Saturday, February 22, 2014

Feb 16, 2014—Berry

 I always loved Berry's big floppy ears.

 Another day starting in the hex a few degrees below zero. The dawn was improving. A yellow light becoming by vague turns almost purple decorated the east through the stark trees. Clouds warning of coming weather obstructed the light and were so back lighted as to take on fantastic, distinct shapes. As I went this morning into the barn for chores, I had a bad fright. I found Berry still asleep. Her head lay back over her curled up legs so still I thought she was dead. I touched her several times before she awoke. Usually, the goats hear me coming and are up and waiting for their grain. I was even this morning a few minutes late. Berry is getting to be very old for a dairy goat that has been as productive in her life as she has been. She has been down a lot lately. I have never seen dairy goats annoyed by the cold, unlike cows, which can get downright bitter in extended below zero weather. Goats in general seem more disturbed by the dark, the long winter nights, as they tend to bed down even in the coldest weather near some opening where they can absorb stars and moon. Over the past few years we have paid careful attention to Berry's feet. But the front pads have in the center a soft bulging spot that is a symptom leading to founder. Animals which tend to be down a lot die promptly. Although she always appraised well, in the high eighties, and her showing career went on for many years, she never got finished. She needed one more best in breed. Show after show she would judge first or second or third in class, owing to a magnificent general appearance, but she needed one more best in breed to get finished. Her udder was flawed. She had better than average milk and her udder was attached suitable to the occasion, but the show judges did not see her how I did. So I became especially attached to her in ways I never became attached to our other champions. Berry had the distinction of a fatal flaw. A slight nip and tuck to the sinews holding her udder in place and she would have been many times a champion, maybe a national champion. It was her fatal flaw, her Hamartia, the disrupter of dreams, which draws me close to Berry, our magnificent failure. She was like an athlete who could not win the big game, or a soldier distracted from battle by his gentle Cleopatra, or an artist who lacking judgment dreamed his life away and died unknown, his books in boxes in the attic. I am hoping that Berry will live till warmer weather, and I'll try to clean up her feet, though nothing I have done over the past year has helped but to increase her suffering. But maybe in the Spring with the warm sun and the ground softer she might rise out of her funk and live a little longer. This winter has been ghastly long and shows no sign of quitting soon. There will be warm spells, though. I hope she will be in the warm sun when she sees her last. She was always the first one out of the barn to browse on a sunny morning, and the first one beside the fence to greet a passer by. I have felt the failure in her life as if it was my own, and I will miss her passing through our barn more than any one of the others.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


I am all about I/O. I don't care where the input comes from either. A fiery argument with the loyal wife; a long meditation on a UNIX manual page; something somebody said in a testy moment on "Face the Nation"; a notion nestled in the hollows of the torrents of "Aeropagitica"; or The Tractatus, or Finnegan's Wake; a day spent in a carpentry project. Do not they all come down upon one's head a quiet evening after supper? once the dishes are done, the house cleared away, wood in the stove, a good, hot fire raging for the evening? And what about that fishing trip a rough day in Boston Harbor with Santiago and Ingol? The fish were plenty, the fishing was good. The bottom of the boat quivered with a slime of fish shapes and abandoned beer bottles. And why would I be fool enough to make judgments about quality? The one is as good as another in my book; I just hope they don't stop coming for they are my inspiration.

When a graduate student nearby complained that he had to help out with the firewood, I laughed at him. I thought it might be the best study he had done all day. He was irate. Arguments about inspiration pour forth with such certitude on both sides that they tumble upon each other like distant echoes. Seems to me once upon a time I got a rise out of the unfairness I perceived knotted up in life. I remember a grandson did not qualify for pre-school because his family did not meet the financial requirement. They made too much money or too little, unclear to me which. But somebody somehow came to a more reasonable state of mind. Hard for me to tell what difference it made. There was a hubbub. The child seems to have trouble focusing, his pre-school teacher said, he is here, there and everywhere. His problem sounded only too close. I/O again. When is too little? When is too much? Was she criticizing? It seemed to me a strange criticism of a four year old boy.

What an ego I must have! An especially vivid dream can take up my day; the snow storm we are having in the foothills this day can amuse me for hours as I gaze out my window watching the snow swirl lovely, deadly white. A fresh brewed Starbucks dark made in my new coffee pump is a steaming friend. Shakespeare, James Joyce, Yeats? I would if I must, but I am no longer a student of them or anybody else. Oh, I am just watching the snow. I remember what I studied in school. Why would our teacher insist on the importance of a poem by Yeats? Were not there important economic phenomenon that should take up our thoughts day and night? There were the battles of history, the illusions of the lives of great men. They told me I should draw my inspiration from the 3rd century BC in Athens. Or I must walk in the footsteps of Descartes if I want to get anywhere. But at that time I was taking long walks on the back roads and in the big woods in Maine along the Canadian border. Everybody had advice. If you want to become a philosopher you must make the great philosophers of the past your home. But my ego would have its way. I made the big woods my home, whether it would make me a philosopher or not. Now I hear that if you want to become a great poet, you must make the great poets of the past your home. But my home is here in the foothills of Maine, and it is snowing out, and my coffee is strong and hot. The storm will pass tomorrow. The poems of Yeats will still be on my bookshelf to take or leave. Books will be always; this present Maine winter will not be again for some little while, I hope. Did you imagine my mother was a great philosopher? She advised: give until it hurts, and then give some more. Think about that for awhile, you fool, as the snow swirls beyond the window. She was nothing special. She loved her husband and her children and would rather die than part with them; she worked outside the house and she worked inside the house; she sewed, she cooked, she went to church on Sunday. Why should my inspiration not come as much from her as Joyce or Socrates?

My grandson's pre-school teacher said everything I needed to know. I think it wasn't a criticism as much as a simple statement of fact. He liked to play with the toys as much as he liked to draw as much as he liked to make paper mache models as much as he liked to find out what everybody else was doing as much as he liked to get into mischief. Oh my, says I, how will he get anyplace in this world? He must learn to add and subtract. What about a serviceable skill to make money with? I guess all that is necessary. I know intelligent people who absolutely insist on the straight and narrow. One becomes skilled at what one does by doing it. That means, apparently, that you don't do anything else. And since that is discipline, that is a virtue. When I asked my grandson what he wanted to DO, he gave me a funny, blank stare.

There is such a thing as trying too hard. How many good Christians have I known who think it is a waste of time to read anything but The Bible, and in so doing they get The Bible embarrassingly wrong because they have no thoughts to argue with in balance. Athletes are always warning against trying too hard. It leads to frustration, emotional malfunction. Lord knows, inspiration is rare enough that to limit one's outlook to such a point that there are hardly any directions for it to come from must lead to disaster. When a grown up my grandson had kids. They make him happy. I don't know what he will accomplish in his life. It hasn't come near to ending yet. I know that he will expend a good time with anybody. He will never mumble thee or thou very often or bow and bend a knee. He tends to cling to the straight and narrow for his children's sake; he fears jail more than he fears God; and he seems disinclined to judgment: he is too harried, tested by the shortness of time for it. He works big hours to get the big paycheck. Non-political? I guess so. Why should a man who's broke all the time worry about what government he lives under? Why should that concept be so hard to get?

Me? I have I/O. I like to read. I like the UNIX Manual Pages almost as much as I like Gray's "Elegy". I like the plays of Shakespeare, not to put too big a point on it because I'd sit there reading the names in the phone book. But I like to chop wood, too; and I like to work in my garden and walk in the woods with my dog and work in the barn amongst my goats, and there are lots of other things I like too. What good this will do me, I don't know. Whether I'll ever have wisdom or what stands for what might be wisdom, I don't know. It seems to me I should have a few things to be sure of by now. I haven't lived my life deaf, dumb and blind. I have plenty to do. Something must come of it. But what?

Let me clear up a little the dullness of the above paragraph. Greeting cards don't interest me, nor the comics nor the papers—you'd think a well edited, informative newspaper would set me up fine for a Sunday afternoon but that has never happened. I have never been the least bit interested in the little pamphlets of prospectuses I keep getting in the mail from my retirement fund, though Lord knows how hard I have tried. No! It must be a book! I crave a certain style, though I'm not sure what I mean by that. The sentences must originate from the mysteries of skill; I crave lucent deftness, phrases that make sense, that organize on a meaning and do not drag on. I guess what I crave is an all-knowing power. The sentences must leave proof of having been there not for an academic minute, not for the time of a "study", but for a lifetime. And then the author must pour this lifetime into a predetermined shape in such a way that the authenticity of it is undeniable, whether it is a novel, a poem, an essay, a story. One book published in 2011 by Henry Holt that I enjoyed reading is Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz. The book is about John Brown and his band of ruffians. Spending an afternoon in the presence of a well turned sentence or two is a pleasure whatever the subject matter or wherever I might run across it. I got plenty of input from this book and I am patiently awaiting the output to come.

I still love books for my basic I/O. Midnight Rising was a NEW book, a gift from my wife on my birthday in 2012. But I buy them one after another used from Amazon and Abe Books. So I could go on at length for there are others than Midnight Rising. But I am also happy to find a faithful, well-fashioned recounting from a blog on the Internet. Also, I loaded System 7 on my Mac so I could get The Britannica, and also downloads of books from various sources seemed to come easier and in better shape. But still there is nothing like a book whether new or used with a strong spine for keeping me up to all hours.

I still remember my happiness when I found on the make shift shelves of a grimy Maine flea market a rugged copy of The Complete Shakespeare. All the better that it was in places dog's eared and thumbed, and a vague water damage about the edges. After bargaining I gave a dollar for it. For awhile I read in it considerable. If you are in the mood you can take in a play by Shakespeare in an evening. Better still to find something NEW! I am a citizen of the new arrivals stacks in the nearby public libraries. It is part of my I/O. I can sit there for hours, a detective at his office looking for fresh evidence to an unsolved case. Go to the UNIX manual pages for a bridge over the troubled waters. After awhile, as in any study you will come out with answers and a serviceable skill besides.

I guess it should be no secret that when it comes to forms I am partial to the essay and the short story. I have fond hopes for the blog because I believe that soon—and maybe now—the internet will be the only place on earth where you will find pockets of truth and serious thought. In these shorter, self-contained works there is not a minute to waste, not a minute to digress. In my younger days my ego was the only ego that interested me. I am still to this day an egoist. If I can dig up as if from nowhere a serviceable notion I am happy. But also now, as I have become older, I wouldn't dare say more mature, and too familiar with my own ego to the point of boredom, might I become interested in Hemingway's ego or Eliot's or any one ego of ten-thousand others? Or better still figure out a way to visit two egos at once. That's why I ask of all egos please keep it short, clear, succinct so that I can attend to the one while switching over to the other, get that one ego quick because numerous others are in place down the line, and I will try to do the same. And I have learned to forgive men's small crises, from which unfortunate statements pop out, in order to look at the larger view.

One of my all time favorite writers is Charles Lamb (b: Feb. 10, 1775, d: Dec. 27, 1834), who is most famous in present times as the essayist Elia. Elia writes: "...I dedicate no inconsiderable portion of my time to other people's thoughts. I dream away my life in others' speculations. I love to lose myself in other men's minds." I have never suspected in Elia an inconsiderate or harsh view. Once in another man's mind, he'd be as kindly as if it were his own. Hemingway castigated himself when he noticed in his days and works too much of his time being spent thinking about HIS writing. There was a time to write, and that was output, but otherwise his eyes were set on what was in front of him, the here and now, the input whatever it may happen to be at the time. Perhaps this time could be by some happenstance inspiring.

I hold with my grandson in pre-school that you must be here there and everywhere to know the truth about what is going on. And why cut down on the horizon for an improved grade to please a teacher or a grandfather? But all these things are matters of time and the choices one must make. I think I could have lived quite well without Comus or Paradise Lost or even Hamlet, but I doubt I could have lived without long walks in the Maine woods. Or this storm now in front of me. They say that at this moment it is hassling the entire state of Maine. Who would doubt how much we have in common?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Feb 2, 2014—Out of Hibernation

                   The grayish sun is bright enough considering it is still midwinter. Though in the mid-twenties I went out with a woolen sweater. It was easy to keep warm. I am not in very good shape, so I putter along. Come March usually I have had enough of hibernation and look every day to an outside job getting done. Now the yard truck is dead, since the battery won't hold a charge, and one of the front tires has a slow leak becoming ever faster. Once was my fondness for old things that subsequent to a junkyard visit I'd have jumped on that old truck with a bevy of junker parts. But I do not see enough future left of my time on earth any more to go to the trouble. Anyway, the old truck started after a time on the battery charger, and the air compressor inflated the tire. I'll use it tomorrow to clean pens, if the battery ain't dead and the tire ain't flat. If the battery is dead and the tire flat, I'll charge and inflate again and clear pens day after. Good idea now, while waiting for the battery to charge and such to split some firewood. So I pick up my splitting maul and I gaze at the sky, and swing away absently and wonder about how much time do I have left on this precious earth. I'd go far for a book of prognostication; I might even consider a swap of my soul if the devil had the power of time line for souls, which I reasonably doubt, though the devil whiles not by reason but by whim. Most souls on this planet whim easily supersedes reason, why should it not me? Although distinctly true for the numerous who make the evening news, many quiet, unobtrusive ways to depart reason present themselves. Wonder what the devil looks like, by the way? I prefer the snake in Eden to whom God has given voluble chit-chat. A neighbor on the next hillside whose southward facing farmland was once the grandest pride of dairy farming imaginable, who raised her babies on the dairy's raw milk and who now farms the lush grass pastures, will swear to you up and down that this is the garden of Eden and God willing she will find heaven just like it. I asked her about the evening news. She waved her hand as if brushing away a gnat and went on about her work. With bailing and stacking to do this was no time for reason. What? Did I not hear the snow crunching behind me, as if some soft padded devil were trying to sneak up. Good reason to put down this heavy maul I bought close to a generation ago, and keep watch for a minute. I think I was kidding about my even up swap with the devil. But we have become ancient, feet and head are cold in the bad weather, and the devil, should he show up with a soul's future, might receive consideration. But no thing stood up in the snow except the maul I dropped. What did it mean when you get older and imagine devils with the future in hand padding behind you and you no longer feel like yourself but some other fool? My splitting maul isn't as light and handy as I remember only a few years ago. When I bought it the young fellow at Lowell Lumber who sold it to me swore his wife could handle hers like nothing. But now one swing and I am huffing and puffing. Even the heavy breathing from hard work does not seem like it used to, a pleasure of sensuous feeling, rather now a nauseous dizziness. I know that I have turned the corner, rebel against it though I will. I don't know when it happened. I think there was no specific time, no one time I can point to where the decline started. It just started, as if I, a parched soul, had come upon an illusion. I didn't feel ill. I remember thinking that I needed more sleep, but it did not occur to me till much later that I felt tired because I needed more sleep than usual. I mean the sleep and the tiredness got all mixed up in a general weariness. I wasn't sick. It was generally a good time in my life. Nothing much disconcerting was happening as had happened before when I was laid off a time or two, as I'm convinced has happened to many another, admit it or not. I had good jobs, but the roller-coaster took a dive, and I had bad jobs, then a passable job came along and I stuck with that, and me and the old lady carried on with her beloved herd of goats. She was the real farmer; me, the writing was always in my back pocket and it hurt like a ball of pins when I sat on it. Now who is that shambling up the driveway? A neighbor I know probably wants to borrow something. I swear he has grown horns. Though I have known him as long as I can remember I hardly know him at all sober. Wonder what HE knows? You might be surprised who knows what.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

On the Road to *NIX—Prt. 1

                   I write this from my personal experience for those of you who are sick of the commercial rat race, but who still want a nice behaving computer to do with whatever. For us old folks computing is a great past time especially in a bad winter, and it does not have to be expensive. The Internet,—who says nothing ever changes?—, is everyman's resource for the curiosity created by idleness. (If you are in walking distance of a public library, that is good too.) Sore teeth and bones may keep you awake to all hours. The inevitable commercials and bad news on the TV may get impossible to put up with. Maybe you want your computer alive and humming away decently in the corner 24/7, a good citizen. Maybe you are sick of dealing with the security problems that afflict Microsoft products, and the machines that run OS X are just too outrageously expensive. These are some of the ways I have found to get by.


My first computer was a refurbished G3.

Abiword running on Debian Mint Openbox
       It was a machine for writers. The battery was good for five plus hours, so you could go out under a shade tree or in a shed in the back forty and write while taking a gander at nature. This was back in the day when most computer batteries lasted a lucky two hours max. OS X had nice kerning, Apple did a lot of work on that, so the writer's eye was not badly offended, as in many other operating systems, by the text he was studying. And the design and overall appearance were quaint to say the least. Carrying one of them around said something about you. It was white. It showed a little genius. I have it still, and it still runs fine.
    For a long time I ran Tiger on it. I remember Tiger as being very stable and trouble free. At first it ran fine on 500mb of RAM.  It was perfect to carry around and bat out a sentence if a free few minutes should come up, or catch a snippet of dialogue from the shop during lunch, or analyze the buzz or tuck away a photo from the new digital camera. Remember those simple days? Maybe I'll load it up with FreeBSD one day soon. I'll run screen and pyroom on it. It should run fine. If I like it maybe I'll even splurge on a new battery. I might be able to run Elinks or Dillo, which are not memory hogs.
    But then as the several years passed from 2002 to 2006, there was a big explosion in Internet browsers. They needed a lot more than 500mb of RAM. Whether Safari or Firefox they locked up my G3 or they crashed. On a good day, if I was lucky, there might be a long wait. Then I was down to old WWW if I was going to get any Internet at all. In those days Apple was not as willing to run X on its machines as it is now. There were operating systems out there, I knew, that were a lot more efficient in utilization of CPU and memory than Tiger, or any of the other commercial distros, such as XP or Vista, but they only worked in X. I used to hang out at the Apple Store with stars in my eyes, and I'm not kidding, but new machines cost too much. Even Jobs' original genius was not worth $2000. But I needed something to write on. Even $500 was too much; then $200 was too much. But I needed a computer. The broken down yard sale Selectric was not working for me anymore, nor was the G3. On the G3 I got the hang of Emacs. In Tiger it was called Aquamacs. Aquamacs has never worked in any distro since the way it used to work in Tiger. The next logical move was toward Linux.
     One day my heart in my throat I loaded Debian Lenny on my G3. I didn't have much choice which distro I'd install because G3s come with an unusual, though well thought of, CPU called PowerPC. Debian and Ubuntu had a branch that worked with this CPU. I chose Debian because there was a version of Lenny with XFCE. There was no room on my 15G hard drive to keep Tiger. For two years Lenny worked great; Elinks worked great. There was a learning curve. My Mutt window had an outer space background and Nano, a very simple and lightweight app, was the standard text editor. Then I had Pyroom and Abiword to write on. Emacs has always worked without a hitch on Debian. This is not true in some of the other distros. Granted, it was a bit tricky mounting and unmounting snap drives for back up. Eventually I became fond of CD RW's and floppy disks and I still am to this day as the best way to get a back up. Believe it or not, when I booted up Lenny on the G3, top showed I was using only 50mb of RAM! Only later did XFCE become a RAM hog. My ancient G3, a little gem, was too pretty to let go. I often thought of perching it on the edge of my desk and slowly swinging my elbow...
      But this was before blogging. Blogging changed the game. I had to get a browser, probably Chrome or Firefox. At first I installed Debian without a desktop, just a window manager, Ratpoison. I manipulated files in terminal, a better system than you might imagine. But no matter what I did, there was not enough RAM to run a Flash based browser. Even ubergeeks who run Elinks and Mutt in Emacs hang onto Firefox, though they sometimes won't admit it. Over the years I have found Firefox to be usually the most up-to-date and secure. Right now the FreeBSD system I am writing this on is running on 75mb of RAM! That is with Screen open and top and mail running in that, along with terminal waiting anything I might think of to do, and Elinks is launched, Emacs, Xclipboard, gv has a pdf open, and everything else is dealing with other files. Launch Firefox and if I am doing any work on it, I am suddenly using 500mb of RAM! Modern browsers do not play nice; they make it so you have to keep up, even if that ten years old machine is still running snappy. Alternatives like Dillo and UZBL are poor substitutes, and Opera is only okay.
     In my experience even the best new machines seem to run painfully slowly. Most people don't notice how slow their machines are. They may have 16G of RAM and a quad-core, and yet their machines hurt to work on they are so slow. I don't see how anyone can help but be irritated. I spend hour after hour writing on my machine, and any irritation or instability bothers me. I remember at one point working on OpenOffice. After a few days it became more than I could handle. It was so slow.
    Cheap fans are another botheration. I like to be reminded of the racket the early programmers worked in but not that much. When you go to build your PC it is wise to spend some time on fans, perhaps quite a bit of time on fans. Some of them make no sound at all. Others make a racket. Some will last almost forever; others conk out after a few years. Some will light up various psychedelic colors, which has amused me at various times in my brilliant career. Some are a couple of dollars, others are twenty dollars or more. A motherboard will cease to boot the system installed on it if one of the fans plugged into it is beginning to fail. Then people like me get good used serviceable "dead" motherboards to collect and sell on Ebay. It was only a dying fan or a heat sink plugged by dust. I have yet to see a blown cap. Most of the manufacturers use solids. What will go in your computer is anything attached to the motherboard that has moving parts in it, and that will put an end to the fun. Nowadays any board you buy has overheat protection. If it is enabled in the bios—why wouldn't it be?—and the CPU gets too hot then the bios will shut down the computer. It is fun to investigate fans. You want them to be quiet and last long, but you also want them to push some air. Obviously a fan that doesn't push much air will be silent and last long. It is worth while to spend a few extra dollars on fans.
      Disk drives, whether solid state or no, also tend to have a shorter life. They are intimately connected to power supply, CPU and motherboard. If all other members of the family are behaving, a disk drive should last a long time. Some disk drives are better than others. When I recently installed a system for myself I had two disk drives to use; one was a Seagate Ultra, an IDE drive I came across four years ago, the other was a new no name SCSI (SATA) drive. I eventually decided on the new SATA drive because it was 500G and the old Seagate was 175G. My decision had nothing to do with future reliability. I also have a 65G Kingston SSD that I bought used on Ebay I can't remember how many years ago. I have never had to put up with a disk drive failure. Still I am careful to be prepared at all times, especially when employing SSD's and snap drives, which die completely dead forever, and can't be revived no way. Anybody who uses a computer for any length of time will have files that are precious. It is a hard drop to the heart to lose anything. If ever you have an extra dollar, invest in good disk drives. Mirroring RAID systems are nice, too. Even famous programmers backup on the Internet, so that is a way to go. But I distrust the Internet and I take care of my own files on the theory that nobody will do a better job than myself.
      So you have picked the local dump for parts. The Internet is full of stories where penny pinching geeks have found IBM servers in a dumpster near work. Or somebody had an old Optiplex in a corner of the garage and if you gave $20 for it, maybe they might part with it, though no guarantee if it will work. Your nearby computer repair shop is a good place to dig up parts. Result: an inexpensive and useful pastime.
     Much more to say about hardware but now it is time to think a little about software. Stay tuned.