Last week of summer

DipsakoI love teasel. As an ecologist, I should hate teasel because it's a pernicious invasive species. But I don't. I love the spiky branches and the lavender flowers. Lucy mentioned she had seen some teasel near the elementary school, so when it looked like there might be seeds, I went over and got some to plant at the corner. They're easy to get: I just held a ziploc bag under the cones and tapped on them, collecting showers of seeds with each tap.

One corner of our property has high hedges (burning bush -- another invasive species) near the road. At the edge, we planted some hostas (another non-native species). I thought having teasel between the hostas and the burning bush might make a nice three-level effect. Today, at lunch time, I turned over the soil, chopped up the weeds that were growing there, and planted my teasel seeds. I watered them immediately and again after dinner. Now, tonight, I can dream of the teasels I'll have in a couple of years. Its a guilty, sinful love, but I just love teasels.

Posted pictures

We are home from St. Croix. On our last morning on-island, we went swimming, packed up, and felt sorry for ourselves. Buzz and his crew left around 11am. Our flight was later in the afternoon, so we drove out to Butler Bay and then stopped at the Sunset Grill for lunch before driving to the airport. Due to bad weather in Miami, our departure was delayed a half hour from St. Croix and a half hour from Miami to Hartford. We ended getting home around 3am. I'm really glad, I didn't promise anyone I would come into work on Friday. I found plenty to do besides. We picked up Penny from Valley Inn for Pets. She was all wiggly and very happy to see us. It's cute how she can wag her tail with her whole body. Afterwards, I drove down to Holyoke to pick up our vermin from Tom. I got to show him pictures from the trip and play with Ella too. We went for lunch at the Artisan's Cafe and had a good chat about on-going projects.

The trip to St. Croix was successful by almost any measure, but it was busier than in the past. Having so many family members there meant that I was spread kinda thin. Both Phil and Richard remarked on how little time they got to spend with me -- we were always in big groups with kids and neighbors around too. Still, they both enjoyed visiting the island and sound like they'd like to return.

Buzz and I made good connections with people regarding our proposal. Several people are excited about it. I'm hopeful that we'll made it happen.

Back in Amherst

Having family here has made paradise busier than usual. Still paradise -- just busier. Today, I took Phil up to the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute. It was a fascinating place. We had lunch and chatted with them for an hour or two. That was between doing mongoose things. The mongoose population seems low -- in spite of having twice as many traps as last year, we're catching relatively few mongooses. We've seen more feral dogs than usual. Tonight, we're planning to catch bats. Tomorrow, we're planning to do the Cruzan Rum Distillery. We're having a great time!

Busy in paradise

Ra?pegoWe arrived in St. Croix in good order on Saturday. Our flights were uneventful. We found our rental car where we expected it. We arrived at the cottages before they were quite ready to check us in, so we went to the grocery store and put in some supplies. Philip and Richard arrived on Sunday, and we've been enjoying the sun, sand, and waves.

Someone pointed out the frangipani caterpillars. They eat plants that have toxic sap and sequester the poisons, hence the warning coloration. They're immense and very striking. If you pick them up, they thrash violently, which is pretty scary.

We've put out traps for mongooses. This afternoon, we'll go back out to the field to see how many we've caught.

So far, all is going perfectly.

In St. Croix

A few weeks ago, I was asked if the Biology Department could support a faculty member who wanted to have an instance of Mediawiki set up with an extension that could render TeX. Over the years, I've had several people want capabilities like that, but it hasn't been a high enough priority to actually set it up. I met with the faculty member and, after a few minutes discussion, it sounded to me like what they really needed was Drupal that could render TeX. And it turns out that there's a Drupal module for that: Drutex. I set up a test instance to play with it, installed the module, and began testing.

The first big challenge was to install a working TeX implementation for Solaris. I couldn't get texlive2008 to work -- dvipng would segfault reliably. I found tetex3 at sunfreeware that worked. OK.

The next big challenge was that drutex didn't know how to work with the private file uploads mechanism in drupal. I switched to public and that worked. OK.

The instructor wanted to be able to get tex and pdf versions of the documents, but it appeared that the module was using the wrong path to build the URLs for those. I fixed that. OK.

I finally had a more-or-less working install and let the instructor begin exploring it. We haven't figured out how to include graphics. It looks like it can only render one page of TeX -- it only shows you the last page and the others are AWOL. It also doesn't seem to render some things, like colored text. Finally, it doesn't like it when you choose a different template to render with -- not sure what's going on there. It looks like the module really needs a maintainer. As if I needed another full-time job.


This week has been a weird pause between the summer's adventures. I've been absolutely busy at work, trying to work through the backlog of stuff that happened while I was away and to try to get stuff in place for when I come back and need to get ready for the semester.

After much effort, I found a pump that, hopefully, will prevent another flood in the basement. We've had a pump that works OK -- as long as there's someone there to turn it on. And then turn it off before it burns out. I found a Flotec "Intellipump" that is supposed to recognize when its in water and turn itself off when its not in water. It turns itself on periodically and, if it finds itself in water, it pumps the water until its done. If it finds it doesn't have anything (or enough) to pump, it turns itself back off before the motor burns out. The first one I got at the store, however, would only run for about 15 seconds. I called the support line and they tried to tell me that the problem was the output hose. Eventually, I convinced them to give me a reference number to exchange the pump. When I went back to Home Depot, the girl was SO HAPPY that I had a reference number -- evidently most people ignore the piece of paper with a huge stop-sign on it that tells people to call the support number before returning the pumps and get angry with her. The second pump has worked great -- so far.

My home network was broken when I got home. It hadn't come back up properly after the power outage before we left. Eventually, I got it working by resetting to defaults on my wireless router. Since then, I've been trying to get all of the stuff reconfigured: getting the wireless settings right, setting up the port forwarding stuff, setting up DHCP for the internal server, etc. A bunch of stuff, I set up 7 or 8 years ago (after a struggle) and am now trying to remember how the damn thing works. What a PITA.

Between adventures

We took Penny in for a checkup in advance of getting her boarded and they found a growth on her chest. The biopsy suggested it was a mast-cell carcinoma. Yesterday, they operated to remove the tumor. She came through the operation all right -- she has a long incision, 3 or 4 inches up and down her chest, held together with staples. When she came home, she was pretty woozy, staggering a bit from the anesthesia. But she was hungry, which seemed like a good sign. This morning, she is better, but still looks very tired -- dog tired, no doubt. We're trying to coddle her as much as possible.


I am home, finally, for a few days, before we leave on the next adventure. This summer has been excessively busy. The network was not reliable at the campground and, after the power outage, wasn't working properly at home either. Furthermore, we got home to discover that the basement had flooded again. I waded into my office and stood in the water for half an hour debugging the problem with the basestation. At last we had connectivity, though its not very good -- we're dropping packets for a second or so every 15 or 20 seconds. Once things dry out, I'll need to check again, but it may be a problem somewhere else in the system. Or it may be that my aging base-station is finally on its last legs.

In spite of the problems, its good to be home and I'm looking forward to sleeping in a real bed again. We stayed in a camper, which was actually quite luxurious, but it wasn't like sleeping in a real bed.


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