altivo: Blinking Altivo (altivo blink)
Some may have seen me talking about this on Twitter during the summer.

Last May two stray hens (no idea where they came from) started laying eggs in one of our barns. One of them had nested in stacked hay bales, the other on the flat top of a tack room (enclosed closet) about 8 feet above the floor. Both eventually sat on eggs for about 8 weeks without hatching any, and we removed the potential stink bomb eggs and figured that was that.

General birdbrain meanderings )
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
The real raspberries and blackberries here this year were completely destroyed by drought. They turned into shriveled brown pellets without ripening.

The Raspberry Pi single board computer, on the other paw, arrived and is functional. At the moment I can only use the composite video output, which is kinda "furry" looking but legible. I'm waiting for an HDMI to VGA breakout box to arrive so I can use a standard monitor.

I've tried out two Linux configurations on it: Debian "squeeze" and ArchLinux. Debian, as usual, comes up fully configured with defaults that you may or may not want. Arch installs with a console only setup, no GUI at all, and requires you to add packages in order to build the GUI and environment you want. There are things to be said for each. Arch, for instance, uses a textual config file that let me adjust the overscan settings for my television easily. Debian has that configuration buried somewhere that I haven't yet found.

In any case, yet another Linux configuration arrived on the scene just today. Dubbed "Raspbian," it's the next release of Debian, optimized to use the available hardware acceleration on the Raspberry Pi's ARMv6 CPU and video. That includes, as I understand it, hardware floating point assist, and some degree of AGP video performance, using a chunk borrowed from the (limited) 256MB of RAM in the system.

Even the default Debian is certainly usable, though not exactly zippy at all tasks. Loading some programs takes significant time, though they run fast enough once loaded.

There is also a version of RISC OS available, though it's in beta at the moment so I'll wait for a final release. I know enough UNIX and Linux to play with a beta, but RISC OS is terra incognita to me.

In other news, it's very hot again. And the baby owls were here tonight. We hadn't seen them since last Friday night, but three were at the birdbaths once again right after sunset.


Jul. 9th, 2012 10:03 pm
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
Raspberry Pi, that is. The tiny computer arrived today. In a tiny box. I do mean tiny. It is less than two inches square and an inch thick for the uncased board with all chips and connectors.

For those of you who don't yet know, Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive ($35) but full powered (750 MHz ARM11 processor, 256MB RAM, ethernet, USB, HDMI and RCA composite video output) computer designed for educational and experimental purposes. It can run Debian and other Linux distributions, or RISC-OS, using a USB power source and a 4GB or larger SDHC card for storage.

Can't test it until I assemble the needed peripherals and cables. USB keyboard and mouse are easy, I have stacks of old ones at work, left from dead machines that were recycled. USB power source I have. I need to get another SDHC card, but those are easy to buy. The main slowdown is that HDMI output. I think I have an old TV in the garage that will take the RCA composite input temporarily, but I'm sure the quality of the image is poor. I have to either buy a new monitor that handles direct HDMI input, or a monitor that takes DVI plus a converter cable, or a conversion box for HDMI to VGA plus audio. Since I have lots of VGA monitors around, I've settled on the latter and bought one off EBay this evening. Will need some cables and ultimately a case of some sort. There are lots of case options available online.

Saw a great horned owl this morning on the way to work. It was just sitting in a dead tree, about 30 feet up. No leaves, so easy to get a good look at it and I'm sure that's what it was. Haven't seen our young screech owls since Saturday night, but we haven't been here to watch every dawn and dusk either. Did see one very large, fat momma raccoon with 3 babies, though. And another weasel started to cross the road in front of me on my way home, but when I slowed down the little guy changed his mind and turned back just like the last one did.

Weather is much more pleasant now, but still no rain. Some clouds today, especially this evening, that looked hopeful but nothing came of it. Now ranked as the most severe drought in Illinois since 1988, which I do remember very well. The 1988 drought is considered the second worst for the state since records began back in the 1880s. I'm afraid hay is going to be very expensive, and we're trying to give away our sheep to anyone who will take them.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
Up the count. Tonight at dusk we watched five young owls arrive on the two birdbaths in the yard, drinking and splashing a bit. The hot weather has continued unabated and I'm sure they're glad of the water. I'm also quite sure that adult screech owls are not so social. These five youngsters must be a brood, all siblings, to stick together so closely and play with one another. Gary tried to sneak around the house and take a picture of them, but as soon as he came in sight they scattered. One remained perched on a fence rail for another ten or fifteen minutes, while the rest headed up into the oaks. We have lots of mice and chipmunks around, though the chipmunks are diurnal so probably the mice are their main prey. And to be honest, they're welcome to take all the mice they can get. I hope they'll still be around to sing for us in the fall. I love the sound of screech owls. It isn't screechy at all, but more like a theremin or a musical saw.

Gary was going to a Civil War recreation this weekend, but the weather is so hot that most of his friends canceled out. Selfishly, I'm hoping he'll stick around and we can do stuff together.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
...there came forth a wind with the force of hellfire itself. Or so it seemed. Heat index 108F and not a breath of air stirring. Thank goodness that the setting sun brings some slight relief. Horses are out in the open again for what little coolness they may find there.

The owls arrived again at dusk, drinking from and playing in the birdbath. This time I quickly switched off the indoor lights so as not to betray my movements and frighten them. I was able to catch one of them in the beam of a flashlight for some length of time, and examine another who sat on a fencepost for quite a while with the aid of binoculars. Though the light was dim, I could make out enough ear tuft to convince myself that they are indeed screech owls (probably young ones born early this spring) and not saw-whet owls. Either is possible here, though the screech owl is more likely. We have heard screech owls fairly often since living here, but this is the first time since spring of 1999 that we have actually sighted the birds themselves. Mice and chipmunks are in great abundance this year, possibly due to a crash in predators. Even feral cats are very scarce this summer, so the little owls should find plenty of suitable prey and we welcome their assistance in keeping these nuisance rodents down.
altivo: (rocking horse)
We are independent. We did not grill anything. We did not set off any fireworks. (No, we're not responsible for the heatwave.)

We did wash the dining room windows so we can see the birds better.

We did replace our waterbed mattress with a brand new one. The bed frame and pedestal is 33 years old but I like it and I'm not giving it up. It's an enclosed box with mirrored headboard and ceiling made of dark-stained heavy pine boards. The mattress was 17 or 18 years old, and they are normally expected to last about 10. No wonder it had many patches. When it recently began to leak around the valve, I knew it was time. I ordered a complete new mattress setup, liner, mattress, heater, thermostat, and pad. About double what I paid last time for just the mattress and pad, but the technology has improved again. Getting the old mattress drained and removed was the hard part. The new stuff installed easily and fits perfectly (I hope.)

Not telling how much dog and cat hair was underneath the old mattress. How does it get all the way under there anyway?

The other highlight? Owls. Two young screech owls visited our birdbaths at dawn. And just after dusk they were there again, splashing in the water like songbirds. I've never seen an owl do that before, but I suppose they find this weather just as awful as we do.

Today's high here was either 101F or 97F depending on which thermometer you believe. It felt like 110F because there was plenty of humidity and no wind. Leaving the horses and ducks out in their yards again tonight rather than locking them up. We do put the sheep in, but they are recently shorn and their pen is just inside the large barn door that we leave open in summer. Particularly with the young lamb among them, I think it's better to bring them in.
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
"And Flun is the letter I use to spell Flunnel,
A softish nice fellow who lives in a tunnel.
He only comes out of his tunnel it's said
When the right kind of softish nice music is played
On a kind of a hunting horn called the O'Grunth.
To learn how to play one takes month after month
Of practicing, practicing, isn't much funth.
And besides, it's quite heavy, weighs almost a ton-th,
So few people bother to play the O'Grunth
And the Flunnel's been out of his tunnel just one-th."

—Dr. Seuss, On Beyond Zebra

(I hope I got that all right. No copy handy to check.)

Finally down to practicing music for the IRM picnic on Saturday. Gary and I ran over a selection of train-related songs he has picked out. Tomorrow morning we'll meet with Amy and go over some again. And possibly Thursday afternoon with Neal. Then he meets with Neal and Amy on Friday while I'm at work. And then it's Saturday and we try to fit it all together live. Ha ha. Ho ho. Hee hee.

Getting back my guitar calluses after years of slacking is rough. And that says nothing about trying to get back the actual licks. But no matter.

*licks sore finger tips* I hope.

At least the weather has been nice. Hope it holds up for the weekend. I swear I saw an Anna's hummingbird at the library. And we are swarmed with orioles and goldfinches here at home. Thought there was a baby screech owl nearby last night, but it could have been a neighbor weaning a foal. The sound is not that different.
altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
Good grief, I think the last time I missed posting for two solid days was probably several years ago. And the worst part of it is that there's nothing interesting to say about all that time, much beyond that it was too busy and the days were too short. Work stuff, failed geekery, shopping nonsense.

Hopefully the bump is past for now. Yesterday and today were beautiful days that made me want to go out in some park and hike in the woods. We have some nice places not far away where that would work. At least three of them, four in fact, are within less than 30 minutes' driving distance. And some really excellent ones, like Glacial Park, are under an hour. But managing to actually get away from work during daylight hours has been too difficult. I hope the weather holds through the weekend but that seems unlikely.

Indigo buntings, hummingbirds, and orioles are making frequent appearances near the house now. We've still seen only one grosbeak, which is disappointing, but all our usual species are accounted for. The red-headed woodpeckers haven't been spotted for a week, so I suspect they have moved on as usual. White-crowned sparrows, of which we saw many last May, have not been here this year. But I hadn't seen any of them in the previous ten years either, so that's not too surprising. Coworker reports seeing a pileated woodpecker in Marengo Ridge a week ago today, and I've wanted to get up there (literally ten minutes from home) to check it out myself but haven't yet managed. At least the odds are good that if it was there last week it still is around now.

Cat and dog are taking up the entire sofa next to me. The Literati ereader arrived on Tuesday, but committed suicide while trying to download its own update from the net. Not my doing, it automatically did that as soon as it connected to wi-fi. EBay seller supplied prepaid return label and says he'll send another one (which may do the same thing, I don't know, though colleague's Literati is working fine with the newest firmware, so I expect it's not inevitably fatal.)

I have successfully downloaded 65 ebooks that I had purchased for the eBookwise reader device over the past seven years. All of them were converted to epub format and await a new epub compatible reader so they can be transplanted. Adobe Digital Reader seems quite happy with them, so I'm confident that they will take root as soon as new soil is avalable.
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
Today was the Audubon spring bird count day, and as has become customary the last few years, I drove with a small team to take a bird census for a designated portion of the county. We covered about 80 miles of road and walked perhaps six miles mostly inside conservation district lands. Our species count was about 52, though I don't have the exact figures. Weather was better than it has been some years, but certainly not the best for bird observation as the skies were gray and heavy most of the day and we had occasional spells of light drizzle.

Usually we count a lot of migratory warblers, transients in our area, but this year the migration seems to have passed already due to the unusually early warm spring. Instead we caught some summer birds such as the rose-breasted grosbeak and indigo bunting who are not usually visible in the county this early.

Once again we were permitted to enter some closed conservation district lands, including an abandoned limestone quarry that I've mentioned in the past.

Abandoned limestone quarry

This quarry has been a source of large warbler counts in the past, but this year all we saw there were Canada geese, a ring-necked pheasant, and a few resident songbirds. Highlights for this year in other areas included three solitary sandpipers, migrant shorebirds that just pass through our area briefly.

Near the end of the day we made a brief detour into Boone County to peek at a bald eagle nest others have observed. It's on private land along a well-traveled road that has no suitable shoulders on which to stop, but we were able to confirm that the nest is still present and appeared to have an eagle in it as we could see a white head over the edge.

In other news, tonight is the "super" full moon, as the moon is near the perigee (closest point to earth) of its orbit. Unfortunately, the dense overcast skies will probably keep us from seeing it.

What a week

May. 4th, 2012 08:56 pm
altivo: My mare Contessa (nosy tess)
More birds: Red-headed woodpecker, at least one, is still here, spotted today several times. Indigo buntings in the yard just at dusk. We generally see a few each year, though many are in the general area by all accounts. I think our property is too heavily wooded for them. Really odd one was a warbler walking in the grass outside the library windows. Might have been a yellow warbler, but I couldn't see any streaks on the breast. Other possibility is Tennessee warbler but no russet cap on its head. Maybe females don't show that?

Still missing the rose-breasted grosbeaks and the white crowned sparrows we usually see passing through about now.

Wild cherry trees are coming into bloom now, nearly a month early. Honeysuckle, which is normally just opening now, is nearly past. Bee balm or Mountain mint are opening too. Wild cherry fragrance on the still air is overpowering.

Have to be up at 5 tomorrow to start the Audubon bird count at 6. If the sun comes out, it should be a good year. At least it is supposed to be reasonably warm and not overly windy.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
First orioles and a hummingbird sighted this afternoon. Heard grosbeaks singing, especially in the pasture, but couldn't find them. We wondered why we weren't seeing goldfinches at the feeders and today I found that they are all out in the pasture, apparently feasting on dandelion seeds.

When I arrived at the library this morning at 8:30, there were two large geese standing on the peak of the roof, necks stretched as high as they could reach and staring into the distance. One was facing south, the other north.

I've mentioned the large numbers of red admiral butterflies. Last year we had very few, this year they are flying in clouds all over and perching in roadside bushes or even on the roadbeds. Today I also saw large numbers of mourning cloaks, and some particularly large and handsome specimens. I did not have the camera with me, alas. For those who don't know this butterfly, it makes me think of a noble character in a Shakespeare play. The insect basks in sun on low plants or shrubs, with its wings spread to show a symmetrical half circle. Most of the wing surface is a deep velvet black, but the outer edges are like ermine trim, white with flecks of black, and there is also a scattering of blue flecks in the black just adjacent to the white trim. the diameter of the circle along the upper straight edge is about 6 cm.

Also noted monarch butterflies, fresh large examples with perfect intact wings and strong smooth flight patterns. These must be the first hatch of eggs laid by a new wave of migrants from farther south. Monarchs migrate from Canada to Mexico in the fall. In the spring, the survivors start north again, breeding along the way so that it takes several generations to reach the northernmost part of their territory. They are particularly graceful fliers, gliding in long arcs on outspread wings rather than fluttering erratically about the way many butterflies do.
altivo: (rocking horse)
*trumpet fanfare*

Allasso volume 2: Saudade has arrived on the scene from Pink Fox Publications. Available in traditional print or Kindle format from Amazon, this issue contains material from no less than eight (count them, eight) members of the Furry Writers' Guild, including myself. Prose, poetry, and some nice artwork too. Don't miss it.

End shameless plug. Seriously, editor Brian Lee Cook has done a super job of bringing these materials together. You can even skip my own story if you like, but you should read the others, OK?

No more woodpeckers today. I suspect, as usual, they have gone on to look for better nesting grounds. Whatever it takes to meet their criteria, we don't quite have.


Apr. 30th, 2012 08:18 pm
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
The new firewall performed so perfectly today that no one could tell I had swapped it in. That's ideal. One nice feature addition, though, is the fact that it has a web interface for monitoring and minor adjustments. Thus I can get at it without having to run cumbersome control software that only works on Windows.

And speaking of such cumbersome software, I did succeed in retrieving the installation file for the old version needed by firewall generation -2, which has now been decommissioned and removed from the server rack. Since it is no longer supported and considered "unsecure" it will now become a toy for me to experiment with, perhaps.

No red-headed woodpecker sightings today, alas. They may have moved on. No orioles yet either, which means those guys are late this year. I've heard at least one grosbeak, but we haven't seen one yet.

One of the new ducks delivered an egg this morning, along with the usual offering from the Campbell. The new egg is smaller, and has a blue shell. As soon as we have two or three of them, I'll get a photo of the contrast.
altivo: My mare Contessa (nosy tess)
Getting lax here. Or too busy.

Not that much happened yesterday other than the usual for a Saturday, shopping, animal care, laundry stuff.

This morning we went up to the library so I could activate and test the new firewall while no one was there to be interrupted, and Gary could use the wireless (which doesn't depend on this particular firewall) to work on his final project for the term. The firewall worked first time, though it still took about 90 minutes to test all the possible functionality that I could. My big concern was a point to point VPN tunnel required by our library software system, but that worked right off. I still had to try various subnets and parameters, but that seems to be done. Hooray. I just might be retired before this particular process needs to happen again. (I should be so lucky.)

Then we drove out to Richmond to pick up two ducks. Gary has become hooked on Freecycle and Craigslist, and yesterday he saw someone giving away ducks. Happily, they divided up what they had between several requesters, so we ended up with two females, perfect for our interest in eggs. The hens were reluctant to leave their home pen, but finally Gary crawled in there and caught them gently. They seem to have made themselves at home with our two established ducks within 30 minutes or so. These are "domestic mallards" according to the giver, and they apparently lay eggs with blue-green shells so it won't confuse our count for the Campbell hen. Now to see if she stops laying due to the disruption of her daily routine.

The red-headed woodpeckers are still hanging about, for the fourth day running.

Plans to grill something for dinner have probably been aborted by rain showers, but that's OK. We have plenty of stuff in the freezer to choose from.
altivo: (rocking horse)
Red-headed woodpeckers again, during breakfast this time. Almost certainly saw three different individual birds, two of them simultaneously. This is highly unusual. In a typical year we have perhaps two sightings of one bird and that's it.

Firewall box is racked and ready to drop in as a replacement for our current unit. Will have to go in on Sunday to test, though. Generation -1, a Firebox X Core, has been removed from the rack and repacked with its spare cables and paperwork. No longer supported and not usable at work, but still functional so I may take it home rather than recycle it. The problem is getting a copy of the appropriate configuration and monitoring software, Watchguard System Manager 8.3.x. I know the necessary file is on several retired backup tapes I still have, but so far I can't figure out how to recover files from a no longer cataloged backup. I really hate Symantec software, ya know? It makes things so unnecessarily difficult. If the replacement is successful, the current X750 Edge unit will remain in the rack as an emergency backup. This time I'll remember to archive the management tools to a CD instead of leaving them on a proprietary format tape.

Book arrived in the mail: Pegasus by Robin McKinley. I've already read it in ebook form, but liked it so much I decided to snatch a remaindered hardcover for future reuse. The book is remarkably well done, in my opinion (and I don't always care for McKinley.) The pegasi are particularly well thought out. Unfortunately it appears to be only volume 1 of a trilogy, the other two of which may not appear for a year or two. And it has a cliff-hanger ending. Grr.

Went after work to listen to Kishwaukee Ramblers playing at the Woodstock Mall, a converted building with really nice acoustics for a small group. They sounded particularly good. After that took Gary to dinner to celebrate payday plus income tax refund. Then we came home and watched Hop, a silly fluffy movie about E.B., a young bunny who is heir to the title of THE Easter bunny, but doesn't want to accept his destiny. Instead he wants to be a rock and roll drummer. It was silly fluff, but still fun and required no hard thinking. ;p
altivo: From a con badge (studious)
Well, library books anyway. All day in-service training completed and went reasonably well.

Got home just in time to see a red-headed woodpecker in the back yard. Gary has already spotted it a couple of times earlier, and it came back yet once more before dark. These are very striking birds with areas of snowy white, solid black, and deep crimson. The edges between the colors are sharp and clear. When I was outside later I think I heard it as well, though it's not easy to distinguish from a bluejay and we have lots of those around.

Heard a great crested flycatcher in the woodlot behind the barns, and since the oak and hickory trees are only just starting to leaf out, I was able to spot it when it flew from one crown to another about 50 feet up.

On another birdish topic, our champion egg-laying duck laid egg number 199 today. One per day is her rule and she has only missed one day since she started laying last fall. Tomorrow will be number 200 and I have no reason to suspect she'll fail to deliver it.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
The unseasonable weather has accelerated everything. The daffodils came and have nearly gone in just a week or so. Normally they stretch out for nearly a month since we have planted early and late blooming varieties. Maples blossomed and are already forming their seeds. The oaks are starting to leaf out, something they rarely do before mid to late April. Hickories remain stubborn, however. Rhubarb is coming up. Bluebirds are here, as are the robins, grackles, red wings, and flickers. The bleeding hearts, which only emerged from the ground a week ago, are already forming blossoms and showing color. Iris are four inches tall already.Tomorrow night we expect a cold front with lows in the 30s, but no frost. Slugs are eating the new green shoots, and we've even seen an occasional early butterfly. Now that's early.

Gary is making a new soup from a butternut squash. It's been in the slow cooker for hours and smells delicious. He also made an Irish brown bread from a recipe in the newspaper. Supposedly the "genuine" Irish soda bread, it has honey, whole wheat, and no yeast. I tasted a tiny bit and it's rather like graham crackers but with a bready texture. We have some brats made from chicken and apples and I guess he plans to grill them to go with all this.

I hear a blender, soup is being puréed now I guess. I'd have cut it up fine and left it chunky, but I'm not the cook today.

Off to help with the rest of the preparations.


Mar. 19th, 2012 09:44 pm
altivo: Wet Altivo (wet altivo)
I didn't have time to get a camera, but two geese landed on the ridge of the library roof this morning and sat there for several minutes. No idea why they would do that, but it sure was odd looking.

We are still being goosed by junk political callers, too. No way to tell tham that we voted last week and they are wasting their time and ours. As far as I can tell, all the calls are from Republicans, as usual. And all of them consist of negative campaigning against an opponent rather than positive ideas and concepts being presented. Republicans are defined by what they are against, not by what they favor, apparently. The great party of the perpetual "No!"

Raccoons are out in force, as are the chipmunks. Last night we saw two large 'coons in 0ur yard. Today I noticed a dead one on the edge of the road. Still busily enlarging itself, it had blimped up by about 50% over it's former dimensions, sort of like a Mandarin duck.

Think it must be time for bed, can't keep my eyes open.


Mar. 11th, 2012 09:21 pm
altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
It's amazing how much you can get done when you're avoiding doing something else. I have two things that really need doing: final edits on a short manuscript to meet requests by an editor, and some adjustements and repairs to my wolf fursuit. So... while dutifully feeling guilty about not doing those (or the laundry) I spent the day cooking, readign, cleaning barns, playing with Tess, looking at spring birds and flowers, and anything else I could use to avoid really working.

In my own defense, there is still time to get these things done. And I did get other things done. Dinner was made to meet a specific request by Gary. All the clocks were reset for daylight time. A late birthday present was finished and packaged up for mailing tomorrow. I got something working over the network that I'd been wanting to get going. A first class breakfast was served too, and much time spent outdoors to celebrate the very pleasant weather: 63F, sunny, very light breeze.

We saw a huge number of sandhill cranes pass overhead. There were two large flocks, probably 150 or more birds between them. And the two groups kept circling each other so they progressed past our little farm very gradually. All the time they were making the strange gurgling calls that sandhills make. It was pretty amazing. Later I saw two more flying so high that they kept going in and out of the clouds, but I could still hear them.

I think the juncos departed this week. Now we have red winged blackbirds, grackles, cardinals, house finches, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, and myriad woodpeckers. Oh, and mourning doves, suddenly. There were always two or three through the winter but now they come by the dozen.
altivo: The Clydesdale Librarian (Default)
Saw a turkey vulture in Harvard, circling over Lions Park today. I'm sure this is the earliest I've ever seen one. Went to the Audubon meeting tonight with friend Susan who said she had seen a red headed woodpecker in her yard, as well. That's about a month earlier than we usually see them.

Gary called the heat pump guy a couple of days ago because our system was acting irregular again. It would run normally for 20 hours or so, then lock up. He found a defective (sticky) relay. No parts cost because there were spare contacts on another relay that operates in parallel with it anyway. He transferred the problem circuit and everything is working again. Hopefully we're now good for a couple of years. He checked the pressure in the underground loop and it was OK. The compressor is transferring heat as it should, and the problem with the relay was cutting off the pump that circulates the coolant in the wells. All seems to be functional now.

Clear skies, brilliant full moon. Even if there is an aurora display tonight, I suspect the moon will mask it for us.

August 2017



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