I build a Paludariam – Part II

Here is the second part of my work on the Paludariam.

First, a definition.
We all know that an aquarium is an environment that you store and display fish and aquatic creatures in. These range from basic gold fish and Betta bowls to elaborate, super-expensive saltwater reef aquariums housing some of the worlds most beautiful and deadly ocean creatures.

I had built one or the other over the years, but never really combined them until I found inspiration in the things i read about Vivariums which lead to Paludariams.

Essentially, the Paludariam is just like a vivarium, a terrarium with live creatures, live plants, regulated humidity and temperature to produce as much a self sustaining ecosystem as possible. The difference between the Paludariam and Vivarium is that the Paludariam also incorporates a water feature in addition to a landmass for the animals to live in. the water feature could be anything from a pond to stream to waterfall to a deep fish tank surrounded at the top by landmass for amphibious creatures.

In my case, I have a rather simple setup that involves a water feature, with a waterfall, several small fish (Tetras) and a base layer of gravel that slopes up out of the water line to provide moist, but not flooded landmass and moss for my frogs to crawl on. The upside here is that the moss maintains moisture and helps with humidity control, as does the circulation from the waterfall. So lets take a look a bit more in-depth:

The landmass, as I said, is just a lot of aquarium gravel substrate covered by moss. the upside is that I can easily plant some semi-aquatic plants, it’s cheap, and easy to maintain (just remove the moss and replace every now and then). The down side is that I’m really limited on what can be planted, normal potted plants will drown. The frogs love it, it gives them a lot of texture to climb on and jump around in, plus it really maintains moisture, which helps with keeping the humidity around 70% or so.

You can see the three plants I put in there today… they’re new, so we’ll see how well they work. I may yet have to pull some of this out and redo it in-situ, but hopefully not.

This is the water side. The filtration and aeration is done by the waterfall… it’s a pre-made unit I picked up on clearnace at PetSmart that includes dual filtering and constant water movement. Its big enough for twice the amount of water I have… my water level is limited by the lower vents in the glass, unfortunately, so I get about 4 inches deep or so. The gravel is just standard aquarium gravel and the quartz was harvested from my yard… it gives the fish something to hide behind, and the large piece makes for a nice perch for the frogs.

And here are some tiny froggies:

And some Fishies (neon and white-tip tetras):

There is also one tadpole who has strong back legs. I think he’ll be sprouting the front legs soon so I put him in the tank directly to see if he’ll metamorphose and crawl out on his own into the new world. Given that they’ve all been raised together in the same tub, I don’t think that disease is a worry. If he survives and emerges like I hope, I’ll probably simply transfer them from the tadpole tank directly to the paludarium once they become froglets. But that will really depend on what this guy does.

I built a Paludariam – Part I

I can’t believe it’s really been this long since I last posted anything there. I will attempt to do better in this new year.

Let’s start out 2014 with a project that started something like this:

So I’ve had a few different pets over the years… dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, mice, snakes, scorpions various types of freshwater fish, etc. Now I’ve found a new hobby…

It started this past spring when some amorous tree frogs decided to have the sexy time in a tub that was left on my deck which was full of rainwater. Sortly there were hundreds of tadpoles, it seemed, who happily feasted on the algae growing in the water, and eventually mosquito larve as well. As the summer wore on, the tadpoles became froglets and eventually left their sheltered little pond to go out into the big, wide world. But then fall came and with it the first freeze, leaving a crust of ice covering the tub of rainwater that had become the ersatz frog pond.

I actually felt kinda bad that these little things were soon destined to freeze to death in a block of ice once winter set in and the temps dropped below freezing for extended periods of time. So, I scooped them up and put them into a large mason jar. A week later, I realized I had no plan, and had a jar full of tadpoles. So began the odyssey. First, I bought a cheap, small fish tank so the tadpoles would have better, cleaner water, room to swim and could live out their lives and I could watch them grow and metamorph into froglets and eventually frogs.

So the first step was setting up that aquarium.

The next step, once the tadpoles have become froglets (they now have all four legs and can climb if they need to, but still have tails) they no longer need to eat. The tail is slowly re-absorbed during the metamorphosis. At this stage (once I see they have all legs), I remove them from the tadpole tank and put them in a simple plastic tub. The tub is filled with enough water from the tadpole tank to give them a habitat to live in until the lungs develop and are ready to breathe air. The tub is sat at an angle so that when the frog is ready, it can easily emerge from the water.

The tub is very important, or at the very least, the tadpole tank would need some sort of floating platform for the frogs to climb onto. Once they get their legs, the lungs start really developing and if they can’t get out of the water easily, they’ll drown. I lost one this way early on because I didn’t provide a good enough platform. Thus, I went with the tub instead as it’s much safer for the froglet.

This is the tub, sitting on a deck of playing cards to elevate it as I mentioned before. It’s empty right now as I don’t have a froglet ready to change.

Once they’ve emerged from the water, I put them in a small transitional terrarium. This is little more than moss and a tub of water. Here, they’re fed some small flightless fruit flies and I just make sure they aren’t gonna die after just a few days out of the water. I had one die on me like this already. This terrarium is one of the medium sized “critter keepers” you can find at Wal-Mart or any pet store. I did buy a mosquito net head cover from Wal-Mart and glue it to the inside of the top of the critter keeper to ensure any fruit flies didn’t get out through all the vents at the top. Word of advice, that’s very important, unless you like having little fruit flies crawling all over.

This is the temporary terrarium:

The temp terrarium is pretty easy to maintain, just make sure the water in the tub is fresh and mist the insides every day or so to keep the moss moist and the humidity acceptable. These are all tree frogs and they need good humidity and a pool of water to keep from drying out.

Finally, they are moved to the paludarium. A paludarium is just a vivarium but has water as well as landmass. The one I’m using is a converted 36″Tx24″Wx18″D snake terrarium that I’ve converted. This is my first time trying a mixed environment like this, and there are already things I want to change when start really redoing it later on. But for now, it looks pretty nice and so far is running well. The next time, I think I’ll use a real aquarium, though, as I can make the water feature a lot deeper for better fish colonies. Maybe I can talk the spousal unit into letting me convert her old 75 Gallon tank into a huge paludariam. I’ve already got a great idea for one that has a pond on one end and a waterfall, plus a recirculating pump that pushes water to the other end, letting it travel like a small stream back into the pond.

This is the paludarium. It’s about 50/50 water to landmass. I didn’t do the substrate as well as I could have, instead using only aquarium gravel and moss. If/when I redo it, I’m going to do it more properly with a bit of plexi to separate the water from the land, then do real soil so I can plant more fauna. But for now, this should work until I have time and money to really put into it.

Is there anyone on the plane with medical training?

Flight Attendant: Excuse me, but is there anyone on-board with medical training?
Me: Yo.

Well, that’s not exactly how it went, though I have had that happen before on a flight. But this time it started with people in my section looking to the starboard aisle. At first, I thought someone had just fallen in the aisle but when I noticed no one moving, and everyone staring, something in me started yelling “Get up!” Before I knew it, I was up and across the plane and at the side of a guy who was in a bad way.

I honestly don’t even remember getting that far. It was all automatic, reflex from years of EMS. For a long time, I was an Advanced Life Support provider as both a volunteer and professional. I worked for a private ambulance company as well as two clinics and an Emergency Room. I took classes, I was certified and I lived it 24/7. Then I left it all behind to move to North Carolina and a more lucrative career in computers. But all that training, all that experience, it never really left me. Not in the least.

And there I found myself, kneeling next to an unconscious white male in the starboard aisle of a Boeing 777-200, half way between Tokyo and Washington, DC.

It was amazing to me how it all came back. How effortlessly I started an assessment and made sure all the basics were covered. Airway? Yep, it’s clear. Breathing? Yes, but shallow. Circulation? No distal pulses, but carotid is there. Sternum rub, shake the shoulder. Nothing. Diaphoretic. He had all the symptoms of hypovolemic shock. But he obviously wasn’t bleeding to death, unless he had something nasty like a ruptured aortic anyeurism, but if that was the case, there wasn’t much I could do.

So treat the shock to start with. Elevate the feet and start checking vitals again. And then, almost like magic, he opened his eyes, took a deep breath and sat upright. At this time, the flight attendants had arrived.

“Are you a doctor?”
“No, but I play one on TV.”
Well, that’s what I thought, but in reality, I just told them I had training and let it go at that.

After the guy had a moment to get his wits about him, I asked about a history of seizures, because despite the shock symptoms, he looked as though he had just had one (and with the mild twitching when he was out, seizure did cross my mind). But then, perhaps something related to meds? Ah hah!

It would seem, that on a long flight, at 38,000 feet in the air, taking a vasodilator while dehydrated is not such a good idea. What happened is that he took the pill an hour or so before. It kicked in, and he started feeling nauseous. Thinking he was getting airsick, he got up quickly and headed to the lavatory. So add in standing up quickly to all of the above, and the blood drained from his head and over he went. Luckily, this went well. He woke up after a few seconds. I escorted him back to his seat to make sure he was OK and the flight attendants brought some water.

I suggested he re-hydrate well and not get up too quickly for a while. I think it was probably a combination of dehydration, altitude and meds that bottomed his blood pressure and caused him to experience a nice syncopal episode.

What really surprised me, though, is how quickly it all came back to me. It’s been a LONG time since I was an active EMS provider, and yet all that training came flooding back to me as soon as the adrenaline started flowing. In hind-sight, I was lucky. I really didn’t want to work a code there somewhere over Alaska, half-way though a 13 hour flight. It all worked out for the best and everyone gets to go home to their families tonight. The flight crew were very thankful that I had jumped in to help out, and to be honest, so am I. I miss that part of my life sometimes. I’m glad that I still have it, and that I know, in an emergency, I can still do what needs to be done, at least to a basic degree.

The future already started. You missed it, but it’s coming soon!

It started with a post to an e-mail list I’m on of fellow disenfranchised geeks who wanted a place where we could crack wise, talk of off-topic things and be most assuredly politically incorrect, feelings be damned. In a typical thread derailment this was said:

PC aren’t dying, they’re in transition. There won’t be a time where you don’t need a PC. Tablets and smart phones have gotten good, but they still can’t replace a powerful general purpose PC.

This is not a difficult statement to make. The ubiquitous PC has been around for longer than many of us today have been alive. However, some of us DO still predate the PC and have seen it grow from the boxy white bricks like the IBM PS/2 to today’s myriad shapes and sizes, full of glowing neon, water or oil cooling systems and more power than older supercomputers.

But then, another member of the group made this simple statement

People used to say that about watches. I haven’t worn a watch in 15 years.

Which is some sort of indication that both PCs and Watches are anachronisms only fit to serve as curiosity pieces or statements made by elitists and hipsters. And yet millions of watches are still sold every year. I wear a watch almost daily even though I have the time displayed on every computer I own plus my iPhone. Heck, even my coffee maker has a clock built in. Then again, I collect analog watches so I have a biased opinion on the death of the watch. But again, millions are sold every year.

I do agree that PCs are in transition. You can’t really say that smart phones and tablets are going to supplant PCs any more than you can say that PCs as we know them are never going to die. PC means Personal Computer and for all intensive purposes (*Yes, I know it’s incorrect) iPhones and the bigger Android based smart phones are quickly becoming the standard “Personal Computer”. After all they are computers, there is no doubt about that, and they are very, very personal. My iPhone has more computing power than my first desktop machine did.

What I think is actually going to happen is that phones and tablets will become more and more powerful, faster, and simply better than what we know today. They will come with faster processors and with the advent of Systems on Chip (SoC) more and more cores are going to be jammed onto smaller and smaller devices. The current ARM phones already sport dual core chips. Quad core is not too far away.

What we think of as the PC today will continue becoming smaller and smaller and eventually those lines will intersect and we’ll have the next big thing that WILL replace both. That, like it or not, is really inevitable. Sure there will be those holdouts that insist on a big clunky desktop. I have a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer II sitting on the other desk, hooked up to a 13 inch television that I still write short programs on from time to time. But eventually, those two lines, phones and tablets getting bigger, better, PCs getting smaller, smaller WILL intersect and that will be the moment everything changes.

Think how much we take for granted today. Just 6 years ago there was no such thing as a “Smart Phone”. People had cellular phones, people had PDAs. Some lucky few had palm-top computer type devices. Some had PDAs that were phones. But none of them worked terribly well. Then, as they did in 1984 in their Orwellian commercial introducing the Macintosh, Apple changed the world with the launch of the iPhone.

They had already changed the way we entertain ourselves with the iPod, and now the iPhone was a shot heard round the world, kicking off the never ending Smart Phone arms race that has been fought on the streets, in stores, in advertisement and in court. From there the Smart Phone gained overnight traction and the chimes of inevitability rang. Already computers were getting smaller with the Laptop, the Notebook, the Sub-Notebook and then the Net-book. Tablets were just around the corner.

So where does this lead? It is leading to a collision of cosmic proportions. For a good glimpse of this think back to 2009. A man is working his way though the airport security line when he is pulled aside to explain the strange device he’s trying to sneak through security. The man goes on to explain the Motorola Atrix, a phone that’s a computer. Or is it a computer that’s a phone? It’s a cell phone with a fast (at the time) processor and, more importantly, a dock that turns it into a notebook computer.

It’s not super fast. but I think that it’s a pretty good first glimpse at what we’re going to see in the future. Think of how many people (aside from computer geeks like me because like it or not, we are NOT the super-set, we are a reasonably tiny subset) buy “Desktop” machines versus laptops.

Just using my own life as an anecdote: at my desk I have a 1U rack server and a Shuttle PC. The 1U serves as a test machine for when I’m testing server type stuff like virtualization hosting systems, cloud infrastrucutre, etc. The Shuttle is my media server at home that provides music, movies and photos to the rest of the personal computers in my home. It has no keyboard, no monitor and can only be accessed via the network. The rest of my personal computers are all laptops, one netbook and one thin client. Plus appliances like my blu-ray player, my xBox 360 and my Wii. I have ONE traditional tower case, and it’s used as an end table. I sit my beer on it when I’m working. That’s it’s sole function these days.

My parents have not owned a desktop in years. Today, they only own a pair of laptops. In fact, outside of the Power User/Admin/Hacker set, I don’t know anyone who owns a desktop, and I know a LOT who own tablets.

We are headed to a point where “Computer” and “Form Factor” are irrelevant, I think. We’re going to get to a point where you can wear a computer on your wrist, if you choose, that is as powerful as the one you carry in your shoulder bag, that is as powerful as the one you use at your desk at work, and they may all be the same computer with
swap-able physical interfaces.

Think for a moment about Apple’s AirPlay. You can queue up a video on your Mac Laptop, then pick it up on your iPhone or iPad mid-stream, then shoot it over to your AppleTV and finish watching it on your HDTV. This works. Today. This works well. I have seen it in action.

Now imagine that you have a smart phone type device. You’re on the train headed to work or riding on the bus or whatever surfing the internet, reading email, doing the normal “stuff” we do when we’re bored. Facebook. News. You get the idea. You get to work and sit down at your desk. You push a button on the 24″ display panel on your desk and as soon as it has turned on, all that data you were looking at on your phone and more instantly starts appearing on the desk monitor. You use the wireless keyboard to type e-mail, write code or who knows what. You use a mouse or perhaps a touch device to move the pointer around the giant display.

You’re done for the day, so time to head home. You pick up your smart phone thing and turn off that big 24″ monitor, and out the door you go. Back on the bus you’ve picked up where you left off at work and continue doing things on the device as you head home. At home it’s time to catch up a bit with your friends. You sit down at your desk and open up a thing that looks a bit like the laptops we have today. Power that on and again, your smart phone begins sending all it’s data to that machine instead. Now you have a small laptop like device to type on. The built in camera lets you video chat with your mom, 1000 miles away, before dinner by wirelessly sending that data through your phone.

Dinner is over and it’s time to watch some television. You look up the show guide on your phone device and notice that there’s a new episode of “Ow! My Balls” on tonight. You click that and it begins playing, not on your phone, but across the room on your 60″ 3D HDTV. You spend the rest of the night watching mind numbing reality television and then head off to bed, to start the cycle over again tomorrow.

We’re not there yet, but the bits and pieces individually for every piece of that already exist today. From things like the Atrix to IPTV to FIOS and ubiquitous wireless data access (wi-fi or cellular). It’s all there. Every last bit. The trick is bringing it all together. Smashing one atom of Personal Computer together with one atom of Smart Phone and one atom of Tablet. That will kick off an explosion of interconnected technology that many can not even imagine. Just like the way IBM couldn’t imagine why people at home would want a computer of their own and thus turned away a young Bill Gates. And we all know where that led.

OMGGWTF ur defriended LOLZ!!1!

Given that it’s national election season again in the US, the expected upswing in idiotic ramblings from uninformed party-line partisans has kicked into high gear. People on all sides of the political polygon feel it is their duty, nay, their divine mission to bring those poor uneducated fools on the OTHER side over to the light. Politics is the other religion and it is alive and well here in the Colonies.

An interesting result of the advent of social media sites like FaceBook, MySpace, Friendster, Flixster and the infinite multitude of websites that act as anonymous watering holes or family reunions is that anyone and everyone feels free to post even the most insane ramblings. This, in turn, is visible to their “friends” or connections and in some places, appear on those people’s personal pages and on and on in a sort of Six Degrees of Lies, Damn Lies and Lying Liars.

The truth is, NONE of them are completely right. In this election, the Romney supporters spout all sorts of nonsense about Barak Obama while the smug pseudo-intellectuals on the other side throw back masturbatory barbs of their own in equally inane ways. The fringe party supporters like LIbertarians, Communists, Socialists, Green Party and so forth, the ones who collectively make up the political middle are left somewhat in the crossfire watching the Zingers lobbed back and forth. Poste, reposte.

What is somewhat disturbing, however, is how we treat each other at times like these. I see so many people posting things to their Facebook walls these days that sound a lot like this:

I am so sick and tired of your political views that are not my own that I will now remove you as my “friend” and never listen to your insane, stupid, incorrect ramblings again. I will only see items posted by people who believe the same as I do! Nana nana boo boo, stick your head in $PRESIDENTIAL_CANDIDATE’S butt!

And this got me thinking. For starters, groups of friends usually share some sort of common bond. Generally, humans are gregarious and flock to each other naturally. The “recluse” is the outlier in any human society, from the dawn of man, huddled together in small familial units in caves to clans comprised of extended famlies which eventually grew to villages, towns, cities and nations.

So given that, if your “friends'” beliefs and desire to talk about those beliefs are so repugnant that you feel the need to “de-friend” them, were they really your friends to begin with? More importantly, however, is that if YOU were such a good friend, would you really sever ties with someone based solely on one aspect of them? I, personally, do not. In fact, I welcome diverse views and beliefs among my friends, close or otherwise. I enjoy the different points of view, the personal opinions, the differing ways of looking at the same thing.

I learn so much from NOT solely hanging around people who think and act like me. That opportunity for growth would be denied me were I to just “de-friended” people because they said something I didn’t agree with. And so I think it’s sad to see people severing ties over someone else’s political views. If we only associate with people who believe the same things we do and sit back and smile while smugly fellating each other with our moral and intellectual superiority over “those other guys”, how can we really grow?

If neither side is 100% right, then both sides are at least somewhat wrong, and that will never change as long as we refuse to listen to someone else’s view points. If everyone’s political and religious beliefs and affirmations are taken in aggregate, EVERYONE is an illiterate, uneducated, blind fool following an equally stupid chicken fucker down the highway to hell.

Fall is upon us once more

Ahhh, Autumn. My third most favorite time of the year. A time of retiring as the trees change colors in fiery waves across the mountains, birds begin their southern migration to warmer climes and that most elegant of sports, American Football, starts anew. Fall is also a time of heartier foods made to warm you from the inside, from heavy turkey dinners laden with stuffing, potatoes and casseroles to stews chock full of meats and veggies. This brings me, conveniently, to one of my favorite fall foods, Chili.

Chili, more accurately ‘chili con carne’ dates back to at least 16th century when Spaniard Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a Conquistador stated that the Cholulan Indians were so assured of their coming victory that they had already prepared large vats of tomatoes, salt and chiles. The only missing ingredient was the meat, which was unluckily provided by the Conquistadors themselves in the form of their own flesh (Wikipedia).

I’ve made many different chilis over the years, some good, some, well, not so good. I’ve never made mine with meat from dead hookers or Spaniards, but I have tried various substitutes from various ground meats to diced bits of venison, steak, pork, chicken and veal. I’ve used chiles of different strengths from simple Jalapenos all the way to raw habanero and Scotch Bonnet. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve lost my youthful taste for things so hot your lips burn for hours after, but I still enjoy some tasty, tasty nuclear fire in my chili.

This last batch started off fairly easily. In a large skillet, I browned a pound of ground sirloin and a pound of ground pork. To this I added onion powder and minced garlic to taste. Once browned, I drained off the grease and dumped the whole mix into a large slow cooker, adding in two 15 Oz cans of diced, fire roasted tomatoes, 1 can of black beans, one can of dark red kidney beans and my first bit of inspiration, a can of chickpeas. Next came a whole onion, diced. This was stirred and the crock pot was set on low for about an hour to let things start getting warmed up.

After things were good and hot, I added in about three tablespoons of brown sugar, and then oregano, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, ground mustard and chili powder to taste. I also added in a fair amount of fresh basil from my gardens. Keep in mind when you add this that it will taste one way after adding the ingredients in, and then different after it’s cooked a while and the flavors have had a chance to mingle and have their own key party, each ingredient going off to a seedy motel room with another based purely on who has had too much to drink at the party.

Speaking of drinking, at this point, I had a lot of ingredients, but the whole mix was a bit dry for my taste. I needed some liquid but I wasn’t sure what to add. So I sat down with a glass of Famous Grouse whisky which inspiration number two hit me. So I added in whisky from the bottle and splashes of worcestershire sauce to taste. This I stirred, enjoying the savory aroma and left to stew in drunken debauchery for another couple hours.

At this point, the chili had been cooking on low for about 3 and a half hours and was coming along nicely, but something was missing. It needed a certain bit of tang, that drunken frat boy that comes in and starts yelling in the party goers’ faces. Yeah, that guy. Something that will stand out and give it a bit more punch. So in went white wine vinegar until I had a nice tangy, whisky flavored concoction of meats and beans and onion.

I was finally happy that things were well on their way from an awkward Spring Formal where the boys stand in one row across from the girls in frilly dresses, rocking on their heels, afraid to make the first move, uncomfortable in their Sunday suits picked out by mom for the special night to becoming a full on orgy of flavor that would make even Caligula look on in envy. The crock pot was set to high and off I went to let the kids discover each other on their own for a few hours.

It was almost the end of the dance and the band was all out of tunes. The latecomer finally made it to the party. One whole red bell pepper, chopped into little bits. Sweet, crunch, and a nice compliment to the onion and beans. But something more was missing. Something to tie it all together. The chili had spice, it had zing. It was meaty and beany and tomatoey and full of crunchy bits of onion. Something still wasn’t right. Then I thought more about great Caligula. He lived in Rome. Rome is in Italy. Italy makes that magical elixir that competes with the French called wine. I still had a good bit of Ruby Port sitting there, and I thought, “why not?” The kids are already drunk on the whisky, why not top it off with a port wine night cap. So I added port wine but something still was missing. Some elusive ingredient to make the flavors pop.

In the end, it was that simple girl next door, the one no one notices, who is secretly a freak, making you wish you’d known back then what that actually means. Her name was Salt. Just a little bit of freshly ground sea salt mixed in and the flavors exploded forth. So once more, stir, stir, stir and the mix was left to sit uncovered on High for another 90 minutes or so. This allowed the water to evaporate a bit, turning my amazing pot of chili from a soup to something more hearty, thick, oozing flavor, filling up the special chili spoon that I got years ago from a the Marlboro Man, before he died from lung cancer.

In the end, it all came together, a chili unlike any I’d made before. A new recipe, thrown together into one giant melting pot. Dirty hippies, meat eaters, lustful ladies and giddy school boys all together in one ballroom, drinking whisky and wine, dancing, fighting, fucking and intermingling under the glass dome until it was finally time to be scooped into bowls and devoured by me. Party’s over, now I’m gonna eat ya.

1 lb ground sirloin
1 lb ground pork
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
onion powder
minced garlic

The following added to taste:
brown sugar
cayenne pepper
chili powder
ground mustard
Worcestershire sauce
white wine vinegar
port wine

Mix that all up, cook for about 4 hours on low, 2 hours on high, then 1.5 – 2 hours more on high with no top to evaporate the liquid. When it’s cool enough to eat, dig in.

That’ll do, Patches. That’ll do.

Patches and I the night after I brought her home

Friday night, I took Patches on one last Hurrah, a road trip, just like the two of us used to take, to the beach… In our early days, she’d accompany me on my “Guy Weekend” which really amounted to little more than me going to the Outer Banks to drink beer and surf fish at Oregon Inlet. We always camped in the state campground there at the inlet and spend our days on the sand, me pretending to fish, her not pretending at all to want to eat everything she could find that washed ashore. So it seemed fitting that I give her that one last night on the beach, just Patches and I, like it used to be.

She seemed a little distant on the trip down until I rolled down the windows to let the fresh country smells into the truck. Almost like a magic elixer, she lifted her head and started the scent radar, swiveling her head this way and that, smelling the late summer crops, the fresh cut grass, the hint of smoke from an occasional backyard fire.

Saturday, I spent most of the day just laying with her on the floor of my parent’s house in Calabash, kissing her forehead, stroking what remained of her silky fur, soaking in the deep, intelligent brown of her eyes. That evening, once the tourists had departed, we sat on the sand of Sunset Beach, just outside the reach of the encroaching tide watching the blue moon transit the sky, listening to the crashing waves and the occasional dog and human passing by. A few complete strangers walked up to us, lavishing her with praise and love and affection, just like she’s always seemed to get from total strangers. She was a beautiful dog. More so than most, and I don’t say that because I feel I have to.

We sat on the beach until after Midnight when I finally packed us up and headed for home. Sunday, we loaded up in the truck and made the trip back, but at this point something was different. She had stopped drinking as much as she usually did and I had resorted to adding water to her bowl of food to trick her into hydrating herself. She didn’t perk up much on the 3 hour drive back to our home of 10 years but she did keep her eyes on me, staring into me, keeping me fixed with her Border Collie Laser Gaze.

The two of us on the Outer Banks

Sunday passed languidly, with me spending most of my day on the floor with her, stretched out on a king sized comforter that I had folded in quarters to make a nice bed for her to spread out on. Just as earlier, she was disinterested in water but kept her healthy appetite, so I continued giving her “soup” with the rice and chicken I had been feeding her. Dana wanted to know if our trip had perked her up enough to go back this coming weekend, but I had to tell her that no, it was time.

Labor day proceeded with me not attending cookouts, nor sitting with my buds drinking beer and doing whatever it is people do in groups on Labor day. Instead, I worked that morning and some of the afternoon, then spent the rest of my evening on the floor in my now accustomed place with Patches stretched out at my side. Dana had managed to find a kind soul at work who covered the holiday shift so we could spend the evening at home together with our First Dog. Together we sat or laid in the floor with Patches until 2 am when I finally had to call it a night. I gently scooped up The World’s Best Dog In The World and carried her into the bedroom. For one last night, she slept between us.

Early on, she learned a sneaky trick. She’d hop in the bed and sleep at my feet, but she didn’t really sleep. No, she waited. Then she would inch herself up between us, just a few inches at a time, sometimes taking up to an hour to get to the right place. She had the patience of a military sniper, crawling through no-man’s-land until she reached that perfect spot. Once she got to where she could get the best leverage, she’d put her back against mine, and her feet against Dana, and push with all her might until she had created a Patches sized valley between us where she would sigh deeply, lay her head on me and finally fall to sleep for the night.

So Monday night, we put her in her spot, right between us, and we slept like we did before. And sure enough, as weak as she was, she rolled over and pressed her back against mine and spread out her legs. She may have lacked the strength of youth, but she gave it her best effort and snuggled between us with a deep, happy sigh.

This morning, I didn’t want to wake. I wanted the night to go on forever, unstopping because I knew what had to be done today. Reluctantly, I crawled from bed, used the bathroom, let the other dogs out. I started a pot of coffee. I looked at a magazine. I crawled back into bed to rub on Patches some more. Anything to avoid the harsh reality ahead. But finally, I made The Call to our trusted vet who promised to come all the way out to our house in the sticks to send Patches over the bridge. We spent a very special morning, petting her, kissing her and stuffing her full of all her favorite treats, whether they were safe treats or not. She got two small steaks, which we cut into bits and fed her by hand. She got her chicken and rice, which I’m positive she preferred over her kibble and veggies anyway. She got M&Ms and a bit of a chocolate bar I brought back from Europe on one of my recent trips overseas. She got crunchy bacon, cooked just for her. She ate a LOT of ice cubes… it wasn’t drinking, ice cubes were a treat! And most importantly, she got a cupcake. Her very own cupcake, which she wolfed down almost whole. You see, it’s just into September. Her birthday was in August and with everything going on, I had missed it. So today, her very last treat was her 12th Birthday Cake which she ate as I sang Happy Birthday to her.

That smile I will miss for the rest of my life

When the vet called to let us know they were about 30 minutes out, we packed up the how and moved outside to the shaded space between the trees in our back yard that Patches would always retreat to on hot days. We spread out her comforter so we could all lay on it and we all sat there, as a family, sobbing, sniffling, crying, laughing and smiling as we remembered the good times and all the love that Patches had given over the years. We all were there, Dana and I, Patches, Jazz and Faith.

As the vet arrived and began setting up her equipment, I blubbered out the last few things I wanted Patches to know. I told her how she was the first dog that was 100% mine. How grateful I was that she chose me that day 12 years ago when I went to look at a litter of Border Collie pups. I told her how proud I was of her, and how brave she was. I told her how much I loved her and how I would carry her in my arms to the bitter end… I told her to tell Jack that we miss him, and that she should wait with him on their side of the bridge. And as the Vet administered the shot, I kissed her on her forehead, and whispered into her ear as she breathed easy at last, “That’ll do, Patches. That’ll do.”


I wanna new… Truck

Pickup trucks are funny things. Many people who own them really don’t need them, a lot of people who do need them use them pretty heavily, and most of your friends will never own one but insist on using yours every time they need to haul something they don’t want to put into their own cars.

I fall in between. I could probably get by without one, but find life in the country a LOT easier with one. I can haul trash to the dump site without having to ride in a car that reeks of old food. I can move dirt, rock and lumber around as I need it to work around the house. I can haul things to the thrift shop that wouldn’t fit in the car. Anything you can do I can do better… I can do anything better with a truck!

For the longest time, I had a decent truck. It was a 1989 Ford F-150 that has seen a LOT of miles. It was my dad’s truck before he bought his newer Silverado. It has been camping, mudding, and on the beaches of the Outer Banks. It’s been fishing, hauling and on vacation. It’s been grossly overloaded with gravel or dirt more times than I care to admit to, WHILE towing a fairly overloaded trailer as well. It hauled a 23 foot boat with no trailer brakes and three nearly flat trailer tires from Richmond, VA to my home. In short, it served me very well over the years, and I have a special place in my heart for that old Ford.

But as with all good things, they must come to an end. Ol’ Red started developing weird electrical problems. I spent hundreds, possibly thousands over the years with mechanics, each one who claimed they had “Fixed the Glitch”. Then one day, on a trash run, Ol’ Red just died on me, right in the middle of the road, with only enough inertia to get us into a gravel driveway.

It was some time before I started looking for a new truck. The intention was to fix the old Ford, but as time went on, fixing yet another problem became a debate on when it was time to stop putting money into the old, worn out Ford and put that money into a newer truck instead, that will, hopefully, be problem free for a few years. As time wore on, going without a pickup became a problem. We were hauling trash in my wife’s new Hyundai. We hadn’t taken the larger things to the thrift shop because they don’t fit in her car. The driveway was developing really bad potholes because I no longer had a way to haul gravel in without paying someone for a dumptruck load. Projects around the house were not being done because we had no way to haul lumber and dirt and mulch.

So I started looking. I looked high and low, to and fro, for a truck that met my special needs. I wanted a V-8. No pansy V6 for me. It had to be Four Wheel Drive. A RWD truck would probably have been fine, but honestly, there are just times when you need all four wheels turning. It had to have a extended cab. The old Ford was a regular cab, and when taking dogs to/from places, that regular cab could get crowded quickly. It had to be full-sized. I liked the idea of a smaller truck, but I know myself, and I know that I’d quickly overwhelm a lesser truck simply because I like loading them up with as much stuff as I can squeeze in.

New truck comes with DOUBLE RAINBOW

I would love to have picked up a 3/4 or 1-Ton model, but the only ones available in a price range I was willing to pay for a vehicle I’ll drive no more than 4 times a month were either super high mileage (200K+ miles), beat to hell, or both. The ones that DID fit my mileage requirements and all the other requirements mentioned before were way more than I wanted to pay. I’m not using this for my daily work, so I don’t need to spend that kind of money. In the end, I found a nice, used 1/2 ton truck that should do what I want it to do.

It’s got some issues, sure. But they’re all cosmetic. The doors have some rust on them and there’s a rust spot above the exhaust pipe. But the rest of the body is rust free, as is the frame, undercarriage, floor pans, and cargo box. Mechanically, it’s in great shape. There are no leaks around the transfer case or diffs. The axels and joints look good. Brand new Bilstein shocks on all four corners. It shifts smoothly and 4WD works like a champ.

And the best part, it’s the truck I always wanted. It’s a Dodge Ram 4X4 Quad Cab in Forest Green. It’s a bit older, a 2001 model, but it only has 111K miles AND not only has a V8, it’s got a 5.9L (360ci) V8. So welcome New Truck. I’ll be sad to see Ol’ Red go, but he’s destined for Craigslist now. Maybe someone can fix the gremlins and have a decent truck to use for work, farm or whatever. or perhaps his old organs will be used to resurrect another truck or more. But for now, I have a new truck, and I’m itching to haul some dirt, fill some pot holes and get some lumber to fix some things on my deck that have been bothering me. Dana wants some trees and I want some seedlings for the garden. And now we, once again, have a way to haul all that.

The Hundred Dollar Dinner Experiment

I really did NOT expect dinner to cost this much, especially for an experimental dinner based on ideas I’d cobbled together from recipes across the internet and television. Yet there I stood in shock, reading the receipt from the grocery store after Dana had picked up the bits necessary for what I had planned to cook.

Ever since seeing an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain had dinner with a family in Italy, eating a traditional, slow cooked Ragu, I’d been wanting to try one of my own. I’m not new to slow cooker recipes, nor to day long cooking adventures, but this one was new to me. It’s not chili, it’s not camp stew. It’s not a set and forget pot roast or chicken and dumplings. No, this is a couple hours of preparation followed by several hours more cooking in a large pot. This is a meal that will be hearty, flavorful and long lasting. Heaven on a bed of noodles, full of meaty, saucy goodness.

It starts out with the ingredients:

  • 3.5 – 4 lbs Beef Short Ribs
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • fresh basil
  • fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 4 small carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 4 scallions
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 2 can whole fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato puree (passata)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup Ruby Port
  • 2 cups Italian Red
  • 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp bacon grease or lard

Preheat the crock pot on high, then begin…
Start by liberally seasoning the short ribs with salt and pepper. I prefer fresh ground pepper and rose salt from a mill, but season to your liking. Next, melt the bacon grease in a skillet on high heat. I use an iron skillet for this because it retains heat very well while dispersing it evenly without any real hotspots. Once the grease is flowing and slightly smoking, put the ribs in nad brown each side. You may need to do this in batches, but as each piece of meat is done browning on the sides, put them aside on a plate or in a bowl.

While browning the ribs, go ahead and dice the carrots, celery, onions, scallions and shallots. Peel each piece of garlic from the garlic head and chop them coarsely. Once you’ve finished browning the meat and have set the ribs aside to rest, reduce heat to low and add the garlic.

Sautee the garlic until it starts to brown slightly, then add the rest of the chopped veggies, a little at a time. Once you’ve got them in (again, due to quantity, you may need to do this in batches) cook the veggies until the soften. Once the onion has become translucent, start checking the chunks of carrot. When the carrots have softened, it’s time to put the veggies, grease and all into the heated crock pot.

Add the flour and stir well, then add in the wine and beef stock. Mix this and add the tomatoes and passata, again stir to mix everything evenly.

Put the bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley into the pot and mix well. Some prefer to just add whole sprigs and remove them, personally, I chopped everything but the bay leaves., I like fresh herbs in my sauces. mix well and then put the beef ribs into the pot, making sure they are completely submerged.

Most people say cook on low for 8 hours, I cooked on High for 8 hours. The goal is to cook the beef until it shreds easily and falls off the bones, and reduce the liquid so you get a rich, hearty sauce. Also, now is a great time to start finishing off that bottle of wine. Since the sauce uses a full 2 cups, that’s about half the bottle. So enjoy the rest while you wait.

Once the meat is ready (it shreds easily), remove the ribs. Pull the meat from the bones and discard the bones. Shred the meat with forks and set aside. Using a masher (or if preferred, a hand blender) blend the sauce in the crock pot until it’s fairly smooth. Chunky is fine, it’s all up to preference. You’ll also need to decide if the sauce has the right consistency for you now. If it’s fine, then add the meat back in, stir and start cooking noodles. If you prefer the sauce to be thicker, you may want to pour the sauce up in a pot and reduce it until it’s thicker.

Serve over a bed of flat noodles. I’m fond of egg noodles, so that’s what I used, but any thin, flat noodles should work well. Garnish with fresh peccorino or reggiano cheese.

We did this last night and it came out really well. The left-overs should be even better, having had time for the flavors to blend more over-night in the fridge.

What exactly do you DO for a living?

I’ve got a long list of things that I’ve been meaning to write about. It’s an ever growing linked list of items that I thought would make good fodder for the interwebz but I’ve been so busy for so very long that I really find it difficult to take time these days to just sit and write. Sooner or later, however, I have to start. I’m funny like that. I’ve got dozens of projects waiting in the wings, just waiting for the time or energy for me to get them started. This reboot of jefflane.org is one of those things and it’s something that is long overdue.

So I thought I’d start off with something that seems fairly innocuous. Title says it all, really. And this should be a simple answer, right? Well, things aren’t always as you’d think.

As most everyone knows, I’ve worked for Canonical for some time now. Canonical is the company behind Ubuntu, a Linux distribution based on Debian. My part in the ecosystem is that of Hardware Certification Engineer, now part of the Professional Services and Engineering team within Canonical. So going by my title alone, you’d imagine that I do some sort of engineering related to the certification of hardware. And you’d be correct. Partly.

But in this business, as in many others, the truth is often far different than the impression. People often think that because I work mostly from home and travel internationally that I spend a lot of time on the couch in my boxers playing video games and eating Cheezits, or drinking in bars, carousing with foreign women and exploring strange new landscapes. Well, that’s partially true, but only just.

So lets start with my daily work. I read and respond to e-mail. A LOT of e-mail some days. Part of my function is the external voice of Hardware Certification. When someone, be it a Canonical employee, an Ubuntu community member, a potential or current customer or anyone, for that matter, has a question about the Ubuntu Hardware Certification programme, I am the one who responds by pointing them in the right direction, answering what I can and helping explain policy and test procedures.

I also sit in on several ongoing projects and that generates a lot of background work, researching technology, equipment, investigating tools and other things. I write testing tools that become part of the checkbox test suite and are used in the Ubuntu Friendly programme, a community driven hardware validation initiative. The tools I write could be anything from simple shell code to complex programs and manual test cases.

From time to time I also make improvements to the two websites my team is based around, the outward facing Ubuntu Certification Site and an internal site that we use for hardware tracking and as a customer portal.

I’m not immune to meetings and may at any time be on the phone, in a meeting on either Freenode or Canonical IRC, or perhaps on a voice conference using Mumble. We’re not doing video conferencing yet but that may happen sooner or later.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I also review hardware certification test submissions, both internal and external. I pass or fail certifications based on what I see. I write the planning for the Server certification program and help steer its direction. I maintain relationships with several vendors and help them get their hardware certified and published to the web.

I also do a lot of community oriented things. I perform ISO testing at development Milestones. I have a Freescale i.MX53 ARM development board that I use to test and tinker with embedded Ubuntu and Linaro images. I have a server that I used to develop server related tests as well as monkey around with virtualization technologies like Xen and VMware and KVM. I answer questions and participate in discussions on mailing lists, and occasionally forums and places like Ask Ubuntu”. All that doesn’t even start to cover the travel.

The travel isn’t anywhere as near as glorious as it may seem. Yes, I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve been to Stonehenge. I’ve crossed London Bridge. I’ve drank pints and eaten a LOT of meat pies at the Eagle and Child Pub, the place where J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis gathered with the other Inklings and developed stories that would end up enthralling generations of readers. I’ve walked the streets of Prague, Taipei, Brussels and Bruges. I’ve seen Switzerland, Germany, and France. But the thing no one seems to really understand is that all that is really only a very small part of my travel. The vast majority is getting from point A to point B and then sitting in a lot of meetings.

In an average year, I travel about 8 to 10 weeks. At least 4 of those are week long meeting events. Some of them are specifically to provide hands-on testing in one of our three labs. Others may be for team sprints to accomplish a set list of goals in a short amount of time. Some of them are mostly so I can check up on my labs.

Oh, did I mention earlier that I also oversee the Lab Operations for the Hardware Certification team? I purchase equipment, make sure things run smoothly, poke IS when I need to get something done quickly. I plan out updates to the labs and try to cope with the ever-growing influx of test hardware.

So while I may find a day during a weekend, or a few hours at night to go out, my going out is mostly limited to dinner, walking around the city I happen to be in, and maybe, MAYBE catching something cool, like a museum. And I’ve seen some pretty cool museums.

But the travel isn’t all as glamorous as people who don’t travel think. There’s the hours spent standing in line. First at the ticket counter to check my bags. Then at the Airport security. Then the lines to board the plane, take a piss or just buy some food while I wait for that next flight. The lines to pick up my baggage at the other end. Lines to get the shuttle bus or taxi to the hotel. Lines everywhere. There’s the hours spent sitting on my butt in random airports just waiting. There’s my personal favorite, the line to get back into the US.

So all in all, while it may seem like an easy job with James Bond style world travel, off on secret missions, meeting up with gorgeous spies and thwarting the nefarious machinations of bald yet mustachioed villains, it’s really far more pedestrian. Enjoyable, but pedestrian.

And that’s a brief glimpse into what I do. Now I must head off to bed. I have another day of work ahead of me, and a few more days until once more I’m headed out of the country. I’m headed back to my favorite place in the world, Taipei. But more on that later.