Sunday, July 30, 2006

Panda Antivirus Internet Problems -- Dirty Deal

This past Spring I installed Panda Antivirus to replace Norton, with which my machine came originally, and which allowed a horrendous virus to infect Bernie's computer and which offered "solutions" that did not work in the teensiest least.

I liked Panda. I liked what I saw of its track record, and that it cleaned up my machine very nicely.

However, over the course of the last few months, I noticed that my computer wasn't keeping up with me in Photoshop -- hence the purchase of the new Big Graphics Machine -- and was getting slow on the Web. But I wasn't worried, until last week, when I was chatting with Filthy Pikers on AIM and found that I could no longer access the internet. No sites, no favorites, no links -- but I was still chatting away on AIM. Funny thing that, especially when the AOL links to news worked.

For the next three days, I fussed with my computer, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, unable to access the internet at all. The new computer worked fine. I tried using a network card for a backup wireless connection, I tried turning off the wireless router and cleaning it, I tried uninstalling and reinstalling and uninstalling and updating browsers ... nada. I was ready to take my laptop in to the computer store and have them pull it apart and look at the wireless hardware.

Okay, it wasn't Firefox after all, because after a short time, IE started doing the same thing. And then Trillian. And then AIM. But not at the same time ... they only failed when I started to use them to get internet connection. What on my computer was running all the time that could affect all those programs as I began to use them?

Why, Panda Antivirus.

I googled "Panda Antivirus Problem Internet" and promptly was directed to a gamers' site where some gamers had had exactly the same problem. There was even a solution there, with step-by-step instructions on how to customize Panda to allow access to the net.

Seems like in July, Panda's automatic updates included a feature that denies contact with the internet unless you specifically know how to go into its innards and change settings ... for every freakin' program that needs to communicate outside your office. Oh, and they didn't bother to tell their customers that.

After three tries, I was back on line, and my Firefox was reinstalled (God, I hate Internet Explorer, 7 or not) and I began to check into other antivirus products.

Now, did I say I charge $50/hr or $30? Either way, the amount of time I spent trying to track down the problem and fix it cost four times (minimum) what I paid for Panda.

Now that Panda is gone, my laptop is once again lightning-fast -- I didn't need to buy a faster computer after all.

Fine. Now I have two fast computers. And an antivirus that doesn't slow them up.

Let me make one last comment in computerese:


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Look! Let's Go Fishing!

At long last, water garden!

We braved the heat when it was at its least in the morning and mortared in the first course of flat rocks around the pond's edge. They hold the liner in place, and hide the homely black rubber.

This first picture is the front of the pond. A brick holds in place two stones that ended up a little more sloped than we'd intended. Once the mortar was set, the brick disappeared.

Bernie had been toying with the idea of a waterfall (and still is) but thought that the pond needed the sound of water to make it more inviting. He rescued my chipped frog fountain from under a bush and hooked it up to the pump.

It made a perfect cascade out to the middle of the pond. If you scroll back a few entries, you can see that the frogwater is falling right into where I was digging the deepest part of the pond.

Finally, this is the view from the porch. We'll have a little table out there for cool morning breakfasts with the sound of water and the sight of fish. When this picture was taken, the fish weren't in there yet; they were still in their little fishpond in back of the house. Bernie transported them when the shade came around to the pond. They were unhappy about being moved, but this morning they were swimming around the big pond in a school.

Saturday we'll finish the second course of stones around the edge.

Incidentally, a smaller toad showed up in the swimming pool and was also subsequently plopped into the fishpond. He crawled out immediately and set off down the front lawn towards the trees. I guess if you can't have chlorinated water, there's not much in going swimming for a city toad.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Toy Time

I've been thinking about a new computer for a while now.

Not that my trusty laptop isn't "it" anymore ... I love my laptop, and intend to write more stories and articles and novels on it for quite a while. But I don't think it was ever intended to stay ON from 6am until 8pm or later, continuously. I have a fan under it, but still. It gets HOT and balky after a long day of work in Photoshop.

In spite of my best intentions, I end up using Photoshop a lot. I joined The Piker Press as a writer, in order to keep myself writing regularly. Alas! When not editing and uploading other people's work, I find myself spending time on photos and sketches and -- Photoshop concoctions.

Today I found a machine I could get cozy with, a Compaq Presario with a 200 gb hard drive, and an upgraded 1 mb RAM; plus a Pentium 4 processor and not too many extra bullshit programs loaded on for me to try to delete. I can load my photos directly from my camera's memory card; a little add-on has me connected with that machine to the wireless network in the house. It's quiet, an essential to me, and all that hard drive can store all my photos with ease.

It was a bit of a wrench to my heart to detach my old computer, a 4 gb Micron laptop, from the power source and monitor. After all, the Micron was my little workhorse for writing Time Traveler, and Character Assassin, and editing Dreamer. My friend Tedi Trindle sent it to me in the mail, back when I needed a second computer so that both Bernie and I could be online at the same time. I love that machine, not only because it was of sentimental value, but because it was so reliable. But it can't keep up with all the stuffz of Photoshop.

The new computer is sitting on my art table now, quiet and dark. I imagine it watching me, waiting to see if I will give it an honest job. My laptop, on the other hand, is grinning widely. It's having a drink with me, and admitting frankly, "I'm a writing machine, not an artist."

Tomorrow, the new toy starts its Honest Job.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Toad in Hand

There is no picture of the toad today, because I didn't have a camera in the pool with me.

109 degrees, and I was just getting out of the tepid pool to return to what would feel like an icy 78, when I spotted something swimming along beside me. Yes, it was the toad. I waded through the chest-deep water towards the toad, thinking it would see the monolithic predator approaching, turn tail and swim like mad in the opposite direction. The toad swam towards me instead, so I held out my hand, and the toad swam to it, climbed onto it, and relaxed.

I stood there a while, thinking captions and lines for the scenes.

"Yup, just went swimmin' with ma toad."
"Sand Swims With Toads."
"Sand and Toad Together."
"The Toad Whisperer."
"Toady In The Water."
"How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Toad."
"Someone is going to come out of the house and think I like this toad."

Eh. What's not to like about a toad who manages to traverse 80 feet of overgrown shrubs, a papyrus labyrinth, a patio cluttered with chairs and barbecue stuff -- and find the swimming pool again? This is a toad with guts. When the heat wave breaks, I may relocate Toad to the river; if I can catch the little toad, I may try to convince him (God, I hope it's a him, I don't want toadspawn in the pool -- yechh!) once again to live by the water garden out front. Maybe by then the water lily will be in there. I could even make a little toad house on the shady side of the pond...

Before the heat got ugly this morning, I was out at the ranch to clean the horse's paddock and take him for a 40-minute hack through the orchards. By the time we got back, the sun was up and hitting the fenceline.

The people who own the ranch planted a "perennial morning glory" on the fence. I've watched it grow, wondering how long they would tolerate the invasive and exponential growth of the beautiful but damnable plant. They don't seem to mind.

Interestingly enough, the color that you see in the digital photograph -- a lovely blue -- is not what the flowers look like. They're purple. Deep, royal purple.

Is that something in the nature of photography that I don't know about, like how I can never get a good focus on bright, bright reds?

I played with Photoshop and color enhancements until I got a pic that looked more like what I saw ... that would be the second photo.

The plant is called ipomoea indica, by the way. If you have a space in your temperate garden that needs everything else for fifty feet covered up and killed, this is the plant for you.

Looks nice on Carol's fence, though.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Toad and I

This morning, I took Howie outside, and noticed a toad swimming in the pool.

I fished it out and put it in the garden. An hour later I was back outside, and the toad was back in the pool, this time sitting on my pink inflatable raft.

This is probably the fifth time this year I've hauled the toad out of the swimming pool. Today I thought I had a solution, though: take the toad on a journey to the new water garden in the front of the house!

The toad leaped out of the dishtowel in which I had caught it, right into the new pool. It swam across the little pond into a water plant. See? Doesn't that look much more natural? Apparently "natural" not what the toad wanted, because it left the pond in about 15 minutes. I don't know where it went; I'm hoping that the toad is not carrying a GPS with the swimming pool's coordinates on it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The New Pond

The hole was dug, the cal-
tions made, and the pond liner purchased.

We waited until the shade of the big eucalyptus in the front yard had reached the pond area, and dragged the huge pond liner to the hole. (See a previous blog entry, named The Making of a Goldfish Pond.)

While the pool filled, I stood in the hole and arranged pleats and tugged at the liner. Probably it was a shitty job, but hey, I never did this before. In hardly any time at all, the pool was filled, and Fourmyle (that cat in the pic above) simply had to sample the rubber-scented water.

When I looked at this picture, I wondered what the heck was the grid that looked like tiling below the water line. Duhh, it was the double reflection from our front windows. Weird.

The rounded rocks are all going to be placed on the right side of the pool. We'll mortar in some select flagstone pieces around the other edges. Then the excess liner will be trimmed.

We're done for the day. Looking from the front porch, we can see Fourmyle still sipping from the pond, lots of ugly rubber liner still exposed, and the patient, brilliant
Bernie lecturing Howie on why you should not nudge the arm connected to the hand that holds a highball glass of Muvver's wine.

Good work done today, and this weekend, we celebrate Bernie's 53rd birthday. He is my love, and may he have at least 53 more happy years ... with me.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Learning To Be The DOG

Sitting still for photographs is the most boring thing in the world, as Howie can plainly tell you.

He looked cute before I snapped the picture, catching him in a gaping yawn. Of course, he had his reasons for being less than interested in a photo-shoot: a PG&E man came to the door to do a routine checklist on our electric meter, and Howie was the one who had to bark madly at him. Howie even managed a deeper "big dog" bark along with his tenor "boo-woo-woo-woo." So he was the Tough Protector, and it wore him out.

The camera was out because I've been trying to catch a picture of Howie with his butt-hackles up to show fellow Piker Wendy what butt-hackles look like. The last time I tried to catch his puffy butt (he was after a stray cat trail in our yard) all I got was his tail as he growled past. Today, he was just too mellow after his resounding bellow at the meter man. Nothing I said could rile him up again.

So after his yawn, I told him he was a good boy, and got this pretty pose from him. He's such a cutie.

In addition to telling off the man at the door, Howie notified me when the washing machine unbalanced and began to thump, when my phone rang, when the kitchen timer went off, and when a catfight occurred in the yard next door. And when I turned off my computer this morning, he came diving into the studio -- having learned recently that when I am done with my machine, I'm likely to go do something with The Dog.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Two Tomato Plants

This afternoon I figured I ought to go have a look and see if any more tomatoes had ripened, as I plan to make bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for the evening meal tomorrow.

There were a few. I have two Roma tomato plants in between the shrubs beside the driveway; this year I managed to drum up some gumption and put in an extension from my drip line right to my tomatoes. Apparently the plants liked it.

You will of course have noticed that not all the 'maters are red. I tend to pick them just as they begin to color (they turn red almost overnight anyway) because if I leave them until they're red, the ants get after them. Few things of summer aggravate me more than reaching for a beautiful red tomato and finding the entire back of it devoured and covered by ants.

I grow Romas for their hardiness, bushy habit, and prolific fruiting. But for flavor, I normally buy Better Boy plants. This year, some volunteer plants sprung up from last year's ant casualties among the Better Boys, and on a whim, I let them grow. They are producing a medium-sized fruit on leggy vines ... the first one was ripe today, and I had it for lunch. Heavenly flavor. I could smell "TOMATO!" as soon as I cut the first slice.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Chicken Little said, "The Sky Looks Funny!"

When I looked out the front window this after- noon, I saw that the light was -- how shall I say it -- "funny-looking."

The sunlight on the loosestrife seemed more mellow than I expect at noon; high summer in California makes a lot of colors look washed out in the brightest part of the day.

When I went outside to see, there was a reason for the change in light -- smoke in the sky. The haze that clouded us over was from the Del Puerto Canyon wildfire to the southwest.

The fire started on Sunday evening, and continues to burn. I woke tasting smoke on Monday morning, and today as well. I hope they get it out soon.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy the intensification of color in the yard. These roses were doomed to removal last spring, but we didn't get the roots dug out in time, and of course, now we can't bear to rip out such a beauty. A reprieve in the smoky air.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Making of a Goldfish Pond

We had a little water garden just off the front porch.

There were some variously-colored fish in it, still small (Wal-Mart fish), and a water lily. A modest little half-barrel of water.

It was so charming that we became incensed and set out to make a larger, free-form pond for our fish to roam in. We took turns digging. Howie got his turn, too, and in this picture, you can see him begging for another chance to dig. He was very helpful in breaking up the dense layer of compacted clay.
While us diggers took needed ice water rests, Lillian tested the depth by climbing down into the hole. Not so dangerous; the soil is so clayey that there's no chance of the sides falling in. To expand the hole, we had to shave slices off with our shovels.

Howie still thinks he should be digging.

Behind Lil can be seen the beginnings of a shelf for water plants to reside in pots. We're thinking the water lily, a zebra rush, a tule reed, and a small-leafed spreading thing that is cute but I didn't take time to learn the name of.

This radically forshortened image of me was taken as I was slicing down to reach the requisite 2.5 feet. I look like I should be playing for the Steelers, and my feet look
teensy. I still have another foot deeper to go.

*Also note the hat so that my shorn head does not sunburn.

We hope to work on the pond some more this weekend, but the temps are predicted to rise into the 100's ... the fish are safe out back in a temporary pond in the shade. They may have to wait another week.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Visit to the River

On Monday morning, Bernie and I decided to take a walk.

We hadn't been down to the levee along the Stanislaus River since the flooding of the golf course. Jack Tone Golf is now dry, but in a sorry state; the flooding left a large portion of the grass dead. They've been reseeding and tending, but what a mess!

By the east side of the golf course, we spotted these birds. The one on the top branch was obviously a juvenile, still squealing at a parent bird for food. When we got back from our walk, we checked our bird book, but were unable to make a decisive identification.

Howie was lagging behind us, sniffing at a fenceline when we spotted a large turtle. We called How, wondering what he would think of the creature.

He trotted briskly to catch up and then pass us, and only when he was within a foot of the turtle did he realize that what he must have thought was a rock -- was alive! He leaped into the air in startlement. (Bernie and I couldn't help but laugh, shame on us.)

Howie circled the creature suspiciously, backed away, and predictably, came to me and sat down behind me, where he knew he would be safe.

I sent him back to "Go see!" and he did, sneaking up on the turtle while I took this photo. The turtle released a stream of fluid. Eww. After that, Howie treated every stone in the road with caution.

The river has returned to normal levels, but the little coves and beaches are quite different, with big trees felled by the flood waters and the sandy soil eroded away from banks. The levee breach that allowed the flooding of the golf course was too far downstream for us to find without venturing into the thick woods of the wildlife refuge.