Planning for spring

As the temps have dropped, and outdoor activities have come to a halt, I am finding that I am thinking more and more about the spring activities. For the first time, I have requested seed catalogs. I poked around on the Internet, looking for companies that sell organic and/or heirloom, heritage, non-hybrid varieties. So, I have catalogs from Johnny’s, Seed Savers Exchange , and Park Seed on their way, and I downloaded the catalog from Fedco. I also started thinking about how we would lay out the garden(s) and how I should go about making a “master plan”. I started looking around for software for laying out a garden (freeware/open source, of course). For OS X I found GardenSketch, which I have used before. It is still in beta, but includes a extensive database of plants, and grabs updates an photos from the MSU (Michigan State University) plant database. I found it worked well, and had great features for planning and logging a garden, but for planning out a 1.6 acre lot, it was a little clunky. It would work very well for individual garden plots within the master plan, but not for the master plan itself. On the Windows side, there were not any good finds that were specific to gardening. I resorted to looking for CAD software, and downloaded several. I must say, some CAD software is infernally frustrating to try to use if you never have before. It is also difficult to find a simple 2D CAD program; most seem to be geared toward 3D drafting. So I did finally find free2Design and found that will a little time, I was able to do what I wanted.

So what exactly did I want to do? I want a accurate aerial view drawing of our property, including buildings and trees. So I went to our county GIS site, found our plat, took a screenshot, cropped it down to an approximate likeness to the actual property lines (209′ x 335′ 6″), imported it into free2Design, and began tracing out the features. When I was done, the image can be hidden, and I have myself a nice drawing to work with. Once I have all the “permanent features”, I can divide the lot into areas, and label them. For instance, we will have a garden area around our carport that will have herbs. That particular section of the yard is area 7 and can have more detailed plans. Same with the shed, the “orchard”, and so on. Now I can develop a master plan, and maybe use GardenSketch for individual areas. Exciting!

So here it is, the map of the piano lot, with trees and buildings, divided into areas:

The areas are really only intended to break up the space into manageable chunks, so there are a few places that the break-up seems illogical. I will still do some tweaking to get it to look more thought out… There are also overlapping areas and areas that consist entirely of other areas in order to provide a unified plan for a certain feature.

Anyway, I am on the road to a master plan, which will also include list and lists of specific plants, which ones don’t get along, and which ones attract bees, repel pests, or attract natural enemies of pests. It is a long term project (years and years), and it feels nice to be able to think that far ahead.

Ubiquitous IM

I an playing with IMified.com, a tool that allows you to interact with various tools via IM. I can use it to manage my RTM items, Google calendar, and even post this entry to my blog. All through the IM client of my choice, which happens to be another online tool: Meebo.

Note: Posting did not quite work like I thought it would. The title was posted with a body of a single period. I will try again sometime…

Fixed and prime

A year after moving up to a digital SLR, I almost reluctantly added a lens to my repertoire. The kit zoom lens is fine and dandy, but is a little difficult to get good low/natural winter light pictures. After some research I determined that the best lens for the money that I wanted to spend was the Minolta AF 50mm fixed lens (also known as a prime lens). This little guy can F stop down (up?) to 1.7, and is very fast. The possible depth of field is awesome, and comes with great bokeh.

Here are a few natural/low light samples:
what?
This was taken with an f-stop of 2, a speed of 1/100 and an ISO of 400

bedtime routine
This was taken with an f-stop of 1.7, a speed of 2/5 and an ISO of 800

not available
This was taken with an f-stop of 1.7, a speed of 1/160 and an ISO of 100

All were taken using the ambient light, and the darkest one was by the light of our bedside lamp of 40 watts behind the bed curtain. I will admit that the anti-shake feature of the camera body comes in very handy for these low light shots.

This also makes a great portrait lens with it’s equivalent focal length of 75mm (50mm with a 1.5 multiplier for the smaller size of the sensor).

Portrait samples:
awww...  isn't she cute?
This was taken with an f-stop of 2, a shutter speed of 1/10 and an ISO of 200

She's cute too!
This was taken with an f-stop of 1.7, a shutter speed of 1/40 and an ISO of 400

Wha... how did he get in there?
This was taken with an f-stop of 1.7, a shutter speed of 1/160 and an ISO of 100

I can’t wait to see how this fares with more favorable weather, and magnificent sunsets…

By the way, I picked this lens up for a mere ~$30 on eBay.

Fiddling again

I have added a little chat feature to the menu. It uses meebome to send me messages, directly from my blog. Interesting, no? If you want to let me know who you are before you start chatting, use the “edit nick” field and put in your own name.

Go ahead, give it a spin!

Testing note:

If you move your cursor off the little chat window, it will go away and the contents will be lost. You will also not get a response from me. I don’t have a multi-column layout, so I don’t have a good place to stick it. I may have to break out some css-fu and add a pin feature.

ity-bity feature

Recently B and I have been getting almost all our blog fixes via google reader. I stumbled on it a few weeks ago when I was playing around with searches on Google, looking through robot.txt files to see what some websites don’t want indexed. I looked at Google’s own robot.txt file, and noticed a bunch of sub directories that I had never seen before, one being “/reader”. I had a look and thought it was rather nice! Up till then I had been using my.yahoo.com for watching blogs and feeds, and was not that impressed. It was clunky, and sometimes it took hours to be updated. It seems that Google reader was released back in October, and did not get such great reviews. I am glad I found it later, now that it seems to have settled down into a nice little service. What does it do? You pump in the URL of each of the blogs (or other sites that offer rss or atom feeds) that you read regularly, and it tries to autodiscover the feed. If it does, it gives you a chance to subscribe, and shows you all the recent posts. Once you subscribe, any new entries will show up on your reader home page. This means you don’t have to visit every blog/site in order to find out if they have updated. Now, some sites can be tricky to find the feed for. Here are a few hints:

  • Try appending ‘/atom.xml’ to the end. This works best with blogger sites
  • Try appending ‘/feed’ or ‘/?feed=rss2’ to the end. This works with WordPress sites
  • Try adding ‘index.rdf’ to the end. This works with sites that might use older rss implementations
  • If none of those work, you can try ‘/rss.xml’, or ‘/?feed=rss’

You can also subscribe to the comments, so that they also show up in your reader. This is a little trickier. Some sites have a link that says ‘Subscribe to comments’, others don’t even offer that feature. Blogger sites only offer comment feeds if the site author (or a friend) is geeky enough to figure out how to set it up. If you want to know, email me. To get WordPress comment feeds, try appending either ‘/?feed=comments-rss2’ or ‘/comments/feed’. So there you go, a web-based feed reader.

Now, the ity-bity feature? There is now a ‘Favorites’ link on the menu bar that lets you take a peek at my favorite posts from my favorite blogs. It only goes back a few days, so there is not much there yet. It is easy for me to look through and remove things that are no longer appealing. Enjoy!

RedSnapper

I am in the beginning stages of developing a ruby based interface for rsnapshot, and am hoping to find others who are interested in contributing. I think it should be a pretty straight forward project, but I would love to have more eyes on the code than mine. What I hope to do:

  • Make a GUI for the config file
  • Make a web interface for browsing and recovering files from the snapshot tree
  • Provide a way to authenticate via LDAP
  • Provide utilities for setting ACLs, compressing recovered files, running snapshot now
  • Do it all with Ruby

So, if anyone else is interested, I would welcome input.

Adjustments

I changed the header again. The other one looked too… hmmm… fruity. It reminded me of “New Age” albums and spiritual insight books. I decided that bold with a hint of whimsy was a better idea. The image is from a magnificent sunrise the other morning. The image looked like that out of the camera because I was testing the sunset mode that pumps up the color in-camera. I don’t think I will use that mode much, but it produced this lively header.

I have also followed friends back to Gallery2, and it is now available again in the pages menu under ‘Albums’. Rural decay pictures are up there, and I think there are more than I have on Flickr, so you can see the ones that I decided not to put up.

In other developments, I am hacking with Ruby again, and this time looking at Nitro. I may host an app or two here at home to see how it works from outside. Nitro is like Rails, only not as complex (I think). I am trying to use it for a project at work as well, but I still am not sure it fits that need.