Thursday, December 23, 2010

Out Sick

I've been sick for a while and won't be posting till I'm better and more focused.  Everyone at work seems to have caught this lovely stomach flu (what a surprise since I work at a hospital) and I had to be a victim too. I've also had a respiratory thing going for on a while that I can't shake.

On a side note, I think I'm switching my college major from paramedic to horticulture.  What a leap, right?  It should be more apropos for me and I've been getting burnt out in medicine for a while.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Problem With Green Retrofitting Today

Cash for Caulkers is a lovely program.  Let's give people a financial incentive to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances, lay down some insulation, even install a newer furnace or wood stove.  It works well too.  People have taken advantage of the program.

Here's my problem:  Upfront spending.  The tax credits involved are wonderful for people who have the money in the first place.  These are the people that recognize that these upgrades will ultimately save them money through energy efficiency and they're recouping part of their investment anyway.  These are also people who probably can afford not to make the upgrades.  The people who need these upgrades the most, the ones that would be benefit the greatest, are the ones who don't have the money to spend in the first place.  Their old furnace, wood stove, water heater, windows, doors are all adequate and won't be replaced till its dire.  They're lucky if they have insulation in their walls or attic.  They're equally fortunate to have storm windows over their existing windows.

Now, you may ask, aren't their programs to help these people?  Sure.  First, you have to actually find the programs.  Second, make it through all the red tape.  Lastly, hope the money is still available.  Many programs have limited funding and are difficult to locate.  If you can deal with that, just hope you qualify.  I fall into a bracket where we don't really have the money to upgrade anything but we aren't quite poor enough to qualify for grants.  HUD does offer some help for those that are interested.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to do.  I don't really have a proposal.  I just think that all that money spent bailing out banks and car makers probably would have helped the economy more by buying a bunch of windows and insulation.  Imagine paying ten of thousands (or more) of workers across the country to install all these upgrades for people.  Then you have a whole class of people who previously spent a sizable portion of their income on heating and cooling that will now have a lot of free income to hopefully invest wisely or at least spend elsewhere, further helping the economy.

I may sound like a quack or a pinko commie but I do believe in taking care of each other.  If I was rich, I'd help the poor.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

DockbarX

DockbarX is a sweet panel applet.  It let's you group windows together as well as pin launchers to it.  I'm trying it now on top of a regular menu.  It can also be used as a part of AWN where it does look nice.


This is just the sample from my desktop.  There are more screenshots available from Ubuntu Geek and Ubuntu Life.  More info (and a couple more shots) are on the GNOME-Looks page and Launchpad sites.

To install in Ubuntu, open up the Terminal...
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:dockbar-main/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install dockbarx dockbarx-themes-extra
 Once installed, right click the panel you want it on, select Add to Panel and scroll till you find it.  You can then customize DockbarX with additional themes and change its behavior.

The Social Network?

Seriously, Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook to get back his ex girlfriend?  And I started this blog to impress my wife.

(Spoilers enclosed)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trouble in Palm Pre Land

Karma really sucks.  I had recommended to a friend that she get the Palm Pre Plus from Verizon (this was some time ago and they still had it available).  Instead, she was convinced she would like the LG Ally better.  I caught up with her recently to find that her Ally was being troublesome.  I'm not knocking the Ally since I considered it too.  I bragged on my Pre though.  I gushed over the multi tasking and how I have not had a single problem.

This is where karma comes in.  I'm sorry, I won't brag or be proud anymore, Karma.  Please accept my apologies.

My Palm Pre has held up well even though I only bought it in August and its now December.  Despite the hardware warnings I've read, its done fine.  Its not done the Oreo twist but its not the snug device it once was either.  Regardless, that's not where my problem comes in.  Actually, it was all software and I cannot explain it.


App Updates
I've installed a whole lot of apps to try and update my phone regularly.  Somewhere, sometime this went awry.  It may have been one of those late night updates when I hit it before going to sleep.  Soon after, I came across an odd blank app.  At the top of my update list was an app slot with no name, nothing.  Palm sure wanted to update it though.  Clicking on it returned an error message.  Hmm...  Strange indeed.

Virus?!
I was actually worried that in all the apps, including homebrew, I had downloaded a malicious one, perhaps opening a backdoor to viruses.  Was that blank app a virus? I pondered.  Nah.  Its built on Linux.  If its a virus it won't do much damage.  As a side note, I have heard of a few exploits in webOS but no real viruses.

App Catalog Errors
Searching for this error brought back a lot of hits.  Apparently there was some great App Catalog failure before I bought the Pre.  A lot of forum posts were over that but no one seemed to have a good answer.  I tried the few ideas including Pausing All Downloads and Deleting All Downloads without success.  I'm still not sure what all I deleted.  This was turning grave.  I was up late worried about my sick Pre.  I had to find a solution.

Visiting the Doctor
Part of the reason I chose webOS was the webOS Doctor.  After my wife's Droid bricked during the update to Android 2.2, I knew that Android was out (we had to take it and she received a replacement phone--what a joke!).  The Doctor will reload the software on your Palm should the worst happen.  This is like a brain transplant for someone and only webOS has it.  If you're using an Android phone, well, you don't have a brain anyway because you're a robot, at least partly.

I felt I had no other choice.  I was going to wipe my phone and start over.  Sure, webOS lives in the cloud and would reload everything but it was the point.  The App Catalog shouldn't have erred like that.

I started downloading the Doc but while I did,  I continued looking for one last solution.  Ha, there's a built in reset option!  How could I have missed that one?!  With four options including a total Full Erase, I was prepared to try it.  At worst, I was going to use Doc anyway.

I used the Erase Apps & Data option and waited for the reboot.  webOS came back up asking for logins.  I was quickly logged into Palm, Google and Yahoo accounts.  My apps started downloading and my personal information was still available.

Did It Work?
Yep.  Once the accounts were finished syncing I updated the phone, installed more apps, and updated again.  Its still working fine actually.

Here's the How To
Palm has the how to article online but to save time and trouble, here's the synopsis.

  • Backup your phone first (or don't) - type Backup to take care of your Palm profile including what apps you have installed.  Plugging in your phone and downloading your files from the USB drive is a good idea too.
  • Type Device Info and open Reset Options
  • Try Erase Apps & Data first.  It won't touch your USB drive files and will probably fix your problem.  Move onto Full Erase if you don't care about your files or are worried they're part of the problem. (Note, older versions may say Partial Erase)
Precentral also has a helpful piece on this called How To: Restore a Seriously Ill Pre.  They outline the procedure more specifically and also go into detail on webOS Doctor.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Distro Hopping

Ubuntu to Fedora to Suse to Ubuntu.  Wow.  Yes, that's what I recently did.

Driver Problems
I upgraded to Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) when it came available.  Not at any real fault of Canonical, my ATI card didn't work properly.  It seemed that there was some driver incompatibility there.  Every time I logged in, I had to play with the settings to enable the title bar and correct the resolution.  I searched for a solution but only found that the driver would be fixed soon.  Ha, whenever soon is.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why I Bought A Palm Pre

I've been debating for a while between Android vs WebOS, all touch screen vs physical keyboard, now vs later.  Yesterday I made my fateful decision by buying a Palm Pre Plus from Verizon Wireless.  Unfortunately, the two stores in town were out of stock (that sounds good for Palm though, I think?) and they ordered it.  Needless to say, I'm really excited.  This is a big step up from my Centro.  But how did I come to the Pre?  Why not wait?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Watching Hummingbirds

We put up a hummingbird feeder perhaps a month or more ago.  We've attracted just the occasional bird to it but recently the food really went quickly.  Today, my wife pulled me to the window showing me two feeding away.  I grabbed the camera and tried my hardest to get a good shot.  Inexperience with the relatively new camera certainly didn't help.  If I can get a shot into focus, there will soon be hummingbird photos.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

webOS vs Android: Which would you choose?

Cell phone upgrade time is upon me again and I need help deciding.  I have Verizon Wireless and will not be switching (they have the closet tower by my house, maybe half a mile away).  I'm caught between going with an Android phone like the LG Ally or the webOS powered Palm Pre. 

Budget is a concern.  I'm not going to spend $300 on a Droid X especially since I don't believe anything that large is remotely practical.  Likewise, $200 for an old Motorola Droid seems unreasonable given its age.

Future proof is a concern too.  I want decent specs that won't worry me.  The Ally runs a processor that supposedly won't be included when Adobe Flash is released.  HP bought Palm so I'm mostly at ease there but without any real future plans from the HP/Palm crowd, should I be concerned? 

So please weigh in.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Green Building Materials

If you're looking at building a new home or renovating the one you have, you can green it up with any or all of these...

Roofing Materials
These are available in recycled rubber and polymers that similar to slate. These are lower maintenance and lighter than conventional roofing.

Counters and Showers
Using glass and concrete mixed together gives your counter top or shower surround or even floors a beautiful but durable finish. Concrete is of course a fairly heavy material so make sure its well supported.

Random Compost Advice

Definition
In simplest measures, composting is the method of turning organic wastes in usable soil. While one can get highly scientific about creating compost, this is my quick and dirty guide to making easy compost (the compost is, however, not so quick).


Pile It On
Start out with whatever yard wastes and kitchen scraps you may have. This can include leaves, grass, all fruit or veggie scraps, or even twigs. Pile all this together somewhere in your yard that won't even your neighbor (it shouldn't smell but your neighbor may not take to seeing kitchen scraps outside).

Turn It
Turning the compost pile provides necessary oxygen for the bacteria in it that's working to break down the pile. You need not frequently turn it. Some people only turn it once or twice a year. Others never turn it. I try to turn mine at least once a week. The other option is to drive a PVC pipe down the middle or the pile to encourage air circulation.

Raised Bed Gardening

A quick search of "raised bed gardening" will bring up a basic list of its fundamental advantages... Loose soil, warms sooner, less maintenance, better drainage. Those are all fine and dandy. Perhaps you have other reasons. Significantly raised beds are easier to work. Just imagine being able to sit down and work the beds instead of bending and reaching, hurting your back?


Regardless of your reasoning, building the beds are simple. My own photos will be coming online as soon as my project is done. My personal garden this year (as I've just moved and am starting over) will consist of twelve beds measuring four feet by eight feet. I am also using some reclaimed lumber from my parents' deck. Since I'm on a budget anyway, the beds will initially be just 5-6 inches tall as the boards from the deck are only roughly 5.5 inches wide. To summarize so far...

  • Beds will be 4' Wide x 8' Long x 6" Tall
  • Beds will be held in places with four corner stakes made from 1" x 1" lumber
  • Lumber used is reclaimed decking (previously pressure treated but at 15 years old, I'm not too worried)
  • The sides are 1" x roughly 6"
To fill in the beds, I have extra top soil on hand. Many suggest cutting and removing sod but instead, I would turn it over. This will kill the grass and add more organic material to your beds over time. This is also handy if you're just starting out and don't have any compost yet. If you don't have any topsoil on hand, it can be bought by the bag (and you will need many many bags just for a few beds) or you can obtain good topsoil from many nurseries or hauling companies. It should at least be dark and rich looking, loose, and contain few if any rocks. You will need to fertilize or add compost/manure to this over time anyway so while starting with good soil is important, it isn't impossible to improve it. This all depends on your budget and needs.

For more detailed instructions, try Lowe's Creative Ideas website. They also have a video how to.

My Project
One of the main reasons I need to build raised beds is the massive water problem in my yard. The area is heavy thick clay and retains water badly. My plants would drown. See the photos of the standing water (1 and 2) and my foot in the middle of it (1). The raised beds are getting the plants out of the water.
Materials and Specs
  • Lumber
    Do not use pressure treated wood for vegetable gardens. Nix railroad ties too. Unfortunately the chemicals found within them will leach into the soil tainting your food. Try cedar or redwood for rot resistant lumber.
  • Blocks or bricks
    Cement cinder blocks and bricks can also make fine beds. This is a more permanent solution though. I have also read about chemical issues on cement but honestly, I doubt it. Its a rarely raised issue.
  • SizingFigure out what you can comfortably reach, either sitting or knealing, then determine your bed size. I made my beds four feet wide so I can comfortably reach everything inside without walking on it. Some people make beds five feet wide and yet others only go two or three feet. Length is only limited to what is convenient for you.
  • SoilSggestions here can vary. I prefer to go with a no dig method. This means that once the soil is in place, it is only minimally disturbed. This saves the soil structure (quick version: over time bacteria begin to grow in the soil and this is beneficial to plants, digging the soil disturbs the bacteria). No dig has been found to improve harvest yields no only in home vegetable gardens but also in large scale agriculture. The other route that some suggest is deep digging. This is digging up the initial twelve to sixteen inches of soil before adding anything to your frame. If you really wish to do this, I suggest waiting a season. Growing in the grow for a season will actually loosen the original soil and make it easier to work.
The Down Side (well maybe...)

Moisture

If you're in a poorly drained area, raised beds make sense. If you live in a fairly dry area, the beds can actually dry out faster. This is not always the case as raised beds often lead to closer planting which encourages better moisture retention.

Instead of building raised beds, you can invert them in dry areas.  By double digging and removing the soil, then replacing only half, you create a depression where water will naturally go.

Tomato Advice

Tomatoes are perhaps one of, if not the most, popular plants to grow. I have compiled a list of tips to try; many I do myself.
Sun
Its no more basic than this. Lots and lots of sun makes great tomato plants. They can grow in shady spots but the results will not be satisfactory.

Soil
Dark, crumbly, loamy soil is the best. If you have thick clay, work in straw or compost to loosen it (and in time, this will substantially improve all your soil anyway). Adding manure also works.

Planting
There's usually two routes: deep or long. By deep, I mean planting so that the more of the plant is actually below soil level. This lets the plant absorb even more moisture deeper from the ground. Plus the plant will develop roots along the stem allowing it to feed better. The other approach is to dig a shallow trench and lay all but the top part of the plant in it covering it with soil. Be sure to remove leaves from the buried portion though. This has the same effect as the deep dig method without the strain of a dig hole.

Fertilizer
In good soil, skip conventional fertilizers. Instead try adding a couple tablespoons Epsom salt to the soil before planting. Epsom salt adds magnesium which tomatoes love. Try this for peppers as well. Also try adding crushed egg shells to the soil. The calcium in egg shells helps to prevent disease.

Suckers
I'm not talking lollipops...I'm talking about the small sprouts that suck nutrients from the fruit. There are two approaches to these. First, you can leave them alone. Other wise, pinch them off. Pinching them off allows the nutrients to go directly to the fruit and leaves. On the other hand, the suckers do shield the fruit somewhat from the sun and helps prevent sun scald. I prefer to leave the suckers alone simply because I have other things to focus my time on.

A Fresh New Start

Here I Am
For those who have followed me (you poor poor souls) from one site to another, I think I'm settling on Blogger for all the many amazing features it sports.  The Google integration is handy for me, the mobile posting will be great from the garden, and the overall customatization will allow me to really enrich things. 

I'm sorry Wordpress.  You were quite wonderful.  Google Sites...  Well, I'm not sure you ever knew who you were.  But dear Blogger, I think you have hope. 

Eventually, everything will be migrated here.  I have the Muddygeek.com domain registered through Yahoo from some strange reason.  Then I have a Muddygeek.com Google Apps account (who wants a muddygeek.com email?).  Plus two different Google accounts.  Jeez, there needs to be an easier method to bring all of my Google life together. 

What Now
Muddygeek has been about reconciling my desire to live a more natural organic life outside with my love of gadgets and technology.  Sometimes it feels silly to be texting from the garden.  Then again, I don't think that people will transition to a greener more self sustainable life without being able to bring along their toys. 

I digress.  My focus is still to post about my struggles and decisions.  Maybe seek some advice while I'm at it.