Friday, June 30, 2006

I'm Baaaaack!

It has been way too long since I have updated my blog. A lot has happened -- some good, some bad.

I managed to get the root canal done on that bad tooth. I had to drive up to Traverse City to get it done, and had to pay up-front (very difficult currently), but it's sealed and ready for the dentist to build up with composite and crown. I might go with just the composite for a while, since there are so many more urgent things that need to be done.

I finally figured out what was wrong with my film scanner. It turns out that the SCSI board wasn't seated properly (duh!). I still haven't scanned many things in, but it was good to have it going and give it a test.

With all the hubbub about digital cameras, it's interesting to note how much film has improved since I was shooting 35mm photos back in the early 80s. 400 ASA film was about the fastest you could get for color, and it was grainy. Now, it's common to shoot 400 and you don't notice any grain until you blow the picture way up beyond the standard 4X6 snapshot size.

As it turns out, some of my old negatives are getting spotty. It looks like something grew on the one that I scanned in. It's a shame, but it won't hurt me to re-shoot some of the nature and macro shots, anyhow. Check this out:

This isn't even blown up, and you can see the grain. I might load a bigger version of it later for kicks. It looks like some of the modern $300.00 range digitals will blow away my old SLRs with the old film. The modern stuff, on the other hand, does a great job. Once it's scanned in, I get a huge image, and can do all kinds of photoshop things with it.

Here's a more modern image that was scanned in by Wal-Mart. I have started using that service because it saves lots of time.

One of the reasons I have been keeping my image size small is because I have been putting them on my web site, and I'm running out of room. I found a solution, though. I decided to get an account with When I use up the free 1 gig of space, I'll get the premium account.

So, expect bigger pictures in the future. Expect more pictures, too.

Meanwhile, I have started a new project. I'm putting all the pictures I have loaded on my computer together and building an album around them. I'm using that program I wrote to make HTML files for each directory (each of which contains one roll [real or download] of film). I need to modify that program so that it'll allow me to caption the pictures, and I need to write another that will list out the names of the rolls and allow the user to choose one. Once I get enough images to fill a CD, I'll burn some off for family and friends. I may make a second album of more general interest pictures (as opposed to family shots) if there is any demand for it.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants a desktop image of any of my photos, let me know. I can make some into desktop images, but some of the ones taken by the cheaper digital cameras simply won't work out.

Also, I'm willing to take requests for subject matter. If you want me to write about a certain subject, and if I know enough about it to not come off as a total idiot, I'll give it a shot. I'm going to avoid the more controversial subjects for now, though.

So, let's make this a two-way street. It's hard to motivate yourself if you don't know how you're being received.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Pine River

We have been living in this area for almost three years, and haven't canoed any of the rivers up here until this past Saturday. Luckily for me, my tooth decided to leave me alone for most of Saturday (though it just about killed me on the way home).

Since we failed to get a river pass on Friday, and would end up having to drive all over the place to get everything together (North to Cadillac for the pass, south-east to the cottage for the canoe), we decided to rent. It turned out to work out well because I decided that I really like those Old Town Royalax canoes. The lack of a skeg on the bottom (made possible by the Royalax material) allows them to slip over obstructions very well.

We put in at Elm Flats, which is supposed to be a six hour trip to Peterson Bridge. That's a bit long for a day trip, since we got a late start, and Don has never done a river before.

The pine river is touted as being one of the finer canoing rivers in Michigan. Unfortunately, that means that everyone who wants to have a drunken canoe ride chooses that river.

Bad choice.

If you want to paddle around and get drunk, or you just want to float down the river and enjoy the scenery, you should choose something a bit lazier, like the Manistee or parts of the Au Sable. Maybe the Muskegon -- but I can't say for sure because I have only seen it and have never canoed it.

The Pine River doesn't have class IV rapids or anything like that, but it has some fast water, a bunch of obstructions, and it winds and turns all over the place. It doesn't take a bunch of skill to successfully navigate, but you definitely have to pay attention and know what you're doing.

In general, canoing in a river takes some thought. For one thing, you aren't going in the direction that the canoe is pointing. The speed of your canoe is vector added to the speed of the current, and the speed of the current changes all the time. It tends to go faster on the outside of a curve, for instance.

So, if you want to go between two rocks, you don't line up on the rocks. You point upstream of the rocks and hope you still have maneuvering room when you get there. It also helps if you can judge where the current will speed up or slow down. If one end of the canoe is in faster current than the other end, the current is going to try to turn your canoe. It's not that hard, but it does take practice.

Also, you need to watch out for underwater obstructions. Of course, the obstructions (rocks, trees, and the like) make waves. If you see a "V" pointing upstream, avoid the point. If you see a "V" pointing downstream, head for the point. If you're going to hit it anyhow, try to hit it straight on. If you're going sideways, be prepared to shift your balance in an attempt to stay afloat. If the canoe tips enough to take on water, it becomes extremely unstable.

In general, what you want to do is to go with the flow as much as possible. Try to position yourself so that the current will take you where you want to go, but be prepared to paddle aggressively if you need to shift yourself to a better spot.

By the way, the Pine River is cold. It's cold all year long. Lots of people know that from experience. Sometimes, it's fun to stake out a particularly tricky curve in the river, camp out above it, and watch the show.

I hadn't canoed a river in quite some time -- not since the last millennium, as a matter of fact. It took about half an hour to get back into the swing of things. We hit a few obstructions, misjudged a few openings, got stuck on some log jams, and the like, but were still dry.

Don was enjoying himself tremendously. The scenery from a river can't be beat. A couple times, we saw a mother duck with ducklings. The scenery changes constantly. In fact, if you're used to canoing rivers, lakes seem pretty boring.

Near the end of the trip, we approached a bend to the right. There were people lined up on the right bank, and there was a large log to the left. I lined up for a good approach, but there was a kid floating up to his neck right in the middle. I had to go around him to the left (downstream -- so that the water won't push us into him).

This put us into some faster current that turned the canoe and pushed us right into the log.

There was one branch just under the water, and another at about chest height. Don's end of the canoe slid right over the log, but the back end of the canoe bottomed out, and the branch above the log was at my chest. I knew right there that this was a very tricky situation. In fact, I vaguely remember that log from a previous trip.

What I had to do is grab the top log and lift up. This took weight from the back of the canoe and allowed it to go forward. Then, I had to lean back over the end of the canoe and let the log pass over my face.

When you lean over the end of a canoe, you are in a very unstable position. It takes very little to dump at that point.

And that's exactly what we almost did. I'm sure that we came within inches of taking on water. We caught ourselves, though.

And so, no river has gotten me yet! [gloat, gloat]

For the most part, we just paddled calmly down the river. I like to keep up just enough speed to have some steerage. If you're dead in the water, you can't maneuver very well. We had problems with people coming pretty much to a stop in front of us, though. I generally have Don stop paddling, and hang way back as they go through the trickier areas. Then, when I find a good place, we pass them and continue on our trip.

There was one pair of canoes that were all over the river in front of us. I suspect that they were intoxicated. One of the women, wearing a string bikini, stood up in the canoe and bent over not too far in front of us. I was going to comment to Don that he should enjoy the scenery, but he didn't seem to notice. I suspect that'll change in a couple years.

We passed the first canoe, and approached the second -- the one with the bikini.

One thing I noticed was that everyone was wearing a swimsuit of some sort, even though it wasn't exactly warm that day. You would think that they would put a shirt on or something.

As we passed the front canoe, the girl commented about our nice, warm, dry shirts. She was wondering how we came to have nice dry shirts. In fact, she positively coveted our nice, warm, dry shirts. The guy commented that he had been freezing for the last two hours.

I guess they weren't as successful at staying aboard their craft as we were.

Really, if you want to do the Pine, you need to be prepared to get dunked. Either go on a warm day, or put some extra clothes in a waterproof container (and tie the container to the boat).

Of course, we didn't follow our own advice. We were lucky that time.

I have no gratuitous pictures ready, but I'll pull up some river pictures that I already have on my web site.

This is an old picture. I was home on leave, and decided to go canoing on the Manistee with my cousin Paul.


Yah, I know that I promised a 'no angst' blog, but some things just get your attention.

I recall a quote that goes something like "Pain focuseth the mind wonderfully".

I really wonder what that guy was thinking. You would think that a quote that survived from way back when would have some truth to it.

OK, so it does have some truth. Pain does focus your mind -- on the pain. If you want to focus on anything else, you can just forget it.

Which brings me to why I haven't updated this blog (or written a single line in my story) in several days.

To put it succinctly, I had an abscess in my tooth. Why do these things always happen just before a weekend, anyhow?

I didn't know what it was exactly. My teeth pain me on occasion, but it generally goes away. This time, however, I ended up using the various OTC pain meds. Then I went to the local store and got some hooch. I did that because I ran out of the stuff that we had on-hand (we generally don't have much). Bacardi 151 rum did the job, for the most part. Just a bit will augment the action of some of the pain meds. If the pain is really bad, a couple ounces will do the trick. You'll still feel the pain, but you won't really care.

And then I find out that acetaminophen (Tylenol) and hooch will harm your liver. You think they would put that on the bottle.

Oh wait... it does hint that you need to talk to a doctor if you consume more than three alcoholic drinks every day. I need to do a little research before trying that again, in any case.

Of course, acetaminophen will harm your liver all by itself. Pity the poor girls who take a bottle of the stuff in a suicide attempt. The results are very painful, and permanent. That's why I decided to use more alcohol than pain medications. Acetaminophen will damage your liver right now, and alcohol takes years of dedicated use to accomplish that end. It's easy to mess up your dosage on pain meds, but you have to really try very hard to overdose on alcohol.

Anyhow, it made for an interesting weekend. The dentist did a pulpotomy (almost a root canal) on Tuesday, and all I have to deal with today is some residual soreness.

So, I updated our finance program (Mary found the statement, so I reconciled our check book), fixed my computer (before doing the finances, of course), downloaded some stuff, and now I'm back to writing. Of course, the animals needed to be fed. The children did, too -- and they're pickier. But that's OK, because they can eat what I offer or go hungry.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Lolly the Collie

When our former neighbors moved out, they took all of their animals except one -- a black collie named Lucky. No, I don't think they intended to abandon her to die of thirst in her cage or anything like that. They kept her fed as they were moving out.

When we asked about her, they were only too glad to let us have her, some food, and her dog house.

Mary had always wanted a collie (her family had a few when she was a little girl).

We put her into the dog pen (bigger than her old digs), brushed her down, and took care of her.

Alas, she has been slowing down. This morning, we found her dead in her dog house. All we can hope is that she passed quietly in the night.

She seemed happy when she was here. She had boys to play with and other dogs for companionship. We buried her in the garden next to the goats and the kitten that we lost earlier this year. Mary planted flowers in the dirt above her.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Autism and Asperger's vs. PDD-NOS

I found an interesting blog about autism a while back. It's on my list of web sites that I check frequently.

Mary was somewhat miffed when the psychiatrist diagnosed Don with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Delay - Not Otherwise Specified). He had already been diagnosed with Asperger's (high functioning autism) and a number of other things (atypical bipolar, night syndrome, and a few things that I haven't kept track of).

It didn't annoy me because I consider the whole psychology/sociology/anthropology spectrum of science disciplines to be anything but precise.

But still, PDD-NOS sounds to me like a fancy way of saying "We don't know". It's sort of like when you're sorting stuff into boxes, and you toss things that don't fit any of the categories into a box labeled "other".

The article supports that rather unscientific opinion of mine. Essentially, kids diagnosed with autism tend to keep the diagnosis. If they are diagnosed with PDD-NOS, the diagnosis may well change to autism later in life.

Congratulations to Donald Drouillard!

Don has just graduated from the fifth grade.

Yep, school is out for another summer. Everyone seems to have passed. Don, in fact, did very well.

Tustin High School had a graduation ceremony for the kids who are going on to the middle school. Everyone got a medal and a graduation certificate.

Those who participated in the special olympics got a nice certificate, too.

Some kids made special progress, and got the Star Galaxy Award.

Don has a big interest in science. He devours all the information he can get. Since he is excited about it, and talks about it quite a bit, most of the people around the school know about this.

Truthfully, Don is quite good at it. I suspect that it won't be too long before he manages to stump me. I'm not going to make it easy, though. To do that would be to cheat him out of the excitement he'll get when it finally happens.

Anyhow, some of his teachers gave him a special Future Scientist award.

This boy sure has come home with a pile of awards!

I know that the modern trend is to nurture the self-esteem. There are some good points and some bad points with that policy. If properly done, it works well. If you find something good, and comment on it honestly, it helps greatly.

A lot of awards are given because the person overcame some special challenges to accomplish what might be easy for the rest of us. Other awards are given for accomplishments that are difficult for all of us.

The last two awards are not of the 'wheelchair race' category. They are awards that anyone would be proud to earn.

Michigan likes to test all of the school kids to monitor the effectiveness of our education system. Those children who excel on the standardized tests are given a special award.

We have all heard of the President's Physical Fitness Awards. Why is the President's Academic Achievement Award less well publicized?

Anyhow, Don received one. It is signed by President George W. Bush himself/

Pretty good for a kid who has been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay - Not Otherwise Specified, eh? I'm so proud of him!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Congratulations to Kelly Drouillard!

Yep, my little niece Kelly is now a high school graduate. This fall, she will be going to a college in Tennessee. I don't know if it's because she is anxious to really get out on her own, or because that happens to be the place that offered her a scholarship. In either case, I'm proud of her.

They had the usual display of life accomplishments set up. She sure has done a lot in her short eighteen years. There are a bunch of medals displayed. She has awards from 4H, high school band, and a few other things. We don't have any jocks in our family, but we sure have a bunch of musicians.

They also had a DVD running. It contains the usual old home videos, but also some nice takes of performances. She has won some awards with her flute playing, and has even played at Carnegie Hall. That's an accomplishment to be proud of.

Alas, we had to leave early because it's a four hour drive to get from the Monroe area up to the Cadillac area. I'm glad we could make it.

Of course, the trip down there also served as a nice opportunity to see the rest of our extended family. I camped out next to my Grandpa Kelly for a while. I don't get to see him nearly enough.

It was good to see everyone, but I missed out on the music that I'm sure that came later. After the party starts to wind down, and the crowd thins out, the musical instruments start to come out. Dan and Dave (my brothers) both play guitar and brass. Kelly plays flute and piano. All of us can sing, so it's always a fun jam session.

Oh well, maybe we can do it again at the cottage on the Independence Day or Labor Day holidays.

A Nose for Needles

It would appear that Lucy (the Labrador) has a nose for needles. Quills, actually.

I was trying to do some writing when Mary told me that Lucy managed to have some kind of a discussion with a porcupine. I don't know if the critter was alive or dead. Lucy isn't much for chasing live animals, but she'll pick up dead ones and drag them around just for fun. It must be a dog thing.

We had a heck of a time catching her. She is normally obedient, but she won't come if she is scared or thinks that she will be mistreated. We have reason to believe that her previous owners abused her. In fact, we think it was a man who abused her.

I sent Paul under the porch with a choke chain on the end of a leash. She put the choker over Lucy's head, and she came out meekly enough.

I held her and used pliers to pluck a quill. I'm sure it hurt, but it had to be done. Lucy wasn't cooperating, but she wasn't resisting all that aggressively, either.

She had three or four in her nose, a few in her jaw, some in her lips, some in her gums, and some on her tongue. I think we got them all. They were all broken, so I worry that some might have broken off under the surface. If that happened, they will fester and an abscess will form.

Mary put some peroxide on her (Lucy's) face, then fed her milk laced with terramycin. We'll know if things are OK in a day or two.

That poor dog is in her last few months of life, anyhow. She's getting older, and she has some huge tumors on her chest. She's slowing down, but she doesn't seem to be in pain.

We'll take care of her for as long as she has good quality of life. After that, we'll have to say our goodbyes and have her put down. If we want to be easy on ourselves, we'll take her to the vet (a frightening experience for her). If we want to be easy on her, we'll have someone shoot her behind the ear (very, very quick death) and find a place to bury her.

I wonder if we should give her one last chance to swim around the lake before she gets too sick and old to do it.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wrote a story...

I spent most of yesterday writing a piece of fiction. It's not the first thing I have written, but it is coming along a whole lot more smoothly than anything else I have done. (I guess that's why I have so many unwritten short stories.)

Alas, this one may not see the light of day. I'll have to give it some serious thought.

One of the reason it is going so well is that I am using the same voice that I use here on my blog, in email, and on the newsgroups. It goes well because it's my voice.

But that isn't the whole story.

The concept is one that I have been kicking around in my mind, and that I have seen elsewhere from time to time. In effect, something rather embarrassing happens to the main character. No, I'm not going to give any details beyond that.

Also, to give the cast room, I made the setting a rural one. I need a setting where the POV (point of view) character can test his physical strength, and where he can get away from time to time without driving. I decided to involve a horse, too, for reasons that will become clear if you ever get to read this thing.

Also, because of the way the characters will be interacting, I decided that the kids of this couple need to be all boys. The fact that I am intimately familiar with what goes on in an all boy (plus one mommy) family helps.

So, in the end, the whole story looks like I wrote myself into it.

I guess that happens a lot. An author's POV character starts to look a lot like the author because it's more natural to make the character do what you would do, rather than try to figure out how a different personality is going to work. After all, we only get to see ourselves from the inside. Everyone else is seen from the outside.

In the end, it may not matter. There is a lot of good stuff explored in this little tale, but there is plenty explored in the other ones.

One is set on a space station. The POV character is the head ecological engineer (a new discipline made necessary by the closed ecology of a large space habitat). This one is done in close third person.

The other explores some new reproductive technology that may spell the end of certain unsavory practices that are currently perpetrated in our society. I made that one in a form of a letter, so it is in first person. I actually finished it, but the passion died about half way through. It is in bad need of a rewrite.

But anyhow, that's what I did yesterday. I also did the usual animal stuff, and put up a fence around the soon to be redneck strawberry pyramid. We need to plant the strawberries soon. The fence will keep the chickens from digging the plants back up now, or maybe eating the berries later.

The gratuitous picture of the day is for those who live below the equator. I am not in the mood for fall. Not even a little bit. Those down under are enjoying fall weather right now, though.

Anyhow, it is kind of pretty. It was taken at my parents' cottage. I have a whole lot more, but I think I'll wait a few months before using them.