Archive for January, 2013

25 January, 2013

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Today is a day to appreciate the effects the positive aspects of global warming.  Back in the wasted time of my youth I remember many a January day that was blistering cold, and I am not kidding about the blistering.  Windy days with actual temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit can raise blisters on unexposed skin, and the fun part is one doesn’t feel it happening as one’s skin is frostbitten (= frozen) and numb.  Numb like one’s mind is numb if one has dressed so stupidly that such things can happen. It happened to me on a couple of days I thought I could get by without proper gloves.  DUMB!!  What REALLY hurt was that I knew better, too.    

After it heals and some time passes, this type of injury only hurts when it gets cold again, so that it hurts like the dickens for the next 30 to 50 or more years, every time it gets cold, just to remind one how stupid one can be.  Back when I was in high school, for two years our school had double shifts each with about 1600 students while a second high school was being built in town.  So, I opted for the early shift.  Our classes started at 0600 hours and lasted until about noon, when the second shift started in.  To get to the school on time, I had to leave home at about 0500 to walk the 2 miles (3.2 km) or so to school.  Of course, I could have ridden in a school bus by leaving home at about the same time and walking about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the bus stop.  Why bother?  To sit in a cold bus with 30 other kids, most of whom I thought were idiots.  Nope.   

Anyway, in the depths of winter, I was walking to school during the coldest part of the day.  There were a group of us, a few each of boys and girls who showed up at school early.  After arrival we warmed up and socialized before class started; my first class was in a biology class and our instructor was always there early, too, and he would heat up some hot chocolate or coffee on a hot plate.  It was really a pleasant social time.  When the real cold weather started, it was the macho thing for the guys to dress somewhat lightly for the season.  Hey… after all we WERE in high school, and we WERE males.  Well, on day one of the nastiest cold snap, I killed parts of my hands.  But, it could be worse, this was the time of mini-skirts and where some of the young wimmen in my high school got frostbitten… well…  Let’s just say I really couldn’t post the images here.  This nonsense with dressing improperly in such weather lasted about a couple of days into the really cold periods (which were often a couple of weeks in duration) and then all we earlybirds bundled up well, but some other kids didn’t.  Finally, the school administration required the youg women to dress properly for the weather and change after they arrived in school, and they provided time off from the first classes to do this.  As for the guys… the administration seemed to figure if the guys got frostbitten, well, it served them right.  DUH…  

 To give you an idea of the temperature 59 years ago yesterday, as I mentioned in a previous post, the coldest temperature ever officially recorded in the 48 continental United States occurred about 70 miles to the west of my home town.  And the way the wind blew in from the Rocky Mountains to the West… well, it surely didn’t either slow down or warm up much on the way into town.

 Well, those days are long gone.  Today it is close to +50° F (10° C) outside right now, and the wind is almost not noticeable.  In other words, it really is quite pleasant outside.  And, there is nothing one could offer me to trade this warmth for the old cold.  It is possible to enjoy oneself in very cold weather.  It is also possible to easily die in such weather, and back in the bad old days several people per winter would perish in our area due to accidents or stupidity.  One learned rules, like having a box full of winter survival gear in your car at all times.  Or, probably the best one was that if the weather was nasty and one’s car got stuck, one must stay with the car, one should never even try to walk to the farm house one can see right over there.  There was always the occasional death caused when somebody’s car would slide off the road, and they decided to walk about 400 m (a quarter mile) to the nearest farm house.  Most of the time they’d make it, but…   Every now and then the local newspaper would print a picture somebody took of a cow (this is cattle country) that had frozen to death standing up.  Most ranchers would try to get their herds into some sort of shelter during the worst weather but it wasn’t always possible.  Our local air National Guard unit always spent part of each winter bombing isolated cattle with bales of hay.  And it worked.  

More later,

Cheers!!     

Blog Navigation – Sticky Post #1.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Until Further Notice  

(Otherwise Translated As: “Until I Figure Out How To Do Things Properly”  :-)

If You Wish To Have An Answer To A Reef Aquarium Question, Please Read The Appropriate “Sticky” Post Below. 

My “Regular” Blog Entries Will Be Found Below The Initial Three “Sticky” Posts,

And Will Be Titled With The Posting Date, With 

The Most Recent Post Titled In Red.

 

Questions Related To Reef Aquaria – Sticky Post #2.

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Hi Folks,

I will be glad to attempt to answer any questions related to reef aquaria.

HOWEVER, THERE ARE SOME PRECONDITIONS AND CAVEATS!

  1. Each single answer – no matter how trivial – will cost a $5.00 fee.  This should be transferred – in advance – to my PayPal account.  A not-so-useful form (which keeps the spammers off the track a bit) of my email address is: ronshimek-at-wispwest-dot-net (and I am sure any reader will convert that into the actual address).
  2. When the fee is deposited in my PayPal account, I am sent notification of that transaction, along with an email address of the person depositing the fee. 
  3. I will reply to that email address, asking the sender what is the question, and the “game” will begin.  In other words, PLEASE DON”T POST THE QUESTION AS A COMMENT IN MY BLOG.  
  4. I will answer each question to the best of my ability, but I make no guarantee that the answer is correct.  Likewise, I assume neither responsibility nor liability for any changes or problems that may occur in your aquarium system as a result of your actions based on my answers.  Other than specified below, there will be no refunds if you are not satisfied with the answer.  As the old carnival talkers would say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances”.

I will read the question before I attempt to answer it, and if the question as sent to me has multiple parts; I will contact the questioner and point this out.   The questioner may then specify which single part should be answered for their fee.

Some questions have no possible answers.  For those questions, I will return the fee minus any PayPal transaction fees.

THE EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE IS: ANY QUESTION ABOUT AN ORGANISM THAT REQUIRES ME TO EITHER SPECIFICALLY OR IMPLICTLY IDENTIFY THE ORGANISM WILL NOT BE REFUNDED EVEN IF I CAN’T IDENTIFY THE ORGANISM.  Such questions involve an expenditure (sometimes a significant expenditure) of time, and that is what the fee covers.  

Some questions may have an “obvious” answer.  For those questions, I will provide the obvious answer, no matter how simple and obvious it seems even if it is not the question the person means to ask.  The moral is: READ your question – as written – carefully.  Make certain you are asking what you want to ask, and do NOT assume I understand what you mean.   One thing that 20 years of answering questions via email or on forums has taught me is that no two people have the same implicit assumptions.  In other words, I don’t understand what you obviously mean to say. :-)

Any single question may be discussed or explained in detail, but any additional questions will cost more $$. 

I am not going to try to trick anybody into spending money by being devious or dishonest with my answers.  Neither, however, am I going to provide freebies… :-)

19 January, 2013 — Spermcasting

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

Hi Folks,

The news of some days, of course, is better than on others. And the news of the January 16, 2013, was grand! It contained a term I had never seen, but one I will be sure to use whenever possible, “spermcasting”.  I have to admit, when I first read it, it conjured up visions of fly casting, but with some essential differences; such as the type of rod one uses…  Aaah…  But, let’s not go any further down that road. :-)

As the authors of the term meant it, in its basic form spermcasting would be seen in broadcast spawning animals such as many sessile marine invertebrates, and it would presumably have a feminine complement of ovacasting. In other words, “spermcasting” is the release of male gametes into the surrounding water as a means of reproduction. This type of reproduction is also seen in mobile animals such as echinodermsBroadcast spawning animals typically have simple reproductive systems, without any externally visible modifications.  The gametes are made and simply released through a “gonopore” into “the great outside world”.

A male sunflower star Pycnopodia helianthoides photographed  "spermcasting" otherwise known as "broadcast spawning" in Northern Puget Sound.

A male sunflower star Pycnopodia helianthoides photographed “spermcasting” otherwise known as “broadcast spawning” in Northern Puget Sound.

 

A close up of the animal in the previous image showing the sperm suspension being released from the gonopores.

A close up of the animal in the previous image showing the sperm suspension being released from the gonopores.

However, spermcasting is something that is not generally considered to be part of the reproductive behavior of animals with a penis. In fact, over the array of invertebrate animals, the variety of penises, receptacles, openings, and the behaviors to get them all together is truly amazing, but spermcasting has not been considered a part of that behavior.  And why should it?   Because a penis is used to place sperm in some sort of receptacle or opening in a female, spermcasting has been thought to be unnecessary.   

While obviously commonly occurring, the actual physical act of the male’s transferring sperm to the inside of a female’s genital tract, “copulation”, is actually seldom observed in marine animals.  The reason for this is obvious.  For many species where reproduction involves internal fertilization or union of their gametes, reproduction may be an intrinsically hazardous process; and its duration and frequency is often minimized.  Often, copulation involves the intimate meeting of two animals that may be predatory and dangerous to one another. The terrestrial examples of the preying mantis or spiders such as the Black Widow come to mind, but the marine environment also has its share of dangerous liaisons. In such animals copulation often requires all sorts of behavior to ensure that the predatory behavior of both parties is “defused”. Some of the best known examples of such behavior occur in octopuses.

A large individual of the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini.   Highly predatory and cannibalistic, and reaching weights well in excess of 50 kg (110 pounds), precopulatory behavior that may last several hours is necessary  before the animals can safely remain in each other's proximity for reproduction.

A large individual of the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini. Highly predatory and cannibalistic, and reaching weights well in excess of 50 kg (110 pounds), precopulatory behavior that may last several hours is necessary before the animals can safely remain in each other’s proximity for reproduction.

 Copulation may place the animals at risk of predation by animals other than a potential mate. When animals are copulating, their attention cannot be on predator avoidance.  Consequently, natural selection has forced the development of behavior that reduces the risk of being seen – and eaten – such as nocturnal or reclusive mating. In some other animals, the act is over so fast, that the odds of an observer even noticing it range between slim and none. Pairs of one nudibranch species, Hermissenda crassicornis, can “do the deed” in a few seconds. And in those animals the act is reciprocal, the partners are hermaphrodites so each one gives and receives.  However, the process is seldom seen, or if it is, it is seldom recognized for what it is.

Hermissenda crassicornis, the so-called "opalescent nudibranch".  Individuals of this hermaphroditic species reciprocally exchange sperm in some of the fastest copulations known.

Hermissenda crassicornis, the so-called “opalescent nudibranch”. Individuals of this hermaphroditic species reciprocally exchange sperm in some of the fastest copulations known.

As a result, generally, people have inferred internal fertilization or copulation by the presence of a penis and the associated female plumbing. And some animals are legendary in their endowment. Some of the best known in this regard are barnacles whose penises are often able to extend several times the length of the animal. Barnacles don’t actually copulate, relatively few crustaceans do, but they use the penis to deposit sperm in the females’ mantle cavities, and sperm behavior or the female partner ensures the gametes find their ultimate destination. However as the saying goes, this “pseudo-copulation” is “good enough for government work”.  Barnacles are sessile, glued to the substrate by glands in their head, consequently, their reproductive success, and their “evolutionary fitness”, depends on how far they can reach out to touch someone with their legendary penises. Fortunately, as they are hermaphroditic, any neighbor will do.

Balanus nubilus, the giant "cloud" barnacle of the N. E. Pacific.  Large individuals reach up to about 15 cm (6 inches) wide at the base, and are often solitary or a relatively great distance from their neighbors.  Spermcasting would definitely benefit their reproduction.

Balanus nubilus, the giant “cloud” barnacle of the N. E. Pacific. Large individuals reach up to about 15 cm (6 inches) wide at the base, and are often solitary or a relatively great distance from their neighbors. Spermcasting would definitely benefit their reproduction.

The need for (pseudo-) copulation, inferred by the presence of a penis, in barnacles could present a significant limitation in their reproductive capability relative to broadcast spawning animals, and hence it could severely limit their evolutionary fitness. Nonetheless, as far as anybody knew, barnacles put their amazingly large “equipment” to good use, copulated, and “THAT” was “THAT”.

Except, as it turns out “THAT,” is not “THAT”.  In a paper published online on January 16, some scientists have shown, rather elegantly that at least one species of barnacles; the common gooseneck barnacle of the NE Pacific, Pollicipes polymerus, does things quite a bit differently. They spermcast…

They are apparently able to both throw caution to the winds – or their spermies to the seas – and, amazingly enough, have this result in successful fertilization. Using genetic markers and some elegant and careful work, the researchers, from Dr. A. Richard Palmer’s lab at the University of Alberta, have shown that spermcasting occurs commonly in the goose neck barnacle, and even occurs in animals that can reach a partner to mate in the “traditional” manner.

Such extraordinary findings really upset the traditional view of spawning and copulation. After all, if barnacles can spermcast… it certainly seems that other animals possessing normal copulatory organs may also be able to do this.  No longer is it possible to look at the anatomy of species wherein the males possess a penis, and blithely assume that they only reproduce by copulation. 

Of such uncertainty, good research is made, as people have to ascertain the mode of reproduction.

As the authors of this paper state in the abstract, “These observations (i) overturn over a century of beliefs about what barnacles can (or cannot) do in terms of sperm transfer, (ii) raise doubts about prior claims of self-fertilization in barnacles, (iii) raise interesting questions about the capacity for sperm capture in other species (particularly those with short penises), and (iv) show, we believe for the first time, that spermcast mating can occur in an aquatic arthropod.”

More later,

Cheers, Ron
 

15 January, 2013

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Hi Folks,

The middle of January it is, and it is COLD outside!  We have been having a stint of weather where the low temperatures have been bouncing around -5° F (-21° C).  That we have cold weather this time of year is not unusual  that it is this WARM is. In the bad (good?) old days, before global climate change, the period from about 15 January to 15 February gave us our coldest weather, and it often bottomed out below -40° F, C (both the F and C scales are the same at that lovely temperature).  The lowest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 United States was –69.7°F (rounded off to –70°F)  or -56.5 °C at Rogers Pass, Montana  (web cam) which is about 120 miles, (193 km) from here on January 20, 1954. 

While it has gotten cold enough here in the last 10 to 15 years, it hasn’t been that cold, nor has it been cold for as long as it used to be. As much as I don’t like the concept – or the reality – of global warming, I have to say that warmer winters have become a blessing, particularly as I have gotten older.

Continuing a discussion of a few days ago when I mentioned being a member of a dying breed, those folks who could be called “Invertebrate Zoologists”, it is obvious that I am (we all are, but I suspect I am closer to the finish line of the race than are most of the reader of this esay) getting older and since immortality is not in the cards, the obvious end point is death.  So, I am dying – as we all are, it is part of living. 

However so, I think, is the “discipline” of “Invertebrate Zoology”. It is being killed by its own success. That is illustrated in an examination of the texts written in English.  In my first Invertebrate Zoology class, the text was the 2nd edition of Invertebrate Zoology, by Robert Barnes, published in 1968, with 743 pages.  Barnes updated and revised that text and after his  death, two other authors took over the task.  The most recent edition, the 7th, by Ruppert, Fox, and Barnes, was published in 2003, and had 1003 pages, and was very highly revised from the previous edition, and compared to the 2nd… wow!!!.

Kinorhynchs, such as this individual, live in sediments eating small organisms they find there.

Kinorhynchs, such as the individual imaged here, are invertebrates living in marine sediments eating small organisms they find there.

The 7th edition was the first concentrated less on the animals’ structures, and more on the evolutionary processes leading to the those animals and their structures.  The science of “Invertebrate Zoology” is really the comparative discussion of all animals, while the vertebrate chordates per se, are not discussed, there are many invertebrate chordates that are dealt with.  So, this is an holistic way of examining the entire animal kingdom. 

When you think about this process, however, it really is an impossible task – there are just too many types of animals and more to the point, it is exceptionally difficult to put them into a cohesive comparative framework.  The underlying principle of Invertebrate Zoology was that someone could learn enough of the basics about the major – and maybe some, or many of, the minor – animal groups, and could cogently discuss them in some manner.  This is a valid viewpoint, but it is probably only a valid viewpoint if there isn’t very much known about each group.  If there is a lot known, then the forest rapidly gets lost for the trees and generalities begin to become far too general.

During the middle part of the last century, the theorizing about invertebrates, indeed, all animals, and their relationships was dominated, in the English-speaking world, by the concepts of the coelom (the secondarily derived body cavity), segmentation, and embryonic development.  The bases for all of the theorization were put down in concise form in the six volume treatise, The Invertebrates, by L. H. Hyman.  Probably the greatest American zoologist of all time, Libbie Hyman defended some viewpoints and theories that, at the time, seemed very reasonable.  And even, if they didn’t seem right, her force of personality pretty much quashed all dissenting views.  During this period, Invertebrate Zoology seemed to be flourishing, but in actuality, it was stuck in a series of ruts.  Without any way to test the types of theories supported by Hyman – and, more or less – everybody else,  concerning evolution or functional anatomy, the science was basically descriptive.   There is nothing wrong with doing descriptive science, but it is only by hypothesis testing that science advances, and hypothesis testing was essentially impossible in Invertebrate Zoology at that time.

In the latter part of the 20th century things changed and changed fast. The techniques of cladistic analysis, comparative genomic analysis, biomechanics, functional morphology, and paleobiology allowed several whole new realms of biological interpretation. As a result, it suddenly (within a period of 20 years or so) became possible to erect an evolutionary “tree” for virtually any species, and phfft….. Most of the dogma of classical “Invertebrate Zoology” was found to be …. Wrong.  Not dead, as it had never really been alive, just simply wrong.

The Ruppert, Fox and Barnes Invertebrate Zoology text illustrates this very well as the concepts of phylum, coelom, and so and so forth are relegated to being useful – maybe – ways of grouping animals, but they are not anything that can be used as theoretical constructions. 

“Invertebrate Zoology” as thought of in the 1970s, has been replaced various disciplines concentrating on testing questions of ecology, evolution, embryonic development, and animal function using invertebrates as the test organisms. However, invertebrate zoology is still relevent, and has now become more of a blanket term that describes, the general type of animals a person might be working on rather than a cohesive discipline of scientific thought.  In this regard, invertebrate zoology has become a term more like physics or oceanography, sciences where the research is specialized much more on the “subdisciplines” such as astrophysics or chemical oceanography rather than on the overall category. So, as a “classically-trained” invertebrate zoologist, the scientific approach I initially learned has really died and been replaced by a much better, more dynamic and much more interesting approach.

More Later,

Cheers,

11 January, 2013

Friday, January 11th, 2013

Hi  Folks,

The last couple of days were chore days, so I didn’t post.  Also – Hooray!!!!  I got my old desktop back and it is functional.  I have been spending my spare, and unsparing time, trying to restore – from backups – all some of the files that got trashed.  There are some of the most ridiculous seeming problems.  For example, my email program – Outlook Express – now does its  “Spell Check”  in French.  And I can’t seem to find a way to make it remember to think in English.  That is a true PITA!!!

The computer tech/guru who worked on the machine really did a pretty good job, and charged a very reasonable fee.  I do have backups for what was on the machine, but I am hesitant to restore a lot of files at one time, for fear that I screw up what is now, at least, a partially functional machine.

I had to go to Bozeman (about a 100 mile round trip by the time all the shopping was done) yesterday.   Mostly getting bird and “furry bird” food.  I came back with some 400 pounds (181.2 kg) of food.  And I got home, just before the blizzard struck.  It is still Blizzarding…  Our low this morning was -4 F (-20 C); and right now it is really nasty out 30 mph winds, with a temperature of 5 F (-14 C).   The weather channel says we have “light snow”; as opposed to “dark snow”, I presume.

Our most abundant birds at our feeders right now are “Rosy Finches”, which are present here in a huge flock, probably close to 500 birds are around our feeders at times.  The grey-crowned rosy finch, Leucosticte tephrocotis,  is the most abundant one here, but the other Rosy species, or types, are also represented in small numbers.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.

Grey Crowned Rosy Finch.

 

Leucosticte tephrocotis is a bird of high mountain habitats being found above the tree-line in summer.  The really nasty weather found at those elevations forces the birds down to lower elevations in the late autumn.  The first ones typically arrive here around the middle of November, and they leave around the middle of March.

Taken in 2012, A Mule Deer Doe We Call Notch-Ear, Eating Sunflower Seeds From A Bird Feeder.

Taken in 2012, A Mule Deer Doe We Call Notch-Ear, Eating Sunflower Seeds From A Bird Feeder.

My first picture of “Notch-Ear” was taken in 2002, and she is here this year, but I don’t have any images of her available yet (computer problems, remember, :-) ).  She is here this year with a pair of fawns.  Unfortunately, they, and all the other deer around here this year, are really looking awful.  We had a nasty drought in the last half of summer, and that tremendously impacted deer forage.  They really don’t have much to eat.  So… I don’t begrudge Notch and her kiddies a few bits – or a lot –  of sunflower seeds.  However, it is the other 12 or so deer that have shown up at about the same time she comes by, that reallydrain the bird feeders.

This was one of Notch-Ear's fawns last February.

This was one of Notch-Ear’s fawns last February.

The length and shape of this species’ (Odocoileus hemionus) ears, clearly visible here, is the reason they are called “mule deer“.

I haven’t had time to continue the discussion of why invertebrate zoologists are members of a “dying breed”.   However, that discussion will continue in a day or two.  It is more imporant to me to get my computer up and running and useful before I do much other work, such as writing.

However, before I leave —

NEAT MARINE STUFF ALERT!!!!

See the first videos of living giant squid in its normal habitat.  OMIGAWD !!!!

This short entry by Dr. Craig M.  in Deep Sea News discusses this video.

 

More later,

Cheers,  Ron

8 January, 2013

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Changes, Changes, Changes…

I have come to the conclusion that I am one of a dying breed: an invertebrate zoologist.  There are two reasons for this supposition, the first and most obvious is that I am an invertebrate zoologist who is getting along in years, and sooner or later, hopefully much later, I will shuffle off this mortal coil, and presto…  By being alive :-) , and then by being an invertebrate zoologist, I suppose, I am a “dying invertebrate zoologist”.  However, there is another, more subtle reason.  I think the discipline that has been called “Invertebrate Zoology” is disappearing, being eaten from within by the larvae of its successful progeny: other more specialized disciplines.

Courses in, and therefore, the discipline  of, what could be called “Invertebrate Zoology” appeared in universities around the turn of the twentieth century as the modern natural sciences shook themselves out of the earlier realm of study referred to as Natural Philosophy.  About the only remains of the latter these days is the most common terminal degree in the sciences, the Doctorate of (Natural) Philosophy ( = Ph. D.).  The major science disciplines that first appeared were physics, geology, botany, and zoology, concerned, respectively, with the study of: 1) energy, mass, and motion, (physics), 2) the earth (geology), 3) plants and microbes (botany), and 4) animals (zoology).  

Each of these major disciplines encompassed a great deal of disparate study areas, but botany and zoology were the most wildly diverse.  In botany, this overt diversity was dealt with by the erection of microbiology/bacteriology as a separate entity later in the first half of twentieth century.  Zoology, on the other hand, had more of problem, the array of described different animal types – as opposed to simply the number of different animals – was relatively vast, and while they all shared some characteristics, they all were quite different, too.  However, this problem relatively soon solved itself.  As most zoologists studied animals with backbones, or vertebrates, the study of vertebrates assumed “center stage”.  As a result, zoology was informally subdivided in vertebrate zoology, the study of animals with backbones, and invertebrate zoology, the study of everything else.

While vertebrates can be easily defined by their characteristics, it is impossible to set apart or define the invertebrates by some common structure or characteristic shared by all of them.  Instead, the invertebrates were/are defined by what they lack, a backbone.  It really is logically impossible to prove a negative proposition and it is just as impossible to define something on the basis of what it isn’t.   Nonetheless, the convenience of this division was well recognized, and zoologists could be informally divided in vertebrate zoologists and invertebrate zoologists.

Well, that’s enough for today…  :-)

More tomorrow!

Cheers, Ron

7 January, 2013

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Beating My Head Against A Brick Wall…

According to the joke – and folk wisdom, one should enjoy the above activity because it will feel so good when one stops.  I hope I can put that thought to the test soon.

My old computer is now residing – temporarily – I hope – on the desk of our local computer technician and guru.  Theoretically, it might be discharged from that facility and able to go home some time today.  Or not…  What a mess!!!  My productivity – not so high to begin with –  is definitely approaching the zero level.  Oh well, right now there is really nothing I can do about those problems, and although fretting about them is fun, I gues, it doesn’t get the computer fixed any more rapidly.

Then there is my car.  Last Friday I drove that old beast, a 1996 Subaru Legacy Outback, into our local Subaru dealership for them to hopefully solve a problem that had developed rather suddenly about a week before that.  The car was running very roughly (but it was running…), the gas mileage had plummeted, and the “check engine” light was blinking at me.  I had learned long ago that there was really nothing I could ever do for these sorts of problems myself except get the vehicle into the Service Department of the local Subaru dealership.  And I had also learned the hard way, through the years of owning Subies, that only the “certified” service folks know how to take care of these vehicles.

Anyway, early Friday morning, off to the service department I trundled.  I took along my Christmas gift, a  Kindle Fire HD, as I figured I would be waiting in the dealership for an extended period, possibly the majority of the day.  I also prepared myself for the possibility of having to pay a bill some greater than the gross national product of a moderately-sized banana republic.

After arrival, on what I must say was a beautiful morning drive, I consigned my car to those wizards versed in the manner of things Subaruish, and I walked to their comfortable waiting room, grabbing a cup of some really good organically grown coffee, along the way.  In the customer lounge/waiting room, I sat down in a comfortable chair, turned on my Kindle and continued reading Peter Ward’s book, “Flooded Earth”, a book, like many of Peter’s books, I find an interesting, although somewhat depressing reading experience.

Some several dozen electronic page flips later, here comes the technician who drew the short straw and is working on my care.  He pulled a wire out of his pocket and asked if I knew what it was.  I guessed, correctly, it was a spark plug wire.  However, it looked terrible, with all sorts of rips, tears, and scratches in the insulation.  I mentioned as much.   He laughed and pointed out one hole where the internal wiring was missing.  That missing piece of interal wiring had apparently caused my vehicle’s problem.  Only 3 of the 4 cylinders were firing.  Replacing the spark plug wiring array would cure that problem.  Great, I thought!!!

Then, with a twinkle in his eye and quite a chuckle, he noted that the horrible condition of the wiring was caused by mice eating the insulation and wiring…  Mice.   I have got to admit, of all of the potential causative agents for car troubles, mice eating my car (in small part, admittedly, but still…) would never have even been on the list.

There were a couple of other minor maintence issues that were also resolved at the time, and I was back on the way home in under two hours, and although the credit card whimpered a bit, it still was more-or-less undamaged, compared to what I thought was going to be the problem.

Mice….  White Footed Deer Mice, specifically… Egad.

Until next time…

3 January, 2013

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Not much to add today.  The computer saga continues… and gets better or worse depending on one’s frame of mind.

The short version…  The trial version of the program to reload my backed up files works like a dream – and not a nightmare, a very pleasurable dream.  So all of the files were restored or resurrected or magically transformed, and all was good.  So, instead of leaving things as they were for a while, I decided to “tidy up”.   I had gotten rid of a lot of useless stuff and decided to tweak my weather station program (I have a small weather station on my roof and have a display on my computer).  So, I attempted to change some settings in good ol’ Windows XP.  Dumb move…  The machine locked up again and so, again, it is in with our local computer wizard.

There are a lot of times where I wish I had more money for various things.  But right now, purchasing a new computer would be right at the top of the list.  Oh well,  these travails will soon pass.

And tomorrow, I get to take my car to the shop because of rather serious problems that seem to have developed.  This year really could be starting out better.  :-)

Anyway, all of these hassles are delaying my work on this blog.

But, sooner or later, it will begin to look better.

Until later, then,

Cheers!

And So It Goes…

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Hi Folks,

The New Year has rolled on in, and right over me, starting about a month ago.  The saga is thus:  I decided in my infinite wisdom to purchase and download Windows 8 on my old desktop.  To this end I had to increase its RAM, and flip a few switches in the BIOS.  This I did.  And I was off and waddling.  I downloaded the program, which took about 6 hours.  When the download was about 90% complete, the program said it needed to restart the computer a couple of times.  And yup, it did this.

And died.

A rather cryptic error message was displayed on the screen and I could get the machine to do zilch.  It wouldn’t even boot up so that I could get into the Windows Safe mode.   After a lot of machinations, I finally resorted to breaking out my credit card, and calling the Windows “Pay Through The Nose Help Line”.  Long conversation- short…  Windows 8 was not able to install on my machine because of some hardware (= CPU) problem, and because there was no Win 8 problem, they wouldn’t charge me – through the nose or any other handy orifice.

After beating my head against the nearest wall for a while, I went on to desperate step number two, and took my computer to my local handy-dandy computer tech.  He allowed as he thought he could fix it for me.  To fix it needed a replacement DVD/CD drive as both of the ones on my machine were toast.  I knew one of them was dead before this all started, but the remaining one died during the process.  The only way to fix the problem was to re-install the OS, which, of course loses all the data on the hard drive.

Okay, said I, feeling reasonably intelligent for the first time in this process.  This flash of misplaced hubris was due to the fact that I had been backing up my hard drive weekly; my data were all safe and secure on an external hard drive.

So…  With some optimism, just before New Year’s Eve, I collected my computer from the tech and took the olde beastie home.  It turns out that my machine was one of the earlier Dell Dimension 8300s; consequently, it has an early Pentium 4 processor.  And it turns out that over the production run of Pentium 4s, according to the computer guy, the chip was changed so that chips made near the end of the production run could do several more computational functions than those made at the beginning.  And, if I had had one of the later Pentium 4s, Windows 8 would have loaded without a hassle.

For joy…

So…   Now, I have my desktop running bare bones, and I decide to restore my backed up files.  Un…huh. All of my restored files were on an external hard drive, and I thought I had copied my backup program there too.  Well, the saga continues – the backup program is nowhere to be found.  Not a problem says he, thinking to download a copy from the www.  And then I find that while I had version 2, we are now up to version 9, and a new copy costs the proverbial arm and leg.  I was able to download several versions that should have allowed me to restore my backed up files, but no joy.  No matter what I did, nothing would get backed up.

I contacted the tech support of the company now selling the software program (the third since I got my original copy as a freebie with a Western Digital hard drive I purchased about 10 years ago).  The rep wrote back and said that none of the versions I was able to get online would work to restore my files – uh, pardon me, but isn’t that what I said?  However, he went on to give me directions to download a trial version of the latest backup software, which, he said, would restore my hitherto unrestorable files.

So… here I sit.  The trial version is some 350 Mb in size, and is downloading as I am typing this.  And maybe I am nearer to some resolution than I was yesterday.  Maybe…

As Scarlett said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  And I guess we’ll see then.

I hope your New Year Initiation was less stressful than mine.

This site is still in the throes of construction, so expect some changes over the next couple of days/weeks.

Cheers, Ron