Day. People send in links to interesting and odd sites, and Illiad, the strip's creator, choses one each day. Today's link was to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. While I don't think I need any superhero supplies, it seemed like a fun link to check out and it is. I don't think everything listed is actually for sale, but I'm not exactly sure how much is for sale and how much is just listed for fun.

When I clicked on the "Manuals" link it led me to some of the writings produced by the 826NYC group (these items are really for sale). It's a program for 6- to 18-year-old students interested in creative writing. The unusual name rang a bell. It didn't take long for me to recall it's a group Sarah Vowell is involved with, and a little looking around the site confirmed that. She is on the board of directors. I'd included a video about 826 National in my Squidoo lens about Sarah.

Sarah Vowell at Powell's Books, Beaverton, OR, Oct. 14, 2009
From MobyD's Soundings

It's interesting this came up because just this past Wednesday I went to Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton where Sarah was giving a reading from The Wordy Shipmates, her latest book just out in paperback. She told us she was trying something a bit different with this reading, so she read from the section of the book about the Pequot War in the 1630s.

Sarah Vowell's approach to writing about history is quite different from that of many other historians. She frequently mixes in her own personal experiences and makes frequent references to modern events that are related in some fashion to her subjects. Also, she's not afraid to interject her wry, offbeat humor. It makes reading her books much more interesting. She reads all the dry, sometimes difficult source material and presents her results in a manner that makes it both informative and fun to read. In putting together my Squidoo lens about Sarah, I saw quite a few videos, plus I've heard her on This American Life (mostly through online recordings). Now, having also heard and seen her in person, it's easier to imagine her style of delivery as I read her books.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sundancer - Page 8

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sundancer - Page 7

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Vowell's at Powell's

I'm heading out soon for the Powell's Books store at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton where Sarah Vowell will be appearing to promote her book The Wordy Shipmates which just came out in paperback. I'm leaving early to avoid as much of the rush hour traffic as I can, then I'll get the book and use the large amount of time to start reading it.

I considered taking the MAX and/or the bus, but it really takes a lot longer that way since going through downtown Portland eats up a lot of time. Also, I'm taking my camera, and I feel a little safer driving. I've ridden the MAX in the evenings, and some of the characters I've seen are ones I'd rather not see again.

The link up above (and here) is to my Squidoo lens for Sarah Vowell.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sundancer - Page 6

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sundancer - Page 5B

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

A Vegetarian Spider

I spotted a story at the UK site TimesOnline about the discovery of the first known vegetarian spider that lives in Mexico (which, in spite of what the article's author says, is not in South America). One of the first things I noticed when reading the article was the spider's scientific name: Bagheera kiplingi.

If you're a little rusty on Kipling, Bagheera was a panther in The Jungle Book. I'm not entirely sure why a vegetarian spider in Mexico would be named for a carnivore from India, but it is kind of interesting.

Q: Do you enjoy Kilping?

A: I don't know. I've never kipled.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sundancer - Page 5A

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Richard Dawkins Is Not a Pirate

I had been planning to go to a fantasy festival put on by the Seattle Seafair Pirates and the Seattle Knights up in Washington today, but changed my mind. I'd gotten up very early yesterday to watch the L-CROSS moon mission on NASA TV. The impact was scheduled for 4:31 a.m. Pacific Time, and they started broadcasting at 3:15. There wasn't much to see other than increasingly large views of the targeted crater. No debris plume was visible as had been expected. But they say they got good data. That left my sleep schedule screwed up, so last night I decided not to go to the festival which is about 170 miles away. Also I was still feeling the effects of either a muscle cramp or slight pull from a couple of days ago, so the idea of tramping around a field for several hours was less appealing.

Rachel Maddow had Sarah Vowell on her show last night because Vowell's latest book, The Wordy Shipmates, is just out in paperback. I'd meant to check it out on Amazon and Powell's but forgot until this morning. While checking the Powell's site, I learned she's going to be at their Beaverton store next Wednesday, so I'm planning to go.

While looking around, I also found out that Richard Dawkins was appearing at Wordstock, the annual book fair at the Oregon Convention Center at 3 p.m. He's the author of several books on evolution and also wrote The God Delusion, which I'd read a year or so ago. There'd been some discussion about evolution on a Delphi forum I visit in which reference was made to another of his books, The Blind Watchmaker. I got that last weekend. I decided not to pass up an opportunity to see and hear Richard Dawkins in person.

In order to see him, it was necessary to buy a ticket for $22, which also included a copy of his new book The Greatest Show on Earth. That's less than the $30 cover price, but more than the $16.50 Amazon sells it for, but of course with Amazon I wouldn't see and hear him and the book wouldn't be signed. I couldn't buy a ticket online and when I called it was suggested I get a ticket soon because there had been quite a few calls about his appearance. So I got down to the Convention Center just before 11.

There were still tickets, and there was plenty of time to wander around and see all the booths. Shortly after noon I stopped by a talk being given by Scott Westerfeld, who has a new book, a steampunk novel called Leviathan. It's an alternate history set in 1914 at the beginning of World War I. In his world, Darwin discovered DNA and scientists began making all types of weird animals, some of which were used for military purpose. The "Darwinists" as they were known, developed their war beasts in England, France and Russia. The Central Powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey, developed war machines using mechanics, except their machines were very different from what was developed in the world we all know. The Leviathan of the title is a huge 1,000-foot-long sperm whale that creates hydrogen and is used as a huge airship. I was interested enough to buy the book and get it signed.

There was an online comic strip artist, David Malki, who uses bits of illustrations from Victorian-era publications to make his strip. His website is It's strange, but in a good way. He also had a few bumper stickers. One in particular I had to get: "I was an honor student. I don't know what happened." (I was and I don't.)

After an overpriced lunch - I didn't quite have enough time to leave the center to go to a nearby place for lunch - I got in line fairly early for the Richard Dawkins event. Some of the time was spent reading a bit of Leviathan. The doors were supposed to open at 2:30, but that got pushed back as Richard was still busily signing books. I was able to get a seat in the second row on the aisle so I could get some pictures. There was a bit more delay since there were so many people. They ended up opening up more space by sliding a movable wall at the back and getting more chairs. Richard even carried a chair from the stage to the back for someone to use. I suppose it was the Richard Dawkins Chair in Evolutionary Studies.

Eventually things got underway with readings from The Greatest Show on Earth, a book which Dawkins describes as a "missing link" because while his previous books on evolution explained the theory, this one presents the evidence about why evolution is fact. The readings were from various parts of the book, even including the last chapter. He read an interesting and humorous anecdote about the famous neo-Darwinist J. B. S. Haldane who was once confronted by a woman after one of his lectures. She doubted that evolution could have created a human being with all it's complicated structure, trillions of cells, miles of blood vessels and nerves, etc. from a single cell. Haldane replied, "Madam, you did it yourself in nine months."

After his reading, Dawkins answered about a dozen questions. A few were about The God Delusion, then he gently reminded us he was here to promote his latest book. After that, there was an opportunity for people who hadn't had their copies of The Greatest Show on Earth signed to get them signed, along with copies of his other books. I should've brought the copies I have. But I did go up to him and say I'd always thought evolution made sense and thanked him for providing me with good material to work with if I get into conversations with people who don't want to accept it as fact.

It was an interesting day in which Darwin, the Victorian era, evolution and steampunk fiction all mixed in. Even before I found out about Wordstock and Dawkins, there was a hint of things to come when I listened to Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac before I looked up Sarah Vowell's book. He said (and this is from the website):

It was on this day in 1881 that Charles Darwin published what he considered to be his most important book: The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms. At the time, most people thought of earthworms as pests, but Darwin demonstrated that they were beneficial, important for soil fertility and consequently for agriculture.

Darwin had published The Origin of Species in 1859, but he thought that this work was more important — and in fact, during his lifetime it sold much better than The Origin of Species, more than 6,000 copies its first year.

The Disappearing Post

Maybe my blog is haunted. I really thought I had posted yesterday (Friday) but there's no entry. Maybe somehow I went through all the steps but somehow managed to not hit the Publish Post button, but I thought I'd looked at the blog afterward. This means next month I'll have to really double check everything to make sure there's an entry for every day, and the time to start double checking everything is now.

Anyway, page 4 of "Sundancer" is sort of longish for one part, but I couldn't find a good place to break it around the middle.

Also, I went to Wordstock, a book fair at the Oregon Convention Center, to see Richard Dawkins. I'll be posting about that right after I get this posted and check that this entry really did post.

Sorry, but I've deleted most of this post because I'm interested in publishing "Sundancer" electronically and offering it for sale.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sundancer - Page 3B

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sundancer - Page 3A

Sorry, but I've deleted this post because I'm interested in publishing this story electronically and offering it for sale.