What follows you around

So, I keep being struck by something that’s popped into my head as a vague thought now and then. And it’s hard to put into words, and being someone who hauled their worldly possessions across an ocean to settle in a new land – and was not particularly minimal about what she brought, it’s perhaps a quirk of me.

But I’m intrigued by the possessions that are quick-momentary purchase decisions, that end up being with you long term. Various random things bring this up for me, the nightshirts I’ve got which were bought because I was going into hospital back in 2001, and didn’t think my nekkid body wandering the hospital corridors was appropriate (it explicitly reminded you to bring nightwear). I’ve still got several of them – they don’t get a hard life, and so they’ve lasted well… and they weren’t anything special – just C&A’s least froofy ones, I think. But they’re comfy, and so until they disintegrate they’ll stay around.

And there’s the steel bowl that came from the now presumably long gone EuroCo Discount Store in Northfield – on the outskirts of Birmingham. I bought that because I wanted to make dinner with friends, and I didn’t have a mixing bowl when I got to university. It was probably £1, or thereabouts, is stainless steel, and not particularly anything that you’d make a huge effort to keep. It isn’t beautiful, but it is very functional. And it’s followed me since that decision.

The cutlery my mum bought me when I was going to university? Still mostly in service (one of the spoons has gone walkies). Until we got an induction stove, the pan she got me also was in use (I’m loathe to get rid of it, so I’ll get an adapter ring at some point).

The cruft of a lived life.

And I faintly wonder about the things I inherited from my dad. Was the soldering iron something he debated? Or just that he needed a soldering iron and that was the one in the shop. The Eagle multimeter – was that the best one he could afford that he saved up for? Or was it just that it was a convenient kit – I know he always commented that he wished he’d got a mirrored scale version.

What will survive me? What things that I’ve accrued will matter to someone after I’ve gone?

I should not have worn the “Impossible” teeshirt today: computing edition.

So this is going to be about me being pissy after a day of disastrous computing. Feel free to skip it.

A while back I ordered the open vehicle monitoring system. I did this because I would like to control the aircon in our Kia Niro EV without paying $225 per year. Now OVMS cannot currently do that, but I thought I would capture the data OBD data from my car — which has a trial subscription to Kia’s UVO system — when it turns on the Aircon remotely. This…might enable someone cleverer than me to identify how to actually make it work. Or even, it might enable me to identify how to make it work. The easiest way to capture that data is to use the OVMS dongle which is designed to be able to capture data. Unfortunately – in very minor things that COVID has caused, my OVMS unit is stuck in China, somewhere, in a freight unit. And our ‘trial’ of UVO runs out in about 2 weeks.

However, in a moment of clarity I realised that I could* use my existing diagnostic OBD dongle to connect to the car, and log using that. However, I didn’t want to pay for expensive software to replicate what OVMS will be able to do, so it needed to be a cheap-or-free solution.

It started okay.

I had located some free software that could, in theory, talk to an OBD dongle, on linux, and log the data from it for free.

Only slight problem, my Linux laptop didn’t have all the bits installed for it. As is often the case, the more geeky the thing you want to do, the worse the installation and usage instructions are, and the more time you have to spend trying to work out what the author had installed on their system that may — or may not — be necessary to built it, but was included in their build files. And also what was in their head when they wrote the instructions (if they even really exist) to install it.

I finally managed to get all the dependencies installed and it sort of working — insofar as it reported that the dongle isn’t connected — only to realise that my dongle is WiFi not Bluetooth, and so that application wouldn’t work. Then I spent a solid few hours trying to get a different application installed. That had a specific dependency on a deprecated version of an application where I couldn’t find that version. After quite a while I gave up on that application.

Then I thought, well… perhaps a Mac application will talk to the WiFi dongle.

So I got one, and the WiFi section of it doesn’t work.

So while I was sat in the car, I got to argue with the Mac which reports that it has a great connection to our WiFi network, but refuses to do anything. Eventually, I got into a position where I had both WiFi reported and working, and…I got another application, and installed it, and it crashes when it tries to switch to logging.

So then I thought, ha, maybe an Android app will do it.

After much searching and dinking I found that all the apps I can find that have OBD data logging are fucking expensive.

So then I thought, fuck it, I will find the relevant archaic version of this application and install it. Found it. Built it from sourcecode. Installed the fucker. Then found out that the Bluetooth logging app has a bug – only apparent when you get to compiling the application (I mean, it didn’t want to configure, which should have been a warning). That bug means it clashes with newer versions of some part of the OS – and you have to hack up your OS to make it compile properly by futzing with a system variable name. This was getting a bit too far into the territory of potential for breaking the laptop’s OS install – at which point I gave up.

So then I thought… well, I used to have an OBD dongle that was bluetooth – where did it go? And I hunted and hunted, and couldn’t find it. Then I remembered that OBD dongle I got sent heavily discounted because I’d bought a ZUS voltage monitor for my car.

And I got that and put it in the car. And my Android device will connect happily to it.

The mac? Well, it let me enter a PIN and connected, then disconnected, and since then has refused to let me enter a PIN for the dongle, just reporting that the connection failed because the PIN is wrong. Deleting the device did sod all. It just sits in the list and if you press connect, fails.

My Linux laptop (Pinebook) won’t even give me a PIN entry option, despite the manual for bluetoothctl claiming it handles legacy devices that need a PIN. How does it handle them? By not working, it seems.

I thought – hrm – the Linux install on my laptop is a bit old (up to date security patch wise, but not the newest or shiniest kernel). So then I shuffled the cars to put Raven right next to the house (and thus, conveniently close to the room my PC is in). And lo, it appeared on the Bluetooth items list – and… failed to connect.

Because it won’t let me enter a f’king PIN.

And then I gave up.

A whole day of learning – the main point seemingly being – don’t think you’re so fucking clever.

And for an encore I broke a friends WordPress install. Thankfully a fresh install with nothing in it on a VM. But let’s just say I do not feel the most technically competent today.

* Because sometimes I forget how much the world has moved on and I still think I possess more technical competence than I actually do.

Gently moving forwards

So, like I say, I’ve been trying to give myself some grace. I’ve also been trying not to get drenched, and the weather (as is often the case in the PNW) is not entirely predictable. Which is another way of saying it’s been raining quite a lot. Actually, it’s kind of flung itself wildly from rain to boiling hot sun and back to rain. Not ideal weather for working outside. AS I’m looking now, the sky has some light fluffy clouds skittering across a blue sky – and it’s predicted to start raining in about 2 hours.

I could use those two hours to get the mitrebox out, cut a couple of pieces, plane them to fit, and then rush to throw everything away before it starts raining, but I’m trying to be a little patient with myself.

But, that doesn’t mean that we’ve not achieved anything.

The compost is largely moved to the back garden, there’s still somewhat of a pile in the front, but it’s not quite so ridiculous. At some point that needs to come back and move to the big triangular bed in the backgarden. About half of what needs to come back is there. I think there’ll be some extra, but that’s fine, because we’ve got other bits of the garden that will need some that weren’t included in my original calculation. That’s the joy of rounding.

The big thing we’ve done in the back garden is we’ve erected a fence. Up until now, we’ve been fending off deer with individual fences:

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But that has been a nightmare for weeding and watering. And it’s not like we’re the most efficient at getting out there (Oh, here come the clouds, btw) and weeding / watering. Doing so when you have to spend 10 challenging minutes unwrapping the flappy sharp bits of wire mesh was… less likely to happen. So we’ ordered some fence poles (turns out you can mail order metal 8′ fence poles) and over the weekend we put up the first run of fence – an ~7ft fence (tallest we could manage, really).

Then today we put up a second run of fence – apparently, deer have terrible depth perception, and really don’t like double fences. Indeed, apparently, you can get away with a 4ft high fence and a second 4ft tall, but canted at 45 degrees fence running parallel, and they’ll go “uh, no”. But we didn’t really want to lose that much garden, and thought our neighbours might not appreciate a fence canted over like a set of spears.

Now, 7ft is apparently a lousy height for a deer fence, because desperate deer will try to jump it, and it’s right on the margins of what they can manage and they’re more likely to fall attempting to clear a 7′ fence and failing (apparently, they’ll pretty much give up at 8′, and our planned proper fence will be 6′ with 2′ of trellis). However, our fence will probably just fall over if they attempt that, so I’m hoping we won’t end up with dead/damaged deer in our garden, and also, we’ve erected our trench defenses second line of fencing alongside our first fence which, while it’s only 2′ or so away will, we’re hoping dissuade them further.

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I’m hopeful, but not convinced. When the lockdown lifts (at least for a while) we can hopefully go get some wood posts, and work out where our boundary is with our neighbour, and put up a real fence that’s somewhat more attractive (and also, ideally, doesn’t make a 3m wide strip of our garden look like some middleclass reenactment of the maginot line).

The nice thing about this is that our garden is starting to look more like a garden, and less like a collection of sad fences. Now it’s just the slugs and the moles that we need to deal with.

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In interior news, work is progressing slowly on trimming around doors and windows – yesterday I did three of the window’s vertical sections. I now need to cut and wax/oil the horizontals, which needs…weather that’s forecast to be dry for a solid day, really. Something that’s been in short supply this week.

However, my weirdy plane the back off them so we end up with L-shaped pieces seems to be working okay.

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Northerly rocks

I have finally made it to the north wall. I’ve not been exactly thrilled to work on the problem of moving the innumerable rocks that were piled on our driveway to make an ‘access area’ for our garage, and there have been more pressing things to do, so the slow progress of digging out around the house, and then filling that space with those rocks, has been somewhat delayed.

But today I set to on the back garden with a rotovator (rototiller). This may seem unrelated, but all will become clear. Since our garden has had very little care since it was turned into a garden 30 years ago (from, possibly, evergreen forest?), we decided that a rotovator was the better part of valour. And having checked reviews for electric ones I succumbed to a petrol one. The electric ones that are easily available seem to be somewhat lighter weight than the rental 5Hp one that I attacked our garden with today.

The plan – which we’ve enacted – it to make two fair size veg beds. We have 3.6cu m of compost to go into them, so today I spent the morning digging them over with the rotorvator. We’ll then throw the compost on top, dig it through the bed we’re going to use straight away, and just leave it covered on the bed that’s for a bit later in the season (or next season).

Anyhow, since bouncing around all over the garden with a poorly controlled petrol engine this morning I’m now knackered.

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But the two beds – the main one and the somewhat more shaded one – are both dug. There’s a little bitty one that we’re going to make by the plum tree which needs to be dug by hand.

I have also moved the 3.6 cu m of soil into the back garden – filling the two veg planters, one of which is for tomatoes and the other of which is for… well, currently, beans. Some of the soil found it’s way onto the top of our front garden to try and leach some actual nutrients into the dreadful soil that we got from under the garage. Later in the year, as we’re wrapping up for winter, we may throw more compost and mulch onto it, but honestly, it’s always going to be terribly stoney.

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That’s also the case for our second brassica and also chard planter which we filled with soil dug out for the garage foundations. The soil looked pretty stoney when it went in, but not half so bad as it did after the first rains washed the dirt off the stones. So we also threw about 4cm depth of extra soil in there.

But that still leaves the vast pile of rocks which, today, I finally got back to. I actually intend to go back to moving compost tomorrow, but for today I wanted to clear a bit of a path for the compost to come through, so I can wheel it to the two newly created beds a little more easily. So I cleared a section of rock behind one of our parking spaces – which meant that we finally – finally – have made it to the north, and final wall of the house.

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I also spent some time pulling out the old drain soakaway pipe (ha) which had turned into a crushed plastic pipe filled with soil over the last 30 years. That’s what you get for not bothering to surround it with mesh. There’s still more to come out but I’m about 2/3rds of the way down the side of the house now. We also need to sort out the drainage from the front of the house which, if I recall correctly, currently drains into a small pile of rocks optimistically positioned about 10 feet from the house.

Oh, you can also see our deck in that picture which is…made of temporary things. Isn’t it… a nice duck-egg blue? All that will be replaced with deckboards and made much more sturdy. We’re also thinking of having planters along the north and south sides of it in which we’ll put some herby plants. Something like the planters we created in Bristol:

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There’s still lots to do inside the house, obviously. And I do need to get back to that. But I’m trying to give myself some grace and work on the things that call to me right now. Funnily enough, the trim was actually calling to me this afternoon, but I was so freaking tired from dancing with the rotorvator* that I actually just felt not up to trying to do something that requires accuracy.

* In many respects it’s not that hard, it drags itself along and mainly it’s just application of weight that either stops or allows it to move along, its little peg – ‘drag stake’ apparently is the proper term – digging in to slow it down. This is all very well when you’re trundling through turned over soil, but when you’re trying to persuade the drag stake to dig into the well compacted sod of a lawn, well… it took quite a bit of forceful persuasion. And now my arms are tired.

Not great.

Back in 2005, I wrote this.

It’s not alone. There are lots of entries around my dad’s illness and death where my emotional exhaustion reared up and stomped around. I sure as hell don’t want to lose my mother at this point, but find myself mentally wandering back to that time. Calling on my dad’s essence to help my mother. Every day I’m calling home to check up on her – I can’t go see her because even if I fly over to the UK I will, apparently, be in quarantine for 14 days. By which time the worst will be past, or it will be too late. Obviously, there’s also the significant likelihood of catching COVID in the long trapise through the airport, or the 14 hour flight.

So each day starts with Schrodinger’s phone call. How is she doing? How is the fever? What symptoms today?

All this was avoidable. The UK could have learned from Asia, we could have followed New Zealand. The UK could have closed early, quarantined thoroughly, and managed the illness.

But no, as with the orange moron, Boris went for letting it spread unchecked, making it endemic in society, fucking up to a spectacular degree. Now my mum’s husband has had it, my mum is currently dealing with a high fever and pain. We don’t yet know if it is COVID.

Tests in the UK still take 5 days.

5 days!

What the fuck is going on there? Korea manages 15 minutes.

The conservative party are going to be responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Boris, personally, is responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

He should be in prison for such mismanagement of a national disaster. Government manslaughter. A lethal combination of a lack of science knowledge and a reckless disregard for the people he’s meant to represent.

I’m willing my mother to be okay.

Every fibre in my body wants her to be okay.

Watching the clouds roll by

One of the nice things about this house is the view from the sofa. You can watch the clouds roll past the big fir trees. Perhaps it’s proximity to the coast, perhaps it’s just having spent 3 years in an apartment with a big tree immediately outside the window, but I delight in watching the clouds roll by.

So lockdown continues. My mum’s husband caught COVID, at work most likely, but they can’t be sure. He seems to have recovered, thankfully. Unfortunately, however, my mother now has a fever and pain. As of yesterday there were no respiratory symptoms, but with this disease its course is so random, and it’s impact so unpredictable, all we can do is wait and hope. I’ve been calling every day to chat, and she seems in good spirits.

She’ll know tomorrow whether it definitely is, or possibly isn’t. With a testing accuracy in the 70s, percent wise, a negative test is something that we lack faith in. A couple of negatives? I’d have a bit more faith in.

I’d already been in a fairly introspective mood. It’s been hard to find enormous amounts of motivation. I mean, 3.6 cu. m of soil and a further 3.6 cu. m of manure* compost arriving, I did manage to muster the energy to move the soil back. That’s given us two raised beds – one of which is now sporting 4 beans. The other is reserved for our tomatoes which seem to have somewhat recovered from their leggyness.

Next year, a grow lamp is I think in order for seedlings started inside. While our house feels light to us, it’s probably partly deceptive from the white walls, but I don’t think it’s deceived the plants. The cabbages and the tomatoes were super leggy when they started – for the cabbages I did the bury half the stalk when repotting trick (which we found online). Some of them seem to be doing better. The cabbages are living outside now, which helps.

The tomatoes are just having to work through it for the moment.

The 3.6 cu. m of compost is for non-raised beds which use our actual… and I hesitate to call it this… soil. I mean, I say soil, it’s more a mixture of rubbish, stones and sand on a layer of clay. Hence the 3.6 cu. m of compost. That needs to get moved to the back. The plan is – hire a rotorvator, ruin a big chunk of our ‘lawn’ (dandelion collection), dig in a bunch of compost, and lo, we’ll have… something that might sustain life.

We’ve got a whole bunch of seeds to go in, and plant starts coming, which will all mostly be devoured by the slugs, I’m sure.

But anyhow, for that to happen we need beds. To get beds we need a rotorvator (well, we could dig them by hand, but these are fairly big beds, and a rotorvator would get them done in a day).

So that’s the big project. Other projects that are ongoing remain putting trim up – which I really should be getting on with, but for which I need dry days to cut, do my planing trick, and on the cut ends, re-oil/wax the trim before it goes up. We’ve finally got around to ordering a couple of paint brushes, so we can actually get on with painting the battens which will be going up around the house. They do need to be chamfered along the edge to promote the water running off, but not having the paint brushes to paint them made that feel like a pointless job.

Now we have some paint brushes, I can get that started.

But finding enthusiasm is hard. Politically, the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. I’m watching Britain spiral down, and down, and down. I’m here in the US watching things getting worse and worse. Finding motivation to finish the house is hard, especially when there are so many big jobs waiting to be done for which we don’t have stuff, but what’s left and easily do-able is the small things.

But it’s hard to feel excited about finishing a credenza when thousands of people are dying from a preventable illness. And seeing those idiotic, deeply selfish, re-open morons prancing about with their guns and racism on proud display is just depressing.

In more positive news, I think we’ve finally found a shelving/basket set that will fit our pantry. It won’t be as deep as our pantry is, because no one makes 4’4″ deep pantry shelves (for some foolish reason), but it is at least the right width – and not $1000, which seemed to be the going rate for pantry shelving(!)

We continue on our quest to find kitchen draw handles. We know what we don’t like ;)

And we’re starting to contemplate knocking up some temporary doors for the bathroom and laundry. The doors we ordered won’t be ready until 5 weeks after the lockdown ends, so we’re looking at there being at least 2 more months with no doors, and it looks like the lockdown will semi-end in such a way that we might have visitors who are less inclined to share their bathroom use with us.

We note that neither of our friends who helped us move actually used the bathroom (which lacks a door and a frosted window) when they helped us move… And to be fair, our friends back in the UK did put up a curtain across their bathroom doorway when we visited and they’d not finished their bathroom.

So, that’s another task that really ought to get done.

In other news, what we might call house discoveries, it turns out that a heated floor is less exciting when your house is really well insulated. In the winter it was warm a good chunk of the time (albeit not as warm as I’d imagined, because it’s a shallow depth of concrete/compound, the heat tends to stay fairly localised despite our metal mesh and heat spreading reflectors). But now the spring’s rolled around the house stays so stable temperature wise that most of the time the floor is cool. Which is a little of a disappointment, because it was very nice in the cold.

And in distracted COVID thoughts, we’ve been pretty strict on not going out. Kathryn has to go into her office occasionally, but can maintain distancing. I, obviously, am still going to the emergency department to patch people back up. But outside of that, we’ve paid the extra to have groceries delivered or to do kerbside collection where they drop the groceries in the boot of the car. That, for us, is complex ethically. Because someone else is putting themselves at risk, but then having me out and about in public is probably best avoided, because I could have COVID from work and spread it very effectively before knowing I was sick.

Or vice versa, I could take COVID to work and spread it around without knowing. So we’ve been pretty strict. It’s been frustrating at times though, not being able to get things we want, or when we order things getting them delivered and paying 3 times the price we would normally. Hopefully our steel fence posts will arrive soon, so we can put them up. That will allow us to take down the individual fencing around various beds, which will be nice. It won’t be pretty. But it’s cheap and hopefully it’ll be effective enough.

Our lockdown viewing has been, mainly, This Farming Life, which is a BBC series chronicling the lives of farmers up in Scotland, and latterly, in Northern Ireland. It’s really delighting us… and making us want to move to a croft. Not a hard nudge, on our part, I mean we wanted to have some degree of self-sufficiency and small-holding-y-ness, anyhow. But this is making it more. I’m not sure that’s helpful, but it’s become our go-to evening show (it’s on Britbox for you USians).

Anyhow, time to call my mum.

* Our poor neighbours are getting to enjoy the delicious scent of living next to a farm. In the middle of the city.