Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hunting Season

Bunny picture from
It's hunting season most places by now. I know around here we are seeing a lot more cars and trucks pulled over by the side of the road in unusual places. We assume they are hunting in the woods or a lot of people unexpectedly needed to go to relieve themselves.

Another hunting season makes me think of yet another story my father told me. After he married my mother and they moved back to this country after World War 2, my mother's family wanted him to feel like he was part of the family (after a rocky beginning as I wrote about in my post "How Mom got into the RAF"). So, my grandfather and some of my uncles decided to take my father hunting. I don't remember if he'd ever gone hunting before but he certainly knew how to shoot a rifle after being in the service. They started off small and just went in the local area because, back then, there were huge areas of undeveloped fields and woods. He said he enjoyed being with his new relatives and it was a beautiful day. It was fall and the air was fresh and clear. He and my grandfather became great friends and my father really liked my uncles, too. It was going to be a good day.

After quite a while of tramping around the hills of Western Pennsylvania, my father was beginning to think he wasn't going to find any game but then he saw something move and identified it and shot. He'd gotten a rabbit and was very excited. Grandpa and my uncles congratulated him and they retrieved his prize. They had a lot more to do that day, though, and you can't carry it in your hand so they showed him how to tie it onto his belt. At first he thought it was a good idea but when they tied that little bunny's legs to his belt, that was it. He never went hunting again for the rest of his life.

I don't know what would have happened if I had ever asked him to take me hunting when I was a boy. Maybe it was him telling me this story that led me to believe he wouldn't want to do it or maybe it turned me against hunting, too. Whatever it was, I have never gone hunting, either. I remember that in my Freshman year at college I saw a movie about what goes on in slaughter houses and I didn't eat meat for a long time after that, too. But in the end, I just put it out of my mind and went back to my carnivorous ways. My son doesn't eat meat, though. I don't think we'll be going hunting, either.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A surprise in a bunch of bananas

You can tell by the picture what's going to happen, can't you? This is a story about my father as a young man. He was born in Wales but his mother (my grandmother) moved with him to London when she was looking for a job. He also found a job but his was on the London docks unloading boats. On one occasion, he was unloading a boatload of bananas and felt something crawling on him. Before he could put down his load and swat the thing off, it bit him. Now, my father was rather fearless about most things but something about spiders really set him off. So, he panicked.

They took him to a nurse but she didn't move fast enough for his liking. He told me he yelled at her to hurry up - that he was dying. It didn't speed her up. Either she knew that the bites of these types of spiders were not generally serious or his description of it let her know that it wasn't a serious threat. Or maybe she just didn't care. He told me he thought maybe it was a young spider and didn't have much venom. No matter what the circumstances, he didn't die and wasn't maimed. I don't think he went back to the docks for work after that, though.

Ironically, one of his favorite songs to sing was the Harry Belafonte hit "The Banana Boat Song (Day-o)". He never sang the verse about the deadly black spider, though. I think it brought back too many bad memories.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Chestnuts bursting out the oven door"

Last week-end, we traveled to Jordan's Furniture in Avon, MA and enjoyed three fun things in one location. One fun thing was looking through the vast furniture selection they have. We may be in the market for a new couch for our family room. We'll see. The second fun thing we did was to go to their theater to see an abridged, 3-D version of The Polar Express. Their Motion Odyssey Movie theater adds a "fourth" dimension of movement to the feature. You sit in specially designed seats that move with the action of the movie like the train roaring down a steep ravine or twisting across a frozen lake or flying along with Santa in his sleigh. I had forgotten how much I like that movie and can't wait to see it all the way through (in plain old 2-D) on our TV at home.

The third fun thing we did at the store was something we hadn't expected to do. We walked through The Enchanted Village. This is a series of Christmas-themed scenes from an old village. I don't know the time period it is supposed to depict but it seems to be the late 1800's or the very early 1900's. We enjoyed that so much, I think we're going to go back and take our cameras this time. Perhaps I'll be able to post some pictures and write up more about this exhibit closer to Christmas. [Update: We did get back to the exhibit and took pictures. You can see some of them in my post "The Enchanted Village - part 1" with more to follow.] One of the scenes, though, reminded me of something from my childhood. One of the scenes showed a stand where chestnuts were being roasted. I remember a time when my parents decided it would be fun to try roasting chestnuts themselves.

I had never tasted roasted chestnuts but my parents had. As they talked about it, they made them sound delicious. For some reason, saying something is "roasted" always makes it sound more enticing to me. So, we went to the supermarket and bought some chestnuts. I don't think my folks knew what temperature to set the stove to but I'm sure they figured they'd just keep an eye on them and stop when they seemed to be done. So, into the oven went the chestnuts and we sat back and got ready for the feast. As time went on, they realized that they wouldn't know what to expect the chestnuts to look like on the outside when they were done. As we sat there talking about it, we started to hear noises in the oven. They got louder. Then, we heard a loud noise. Then another. Kind of like an old musket being shot. Not the sharp crack of a modern rifle but a sort of slow pop. When my mother opened the stove door to check, some chestnuts shot out of the oven and hit the opposite wall. Then a few more joined in the onslaught. She quickly shut the door and turned off the heat. It took a while for things to settle down.

Later we found out that you have to pierce the shell of the chestnuts to let out the steam that builds up when they heat. We never did try roasting chestnuts again, though. I guess we hadn't even been trying to roast them in the first place. We were baking them. I found two webpages about roasting chestnuts. My wife and I may try it to show the kids. We'll see. We've got the chestnuts. Now to find a sharp knife!

Here are the two websites that have good instructions:

"How to Roast Chestnuts Over an Open Fire" at The Art of Manliness site

"How to Roast Chestnuts" at Kathy Maister's Start Cooking site

In the second article, be sure to read down to the PS section that talks about another way of preparing the chestnuts that you may find easier than the the other methods.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Be careful what you choose for a password

This isn't the usual story you hear about passwords. Normally you are warned that your password needs to be more than 6 or 8 (or more) characters long.Normally you hear that your password should include a mix of upper and lower case characters and some numbers. Normally, you hear that you need to change your passwords often and to not use the same password for multiple accounts. Normally you hear that you should not use a commonly used password (the top five are, "password", "123456", "12345678", "1234" and "qwerty") or the names of your children, spouse or pets. Those are all good suggestions but that's not what I'm talking about here.

When I first started working at this company (almost 25 years ago!), we ran a Bulletin Board System (BBS). They were very popular in the 1980's. They allowed our customers (and anyone who was interested) to call in using a computer and modem and, with a simple terminal emulator, see our company's products list, get news about upcoming products and download the software and firmware that ran our products for free. It also allowed customers to ask technical questions about our products in the hours when our office was closed. It was free and relatively easy to use. We used a program called Red Ryder (later updated and renamed White Knight) to run the BBS on a spare Macintosh computer.

Being the new guy, I inherited the management of the BBS. As more people started using it and more non-customers began using it, we started forcing people to set up an account that we would review before allowing them to use the BBS. It's sad to say but even then, with the relative anonymity the BBS provided, some non-customers would log on and leave comments that were derogatory, disruptive and just plain lies. So, we wanted to know who the people were who would be using the system. We didn't need some know-nothing insulting our customers. Part of setting up an account was choosing a password. Like everyone else on the system, I chose a password - assuming I would be the only one seeing it. Isn't that how passwords are supposed to work?

One day, a friend (and customer) of the company owner asked him about getting an update of one of our software products - right away! The owner asked me how he could do that and I told him about the need to set up an account. The owner told this to his friend but the friend didn't want to take the time to do that and wait while I verified the account and confirmed it for use. He was in a hurry! I said I'd be there waiting for his call and could set him in a few minutes. "Not fast enough," was the answer.  "Why can't he just download the software update? Don't we have a guest account?" No, I hadn't set one up. It seemed too easy for a troublemaker to figure that out. So then the owner said, "Can't he just use your account for now?" Well, he could but that would mean he would need to know my password. The owner said, "What's the big deal? I trust him and you could always change your password after he's done." I tried a few more evasive suggestions but they didn't work. I could see the owner was losing his patience. Finally, I had to give him the password, "BadAss". I was so embarrassed. For his part, the owner didn't laugh at me and I guess his friend got the software he had been after but, to be honest, I felt so bad I'm not sure what happened. I do know, though, that whenever anyone in the company wanted to get a rise out of me for the next few months, all they had to do was say, "BadAss".

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Why the election turned out the way it did

I didn't want to write this before the election in case it swayed people's vote. But here are the reasons Mitt Romney lost the election:
  • It was obvious from the beginning that Mr. Romney was not going to even come close to carrying the state where he had been Governor (Massachusetts) - people wondered what the people of Massachusetts knew about him
  • As the election neared, it was also obvious that Mr. Romney was not going to carry the state where he had been born (Michigan) and where his father had been Governor - this was probably because Mr. Romney disagreed with helping those automobile corporations
  • Mr. Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, was clearly not going to help them carry his home state (Wisconsin)
  • People probably realized that the recession was world-wide and the slow recovery wasn't Mr. Obama's fault
So that's it. The definitive list. But, just in case Mitt Romney had won the election, I was ready with some reasons why Barack Obama lost the election:
  • That first debate was a killer and it showed him as indecisive and not in touch and allowed Mr. Romney to gain momentum
  • The attack and loss of life at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was poorly handled and the explanations were weak and confusing
  • On Election Day, Mr. Romney kept campaigning while Mr. Obama took the day off
  • The Obama campaign didn't exploit the four points I made about why Mr. Romney lost the election!

There you have it. I was prepared with two sets of reasons. Like a good debater, who is supposed to be able to win a debate taking one side of an argument and then take the other side and win a debate from the opposite side, I had both sides covered. That is why I mistrust debates of any kind. A skilled debater can take any position and still win.

[Update: As I think more about this, and consider all the blunders made by both sides, maybe neither side really wanted to win this election. Considering the daunting tasks still ahead and each side's readiness to pounce on any miscue, who wants all the trouble?]

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I voted early this morning...

...but not early enough. There was a long line awaiting me when I got there. I dutifully stepped to the back of the line. Then I noticed that there were some people who appeared to be cutting line. Boy, of all the times for that to happen. This is supposed to be the day when we all come together to celebrate our having the freedom to vote. We are supposed to rise above our baser instincts and all join together to make this thing work. If we can't cooperate in something as simple as voting, how are we going to work together to solve bigger problems?

I stood there steaming and slowly moving up while the "line cutters" seemed to be moving faster. Finally, someone came out and announced, "If the street you live on starts with the letters A through N, please come over to to this line," indicating the shorter, faster moving line. Our street starts with T and I was in the correct line. Too bad there wasn't a sign when we first came in or someone to tell us. But then, the whole thing is voluntary so why am I complaining?

When I finally got to the beginning of the line, I asked, "Where do we go to request a new name for our street? I kind of like Aardvark Highway." Isn't there enough discrimination in life without being alphabetically discriminated against? There I go complaining again.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Building a bed - the result

Here's the result of building my daughters bed. I should have taken a picture of just the bed frame. I can't take credit for the nice blanket, comforter or the arrangement of stuffed animals. That is all Emma and my wife Cindy's doing. The headboard is a separate item from IKEA® and I really like it. It was much easier to put together and is very practical. If you click on the picture here, you'll see it better.

I've had headboards in the past that had bookshelves but those were always along the width of the headboard so you had nothing to lean a pillow against for sitting up and reading. This headboard, from the Brimnes collection (the bed frame is from the same collection), has a flat headboard for leaning up against with space for books behind the headboard. You attach the headboard to the wall and then push the bed up against the headboard. There is even a space at the bottom that one of our cats has claimed as his place to hide from the world when he needs a few minutes of solitude.

The designers really thought this through. The shelves (there are shelves at both ends) are adjustable and the top is a nice 10 inch wide surface and has a hole for getting a power cord up to it for lights, radios and whatever. Also, there are four drawers under the bed with a lot of storage. I've put together a lot of things with drawers on sliders but none have worked as well as these. They are easy to move and very sturdy. They don't wobble at all.

If you have the time and the space to spread out the parts as you put it together, I don't think you can go wrong with this bed. The bottom line is that Emma loves it and that's all I need to make me happy.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Building a bed - the beginning

Box 1 of 3 - no instructions
My daughter is growing and she was finding her old bed uncomfortable. So, it was time to go shopping for a new one. After looking at many other stores, we decided to go to IKEA®. We'd been there once before but that was right after the store had opened and it was crowded. We're not crowd people. But after a few years, things had finally slowed down at that location so we tried again. This time, we found he visit enjoyable and there was time and room to look around and think about things. After a while, my daughter found a bed she really liked so we bought one. In case you don't know - what you buy at IKEA is the parts for a bed with instructions on how to put it together. I was elected to put the bed together. The first picture shows one of the three boxes the bed came in. Very neatly packed but where were the instructions?

Ah, the instructions and the many pieces of hardware
I opened all three boxes. I still couldn't find the instructions. Fortunately, the IKEA website (link is to the English version) is very well organized and I was able to find the instructions in PDF format. I downloaded them, printed them and then, and only then, I found the printed instructions in one of the boxes (under one of he large pieces of the bed). I can't tell you if it was the first box I should have opened or not because the boxes are not numbered. At least, I could not see ordinal numbers.

Repackaged hardware components
Anyway, that is one of the few complaints I had. The pieces of the bed were very sturdy and well made. The white finish is resilient and I like the design. It's simple and elegant. The hardware also looked to be of good quality. But there were so many pieces! In the picture here, you can see that I repackaged many of the hardware components to make it easier to keep track of them and to reduce the time I needed to search for the right one. The instructions were good about identifying which parts were needed for each stage of the project.

Construction begins
The instruction were generally very good. Because IKEA sells their merchandise world-wide, they use only pictures in their manuals to save the need to translate written instructions. This makes it fairly easy to understand but also leaves confusing areas - to me, at least. My only other complaint about the whole process was that the large pieces of the bed were not labeled. I've had other furniture kits that put removable idetifying stickers on the large parts. The instructions tried to identify the parts by showing where the pre-drilled holes were and other identifying marks but I found a few of the pieces too similar. The final picture (on the left) shows the first step of putting the bed together but, in a way, I would really call it the second step. I had these parts put together the wrong way the first time because I misinterpreted the drawing. I had to take this apart and put it together correctly which is what is in this picture.

If you click on the final picture, you'll see some of the hardware packages circled in red. I found I needed a lot of room to spread everything out. I did finally get it all together. You'll see that in the next post.