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Yesterday after work, I drove to Congaree Park with my mom. From the status updates posted by the park, the peak firefly activity might have already been over. But even if so, I thought it would still be neat to be in a wilderness area after nightfall. Most other parks around here close at dusk. The forecast was for clear skies, so maybe there would also be a nice starry sky - here in town there is too much ambient light to see more than the brightest ones.

I looked up directions on how to drive there. I found that the Google Maps app has an option for downloading a zoomable map of a selected area. You can download maps of where you are planning to go using WiFi, and later on use them to navigate with GPS, without using any cellular data.

But my car also has a built-in navigator. So once I reached the outskirts of town, I turned it on and entered the address. I just wanted to be sure that I didn't miss the turn-off way down on Bluff Road. The expected route displayed on the screen, but once I started driving, it told me to turn right when I was certain that I should turn left. I stopped to verify on Google Maps that my memory was correct. Then I turned left and drove on. It started nagging "Turn left... recalculating", "Turn left ... recalculating", "Make a U-turn!" and so on and so on. I have no idea where it was trying to take me to. I wanted to turn it off, but neither my mom nor I could figure out how. Finally, after parking the car again and pressing a bunch of things on the screen, I turned it off.

The park's website had said that only flashlights with red filters or covers should be used, to avoid disturbing the fireflies. I happened to have a flashlight, plus a small BugLit flashlight, plus a headlamp, all with red LEDs. As my mom was coming too, I also brought 2 other flashlights, with red/pink cellophane covering the lights. But they weren't necessary. I only needed a flashlight on the way out. My mom only used the BugLit. The ones with the cellophane covers were still really way too bright anyway.

The parking lot was full already at the park, so I parked behind another car on the side of the road. It was already dusk. On the boardwalk, we walked past a lot of other people. We finally stopped at what seemed a good spot. (Beset by thoughts of "Maybe there are more fireflies further down. Or maybe there are fewer. Maybe that would only take us closer to that crying baby.") There were a lot of people noises. In the beginning, people were also constantly walking past behind us in both directions. Later on, much of that subsided and it was more peaceful. Surely there are places in the park where one could see fireflies too, without the crowds of people. But you'd need to be familiar with the park to know where to go.

There were a lot of fireflies, but not as many as I had hopefully envisioned. The peak activity must already be past. I didn't notice much synchronicity going on, although there were moments when a small group of them would flash at nearly the same time, and then go dark, and then do that again a few times. But there were also other fireflies around them doing their own thing, so it wasn't very obvious. The status posted by the park today said "Fireflies were again active last night (Friday, May 26). Visitors reported that separate groups of fireflies were synchronized (as opposed to all of them being synchronized together)." Maybe it was more obvious in other spots, than where we were standing.

When I see fireflies in my yard, the color of their flash is bright yellow. But the flash of the ones in the park was more white, like moonlight. (Maybe that was only because they were further away - the ones that were closer did have more color). But that white light made them look like twinkling stars in amongst the trees. Very magical. Twinkling moving stars. The kind of thing which might make you believe in fairies. In the moments when people were being quiet, you could hear the nighttime insect noises all around. There were occasional owl (I assume) calls. (Not hoot-hoot sounds. Though now checking YouTube for owl calls, it didn't sound like those, so maybe they weren't owls after all.)

We stayed after most other people had left. It was nicer then, without all the distractions, even though the twinkling fireflies seemed fainter by then, more misty and dreamlike. As we were on the way out, a few other people arrived. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the crowds too.

Other than the fireflies and the flashlights of people walking by, at ground-level it was quite dark. But looking up, you could see the sky a lighter blue between the dark outlines of trees. Even when we left, around 11pm, the sky still was that color. Not pitch black pierced by white stars, as I'd expect. Although the stars themselves were plentiful and beautiful. Does the night sky never really get black, even in the countryside? The moon was almost new, so the light wasn't from it. Maybe it was still ambient light from town; the park is only about half an hour away. Or do the stars always make the night sky seem a lighter color?

On the way out, I stopped at another small parking lot to get a better view of the sky. It was beautiful. I wasn't able to see the milky way (would it be overhead? I don't even know where to look). I think there was a pond nearby, but it was too dark to tell. There were some weird animal noises coming from the other side. I have no idea what it was. My mom guessed it might be a male deer. Maybe, based on this - the sound was sort of like that, though it's hard to remember now.

never see the same

Thursday, May 18th, 2017 09:43 am
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Now when I see dandelions, I think to myself "Aha! That one has pointy leaves, not round, and they are sticking up, not close to the ground. That is a true dandelion." Or "That's not a true dandelion, it's cat's claw... err, no, cat's ear" (almost every time, "cat's claw" comes to mind first, even though I'm not familiar with it... per a search, it looks similar to yellow jessamine).

The yellow flowers themselves look identical to me on both kinds of dandelions, though this one below didn't have a ball of unopened petals in the middle. Its petals were all open.

It's like when as a kid, I learned the difference between white oak which has the round/curve-edged leaves versus black oak which has the pointy-edged leaves, not to mention, blackjack oak.

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I've decided which phone to buy. The Moto G4 Play has pretty good specs (it has 2GB RAM, not 1/2 GB as I originally thought), for a good price.

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This is the most chewed-on tree trunk by the pond.



These are Catalpa tree blossoms. The photo is from 2015, but the tree has blossoms this year too. The blossoms are about the size of big popcorn, and don't have much scent. But a clump of honeysuckle is also growing by the tree, the lovely sweet scent of which has fooled me a few times.



I found this growing in the ground in Qiao's yard. At first glance they look like fallen red blossoms, but what is that black tarry gunk on them? It's one of the strangest looking things. Per the internet, they are called starfish fungus. I saw one by the pond at work too, an odd coincidence, as I don't ever remember seeing these before. But then again, maybe I did and simply thought they were fallen blossoms.





While walking along, do you ever have a sudden amusing thought that makes you break out in a big grin?
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I ate 3 dandelion/cat's ear flowers today. They were not sweet. They tasted pretty similar to the green leaves, slightly bitter. The leaves were hairy, but not as unpleasant as chewing on under-ripe peach peel. I could probably eat a plate of it if I had to.

[Edited to add, 2017/05/13: I ate 4 more of the flowers today, after even more carefully peeling off the green parts than last time. They still don't taste sweet, nor particularly good. They taste a little like raw celery but without the crunch. Ie., not bad, but not special either. I wonder if "true" dandelions have any different flavor to them.]

A reminder that there are a lot of mis-facts on the web...
Nutritional Information on Dandelion Root : The image at the top of the page is neither dandelion nor false dandelion. It looks like coltsfoot.

Cat’s Ear: Backyard ‘Weed’ With Super-Antioxidant Properties : This page says: One identifying characteristic of cat’s ear is its leaves; they are sharply toothed and more asymmetrical than the leaves of dandelion. But that is not true. Cat's ear leaves are more rounded than regular dandelion.

I'm sort of amazed at the details I got in some of these photos. When looking at the flowers in the yard, they all pretty much look like the 5th one below. In the sunshine, the clump of unopened petals in the center of some of them aren't very noticeable.















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The little fig tree leafs are growing (bigger). There are a bunch of little figs growing too. The car is already getting lightly covered in pollen. This evening we had some wind and a small refreshing rainstorm. It was too warm inside, so I opened a few windows to get some of the breeze. Tomorrow it will be cooler, a high of 65. (Last week or somewhen, when the forecast was also for 65, I thought *eek* that will be cool, and then reminded myself that normally 65 in February would be nice and temperate.)

Feb 2017 weather history, Columbia SC
(click to enlarge)
(from https://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KCAE/2017/2/1/MonthlyCalendar.html)

Now that it is March, maybe I will stop feeling so disconcerted about the weather. In my experience, we could have cold weather and sporadic snow and ice up through the very end of February here. But March has always sounded like Spring.

Photos under cut... )

770 feet

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 11:18 pm
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The Oroville Dam, 17 years ago. It didn't look very impressive to me. I had no idea it was the tallest dam in the United States. I mean, come on, it looks like a grassy hill, doesn't it?



View of Oroville Dam from top

View of Oroville Dam from top
...

Spring of February

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 04:43 pm
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It is such a gorgeous warm sunny day today. This whole so-called winter has been relatively warm. Other than a few cold nights and cool days, it hasn't even felt like winter.

The pink magnolia tree started blooming this week. The blooms don't usually last more than a week or two. Based on photos, in prior years it bloomed in early to late March. So this year is a full month earlier than usual, unless the years in which I didn't take photos had earlier blooms too.





The fragrant yellow jessamine on the fence is also already blooming.

There is a bush at Qiao's house, which I've been curious to know what kind of plant it is. It has thin stalks, some with reddish blossoms and some with white (unless the white ones are a different kind of bush). It started blooming right at the beginning of February, even before the pink magnolia. In the summer, it gets roundish green fruit that look like plum-sized small apples. They are surprising to see, because the thin stalks don't seem like they could support such relatively big fruit, yet they do. The fruit smells and tastes like bitter apples (too bitter to eat). So it's probably some apple variant. It doesn't look like what Google Images shows for crab-apples, though.

After doing some searches, my best guess is that it is a shrub quince, even though the fruit is green rather than yellow, and more apple-shaped than quince-shaped.



More photos... )
darkoshi: (Default)
I bought this adjustable shelf to try out as a standing desk setup. It's wide enough for both the keyboard and mouse, and deep enough that I can rest my forearms on it.



At home, my laptop is on an adjustable mount that can be lifted and lowered, so that is how I raise and lower the display. At work, I have 2 monitors, one on the desk for use while sitting, and one on a higher shelf for use while standing (to switch between them, it only requires an alt-ctl-fn key press).

The above is okay in terms of comfort. (Having my skin touch cool metal is unpleasant, so I cover the metal with cloth as in the above photo). But to switch from standing to sitting, I need to re-position the keyboard and mouse from the shelf back to the desk, and move the shelf away. The shelf, while light, is big and awkward to move around. So switching between standing and sitting isn't a very simple matter. (Though, if the keyboard were wireless rather than corded, that would help somewhat.)

I found the below setup to be more convenient.




I use a box (or a stack of books) to raise up my mouse & mousepad. I've found that using the mouse is most comfortable when my forearm is horizontal like that, not angled up or down.
I put a wedge (about 2" high) under the keyboard (or stick something else under the front edge so that it is higher than the back edge). Typing is fairly comfortable to me in that position, even though my palms & wrists don't rest on anything. Without the wedge, I would have to bend my wrists a lot, which quickly becomes very uncomfortable.

To switch from sitting to standing, I just need to move over my box, put the mouse & mousepad on it, and slip the wedge under the keyboard. It's much simpler than the shelf.

Hurricane Matthew

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 03:00 am
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Didn't do much damage in my area, as far inland as we are. Our power flickered and went out for a couple hours during the night (as noted by the electric fans and telephone light turning off and on), but was back on by morning. The recycling bin outside was knocked over, and some rain leaked in under the garage door but didn't go very far in. Those grooves I cut in the concrete have been working very well.

I haven't yet heard from my sister though, who was in Charleston. Unless she evacuated after all. I hope she's ok.
[Update: got a text from her, she is ok.]

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This flying insect was gathering nectar from the lantana flowers in the evening, last week. It was flitting too quickly for me to get a clear shot of it. It looked unusual due to its thick torso. From doing an image search, it may be some type of hawk moth?

insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
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cupboard contents

A while back I bought a can of Cuitlacoche, also called "corn mushroom" or less flatteringly, "corn smut". It is considered a delicacy in Mexico, and was expensive - at least $4 or $5 for a small can. I don't recall ever having had it before, and suspected I might not like it, as in general, I don't even like mushrooms. But it being vegan, I figured I should at least try it.

It sat unopened in my cupboard a long time, as it being such a small can, it didn't seem worth the trouble of getting out my saute pan and cooking it.

Remember my trip to Kroger Marketplace, when I found the 89 cent bottle of date/orange/flaxseed/chili spread? (which by the way, makes a chili-bean-like tasting sandwich.) I went back to the same store a couple days later to get a shelf for supporting my keyboard when working standing up. I didn't end up getting the shelf, as it wasn't quite the right size. But this time, the special discount section had a bunch of Cuitlacoche cans, for only 39 cents each! I still didn't know if I'll even like the taste (especially after reading this review), but at least now I could buy enough for a whole panful, to make it seem worth the effort of cooking it.

I also got some other greatly discounted items - vegetarian taco filling, vegetable couscous sauce, and even some switchel drinks. Oh, and even a box of cinnamon raisin Matzo granola.

Man, that place is like a candy store.

Update - 2016/10/09:
I sauteed the cuitlacoche with onion and garlic in peanut oil, and ate it with cornbread and vegan smoked gouda cheese. The cuitlacoche actually tastes all right to me. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's not at all mushroom-like. It reminds me of some food I've had before, but I can't think what.

the bird is still there

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 12:54 am
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Oh, and today I saw a hot-pink colored caterpillar. I didn't think of taking a photo of it.

photos

Sunday, March 6th, 2016 10:49 pm
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I made a batch of "Pistachio and Rosewater Cupcakes" (sans frosting) today, but forgot to add in the pistachios. They taste great anyway.

Pink magnolias abloom:



Me back in January, suited up for using the angle grinder:


A sunrise last month:



Doglets:

dirt ducts snakes

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016 11:30 pm
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Last weekend I mucked about in 2 crawlspaces.

At the new house, one of the ducts had been loose and leaking out hot air (hopefully the reason for the high gas usage last month). An HVAC technician fixed it, but I wanted to look around to make sure there was nothing else obviously wrong-looking down there, and to get photos of everything.

I explored a part of the crawlspace with my high-intensity flashlight, headlamp, and camera. But a big low-hanging duct blocked my way to the other half of the crawlspace.

I wondered how the HVAC guy had managed it. Surely if a small person like me couldn't get through, even slithering on my belly... I suddenly wondered if there was another entrance into the crawlspace. There were no other entrances around the outside of the house. But in the garage closet, I found an access hatch. Bingo! Qiao knew about it, but I hadn't thought of asking him before-hand.

So I went in that way, found the duct that the HVAC guy had repaired, and took a bunch more photos.






Then my mom told me that she had been in her crawlspace unsuccessfully trying to find out where one replaces the filters. Since I was full of dirt from the other crawlspace anyway, I offered to take a look. The headroom in her crawlspace is somewhat better than at the other house. It turns out her system has an electronic air filter which has been turned off since she got the house. I'll have to go back to check what is inside the unit; when I was down there, I didn't realize that the front panel can be pulled off. It's possible the original cells may have been removed and replaced with a disposable filter - that may be why the switch was turned off.

There was a surprise in my mom's crawlspace: a long long long snake skin winding around the HVAC system. A snake must have shed its skin. Or maybe multiple snakes. Or maybe one snake multiple times. It was so long that I hope it wasn't a single shedding from a single snake.

Now I know to watch out for snakes when crawling around in crawlspaces.



jackfruit

Friday, January 22nd, 2016 12:00 am
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This is a jackfruit cross-section.



The yellow parts are the fruit that one eats - though the white seeds can also be cooked and eaten.

The photo is from November; it was the first time I'd seen fresh jackfruit for sale, so I bought it to try. The taste didn't appeal to me, but it might not have been fresh enough. There were lots of brown spots on the fruit already (which aren't very visible in the photo). A long time ago, I had dried jackfruit, which tasted quite good.

Unripe jackfruit can also be cooked and eaten. For dinner tonight, I sauteed Upton's Chili Lime Carnitas Jackfruit. As the package was rather small, I added a can of garbanzo beans and some left-over whole wheat rotini pasta. It was quite yummy.

angle grinder

Monday, December 28th, 2015 09:02 pm
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2 guys came by in November to check on the house repairs I needed done. They were supposed to get back in touch with me, but I haven't heard from them since. I never heard back from the guy I had used before, who had come by a month earlier, either. So the gutter still hasn't been fixed.

But they did give me another idea of how to deal with rain getting in under the garage door. I had considered putting in a "garage door threshold seal", but that would make it harder to sweep dirt out of the garage. They noted that the water was probably puddling against the door and then seeping under it. Even though the garage is on a rise, the concrete right at the bottom of the door isn't sloped enough. In the past, Qiao had wanted to grind the concrete down some, but at the time we didn't really have the right tools for it. These guys suggested cutting some grooves in the concrete to allow the water to drain away.

So I did some reading. An angle grinder can be used for cutting grooves in concrete, as well as for grinding concrete. But the tool sounds rather dangerous. I decided to first try using an old screwdriver, chisel, and mallet to cut out some grooves. I was surprised at how soft the cement part of the concrete is - moist from recent rains, it could be scratched away with the screwdriver, without even needing the mallet. But the granite chips in the concrete are much harder and difficult to gouge away. They do make lovely sparks though! Yee-ha!

I decided to go ahead and buy an angle grinder to speed up the process. I bought a flat turbo diamond blade for cutting grooves, and also a diamond turbo cup wheel for grinding some of the concrete down to increase the slope.

I'd never used an angle grinder before, and the instructions that came with this one were somewhat lacking. I did some more reading to make sure that I was attaching the blade correctly. More horror stories about angle grinder accidents momentarily made me wish I hadn't bought it. But at least the kind of blades I got are supposed to be the less dangerous ones.

Today I got up my courage, along with my safety goggles, dust mask, denim clothes and work gloves, and tested the angle grinder with the flat blade. It really does cut through the concrete easily, including the granite.




I was going to test the cup wheel today too, but that one says to use a full face mask over the safety goggles. I don't have a full face mask, and I'm not going to ignore the safety warnings. So back to the store I'll go. In retrospect, my brother's motorcycle helmets which I just gave away, might have come in handy.