Wednesday, July 7 2010
It turned out that our new cat Nigel is very good with both new cats and new dogs. It wasn't just that he more or less ignored them (the best possible reaction for disarming a curious stranger), it was also that he seemed to send out an aura that dissipated all the normal hypercuriosity that would normally cause Eleanor or Sally to crowd in or perhaps even give chase. Nigel is a big overweight cat and perhaps he inspires a healthy amount of respect. Whatever was going on, it made for some easy adjustments this morning as I let Nigel wander around the first floor office.
Eventually Nigel went upstairs and into the laboratory, where he had several encounters with Sylvia. She hissed at him a few times but then ignored him and he continued on with his exploration.
At some point, though, we realized that we couldn't find Nigel. We looked in absolutely every place he might be hiding in the house, but he was nowhere. Foolishly, we'd left the front door wide open (as we usually do for six months of the year), and it was now obvious that he had escaped into the big outdoors. Gretchen had just posted his picture on her Facebook page and people were congratulating us on our adoption, so now we found ourselves running simulations in our heads of various possible futures, some of which included going to a different animal shelter to adopt a cat who looks exactly like Nigel (plenty are available).
While Gretchen was hollering for Nigel along the farm road, I road up and down Dug Hill Road a short distance looking for his roadkilled carcass. But neither of us found anything, and wherever he was, Nigel wasn't responding to our calls. (How could he possibly know his own name yet?) At some point I looked in the most obviously hiding place outside the house, beneath a big ugly evergreen bush planted by the previous owners. Nigel's black pelt was impossible to see in the shadows until I lifted up a bough and he scurried out. I almost caught him a few seconds later but then he disappeared into the spider tunnel beneath the front entrance, the unpleasant crawlspace where I worked to seal up potential rodent access holes last summer. In the end, the only way to get him out was to squirt him with a squirt gun. As he emerged, I went to grab him, but he's a strong little varmint and he managed to break free and run into the house. Having learned our lesson, we kept the front door shut for the rest of the day.
The day was another hot one, and after the Nigel incident and having to beat our steel mailbox back to orthogonal (it had evidently been hit by a drunk driver), it was time to cool off. So Gretchen and I took the dogs to the Secret Spot on the Esopus. Aside for a couple young women camping on the shore a couple hundred feet upstream, we had the place to ourselves.
Every now and then old interests in the fallow circuits of my brain are reactivated and I find myself pursuing some shelved project or investigating something that hadn't much interested me in months or even years. When this happens with technology, it's not unusual to find that big advances have taken place in the interim. For example, I gradually lost interest in personal computers after going to college in 1986 and was delighted with such things as multitasking and the Macintosh GUI when I became re-obsessed with computers in the Spring of 1990. But I gradually got stuck in a rut with early 90s technology, making only grudging use of the internet to do things like download shareware from AOL's repositories using college computer labs. By 1995, computers were nothing more than tools to me, and the latest advances didn't interest me. But then in June of 1996 I got a job on the night shift at an internet service provider, and my mind was blown by the true potential of the internet. A more recent technological shock came a year ago when I replaced an old Athlon motherboard with one based on a modern dual core Intel processor. It wasn't so much the performance improvements that shocked me as the new interfaces: SATA, PCI-Express, and Gigabit ethernet.
The most recent technological shock comes in the field of WiFi communications. It's not that 802.11n makes for any noticeable improvement over 802.11g; it's more that the hacker community has been hard at work making up new firmwares for my old routers. For example, I've been using a Netgear WNDR3300 router for six or eight months now. I'd bought it hoping for the range improvements that come with 802.11n and hadn't noticed anything much, although I have been impressed with its reliability. (A router, switch, or USB hub is the kind of thing that should just work, that shouldn't require a power cycle every couple of days.) Today, though, I was researching the options for open source router firmware, the kind that can suddenly make your router do all sorts of interesting and nuanced things, some of which violate FCC regulations. I found that a firmware called DD-WRT was compatible with the Netgear WNDR3300, so I installed it, and it worked. It even supported the two different onboard WiFi radio systems (2.4 and 5 GHz). What is so great about this is that now I know this router will have community support long after Negear consigns it to the "discontinued" tab of their support site (something that usually happens with the products I buy before I actually buy them). I have a drawer full of wireless routers with half-assed proprietary firmwares, all of which suck in their own unique ways. Some of them were made by companies that no longer exist, partly because of how badly they wrote their firmwares. Had these companies created hardware that worked with community-created firmwares, these devices would be a lot more useful to me. I could make them into repeaters or wireless bridges, WiFi capabilities that have real value in rural and suburban areas.
Another bit of fun I had with discontinued equipment today concerned that Zire 31 I'd bought for five dollars last Saturday at a yard sale. That PDA was built in 2004 and its internal lithium battery had long-since died. But I was able to route the wires that used to attach to the battery out through a hole in the back of the device and solder them to a 3.7v lithium camera battery which I stuck on with double-sided tape. It's a little awkward with that battery there, but it still fits in the pocket and it now holds a good charge. After adding RealPlayer for Palm OS, it made for a nice little MP3 player, one with an interface almost as good as an early iPod (that is, better than the other MP3 players in the house). Songs have to live on an SD card (and these can be no larger than a single gigabyte). I found myself wondering if it might be an adequate way to store media and manage playlists at the living room stereo (if we ever get one that we can use, as opposed to the insufficiently-analog piece of shit Gretchen bought back in Brooklyn).
When watering the garden, I've also been watering a pot full of Ephedra seeds I recently planted (yes, I'm growing my own source of ephedrine). I've also taken pity on a patch of Tiger Lilies growing just west of the driveway in a patch of soil that is normally quite swampy but which now (like the rest of our lawn) has turned to desert. Sometimes when I'm near the Tiger Lilies I can hear a distinctive scratch-scratch-scratch sound that I've never been able to place. Today, though, I got my head down close and looked carefully to try to find the source of the sound. I had to move slowly because if I moved too suddenly, the sound would stop and I have to wait awhile for it to resume. I expected to see a small mammal or perhaps a snake. But no, it was dark unpatterned paper wasp. The wasp was on a cane of dead lily stem chewing off the surface fibers, presumably to carry them off to her nest to use as building material. The other resource that wasps seem to require in quantity is water. On a hot summer day, a constant trickle of them can be seen flying to the buckets full of water that I set out to speed the start of my next watering chore. The wasps land on the surface of the water and float there for a moment. Just when you begin to fear they're going to drown, they fly away, having drunk their fill. I'm guessing the water and lily cellulose are both used in the manufacture of paper.
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