Around the House

Stuff going on in the vicinity.

Flood Victims

The nasty weather mentioned previously has produced severe flooding of rivers and streams in my area. This morning I went out to a site along the nearby Cedar River where members of ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) were monitoring the change in the river level to help predict flooding downstream. Not only are people victims of this flooding, but wildlife is also affected. At the monitoring site (which was surrounded on three sides by water) were these twin fawns.

Twin Fawns

There was no sign of their mother and I fear she was lost in the flooding, or maybe just unable to reach her offspring. I was told that the fawns have been in that area for at least two days, confined between the water and a nearby county blacktop. The DNR has been contacted but it is not known if they can rescue the pair. If it weren’t illegal, I would have figured out a way to do something for them myself.

Via amateur radio I heard a number of reports of wildlife being forced out of their normal habitat. In some cases the only place left for them to go is onto the roadways. This involved not only deer but smaller animals including snakes and rodents.

Unfortunately the weather is predicted to stay nasty through Friday and the rivers are still rising. A number of towns have issued mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying areas. Not a good situation. Our home is safe as we are on a hill about 50 feet above the normal terrain and at least a mile from the nearest stream of any size.

Spring 2008

I’m a little late with this post because I was worried that we would have another snow storm just after I posted it. I still may be overconfident but I’ll take the chance.

We had a very hard Winter this year and Spring was late in getting here. But, as far as I can tell, it made it. Here are a few views of things around the house.

Here are the lilacs blooming along the road in front of us. The fragrance was wonderful and every time we had a south wind you could smell them anywhere around the house.

The front of our house

This is a shot of the front of the house, with all the shrubery starting to brighten up. I don’t know the names of these plants – maybe Jan will post a comment and identify them. Off to the left are more lilacs and to the right is the apple tree in bloom.

The apple blossoms were prolific this year. I hope that translates into a huge crop of apples.

A few weeks ago one of the podcasts I subscribe to (FLOSS Weekly) had a episode about a ray tracing program called POV-Ray. The people being interviewed in that podcast were so enthusiastic about their software that I decided to give it a try.

It’s a free, open source product and I found it has good documentation too. Anyway, I’ve been playing with it for a while, mostly going through the tutorial and doing the examples. Finally I decided to try something original and here is the result.


This is a very simple image though I hope to embellish it as I learn more about the program and how to use it.

The great thing about POV-Ray (at least to me) is that it is all done with software and written in a “scene description language.” It’s very much like programming in any other language except that the output is rendered into an image. I’ve tried creating images from scratch using Photoshop or other image editors but I never could get the hang of that. With this I can work in a way I am familiar with.

All the images created are 3-dimensional and it’s easy to change the viewpoint and lighting to get the best looking results. Also there are many pre-defined elements such as the background stars and the planet’s sky in my little example.

Anyway, if any of you are interested, you can download the program for most OS’s (Windows, Mac, Linux and others) and just play around with it. It comes with a lot of pre-coded examples that you can have fun with. If you want to listen to the podcast that got me hooked you can download it here. It is an MP3 about 32MB in size.


This has been a day for changes here. First, after dithering for a while, I finally had our DSL service upgraded. I was an early adopter of DSL from our local phone company and have been running that 384Kb SDSL connection ever since. Recently the ISP made 1.5Mb ADSL service available though initially they would not allow upgrades.  Now they have opened that up and I called today to make the change. It took only 5 hours from phone call to working upgrade. I love our local phone cooperative!

The second change is an experiment with not requiring registration for comments. I’ll still moderate the first comment and do other anti-spam things. If the blog gets too much spam then I’ll go back to requiring registration. I hope this will encourage some friends and family ,who haven’t done so previously, to post comments.

ColdIt is cold (again) here in Iowa. Minus 16°F this morning with wind chill of -30°F. Can you say Brrrrr? I bet you can.

There was an item on the local TV last night that said of 108 school districts reporting to the Dept of Education this week, none have had one full week of classes in nearly 2.5 months without an early dismissal, late start or days missed.

This is turning into one of the worst winters for cabin fever in my memory. Not only is it cold but we still have ice left from a storm in early December. Forecast is for more snow tomorrow and freezing rain Sunday night.

Believe me, when warm weather finally gets here I’ll be dancing naked in the back yard.


We’ve had a cat door into our garage, going back to the time when Jan and I both worked. Our cat (Itty) was happier outside and she could come and go as she pleased. We never had a problem except once when another cat followed her into the garage.

After I retired, we stopped leaving her out all day and just let her out when she wanted. I never removed the old cat door, figuring she might go into the garage occasionally and catch any mice that got inside.

A few weeks ago I noticed that the cat door was broken. It’s quite old and I just thought the sun and weather had finally taken their toll on the plastic. We’d been having windy weather and I thought the door flopping in the wind was the reason for it breaking. I covered over the broken door with a piece of plastic, saying I’d replace it later.

The next day the plastic was ripped up and the door damaged more. Clearly some critter had been using it to get in and out of the garage. I removed the old door entirely and covered the opening with a couple of scraps of 1″x10″ lumber as a temporary fix. Then, just in case the critter was still in the garage I set out our Have-A-Heart trap baited with cat food.

The next morning inside the garage looked like a war zone. The trap had been tipped on its side and all the bait was gone. The Styrofoam insulation around the blocked opening had been ripped to shreds but the wood was still in place. What ever the critter was, it was large, strong, smart and still inside. I reset the trap, this time placing concrete blocks on top of it and along the side to prevent it from being moved easily.

The next morning I found we had caught a large, angry and very frustrated raccoon. Not wanting to kill it, we decided to go to a public access area by the river about 8 miles away to release it.

That was an adventure in itself. The one problem is our trap is somewhat hard to open. You are momentarily exposed to whatever is in the trap while you are releasing the catch. Fortunately the raccoon was terrified and stayed at the far end, away from where I was unlatching the trap. Once open, the critter took a couple seconds to realize it was free, then ran off.

I hope 8 miles is far enough that it won’t be back.

To make matters even more difficult, momma raccoon had (unbeknownst to us) left behind four youngsters which I discovered just a while ago. I managed to get them out of the garage but I have no idea how they will manage without the mother.
Left behind in the garage is a huge mess. They had shredded up a number of old cardboard boxes, sheets of Styrofoam and old rags. All tucked behind the place where I store lumber, plywood and paneling. It will take several days to clean up the mess and get rid of the smell.

Just some of the fun of living in the country….

Yesterday was my birthday. I am now 1000000 years old (in binary), that’s an even 100 years in octal, 64 years in plain old decimal and only 40 years in hexadecimal. Regardless of the number system used, it was a fine birthday and I now have many new toys to play with. So here, in the order I opened them, is a tally of the loot.

Click to enlargeA neat little ornament for out by our pond. This little dragon will really look cool out there. It was from good friends Janet and Bruce. Thanks guys!

Click to enlargeNext was something rather geeky but something I really wanted. Luckily, Jan doesn’t mind buying me geeky gifts. It’s a small equatorial mount and tripod that will allow me to take better astronomical photographs. It has a clock drive to allow longer exposures. In the picture I have my Nikon D80 on the mount.

Click to enlargeThe next package opened was from son Steev. He got me this really cool T-shirt, one that I had seen on-line and been coveting for a while.

Click to enlargeSon Allan and daughter-in-law Jeannette, who live in Germany, sent me this really great Easter basket filled with European dark chocolate – YUM! I’m trying to make it last rather than gobble it down in one day as is my inclination!

Click to enlargeThe final gift was another from Jan. She really went overboard on me this year. It was a new lens for my camera. Not just any lens either. It’s the Nikkor VR 70-300mm zoom lens. This will be great for wildlife photography and also for candid shots. I’ve already taken some pretty neat (IMHO) pictures with it so expect a post about them soon.

I hope this doesn’t sound too much like bragging. It was such a great birthday that I can’t help talking about it. Everyone should be so lucky.

I don’t want this blog to deteriorate into just bitching about the weather but things are getting ridiculous! Here it is, the day before my birthday, and what are we getting? Snow, sleet, ice and wind! This hasn’t happened since 1973! Look at this. Notice the nice green grass under the trees. Hope the plants still are able to bloom.

The power has been flickering occasionally but so far it has stayed up. Below is a picture of the ice on a guy wire of my ham radio antenna tower. Overall the ice is about 3/4 inch in diameter. So far, no problem but I wouldn’t want to be walking under it when the ice starts dropping off!

I promise I’ll post something positive once good weather finally arrives.

Jinxing Spring

  • First, we had the lawn tractor converted from its winter configuration to the summer mode. This is complicated and strenuous enough that I’ve given up trying to do it myself and hire it out.
  • Pruning flowers, cleaning flower beds and picking up the winter debris in the yard. This seems to be a never-ending job but worse in this spring.
  • Then, tricked by temporary warm weather, we got all the deck furniture out and scrubbed up. All ready for warm spring days and starry nights.
  • Finally we got the pond opened up. This is another big job involving draining, cleaning out leaves and dirt, reinstalling the pump and refilling. Again, I would rather pay someone to do this rather than ruin my back while doing a half-assed job myself.

Of course, all of these preparations caused the weather deities to chuckle and chant “Not so fast, Mortal!“, accompanied with lightning bolts, thunder, rain and wind.

So spring has fizzled out. We had some nice days a few weeks ago. Now, because of our hubris – WHAMMO! Hazardous weather, dropping temperatures and a forecast of snow this week. Sorry,- mea culpa. Still, all of you in the midwest should be grateful that we have not yet gotten our Miata out of winter storage. Had we done that, there would be snow and ice covered roads in all the states surrounding Iowa. I’ll post a warning before we take that perilous step.

Updating a friends web site

Once it got too nasty to do stuff outside I decided I would work on some long overdue updating to a friends web site. This should not have been that much of a job, only needing new text for half a dozen pages. But as all easy jobs go, little things crept in. There were links to update, out-of-date references to remove (without breaking the navigation) and fixing the “Oops” discoveries. I had to resist the urge to completely rewrite the CSS for the site, though that will have to be done sometime soon.

And just in case my friend drops by, I have to say I really don’t mind doing this. It keeps me involved in coding and lets me try out new things when I feel like it. Still it does take time.

Preventing office avalanches

Then there is the never ending battle with keeping my office from being listed as a hazardous area. I tend to pile things up and if not careful small children and pets could be lost in the clutter. Sometimes I just have to shut down the computer and get out the shovel. Unfortunately I seem to be able to create clutter faster than I can deal with it.

Brrrrr!It’s colder than (fill in your own epithet)!

How cold is it?
Here is the forecast for our area (Shellsburg, Iowa) over this weekend (February 3-4)

Today: Partly cloudy and cold, with a high near 0. Wind chill values between -20 and -26. Breezy, with a west wind between 15 and 23 mph, with gusts as high as 32 mph.

Tonight: Mostly clear, with a low around -15. Wind chill values between -24 and -29. West wind between 9 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Sunday: Partly cloudy and cold, with a high near 0. Wind chill values between -21 and -31. Northwest wind between 9 and 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around -18. Wind chill values between -23 and -32.

(Those are degrees Fahrenheit)

Guess I’ll hibernate now.