Friday, September 10, 2010

Computer Brain Transplant with Linux

Last April I became a volunteer at Free Geek in Portland, Oregon by signing up for their Build program. In a series of four-hour shifts, volunteers go through several stages: Hardware Identification (which is only 2 1/2 hours), System Evaluation, and Build.

Hardware ID is pretty simple and teaches volunteers to recognize various computer parts, especially memory. In System Evaluation, volunteers pick newly-donated computers from a stack, then, following a series of flow charts, check out whether the computer will be sent to recycling or whether it will be saved to be refurbished. The refurbished computers then are either donated to schools and/or non-profits, sold in the Free Geek Thrift Store, or given to volunteers in either the Adoption or Build programs.

In the Build program, volunteers assemble five computers and get to build a sixth computer which they can keep. Building isn't all that complicated. It's not like starting from scratch because one starts with a computer that has no hard drive or memory and which may not have the right CD/DVD drive. Builders just follow a series of steps to add memory, add a drive, swap the CD/DVD if necessary, and test things along the way. The work gets checked out at the end by one of the staff assistants. Later, another volunteer does a quality control check on computers built by another volunteer. Quality control actually a volunteers first task in the Build area, and after QC'ing a few systems, the volunteer then moves on to build machines.

Soon after I started volunteering, I took advantage of the volunteer discount in the Thrift Store to get a system. Of course, it's several years old, so it's hardly cutting edge, but I was getting concerned that my refurbished HP machine I'd bought from Frys about five years ago could start having problems. The one I bought from the Thrift Store was about on the same level as the HP although it had a bigger drive - 300 GB instead of 160 GB - and more memory - 2 GB instead of the 1.5 GB (about the only thing I'd done with the HP was to upgrade memory from 512 MB).

Last Thursday was the day I built my take-home computer. I went into the warehouse part of Free Geek and looked around for a computer in the Freek Box area. I found an HP Pavilion a1473w Mediacenter machine, which was introduced by HP about 16 months after the one I'd gotten from Frys. Specifications only allowed me to install 512 MB of memory and the hard drive was limited to 80 GB, but it was a SATA drive. I should've gone to the Thrift Store to get 2 GB of memory and test it, but it was late in the shift and I had an errand to run afterward. But I did get signed off on the machine and took it home.

I got more memory the next day, but they didn't have two maching 1 GB sticks. When I put them in, the new-to-me machine would only recognize one of them no matter what combination I tried. Both sticks worked, just not together.

The next thing I tried was installing an ATI video card with outputs for DVI and HDMI that I'd gotten for the older machine but which hadn't worked. But it did work in the new machine and I hooked it up to my monitor using DVI. It was very nice to finally get use out of the video card.

All the hard drives installed in the Build program already have Linux installed on them. Free Geek is now using Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx, a distribution that will be supported for three years from April 2010. Nothing special has to be done when a hard drive with Linux already on it is put in a machine. Just install it, plug it in, turn on the machine and it'll boot into Linux. It's very simple. If it were Windows, it would be another matter. Windows checks hardware and if it's not the original motherboard that particular copy of the Windows OS was installed on, it won't work without going through some complicated software fixes and even then it could still fail.

I got to thinking it would be better if my already set up Linux Mint 9 Isadora I'd put in the machine I'd bought in April was in the newer machine I'd built. I also thought it would be worth a try to see if the memory sticks from the older one would work in the newer one. If that were the case, I'd have the best components combined into one machine.

First I swapped the memory. The two matched sticks from the older machine worked just fine in the newer machine. When I put the sticks I'd bought last week into the older machine, I was pleasantly surprised to see that machine recognized both sticks, so I have 2 GB in each machine, the maximum I can put in them.

Next I swapped the hard drives. Fortunately both machines have SATA hard drives. The switch was simple. The newer machine booted up off the 300 GB drive and the only difference I noticed was the Linux Mint boot screen only shows the five dots that change from white to green as the system loads. The dots are bigger than they were before and I don't see the Linux Mint logo. That concerned me the first time, but the boot was successful and everything else looks and works fine.

One thing I haven't done yet is swap the CD/DVD drives. The machine I bought in April has a drive that will write both CDs and DVDs. The one I built could only have one that will read and write CDs and only read DVDs. I expect zero problems with the swap.

I've really gotten to like Linux since first putting it on the older HP machine last October. That machine can be booted into either Linux or Windows XP. Everything else is Linux. Linux is not only free, it's a lot easier to deal with when moving components around.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Faerieworlds: 5 Days, 0 Drama

One thing that's struck me about Faerieworlds is how nice it can be to be in the presence of a large number of people gathered together to share the experience of an event like Faerieworlds. From late Thursday morning until Monday afternoon, my main focus was Faerieworlds and having a good time there.

I traveled to and from Faerieworlds with Jason, a friend from's Circle of Merry Folk. He lives in LA but wants to move to Portland, so he flew up a week early. We got together a couple of times, one of which was for the purpose of checking out a few apartment possibilities. I picked him up in the city at noon on Thursday and we headed down to Eugene where I'd booked a room at the Motel 6 just a few miles from Faerieworlds. We went to the screening of Mythic Journeys on Thursday evening at the Red Lion Inn where Brian and Wendy Froud were there along with Steven and Whitney Boe, the directors, writers and producers of the film.

Jason and I pretty much agree on the idea of making plans and trying to stick to them. We agreed to be at the Faerieworlds gate at 7 a.m. Friday morning. We left the motel right at 6:45 for the 10-minute drive. Along the way I thanked him for getting up so early so we could get there and I noted that it was the last thing we had to schedule together. His flight back to LA on Monday wasn't until late in the day, so we had plenty of time as all we had to really be aware of was being out of the festival site by noon.

From both adults and kids during the whole time I saw very little unhappy behavior aside from the occasional flash. I'm not a kid person, but I thought the kids were much better behaved at Faerieworlds than I'm used to seeing in the more mundane world. Everyone wanted to have a great time and I'd say the folks I saw succeeded. I sure did.

I'm starting to upload photos to my Flickr Faerieworlds 2010 set. As I write this, there's a few pictures of my steampunk hat I wore on Saturday, Bad Faeries Day, a few from the Frouds' book signing at Powell's on Wednesday, the film screening on Thursday, and a couple of photos another photographer took using my camera early on Friday. Unfortunately I didn't get similar pictures on Saturday but I've been looking for other photos showing me on Saturday both on Flickr and elsewhere. I'm sure the faeries will eventually lead me to some since during the festival I was stopped often by other folks who asked to take my picture and I know of others who just snapped as I went by or was posing for others. While it was nice of those who asked for pictures, I didn't mind a bit if others just got candid shots of me. One reason I didn't get a picture or two on my own camera of me on Saturday was that I was reluctant to ask anyone because getting the hat off then getting the camera off without dropping the hat was a bit involving. Since nobody offered, I didn't want to put anyone out.

One thing I did discover during camping at Faerieworlds: my days of using a tent I can't stand up in along with an air mattress on the ground are over. Next year I'll either try to scrape up money for a motel (the Motel 6 only 10 minutes away is a good possibility) or some sort of screen house or canopy with sidewalls, either being big enough to accommodate a cot for the air mattress. All the bending and stooping was uncomfortable, but it was a temporary inconvenience and didn't diminish my overall enjoyment.

I was extremely glad I remembered to pack earplugs. I expected things in the inner circle camping area to be a little noisier than I'd experienced last year in the outer grove area and it was, but inner circle meant far less walking. Jason and I were probably 100 feet from one of the gates between camping and the Realm itself and that gate was very close to the main stage. The earplugs bore the very appropriate brand name of Hearos.

So there's a few impressions of my best weekend of the year. I really haven't said a whole lot about the music, food and vendors, but as I get the photos up, I'll probably have more to say about that.

As I get back into the more mundane everyday existence, I'm finding I'm not so eager to get back to the political forums I visit on Delphi. I guess I'm just not ready yet to deal with what is often a lot of negative energy. Also, while I've usually watched Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on weeknights, I didn't tune in last night or tonight.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Faerieworlds 2010 Summer Celebration

I'm back from Faerieworlds and the weekend exceeded my expectations, if that's possible. I gave a ride to the festival to Jason, who attended his first Faerieworlds, and first festival of any kind last year. He's disabled with a bad leg so it's a little tough for him to get around, but he said he did more walking during the festival and the week before checking out Portland - he hopes to move here from LA - than he'd done in the previous six months. We went down on Thursday to see the film Mythic Journeys and met a few new folks there that we saw at the festival, including a couple from Hawaii.

On Friday, Good Faeries Day, we got there early to set up camp, then hung out until the festival opened at 2. With the new setup, we were very close to one of the two gates from the inner circle camping to the Realm, which cut down on walking a lot. The main stage was close to that gate as well. The costumes on other people were fantastic. My wizard hat got a lot of compliments and I kept getting stopped by people wanting a picture. Good thing I was in no hurry to go anywhere. The music was great and the set by Tricky Pixie was the best I've ever seen them do. Alec, a member of that band who I'm acquainted with, later told me things really came together to make for a powerful, high energy set. The audience was certainly enthusiastic, but then, they usually are at Faerieworlds.

Saturday was Bad Faeries Day. Instead of Friday's grey robe, I wore a black robe with silver leaf trim that I'd gotten last year. Instead of the wizard hat with all the good little faeries (six of them) and about 15 butterflies (faeries in disguise), I wore the top hat with the four clocks, Slinky Jr., miscellaneous gears, sundial and sextant. Again I was stopped frequently whenever I walked around. Folks were amazed to discover the clocks all worked and were set to four different time zones. It was a heavy hat, so when I wasn't walking around I usually held it or set it in Jason's chair if he was off somewhere. Each day we had good seats right next to the sound booth. I did my best to see at least some of all the main stage acts. There was another stage, newly christened the Neverworlds Stage, at the far end of the Realm by the food vendors, but I didn't make it down there very much, which is kind of too bad since one of my Circle of Merry Folk friends was stage manager.

Early in the day on Saturday I changed back to the wizard hat to go to a workshop called Connecting with Your Faerie Guides. It seemed only appropriate to have my little faerie friends along. Then I changed back to the clocked hat but kept the wizard hat with me because there was a costume contest soon after. I held the wizard hat up by grabbing the styrofoam cone that sits on my head and keeps the hat from flopping over. At the costume contest they had a kids' division and an adults' division. There were three categories for each with rather silly names. The one I remember is "Most Mythological." One reason I remember that is because I won in that category. I think having both hats helped, and my rather crooked and decorated staff added to the overall look. My prize was a poster of Brian Froud's "The Magician," which is one of the cards in one of his two oracle decks. It can be seen on this page - scroll down to the sixth print. The music was the best of the festival since Saturday is the biggest day. Faun from Germany and Woodland, the band featuring Emilio and Kelly Miller-Lopez, two of the Faerieworlds producers, did powerful sets. On both nights there were very nice lighting effects adding to the magic.

Sunday was Family Day. I wore the wizard hat and grey robe again. The faeries on the hat were glad to be back in the Realm. They weren't too happy initially about staying in the tent most of Saturday, but they overheard when someone on the stage said, "Bad faeries kick good faeries butts!" Since my little friends, both faeries pretending to be figurines and the butterflies are all good faeries, they didn't mind being in a safe place. Sunday is the short day, but there's still lots of great music, lots of activity, and of course the vendors, of which Faerieworlds has about 200. I was wearing a very nice T shirt with butterflies all over the front and back which I'd gotten from Alec of Tricky Pixie. His wife Kore (pronounced like Corey) had brought a few things along from an estate and wanted to get them sold instead of carting them back home. I asked her how much it cost, expecting to hear as much as $20, which I would have paid because it's so nice and goes with the wizard hat so well. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted when she said, "A buck." Also needless to say, I couldn't get my wallet out fast enough.

Performances ended at around 8:30 Sunday night with a wonderful group, Stellamara, doing the last set of the day. A lot of their music is based on Middle Eastern and Eastern European traditions, although they closed with the American tune "The Cuckoo," which is an old song that came across the Atlantic with early settlers who moved to the Appalachians. It was all over too soon, it seemed, after so much anticipation starting with the end of Faerieworlds 2009.

One interesting thing that happened was when I was approached by Robert Gould, the third member of the producer team early on Saturday. I'd been posting a lot of answers to questions people had been posting of the Faerieworlds pages on Facebook and Many of them were related to camping, which I'd done last year, plus some general questions. I only answered, based on my prior experience, when I was sure of my information. I figured, quite correctly, the Faerieworlds staff had their hands full with last minute preparations, especially since Woodland had done a short tour in England a little over a month before Faerieworlds. Robert thanked me for the help I'd given folks and asked if I'd be interested in making it a more formal arrangement where I'd get more behind the scenes information so I could post more informatively and authoritatively. (Several times in my posts I'd included disclaimers that I was not on staff but just an interested participant sharing my experience.) Robert also shared some of the vision for future Faerieworlds events and other events, some of which might take place at the Mount Pisgah Arboretum. One idea was for a Harvest Festival in October. Emilio later mentioned that from the stage, but there were almost no specifics, so I'm not sure if it'll happen this year. But with the installation of a Stone Circle between the main gate and the main stage, it appears that the folks at Lane County Parks & Recreation, which run the area the festival is held in, are liking what they're seeing with Faerieworlds. Robert also mentioned seeing if vendors might go for the idea of having double-decker booths so people could use the upper level to watch performances on the main stage.

Later I mentioned that idea to the folks running Oberon's Three-Penny Tavern, an alehouse much like those at Renaissance Faires. I'd gone for a beer soon after things opened on Saturday, early enough that the Oberon's staff started a short meeting/pep session soon after I sat down at a shady table away from the bar. They said I was welcome to stay, and it was interesting to see a bit "behind the curtain." The guy in charge mentioned the roof over the tavern was strong enough to hold a person, something I'd seen early on Friday as I walked through before the gates opened. They liked Robert's idea, and I suggested maybe they could wangle a location for the tavern that would give a better view of the main stage, since Oberon's was off to the side and a few booths down from the stage.

Campers were allowed to stay over on Sunday night, which I was glad to do because I'm usually kind of wiped out by the end of the event. The inner circle was similar in some ways to last year's party camp. There was a fire pit in the middle of the area. There was no fire Friday night, but there were fires the next two nights. Several drummers gathered around and drummed pretty much nonstop until dawn. Also, I'd learned Thursday night that Jason is a world-class snorer. There's a brand of earplugs named "Hearos" and believe me, they are well-named. They blocked out the snoring from Jason, about ten feet away in the tent I'd used for many years at Old Songs back East. A bit more of the drumming leaked through, however, but I did my best to ignore it. But I still found myself awake with only a few hours of real sleep followed by just lying still for quite a bit.

This morning, Monday, August 2nd, I checked out the tent window at dawn to see if there was any ground fog, since today is Ground Fog Day. I didn't see any, so it looks like there will be six or seven weeks more of Summer. Conditions for ground fog were pretty close, though, with no clouds overnight, unlike Friday and Saturday nights, and very low temperatures. The dew was heavy, though, so I was in no hurry to take the tents down too quickly. We didn't rush and were still out by 10:30. Along with a stop for gas and one for food at Carl's Jr. in Eugene, we were finally on the non-stop leg of the trip up I-5 and then I-205 to the airport, where I dropped Jason off. Strangely enough, although I've lived here for ten years, it's the first time I've done that.

As of now, I still need to empty the car, which includes retrieving the USB cable to connect the camera to the computer. No, scratch that. I have a separate card reader attached to the computer. The last time I tried putting in an SD card it wouldn't read it, but this time it is. Cool. The car can wait until it gets a little cooler outside (while the cooler in the car gets warmer, but that's OK). Yikes! 529 items! I've got some serious sorting to do! I'll share some pictures here and more on Facebook and Tribe. Also, I'll be updating my Squidoo lens, Faerieworlds Summer Celebration.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Trimming the Robe

After I got my new wizard robe yesterday (Thursday) I went out to the local Fabric Depot store and looked at trims. I didn't buy any then. Back home, I looked up a few other fabric stores in the Portland area. Today I visited three of them, then went to Fabric Depot which was on the way home. There wasn't much that inspired me at the first three, and once again I just wasn't inspired enough by Fabric Depot's selection although it has by far the most extensive choices.

Just a few minutes ago after doing a Google search for "renaissance trim" I found the Calontir Trim website. It's run by Steve Boyd, who says he's a Latin teacher during the week and he's involved with SCA on weekends. He's got a very extensive selection that can be searched in several different ways. After looking around a bit, I decided on a silver metallic trim called Saxon Knot.

I ordered 11 yards, which will go on the hood, the front, the bottom, around the sleeve ends and from the neck down each sleeve.

I think it'll look pretty nice once it's applied. This is something I'm getting good at since I've added trim to two vests for my Renaissance and pirate outfits and also to the black wizard robe I got last year.

Shipping on the trim should be no hassle at all. It's by mail, so one day it'll just show up in my mailbox. It'll be sent from Fayetteville, Arkansas. It should come reasonably soon, although since it's Friday evening, I'll assume he's off to an event over the weekend. But I've got plenty of time.

Normally I check out more than one place online, but after looking at trim in several shops, I could see Calontir's prices are reasonable. The Saxon Knot trim is only $2.00 a yard. So it really didn't seem worthwhile to go looking all over.

For only the second time I've used PayPal to pay for something ordered online. It seemed the way to go since Boyd offers that method and I've got a couple of months worth of Squidoo payments in my account.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No Faerie Mischief This Time

I'd been wanting to get a new wizard robe for some time. The first one was OK, but fairly cheap. I added some trim to it last year, but the results weren't great. An Internet search for "wizard robes" led me a couple of months ago to a site called Garb the World. I liked what I saw there. Mostly they do custom orders, but they also have some items in stock, although the selection can be limited.

One thing they had in stock was a grey wizard robe with a hood. It looked fairly basic, yet more substantial than the one I have. I don't really need a hood, but the price was right and it gives me an option. I recall when I looked a while ago they mentioned they had one robe that had an antique clasp and the first person who requested it would get it. I figured it was most likely spoken for. At that time, though, I didn't place an order.

This past Monday morning I decided to take another look into getting a robe and went back to the Garb the World site. The grey robe was still listed as in stock and on sale (same price as last time, even) and the offer of the one with the clasp was still there. So I figured it was time to place the order, and just in case, I'd request the clasp. I had intended to have it shipped by USPS, but also checked the cost for UPS. UPS was four bucks cheaper, so I figured I'd choose it. I've had reasonably good luck with UPS as long as I can be home when they arrive.

I placed the order around 10:30 Monday morning and got a confirmation email about three hours later. Then, somewhat to my surprise, I got a notification and tracking number from UPS at around 3 p.m. Following that up, I saw it didn't mean the robe had been picked up yet, but still, it was very promising. Delivery was scheduled for today (Thursday).

On Tuesday I saw by way of UPS's tracking site that the package was on its way, leaving Baldwin Park outside Los Angeles late Monday night. It arrived in Portland Wednesday morning. Today I expected to see on the UPS site that it was out for delivery, but that notification never appeared. I didn't know what to think, but I was strongly suspecting something was amiss. Given my experience a few days ago with the Amazon order, who could blame me.

Often in past UPS deliveries, packages have arrived around 2:30, which had sometimes caused problems when I was working. One time I had almost given up receiving a couple of CDs after some attempts at delivery, but then one day they showed up. This time 2:30 came and went, and the "out for delivery" notification on the web site still never showed.

I was pretty much resigned to having to spend another day waiting and hoping, when right at 5 o'clock there was a knock on the door and as I approached, I heard, "UPS."

Huzzah! I signed for the package, got it opened and saw that I'd even gotten the robe with the clasp. Perhaps the faeries had decided I deserved a break this time. It looks good as is, although I really think I should try to lose a little weight so the front falls a bit better. (Incentive!) Also, I probably should have gone for the next larger size since it's just a little tight across the shoulders. That surprised me because the black robe I'd gotten in Newport from a little shop near the aquarium had been marked "small" yet it fit me fine. Even the woman who'd made it was surprised.

Next I'll head over to the Fabric Depot after doing a bit of measuring to see what they've got for trim. I could've gotten a robe already trimmed, but being on a tight budget I figured I could do the trim myself. Besides, it makes it more "mine" than something straight out of a vendor's stock.

This was the first time I've ordered from Garb the World, but I'd certainly recommend them. If ordering something that's in stock, it looks like it will be on its way pretty rapidly.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Lesson from the Faeries?

In early May I wanted to order a couple of computer things to go with Rhiannon, my "newest" computer. I put that word in quotes because she's a refurbished computer from Free Geek here in Portland where I've been doing some volunteer work aimed at refreshing my computer-building and getting a free computer after going through their build program and putting together five machines for their use. I get the sixth one.

I wanted to get things quickly. After looking online, my best bet looked like using They offered a 30-day trial membership in their Prime program, which includes free two-day shipping. I placed my order and had the stuff on time. The plan was to cancel Prime before the 30 days were up, which was yesterday.

With the end of the trial approaching, I decided to get some items by Brian Froud. I've got a fair number of his books that I've bought since deciding to go to Faerieworlds in 2006. I decided to get The Runes of Elfland, which is written by Ari Berk and illustrated by Froud.  I was also interested in The Heart of Faerie Oracle written by Wendy Froud and illustrated by Brian. Then I decided to add The Faeries' Oracle, written by Jessica Macbeth and illustrated by Brian. Each of the latter two are books that accompany oracle decks, similar to tarot decks.

I placed the order late Wednesday night, hoping for a Friday delivery. Initially the order appeared scheduled for a Saturday delivery by a shipping company called OnTrac. I'd never heard of them, but upon looking into it, I found out Amazon has been using them for about a half-dozen states in the West.

On Thursday I began tracking the progress of the package. Amazon has a distribution place near Reno, Nevada (Sparks, I think). The package got to OnTrac's facility in Reno that morning. Later that day, or early Friday morning I noticed the arrival was scheduled for Friday by 5:00 p.m. So much the better, although from what I'd read, I wasn't holding my breath for that time because some people writing at The Consumerist website had said things had been delivered later on the day promised.

5 o'clock came and there was no package. I figured there would either be a knock on my door or I'd hear it being dropped off outside the door. I still expected it would arrive at some point that evening.

I kept checking the tracking page at the OnTrac website. Finally, around 8 o'clock, I saw something unexpected. The site claimed the package had been delivered in good condition at 7:36 p.m. I hadn't heard anything and I wasn't playing any music or watching any videos, just reading stuff online. Usually I hear someone coming up the stairs and I hadn't. But I checked anyway, of course.

No package. I checked downstairs but there was nothing there either. So I called OnTrac and told them about the non-delivery that was at odds with what their page said. The person I spoke with said she'd try to check with the driver and would call back. She did not too long after, but really only to tell me they'd have to check on Saturday morning and would get back to me Saturday.

I went out and checked with the apartment complex manager. She said she hadn't seen any delivery people. My window overlooks a parking lot where many delivery trucks come, and I hadn't seen anything either.

I called Amazon, or rather, I went to their help page and chose "Phone" and exercised the option to have them call me, which they did within a minute or two. I let the person know what the problem was and that I'd called OnTrac. I was advised that since it was getting late, there wouldn't be much they could do and I should see what happened on Saturday.

What happened Saturday was nothing. OnTrac never called. By the end of the day I was very displeased with them.

On Sunday morning I got back in touch with Amazon to let them know about OnTrac not calling. The person I spoke with said Amazon would check with OnTrac on Monday morning and if the package was lost, they'd arrange to get it sent again promptly.

Around 2:30 today (Sunday) I was in my bedroom to change the bed. I heard the door downstairs open and very quick footfalls sounded on the stairs, followed by a THUMP! which was right outside the door, then the sound of a quick retreat downstairs. I looked and saw someone looking like a delivery person headed toward the back of the parking lot and most likely a vehicle in the back lot around the end of the building where there's access to the street that's in my address. I park in another lot that leads off the intersecting street.

Sure enough, it was the package from Amazon. I don't know it the delivery guy just wanted to avoid a confrontation over the late delivery and phony delivery time on the website or whether he just had to keep moving to fulfill other late deliveries.  Probably the latter. But just over 45 hours after the promised delivery time, the faeries had arrived.

I checked the package to be sure the contents were in good condition just as OnTrac had claimed. They were. Then I contacted Amazon again to let them know the package, while quite late, had arrived. I mentioned that if it had truly been lost I probably would have been just as well off, delivery-wise, by simply choosing the SuperSaver option. That's true, since it probably would have been Tuesday before a replacement would have been delivered. I've noticed when Amazon ships out of Nevada, a package will often get here in no more than four or five days even through the US mail.

It wasn't essential that what I ordered get here any quicker than SuperSaver would have gotten it to me. I just figured I'd use the Prime trial offer once more. One thing I learned was that having stuff shipped by OnTrac could mean disappointment. Another thing I realized was that if stuff is shipped by a means other than the USPS, it's best if I'm home when it arrives. That means not going out until then. Sure, the delivery person might just drop it by my apartment door, but there's always the slight chance someone might notice and help themselves. I've never lost anything that way, though.

It's rare that I'd really need anything ordered from Amazon or anywhere else very quickly. Mostly I can wait a few days. It's just that sometimes when I do order something, I'd like to start reading/using it sooner rather than later. But the USPS is, for me, the best way because items get put in a locked box below my small mailbox if it won't fit, or I'd get a notice to pick it up at the post office if it were too big for that, or the mail person might even walk it to my door and knock.

I have to say I don't have a literal belief in faeries, although the more I read about them the more I'm intrigued. I certainly like the idea of faeries and other denizens of their realm. There's a rich mythology that has developed about faeries, pixies, gnomes, goblins, etc. It's all rooted in the land my ancestors came from: England, Scotland, and probably if I could trace the Scottish half of my ancestry far enough back, Ireland. For me it goes very nicely together with my interest in Celtic music and English folk music.

Brian Froud is an excellent artist who has given life to the inhabitants of the Realm of Faerie through his drawings and paintings. I've taken a look at each of the cards in both oracle decks. They're quite wonderful. Many of the images are from his other books, but at least as many are different. So many of his artworks feature not only a main character but a whole host of others who live in the Realm. Sometimes looking closely without being in a hurry reveals more faeries, pixies, etc. than first seen. I'm looking forward to exploring the books and decks further, and when it's time for Faerieworlds, they'll be going along with me to be signed.

So this whole episode may have just been yet another time when ordinary things took a slightly unexpected turn involving a bit of aggravation. I've sometimes said if I have a guardian angel (and I don't believe in angels!) then his name is Murphy. Or maybe, like Spider Robinson has said, there's a guardian idiot. This sort of thing seems to happen often enough in my life that I almost expect it.

Or maybe some pixie just decided to play a little prank. Yes, things didn't work out as well as they should have. But then, today, when I was expecting to have to wait at least another day, probably two, to get the package and I wasn't expecting anything further to develop for the rest of the day, suddenly there's hurried footsteps, a THUMP, more hurried footsteps, and everything's back to normal. Well, normal for me anyway. Pixies can be like that, or so I've read. Things get messed up, but in the end, there's no real damage done.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Road to Strathgarry House

I've been watching a BBC Four series from a few years ago called The Transatlantic Sessions. It features Celtic and country musicians from the UK, Ireland and the US performing in an intimate setting with just the musicians, the BBC crew and the recording equipment. It features Aly Bain, a great Scottish fiddler, and Jerry Douglas, an American dobro player, along with other performers such as Phil Cunningham, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky, Julie Fowlis, Cara Dillon, Michael McGoldrick and more. It's wonderful stuff.

The show always opens with scenes of the surrounding area showing lakes, streams, rivers, bridges, etc. It's very scenice. I found out it was filmed at a place in Killiecrankie, Scotland. That's a little village north of Dunkeld, which is north of Perth, which in turn is north of Edinburgh. More specifically, it takes place at Strathgarry House.

I decided to track that down on Google and found some listings for "strathgarry house killiecrankie". One site had a Google Maps view, although I didn't look that up right away. Instead I decided to use Google Maps' Street View to take a little trip.

I started out in Perth, where I clicked on the little orange person and dragged it onto a road in town, then switched to Street View. I wasn't all that familiar with Street View, having used it only occasionally, so it was a while before I realized I could get a full-screen view. I have a large monitor - it's really a 32" flat screen TV - so the view is really nice.

It's a great way to travel to someplace I'll most likely never get to visit in person. The views are limited to what the Google car crew recorded on roads they covered, but they really covered quite a lot. It's not the quickest way to "drive." Killiecrankie is about 30 miles outside of Perth. By using the up arrow to advance the view, it took me about two hours to advance to the town. At that point I hadn't narrowed down the exact location, and since it was getting late last night when I did that part of the tour, I settled for getting to the town.

This morning I watched another episode of The Transatlantic Sessions and paid special attention to the intro, which I ran a few times before going on to the program. Then I did the Google search I mentioned earlier. I went to the point in Google Street View that's on a one-lane road that goes past Strathgarry House, then I "drove" back down the road and over the bridge into Killiecrankie where I recognized places I'd seen last night.

Much of the architecture in Perth and the countryside is distinctive, of course, but there were many modern places that looked not all that different from stuff you see here in the US. Even some of the companies are the same, or almost the same. TJ Maxx in the US is TK Maxx in the UK, but there's the familiar golden arches of McDonald's and I spotted a house for sale with a ReMax sign in front.

The countryside reminds me quite a bit of northern New England and upstate New York. The major road, the A9, is sometimes two lanes and sometimes a dual carriageway. I discovered part of the way through that I could switch the side of the road I was seeing. A lot of the way I was actually traveling backwards up the right side of the road because I'd figured the car only made one pass. When I found out I was wrong, I was not only switching sides of the road but also seasons. In one direction it was the middle of Summer, in another it was late Autumn with cloudier, occasionally rainy weather. After leaving the A9 to go through Killiecrankie, the season was Autumn.

A few days ago I'd taken a shorter trip from Kyle of Lochalsh across the Skye Bridge into Kyleakin. I think I'll be going back there to explore more of the Isle of Skye.

It's not perfect, of course. I don't get to visit museums, distilleries, B&Bs, etc. but I can at least view the countryside, stopping at any point to pan around in a circle. Also, I don't need a passport and I don't have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for the trip.