Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Virus Checking on My Mac

Although I haven't used a virus checker on my Macs for some time, I do constantly monitor the computer security sites to see what's going on out there in the world. It really looks like there are some Bad Guys intent on messing up my playground. Usually, however, the warnings and reports come from people that don't share my agenda. If a company that sells virus checkers warns Mac users that things are going to be bad, I'm a little suspicious of their motives. Likewise, if an unknown 'security consultant' lays out a plan of attack on Macs, I tend to suspect that they're out there trying to drum up business, rather than trying to keep Macs secure.

However, given all that, there have been enough reports by reputable people that I thought it might be worthwhile to check out the state of the software for Macs. Unfortunately, it's pretty bleak. The big names have done a poor job on antivirus software for the Macs. Even when Apple tried giving away Virex some time back it was an abortive effort because the software was flawed and cost many people some data. The risk of AV software was much greater than the risk of the non-existent viruses.

But I kept hearing about Clamav. This is one of these open source programs and someone wrapped it up in a pretty gui for Mac users as ClamXav. I downloaded the free software (donationware) and gave it a spin.

It seems my mail from back in 2000 when I was at Motorola had a couple of un-caught viruses in them. Since I was one of the hold-out Mac users, they never activated on my machine, but I'm not in the research business, so I have no need for them. A little cleanup and they're gone.

ClamXav seems like a nice program. I'll give it a workout on all my Macs and at least have one tool on hand for that inevitable day when the Bad Guys get one step ahead of Apple's Security Patches.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Smoke!

Yesterday we stopped at Cooper's BBQ in Junction Texas on the way home. I really liked their sausage and brisket. So much so that I added very little sauce. We ate under a large spreading oak tree behind the building and resisted the begging eyes of the three cats that prowled around the picnic tables. We disposed of the trash and got back into the RV. I turned the key, and nothing happened.

What had been a pleasant drive on I-10 suddenly acquired stress. The batteries had to be fully charged. We'd only been stopped 30 minutes. I tried the auxiliary batteries, and still, no sound of the starter. Looking at the voltage seemed to show about 10 volts, no matter whether using the main battery or the aux. I tried the generator, and it started immediately! The batteries had to be okay. I was deeply puzzled. I moved the gear shift back and forth, in case an interlock had stuck. I tried everything I could think of.

Suddenly, there was a puff of smoke from beneath the dash. It pulled the key immediately and opened the window. I sat there, waiting, wondering if I'd have to deal with a fire, but after that one incident, there was no sign of more smoke. Other than the smell, that is.

Through all this, Mary Ann was sitting behind me at the table, offering suggestions and staying calm. When I was becalmed in an absence of ideas, she got on the internet, starting to search for auto-repair places in Junction. I checked under the slide-down front grill, but there was no sign of anything there. I was wondering what could have happened.

Taking the hypothesis that I'd done something to cause this, I tried to remember what all I'd done. The only thing I could think of was straightening the side shelf. Beside the driver's seat it a wooden shelf that holds the cup-holder and the controls for the steerable side rear view mirrors. It had come unscrewed by road vibration and I had straightened it up with a shove to the side and a couple of kicks. Could I have messed up the wiring somehow?

I reached under the dash and moved all the wires I could reach. It was impossible to see any of them. Meanwhile, Mary Ann was having trouble getting anyone to come help up. I could imagine having to call AAA and get the RV towed to Austin.

Mary Ann's thought was that it was the starter, but I had my doubts. For one thing, the smoke didn't match that theory.

Then, while Mary Ann was waiting to call a mechanic for the second time, I flipped the key again, and the starter turned over. I was so shocked, I released the key. Then I tried again, and the RV started right up. No smoke or anything.

We debated whether to drive to a repair place or to go on. I looked at the fuel gauge and decided to head on down the highway. It wasn't smoking, and if my wire wiggling had done the job, I was willing to let sleeping wiring lie.

We pulled out and made it home without any problem, although I didn't turn off the engine for any stops.

Now I've got to track down the source of that smoke without the ability to get up under there to see. I've tried taking photos with my camera, but I can't see anything charred. The engine starts just fine. I'm puzzled.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hubbard Museum

Mary Ann has been entering the annual photographic exhibit at the Hubbard Museum of the American West for several years now, and this year, she snagged the first place in the Landscape category, as well as a couple of honorable mentions. As we were leaving the Festival of the Cranes, we took the route through Ruidosa and stopped off so I could see her photos. She had been there for the awards ceremony and was anxious to show me how nice they looked on the walls.
At first, engine troubles had be leery of going into the mountains, but liberal doses of engine cleaner fuel additives have made some improvement and after we'd made it to the Valley of Fires without any serious missing on the engine, I decided to go for it. The RV really doesn't like mountain passes, but it did pretty well, and we were able to get there fine. I snapped a couple of photos of her in front of her pictures, but they really don't do her justice. She really enjoys the chance to show off her work, and to see them on display. Far too often, photos live on computer screens only, and it's an entirely different experience to see them large.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Watching the Cranes



We watched the sunset at Bosque del Apache NWR. For the soundtrack, go here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Watching the Watchers

Tonight we attended the Friends of the Bosque Dinner. The highlight for me was the photo exhibition. Mary Ann had entered the competition and won several places. The prizes were nice but what I enjoyed the most was the people.

After the banquet, they announced the winners and people filed in to the room where the photos were displayed. It was a little crowded, so after seeing where Mary Ann's photos were placed, I stepped back where I could see and hear the interaction. There were many nice photos, but Mary Ann's were clearly hits. Even the ones without ribbons were attracting people's admiring comments.

It was interesting to see what a wide range of ages liked her photos. Little kids (there were a few) would point out the bird with the feathers. An old lady just fell in love with the sleeping duck. Clusters of adults would talk about the reflection pictures. Even when everyone else left and the college students who were charged with closing up the building went by before locking the final doors. I was across the lobby by then, but I could hear the "Awesome" as they pointed out the eagle picture.

But I thing the expression I enjoyed most was Mary Ann, standing about six feet behind the viewers, just beaming as she watched people fall in love with her work.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Flash in a Pan

I went on a bus tour to visit the Trinity site today. This is the location where the first ever atomic explosion occurred. It was a plutonium bomb set off in a 100 foot tower just before dawn on July 16, 1945. The Atomic Age began and the world changed.

My father was on a train heading to the west coast early August of that year, destined for Navy duty in the Pacific theater. The war ended and instead he finished out his tour of duty in California. I was born four and a half years later. Without the quick end to the War in the Pacific, and my father's safe return to civilian life, I might not have existed.

I grew up in the aftershocks. Images of atomic explosions were common. Fear of ICMB's was a reality. When I was a teenager, the coming attack was just a matter of time.

Seeing the depression in the ground where it all started was somehow very satisfying. On an earlier trip, I bought a small chunk of Trinitite from a local rock shop and it still sits in my desk at home, the pale green glass formed by the heat of the explosion still emitting very small traces of Alpha particle radiation.

But, at the same time as I felt a historical satisfaction at being there, I was also a little disappointed by the site itself. Back in the 50's the government scraped up almost all the green glass and buried it somewhere, probably as a health and safety issue. The bowl isn't a deep crater, more the imprint of the shockwave from the explosion 100 feet up on the tower. If they took down the barbed wire fences and removed the memorial stones, it would be easy to lose the site entirely. Grass and stickers grow there. Ant hills churn the soil. Rain and wind remove the traces of human activity. What radiation still exists isn't enough to affect the native plants and animals.

Something so significant in human history has come, made its brief impression in the soil, and without a memorial to mark the spot, is almost gone.

Making Space

Mary Ann's life as a nature photographer is a constant battle for disk space. On a good day, she'll shoot several gigabytes of photos. It's a rare day when she only uses one of her 1GB flash cards. This trip is two weeks of rich photo opportunity for her.

So her laptop hard drive fills up quickly, and her two portable 100GB drives, and the 8 external firewire drives (see them up against the windshield). So ... she has to burn them to DVD's. Her work flow requires that she has two copies of the images at all times, so she spends a lot of time churning them out. Our only hope is that those 750GB hard drives drop in price soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Santa Sighting

As soon as Mary Ann completed her last birding expedition in Harlingen, we began a 1000 mile dash to Socorro, NM, for the Festival of the Cranes.

Shortly after sunset, I pulled into an Exxon in Kerrville to add some more go juice. It was a pleasant evening, and an old man, a little girl, and her mother had set out the lawn chairs to enjoy the air instead of standing behind the counter. I did my usual -- carefully guiding the RV as close to the pump as possible, and then hopping out to check to see if the hose would reach to the filler hole. Sometimes I have to make a second loop through the station before I can make everything reach, but tonight it was fine. I swiped the card and began the first fill. Often it takes more than one fill because the gas stations have a automatic cut-off at $50 or $75 or in one case $99. This stop took two. $75 plus and additional $20.

I walked around the gas station to get some exercise, and exchanged greetings with the people. The man asked my gas mileage. "Seven, on a good day."

But I noticed the little girl earnestly talking to her mother. After a few seconds I realized what was going on. The little girl in the blue outfit recognized me as Santa, and was trying to get her mother to ask me something. She was too timid to talk to me directly.

The mother was being purposefully obtuse, not really saying that I wasn't Santa, but not giving into her daughter's urgings either. Of course, I couldn't directly go against the mother and tell the girl that I really was Santa, but the girl and I exchanged a couple of secret smiles. We knew the truth.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Image Browsing

While I was checking to see if the canoe image had appeared out anywhere else on the web, I entered "Henry Melton" into Google Images. In addition to the football photos I expected to see of the other Henry Melton in Austin, I noticed a movie poster for one of my unsold novels, "Humanicide".

A friend of mine, who had reviewed the novel, needed to make a mock up poster for some Photoshop class and used it as the subject a few years ago. She showed it to me at the time, but I filed it away and forgot about it.

But it seems she went to work for a website construction company and the image ended up on a website as an example of work that company could do for clients. Through the magic of Google algorithms, it bubbled up to near the top of the list of Henry Melton images.

Hey, maybe one of these days the novel will indeed make it to the big screen. I can dream, can't I?

I Made the Papers

I should have expected something like this when I realized that there was a local valley version of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen coming along on the canoe trip with us. I watched them about as much as everyone else was watching the birds. Daisy Martinez rode in a three person canoe, and the whole trip, she was scratching away on her note pad, interviewing people and writing down bird sightings. When she asked to talk to me, I cleverly directed her to talk to Mary Ann instead.

Gabe Hernandez, the photographer, carried much more camera gear along in a different canoe, and I saw him taking the photo that made the paper. He was the strong quiet type you'd expect to see as a war correspondent photographer, with a tattoo on his arm. I was glad he was around when I got out of the canoe, with legs that didn't work. He was the one who got me to my feet.

ADDITION: I've just heard that the Austin paper picked up the photo too. Supposedly it's on page E-3.

ADDITION: And the Brownsville Herald.

ADDITION: And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The photo went out on the AP. I don't know how many places picked it up. Google just tells me the places that have online editions.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Canoe Didn't Fit

Most of the activities at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival are for Mary Ann. She goes off to see the birds and I stay home in the RV and work. But today, I came along. The event of the morning was a canoe trip down the Rio Grande at the Santa Ana NWR. We've taken canoe trips together before and she knew she'd have a better chance to take pictures with me doing the driving.

There were 14 of us, including the Refuge guide, the two Festival guides, two reporters and us ordinary people. We dropped off upstream for a 2 and a half hour tour. Mary Ann and I claimed a two-seater and started out. I took the back seat so I could do most of the rowing and steering.

It was a nice trip. They were identifying birds right and left ( there were about 50 species in the final talley) and Mary Ann took photos of the group, and maybe a few bird photos. She did not bring the monster lenses; just a general purpose one, inside a water-proof bag.

It worked well, except for one thing. I could never fit in the rear seat. I kept sliding out of the comfort-contour bench. I kept juggling my feet, bending my legs and hopping back up on the seat. It wasn't horrible, but after two or three hours of that, my legs were cramped and useless. When we reached the unloading dock, and I dragged myself out of the canoe, I was unable to stand up. The reporter with more cameras and lenses than even Mary Ann helped me up. Once standing, I could move, but now, eight hours later and well dosed with Aleve, my knees are still sore.

I've got to figure this out. I'm not about to give up canoeing. Was it just that one canoe, or have I grown ... incompatible? Once we get home, I'll have to do some more canoeing around the pond and see. If so, maybe I'll try kayaks.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Well Traveled Mouse

We're now down in Harlingen, attending a Birding Festival. When we loaded up and headed out, in addition to our luggage and gear, was four mouse traps, two sticky traps, and assorted poison blocks, and one Illinois mouse.

I'd gotten used to him, almost. I'd cleaned the RV more than I'd ever done before, and was almost resigned to having him as a pet. But Mary Ann ... She shrieked the first time. And she shrieked the second time, and the third. I explained that we had this mouse with us -- that I'd tried everything to get rid of it, from leaving the door open for hours, to all the assorted lethal measures. But she just wasn't quite used to it.

But, just a few minutes ago, I saw him down at my feet, dashing under the carpet. I stomped.

I half expected him to vanish in the cracks like he had so many times before. But when I looked, he was lying there, still breathing, but motionless. I couldn't bring myself to stomp again. I picked him up and walked him a few hundred yards away and left him in the grass. Probably, he was dead. But I'm not going to check.

He'd come from Illinois to far south Texas. He'd made the mistake of living with humans. Only a few species can pull that off successfully.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Smell of World Fantasy

WFC has come and gone. It was fun. Different cons have different personalities. World Fantasy is close and friendly, and very bookish. Some cons have gaming, some are into costumes, or comics. World Fantasy is totally into books.

Practically all cons have a Dealer Room. Many have books, or jewelry, or swords, anything that could be sold to the typical con-goer. WFC's dealer room... The first day I walked in, I could smell the strong odor of new ink. Other than the artwork arranged around the perimeter of the room, all the tables were little bookstores. There were new books, old books, some art, and literary historical letters.

The next day, when I was conscious of the smell of the room it was early in the day, and packed, and the air was filled with a mix of perfumes and body washes and all the coverup smells that people use to tolerate each other. Today, the last day, before the rush, I could sense a woody smell, something like wood-burning tools. It was faint, maybe the residue from some artwork.

But today was the last day, and the UPS counter set up in the hotel lobby just outside the Dealer Room was doing a booming business packing up people's books to ship home. (A much better idea than carrying huge boxes along with you on the airplane.)

Now is the time to take advantage of the network contacts I made and fill the air with another scent, the ozone from my laser printer.

Escape

As I arrived home from a day at the World Fantasy Con, I intended to check the mail, feed the dog and relax, waiting for Mary Ann to make her way home from her New Mexico excursion. What awaited me there by the mailbox was a knocked down fence, and a missing horse.

I hurriedly drove down and around the property, looking for any sign of Gamblor. Light was fading rapidly, so I decided first order of business was to check the neighboring properties. I drove down to the end of the road and back, peering into other pastures. There was one group of horses, but none of them looked like mine.

Back up to the junction, and I searched eastward.

There in the dim light was a horse that looked right, confined in a neighbors pasture. I drove up to the fence and called. This horse looked almost like Gamblor. There was the same one white foot. As far as I could tell, it was the same variety and color. And it was friendly, coming up close enough for me to shine the flashlight. But this horse was slightly larger than Gamblor and didn't have the identifying tattoo along the mane. Reluctantly, I decided that this wasn't the one and drove back toward the house. I called Mary Ann. She was still three or four hours away, but she confirmed that the horse on 138 wasn't the right one, and suggested a closer neighbor. And then my engine showed I was almost out of gas.

Taking the lead rope I walked over to the neighbor's property and there I saw that there were two horses in his barn. It was too dark to identify them. I rang the bell and he came out. "You missing a horse?"
--
Our previous horse could practically walk through a loose barbed wire fence, but Gamblor has never been inclined to escape, unless the door was left open for him. This time, a corner post came down, probably rotted through at the base and blown down by the wind. The gate swung open and invited him to go visit his neighbor up the hill.

For now, I've got the pickup parked in the gap and the gate held in place with elastic cords. But fence repair is certainly in the cards now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Autographs

This evening at World Fantasy Con, they had the mass autographing session. It was fun to watch. Take one large ballroom. Fill with long white tables in rows. Seat the authors, each with a name tent (that folded piece of card stock board), then open the door to the long line that stretched across the hotel lobby. Each person in line had at least one book, but there were a frightening number of wheeled carts stacked with boxes of books. The line filed in and chaos ensued.

It was fun to watch, but to be honest, I don't quite understand autographs. As both a fan and a writer, I've been on both sides of the transaction, and I can certainly appreciate being asked for an autograph. It's quite pleasant, but I'd feel the same by a verbal compliment. And as the owner of books, I have some that have been autographed, but here I part company with most fans. I don't feel any boost from having an autographed version.

However, just because I don't understand doesn't mean I won't make the effort. I take my place at the autograph table on conventions where I'm a named participant. I even put together a chapbook with the primary purpose to have something permanently available for those people who want something autographed of mine. (The magazine fiction is too erratic, and the novels haven't started yet.)

It could just be that I'm simply a reader, not a collector. I have stacks of books, but nothing like the collections my friends have. David Hartwell told me just today that he has 40,000 hardbacks. Last night Bill Crider and James Reasoner were talking about their respective storage buildings where they store their collections. The closest I came to collecting anything was a brief period when I was buying comic books. I stopped when I reached 12 long boxes full, and now I don't know what to do with them.

Anyone want to buy some light reading material?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pounding Away

If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I guess that describes me. I recognize that I seriously need to network and make contacts at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend. It's part of the job. Unfortunately, I am deficient in social skills. I can't remember names very well. I'm a little better with faces, but not much. And the idea that I could remember the last time I talked with a person just makes me shake my head. I have trouble remembering what year it is right now, and when people ask my age, I need a calculator.

But I do know databases. When I worked at Motorola, a lot of my efforts went into using databases and making programs that helped others use them. I've had several SQL databases over the decades on my home computers, and all the record-keeping for my stories. I have a database entry for every time I've sent a story to a market, and every time I've sent a query to an agent. I even have a database of memorable events that happened to me at other conventions.

On the World Fantasy Convention web page is a nice long list of everyone who's signed up to attend. Perfect.

I cut and pasted that list into a word-processor, exported it to a text file, cleaned it up in vi, and then ran programs that pulled lists of editors and agents from my database -- and compared the list.

Now I have two manageable lists, one of agents that I have a chance to meet, and that might have seen my work. And another list of editors I've communicated with over the years. Over the next couple of days, I'll try to get those lists in my working memory. Hey, I know it's less than perfect, but I need all the help I can get.