Frogs! Photos! And Stuff!

DSCF3870.JPG

Wow, do we have frogs around here this year! I suppose it’s due at least partly to the wet summer we’ve had and the neighbor’s pond, but the number of them around and the variety is surprising. I ran into this little guy sitting on one of the pepper plants the other day. I almost missed seeing him entirely and ran into the house and got the camera before he took off. He’s such a tiny little thing, about the size of the nail on my index finger.

DSCF3863.jpg

I was really lucky to get this shot. This guy has been hanging around down at the pond for a while but he’s very shy and he generally takes off before I can get a photo. He sat still long enough for me to snag this photo of him when I had the big camera and telephoto lens along. Amazing bird. And very large too.

DSCF3857.jpg

I love going down to this pond along the bike trail. It’s an incredibly rich environment that supports fish, birds, small mammals, ducks and, believe it or not, a family of otters. Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 6.26.42 AMWhen I first saw the otters down there I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea they lived in this area. I know that picture is horrible, it’s a blow-up of what was a crappy cell phone picture in the first place. Believe it or not that black blob in the center is an otter.

There were four of them. I’m assuming it was a family, two larger individuals and two somewhat smaller, almost full sized ones. I’ve only seen them twice. They’re extremely shy and dive underwater and take off as soon as they hear any activity up on the trail.

DSCF3856.jpg

In the last 20 years these guys have really made a comeback around here. During the summer you’ll see pairs with chicks wandering around the fields. In the late summer and early fall they start to flock up and there will be flocks of 30 – 50 in the fields. They aren’t exactly shy, either, some of them. They think nothing of browsing for food on people’s lawns. Before about, oh, 1990 or so, I’d never even seen one of these in real life. Now there are so many of them they’re almost a nuisance.

Let’s see, what else?

Well, the poor tomatoes are almost done. The only fruit we’re going to get is whatever has already set before the fungus began to get them. Most of the leaves on the lower half of the plants are already gone and it’s slowly but surly making it’s way up the entire plant. Not much we can do about it at this point. Still, we’re getting some tomatoes, so that’s better than nothing. We’re freezing them as they ripen because we aren’t really getting enough at one time to warrant processing them into sauce or soup. We’ll process them once we have enough to justify firing up the canner.

Eclipse fever – everyone seems to have caught it, sigh. It’s getting ridiculous, really. If I hear one more radio station or TV news show going “OMG DON’T LOOK AT THE ECLIPSE OR YOU’LL GO BLIND!!!” I’m going to scream.

The new computer is up and running and working beautifully. It took a while to get the graphics card replaced after the first one was damaged in shipment. And then there was an issue with the BIOS settings but I got that figured out at last. But it’s working now and I’m really pleased with the results. I built it specifically for gaming and it does it very, very well. It certainly isn’t the fastest out there. The 1050 TI card certainly can’t compare to something like the 1080, but it also cost about 5 times less than the 1080 and is more than good enough to give me a darn good frame rate with the graphics options ramped up all the way on the games I use. For a system that came in well under $1,000 it’s excellent. Only thing I regret is that I didn’t opt for a bigger SSD. I might have to do something about that in the fairly near future.

Traffic problems have somewhat curtailed my biking. They have the main highway closed off while they repair the railroad tracks, and almost no one is following the posted detour. Instead they’re out on the backroads where I usually bike. You ever been on a narrow 2 lane (barely 2 lane) country road while lost semis blow past you at 80 mph? It is not fun. The wind blast almost blew me into the next county. So excursions out into the countryside are going to be temporarily on hold until they get the tracks fixed and the highway opened.

Speaking of the eclipse, am I going to watch it? No. Totality is going to be several hundred miles south of here. We’re going to be around 40% or less up here. Besides, the long range forecast for here is rain and thunderstorms anyway. I also don’t really understand what the fuss is about. It’s a mildly interesting phenomena, but eclipses happen all the time, are well documented, and a lot of the hype is being generated just to get you to buy stuff.

Abandoned

IMG_0573.jpg

When I come across an abandoned house, especially one as nice as this one once was, it makes me wonder what happened. Why did they just up and leave, abandoning their home? I know why barns are abandoned. Old barns just aren’t useful for modern farmers any longer and they’re more trouble to maintain than they’re worth.

This looks like it was a pretty nice house, and it looks like it was still lived in and maintained until not too long ago. So what happened? One’s imagination starts to work, conjuring up all kinds of stories to try to explain why a family might abandon a house. I start thinking about the people who built it originally, the family it was made for. Once upon a time this was someone’s dream, a lovely brick house they could raise their family in. Well made, secure. Warm and snug against the Wisconsin winters. And now here it is, abandoned, slowly rotting away.

 

Why? What happened? IMG_0581.jpg

I need to do B&W more often. The original images were done in color and they just didn’t convey the mood I was looking for.

When I take an image I don’t usually fiddle with it afterwards. I don’t fire up PhotoShop and start tweaking things. For some reason it feels like, oh, cheating, I suppose. It’s silly, really. Pretty much every photo you see published is tweaked in one way or another. Colors are enhanced, lighting is altered, imperfections are removed. Tweaking photos has a long, long history, going back to the start of film photography. We used filters and processing tricks, did dodging and burning in when making prints. I did it routinely when I was processing and printing my own photos back in the days of film, so I don’t know why I’m reluctant to do it now.

Getting Caught Up With Stuff

Water Tower Stuff

IMG_0568.jpg

They’re working on the water tower here in town. As someone who gets nervous standing on a step ladder, I can’t imagine how those guys up there do this job. I know they have safety equipment and all that, but still, hanging from a rope a hundred feet up like that? No way I could ever do something like that.

New Computer Stuff

IMG_0566The new computer is up and running beautifully. Very fast, slick computer, but the Nvidia 1050 TI card was damaged in shipment so I’ve been using the motherboard’s onboard Intel graphics. That works, until I do anything that demands any kind of high resolution, high frame rate video, and then everything falls apart real fast. I’ve tried playing Skyrim on it and while it works, the graphics are terrible and the only way to get the frame rate up to acceptable level is to turn the draw distance down so far I can’t even see enemies attacking me from just a couple of hundred feet away. Sigh. Second Life is even worse. Complex scenes with a large variety of different textures don’t render at all, probably because the graphics card doesn’t have enough memory to deal with all of it. The replacement video card is in, but it’s at my eldest son’s house, and he’s gone up north for the weekend, so it’s going to be Monday evening before I can really see what this thing can do.

ES was telling me he had trouble getting the 1050 card, and a quick scrounge around Amazon reinforced that. Every vendor I found on Amazon had disclaimers that the item was out of stock and wouldn’t be in stock for 3, 4 or more days. And that date kept shifting even farther into the future during the past week.

Gardening Stuff

The gardens have been doing pretty good this year, with the occasional glitch. I mentioned we have a fungus attacking the tomatoes because of the very damp summer we’ve had. We aren’t the only one. Almost everyone I’ve talked to has the same problem with their tomatoes this year. One group of pepper plants got pushed over when we had high winds roll through a few weeks ago, and they never recovered very well, alas. Some are doing okay, but others just barely survived. Not a bad thing because we planted way too many pepper plants this year, but still disappointing. Heard the other day that this summer is one of the wettest on record, which doesn’t surprise me at all.

Tomatoes: We messed up, and Building Computers

IMG_0551We messed up with the tomatoes this year. It’s partly our own fault, partly the fault of the weather this year. They’ve developed a kind of fungus that’s slowly working it’s way up the plant from the bottom, taking out the leaves. Not exactly pretty. We’re getting fruit, but we won’t get anywhere near as much as we should because of it.

Tomatoes can be a bit fragile. Depending on which variety you plant, there are all sorts of diseases the plants can get. In this case a combination of factors, the overly wet weather we’ve had this summer along with our planting the tomatoes way too close together, created an environment that permitted fungus to develop and thrive in the damp, warm conditions.

This is at least partly our own fault. We badly overcrowded the plants. There are twice as many in there as there really should be. Spreading the plants out more would certainly have helped. And there are commercial fungicides that can help with this.

We’ve been talking about putting in two more raised beds this size and perhaps this will finally get me to stop procrastinating and actually do it. We definitely need more space if we’re going to keep growing this many tomatoes.

IMG_0556Computer stuff: My gaming computer, a really really nice Razor Blade laptop, decided it didn’t like me any more, got so hot the case burned my hands, and then died. I suspect the graphics card went bad, but we’re not really sure. In any case, it’s well outside of the warranty period and would probably cost more than the computer is worth to try to get it fixed. And it was pointed out to me that I could build a computer with much better specs than any gaming laptop had, for half the cost, if I went with a desktop system. So Saturday we were sitting here looking at the box full of stuff you see there on the left.

Now the last computer I built with my own hands was a 486, so that ought to give you some idea how long it’s been. I could probably have put one together myself, but Eldest Son builds this kind of stuff all the time so I let him spec out the system, select the parts and actually put the thing together. ES figures that if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing not only to excess, but ridiculously over the top. So what IMG_0566I ended up with is this over on the right.

What we ended up with was a transparent case to show off all the fancy bits inside, and enough strobing, glowing, swirling interior lighting to put a 1970s disco to shame. All it needs is a spinning disco mirror ball hanging inside to complete the look. Sheesh…

Of course absolutely none of that has anything to do with how it actually works as a computer. So, how does it work as an actual computer? Holy s**t it’s fast! The latest Core i7 processor clocked at 4.7 Ghz, high speed Samsung SSD, threaded this and hyper that. The thing has a liquid cooling system and 8 (???) fans, 8 USB3 ports, 3 Thunderbolt ports.

And I have absolutely no idea how well it works for gaming because the video card was DOA.

Sigh… We suspect it was damaged in transit because it looks like one of the shields on the card was pushed into one of the circuit boards, so ES took it off to get a replacement. It runs, but only using the motherboard’s built in Intel video.

The interesting thing is that it seems no one has Nvidia graphics cards. It took ES almost two weeks to get this one in, and a quick browse around Amazon indicates that pretty much no one has them in stock right now. Every single listing for the Nvidia 1050 or 1080 card shows “Not available until August 10”. What’s going on? I have no idea.

So until we can get the Nvidia card replace, I won’t really know how well it will work as an actual gaming machine.

Oh, I also switched off almost all of the interior lights on the thing. It looks really neat. For about 30 seconds, then the strobing and swirling and lighting effects become seriously annoying.

Garden Update

It’s been a while since I talked about the gardens here, so let’s take a peek at those. It’s been an odd season here with above normal rainfall and rather cool temperatures. It’s been good for some things, bad for others.IMG_0552.jpg

We aren’t sure what in the world happened to the dahlias this year. Those are the red flowers behind the cone flowers in the foreground. They just went absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen them get this big before, at least not around here. They’re 4 – 5 feet tall and so thick and lush that it looks like a jungle in there. The cone flowers seem ridiculously happy back there too as you can see. And the sunflowers — oh brother, they’re pushing 7 feet tall.

Handy hint – if you love birds, especially finches, put in some sun flowers. We’ve been putting a few sunflowers in back there for years. It’s right by the window above the kitchen sink and later in the season the finches swarm around that area going after both the cone flower seeds and the sunflowers. They’re great fun to watch, arguing with each other, dangling upside down like little acrobats as they go after the seeds.

IMG_0549.jpg

The butternut and acorn squash have completely taken over the garden at the back of the garage. We’ve had issues back there because it gets shaded out quite a bit. We’re constantly dragging the vines out of the lawn, out of the raspberries, out of, well, out of everything. They seem to grow a foot or more every day. Absolutely loaded with squash now and still blossoming. We hauled a lot of compost into this bed also last year and it’s paying off now.

Screen Shot 2017-08-06 at 6.15.40 AM.png

One of my issues with modern hybrid flowers is that they’re all show and no scent. I am a very scent oriented person, and it’s always disappointed me that so many flowers that I remember having amazing aromas when I was a child smell pretty much like nothing these days as the plant breeders have selected for ever more showy flowers, and sacrificed the scent, sort of like how they’ve selected vegetables for high yield and tougher fruit to make transport easier, and lost much of the flavor. The alyssum, though, make up for it. Tiny, tiny little flowers that put out an incredible amount of perfume. The scent is almost intoxicating.

IMG_0544.jpg

Then we have these guys. They sort of look like something from an alien planet or exotic jungle, these beans. The leaves are a foot across, a rich burgundy color when small, then changing to a reddish-green with red veins as they get bigger. They’re about 6 feet tall right now.

IMG_0554.jpg

The hostas up front have been enjoying themselves too this year. I’ve always loved hostas and we turned this into a hosta garden a few years ago. It had been a mish-mash of odd bushes, grass that never grew properly, some very invasive bushes that someone decided looked pretty. It was a mess. We ripped everything out, tilled up the whole works, put in the cedar fence and started putting hostas in. And we also seem to have pots of plants all up the stairs, along the deck… good grief, where did all those plants come from?

IMG_0559.jpg

Okay, this isn’t a plant. In the process of building a new gaming computer. My Razor Laptop died on me a couple of months ago and we’re building a new one. We’ve been working under the belief that anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing to excess, so this thing is fairly well loaded up with every goofy thing you can imagine. Interior lighting systems, the CPU cooler has a sort of vortex lighting effect built into it, the fans light up like multi-colored strobes, matching LED light strips inside, even the dopy RAM lights up.

It’s running a liquid cooled Kaby Lake Core i7 processor at 4.2 gigahertz overclocked to 4.7, a Samsung SSD, 8 USB3 ports, Thunderbolt ports, built in WiFi, bluetooth, 6 fans…

Unfortunately the Nvidia video card you see there was was DOA. It worked the first time we turned the computer on. Then we shut it down, did some work on the machine, turned it on, and the card was dead. Sigh… It works on the MBs built in Intel graphics, but that isn’t suitable for any kind of gaming. Grrr… So it’s going to be a while before we get it up and running the way it should be.

Still, dear lord that thing is fast. Eldest son was so impressed he’s thinking of building one for himself.

Along The Roadside

Screen Shot 2017-08-03 at 5.54.50 AM

It was a glorious morning Wednesday when I went out not long after dawn. One of those glorious mornings when the rising sun seemed to be making everything glow.

My attempts at using the panoramic mode of the iPhone7’s camera have never been very good. The mode works, yes, but the results never seem to be that good, to be honest. The image of that meadow up there just doesn’t look that good. So let’s look at these instead: click on one of the images to start the full size slide show.

These, on the other hand, turned out pretty good, I thought. I have to admit that the iPhone 7 camera works pretty well under some conditions.