Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lichens on Plum Bark

I was looking for some color last week, one grey February afternoon. The wild plum bushes out at the end of the ridge kindly obliged.

Friday, February 20, 2009

High-Tech Misery

Last week, I bought a new computer keyboard for my Mac Mini. The one I'd been using was seven years old with keys producing letters part-time only. As it happens, I have a stockpile of my favorite ergonomic keyboards, two rescued from the trash, the third (at which I type this) still working like new after 11 years. Unfortunately, my old favorites have PS/2 connectors, and the Mac requires a USB connector. My usual online computer stores had so many different keyboards at so many different prices I couldn't make a decision, so instead I made a trip to Wal-Mart, and bought one off the shelf. Problem solved.

The next day, via /. (Slashdot), I found an article from The National Labor Committee, entitled High Tech Misery in China: The Dehumanization of Young Workers Producing Our Computer Keyboards. I knew wages, hours, and conditions were bad in Chinese factories, but this report describes something worse than prison labor. Sadly, the young women ruining their health making keyboards are glad to be working, given the many factory closings in other industries.

Here's the "forward" to the article, contrasting my pleasure in a new, smooth-functioning keyboard with the misery of the young woman who assembled it.

"I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tools we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, and they can be shaped by their user....The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow."

--Bill Gates

"We feel like we are serving prison sentences."

--Meitai factory worker making Microsoft keyboards

Monday, February 16, 2009

Etch to Lenny, Without Much of a Hitch

Yesterday I decided to take the plunge, upgrading my Debian Linux machine from Etch (old stable) to Lenny (new stable.) All reports said this would go seamlessly, and that I would be delighted with the new and improved versions of all my software favorites. My past transitions (from Woody to Sarge, from Sarge to Etch) resulted in complete upgrade failure, requiring that I install from scratch and retrieve my precious data from my prudent backup locations. (I'm careful, but I always loose something, and it's time-consuming to copy all those backed-up data files.)

This time, cutting edge Debian users promised, everything would work! Of course, I made sure my data were backed up, then I edited my /etc/apt/sources.list, replacing "etch" with "lenny," and told my machine (ladymacbeth), aptitude update and aptitude dist-upgrade and waited for the fun to commence.

Unfortunately, the downloading of new packages got slower and slower....hours passed as the files crawled in at 12 kB per second. "Hmmm..." I told myself. "The Debian servers must be very busy, the day after the new release." At five this morning, the upgrade had failed, with half the files still not downloaded. I called my ISP (my unhelpful phone company), and, to my surprise found a helpful and pleasant fellow who told me about their server failures, and gave me an estimated time when I could expect the return of connectivity.

Promptly at 8 AM, I restarted the download, with speeds approaching 400 kB per second. I must have been the only user sucking down bandwidth. It's back to a more stately 130 kB per second this evening.

Anticlimactically, I was able to finish the download and installation, and I've got a new, improved operating system, with all my old settings, preferences, and data. So, although the Debian installation process worked as promised, fate, in the guise of my service provider, provided the hitch installation did not come off without.

One problem with Etch AMD64 was its lack of flash plugins. While I had a workaround solution, it worked erratically, if at all. Lenny lets you run a flash plugin (if the non-free nature of it doesn't offend your open source sensibilities.) The instructions are posted at Download Page for flashplugin-nonfree_2.5_amd64.deb on AMD64 machines. It totally works!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

To My True Valentine, 1911

"To My True Valentine," postmarked St. Paul, Minn., Feb 13, 1911. "Dear Florence, I received your letter some time ago, and I am going to write to you soon. I have been having lots of fun this winter skating and sledding. Your friend, Elsie C."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Here's To Love

"Here's to Love, The Only Fire Against Which There Is No Insurance." This one's addressed to Miss Florence Williamson, Williamson, Iowa, December 1, 1906. The Williamson post office was probably located in her uncles' store, the chief attraction of Williamson, Iowa. If you Look at the fancy "Post Card" stamp, you can see another postmark. I can read ...1896, MO." It looks as though this postcard was reused, so you see I come from frugal stock.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Abe Lincoln's Birthday, 1909

In 1909, my grandma's friend Elsie sent an Abe Lincoln's Birthday card. Her message (from Des Moines) reads: "How are you? There are many measle sign around here. It snowed here last night. We are going to have a Valentine box on Valentine's Day I think. Your friend, Elsie W."

Sorry, no Charles Darwin postcards in Miss Williamson's album.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Technology and Frustration

Maybe I've been a little punch-drunk lately, spending as much time as I have sitting in the corner, cussing quietly at my Web development projects. In any case, I laughed really hard at this little tech news piece from the Onion News Network: Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of $#!& that doesn't @$**!!ing Work. It's really unsafe for work (profanity and vulgarity), but I love the way it mocks TV news reports on technology.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shades of Red in the Rosaceae

I went outside yesterday afternoon to capture that surprising shade of translucent lavender the raspberry canes show in winter, but I didn't quite get it. I don't know if the dull overcast light quenched it, or if the deer have rubbed the waxy bloom off the thorny stems. I did find handsome dark red canes, and some leaf buds giving their first hints of expansion.

The multiflora rose was also displaying a fine shade of red for those interested in a close look.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Windmill, Iowa, 1970

Iowa windmill picture, 1970

I meant to post this photograph with the wind power links of a few days ago, but I forgot. This is the windmill on our family farm in southwestern Iowa, photographed in 1970 several years after we abandoned the hand-dug well for the livestock's water. I took the picture with my mother's 1952 Exakta 35mm camera, and I developed the negatives and made prints in my basement darkroom. I love my digital Nikon, and the lenses are a dream, but I sure miss the smell of the developer and stop bath, and the magic appearance of an image on a blank photo paper in the dim amber light.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pocahontas History Goes Live

It's got an URL now, and there's something relevant on its index page: Pocahontas County History has gone live on the Web. After all the time I've put into Drupal and the study of archive management arcana, I had hoped to have something more to show for my time. Still, I've got an actual mission statement and some relevant Pocahontas County links, so I guess it beats a "Coming Soon!" page.

If you see typographical errors, factual errors, or can think of a better title for the website, let me know.

The next thing I'll roll out is the Archon database, with its slender but well-organized catalog of Pocahontas County Historical Society archives. (Barring unforeseen disasters, which are common.) After that, Drupal, and then some cool old pictures and local history.

I hesitate to forecast how quickly this will happen because unexpected (but not unwelcome) things have been happening here on the ridge. This project's time line had the content management systems already in place by now.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Red Tailed Hawk at Lunch

We haven't yet worked out how to use the VarmintCam 1000 at night in this weather. The flash on the snow gives an over-exposure every time. We were barely able to recognize the very large bobcat that has been working on this winter-killed deer carcass. The daytime visitors, however, have been quite photogenic. We got about 70 shots of this handsome red-tailed hawk in various poses.

You can't always look dignified at lunch.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Whose Back Yard Should Have It?

Dave Bonta, of Via Negativa has posted an open letter to President Obama from nature writer Chris Bolgiano concerning wind power in Appalachia. Dave has asked readers to pass along the link, (which I just did). Like many people around here, Chris and Dave are concerned about habitat destruction and loss of rare species, and they point out, correctly, that wind turbines and their access roads have negative environmental impact.

Here in West Virginia, we get a good close look at surface coal mines (Imagine calling something "mountain top removal" to improve public relations.), natural gas drilling, and under-inspected fly ash containment ponds, as well as the sort of rural poverty that causes communities to welcome these things for the jobs and money they bring in. I keep files of news clippings on these subjects, but I usually get too depressed by the issues to post them. There's no energy without cost, and weighing those costs is a series of grim tradeoffs.

Chris makes a case for community-scale, rather than industrial-scale, wind power, and I can agree wholeheartedly there. I hope someday to afford my own small windmill, along with some solar panels for our ridge top home. I'm sure most of my neighbors would desire these things too if they were not so pricey. Who wouldn't want to save on electric bills? She's also spot-on concerning the marginal nature of wind power on Appalachia's high ridges--it wouldn't be profitable to build unsubsidized wind farms here.

Still, most natural resource extraction is government subsidized in some way. Chris observes Industrial wind power has a place, and T. Boone Pickens knows exactly where that is: On the plains, where winds are incessant. Other potentially low impact sites are mid-western crop fields, eastern strip mines, and off-shore waters, much closer to the coastal cities that need the power. Unfortunately, the people that live in those places don't find the wind farms "low impact." (Except perhaps on those strip mines where everyone has moved away because there is no more safe drinking water.)

I would like to pass along this Associated Press article from last summer (August 16, 2008) by Helen O'Neill: Windmills split town and families. She describes the coming of wind turbines to New York's Tug Hill Plateau, west of the Adirondacks, far west of the Appalachians, and includes quotes from people who are glad for the windmills and the money they've brought in, as well as people who are heartbroken about what has happened to their homes.

...[F]or all the benefits of clean, renewable energy, the windmills come with a price--and not just the visual impact.

"Is it worth destroying families, pitting neighbor against neighbor, father against son?" asks John Yancey, whose family have farmed Tug Hill for generations. "Is it worth destroying a whole way of life?"

Similar questions are being asked across the state and the country as more and more small towns grapple with big money and big wind....The Maple Ridge project produces enough electricity to power about 100,000 homes. Other wind projects are going up all over the state. Pickens is talking about building a $10 billion wind project -- the world's largest -- in the Texas panhandle. Everyone, it seems, is talking about wind.

Yancey understands its seduction. An electrician, he knows as much about the turbines as anyone. He helped build and install the ones on Tug Hill. He can rattle off statistics about the bus-sized nacelle at the top of the tower which houses the generator and the sophisticated computer system that allows the blades to yaw into the wind. He talks about the 1.65 mw Vestas with authority and respect.

Turbines have their place, Yancey says, just not where people live.

Here are some more links from my e-scrapbook on wind power.

  • Coal River Wind hopes to trade a wind farm along Coal River Mountain for "mountain top removal" by Massey Energy. It's not to late to sign the petition, so click on over.
  • U.S. becomes top wind producer, solar next February 2, 2009--Reuters, via Scientific American. It seems we're Number One already.
  • Greenbrier County's Windmill War (2006). Greenbrier County's projected wind farm has, since this article, moved a little closer to reality, but is still not a done deal.
  • Windmills and Mountaintop Removal: (from West Virginia Highlands Voice, November 10, 2006) Instead of debating the false choice of coal versus wind energy, we would all be better off spending our energy forcing the coal and wind industries to bear all the costs of their operations, including the costs to society. It would be more productive--and more fun--then sniping at each other.
  • Citizens for Responsible Wind Power Their mission statement: The mission of Citizens for Responsible Wind Power is to ensure that industrial wind power complexes do not adversely affect citizens, local communities, and the public. This includes adverse effects or impacts on the local economy, cultural resources, scenic viewsheds, wildlife habitat, public lands, and sensitive natural environments that may result from siting, construction, and operation of such facilities.
  • Wind Farm No Threat to Cape Cod, Report Says--Project Is Deemed Safe for Environment by Derek Kravitz, Washington Post, January 17, 2009. Many people from Martha's Vineyard oppose this offshore wind project, and, despite the Interior Department's approval, it may not go through. (I find the farmers of Tug Hill plateau a lot more sympathetic than the folks on Martha's Vineyard, but perhaps that's just some reverse class-ism on my part. Of course, the Kennedys use more electricity than the Tug Hill Amish farmers....)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Food Stamps, Book Deals, and Prigs

I don't know why I continue to look at stuff like this: CNN Blog: Living on Food Stamps. I get mad when journalists discover what poor people have to do without. Fresh fruits and vegetables? Lean meat? Sushi? We had no idea humans could live without these things! Now, on to the latest fashion trends. Even when someone researches and writes a thoughtful analysis, like Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, the press coverage devolves to "It's no fun being poor--who knew?"

It never occurred to me that these bone-headed "special investigations" were self-serving until I read Thoreau's Worst Nightmare by Michael Agger, who points out that "lifestyle experimentation" authors are striking a pose to get feature articles and book deals. Agger identifies Henry David Thoreau as the granddaddy of this genre:

After 150 years, Walden endures as a monument to frugality, solitude, and sophomore-year backpacking trips. Yet it's Thoreau's ulterior motive that has the most influence today. He was one of the first to use lifestyle experimentation as a means to becoming a published author. Going to live by the pond was a philosophical decision, but it was also something of a gimmick. And if you want to land a book deal, you gotta have a gimmick. Recently, with "green living" having grown into a thriving and profitable trend, the sons and daughters of Thoreau are thick on the ground. Not many retreat to the woods anymore, but there are infinite ways to circumscribe your life: eat only at McDonald's, live biblically, live virtually, spend nothing. Is it still possible to "live deliberately"? What wisdom do we take away from our postmodern cabins?

I read Walden as a teenager, at a time when the "young folks" were heading "back to the land" in a big way, and I felt like the only person in the world who wasn't moved by it. Now I find out I was on the same page as Robert Louis Stevenson.

....every ascetic choice implies a critique of those who aren't following the same path: I am giving up my car, therefore you are a selfish, earth-destroying auto addict. Also, extreme conservation...can turn people off to conserving at all. Thoreau took it on the chin from Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote of him, "So many negative superiorities begin to smack a little of the prig."

It also explains to me how so many bloggers and print authors get under my skin while writing about topics that ought to have my hearty approval--conservation, frugality, and country living come to mind. It's hard to avoid hinting that "If you're not doing it my way, you're naughty, wrong, and bad."

Hannibal blogger Larry Ayers recently referred to Agger's article: On Frugality and Anti-Consumerism. He has some interesting observations and a discussion among his commentors including one in verse by Joan.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fishing for Poetry

It's the The Fourth Annual Bloggers' (Silent) Poetry Reading, thanks to our hostess Reya. I'm a little unclear on whether this is in honor of Brigid the saint or Brigid the goddess of fire and poetry, or both, or just because it's about time for a good poem, but I've got my black turtleneck, my beret, and my demitasse of espresso.

Late winter means John Donne for me, and on this snowy winter afternoon, his piscatoral verse "The Bait" reminds me that they'll be stocking trout very soon. For more on the subject of fishing (and beautiful women), check out Sherry Chandler's wonderful photographs of her mother's fishing adventures.

The Bait by John Donne
Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp'ring run
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun ;
And there th' enamour'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark'nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest ;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait :
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas ! is wiser far than I.