Around the House

Stuff going on in the vicinity.

Most people who do anything serious with a home computer use a battery backup system or UPS (Uninteruptable Power Supply) to keep it running through power glitches, dropouts or brown-outs.

Simply, a UPS is a battery, battery charger, inverter and a switching system to transfer to batter power when needed.  Without a UPS, the briefest loss of power will crash your computer and you will loose whatever unsaved data you were working on.  In the worst case the computer can be permanently damaged this way.

Not many people know that, just like the battery in a car, a UPS battery has a finite lifetime.  After a few years they no longer hold their charge and therefore the UPS can no longer perform its function.

Here is a typical UPS that I use on one of my machines. ups-front

During a recent thunderstorm I saw the AC power flicker and the machine connected to that UPS died.  A quick check showed that the UPS was not working.

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I’ve been rather poor about posting to the blog lately.  No real excuse except I’ve been doing other stuff.

I’ve been slowly recovering after my chemotherapy and things are going fairly well.  I still am rather weak and tire out easily but gradually I’m getting back to normal. My hair is starting to grow back – I actually have a visible beard again.  I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my hair.  So many people have commented that they like me bald, so I may continue that look.  Depends on how much of a hassle it is to maintain.

I also had cataract surgery May 15 on my left eye and my vision is already significantly better.  I’ll have the right eye done on June 4 and after that I should have better eyesight than I have for many years.

With better vision I hope I will be posting more here.   Stay tuned.


Our cat, ItBitKit, was a stray and consequently is an indoor-outdoor cat.  The cold winters are hard on her as she must stay inside more than she would like.  Recently we had a couple of days of relative warmth where some melting occurred.

The cat loved it and spent as much time outside as we would allow.  One afternoon we looked out a window on our second story that overlooks our garage.  There she was, perched on one of the few snow free parts of the garage roof,  just soaking up the rays.

I’m ready for spring too.

It’s been an interesting late summer and fall in terms of critters around the house. Along with some old favorites, there were a number of unusual ones that showed themselves, probably due to this years odd weather.

(As always, click on the thumbnail to see a larger image.)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is a common butterfly around here but I’ve always loved their bright colors.

This is a Maple Spanworm Moth. They were very plentiful for a few days and loved to congregate on the siding of our house.

This Angular-winged Katydid was very comfortable posing on the arm of one of our deck chairs.

One cool and damp morning Jan spotted and photographed this salamander in the leaf litter and stones along our fence. I hadn’t seen one of these around here before and was surprised it was so out in the open.

A Preying Mantis (actually a Chinese Mantid) showed itself to Jan who took this nice picture. He hung around for a couple of days and now has vanished.

Root Canal

Today I had what was possibly the longest dental procedure in my life! Two and a half hours in the chair. The pain was not too bad except for holding my mouth open for that long. Novacaine hasn’t worn off yet and I don’t know how it will feel when it does. At least the bad part is over. What remains is the expensive part (crown).

I’ve been following the ASUS Eee PC, ultra portable laptop since it came out. but I felt the original 7″ screen was a little small and the storage capacity limited. That changed when they came out with the next model. I finally gave in and ordered a Eee PC 901 on August 20th. I got the 1.6GHz 20GB, Linux model and it arrived on Tuesday.

My first impressions are quite favorable. It’s fast and lightweight. The 9.8″ screen is bright and very readable. The Linux distro it uses is a version of Xandros and it is very complete. I have had no real problems with any of the numerous software packages that are pre-installed. It is easy to set up and use.

Best of all, it boots up like lightning – maybe 30 seconds total. Not quite instant on, but close. It is very practical to keep it handy and turn it on just to check the weather or news and then flip it off again. No agonizing wait for boot up or shut down.

Some of the features of this machine I really like are:

  • 3 USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet port and an SDHC card slot that allows up to 16GB of additional, removable, storage.
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • 20 GB solid state HD (no shock and vibration worries) and 1GB RAM
  • Skype pre-installed with a built-in Web Cam for video calls
  • About the size of a hardbound book – 2.2 pounds with battery.

There were only a few problems:

  • I had trouble getting the Wi-Fi to work. Then I found out I had set up the wrong type of encryption for my network. Once that was fixed all was well.
  • I had a lot of trouble with the “tap” feature of the touch pad. I finally had to disable that since I was forever clicking when I didn’t want to. An external mouse is still a nice addition. The touch pad is okay for a quick check of email or a web site but I’m much slower using that compared to a mouse.
  • Using Thunderbird for email and USENET. It just does not have all the features I want. Maybe a later version will fix some of its problems but right now it is a bit of a struggle. On the other hand, it does work with no real bugs that I have found.
  • I haven’t found a version of TrueCrypt that can run in the GUI on this machine. The command line version is too cumbersome for me. This is minor but a nuisance as I worry about keeping unencrypted private info on a laptop.
  • the shutdown process hangs if you have Wi-Fi enabled. I think this is a known bug and there will probably be a fix one day. The work-around is to either be sure to turn off Wi-Fi before shutting down or to use the “emergency shutdown” (manual power switch).

Here are some pictures of the unboxing. Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.

After opening the outer boxWhen I opened the outer box I was dismayed that Amazon had not filled all the empty space with plastic air bags as is there usual procedure. Still, everything looked to be in good shape.

Inside the boxHere is how the inside of the box looked. Very well protected and everything intact. I guess the lack of padding in the outer box was not a problem.

ContentsEverything from the box spread out on the table. The battery is not installed in the PC so the back edge looks a little strange.

Eee PC screen and keyboard

This is a shot of the screen and keyboard after I booted it up for the first time. Worked like a champ – looked cool.

In summary, I would recommend the Eee PC to anyone who wants a light, simple machine for email, web surfing and basic computing while traveling. You should not be afraid of Linux in this application. It works well and is easy to get used to. ASUS has put a lot of effort into making the interface as user friendly as possible while still retaining the parts that makes geeks love Linux.

I should caution that my personal biases should be considered before anyone takes my recommendation too seriously. As they say, “YMMV”.

  • I’m not a fast typist and don’t mind the small keyboard.
  • Low weight and small size are highly important to me when traveling.
  • I’m looking for ways to wean myself of Windows and Microsoft.
  • I am a nut when it comes to cool gadgets.


Yesterday Jan called me out to the kitchen to look into our back yard. There were two momma wild turkeys, each with four to seven chicks. They were on opposite sides of the yard, not straying too far from the tall grass where we don’t mow.

Mother turkey with chicks

Wild turkeys used to be almost non-existent in Iowa but several years ago were reintroduced with stock from Missouri. Everyone said that they were shy and would not do well in proximity to people. To the contrary, they are thriving now and we frequently see them strolling nonchalantly across our lawn. This is the first time I have seen them with young though. Maybe they are getting used to us.

Tree Frog

We’ve had some very pleasant evenings in the last week and therefore have spent a lot of time on our deck. While out there we are frequently serenaded by the local frog chorus. Last night I decided to see if I could spot the closest performer. Here’s what I found:

Tree Frog

I was quite surprised to see the degree of camouflage on this little guy. I believe this is a Common Tree Frog, Hyla arborea. For reference, the branch he is sitting on is about 3/4 inch in diameter. He puts out quite a sound for such a little critter.

Here’s an update on the twin fawns mentioned previously. The local paper today reported that the DNR did rescue them from where they were trapped by the flood. They were then relocated to a local wildlife shelter.

Hooray! Sometimes things do work out for the better.

I’ve recently received a number of calls and emails from friends, wondering if we are involved in the flooding here in East-Central Iowa. The answer is “yes and no”. Our house is at a high enough elevation that it isn’t likely we will get flood water. On the other hand we are semi-isolated from the surrounding towns because of road closures. With luck we will be be able to restock our food supplies soon, once more roads open up. We have plenty of food on hand now, a generator in case of power loss and (obviously) our internet connection. Still is is sort of worrisome when running in to the store is not an option.

Because of the road closures, I have not been able to get any photos of the worst flooding and, frankly, the gawkers have been a serious problem in this disaster. I have resisted the temptation to stick myself and my camera into the already confused and congested situation. I don’t know how long this link will be valid but here is an article with photos concerning the situation in Vinton, our county seat.

Anyway, we are high, dry and safe for the time being. The water levels in the immediate area are dropping and travel options should be improving. As long as we don’t get more rain we will be okay.

It is going to be a long time before this part of Iowa is back to normal but I am sure everyone will persevere. Once things settle down somewhat I will try to report more with photos. In anyone wants any specific information, don’t hesitate to post a question and I’ll try to respond.