Friday, November 23, 2012
We try to take care of our local critters year-round, but we do extra on Thanksgiving and that big holiday in December. We go through untold hundreds of pounds of birdseed every year. Perhaps, if the Lord of the Universe is an ecologist, it will earn us a little karmic appreciation. But that really isn't why we do it.
Lately we've had a couple warm and fluffy rodents around too. We don't usually get squirrels here—not enough pine trees here below the edge of the mountains—but these two Fox Squirrels have taken to chasing around the front yard. Yes, I know they're invasive, and technically I should be shooting them (and eating them), but I can't bring myself to take such noble causes beyond a vegetarian attempt now and then.
So Tuesday at the feed store, when I saw a big bag of peanuts in the shell, it came to mind those would make a good Thanksgiving treat for the little buggers. I even, in my naivete, thought putting them in the suet feeder might require enough manual dexterity (as opposed to mere beak dexterity) to coerce the scrub jays and magpies to leave a few for the squirrels.
Yesterday morning I loaded up the peanuts and put them out a bit after 7:30. The squirrels were running around, and foraging under the main sunflower feeder for fallen seeds, but they didn't get the point.
Then the magpies came...
Accustomed as I am to having scavengers, from skunks and chickens to woodrats and now squirrels, poking around for scattered seeds under the feeder, I was unprepared for the confirmation I saw in the flashlight beam about 5 a.m. yesterday morning. Sure 'nuf, a big fat raccoon was our latest visitor. No wonder the dogs have been so excited on their pre-dawn outings! They may never have seen one; it's been years since one passed through!
Last night we brought the feeder in for safekeeping. No dice; he/she just went for the thistle seed instead. AND, finding no sunflower feeder to empty, ventured onto the porch in search of a few spilled seeds; I spotted him/her again there in the wee hours this morning.
So far, thankfully, the raccoon has shown no inclination to go after the dogs, and I'm on watch now to be more careful when letting them out for early runs.
Let the feasting begin!
The little birds were so happy with the refilled feeders that they attracted the attention of a top-level feeder. The Cooper's Hawk made a long glide low across the front yard, in hopes of an easy meal of his own, no doubt.
We also lost one of the chickens over the holiday, so most likely some unknown predator—coyote or fox perhaps—enjoyed Thanksgiving as well!
Me, I'm thankful for all this wildlife, even if it includes the likes of Fox Squirrels, English Sparrows, Starlings, and urban foxes. We are blessed, even by the Rattlesnakes and Skunks.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Colorado's two active wildfires are distant. High Park, to the north of us and west of Fort Collins, has now claimed 59,000 acres, 189 homes, and one human life. It has been burning since June 9th and is, finally, 55% contained. We've been awash in smoke here off and on, as the evidence of the fire is liberally shared across the Front Range. Springer, a smaller fire near Lake George, is currently at 900 acres and 10% containment. (Photo, High Meadow burn area, 11 years later.)
It's going to be another one of those years, reminding all of us of 2002. In that June, just 10 years ago, the Hayman Fire burned for most of the month, scorching 138,000 acres and leaving a lasting impression on the people of Colorado.
Memories of the earlier Buffalo Creek Fire of May 1996 were brought close to home last March when the Lower North Fork Fire hit in the same part of the county, claiming three human lives. Eight years later, Buffalo Creek's 12,000 acre scar was still visible, as it is today, though slowly healing.
Both photos above of the High Meadow burn area were taken in June 2011.
Monday, May 07, 2012
The "downside," if there is one in this most welcome weather, is that we missed seeing the full effect of the Supermoon Saturday night as we stood outside admiring a light show in the clouds and hearing... what's that? Thunder! Hallelujah! (No matter, next month's full moon will be only 1% smaller.)
Very little water actually fell Saturday night, and skies were Colorado-clear-blue Sunday morning. Hopes seemed dashed, but were redeemed last night when an apparent gentle monsoonish season started. Only 0.22 inches so far, but snow is expected above 7,500 ft later today, so all seems promising.
Monday, April 23, 2012
But we've seen Reynard, the local red fox, too many times lately, so this time I decided to check. 6:54 a.m., full daylight, and he's just outside their gate, about 10 m from the front door; hens are huddled under the big juniper, wary and restless. Naturally, I let the dogs out, and watched as the fox took off to the east and the dogs, logically, dashed north. I'm not sure they ever saw him, but he saw them, so it did the trick.
It's April, after all, and Earth Week, which seems to be a prime time for spotting predators around here. It was April 2001 when we had our first and only eagle attacks; Earth Day 2004 when the coyote attack (only one to date, thankfully) occurred. About 20 chickens died in those episodes. At least the eagle was thoughtful enough to take only one a week.
I realize we have somewhat inadvertently baited local predators by even deciding to keep chickens. On the whole we've been successful—and lucky—these last 16 years, and foxes have not been a problem, even last year, when neighbors kept saying "did you see the fox?" and we kept saying "No!" Lucky, that is, until last Sunday. I was just back from a weekend away, and spotted feathers as I went out to lock up the flock. Too many feathers for this time of year, it's not moulting season and they were too fresh. Sure enough, one short on the beak count! One of the young Araucanas, the ones that like to hop the fence and hang out in the backyard, would no longer be coming home.
Later I found the piles of feathers, drifts in some places, that marked the sites of what must have been a fair struggle. Poor hen.
The dogs are elderly now, 13 and 11, and consider themselves retired. They'd rather spend the day sleeping on the couch than out monitoring for trespassers. In particular, Starbuck (no relation to coffee) has lost much of his hearing and doesn't respond easily. Since their rush to the scene of excitement this a.m. and momentary interest, they are now lobbying strenuously to come back inside.
The fox, who has a good understanding of fences and dogs it seems, circled east and around into the driveway, reluctant to leave and clearly thinking another source of interest might present itself. So I am also on duty, and have to add my eyes and ears to the patrol, checking the east drive regularly in the direction Foxy Reynard went off, with a window open to noise on the west, and with one dog stationed north, the other south. Can their acuity—and mine—be trusted? Will it be enough?
[Technical difficulties prevent photos at the moment; I hope I can put some up later. No fox pix yet anyway...]
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Perhaps, to state it better, I was never aware of a special relationship with herons until 2006. That summer I saw herons hither, and I saw them yon. I'd be driving to the grocery store, or some such prosaic activity, and my eye would fall, as if by animal magnetism, on a heron. Silhouetted in flight or motionless in patient pursuit of prey, always a heron. The niece and I launched the trip of a lifetime that summer, and herons were spotted time and again as we drove from Colorado to Connecticut. More herons. After she left mid-adventure, I went on to Maine. One day I was driving through Worcester, Massachusetts, and spotted three herons overhead while I was on the freeway! This is not good for attentive, or even defensive, driving, especially when you end up doing more than 7,000 miles of it!
But I was often driving, and capturing the moment in more than memory was impossible. Once home, I watched for herons regularly on walks by the creek, though, and finally the heron moment and the camera coincided, mid-June 2009.
You walk and you look... until finally you see what you're looking for! Don't you? (maybe you'd better enlarge it, then)
But sometimes your subject doesn't appreciate being seen, and turns his back on you. And stalks, then flies away.
And stands quietly in the shade, a little upstream where he knows you can't see him. Finally you go on with your walk, knowing you can find better pictures on the internet than you could ever take yourself. Good info too!
But on the return walk, 13 frames later, you find his patience has been rewarded, and he's more cooperative. So your patience gets rewarded too!
Why post this now, almost three years later? Well, Catwoman sent a timely link to Heron Nest Cam! Perhaps not timely enough, as the last egg was imminent a full week ago. That means it will probably be lonely and boring for the sitter most of the time until about May 1, when the eggs start to hatch! But at the link, you can watch video clips of arrival of the third and fourth eggs, as well as other heron activities.
Maybe not as boring as I thought! Yesterday morning, the nest was attacked by a Great Horned Owl, creating a bit of excitement for the defending sitter, who went into fight mode (something to see in a heron!), revealing that there are now FIVE eggs in the nest instead of the usual four.
Sunday, April 08, 2012
Early this morning, as I watch 12-15,000 people try to shoehorn themselves into an amphitheatre built for less than 10,000, I have to wonder about this special sunrise. Isn't every sunrise a miracle and a marvel worth celebrating?
Last night a luminous golden full Moon rose above the southern end of the Hogback as Mars sat at the Lion's right elbow and Orion prepared to sink into the western horizon. Glory to the Powers that daily offer us the opportunity to be awestruck. Perhaps we see, perhaps more often we do not. But still the sights and sounds and smells—all the sensations—of life on Earth are offered to us.
Spring itself is a recurring miracle; through dry years and wet, still it comes, sometimes with a bang, sometimes quietly sneaking up on our senses—if we are the least bit awake to it. Now and then it occurs to me that pollen allergies are Nature's way of reminding us to pay attention.
The best way, of course, is to get out there and revel in it. But if you need a reminder and can't get outside, the wonders of technology offer alternatives. Good links not to lose must be captured somewhere, and this is a great spot to be able to find them again.
Experience the dramatic unfolding of the history of the planet on this trip through Time. Long periods of apparent emptiness (from our shallow perspective) have become "interesting" only relatively recently, and it's good to be reminded how long the Earth got along without us here to direct things.
We can be reminded of our place in the order of the Universe by getting a sense of our scale in Space as well. Smack in the mid-range of creation, it seems, we are indeed:
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great...
It's a wonder, really, that I don't quote Pope here more often. The couplets of An Essay on Man are pretty much burned into my brain. Poets were so durn smart back in 1733.
That's not to say that humans can't create miraculous visions; that brain is pretty amazing too, beyond poetry. Here's a creative genius at work in a whole new medium, provided by Nature. Another link too good to lose, with thanks to the Chemist for sending it.
Tuesday, April 03, 2012
The snow that was expected Sunday night showed up Monday night and, I rather expect, cheered up residents in the fire zone. We have a dusting, but apparently some schools are closing.
Release of the disturbing 911 calls suggests this story will be with us a long time.
April 2: 40 degrees, overcast and gloomy.
April 3 so far: 30 degrees, downright blizzarding out there. See above.
Not to say we can't use it! Especially welcome after last week!
And every flake... no, pellet that falls takes a handful of spring allergens with it. Or so we hope.
The goldfinches are gradually getting more yellow. Or is it just contrast with today's dull sky?
Saturday, March 31, 2012
Not to mention that it takes time to catch all those cats, especially after catching the first one makes the others wary and downright panicky.
"There will be stories," she said as we talked over glasses of wine until Monday turned into Tuesday, and she had already shared a few from her harrowing evening. What do you take if you have limited time and only one car? What should you add if your friend kindly comes to help, giving you the chance for a second load? How long can you afford to spend packing? Sobering thoughts!
We've been surprised that having so many cats in the house—strangers!— has gone as smoothly as it has. The guests stay quietly in the guest room, and resident felines have barely noticed their presence. They know something's up, but on the whole, it's going great, and we're enjoying spending time with Catwoman.
About Wednesday, Catwoman came up with an addition to our list of seasonal harbingers. "When you hear slurry bombers overhead, it's a sure sign of spring!" In fact, it was this same time last year when we posted about the Indian Gulch fire near Golden.
At first it seemed everyone was surprised by the erratic nature of this fire. Reports went from 200 acres to 3,000 overnight, then jumped to 4,500. By Thursday, the official story had grown somewhat clearer, as we struggled to balance that version against disquieting word-of-mouth reports that were becoming more numerous and more compelling. Even the sad report of fatalities may be a two-sided story. It will be a while before it's all sorted out, no doubt, and, as one evacuated resident said on the news, it's important to be reasonable, and not rush to judgment before the facts are in. Despite hotspots of anger, we've been surprised how many people do seem to be taking a more measured or philosophical attitude. Even some of the 27 families who have lost their homes. Yes, there are things that perhaps should be done, or can be done in the future, but people also seem to realize that "it's the cost of living in a pretty place," as one noted.
Yesterday morning the responders finally announced 45% containment—great progress! That was upgraded to 70% last night, and 90% this morning. (See latest map.) They're keeping 500 homes on alert today though, because of high winds expected, so it seems the cats, at least, will be here a while yet.
The Husband pointed out the plume of smoke visible from the house about 5 p.m. Monday. It hadn't been there when I got home at 3:30, and of course, I never did think of the camera. I have no presence of mind.
Others do: Heart-rending video is available at YouTube: for a good look at the plume; more at time lapse, and Escaping the Fire, raw form, and edited with commentary and interviews.
March turned out to be drier than ever before, after that near-record-wet February. Usually our snowiest month, March yielded nary a flake, although it took most of the month for February's piles to melt. But with dry air and some wonderful winds, no wonder fire season is gearing up fast...
But Spring will not be dissuaded easily when temps run in the 70s. (10s C)
Where are those Phenology folks when you need 'em?
According to Bloom Watch, average peak for cherry blossoms is April 4. This year, peak was March 20, and blooming period was only 9 days, compared to 2008's 17 and a 5-year average of 12.5 days.
DBG explains phenology here.
Yes, it's glorious, but cheer up! Snow and rain are in the forecast, starting late tomorrow. We can only hope...
Thursday, March 29, 2012
From the Chemist:
I've been waiting for this sign for several weeks...the first baby black widow spider just made an unsuccessful crossing of my desk. I always get a hatch in my office about now. Generally I leave them alone and I think probably only one or so survives their cannabalism. They tend to occupy the same corners forever...hopefully (same, that is, not forever would be OK.) Cheers?
[Catwoman and I were crushed that he crushed the innocent little darling, but it seems clear that it would have lived, had it not been so indiscreet as to cross his desk.]
From Bee Lady and Flame, who recently returned from the South and west:
We had a great time in AZ, saw yellow eyed juncos, vermilion flycatchers, costa's hummingbirds, and lots of [California] poppies!
From Catwoman, who kicked these reports off back on March 21, 2012:
It's officially Spring, and so many animals are coming out of the woodwork here that I wanted to share some of the excitement!
Two pygmy owls began calling last week. I found a soft spot next to the driveway not far from the house to sit and listen for them. They call around dusk, and I had waited for a half-hour or so when I heard footsteps coming towards me that sounded like a person. It took four footfalls for me to turn my head and see the mountain lion that was only 20 feet away!! I said "oh s**t" in my head and jumped up and yelled something. The startled cat wheeled around and left lickety split. She didn't know I was there either...glad it was muddy so I could hear her coming.
This morning started with one pygmy tooting just before dawn. Ten minutes later, a half red-half black fox sat pretty in the front yard. On the way out, there was an all-black one hunting by the gate. And just after I got home, seven turkeys filed past the window!!
[Catwoman clearly has more aplomb afield than I would in such a situation. And her hearing is better! The fox story is another that should be told, but neither Catwoman nor I has the stomach for it.]
Catwoman also had an entire day of fame recently, when she won mention in the local Audubon photo contest but, sadly, finished out of the money. She was featured on March 8th for a photo related to this one, but you can check the other 249 featured winners at Share the View. Today's photo is particularly "striking." I hope you can figure this one out—really must get [her] around to blogging it sometime. Guesses, anyone? A great nature moment to share with kids.
If you get the impression I've been spending more time with Catwoman lately, you'd be right. That will have to be another story...
Thursday, March 15, 2012
To the North, the usual scene is washed with pink and blue, and I think I hear geese overhead, but can't get visual confirmation.
Weather-wise, March has been quiet, having delegated its snowstorms to February. This week spring-like temperatures have eliminated February's white piles, urging bulbs and buds to sprout and people to shed the layers of winter. "Ides," however, is only half-way through; there's still time.
Evenings lately have brought the marvelous spectacle of the dance between bright Jupiter and brilliant Venus in the western sky. For a while, the Moon shared the view.
Turn 180, and the most russet Mars I've ever seen hovers over the hogback in the east, as if lit by internal rather than external fires. Still in Leo, as we see later in the evening as the sky darkens.
They say this year's spring equinox is early, at least for us! It falls on the 19th instead of the 20-21st. I wonder if the extra day of February accounts for some of that?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I think I saw a flock of swifts last week, too, and we've had whole rashes of robins chattering away in the trees most of this month. As I walked around the block a couple weeks ago, there were 20 to 50 birds generating a cacaphony in each of several trees: here in an elm, there a locust, another rash in a cottonwood. Sizable flocks of Eurasian collared doves have been with us all winter, for the first time in memory.
"February total snowfall to date is 20.2 [at DIA, on the 24th]. The record is 22.1″ set back in 1912." So close to being the snowiest February on record. Just to recap, here's an instant replay:
Tomorrow we head into what is normally our snowiest month of the year. Will it be different, after all this February snow? I can look back, here on the blog, on six Februarys now, and it seems snow is always there: more in 2007, less in 2008. This time of year, snow captures the camera's attention. Oddly, I tend to think of February as a dry brown month, kind of like the last picture above (and who wants to take pictures of that?). Perception reflects reality only with a greater or lesser degree of distortion.
Snow (again) is promised later this week, so we'll see what March brings. As you can see from this morning's view, our white ground cover is getting tattered and is due to be refreshed.
Happy Leap Day!
Saturday, February 25, 2012
I'm sure the fact that the pipeline was going through publicly owned open space rather than private property simplified the approval process considerably and probably also stimulated the desire to plant native species so the pipeline would blend in. You be the judge: how did they do?
This photo was taken last June, many years after the project was completed. That swath of blue through the landscape gives this post its title.
The Plantlist shows 25 accepted subspecies or varieties of Ericameria but my botanical consultants, the Chemist and the Propagator, tell me this is likely to be Chrysothamnus speciosus var. gnaphalodes Greene, which is a synonym of Ericameria nauseosa var. hololeuca (A.Gray) G.L.Nesom & G.I.Baird. Native it is, but to northern NM, AZ, and most of Utah. The USDA profile shows his Colorado distribution as only in our county, a tad disjunct for a native, wouldn't you think?
Plantlist also reports “the genus Chrysothamnus contains no accepted names.” Shucks! I knew the genus had been changed, but I haven't quite accepted it yet. (Chrysothamnus has served me well during more than 40 years of acquaintance.) Sorry, botanical friends, I lean more and more toward "common names," the ones they always taught us were unreliable and unstable. Besides, I'm taking a broader ecological view rather than a taxonomic one, and it seems clear to me that this guy is a proverbial sore thumb who just doesn't belong! The gestalt simply doesn't fit. (In this photo, he's overwhelming the little green rabbitbrush guy on his left.)
You can explore our native rabbitbrush a bit further at this previous post. I mentioned the species's wealth of associations with insects, and our friend Ted at Beetles in the Bush provided this detail in the comments:
I love this plant because of the fantastic variety of cerambycid beetles (genus Crossidius) - large beetles with long antennae and vividly colored black and yellow, orange, or red - that visit the flowers. Like the plant they feed on, the dozen or so species show a dizzying diversity of forms (about 3 dozen subspecies are formally recognized) across the western U.S.
Photo of Crossidius coralinus fulgidus courtesy Ted MacRae. Read more at the link.
That's about one unique form of beetle for every unique form of this plant species in the western U.S. They say that a central tendency of ecological thinking is always to ask "and then what?" So I'm asking: what does bringing one new plant, subspecies or not, into a landscape bring in terms of insect associates? And what, pray tell, are the implications of that? As they also say in ecology "You can never do just one thing."
What does this mingling mean? CDOT is using this blue rabbitbrush on local highways. You can check it out along Hwy. 285 between Indian Hills and Conifer. Besides being an experiment in plant (and insect?) breeding on a regional scale, it's messing with what we perceive as "natural," perhaps as much as planting exotics. (Not advocating a return to that, though, okay?)
Along for the Ride
I don't know exactly what they planted, but blue rabbitbrush turns out not to be the only new face in the local landscape. There are other "natives" too! Native—but "improved"—cultivars of little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, formerly Andropogon scoparium) and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) are springing up in the roadside ditch downhill from the open space (along with blue rabbitbrush). No concerns about their fecundity! And recently, when the Husband and I followed the blue road down into the park to walk the Dogs, I found this treasure, which might be cliffrose! (Cowania stansburiana; now, apparently, Purshia stansburiana) If that ID is correct, it's far from its home in southwestern Colorado and Utah, but will certainly be an attractive addition to our local flora. Looking at the bright side, our species richness is expanding!
Thanks to the Chemist and the Propagator for consultation on this post. They are not to blame for errors and goofy opinions expressed herein.
Submitted for the February 2012 Berry-Go-Round Plant Carnival.
You can, of course, explore the range of diversity of rabbitbrush further at Wikipedia or at the USDA Plants database.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
...is that the day after a big storm looks like this. Blue skies, bright sun on snow, and, special blessings, clear roads! (Unless you're in the City or suburbs, in which case, good luck!)
It occurs to me that I'm always showing Red Rocks in the "from home" view, and rarely do you get to see the park from the inside. Yesterday about 5 p.m., we drove through Red Rocks Park to take in the post-snow views. First up is Park Cave Rock, lit by the setting sun.
For lack of a better plan, I'm posting these in the order they were taken. These icicles were just across the road from the first photo.
Then back for a closer view of Park Cave, whose warm west-facing scarp holds many nooks for roosting birds. Park Cave Rock forms the east wall of the Park's "southern gateway."
At the top of the Park, two final views. Looking east past Creation Rock and a waxing Moon, I couldn't resist tweaking this one a little. Yes, I enlarged the Moon. I had to update my photo-editing software this week, and it was a good opportunity to practice.
That's why the Moon is fuzzier than the rest of the image. For high-quality Moon pictures, please visit Beyond the Fields We Know. Cate's skills, equipment, and patience are better than mine!
As for me, I vow not to mess with photos overmuch, and to be sure to note it when I do more than crop, resize, or tweak brightness and contrast. FF celebrates reality, not photoshoppery. But it sure is tempting when you're confronted with a light pole in the middle of an otherwise interesting view, as below!
One thing I like about this one, actually taken by the Darling Husband, is the way the shadow of the mountains has engulfed the Park, and is approaching the hogback. Green Mountain also catches a few last rays, and the City, as ever, welcomes sunset later than we do.
Saturday, February 04, 2012
Snow started falling Thursday evening, just in time for rush hour. Though results were not, at first, impressive, dire forecasts calling for record amounts of white stuff turned out to be right on target. Yesterday was a howling blizzard, keeping most everyone close to home.
Forty hours later, we have about two feet of good wet insulation on the ground, and it's feeling much more like one of the spring delights March traditionally brings than anything we'd expect in February. This storm was thoroughly predicted, leaving no one unprepared. I was just surprised the weatherfolk were accurate this time!
So today, as the flakes finally stop and the sun even touches the rocks now and then, is a day for digging out. The cars are unrecognizable lumps in the driveway. The dogs have been finding great joy in romping through the drifts; not a single cat has been interested in exploring the new landscape.
Thursday, February 02, 2012
It's as if the whole world is wearing them! Despite my usual view and the rising sun lighting up Red Rocks, I know that the "big picture" is anything but rosy, especially for those of us who care about the Earth.
This morning I've been reading around in Honest Ab's blog (no typo there), and even ventured over to his website. Dr. Stanley Rice is honest indeed, about our planet's situation and its prospects, no rose-colored glasses there. Too bad I didn't find him last week; he would have been good on our "rant" list! See his archive for July-Sept 2011 and scroll down to You Can’t Do Just One Thing and Our Great Big Opportunity for some entertaining reading.
Even the dog looks to be alert in this morning's dawn. He has few worries. His (and my!) advancing age mean that our chances of being greatly at risk in the coming "transition" are relatively slight, and diminishing with each passing year.
It's young people, and the young of all species, I fear for most these days. They traditionally "have their whole lives ahead of them"... but that isn't the joyous prospect it once might have been.
The rosy outlook above was fleeting, fading quickly into a grey cold day with promise only of snow.
Friday, January 27, 2012
Unfortunately, that’s not the 2007 I want to talk about today. In the course of January’s big move (switching the putative “home office” into the guest room and vice versa), one of the things that went “out with the old” was my (mostly*) trusty Sony Viao. In with the new was a laptop I’ve used sporadically for a year or two and never learned to love. Monitor and usable keyboard stayed, though, and because “everything” is on external hard drives, the transition was as seamless as possible.
(*with the exception of a couple of killer malware infestations)
Except for Windows 2007
I can’t tell you how much I hate this program.* Some may say it’s a sign of stick-in-the-muddedness, but I am willingly learning lots of new things— getting along fine with the new Thrive and its various interfaces; trying out awesome new culinary tricks; coping, more or less, with new “procedures” at the office; even changing my eating and exercise and work habits. Honest! Dealing with my office and clutter, for goodness sake!
*But I’m going to try anyway.
But, time and time again, Windows 2007 trips me up. Just when I think I’ve got it down, mastering the new “Ribbon” in MS Office, for example, it turns around and bites me in the butt in some surprising new way.
And every time it does, someone on the listening end of my rant will say “get a MAC.”
I’m an old DOS hand
Perhaps some of you out there are old enough to remember when you had to tell a computer what to do, instead of having it guess what it thinks you want to do. We even had a saying “computers don’t do what you WANT them to do; they do what you TELL them to do!”
Good ol’ DOS. On days when 2007 seems determined to stymie my every effort, I remember DOS more fondly than usual. In the DOS days, it was possible for someone without a degree in computer science to understand, in a basic way at least, what a computer was actually up to. There were disks, or “platters,” that spun at 3600 rpm, a “motherboard” you could see, little “beans” that added more RAM, and “hard-wiring” (also visible). There were peripherals in those days, and ports in two flavors, and buses and “scuzzies” (SCSI). And an awesome immune system! This nice screenshot is courtesy of Wikipedia which (naturally) has a DOS page. “AUTOEXEC.BAT”— man, that takes me back! Note, please, the complete absence of GUI interfaces, icons, bells, whistles, animated gifs, popup menus, and other nuisances.
Briefing for those born after 1980: DOS stands for Disk Operating System. Once upon a time, a computer screen was a tabula rasa (sorry, I mean, blank slate; folks born in recent decades may not know Latin either), a black screen on which you could type sweet easy commands (many less than 5 characters long) to get the computer to do things. If you needed the computer to do something really complicated, you put all the commands into a text file called a "batch file" so you didn’t have to type them every time you wanted to perform that string of commands. (Courtesy Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F077869-0042 / Engelbert Reineke / CC-BY-SA, via Wikipedia.)
Some bigger programs were developed to help, with names like Lotus 1-2-3 and Wordstar. They successfully performed functions akin to those of MS Office, entirely without resorting to a Ribbon! Wordstar, in particular, used a bunch of keyboard shortcuts that made things easier. Wheee… In about 1985 or so, someone said “Don’t bother to learn those; they’ll be obsolete soon!” Guess what? It’s been almost 30 years, and we’re still using the exact same commands! Even Mac has had to adopt them.
Big MAC is not the answer
Then the Steves decided it’d be better if we didn’t know what was going on inside that shiny metal box. Or that we shouldn’t have to be bothered with all that. In the name of accessibility and freedom, they relieved us of responsibility and made the computer a true “black box.” Those of us who think more verbally than visually found ourselves to be icon-impaired and consequently handicapped in our ability to function.
As others have noted, the success of the Macintosh Apple made all other fruits pale in comparison. It was no longer enough to be juicy and sweet, now you had to look more and more like the rosy red apple of temptation. And Microsoft was nothing if not adaptable: with every generation, its operating systems got “easier,” more “user-friendly” and “intuitive,” and its GUIs grew gooey-er than ever. (McIntosh apple image, not to be confused with Macintosh Apple. Lars Zapf at Flickr, again via Wikipedia.)
The frustration grew accordingly. But like all caught in the throes of evolution, one must adapt or die. And so we struggle on, slowly coming to understand that a “bucket” means “fill,” or “A” means Font but “B” means Bold. And a funny little brush now means “Paste.” I haven’t seen a paste brush since the bathroom had wallpaper!
Has my life improved?
All this is not to say I’m ready to go back. I do understand we can’t. I don’t covet the 10 MB hard drive of my original XT (yes, total capacity; now I have images bigger than that!) or the reassuring click of the XT keyboard I once thought I couldn’t live without. I’ve learned to adapt, just as I did with losing the IBM Selectric that was also once indispensable.
Life goes on, and by and large, computers are more fun now. I love having Wikipedia at my fingertips; love being able to email and blog and tweet and doctor photos and keep up with what other people are doing. I love the vastly expanded learning capability that computers and the internet offer, although I wonder, now and then, if we haven’t outsourced our brains. (Yes, I still keep whole poems, and phone numbers, in my head. I’m old school.)
Maybe someday, I’ll be able to say “how will I live without Windows 2007?” But not today.
A Word about Rants
Rants are fun to write; I also often find them fun to read. Maybe I’ll write more rants in 2012. That’s a good goal, eh?
We all have something we can rant about. Here are a few of my “recent favorite” rants:
- Fred on Marital Bliss and Loose Dogs
- Dave on Squirrels and Democracy
- Hugh on (well Hugh doesn’t really rant, but here’s a nice piece on wrong numbers)
- Sarcozona on the Mathematical We
- Phytophactor on the Digital Age
- Garden Rant on Strange Bedfellows (HT to the Phactor); also here.
Wow, "rant" is even in the title of that last blog. And they have a cocktail hour! 'Scuse me, I'll be back later.
Monday, January 09, 2012
This is the first "view" north of the new year, and an appropriate one. With two nice snowfalls in December, our White Christmas was assured, as well as some relief for the trees and shrubs that depend on winter moisture. Sad to see other parts of the country are still waiting. Need snow? Check out winter in the Lanark Highlands, courtesy Kerrdelune. Her photo today is even more lovely.
If your wintry days need brightening with blossoms, visit the December Berry-Go-Round, hosted by the Roaming Naturalist.
Saturday, January 07, 2012
Friday, January 06, 2012
This morning was not quite this garish; softer and more delicate really, to my eye. The Sun is just barely, not even visibly, advancing northward from his extreme position, just as last year. Another swing around the Sun.
All the days of this year have been glorious thus far, with clear skies day and night, a waxing Moon, Venus in the evening, and Jupiter (still working his way across the southern sky) now high at prime viewing times. At dusk, Orion will be charging up from behind the hogback barrier above, as the Winter Hexagon hangs above and around him.