Jots 10-20-2009

Morning has broken...but our technicians are working on it.
Morning has broken...but our technicians are working on it.

☼ The “Beauty is…” session with the students yesterday, like most things in life, was mixed. Kids were great, I was somewhat below average, and the projection details were unfortunate: the only direct shaft of morning light coming through the small, high gym windows fell on the lovely ceiling-mounted 20 foot screen, washing out so much detail that I couldn’t even read the few slides that contained text and were my speaker’s prompts. Second session, we turned around and projected the images against the two-toned wall of the opposite side of the gym, better but still from a photographic clarity point of view, disappointing. Kid’s favorite slides: spiders and snakes, which have their own kind of beauty.

☼ The voltage surge mystery goes on. Ann and I have identical UPS units, hers upstairs, mine downstairs. Hers, no prob. Mine, a continuing nuisance. At irregular intervals–sometimes nothing for months, at other times 3-4 times a week, the unit goes off, red overage light flashes, the piercing alarm peals, and the computer and everything else on the UPS shuts down. This is especially fun when it happens in the middle of the night. Last night, no alarms, just a dead computer this morning, surge protector silently in the OFF position. AEP has been problem solving for months, a special recorder placed on the outside box finding some irregularities. My puzzle: why just this one circuit in the house?

☼ I had the challenge last night of trying to explain to the wife the what and why of Twitter. She, understandably, wished it had a different name than the one it has that makes it seem childish. But then when I told her how it was used, she decided maybe a childish name was appropriate after all. I dunno. Jury is still out. However, by following an SEJ twitter-er, I found another conference to look at for next year–a science writers conference at the Research Triangle. Hmmm. Might be a better match for me, really, than journalists. Or Appalachian writers. Or then, maybe I’m a mis-match, a lone sock–one hand clapping on Goose Creek.

☼ So what do we do with the chickens when they stop laying for winter, when their water freezes overnight and their little bums get very cold in the drafty rat-wire bottomed house they live in? We’ve remembered how we gave such matters no thought, back in 1981 when we inherited a dozen Rhode Island Reds (and Crazy Charlie, the one-eyed rooster) when we moved to the little blue farmhouse on Greasy Creek. OTOH, that hen house was more winter-worthy, even though it perched on the windy hill by the barn where my daughter’s “secret” clubhouse took over the hayloft. We butchered them without much squeamishness as the the second winter approached, every one of them looking the same and all dumber than stumps. Our four hens of today, well.. maybe it’s we who are different.

☼ SAD indeed: Sudden Aspen Decline is wiping out fall color in Colorado, entire forests suddenly going drab and leafless due to a variety of pathologies that have, until now, not be able to cause more than minor symptoms. Warmer, drier seasons are blamed for tipping the advance of the condition. More light reaches the soil, browse plants change to less edible grasses, the vertebrate population is displaced. The golden rule of ecology: you can never do just ONE thing. Aspen trees: who needs them? LATimes

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Ann and Twitter? Sounds like me trying to convince Sherry to get a Facebook account to keep up with the kids and grandkids. She just refuses to believe she would use it. But then she didn’t do email regularly until just recently. Since all of our kids are on Facebook, you would think it would be easy to get her to sign on…

    We are having a problem similar to SAD down here in SE Texas. Only here, it’s the pine trees. According to the local paper, the drought and heat this summer has stressed the local pines so much that they are susceptible to pine bark beetles. These beetles can kill a tree in days once they infest it.

  2. Our cabin in the CO mountains used to be in a dense Lodgepole pine forest which we thinned for fire remediation. Now all the remaining pines are succumbing to the pine bark beetles. So far the few aspens we have look okay. I know when we were last in VA it was the Hemlock, Beech and Dogwoods that were suffering. Pretty depressing!

  3. I think you are a good match for the science writers, Fred. Go to their next conference. I love your entries that show the biologist in you. They are always very interesting as well as informative.

  4. Hi Fred,

    A thought (and suggestion) on your faulty circuit. See this link on the problems with old wiring that can arcing – a short circuit that doesn’t short circuit… yeah. Unfortunately, what it can do is cause a house fire.

    Suggestion part A, put an Arc-Fault interupt on that circuit. If it is arcing, that circuit breaker will cut out and you’ll now its the wire, or the connection to the outlet (or any outlet in between) or the panel itself.
    Suggestion part B, to be sure that part A is correct, instead of waiting for AppPower to detect with readings, run a fresh wire from your circuit breaker (on that same panel circuit connection – you’ll have to disconnect the current cable and let it dangle harmlessly for now) to your computer with a temporary outlet. If that solves the problem, you probably have an old/damaged cable in the walls. A cheap fix would be to cover the new cable with conduit and run it in an out of the way location rather than run behind the walls.

    Good Luck!

  5. RE: your APS Problem.
    I had a very similar problem and investigation turned up a “ground loop”. If (A), your neutral and your ground are bonded in the breaker box, ( i.w. terminated on the same, or connected strips) and (B) the hot and neutral wires in that outlet are reversed, your aps will act exactly as you described. Electrical code requires that the black wire coming to the outlet must be connected to the gold screw terminal, and the white wire to the silver. Also, in the breaker box, the black wire needs to be on the breaker, and the white on the ground/neutral strip. Let me know if it helps.