Sorry for the quiet

I have been readjusting to being a working stiff again (though that doesn’t explain why I was so quiet when I was on the dole) and haven’t been keeping up with news very much. I read an interesting (older) article at Salon (I don’t visit there as much now that Greenwald has left; they seem to be largely the opposite of Fox: many articles (at least their titles) read like hysterical left-wing versions of the hysterical right-wing nonsense at Fox) that thoughtfully discusses several aspects of Snowden’s leaks and interestingly weaves in McVeigh and his bombing:

The empire strikes back: How Brandeis foreshadowed Snowden and Greenwald
So-called liberals attack the whistle-blower duo — and a brilliant Supreme Court justice saw it all coming

I figured I would use this as an excuse to write an update, though I encourage my reader(s) to check the article out.

The job is pretty much a bait-and-switch, I am to program in Ruby and use something called RSpec for testing instead of the C++ we talked almost exclusively about during the interview. I am not in a very good position to be upset about this, so am working through the learning curve now. Supposedly there exists the chance for me to switch to the development team where the work is done in either C or C++ (I am fine with either) in 6-ish months when the testing framework has been completed, we will see what happens. Naturally I can’t talk much about what I do, though it is nice sometimes to be able to talk freely inside the scif with my co-workers about things, though with some stuff being ECI (Exceptionally Controlled Information) even some of our inside conversations get neutered. The wonderful world of working in the IC.

All next week will be devoted to preping for our big party on July 4th. Lots of landscaping I need to get caught up on, and of course work on the greenhouse/pool (or rather the pavilion of said project). We almost completed the half bath last weekend, but when I went to turn the water on it turns out that I didn’t completely insulate the pipes as I had thought and there is a 3/4 inch gash in the side of a 1 inch pipe that spewed lots of water until I turned it off. I will fix that this weekend. I feel pretty confident that everything in the pavilion will be functional (but not to my wife’s desired state, meaning lacking trim, etc. in places) for the party, though there are at least a couple of day’s worth of work to do.

We got the carpenters (Danny and Danny) back on the job, they are working on the siding now so hopefully it will look finished when people drive up. Still many months of work to go before it is complete, but I think having it ready for aquaponics early this Fall is very feasible. We still have the insulation inspection for the greenhouse/pool area, then the final inspection, so we are still looking at a whole lot of work yet to be officially done.

A few days ago I learned about Nickel-Iron batteries (NiFe). Also called ‘Edison batteries’ they were very profitable for the Edison company, but that division was bought by a lead-acid battery company and discontinued. The main problem with them? Believe it or not, the main problem is that the damn things seem to last forever (some are still going after 80+ years!). They are very tolerant of abuse (over charging, complete discharging), though have some technical aspects that put them at a slight disadvantage to lead-acid. The big problem today: they are several times more expensive than lead-acid and are only made in China and India. What interests me so much is that it seems entirely feasible to fabricate them DIY, so I am thinking about doing some research into fabricating them. If I can make them cheap enough myself (and thus, can maintain/repair them if needed) then I believe they might become a viable way to go off-grid. Lead-acid batteries, at least as built today, can’t be fabricated (or repaired) by a regular DIY-er, not to mention they are quite toxic. I am not too excited about the sodium-sulfur batteries because they have to operate so hot, the elements (sodium) can catch fire when exposed to air and, oh yes, I recently learned that sometimes they explode! Super capacitors are still not ready for prime time. I haven’t done any work on my osmotic energy because I have been too damn tired after all the construction (sometimes it takes me until Wednesday to recover from the weekend’s efforts). Hopefully this winter.

I am suddenly quite interested in growing hickory trees. Of course it takes so very long for them to produce (from seedlings it is not out of the question to take 40 years to start producing), but I think I can get grafted versions that might bear in ‘only’ 5-7 years. I sort of accidentally learned that my chestnuts might be growing so damn slow because they like acid soil and since we are in an area of plenty of limestone, they might not be happy. I use sulfur to acidify the soil for my blueberries (and azaleas and rhododendrons), it is simple to sprinkle some around the chestnuts to see if that will get them on the ball. Though I have been having problems getting my bare-root fruit trees to bear fruit (no pun intended), they have grown _very_ nicely and in many cases are 12+ feet tall and several inches in diameter in the trunk, yet the chestnuts are basically the exact same size as when I planted the damn things.

I have pretty much recovered from my sprained ankle now, but haven’t been able to keep jogging for longer than about 2.5 miles for some reason. Besides, of course, being fat and out of shape. I had reason to actually _look_ at myself in the mirror the other day, man am I a fat blob. Stuff hanging out all over the place! Pretty embarrassing, good thing stuff like that doesn’t mortify me or I might never get out of the house.

Yall have a most excellent day now, yahea?

Finally! A start date!

After almost exactly 3 months on the dole and almost a month since I signed on the dotted line, I finally have a start date. The agency is nothing if not inefficient and cumbersome! They canceled my badge because I wasn’t using it every day, then took nearly two weeks to schedule a new one after the two weeks to approve my clearance transfer. It sure helps that there is a 40% premium for working at the agency, though I was really close to giving that up to avoid dealing with this nonsense. I will be writing a system to test a high-speed network processing system much like the one I worked on before, but with different hardware (an OCTEON II CPU instead of the Tilera). The job I almost took with the 40% less pay would have had me in a dream position of optimizing a new distributed, yet ACID complaint database, but that reduction in pay would have forced us to sell one of our houses. My wife actually suggested we sell our Maryland house and make the insane 4 hour-a-day commute from our place in Shenandoah. It was not a simple choice, but the money we would save from not having to pay the mortgages for our MD house was almost exactly the premium for leaving the IC, so the decision boiled down to the commute and we just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm for that.

We have been making some nice progress on our construction, at least insofar as the pavilion/kitchen is concerned. We have the floor down, the kitchen island in place, the propane hooked up, and last weekend installed the three exhaust fans. Small wrinkle with the exhaust fans: somehow after spending an _entire_ day ‘dry fitting’ everything to calculate the height of the structure to hold the fans, we were a foot too high. We lost a day building little boxes to hang the fans a foot lower, though I believe it looks reasonably good so few will likely notice. We tested all the stoves and the griddle at the same time, the gas pressure is just a wee bit low with everything going at once. It turns out that I had a large gap in my knowledge about gas: I had thought that the lines carried 2 PSI to the appliance, it is instead a quarter PSI and the lines were not sized correctly for that. Fortunately it is extremely unlikely that _everything_ will be running full-blast at once, so we will probably never run into this situation in practice, though the flames were only diminished a bit. Hopefully now we can finally get our carpenters back for a couple of weeks and get some help getting ready for our big party on July 4th.

I did some sensitivity analysis regarding my aquaponics (the joys of having a spreadsheet) and with 80% less output from the plants and half the output from the fish we can still turn a (calculated) profit high enough to justify going commercial. Also, I have been pleasantly surprised to see greenhouse grown produce in Costco (where I do a lot of comparison shopping) that has price/lb at or above my target, so I am now quite optimistic. I still totally lack anything but a wild assed guess on the labor to process, hopefully I will have that by next summer and we can finally decide if we want to take this to the next level. I did some calculations and I believe we can afford to build the first commercial greenhouse (12,500 square feet, presuming we are able to get the zoning variance we will need) without going to lenders (or rather, by relying on our credit cards, once paid off from refinancing our current construction), which should simplify the next steps. It is hard to get my wife/business partner to seriously think about these steps, she has a hard time thinking about things so far off in the future. In my mind we are already done with our 100K sqft (8 total houses) and are moving towards our ‘big box store’ sized greenhouses. I am already working on plans for going nation-wide and thence global, thinking about when to have an IPO, how to phrase the marketing literature, which key skills I need to recruit, etc. Just the way my mind works, I guess.

Just as I was finally starting to see some belly shrinkage I badly sprained my ankle on a jog a couple of weeks ago. I have done a few long (4 mile) walks so far, but haven’t started any jogging yet, it is still a bit sore and very painful if I twist it just so. Really dumb, I was going down a hill and had to go out into the street because some asshole had parked blocking the sidewalk and as I was angling back toward the sidewalk I was telling myself I should slow down so I wouldn’t sprain my ankle and Bamm! on my ass badly scratching up my leg and arm on the other side. Then, I had to walk a quarter mile to get home, man was I in agony that day! If I could only act on that good advice I give myself!

I have had two people try to convince me to consider growing pot in my greenhouse since it seems clear that it will become legal in Virginia soon. I have tried to explain that since I am way behind the learning curve in that aspect and there are people who have been doing it for decades who already have distribution pathways in place I would have a very tough time making a dent. Besides, the big companies (apparently the company behind Marlboro has already started selling joints in Colorado) are going to push all but the elite of niche marketers right out of business in a few years and I suspect only those niche marketers with a 30 year track record are going to be able to keep their margins high enough to justify being in business (or at least the sort of business I consider worth while).

I am actually very glad to be getting back to work. I believe I would’t have any trouble with not having a regular job as long as we don’t bleed money so profusely; if I had a few bucks to experiment with I am sure I would be really busy, but we are on a financial starvation diet so I have been a bit bored. Interestingly (frustratingly) I have been finding this period of unemployment has me in some sort of wedge state mentally, I haven’t been able to do a lick of programming on any of my projects. Quite sad, I could have made a lot of progress in 3 months if I had just got my head out of my ass.

This was a strange winter this year. It has been colder in the past, but when that happened before there was snow on the ground. This time it was almost as cold but with no insulating cover and I had quite a few plants die back to the roots (and a couple that haven’t shown any signs of life yet so probably died). Most have made a comeback, though, but it might be a couple of years before they have recovered enough to flower and/or set fruit. Speaking of fruit, the apple orchard next to our property just got bulldozed, the trees are only about a decade old which seems rather young, but a couple of locals have heard the trees were diseased somehow so that may explain it. Things sure look different without those trees there! My orchard was almost completely without flowers this spring, my research indicates that it may have been because I fertilized two falls ago. It seems that trees make the decision to flower the year before and they were so busy growing last year they didn’t bother with flowers. I am getting quite frustrated with the lack, I have put in a lot of time and energy so far and have almost nothing to show for it as yet.

I hope all my reader(s) are doing well!