trap in the forest
Wednesday, October 25 2006
Our downhill neighbors, the ones whose son sold us our house, have tenants living in one of the several cottages on their sprawling familial compound. We call their male tenant "Crazy Dude," although his real name is Dave. He's known locally for his wild hair and gruff, anti-social disposition, though he's mostly a non-factor in our lives. He has an Australian Shepherd named Merlin who occasionally visits without incident and we've complained to Dave's landlord about the Jolly Ranchers wrappings he carelessly tosses along the trails in the forest. Dave is the only person besides us who routine walks down those trails, but he schedules Merlin's jaunt for sundown and so we almost never see him. (We mostly walk the trails in the late morning.)
The son of our downhill neighbor moved into urban Kingston when he moved out of our house, but his brother Tom still lives up the road about a quarter of a mile, in a building originally designed as a meat locker (for a time before they became "the Tillsons," I referred to that couple as "The Meatlocker People" because they lived in a rental space at the back of Tom's house). Tom is the only other person who routinely uses our forest trails, though he negotiates them exclusively by mountain bike. He and his wife have a couple kids and two dogs, the oldest of whom goes by the name Kate. She's a nappy-haired sheep dog terrier (the kind who looks like a sheep as opposed to the kind who herds them) and is famous locally for her self-sufficiency and independence. She wanders far and wide through the neighborhood yards and forests, ranging as far as Hurley Mountain Road, a mile and a half from home. These days she usually travels with her adopted sister, a yellowish young mutt named Ally. Occasionally this summer I'd find them in our garage or even inside our house (having come in through an open garage door). Being scrappy self-reliant dogs, they love to tear apart bags full of garbage and root around in cat litter boxes for fresh feline excrement.
This evening we got a call from Tom's wife saying that Crazy Dave had just returned from the forest having freed Kate from a bear trap. Crazy Dave was reportedly beside himself with rage. I've heard him going ballistic in the distance on occasion, and I can only imagine what that was like. I don't think a trapper would want to encounter Crazy Dave in the forest in the next few days. Or, for that matter, Gretchen or me.
Gretchen quickly called our downhill neighbors and found out a few more details. The State Trooper had already been called and had already gone into the forest and removed the offending trap. Who knew that this was a State Trooper responsibility? As for Kate the sheep dog, her "sister" Ally had come home by herself, something that never happens, and her parents were worried sick about her. Reportedly she'd been whimpering miserably when Crazy Dave encountered her, and she'd immediately vanished into the forest upon being freed.
Gretchen and I were worried about Kate, so we immediately set off into the forest to look for her in case she had a broken leg or something. We split up, with Gretchen taking the high trail and me taking the low one. I hadn't yet been informed that the trap had been removed, so I was carrying my bolt cutters.
As I walked, I wondered what kind of Cheney-supporting idiot would plant a bear trap in these woods at all, particularly in a place where a dog could step in it. I was worried that there were more traps, and that they were in places most likely to be stepped in, that is, directly in the trail. I was so worried that as I walked the narrow "Mountain Goat Trail," I swept in front of me with the bolt cutters every time I passed anything to which a trap might be anchored. Later, though, I realized that the trap Kate had been caught in was probably not a bear trap at all, but a baited trap designed to catch coyotes. This was an unpleasant thought, but it allowed me to relax and enjoy the stunning view of the lights of Kingston and Rhinecliff from the top of one of the highest hills to their immediate southwest.
Gretchen beat me home by a few minutes and had already heard the message on the answering machine. Kate had made it back home and looked to be alright, although of course she did have an injured paw.
I go through phases during which I'm more interested in Linux than usual. Usually this coincides with the arrival of some marginal hardware for which a Linux OS makes more sense than some orphan and forgotten old Microsoft operating system. Still, and though I hate Microsoft as much as the next tech-savvy corporaclast, I've yet to see a full-featured windowing operating system function as well on marginal Intel hardware as Windows 95.
Recently I installed Ubuntu Linux on a really good laptop, one with a 1.8 GHz P4 processor. I picked Ubuntu because it was the only distribution that could make use of an obscure wireless card and the full resolution of the LCD display without making me jump through hoops. Later, though, I discovered the Synaptic Package Manager, which made it possible to retroactively install all sorts of important things that Ubuntu lacks, making it more like a full-featured Debian installation in the process. Ubuntu is supposedly "Linux for Human Beings," and this is why they left out "make," a C-compiler, and all the other things you need to get Linux to do all the things nerds and other non-humans find exciting. Actually, discovering the Synaptic Package Manager and the "dpkg" line command were the two things I needed to know to be able to do a net-install of Debian itself and skip Ubuntu entirely, and so over the past couple of days I've installed Debian on the two desktop PCs that normally run some form of Linux.
Meanwhile, though, the original Ubuntu installation has proved to be something of a curse on the laptop. I'd wanted to get it so it could run the Arduino IDE, allowing me to do my Arduino stuff on it exclusively, but I kept running into trouble, and it was always about unresolved dependencies. The beauty of Synaptic is that it normally goes and finds all the dependencies for a package you're installing and also installs those as well. But for some reason, and Google searches have yet to clear this up for me, there are occasions when Synaptic cannot install the necessary dependencies, even after I go and add the correct internet repositories to its list of acceptable repositories. Beneath what had initially seemed like a clean verneer, one that had miraculously removed the frustration and sore neck of most Linux hacking, all the cobwebs were still there, full of the dried husks of long-forgotten flies and beetles.
Eventually I gave up on the Arduino-on-Linux project. I could just use a Windows box when I needed to upload a software update to the Arduino. But I still wanted to use the Linux laptop as the data logger for the data being sent back by the Arduino. To do this, I'd need some sort of dæmon running to capture that data and put it into a text file, one that could be read by PHP in the laptop's webroot and allow me to monitor the stats on the household network.
Originally I'd planned to do this on a Windows machine and I'd looked into freeware serial data loggers for Windows. There was exactly one, and it was even open source, but it had a serious problem in that it couldn't save its preferences. There were a number of commercial serial data loggers offering 30 day trials. In the past it would have been effortless to find a crack or keygen for one of these, but these days you can't get a crack or keygen without your computer being taken over as an spam zombie. How much nicer times were when software cracks were freely distributed with the altrustic goal of setting software free! (Clinton was President then and the whole world was a nicer place.)
So I looked to see what exists of data loggers in the Linux world. I fully expected the Linux world to be crawling with serial data loggers. They are common solutions to a common problem. But as it turned out, there were absolutely no working programs available for download. There were quite a few that had been started up in Sourceforge, but these were apparently still in the cocktail napkin phase. A program called ttylog was billed as serial logger, but it actually seemed to be more of a virtual terminal logger.
The solution to my problem was staring me in the face the whole time and took advantage of the incredible flexibility of Unix. There's a command in Unix called "cu" that starts up a command line terminal program. I could just run that with the appropriate device port and direct its output to a file! I tested this and it worked perfectly.
This evening I started the task of migrating the website of a client-by-subcontract to a new server. This proved to be an unusually involved process because I was working with something called a "virtual server." It was a barren thing with a generic BSD file system and it was up to me to set it up completely on my own working across the internet using a putty command line interface. The hosting company had made the installation of certain things easy, but then it was up to me to configure things that I've honestly never had to configure before. Usually by the time I'm dealing with MySQL, someone else has set up a database and it's up to me to create the tables. With this server, I had to install MySQL, create users, and then instruct the server that it was acceptable for this user to be administering from a remote IP address. Googling all this information wasn't as easy as I remember it being, leading me to wonder if the quality of the Google algorithm is starting to choke on all the spam/scam websites poisoning the internet. Of course, part of my problem was that my internet connection was all jacked up with a huge FTP job, meaning my web experience was much less responsive than normal. Googling over a slow internet connection, particularly when junk websites figure high in its rating algorithm, is an exercise in scream-inducing frustration.
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