Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Not My President



(Zoo At Home is NOT a political blog. It is a place to share my thoughts. 
Right now, these are my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth to you.)


 
Yes, Donald Trump is now president. I know this. We ALL know this. Many of his supporters seem to think we need to be reminded of this fact. Trust me, we don’t. We are painfully aware of the situation. If you voted for Trump, I ask you to think back on how you felt when Obama took office. How long did it take you to get over it? Still working on that, I’d bet.

Yet, many who voted for Trump seem to think the rest of us should simply fall in line. I repeatedly see calls from his supporters to "accept it" and "give him a chance." To "respect and support him” simply because he now holds the title of President of the United States. This befuddles me. The notion that a person, any person, should automatically deserve respect regardless of actions, behavior or attitude is ludicrous. To suggest this of a person in power is downright dangerous. One might even call it un-American. Where would we be today if our forefathers had taken that stance?

Respect must be earned, yet many would have me blindly offer it to someone who has done nothing to deserve it. These demands often come from the same people who are still ridiculing Barack Obama, even though he has now completed his TWO TERMS of office. If eight years of dignified service to this country were not enough to warrant their respect, why on earth would a few days of whining and spinning falsehoods be enough to gain mine? In short, they aren’t.

Trump was not elected president on a trial basis. He does not get a preliminary period to prove himself. He is president NOW, which means he is accountable NOW. Like many, I am not inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to civil rights and the future of our nation. Early decisions and actions matter just as much as later ones. Perhaps even more, as they may very well be a portent of things to come. To be painfully honest, I’m not comforted by what I have seen so far. His first acts as president reflect the polar opposite of what I envision for this nation, thus I am not inclined to support any of them. Why would I?

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that Donald Trump does NOT represent me. His ideals are not my ideals. His agenda is not my agenda. His vision for America is most definitely not my vision. After months of listening to him speak, watching his rallies and reading his interviews, I have found exactly zero issues which we agree on and none of his actions since taking office give me any hope that this will change. Therefore, I cannot, in good conscience, support the man or his policies.

In fact, I feel it is my civic duty to do exactly the opposite. I must challenge every decision I disagree with. I must call out every action I feel is harmful. I must shine a spotlight on every incidence of deceit and chicanery that I witness. I cannot, will not, be silent while this administration works to tear apart a country I love. America IS great and can be even greater, but this man, this president, will not get us there.

Many of you disagree. I get that. It is certainly within your rights to do so. You seem to share Trump’s vision for America and, thus, you support him. Perhaps you even respect him as well. It is not for me to say, just as it is not for others to determine where MY loyalties should lie. That responsibility lies with me and me alone. I take that responsibility very seriously. I have never supported ANY president unconditionally. I am not about to start now.

As long as Trump continues to pull my country in this dangerous and oppressive direction, I will fight him. I will not call him names or belittle him on a personal level, but I WILL stand against him. I will join with others who seek to do the same. Together, I hope we will have the strength to prevail, but even if we don’t, I will not simply capitulate. This great country is worthy of my support. Donald Trump is not.

Trump will have my respect and support when and if he earns it – and not one minute sooner. Until then, I will resist him and all he currently stands for. As a citizen of the United States of America, it is my right – no, my duty – to speak out against a government I disagree with.

So, speak I shall. While I still can.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Building the Perfect Beast

(NOTE: This is a long post with lots of images, so it may take awhile to load.)

We've had this project in the works for awhile now, saving up our pennies (okay, more than pennies but not enough to buy our own island) for a much needed technology refresh. We had access to some major discounts on some "bleeding" edge tech and we really, really wanted to try it out.


It took months to collect the funds and then all the parts, but the final piece finally arrived Saturday evening. The time had come to build the beast!




First, we needed the case, to put everything in. I hunted for weeks and had almost given up on finding one I liked. On a last moment shopping trip, I finally came across the Enermax Ostrog -- in blue! I love this case. Stick with me and you'll see why. 











See? Lots of space and everything is so easy to work with. Did I mention it was blue? Not as good as purple, but I've yet to see a decent purple tower, so blue is my go to color. You can secure drives with just a twist and the front panels just pop out. Quick and easy!







A case is useless without power. We went with the EVGA SuperNOVA 850 G2. It hit the sweet spot for quality, voltage and price. We didn't realize until we opened it up at home how fancy the packaging was. I have to say, I was a little impressed.



Once we were done ogling the pretty packaging, we settled it in place and started running wires. You can see here that we also removed the back panel of the case for access and took out some of the bays to make room for our graphics card, which we will see later.

Whoa, that's a lot of wires!





Next we installed the front panel components. Top is the Kinwin Multi-funcion Fan Controller Panel. It includes temperature monitoring and card readers. 

Under that is the VR panel that came with the graphics card. No, I don't have a VR headset yet, but I hope to get one in the near future. Meanwhile, the extra USB ports will come in handy.

Bottom is my optical drive, the only part of this build that was not purchased new. I pulled it from my old box, since it still works fine and won't see a lot of use. Optical drives aren't often included these days, but I have some software and games that install from disks, so I needed it in there.













Of course, a fan controller isn't much fun without fans to, well, control ... so we added a couple more in the top. Now I can make them spin slower or faster at my whim!




With the front panel bling all wired up, it was time for a power test.













Everything that was supposed to light up, lit. Things that should spin, spun. Good to go!










Now it's time to get down to serious business. 
That means a motherboard, specifically the Gigabyte X99 Designare EX. So pretty!



There was more underneath. I'm sure we can figure out what to do will all that stuff, right? Ooh, stickers!









Um, okay ... back to work. Nine screws and the motherboard was secured in place. Looks good in there, don't you think?











Next up, the first SSD, a 1.0 TB Intel SSD6. OMG, it is so tiny and cute!




 
Just popped it in place. Easy-peasy.

FYI, the light blue wrap on his wrist is to prevent static discharge that might damage these nifty electronic dowhatsits. (The dark blue one is his Fitbit.)

Once it was covered back up, you could barely even tell it was in there!

This SSD will be my boot drive and primary drive for my non-game software.






Now for the big moment. Drum roll, please!


Yep, there she is. Our lovely CPU. The brain of our beast. An Intel Extreme Core i7 6950X. 10 core, 20 thread, LGA 2011-v3, 4 Channels DDR4, up to 40 Lanes PCIe 3.0. Yeah, I don't know what half of that means either. It's shiny, it's fast and it's ours (at a sweet discount!). Let's put that baby in place!


There it is, all cozy and happy in its new home. Just have to secure it so that it stays put. Perfect!




 
Now, CPUs get hot and need a thermal solution to keep them cool. We actually had a little surprise here. Last time we bought our CPU from Intel, it came with a thermal solution. Not so much this time, which left us scrambling for one at the last minute. We briefly considered liquid cooling, but I really didn't want to deal with the maintenance. Since I am not planning to overclock, we decided a traditional heat sink would suffice. All those thin metal fins are what helps dissipate all the heat that tiny little brain generates.







A view from the bottom, where it actually contacts the CPU. It looks a bit like an alien spider to me, but as long as it keeps things cool, I'm okay with that. It's also huge.

We quickly figured out that we were going to want to need to install the memory before we put this in place, because it is so big it blocked the RAM slots.







One note about the RAM. When we placed our order, my husband kept saying that I probably wanted to get two packs. Now, somehow here, I got a little confused. I thought he meant two 16 Gb packs, for a total of 32 Gb. Turns out each PACK had 32 Gb, so I ended up with whopping 64 Gb! Seemed like overkill to me, but I'm not complaining.



The memory sticks just snap in place, so they didn't take very long to install. I have to say, having 8 sticks gives it some lovely symmetry. Then we added the framework support for the thermal solution.






I made sure to order the version that was offset to one side, to leave room for the graphics card, which will snug in next to it. Gods, that thing is big!









Once we had the heat sink in place, we had to clip the fan back on to it. This was possibly the most difficult part of the whole build. I had to remove one of the top fans to give me access to the clips to secure it, but after a few failed attempts we got it done.





Finally, we got to put in my beloved Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080. I've actually been test-driving this baby for the past month or so in my old box. I adore it!


I have to say, though, that the card looked a LOT bigger when it wasn't sitting next to that monster of a heat sink.


Last, but certainly not least, our second SSD, an Intel 1.2 TB 750 series. It is larger and faster than the SSD6 we put in earlier. We got the 750 during Intel's Cyber Monday sale, but they limited us to one. This SSD will hold my games, which should benefit nicely from the increased performance and storage space.

Finally, we finished connecting all those wires. It was hard to get pics of that as it was mostly weaving them around to the appropriate connectors and plugging them in. Then it was time to close the case back up.


There she is, all done!

Moved her into her new home, below my desk and spent two days loading the OS (Ugh, Windows 10) then downloading and installing all my software and games. My Intuos Pro plays nice with the new rig, working as a huge touch pad as well as a magnificent drawing tablet. The gaming monitor (which wasn't featured in this build blog because I'd already set it up) is sweet and also serves as the monitor for my PS4 Pro, which sits just to the left of my second monitor. I can switch between the two machines with just a couple presses of a button.


Here is a short video showing the case lights and fans in action. Pretty!

video

And a closer look at the graphics card bling.
This is why I got a case with a clear side cover.


video


Ooh, it's shiny!

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Great Escape -- by Kinkers

My humans escaped their enclosure today. The four-foot-high fence that surrounds their run is usually sufficient to keep them contained as humans are poor climbers and can barely jump at all. However, a downed tree had compressed a section of the fence, lowering it just enough for them to get over it. I knew right then that I was in for a long, frustrating day.

At first, they stuck close to the fence, no doubt seeking the comfort of familiar surroundings. I was even able to draw them back inside a few times, but since I was unable to repair the fence, they simply climbed back out again. So annoying. Then they began to wander off and my annoyance turned to concern.

You see, these humans are far too tame to survive on their own in the wild. They can't even hunt! I've attempted to teach them to provide for themselves by bringing them injured prey to practice on, but they are so inept they have not yet managed a single kill. If I didn't bring them fresh prey several times a week, I am certain they would starve. But I digress.

Once loose in the woods, the inexperienced humans chose the most difficult path possible through the trees, making enough noise to attract every predator for miles around. Still, they moved surprisingly quickly for such large, cumbersome beasts and soon had distanced themselves far enough from the enclosure that I feared they would not be able to find their way back. (Humans have an extremely poor sense of direction and horrible eyesight.) I followed in their wake, trying to direct them back toward the run, but have you ever actually tried to herd humans? It's impossible!

I called to them continuously, warning them of their impending doom and encouraging them to return home, but they just kept moving deeper and deeper into the woods. Reluctantly, I followed. After all, I've invested almost three years into training this particular pair. I wasn't about to lose all that hard work. I simply had to get them back to safety, somehow.

Thankfully, the terrain eventually grew too steep and rough for them to continue. But did they simply turn around and head back they way they'd come? Of course not! Silly creatures managed to get themselves into the woods yet could not figure out how to get back out. Fortunately, now that they were hopelessly lost, they were finally willing to follow me. I attempted to show them the easiest path back, but humans are stubborn and, I think, not terribly bright. They kept going the wrong way. Often it was necessary to sit at the obviously appropriate spot for several minutes before they would grudgingly give it a try. Still, we gradually made progress though they frequently fell behind, forcing me to wait for them to catch up. 

Finally, the enclosure was in sight. Another tree had taken out the entire corner of the fence. (I really must do something about that.) Anyway, I figured once they were within view of home, they'd manage to make it back easily. I was mistaken. Though I showed them how to run along the log, directly back into the enclosure, they took a much longer, more difficult route through the underbrush. By now I was exhausted from chasing them through the woods all afternoon, so I just settled atop the fallen tree where I could keep an eye on them, trusting they would find their way back inside on their own. Eventually, they did, though it took them several tries to actually reach the opening. 

Finally back inside the safety of the fence, I followed them long enough to make sure they returned to their den without further mishap, then found a quiet place to settle down for a bath and much needed nap. Keeping humans as pets is seriously hard work. They require constant supervision and are always getting into trouble. Lucky for them that they are so darn cute.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Sticky Situation

It never occurred to me, as I headed up to the garden for the morning watering, that I'd be spending a half hour or more trying to remove a snake from a strip of duck tape. Some things you just don't see coming, even when they are totally your fault. But, wait, let me back up a bit.

A little over a week ago, I planted some bean seeds. I do this every year and every year the mice steal and eat about 85% of them, leaving me with maybe 3-4 seedlings, if I'm lucky. So this year, I decided to take some defensive measures to keep the little thieves out of my starter pots. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I converted some of my extra potting trays into covers, knowing they would match up because all the trays were the same size. However, I needed to keep the tiny mice from just crawling through the big gaps, so I attached some metal screening to the bottoms (which would be the tops when inverted). I used duck tape to attach the screen because I've had issues with glue holding to plastic like that. When they were finished, they worked just as I'd envisioned. I was very pleased with my cleverness, which is usually the beginning of my downfall.

A few days later, I notice the duck tape was starting to peel up from the screen. All the humidity from the seed pots, which must be kept constantly moist, was keeping the tape from sticking to the screen. It held fine to the  plastic trays, but there just wasn't enough surface area on the screen material for the tape, sticky as it is, to maintain purchase and it was simply curling away.

After considering the problem for a day or so, I decided that if I put duck tape on both sides of the screen, the tape would stick to itself through the holes in the screen. After all, nothing sticks to duck tape better than more duck tape. Brilliant, eh? Unfortunately, I procrastinated actually implementing the idea. There is so much to do in the garden in spring and the screen was staying in place in spite of the curling tape. It honestly didn't seem like that urgent of a problem ... until this morning.

I stepped into the greenhouse and started watering the seed pots when something odd caught my eye. There was a snake, stretched out along the top of one of the covers, next to the duck tape. Now, snakes in the greenhouse are no big surprise. They love how warm it gets in there and I see them rustling about all the time. But usually they hide when I come in and this one was just laying there, not moving at all. And something about it looked ... off.

It took a moment before my brain caught up with what my eyes were seeing. The snake had snuggled in under that inviting curl ... and gotten stuck to the gluey side of the tape. Almost its entire body was immobilized, including its jaw, which was locked into an open position. I could tell it had been there for awhile, too, because it was starting to look very dry. My heart broke when I realized what I had done to this poor, unsuspecting creature. 

I reached down to pick up the snake and turn it loose, but I couldn't. It was really, really stuck. I was afraid of ripping its skin right off if I pulled any harder. I had no clue how to free it. Then it occurred to me that misting the seeds had caused the tape to curl. Maybe if I misted the tape around the snake, it would come loose. I misted like crazy, but no luck. The snake remained firmly adhered to the tape. 

Next, I decided to try removing the tape, with the poor attached snake, from the tray to see if that would make things any easier. I got lucky and a good portion of the tape decided to tear right along the snake's body, freeing about two-thirds of it. Unfortunately, that left a good six inches of snake, including its head, still seriously stuck.

I carried the critter, who was now extremely unhappy with me, down to the house. I put some water into one of those saucers you place under pots and tried soaking the tape and snake in it, making sure to keep its head above the water. This worked better than the mist and about half of the still-stuck skin slowly released. The snake also seemed to re-hydrate quite a bit, losing its shriveled look. It also got a LOT feistier, writhing and twisting every time I took it out of the water in a desperate attempt to free itself. It took quite a bit of effort to keep the poor thing from getting even more stuck.

Eventually, it became obvious that the water had released as much as it was going to. The time had come for drastic measures. I settled the snake as best I could in a small box, still in the water to keep it from twisting itself up into the tape, and darted into the house for some cotton swaps and rubbing alcohol. I was worried about the harshness of the alcohol on the snake's skin, but I knew if I didn't get the poor thing free it was going to die. By this point, I was running out of options. 

Over the next several minutes I alternated between dabbing the alcohol along the tape next to the snake and then dipping it back in the water to rinse it off when the snake totally flipped out. Slowly, the alcohol weakened the adhesive enough that our mutual efforts eventually freed the critter from the tape. As soon as it was loose, the snake stopped writhing and contorting and simply settled itself into my hand. After a few minutes, it calmly started curling itself around my fingers, soaking up the welcome warmth after being repeatedly dunked in cold water. 

Since the snake was now much calmer, I took a few minutes to examine it. I didn't see any serious injuries, though I'm pretty sure it lost a few scales to its sticky captor. Still, I couldn't find anything that appeared life threatening. I couldn't think of anything else that I could do to help the creature, so I took it back up to the garden and turned it loose in my strawberry bed. It departed carefully and without haste into the grass and under the brambles. Near as I could tell, the snake was fine. I'm pretty sure it will recover without any issues, though it may give the greenhouse a wide birth from now on.

Having done what I could for my hapless victim, I immediately returned to the greenhouse and snagged the covers from the seed trays. I redid all three until there wasn't even a tiny bit of glue exposed. I'm pretty sure they are safe now, but I will check them often and if they even begin to curl up again, I'll remove them completely. A few bean seeds simply aren't worth the risk.

Please, accept my apology, my dear little snake. I honestly did not realize that would happen. Be safe, little one!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Stepping into Spring

 

 Spring has always been a time of new beginnings and growth for me. I never really got the whole "New Year's Resolution" thing. January is mid-winter. I'm still hibernating and putting things to rest then. Not exactly the best time for starting anew, at least not for me.



But, Spring ... ahhh! New sprouts peeking up from the slowly warming earth. Fresh green buds popping out and adding color to the previously barren trees. All that energy that has been building up for months is suddenly released as the world comes to life again. Now, this is a great time for a fresh start!


This past winter has been a little harsh for me. I suffered a few losses that left my heart sore. Moving out of the darkness and into the light has been more difficult than usual, but I need to do it. The time has come to heal and move forward.

 
 

Still, breaking those sedentary habits can be tough. It has taken a little more convincing than usual to get out of the house and into the garden this year. My start has been slow and jerky, but now that I'm going again it feels great! Sometimes, it's just a matter of taking that first step, even if the path is a bit obscured.

 


Given my renewed level of activity and the desperate need to shake off the winter blues, I decided this would be a good time to return my attention to my fitness goals. A few years ago, I began a determined effort to live healthier and improve my overall fitness. Part of that goal involved losing weight, but mostly it was just about feeling better. I did remarkably well for awhile there. But then, somewhere in the recent months, I kind of dropped all that alongside the path. Time has come to pick it back up again. Healthy body promotes a healthy mind and vice versa, right?


 

So, I'm working hard and trying daily. After the initial effort to break out of my inertia, I'm finding the journey pleasant and enjoyable once more. Because, after all, even if life does get a bit messy and chaotic, there is still beauty to be found. You just have to look for it. So, I'm getting out there every single day and looking. I'm often surprised by what I find.



Already, I'm can feel the changes that come from just getting up and moving on a regular basis. I am stronger and I have tons of energy. I'd forgotten that healthy living actually feels good! I'm still a little slow getting going in the morning, but once I do I move through the day with vigor and anticipation now. So much better than just plodding along. 

So, yeah, I'm enjoying spring even more than usual this year. Like the plants and critters I share my world with, I'm growing stronger and feeling better. I'm finally starting to shake off the past winter's heartache and enjoying life again. And, when you come right down to it, isn't that the whole point of being here?


 
I truly hope your spring is as full of growth,  opportunity and sunshiny goodness as mine is promising to be. Remember, life is there, just waiting for you to "spring" back into it. So, go on. Take that first step. Or, better yet, just close your eyes and jump. You won't regret it. 

I do so love this time of year!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Apple Pear Sauce -- Shiny!

Like applesauce, but with pears, too!



I was chatting with my friend, Shiny, on his Twitch channel while making this and he asked for the recipe. So, Shiny, this one is for you. I measured everything out best I could as I went, just as you asked ... even though I never measure anything for this particular dish.

How long it will take:

About 8 1/2 hours from start to finish, but you'll be able to ignore it for most of that time. Only about 30 minutes of actual work at the beginning and then just the occasional stir.

More time will be needed at the end if you want to can it, but that is completely optional. It is perfectly acceptable to just eat it all, though I don't recommend trying it in one sitting.

What you will need:

  • crock pot (I have several. I used my six-quart, self-stirring one for this.)
  • 2 lbs pears
  • 3 lbs tart apples (I used Granny Smiths)
  • 3 lbs sweet apples (I used Gala)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider (optional, apple juice also works and is also optional)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp allspice

If you like your applesauce sweeter, go with more sweet apples. If you like it very tart, go with more tart ones. Keep in mind, there is no sugar to counter the tartness and the pears are a bit tart as well. This ratio gave a nice, moderately tart flavor with gentle pear undertones. If you don't like pears, just leave them out. Or replace them with more apples, sweet and/or tart, to give the same volume. (Sorry, Shiny, but that's about as exact as I can get with this one. Use the amounts listed and you won't be disappointed, I promise.)

If you absolutely MUST add sugar (ugh!), go with brown. Seriously, though, you don't need it.

What you will do:

Peel the pears and apples and cut them into largish chunks.  Smaller chunks work, too, and will cook faster. I like large chunks because it's a LOT of peeling and cutting and it goes faster if I leave the chunks bigger.

I've tried leaving the peels on, but if they are tough they can muck with the texture. Had one batch that the peels never quite dissolved, leaving these little "woody" bits throughout the sauce. Tasted fine, but the bits of peel were kind of nasty. You are welcome to skip peeling if you are feeling brave or lazy or simply like the texture of wood in your applesauce. Me? I take the time to peel now.

Toss all the chunks into the crock pot. I do this as I cut them, so I don't have to dirty up a bowl. If you like to wash bowls, by all means, use one. Or two or three. Knock yourself out.


 

NOTE: This amount of fruit filled my six quart crock pot to the top. If you are using a smaller crock, adjust accordingly. Or snack on the extra pieces while the rest cooks. Either works.




 

Pour the cider in with the pears and apples. I add this because it takes awhile for the fruit to "juice up." You can safely omit it, if you want.

Sprinkle with spices. Stir to mix them in, if you like. Or not. The fruit doesn't care. I stirred mine, after I took the picture though.




Cover and cook on low until everything is soft and mushy, stirring occasionally. (Or use a fancy-shmancy self-stirring crock pot, like I did, and it will stir itself.) The fruit should break down and fall apart until it gets to that familiar, applesaucy consistency. The longer you cook it, the darker it gets and the more intense the flavor becomes. If you cook it long enough, it becomes apple-pear butter, but we aren't going to take it that far today.




After about five hours of cooking, the apples had pretty much disintegrated, but some of the pears were still intact. So I grabbed my trusty pink potato-masher and mashed away.





There, that's better!









It's still not as thick as I'd like it though, so I turned the lid sideways to allow some of the moisture to escape. (I think the stirring mechanism will still work like this, but if the lid goes skittering across the kitchen, we'll know I was wrong. Pretty sure the manufacturer advises against this!)

I'll give it another hour or three to thicken up.



After 8 hours, you can see that it's reduced by about half (from the original, full crock). It's a lot thicker now and the sugars have had a chance to caramelize, giving it a rich, brown color. It's hit the point where every bite is an explosion of apples, pears and spices. That means it's ready.




Serve warm, all by itself -- or topped with whipped cream -- or over vanilla ice cream. All are good, trust me.


If you make a lot, like I did, the extra can be canned for later use. (For more info on canning, check out Ball's Fresh Preserving site.) You should also be able freeze it, I would think, though I've never tried. Or just stick it in the refrigerator and eat it all over the next few days. There is no sugar in it, so no guilt. Unless, of course, you put it over ice cream. In which case, you've earned it, right? So, still no guilt.