mellowtigger: (gardening)
I have mason bees, giant (apparently) spaghetti squash, and now a fire pit.

fire pit back yard, 25 feet from back of houseI checked the Minneapolis website for rules about fire pits, then I measured 25 feet from the back of my house.  That distance pretty much put the fire pit in the middle of the back yard, which is farther away than I would have liked, but I don't want to give the city or my neighbors any reason to complain.

I wanted to put some fire damage onto that metal ring immediately after setting it up today, thinking maybe it will help reduce the temptation of anyone to simply steal it from the back of my yard.  I still very much want a fence, but getting rid of (at least some of) those trees is the priority expenditure for September.  August money went to pay off the electricians for the air conditioning that never got installed.  At least I no longer need the a/c for this year.

I plan to get a chain saw that uses the same batteries as my lawn mower and edger.  It'll require a special order at Home Depot, but I'll finally be able to get rid of these horrible box elder trees.  It seems their only purpose is to attract carpenter ants (I've seen the large black ants on at least 2 of them) and fill my house with box elder bugs.  They're back for a 2nd season this year.  At least the bugs now are not as bad as earlier this spring.

singed arm hairsI still want to do some more work on the fire pit: put some sand and rocks as a bottom layer, which will raise it up another inch or two.  That metal ring gets very hot, so I might consider putting some thin cinder pieces on top to make it suitable for sitting on the edge, away from the searing metal ring.

I also need to get a proper poker for the fire pit.  It came with a mini-version that is much too short.  I noticed some strange white fluff on my arms, and it took me a few moments to realize that I'd singed the hairs on my arm.  They were all in various stages of melting away.  Oops.

mason bee houseI moved my mason bee bamboo home from the old house.  It appears to be well used this year.  Lots of the holes have been filled up by a mother bee putting one of her larva into each tube then sealing it up.  I call it a bee "home", since mason bees are not social, so they don't form a "hive" together.  They're also quite sociable around humans and not territorial at all, since they don't have an expensive hive to protect.  Yay for helping out a few more pollinators in the city!

You can tell from the top photo that the "small vines" (not like the huge pumpkin vines taking over the front yard) are flourishing in the back yard.  I wasn't sure they'd get enough sunlight because of the huge box elder trees lining the southern edge of the property.  So far, all I can tell that's fruiting is what appears to be the spaghetti squash.  It's making squashes much larger, maybe twice as large, than the stuff I usually buy in the grocery store.  I'm not sure I want one that's so large.  Unless I've lucked out, and it's actually one of the watermelons that starts pale and will look more watermelony in a few more weeks.

I'm looking forward to much cooler weather, sitting in the back yard by the fire pit, and contemplating plans for more changes to yard layout for 2017.  It's slowly getting closer to what I want.

mellowtigger: (changed priorities)
Type the words "Hillary Clinton is" into Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Really, I'm not kidding. Do it yourself. Do it now. I'll wait.

Don't trust what I say, just because you read it on the internet.  Go to the search engines. Type the phrase into the search box yourself.

You'll get suggestions like these when I searched those words tonight.

google resuilts for "Hillary Clinton is"Yahoo results for "Hillary Clinton is"Bing results for "Hillary Clinton is"

You might think these preliminary suggestions are customized specifically for me (they're supposed to be), except that I abundantly use Google resources, so they should know my political opinions. I'm a liberal who supported Bernie Sanders, opposes Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and will not vote for her.

Now go read this long story from the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. You'll wish you were wearing a tin foil hat.
The article starts slowly with some background storytelling to set the mood, but the very important bits are farther down into the text. They tried manipulating the opinions of their test subjects, and they were quite effective.

What we actually found was astonishing. The proportion of people favouring the search engine’s top-ranked candidate increased by 48.4 per cent, and all five of our measures shifted toward that candidate. What’s more, 75 per cent of the people in the bias groups seemed to have been completely unaware that they were viewing biased search rankings. ...

Over the next year or so, we replicated our findings three more times, and the third time was with a sample of more than 2,000 people from all 50 US states. In that experiment, the shift in voting preferences was 37.1 per cent and even higher in some demographic groups – as high as 80 per cent, in fact. ...

It means that when people – including you and me – are looking at biased search rankings, they look just fine. So if right now you Google ‘US presidential candidates’, the search results you see will probably look fairly random, even if they happen to favour one candidate. ...

Writing in the New Republic in 2014, Jonathan Zittrain, professor of international law at Harvard University, pointed out that, given the massive amount of information it has collected about its users, Facebook could easily send such messages only to people who support one particular party or candidate, and that doing so could easily flip a close election – with no one knowing that this has occurred. And because advertisements, like search rankings, are ephemeral, manipulating an election in this way would leave no paper trail. ...

Perhaps even more disturbing is that the handful of people who do show awareness that they are viewing biased search rankings shift even further in the predicted direction; simply knowing that a list is biased doesn’t necessarily protect you from SEME’s power. ...

The formation of The Groundwork prompted Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, to dub Google Clinton’s ‘secret weapon’ in her quest for the US presidency.

I'm so glad that I called attention recently to Google's failure to include Green Party candidate Jill Stein (and Transhumanist candidate Zoltan Istvan) in their search ranking results. Their favoritism was too obvious, I guess.

It's bad enough that I have to distrust all electronic voting machines. We use paper ballots here in Minnesota, so we have a trustworthy validation mechanism. Your area may differ. It's even worse that I have to distrust all media because it has consolidated to the point that only a few individuals can shape the message across vast swaths of broadcast, print, and online sources of news. Now, sadly, I have reason to distrust the primary interface to the internet: search engines.

I think the only real solution will be for all of us to have personal artificial intelligence assistants on our machines that we can direct to search data for us and present us with opinions that haven't been manipulated by any influence but our own fallible selves. Maybe we can start with open source web crawlers and search engines. I installed a useful one a few years ago on Windows before I made the switch to Linux Mint, but now I can't remember which package it was. Sorry, I don't have any recommendations tonight. Let me know if you have one that you like.
mellowtigger: (gardening)
I spent some time in the garden today and yesterday. I got eaten by mosquitoes both times. I'm one of those people that mosquitoes favor, which can make life annoying here in Minnesota, "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" (and 10 billion mosquitoes).

A month ago (pictured left), I had a few pumpkin plants in the top right corner of my front yard. Now (pictured right), those same pumpkin vines have taken over nearly the whole front yard. I already see 2 pumpkins, although they're still green and not ready to harvest yet.  The dwarf sunflowers are also nicely lining the walk to the front door.
front yard 2016 June 28front yard 2016 July 27

The flowers by the front patio are also finally blooming.  It seems a little late for these plants, but I got them into the ground late too.  Next year, I'll move them elsewhere, so the rose bush has more room to grow unimpeded by taller plants throwing shade.
flower by front patio 2016 July 31 Sunday

I have cucumbers. I've been eating them in salads, and they're tasty. I have golden zucchini; it tastes good, but somehow because it looks like gold squash, I expect it to be something other than zucchini. I think I'll grow regular squash (or regular zucchini) next year. I have celery, but it's a little bit "woody". I may try a different variety next year.  I took some of all 3 to Marie today, an old retired black woman across the street and a few houses north of me.

I still have no air conditioning.  I'll call the installer one more time on Monday before giving up.  At least July has now passed, which is traditionally the hottest month for Minnesota.  I've slept in my bedroom during the last few nights, instead of the basement where I had spent the last 2 weeks or so.

I still have no battery chainsaw (to cut down trees) or fire pit (to burn the cut down trees).  Maybe in August.  For now, I'm just glad that the weather is cooling off a bit.  I walked for a few blocks around my house today, and many people were enjoying the relative cool while sitting on their porches.

Pokemon Go has been in the news a lot in recent days.  I have it, but I can't say that I'm a regular player or a good one.  I caught Krabby as soon as I walked out to the sidewalk today, which surprised me, since Pokemon Go creatures and sites seem quite rare in this poor neighborhood of the city.  Still, this game seems a good excuse to go take a walk... which is a good thing.
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
It was hot yesterday, it's hot today, and it'll be hot tomorrow.  Weather Underground currently shows a heat index here of 41C/106F.

heat index 41C/106F

I still don't have air conditioning, so it's even hotter upstairs in my bedroom.  I spent last night on a cot in the basement, where the temperature is actually comfortable.  I bought a fan to use on the ground floor, but even its usefulness is limited in this kind of heat.

On Friday of last week, the electricians did their work to prepare for the air conditioning unit that was prepaid by the prior owners of the house.  They had to have an actual, physical unit here, because Minnesota had recently changed its laws about "truth in advertising".  The house was listed with central A/C, so they could not give me a cash equivalent in an escrow account that I could use later to install air conditioning.  They had to buy the unit and prepay the installation, even though we agreed to delay the installation until after the snow banks had melted.

The electricians said this unit is actually very good.  They were concerned, however, that the coils that should go in the basement are too big to fit the central air unit.  If the A/C guy knows it, then maybe that's why he has not returned my calls recently.  So, in spite of having a unit here, I might not have air conditioning until I can replace the entire central air... which means not in a very long while. 

I paid on my own to have the electricians come out, because the A/C guy said they had to do their work first.  The electricians, on the other hand, said it was usually the opposite, so they simply finish hooking up wires to a unit already in place.  Regardless, I am now electrically ready for installation, if it ever happens.  I'll certainly be registering my discontent at online ratings sites if this prepaid guy doesn't actually get my A/C working.

There are good portable units that I could use just for the bedroom or living room.  I'd be happy to use that solution, if I knew for certain that the technician will not actually be installing the main A/C after all.  For now, though, it's just a waiting game... during a period of high temperatures.

Life in the basement is okay.  The cot isn't great for the arthritis in my back, and the mold spores are making my sinuses riot.  The temperature, though, is very survivable.  I've turned on a very old allergen filter to sit alongside the dehumidifier.  So now I sit in the dark cave and type my blog posts.
mellowtigger: (Pride)
I came out at work this morning to the whole tri-state chapter where I work.  It was no small feat, since it was even my normal day off.

They were having their monthly staff meeting, but it was pre-empted this time by a planned discussion of recent emotional news.  Since our last staff meeting, there was the mass shooting in Florida, we had another black man die by police last week in our Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, then there was the sniper in Texas shooting at police, the Bahamas issued a travel advisory to their citizens that warns about travel to the USA and police ruthlessness there.  And finally... 4 blocks north of me on Friday morning, 2 children were shot and 1 killed in just another daily shooting here in the #WarzoneInMinneapolis where I live.

So... we were sharing our thoughts at work on these emotional events.

I came to work on my day off because I was expecting to help give a presentation on our move to Skype For Business as a communication tool.  Instead... I shared the story that I was one of those people for whom the police are not always and automatically "the good guys".  I explained that I am gay, and I am just old enough to remember when the police would come into a small-town Texas gay bar for no good reason.  The music would shut off, the house lights would come up, and silence would permeate the air.  Then several cops would walk into the bar, walk around the entire place, with not a sound uttered by anyone... until they walked back out and life would resume in the bar.

I never really hide it, but I am now officially "out".

I mentioned that the police on campus at Texas A&M University once successfully changed how they are perceived.  They simply separated the car ticketing staff (gave them different uniforms too) from the other police staff, and suddenly detectives on campus were able to get cooperation as they sought public help in solving thefts and other crimes.  There was so much built up hostility to police prior (because of rampant parking fines) that the community wouldn't cooperate for any issue.  The police learned a better way to manage themselves, then the community cooperated.

I also mentioned that I live in one of the dangerous parts of the USA, and I've been woken up at night by gun shots, including death threats issued at the neighbors outside my bedroom window.

I'm still not sure what to do about the violence here and elsewhere throughout the USA, but I feel reassured that other people are committed to the idea of de-escalation rather than the spiral of threats and violence.

For once, I don't worry about any retaliation at work because of coming out.

Know that change is possible.  I've seen it happen before.  We can make it happen again.


Jul. 4th, 2016 09:57 am
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
This is how we feel about fireworks.

fireworks with Hope hiding under sofa 20160704 0955

Fireworks at 7pm.
Fireworks at 10pm
Fireworks at midnight.
Fireworks at 1:30am.
Fireworks at 3:30am
Fireworks at 8am.
Fireworks at 10am.

We're not fans.  Especially not of the variety that seems popular this year, with an enormous earth-shattering kaboom but no colors in the sky.  One night, I saw the flash of it reflect off a car on the next street behind my house.  It's just intended to be loud; that's all it does.  The gunfire is bad enough, but for days now we've had cannon fire in the #WarzoneInMinneapolis.

We're not fans.
mellowtigger: (gardening)
Last night wasn't peaceful, but this morning certainly is. I walked out to my side deck and listened to the church bells and the birds singing for a few minutes.

spaghetti squash (flowering, lower left)The gardens are doing well. I picked my first yellow squash (it was huge), then I stir fried some of it with a jalapeno from the store then added an egg. It wasn't a bad breakfast, but I think next time I'll aim for migas by adding some stale corn chips at the end. Squash grows with huge leaves that would be nice as a landscape item, if only they were perennial plants.

In the back yard
, I'll have plenty of spaghetti squash this year, which is good. You can see it flowering at the bottom of the picture here. It keeps for many months with no effort, so I'll be eating it this winter. I use it in place of anything that normally calls for pasta.

Since the vines are doing well, I also expect at some point to have some Minnesota Midget canteloupe, Blacktail Mountain watermelon, and luffa for dish scrubbing in the kitchen. Slugs nearly destroyed all of my red popcorn by eating long strips from most of their leaves, but some of them recovered and are finally growing again.

In the side yard, the Painted Lady runner beans and the black cumin are very pretty. Those beans could be grown purely as an ornamental vine and do nicely in any yard. I have my first Collier cucumber, and the Shortcake raspberry is starting to fruit after transplanting them from their old garden. They are a dwarf variety that is also thornless, so I'm glad to see them doing well.

runner beans (Painted Lady)black cumincucumber (Collier)raspberry (Shortcake variety, dwarf and thornless)

In the front yard, the dwarf sunflowers are blooming, so they make a nice border to the walkway to my front door. The rose also is showing its first bloom after it nearly died. It had black fungus when I brought it from the store. I dusted it with sulfur, every last leaf dropped off, and I thought I had killed it. It put on a lot of new growth, though, and it's all free from black spots. So I think I'll have a fragrant and pretty front patio in a few more years. It was blooming when I first bought it, a very nice purplish color which the label identified as a "deep lilac" hybrid tea rose named only 'Heirloom'.

dwarf sunflowerrose

I need to repurpose some of my pots soon. I want to get a thriving specimen of both lime basil and peppermint that I can bring indoors to use during winter. I use them in some yummy recipes, and I don't want to give them up throughout the winter. I've also placed the peppermint near the front porch and side deck. I'm hoping they will eventually grow underneath and discourage mammals (and maybe some box elder bugs) from sheltering there.

I always feel better when I'm out gardening, and I'm doing a lot of it this year. I already have enough changes in mind to keep me busy next year too, but I was originally intending to focus on house repairs next year instead. We'll see how it turns out.
mellowtigger: (Green Lantern)
front yard after wateringI walked onto my front porch this evening, and I immediately noticed how pungent it was. I've kept the windows there open for ventilation since I will remain without air conditioning for a few more weeks.  They really let in the smoke from whatever the neighbor teens were smoking. I don't mind that, and I support total legalization. This is the house with the death threats that woke me up a week or two ago, though, and I just hope the drama isn't related. That, I don't support at all.

I started weeding the strawberry and flower beds, then the guys left their house to go walking. I watered the front yard while the sun slowly dropped farther below the horizon.

Meanwhile, a few houses south, I could hear a guy trying to discreetly (not shouting, thank you) chew out someone, regarding what I think was the drama a few nights ago where someone drove their car very slowly and backwards down the whole length of the street, scraping many cars along the way and knocking over a fire hydrant.  Yes, I called 911 for that one too.  Strangely, they missed my car this time, but the officer came to my door and gave me a case number just in case I noticed something later.

Anyway... back to this evening.  The older guy (almost my age? from the house I mentioned above) walked over and talked with me for a few minutes while I was watering plants. They're getting rid of stuff for an upcoming property inspection. Indeed, they are, as I noticed on my patio.  I let him know that I planted the strawberries along the sidewalk because I intended for people to pick them and enjoy them.

I'm hoping that a foraged snack might add a non-zero amount of peace to someone's day, making the drama and the self-medication a little less necessary.  I wonder if I could surround the plants with green bricks and call them a "Greenstone Grocery", then get other neighbors to do the same, slowly turning the area into an appealing place for a neighborhood walk.  Imagine a stroll while eating a strawberry here, a blueberry there, a mulberry across the street.  Or, all this stuff just makes me an appealing soft target. I binge watched 4 seasons of "Orange Is The New Black" during the last few days, so I'm feeling pessimistic again about the harm that people do to other people for no good reason.

But I have strawberries.  The dwarf sunflowers are starting to bloom, and the pumpkin vines are poised to sprawl across the front yard. So let's just agree that life is good for the duration of a sunset today.  And hope that I don't get woken by nearby sirens again after midnight tonight like I did last night.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Wow, it's hot and humid here, especially when you don't have any air conditioning.

heat index 39C/103FYesterday was especially bad, with the humidity pushing the heat index to 39C/103F according to WeatherUnderground.  I think the air temperature yesterday made it to 34C/94F, and it didn't cool off very fast last night.  

I spent several hours this morning tearing down my computer system and desk then moving it all into the basement which remains cool. It wasn't my first choice for placement, because the basement is unfinished, dark, short enough that I have to duck occasionally, humid, and always a collection point for radon... but at least the space is pleasantly cool.  It's still jungle weather outside today, but here in the basement is comfortable.

The other issue this week is the gunshots.

Even during winter, an old lady neighbor stopped her car to say hello to me one Sunday morning.  She asked if I heard the "rumble in the jungle" the previous evening.  Yes, I did.  Even during subzero (fahrenheit) temperatures, there are gunshots here.  It just gets worse in the hot weather.  About a month ago, I started using the hashtag #WarzoneInMinneapolis when I post about it on G+.  I had no idea before moving here that any part of Minneapolis endured nearly daily gunfire.

Finally, the front page story in the local Star Tribune newspaper this week used a similar headline, calling it a battle zone.

"Eighty percent of those — 105 victims — were shot in the Fourth Precinct on the North Side",  and "that week, ShotSpotter was activated in the precinct 118 times.

Yes, that's 118 gunfire incidents during a single week and only within a small part of Minneapolis.  And that headline hit the newspaper the morning after I was up after midnight because of a gunshot incident (3 different bursts of gunfire) about 2 houses away behind my house. Also making recent headlines was the battle which resulted in police finding 48 shell casings.  And I was driving to pick up some plants one weekend morning last month, and right in front of me a pedestrian was assaulted by a guy with brass knuckles who then jumped into the getaway car beside me to drive away.

It's a little nuts here, obviously.  It doesn't seem to be a priority with Minneapolis City Council because, well, it's not all of Minneapolis that's affected, just a few neighborhoods in the poorer parts of town.

So I'll continue using the hashtag #WarzoneInMinneapolis until the bad publicity convinces them to make it their priority.  I pay taxes too, and I want this neighborhood to improve to the safe and pleasant community that I know many of us here want it to be.
mellowtigger: (gardening)
Locals know that I've been spending a lot of time digging in the yard this year.  It's slow progress, but you can notice the difference now.

front yardback yard

The front yard has strawberries, pumpkin, and flowers; the side yard has the vegetable garden, raspberries, and blueberries; and the back yard has an apricot tree, apple tree, some large vined foods (spaghetti squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.), and bayberry.

Coworkers gave me some native plants, and they're in various stages of recovery or outright thriving.  Also thriving this year is some bergamot that another coworker gave me 2 years ago.  It's nice working with other nature afficionados.
native plantsbergamot and mason bee home

It's very slow progress.  Digging in the ground here means more than just lifting up the sod.  It means sifting through all of the dirt and sod to shake out the "dangerous bits": broken glass, rusted nails, sawed off bolts, and lots of other stuff.  My bucket of "stuff that shouldn't be in a yard" is full, and I still have a lot of sifting to do.  I've been throwing a lot of sod into a makeshift cinder block compost heap, where I'll take it out next year to use for filling up a raised garden bed that I plan for next year.  All of that material still needs to be sifted for dangerous bits.

This weekend, I dug up some bones that weren't obviously leftover dog food.  My collection now includes these 5 samples (plus smaller bones or things that seem like bird bones).

I emailed this photo to the Minneapolis 311 service to ask for help in identifying this stuff, and to ask if my property was ever once a dumping ground.  I'm finding all of this stuff (bones, glass, rusted metal) in any area of the yard and at any depth.  When I water the new apricot tree, the standing water develops a faint blue oil sheen on it.  I want to know if this property was once a dumping ground 100+ years ago, before the house was built.

And I need the giant box elder trees in the back yard to come down.  I noticed carpenter ants this weekend.  They have to go.  Whether all these trees are on my property or the neighbor's though... is an arguable point.
mellowtigger: (Default)
I had a dream last night that involved an ex. Something was wrong with the car, so we resorted to driving backwards at highway speeds. Not my favorite mode of travel. Sure, there was a bit more to the story, but mostly I'm just recording it so my "dreams" tag stays accurate with my dream history. I guess the dream was noteworthy because I wasn't bent out of shape when I woke up. "Out of sight, out of mind" is mostly how I work, so exceptions when my past and present intermix probably deserves a mention.
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
For some reason, I woke up around 5:30am. It was light outside, the weather was cool, and it seemed to overcast. I checked the weather forecast online. Yes, overcast until noon then rain.

deck after stainYes! It's time to stain the deck. The wood was nearly white from bleaching in the sun, so it needed a new color and protection from further exposure.

I guess I was expecting the stuff to be kind of an oil. It's an all-in-one stain and sealant, though, so it works more like varnish. I didn't know, so I've made some mistakes.

First, don't be surprised by the initial color. I applied it a little thinner than I should at the beginning because I wasn't expecting my deck to be so... PINK. It later dried to a much nicer pecan color. Also don't use the roller to mostly-cover railings, thinking that you'll touch up with the brush later with a second coat. There is no second coat. After the stuff starts to dry, it's already waterproofed and any attempt to apply again just beads up instead. Use the roller only on the broad surfaces, and use the brush everywhere else.

Second, use a "bleach" (the home supply store sells cans of special stuff for this purpose) to eliminate any unintended stains on the wood. I looked down at the deck and saw it was already terribly bleached by the sun, so I started painting the stainer onto it. Then I got to the parts that were black with mold, and... too late to change course now (hands splattered in paint, skies about to rain) so I just sealed it up. I may regret it later. I'm not sure what the mold will do while sealed under the varnish away from water.

Click the thumbnail to see the full picture.  You can still see some of the very grey wood on the lower left corner that needs stain.  It's a big difference in the appearance.  I continued painting through a few light sprinkles of rain, until my can finally ran out of sealant. I have some more touching up to do, but the vast majority is done. 

Then I started mowing the yard, but the rain finally chased me inside with it half done. Now I'm showered, posting online, and looking forward to a quiet afternoon after already working half a day outside, and it's only 11am.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2004)
I spent my tax refund on a new lawnmower.

I  intended to switch to a powerless push mower that has the spiral blades on it.  They sell for only $100, and there are no CO2 emissions and no chemical batteries either.  I accepted a used one from somebody, though, and I had difficulty with it.  (It was known to be problematic, which is why the previous owner was looking to get rid of it.)  So I splurged with my tax refund on a battery mower instead.

I got a Ryobi 16" 40V mower that also comes with 4A lithium ion battery and charger.  It cost about $320 altogether with tax.  I tried it out this afternoon.  My yard is just slightly too big to mow on a single charge.  I missed just a few stripes in the back yard.  Maybe if I don't let the grass grow so high (so it doesn't require covering ground more than once), then I'll have faster coverage on a single charge.  It takes almost 2 hours to fully charge the battery again.  It was plenty powerful, though.  Actually, it was as decent as most gas mowers that I've tried.

The good thing about the Ryobi model is that the 40V battery works with several of their yard tools.  I can see myself buying more of their tools to make better use of the investment.  This particular mower also includes a mulching attachment so instead of catching grass clipping in the bag, you can ditch the bag altogether, which I did.

This model is also lighter than a gas-powered mower, so it's easier to lift it inside the house.  I have nowhere outside the house to store it.  The handle also folds up easily for even more compact storage.  It's also much quieter than a standard mower.  Since it's quieter and lighter, it makes mowing the yard easier.

We'll see how it holds up over the years.

mellowtigger: (Daria)
So what does bone look like after it's been in the dirt for years?  (click to embiggen)


Isn't this diameter too big to be a pet animal? From the flat cut (but only one side), maybe a beef bone?  Should I be calling 311? Who checks out this kind of stuff?

I've been trying to garden all weekend, but it's very slow progress.  Where I wanted to put my veggie garden, there is a lot of broken glass and rusty nails and cut bolts, so I've been sifting everything and pounding the sod to see what shakes loose.  The above photos come from about 3-4 inches under the dirt, I think.
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
Three young guys were pounding on the front door of the house south of mine tonight, demanding that someone come out.  I called 911, and dispatch said that other calls were coming in for the same incident.  Several neighbors here are well involved in watching the street, and they also report problems to police.  I didn't want to stand around my porch as a big target during the incident.  I wish I had an outdoor camera to record details... a camera with high enough resolution to capture license plate numbers on vehicles passing my house.

This excitement comes after I slept through a drunk driver hitting the same neighbor's car at Friday 3:30am.  Police took the driver away for being drunk (I was told she opened the car door and beer cans fell out) and not having proof of insurance.  The neighbor's car is being totalled, but when her car jumped forward and hit mine, I only got a bumper scratch that I don't care about.  Police left a case number on my car anyway.  Again, an outdoor camera with good resolution would be nice.

I think maybe this morning I've managed to convince the alley neighbors not to use my yard as a parking lot.  I asked someone to leave my lawn the previous day.  Today I was out digging along the alley as one of them pulled into their own property.  He asked, "Are you building a gate?"  I told him that I was planting a garden.  I was planting seeds for giant sunflowers, which should make a nice 7-foot-tall barrier to help discourage future parking.  I'll add some corn behind it soon.  I'd still like a camera for the backyard too, so I can record the busy activity along the alley and keep track of license plates if they become necessary later.

It's really quite peculiar.  This area has its charms, and a recent poll of residents found that they were unusually committed to staying here.  They want it to be a safe place to live, in addition to its many great features.  At the neighborhood safety council meetings, the police representative tries hard never to say (even when asked directly) that we're the worst crime neighborhood in all of Minneapolis.  He's good at dodging a direct answer, but I think we have figured it out on our own.

I don't know that I've ever called 911 before, but tonight was my 3rd call in the 3 months that I've been here.  I've heard plenty of gunshots that I didn't call about, because they weren't close enough for me to figure out their direction.  They keep saying that we should call in every time we hear gunshots, but I'm not sure why.  They already know (thanks to technology) when and where the gunshots are.  Minneapolis just doesn't have enough police in this area to show up for every threatening sound.  According to a thread on a community forum, many neighbors were speaking up about a gunshot incident 2 weeks ago (about 4 blocks from my place) where they never saw a police car show up.  Someone finally said they saw a police car arrive, shine a light at the problem house, then drive away without getting out of the car.  Not very helpful.

In other news, I'm sunburned from beginning my garden.  I'm looking forward to getting more done.  As I said, this neighborhood does have its charms, and this lot in particular has some good gardening space on it.  Solve the crime issue, and this place is golden.  :)
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
I decided to attend the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus... and I almost immediately ditched.

I signed in for my nametag. I picked up my copy of the community resolutions to be voted on.  (They didn't have any pens available to fill it out, though.)  I picked up the caucus handbook, and I flipped pages until I found the day's schedule. It seemed that I wasn't actually needed to act on anything until the afternoon, so the day would be spent on procedural issues. I then walked out the door and escaped toward downtown Minneapolis. I didn't even join their free breakfast.

I think I can now stop calling myself any variety of Democrat. Clearly, I am an independent voter who is willing to let the Democrats (as a party) govern themselves. I'll avoid their caucuses in the future so I don't get wrapped up in their process. If their party wants my individual vote in November, then they'll just have to figure out for themselves which candidate can win my approval in the general election. (Hint: It isn't Hillary Clinton.)

The Minneapolis Community Conference was worth abandoning my role in the DFL caucus. I received lots of information to ponder, and I see plenty of opportunities for involvement in the future.
mellowtigger: (liberal frustration)
I'm double-booked for all day April 2 Saturday, and I can't decide which event should take precedence.
  1. I signed up as an alternate delegate at the Democrat-Farmer-Labor (DFL) caucus several weeks ago. Apparently some people were at the wrong location, though, and now I'm a regular delegate. It's important to me that Bernie Sanders gets the delegate votes from Minnesota. It's not actually decided yet, regardless of the preference poll results from a while back. In theory, the delegates vote to match the public opinion, but none of us signed anything to agree to do so. I want Bernie counted.

    Also being decided at this caucus is the DFL candidate for state representative district 59A. On Saturday, Fue Lee came to my front door. He was also at the DFL caucus a few weeks ago. He wins points for being active in the community. Later that same day, I got a phone call from our current representative. I had to look up the name just now; I didn't know it, since I'm new here. Joe Mullery seemed very knowledgeable about local programs and politics. I'm not sure who I'd vote for, but I think I'm leaning toward Fue Lee for his local participation, and it'd be nice to see representation of the Hmong presence here in my neighborhood.
  2. More recently, I signed up to attend the Minneapolis Community Conference. It's sort of a brainstorm session for the vision of what Minneapolis can become in the future. I want very much to attend this event. I'm trying to find some justification for ditching the DFL and go to this conference instead. Would Bernie Sanders understand and approve if I didn't give him my delegate vote in favor of local community involvement? Would Fue Lee (if that's my choice) still win the nomination for the November election ballot? Argh! I want to attend this conference, but I'm just not finding the justification. :(
It's also nearly time to start gardening here. I dug some sharp prickly weeds from the yard today (after getting more old branches and leaves into paper bags for pickup). The ground was soft, and I didn't strike ice with the shovel. I think I'll have to put seeds in starter pots next weekend in preparation for planting season here in Minnesota.

Just to put the question out there, does anyone have experience with throwing wood ashes (from a fire pit) into a garden? Good? Bad? I'm pondering what to do with all the limbs and leaves I collect from the trees already in the back yard. I don't want to buy (or haul/rent) a wood chipper, so I need to find something better to do than bag them for garbage yard waste collection. Any ideas?
mellowtigger: (break out)
The Sense8 web series is good. It includes some of the better ideas of "The Tomorrow People" (1973/1992), such as the importance that we do not turn away from the pains of life and culture, that we should find the strength to face them. Unfortunately, it also has a feature or two that will detract from its wide acceptance by some audiences. If you want a fast 74-second introduction, just watch the official Sense8 trailer. [some minor spoilers ahead]

Overall, this series is nothing like "X-Men". Instead, it is "More Than Human" (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon. It has a lot going for it. It presents individual people who would each be despised by other people in a different part of Earth and the culture there. It is female-friendly, with strong and intelligent female characters, even within cultures that don't appreciate them fully. It is GLBT-friendly, with both a gay male and a transgender female character who are meaningful and believable. It is religion-friendly, with a Hindu who doesn't back down from her faith while explaining it to doubters. It is poor-friendly, with a resourceful black man who lives in poverty with a mother dying of AIDS. The story briefly touches upon a lot of sociopolitical issues in its first season alone. It properly uses these issues as ways to show us the character of the people we may come to appreciate, without ever nagging us about any such thing as vague as "political correctness".

Sense8 characters season 1Sense8 is primarily (or should be) a social story. Humanity experiences a small evolutionary step in this modern-day story, one where some humans are connected telepathically amongst themselves. No superpowers, just shared experience. The first 3 episodes are quite confusing. It's an artistically-chosen confusion, though. We are to learn eventually about 8 people (the "sensate" / "Sense8"), but we are introduced to their lives in the same way they are introduced to each other... with seemingly random crossovers of experience.

In episodes 1-3, as their collective ability awakens, our scene switches from one person to the next while carrying over an emotion or sound from the earlier person... leaving the second person confused along with the audience. It's worthwhile to stick with the story.

In episode 4, we finally get all of the main characters together for one moment. Their first tentative full-group experience is a happy one. I keep rewatching this video clip because it captures the best that this story/series has to offer. It reminds me of an old adage, "A joy shared is multiplied", which hints at the significance of their telepathic connection that the whole world could envy. This scene leads us with the music "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. The "perfect music for a lobotomy", as one character later puts it, and it plays while one of their cluster is handcuffed and prepped for unconsented brain surgery to destroy her ability. It's a happy-yet-terrifying moment that well characterizes the entirety of the sensate life lesson. The music shouts at us with the incomprehensibility of life (as they/we have experienced recently), the need for revolution (to confront the injustice that we encounter), and the optimism that we can survive and improve together. What's not to like?

In episodes 4-6, we finally begin to learn the rules of their ability as the sensates bond with each other.
  • The sensate humans experience a change in their brain structure (with accompanying migraines) that lessens the division between their brain hemispheres. This change supposedly leaves them less able to filter out thoughts and stimuli, leaving them more "in tune" with each other and with their natural environment in general.
  • A sensate "cluster" is formed amongst people who were born at the same time, anywhere on the planet. Our story's cluster includes 8 people from USA, England, India, Korea, Kenya, and Mexico.
  • Our story is told in English, but the sense8 understand each other in their native languages.
  • People within the same cluster can share the full breadth of their experience and talents with the other members.
  • People of different clusters can talk telepathically with other sensates, but only if they've looked directly into each other's eyes previously. This line-of-sight contact becomes an important plot point, exploited first by the stranger who is trying to awaken the cluster of our main story... also used later as a warning to avoid eye contact with another who is trying to destroy them.
All of these early episodes include more sex than audiences are accustomed to seeing on television. Episode 1 practically begins with a lesbian sex scene that will leave most audiences surprised (and potentially breathless). Episode 6 seems to make the argument that sex makes the world go 'round. That's okay. I'd much rather have healthy sexuality than unhealthy violence portrayed in entertainment. Except... there's a much larger dose of violence in this first series than I think it needed.

In episodes 7-12, the sensates grow more accustomed to each other (and we to them). Violence here is an unjustified trope, and this series would do well to avoid relying on it so much. Life for anyone is plenty complicated and difficult without it. This series does show us some part of that complication. Most humans, however, die in a world of despair, abuse, confusion, and neglect, not outright murder. Show us that world, and show Homo gestalt helping everyone overcome it. Violence is persistent but should be incidental to the main story.

Sense8 also doesn't shy away from the realities of childbirth. Episode 10 includes a controversial sequence in which each of the sensate's birth is viewed in messy detail. The detractors, I think, are missing some important artistic points:
  • First, Jonas Maliki previously tells the cop about Whispers being powerful and able to remember his own birth. It's a very subtle foreshadowing of this birth sequence, suggesting to us that maybe this cluster is as powerful as the one who hunts them.
  • Second, each of the sensates receives a subtle nod at their birth to a sympathy or challenge that pervades their life.
  • the musician born listening to musicthe cop born in a squad car
    the pharmacist born with Ganesha (approving of science) overlookingthe actor born while the household watches television
    the prisoner born while mother alone in graveyard then tended by strangersthe transgender born while mother cut open in Caesarian
    the thug born under water without a father apparentthe driver born in a wilderness without a father
  • Third, the scene ends when the musician who triggered this all-cluster experience begins to remember herself giving birth to her own child.
Perhaps a fourth point, the long scene is a general reminder that these sensates do not shy away from the realities of life as the rest of humanity is wont to do. How could you turn away if you had 7 other people reminding you with direct sharing of their personal experience? When everything is connected, nothing is separate that can be ignored as someone else's problem.

Sense8 was renewed for a second season. I'm looking forward to it.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
Is there a home security system that you can recommend for the home tinkerer?

I'd like a system that offers a few key features:
  • outdoor video cameras that also work at night (infrared) and in cold (-34C/-30F temperatures)
  • cameras available in either wired ethernet or wireless
  • hub can store video to local network disk (not just to a paid cloud service)
  • includes a doorbell/camera device
  • support Linux and Android for easy access
  • wired power rather than batteries (don't sacrifice the environment for some temporary peace of mind)
I like the mainstream availability of Insteon devices, but they're short on several of the features that I'd like. I don't want to have to cobble together a frankenstein collection of technologies. Those individual technologies are available though.

Korner (window sensors)
CleverLoop hub

ADT also send me a letter to reactivate the (old) system already in the house, but I'd rather have newer technology.  Still, though, I'm not ruling out a paid service provider like ADT.

I'd rather just buy a hub outright, provide hard drive storage of my own, then slowly add devices to the house over time.  Any suggestions?

edit 2016 February 15 Monday 16:10:
I just learned about this earlier article covering OpenCV and the Raspberry Pi.

settling in

Jan. 9th, 2016 11:55 pm
mellowtigger: (we can do it)
I've lived in (as opposed to merely owned) the house for a full day.

Gunshots last night (not too nearby) woke up the cat first and then me (as the cat stirred).  Neither of us spent too much time worrying after the first two shots, because it's just too cold to worry about anything else right now.  By the time it broke out into a burst like firecrackers, we just crawled back under the blankets to get warm.  The opinion I heard from a local person several weeks ago is that most of the violence here is drug/gang/turf related stuff, so I doubt they'll have much interest in some old guy with his cat.

The current outdoors temperature as I write is -21C/-6F (windchill -31C/-25F).  It really helps to put the house through an insulation test, although it's been a bit of a challenge for me individually.  I've run a small electric heater almost continuously today, and that'll get expensive.
  • There's a spot underneath each outside door that needs to be fixed.  I replaced the trim insulation which helps, but that one corner is still leaking on both doors.  I need to patch it somehow.
  • Air circulation upstairs is very bad.  It's cold in the bedrooms.  I've got one room shut, so it's even colder in there, but my room is still unpleasant without the use of a small electric heater.  I discovered that the vent in each bedroom is an intake vent only, so the only hot air is coming from the landing by the stairs.  That heated vent, though, has poor circulation, so I need to see what's obstructing it or leaking air on the way.
  • Most of the windows seem to be sealed well.  A ground floor bathroom window leaks cold, so I've shut the door to that room.  The pair of windows in my room don't seem to leak cold, yet the outer storm panes have a solid coat of frost on them, so moisture is reaching them from somewhere (melting from roof?).
  • There are still boxelder bugs alive and newly arriving in my sight.  How do they survive this cold?  Where are they getting indoors?  The house must have holes somewhere.  Not good.
  • I've kept the basement door closed today to keep the cat from investigating until I've cleaned down there.  I'll have to go downstairs tomorrow, though, to check for cold air coming in.
I catnapped a lot today to make up for lost sleep last night.  I didn't get much accomplished.  I cleaned the gas stove burners again, so they work, but they still don't ignite on their own.  I got the dining room bookshelf put together, so the plants now have a home at the window, although little direct sunlight reaches there.  Tomorrow, I need to get the kitchen shelves done, so I can empty some of these boxes stacked around.

Tonight I broke out a wool blanket that I haven't used since Occupy Minnesota while sleeping outdoors in the cold.  We'll see if I sleep better with it on the bed.  Even Hope is spending time under the covers with me instead of on top.

I'll keep updating this thread in the coming days, so stay tuned for more escapades.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 07:55:
Currently -22C/-9F (windchill -31C/-25F) outside.  The wool blanket helped a lot.  Last night was more comfortable than the one before.  I didn't wake as frequently, so I must be growing more accustomed to the new place.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 12:50:
I did a first pass at cleaning the basement. I scooped up the cat poop that was transformed by alien fungus. 
alien fungus on cat poop in basementcloseup alien fungus on cat poop in basement

I wore a dust mask.  I'm no fool.  I've watched X-Files, and I know what happens when you inhale bizarre fungal spores.

I figured the basement was finally clean enough to let the cat down there, so I opened up the door.  While I took my first shower upstairs, the cat disappeared as expected.  I figure she's hiding down there somewhere now.  Guess I'll leave her be while I drive to the old place to pick up more clothes.

The shower worked just as I expected (which was bad).  I need one of those U-shaped shower rods so I can pull a shower curtain around both sides and the back of the tub.  The window over the tub collected water drops, as expected.  The back of the tub collected enough water to run off to the floor a bit, as expected.  Both issues I can work around.  I just need to install a U-hoop shower curtain.

Also, I stuffed the opening of the dryer hose in the basement that was leaking in vast quantities of cold air.  That plug should help a lot with the temperature in the house.

Edit: 2016 January 10 Sunday 18:26:

Slow progress. I've moved everything from the former bathroom, living room, kitchen, and basement.  Maybe next weekend I can get everything from the bedroom and garage.  Then I still have 2 weekends free for cleaning the old place.  I've got a lot more stuff than I realized.

Sometime, I still need to settle into the new place too.  First on the agenda is getting the kitchen shelves ready.

I have a lead on a recliner chair and a 2-seat sofa.  Maybe I can pick them up next weekend if I reserve a U-Haul pickup soon.

Edit: 2016 January 12 Tuesday 21:02:

I discovered why I had closed the doors to those two rooms: the spare bedroom and the ground floor toilet.  Those windows have only a single pane of glass between inside and outside air.  There is no second storm pane to create an air pocket between the two environments.  Each window has now been sealed (ineptly) with plastic in addition to keeping the door closed.  I guess those windows will need to be addressed this summer.

Edit: 2016 January 15 Friday 10:06:

I bought some metal duct tape, so I could go around the basement and seal any leaks in the ducts to help airflow toward upstairs.  Instead of leaks, I discovered that there's a vent on the stack directly above the furnace.  It's in a hard-to-reach location, and it's rusted solid in full-open position.  Most of the hot air has been going just to the basement.  Doh!  I used the metal tape to seal up the vent except for a small portion to keep the pipes from ever freezing.  We'll see how the rest of the house feels when we're back to subzero (fahrenheit) on Sunday.  Today, we're at a balmy -6C/21F, so it's not a good test, since everything feels comparatively warm anyway.

Edit: 2016 January 15 Friday 20:00:

I don't have much in the way of glassware, but it's finally washed and in the kitchen shelves.  The date of the newspaper when I boxed up my glassware for storage last time: 2003 September 21 Sunday.  It's been a while since I've lived on my own.

Edit: 2016 January 16 Saturday 16:31:

I've been hauling back and forth most of today.  The temperature has hovered at the subzero point (-17C/0F) all day.  I got small amounts of ice in my beard from emptying out the garage today.  At least I've finished the garage... mostly.  There are some cinder blocks for gardening that hopefully can wait until warmer weather, since I might also retrieve additional supplies from the garden soil if they decide to cut back on the official garden area.  Meanwhile, sun is setting, air temperature has dropped subzero again, and it's time for me to start sorting through boxes in the living room to see what can go where.  I have way too much stuff from long-term storage.  I think most of it just needs to be donated to a local thrift store, since obviously I've lived without it for a decade or longer.

On one of today's many trips, I figured I'd fill up the gas tank at the corner store.  When I saw that it's a "pay first inside" gas pump, I knew that I wouldn't be coming back because it's so inconvenient in cold weather.  On top of that, I was accosted twice by strangers for money during my brief visit.  I declined both, since I'm not feeling like a money piñata at the moment.  I'm unlikely to be spending much of my money there during this year.

The only way this area (or any area) can turn around, though, is to spend money at local stores.  I heartily recommend "The Nature of Economies" by Jane Jacobs.  It's a very simple read, and it gives a great argument for how to view economic systems as biological systems.  Think of wealth as water; it simply must flow in order for there to be any ecosystem.  When it stagnates, the ecosystem changes in response.  It can arrive/depart in bursts (like gold rush mining towns or desert rains) or filter slowly through many layers (like thriving cities or rainforests), but the wealth/water must flow.  I need to start finding local stores (besides Cub Foods) to do my shopping, so this neighborhood can thrive again.

Edit: 2016 January 17 Sunday 07:16:

It's -25C/-13F (windchill -36C/-33F) outside.  We have a windchill warning, but it doesn't feel as bad inside this week as last week.  I think those small changes I've made recently have helped.

Edit: 2016 January 17 Sunday 15:20:

I'm a doofus.  I bought that U-hoop shower curtain rod without realizing that it needed to bolt around a vertical shower pipe (as pictured) instead of the horizontal that I have coming out of the wall.  So I went to the store and got a regular tension shower rod instead, and I installed it on the other side of the bathtub.  It works fine for now.  I think I'll keep that U-hoop, though.  Maybe one of these days (or months... or years... there's so much stuff to do!), I'll rearrange it so that the pipe that would attach vertically into the ceiling instead goes horizontal into a tension rod.  Then I could still have a U-hoop, and I wouldn't have to figure out how to attach something vertically on a sloped ceiling.

I also bought some corner door seal stickers.  Both outside doors now have much better air-blocking capabilities.

Edit: 2016 January 18 Monday 15:48:

Done hauling for today.  On schedule for finishing up the move and cleaning the old place on the coming weekend.  I need a nap.  And a vacation.  I feel old.  :)

Edit: 2016 January 21 Thursday 16:48:

Car repairs.  Yuck.  The last arctic blast destroyed whatever was left of my car's suspension.  Even the smallest bumps are now hard and loud thumps.  I knew this moment was coming, but I have to get it repaired now.  With two major expenditures under my belt during the last month, I'll be running short for 2016 already.  I'll have not-quite-a-year's savings.  All of my savings are the direct result of my short time spent at Dell.  (My bank account liked me working at Dell.)  I have a much nicer salary now than when I worked at AHS, so I should still be able to recover a savings account this year.  It just means that I'll do no major fixes on the house this calendar year.   And I can't do a major computer upgrade this year either.  :(  Unless I either work another part-time job or get a roommate, and neither is anywhere in my "want to do" list this year.

There's no time to ask the various neighbors for suggestions on good mechanics in this area, so I'll just take it tomorrow morning to the same place I've been going for the last decade.  I've already logged in to move the money from savings to checking to cover the expense.  Entropy.  Gotta love it, because we can't escape it.

Edit: 2016 January 21 Friday 18:38:

Ouch.  Just.... ouch.  It was about $2600 for repairs.

car repairs suspension bill

That's more money than I was estimating.  I had to dip even farther into my savings account than what I moved last night.  I still have enough saved to absorb one more major problem, but that's now my limit.

I know that having any money saved at all means that I am in better financial position than the majority of USA citizens.  I'm down to a 6-month buffer, which still puts me better off than 71% of USA citizens (see chart above).  I should feel lucky, right, that the "bar" here is so low that I'm well off in comparison?  How exactly did we stop being a civilized nation?

Edit 2016 January 24 Sunday 22:48:

I didn't get much accomplished today.  I was woken up at 4:30 by loud music nearby.  Later, I had help from two people with hauling a small sofa and a recliner across the Twin Cities to my living room.  I have furniture, yay!  Then I spent most of this afternoon napping.  Rest is good.

Edit 2016 January 25 Monday 09:43:

I forgot to mention that I dropped off my old house key with a landlord yesterday.  And this morning I mailed my first mortgage check.  So I guess it's official; I'm living in my own house now.

I wanted to spend $1000 on my first mortgage check each year, but I felt better cutting back to just $500 (actual minimum is just under $400) this time because of the massive drain on my savings during the last 30 days.  I know that the math shows I should pay extra anyway, because skipping an extra payment this early in the exponential function will cost me more savings later, but... it's also important to keep a small bit of savings around too.

I guess this update will be my last post in this thread.


mellowtigger: (Default)

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