Tuesday, 15 April 2014

And So

Here in the U.S., it's tax-filing time. I'm blissfully ignorant, of course, as to the fineries, as she who is awesome did it all.
I remain in the endless limbo of being a legal alien. I was given the right to enter the United  States, in order to marry a U.S. citizen, within 90 days of my arrival, or leave again.
We married ten days after my feet touched the ground, at which point, or within the ninety days, the holder of a K-1 visa then must file for 'Adjustment of Status'.
In the period in which the adjustment is being processed, I have no automatic right of residence, no legal status, I can't vote, nor can I claim upon any of the rights of a citizen.
If I were to exit the U.S., for a holiday or any other reason, I would be refused re-entry. I couldn't enter on a tourist visa, nor a business visa....
I could get a 'letter of advanced parole', which in theory would persuade the guy on the desk to let me in, but it's not a guarantee.
Meanwhile, six months after I arrived, I'm not strictly speaking, a resident, nor am I a non-resident. I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien.

I'm not allowed to work, nor to earn money.
I have a Social Security number, but that's merely because all manner of activities, such as accessing my money in the bank, require it.
But it confers no security, social or otherwise. Should anything happen to me, then my wife is fully responsible. The Social Security administration would simply yawn, and look away.

Uncle Sam has the gall to demand taxes from me.

I earned $1.14 cents, on my bank balances, and I have just been taxed 29 cents on my earnings.

This is not my first, only, or greatest payment to the United States Government, we've paid up large lumps every time another form has to be filled in, but this is my first contribution in income tax.

The next time I see any sort of federal employee in uniform, I'll look closely at one of their buttons, and muse to myself.  "I might have bought that very button for the United States Of America!"

Or the flag being hoisted over the capitol..... No. Not the whole toggle, but maybe  a little of the varnish on the toggle on the up-haul rope, maybe I bought that.

Cue National Anthem.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The World is Still Askew

But we're making progress.
Almost a month since moving day, and a lot's been happening, furniture moves and moves again, walls are patchworks of tester paints.
Our local big D.I.Y. shed's profits are up, from all our visits.The latest purchases I made there were not inconsiderable. In the world about us, it seems grass-cutting and gardening are inevitably the province of teams of mexicans.
I did not, as a kid, automatically get pocket money. My basic cash income from my parents was................ nothing, there were chores to be done, and, should I complete them all without having to be nagged, coerced, threatened or whipped, then my palm might be crossed with a tiny spot of silver.
Or brass. In Yorkshire, we say "Where there's muck, there's brass", which is all about the concept that people don't want to do their own dirty work, they'll pay others, less fastidious, or more desperate, to do it.
So in Texas. Mexicans do the dirty work. In England, I cut neighbours' lawns, trimmed hedges, raked leaves, tilled the earth, washed cars..... Until, of course, I reached the grown-up world. Actually, it never stopped. It still hasn't. So today I have been cutting grass. Weeding weeds.  Call me José.
Back in my youth, we had old Atco mowers, powered by single cylinder Villiers engines. Magneto ignition, kick-start (well, they were small motorbike engines, so kickstarts were the thing....) And usually, especially at the beginning of spring, they would not start. I would get mad and frustrated, juggling the controls, choke, mixture, slow running screw...
My dad would say, if it won't start, there's a reason. Find it. 
So began my introduction to mechanics. I would do  my diagnostics, was there fuel to the carburettor? was it primed? Was there a spark at the plug top?
if yes, then was a jet in the carburettor blocked? 

I learned to lay out an old newspaper, and then to strip, clean, and rebuild the carburettor, later, to strip and rebuild the whole machine. I learned that poor tools and ill-fitting spanners (wrenches) mean bloody knuckles, pain, rounded off nuts and more grief. 

Lever-operated dog-clutch, and look, it's got a fancy-pants rubber shock absorber in the drive-line. Positively space-age thinking.

This one's more modern than ours... Look! a plastic (nylon) chain-tensioner. New-fangled nonsense!)

My early teens taught me a whole lot about figuring out how things work without the aid of a manual, and that when something doesn't work, there's a reason. It's not fate, it's not that it's being stubborn, there's something that can be found and fixed. 
Valuable insights.....
So, back to the present. I bought the new lawnmower, the store offered me a 'home assembly service' Ha!  the handle was folded and about six bolts had to be inserted in various places, the engine had to be filled with oil to the correct level, then the fuel tank filled... child's play. 
A couple of slow priming pulls on the starter with the throttle closed, to prime it, then, "okay lawnmower, go with throttle up"! BRRRRRRRRRR!
Oh I love it, instant start. Auto choke. Fantastic!
Y'know, it does its thing well enough, but I'm a bit nostalgic for the old atco, and the pleasure of looking on a fresh-striped lawn, the satisfaction of a job well done, the smell of fresh cut grass and hot oil. mmmmmm

Of course, to get this effect, you have to use the grass-bucket. Which, on our lawn meant that the lawnmower was accompanied by the wheelbarrow, and the clippings had to be regularly  wheeled off to the compost heap, rolled up it on a plank, then tipped. Over the course of a summer, it became the compost mountain. And last-year's heap was to barrowed to the various flower and vegetable beds to be top-dressed in.  

Now, rotary mulching mowers just thrash it all to bits and drop it back. So much easier. Mind-bogglingly so.

Another garden-related purchase, the strimmer, which gets its name from 'string' and 'trimmer'.  Although in the U.S. it's known as a weed-whacker. 
Back in the old days etc... Oh my god, off he goes again.... Well, not so far back, the company I worked for had several, old Husqvarna and Flymo, and Stihl ones. 
They died because various people, most lately, our old labourer, Pete, were not very good at remembering that two-stroke engines need a fifty-to-one mix of fuel/oil to run. Just petrol (gasoline) will kill them, because the bearings are lubricated by the 1/50th oil in the fuel.
And that's why two-stroke (two-cycle) motors trail a cloud of stinky blue smoke. (which I quite like the smell of, it's nostalgic). They're also far noisier, but I won't go into the whole 2-stroke valve arrangement. 

So we got a newer Stihl, had a heap of those engines. The new ones are lean, clean burners, electronic ignition etc. Older ones can be a pig to start. Usually it's oiled plugs that are the culprit, and of course, over-oiled fuel can be a problem if the muppet who's supposed to use them tips half a bottle where a thimbleful should be, resulting in me having to strip and clean and adjust... And my nemesis, the nasty old pull-cord starter. 
There's a knack. And a required amount of vigour. Pulling it that bit too slow will NEVER start it. Oh I hated the Stihl-Saw,  with its stone/concrete-cutter disc. Set trigger to start and lock, press decompressor button, pump primer twice, set choke to full. Pull! Repeat Repeat Repeat....

So I bought a 4-stroke trimmer. No fuel mixing, no blue cloud.  It has a pull-cord. I don't use the pull-cord. I have a little red cylinder thing. Lithium batteried. Press it into the motorhead, click the trigger, BROOOM! - electric start!

Brave new world, eh?

Yesterday, I was talking to someone who was telling me about a discussion with a young teenager. And on how when he was younger, cell-phones were just little things that made calls, they weren't smart.
And the poor kid was asking how people found their way around. Because obviously, a dumb phone...... "So how did they get...." "They used maps"...... "But...... how? I mean, how would you USE google maps if you couldn't get them on your phone?".
The kid had no concept of paper maps. Or maps in your head.
We take our tech stuff so much for granted. 
I carry a computer, compass, camera, library, juke-box, memory, notebook, global navigator, in my pocket. And  most of the time I forget to be amazed by it.
Ten years ago, it was unthinkable.
Really. Twenty years ago? Oh my.

Enough for now. I have to grease some sprockets.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Picasa/Blogger is not working and that's my excuse for not posting...

I use google's awesome photo organiser, Picasa. It's free, it's easy to use to store/organise/edit/print/email/blog/etc.
There are plenty of other similar things out there, but Picasa is generally so good that I can't be bothered to check out the others.

Often, when I start a blog post, i pick up the images I need in Picasa, hit the 'Blog This' button at the bottom, and post them to a draft in Blogger's editing console, then I do the text within blogger. It's quick and simple and I'm used to it.
Recently, that's not been working, hitting 'Blog This' just gets me an error code. The nub of that error is:

rss: Required field must not be blank

Simple enough? No. Because there's no rss field that you can fill in. So of course, I do what  picasa asks, delete cache and cookies, sweep out all the accumulated crap from my browser, and the problem's still there. I look up Picasa Help, no help. Forums, no help. This is Google, so there's no easy way to report a problem or contact support people. Then, after an age of googling, I find this

Picasa Resources:‎ > ‎Picasa FAQ‎ > ‎Picasa‎ > ‎Troubleshooting‎ > ‎

How to Fix Blog This Function

Note: The Blog function in Picasa can only be fixed by an Update to Picasa. Until Picasa is updated, this page suggests one Workaround:

The Blog This Button and the Create menu -> Publish To Blogger... function both use the Picasa button function to call transport service to the Blogger.
The underlying transport to the services was changed from http to https and the URL in Picasa was hardcoded as http in the custom button files.
This will be fixed in the next Patch release.
Helpful, ha?
No clue as to when. And why couldn't they say on the error page "It doesn't work because we broke the 'Blog This' button"?
Even better, seeing as in order to be uploading by Picasa to Blogger, users must have a google/gmail account, wouldn't it have been really handy if there was some magic way to contact users to tell them that a key part of the interface between two popular Google platforms had been deliberately disabled, and there was a reason it no longer worked?
I wonder if google has heard of email? Oh... Of course, it sends me crapmail already...

I was an early adopter of Google, back when it was a newcomer to the search-engine world.
I've loved some of the things google has done, but sometimes, just some times, I loathe it. This is one of them. 

This is what reminds me that when we put our trust in companies that host our content on the web, our content is hostage to their whim.

Update: I took some more time browsing for answers. "Update Picasa"?  So I go to the Picasa update checker "You already have the most recent version" Well of course I do, because I ticked the "enable auto-updates" option. But being a belt and braces sort of bloke, I decide to go to the Picasa download site and reinstall it.

Magic. It works. Why? I don't know. Do I take back my grumbling?


If a developers deliberately screws up a feature, then the users should be informed, not left to waste their time trying to mend the unmendable.


Monday, 17 February 2014

A Follow-Up

The great freeze actually lasted only a very short while. In the meantime, something called the polar vortex has caused incredible chaos and storms across the U.S., but here in this bit of Texas, you wouldn't know it. It's been warm enough not to wear a sweater, fleece, or jacket. There have been a few rainy days, and fog, too, a little south of here, but to a Yorkshireman it's positively tropical.

All the same, I should come clean about south Texas weather. Although this time it's not been cold, and usually isn't really cold,  it has, on occasion been cold enough for the sea to freeze between the mainland and Galveston island, and mass die-offs of fish have occurred, with fish washed ashore in blocks of ice. The winter of 1983 saw conditions that were really cold, albeit for a relatively short time.

 Christmas Day, 1983, Galveston Bay, Texas.

"It began when a pool of Arctic air pushed over the Texas coast the afternoon of Dec. 21, plunging air temperature from the 50s to the 30s (temperatures here are in Fahrenheit, the U.S. and pretty much nowhere else, oh Burma! Myanmar, as it is officially called now,  use fahrenheit. Well, if you're a scientist, or engineer, I think you're officially supposed to be using Celsius.)

 ....in little more than an hour. In Houston, the temperature dropped below freezing the next afternoon and remained there for five days, setting a record for longest period of below-freezing temperatures in the city. Houston's temperature fell below freezing for 10 consecutive nights, bottoming out at 13 degrees on Christmas morning.
It was equally frigid on the coast - 15 degrees in Palacios, 14 degrees in Galveston and Corpus Christi, 19 degrees in McAllen. Air temperature remained below freezing for 77 hours in Port Arthur. Saltwater froze; on Trinity Bay, a sheet of ice 4 inches thick extended almost 500 yards from shore, and a similarly thick layer created a 100-yard band around the edges of the Upper Laguna Madre.
"You couldn't get a boat out in the bay for the first few days because the ice was so thick," recalled Lynn Benefield, who, in 1983, headed coastal fisheries' Galveston Bay field station. "When we finally did get out, the thing that sticks in my mind is seeing the back half of East (Galveston) Bay covered in slush ice from shore to shore. I'll never forget that."
The bitter, lingering cold was unlike anything Hegen, McCarty, Benefield or anyone else had experienced on the Texas coast, where freezes, while not uncommon, are typically short-lived. The most severe cold weather before the '83 freeze had been in January 1951, and it had been almost a century - February 1899 - since Texas had seen such deep, abiding cold along the coast."
"The below-freezing air temperature wasn't the only thing that chilled Hegen on his recognizance on the Upper Laguna Madre. What he witnessed as he and Vannoy explored the shallow bay system with the earned reputation as home of the best-quality speckled trout fisheries in the state sent shudders down his spine."It looked like snow drifts along the shorelines - big piles of white, 15-20 yards wide," Hegen said.
But it wasn't snow; it was ice … and dead fish. Thousands of dead fish.
"There were long windrows of dead fish - every kind of fish - stacked like cordwood," Hegen said. "The number and the size of the sow speckled trout we saw made your jaw just drop. There were thousands of them, dead on the shoreline. Huge trout, some I guessed were bigger than the state record.""

Other coastal freezes are on record in the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
1955, 1899, and back in 1821, Jane Long, an early settler, was saved from starvation by cutting a hole in the ice to scoop out frozen fish. She also recorded seeing a large brown bear walk across the ice to Galveston.
Before her, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the very first europeans to arrive here, (shipwrecked on Galveston island), recorded a similar winter in around 1527.

*for my American readers, Fahrenheit, drawing on earlier works by a danish scientist, Rohmer, set his coldest point by mixing a brine of one part water, one part ice and one part ammonium chloride. This mixture allegedly stabilised at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Or he set it using the coldest temperature he observe during the winter of 1708/9 in his home town of Danzig, on the Baltic coast.
Nobody really knows.

"According to a letter Fahrenheit wrote to his friend Herman Boerhaave, his scale was built on the work of Ole Rømer, whom he had met earlier. In Rømer's scale, brine freezes at zero, water freezes and melts at 7.5 degrees, body temperature is 22.5, and water boils at 60 degrees. Fahrenheit multiplied each value by four in order to eliminate fractions and increase the granularity of the scale. He then re-calibrated his scale using the melting point of ice and normal human body temperature (which were at 30 and 90 degrees); he adjusted the scale so that the melting point of ice would be 32 degrees and body temperature 96 degrees, so that 64 intervals would separate the two, allowing him to mark degree lines on his instruments by simply bisecting the interval six times (since 64 is 2 to the sixth power). 
Fahrenheit observed that water boils at about 212 degrees using this scale. Later, other scientists  decided to redefine the scale slightly to make the freezing point exactly 32 °F, and the boiling point exactly 212 °F or 180 degrees higher.  It is for this reason that normal human body temperature is approximately 98° (oral temperature) on the revised scale (whereas it was 90° on Fahrenheit's multiplication of Rømer, and 96° on his original scale). "
Source: Wikipedia. 

The rest of the world uses Celsius (let's not get into Kelvin, for all practical purposes, Celsius will do). Celsius is, of course, far more difficult to understand. in Celsius, water freezes at 0 degrees and boils at 100 degrees. In Fahrenheit it freezes at 32 degrees and boils at 212. Where in Fahrenheit is there a datum point within our grasp? An arbitrary choice of brine mix? What's a hundred? A fevered brow? For the record, in my early years, fahrenheit was the norm in Britain too. I can do both, but to me, fahrenheit seems too arbitrary and random. 32 degrees Fahrenheit is -17.3 Celsius.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Icepocalypse! First, "Winter Storm Kronos", and then "Son of Kronos, Winter Storm Leon". Arctic Vortex, and other Piffle.

Yes, In the U.S., folk like their storms to be labelled. 
Winter Storm Kronos! That was the arctic weather and blizzards that dumped an almost perceptible amount of snow on us last friday. Kronos!: I imagined a Doctor Who-esque scenario as supervillain Kronos, orbiting earth on a stealth-ship, pulls the levers that set in motion another ice-age.
It brought chaos to Houston, Texas, stern-faced newsreaders looking earnestly into the camera, warning about disaster planning, schools and all manner of businesses closed, temperatures dipped below freezing for a few hours, and a teaspoonful of snow fell.
If I get caught shaking my head in bemused wonderment once more, the sherrif’s department willl probably arrest me for ‘Mocking Texas’. I’m sure they’ll have a law of that kind.

The schools were all closed again, yesterday, for ‘Winter Storm Leon’. No snow fell around here, but the tough guys of Texas cowered indoors. Ice is for inside a drink, or to skate on in a nice heated hall, when it gets out in the wild, they don’t know what to make of it.

If Britain did that, I kind of doubt the thrill would be quite the same as in "Winter Storm Bert", or 'Harry'.
Or Winter Storm "Tea and Crumpets".
Nonetheless, fearsome weather conditions have returned with 'Leon'.
The Woodlands is in the coastal plain designation, despite being 80 miles from the coast. Just north of here, the land rises slightly, and there is a corresponding weather-step, they get snow more than we do. i.e, they get it very rarely, we get it almost not at all. Mind you, for a people who normally live in sweltering heat, a drop to a normal U.K.  january temperature is terrifying.

Nicely iced.....
I'm thinking "I survived a Houston Winter" T-shirts and bumper stickers.

See, the neighbours have a heavy accumulation of snow on the roof.

And the roads, ohhhhh fear and terror.....
We'll just have to eat the dog if the relief column doesn't get through.

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Ships Of Yule, by Bliss Carman

When I was just a little boy,
Before I went to school,
I had a fleet of forty sail
I called the Ships of Yule;
Of every rig, from rakish brig
And gallant barkentine,
To little Fundy fishing boats
With gunwales painted green.
They used to go on trading trips
Around the world for me,
For though I had to stay on shore
My heart was on the sea.
They stopped at every port to call
From Babylon to Rome,
To load with all the lovely things
We never had at home;
With elephants and ivory
Bought from the King of Tyre,
And shells and silks and sandal-wood
That sailor men admire;
With figs and dates from Samarcand,
And squatty ginger-jars,
And scented silver amulets
From Indian bazaars;
With sugar-cane from Port of Spain,
And monkeys from Ceylon,
And paper lanterns from Pekin
With painted dragons on;
With cocoanuts from Zanzibar,
And pines from Singapore;
And when they had unloaded these
They could go back for more.
And even after I was big
And had to go to school,
My mind was often far away
Aboard the Ships of Yule.

Bliss Carman (1861 – 1929) was a Canadian poet-Laureate.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

For The Pirate, and GZ.

Not quite..



And not fifty....

I'll leave her to explain in the comments........
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