More sun, more blooms

Saturday, 3 April 2010 12:27 by salim

First of my last years bulbs started flowering. Here is the pictures from yesterday and today. Yes I know they are short lived, but, that is the wonderment.

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Spring – Continues..

Tuesday, 23 March 2010 01:23 by salim

They are blooming.

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Spring: We are almost there…

Tuesday, 16 March 2010 10:30 by salim

My Tulips just showed their heads out. Last weekend’s rain and warmer weather must have signaled them to come out. I have put over 50 of them. Looks like most of them are coming out. The extended snow cover has made the soil perfect for an early spring, provided we are not getting a freezing before April.

Here are the first pictures.

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Second snow storm 2-10

Friday, 26 February 2010 02:47 by salim

These were posted to SkyDrive for a while. Now that we have the next storm in full swing, I thought it is a good time to share.

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Snow Storm 2/5-2/6

Sunday, 14 February 2010 13:04 by salim

This is the first of the record breaking snow storm.

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The snow fall…

Monday, 25 January 2010 21:14 by salim

Philadelphia does not have a lot of big snow falls. So, this was a rare one. The big December snow storm. I was lazy to put up the pictures. I think Shobha ( beat me to it. Oh well!


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I missed playing with manure…

Sunday, 9 August 2009 10:57 by salim

Yes, yes, I know. A lot of people consider manure as yucky and playing with it is gross. But growing up in Kerala, cow manure was a constant presence in many shapes and forms around me.

We had cows, so obviously that account for a lot of dung. My father used to do most of the things, but quite often we, the kids get to clean the pasture or take the cowdung and put it in its tank. A tank filled with juicy grubs… I should tell it to survivor man. There was an episode where he practically lived off of grubs from some trees.

So, when my vegetable garden started growing quite fast, thanks to all the rain, I was in a way excited to put my hands on some manure.

So, yesterday, we bought two bags of manure. I made these small dams (we call it Thatam. I really don’t know the actual English word for it.) around the plants. Earlier, without the dams we were missing quite a lot of water. Shobha made it for some of the plants, but they were too shallow to accommodate the manure. It was bit of a back breaker as I could use only a small hand shovel, so as not to damage the plants.

I was a bit disappointed to see that the manure I bought was not just cow dung, but contains many other things like chicken poop (not something I am unfamiliar with), peat moss etc. So, my calculation could be wrong. I may have to go back and get more of these or see if any of the nearby farms sell their dried manure.

Yesterday night’s rain had perfect timing. I hope it did not cause too much of the manure to leach away. Can’t wait to see the first long beans.

Cardinals in the secret garden

Saturday, 25 July 2009 11:53 by salim

There is a cardinal family living in my secret garden. They are the most tricky, elusive birds. Absolutely beautiful as well.

Every time I see them, I run to get my camera. It is almost like they have an instinctual distaste to be photographed. The moment I aim my camera at them, they fly away.

Today morning, which by the way is very gorgeous, I was standing in my porch beaming at the new cherry tomatoes that are coming out. And there they were. Both of them, very carefree, pecking around the plants. This was the first time I was able to see them at this close distance.

The male has one ruffled feather, may be he just had a fight. The female was quite content, just pecking without looking around. He did turn his head towards me and alerted his mate. But after some thought they decided to stay.

I resisted my urge to run back and get my camera. This time, I just watched them. They look even more bright and colorful under the deep blue sky, bright sunny day. Yesterday’s rain have left the leaves gleaming. I love this, and I can keep this image in my mind, without the need for a photo.

I am going to continue to try to get them in my camera. One of these days, I will, and I will share it. Until then, if you can read mind, come in my REM sleep today and replay it :-)

Invasion of Crows

Tuesday, 21 July 2009 23:55 by salim

It was a quite cloudy day. Low clouds always give me headache. Sinus problems. Yes, yes, I know, I should stop smoking.

So, in the morning, I was lying in my favorite couch sipping my tea. Suddenly I hear crows.

Crows are a constant presence back home in Kerala. Some of my best memories involve distant crowing in the afternoon. Have you ever listened to the lonely crow? Especially in a hot afternoon. It is kind of magical. But, it is downright creepy when you hear a crow at night.

Anyways, I walked outside and saw a whole bunch of crows at the top branches of the oak. I think I have seen one or two crows around, but never in this many numbers. They must have found something.

In Kerala, one kind of crows are believed to bear the souls departed ones. In the anniversary of death, we call the crows to come and eat cooked sun-dried rice. Take a dip in the pond over there, climb up without drying, clap your wet hands, and there the crows (Bali Kakka – Sacrificial Crow, no we don’t kill them. Rice is the offering to the crows).

It was weird to hear that many crows in Philadelphia. They are much bigger than back home as well. May be they are planning a Hitchcockian invasion!

My Vista does everything wrong... they want me to go back to XP...

Monday, 15 October 2007 00:31 by salim

This is what Madam X (her own impersonation, I suggested Mrs.X) told us about what her computer tech told her.

Madam X is an artist, who has been using Windows XP for a while, and wanted to buy a new computer powerful enough to do serious graphic works. Mac was an option, but since both me and Shobha (my wife) are more familiar with Windows we suggested Vista. She went out and bought this pretty powerful Quad Core HP desktop with 3GB RAM and 1TB Hard Drive. Pretty impressive machine.

After a very brief honeymoon period, she started complaining about mysterious things happening. Sometimes, her computer did not allow her to open attachments of emails that she used to view without any trouble in XP. There was this mysterious problem of font settings never sticking in MS Word. There was other issues with creating labels, printing to her HP Laserjet, annoying popups, bizarre copy paste issues, etc. etc...

She had been complaining about this for a while, we first thought that it is just some teething troubles everybody feels when start using a totally new OS. However, her problems persisted and seemed to become worse by the day.

She had a regular computer tech who used to help her when she had issues before was reluctant to help her quoting his unfamiliarity with Vista. (A decent position I would say.. read on). So she called up the original seller Microcenter and complained about the issues. They told her to bring the machine in to see what can be done.

[The following is a paraphrasing, as we were not with her at Microcenter.]

She was first served by a technician who first did not believe her. He said that the problems are because she didn't know how to use Vista. However, once she started showing him the issues, he agreed. So the manager came in and did a higher level diagnostics. Again, after seeing the problems he was baffled as well. So he started telling her all the issues with Vista. He said that Vista is full of bugs and it will only be fixed when service pack I comes out. It is also possible, he said, that she might have gotten a particularly buggy version of Vista. (You know, like a lemon car). His recommendation was that she should consider going back to XP. Vista might not be the best OS for her, of course she will have to pay to put XP back in this machine. (This desktop is factory installed with Vista).

When Madam X emailed us that evening detailing her visit to Microcenter, we were a bit baffled as well. My wife started using Vista early this year. I had been testing Vista in a few virtual images and recently in my laptop. None of the issues she had been seeing were even remotely familiar to us. In both our cases Vista had been working rather smoothly, except for a Bluetooth driver issue in my machine and some early NVidia driver issues with Shobha's which had been since rectified. We invited Madam X and her computer for a lunch.

First problem, the computer has only DVI and we do not have any DVI monitors. (Yes I know, how sad...). Nor did we have an adapter. After some deliberations, I went out (reluctantly, come on it is a Sunday morning), first to a radioshack as I saw the thing in their website, and then to Staples. I came back and hooked up to our monitor, it booted fine.

The first thing I noticed was the number of things that popped up immediately on startup. There was this HP problem solver (or answer wizard or something) on top of the screen, which Madam X said did not answer any of her questions. Then there was this weird warning from some SuperSpy or something else Spyware program. Then there was a flashing screen of Symantec. Ok, first action - cleanup.

So I went to the startup programs and found some very interesting things there. First one ofcourse the SuperSpy thingie, which her Computer Tech installed promising absolute protection. Then there was an HP Toner Order Reminder (Sic), the answer wizard of course, and a couple of other quasi adware programs. We unselected all and restarted. Better, we can see the desktop now.

First Problem - Word does not obey default font settings

She uses MS Word 2003 for all her documents She does not like Times new roman (neither do I) and wanted all her documents to be Ariel. In her XP machine, she could create any new document and it always opened with Ariel. In Vista, she tried to change the font, but every time she opened a new document, the font went back to Times New roman. By the way this was the clinching issue for the Microcenter guy. (He called it totally bizzare and unexplainable)

Remedy, modify your default template ( She must have done this when she first started using Word in her XP machine. But time is such a funny phenomenon that filters out only the crucial part of our experiences!!! So I started looking for Strangely enough it did not come up in my search, so Shobha started looking for it and within a second told me to look in Users/MadamX/Appdata/Roaming/Microsoft/Templates. Of course, there it was. So I opened it, changed the normal tag from Times new roman to Ariel, saved it back. We created several new documents and made sure that it is always Ariel. So, the first baffling bug in Vista is resolved.

While this was not too hard to find out for me and Shobha, there were a few things that were not very intuitive in these operations. For example, I would think that word should be smart enough to recognize the user behavior of changing the normal font to Ariel every time a new document is created. Second, I was unable to find a way to save the default template changes back. I am certain that i was able to do this without much effort earlier. Finding it in a hidden folder is not the easiest of things.

Second Problem - E-mail attachments that used to open are now cannot be opened.

One of her mailing groups used to send news letters that had extension of the month number to it. These were word documents, but, may be because it was saved from Mac did not have an MS word registered extension. So, when she tried to open this file, as usual the dialog came up warning her about the danger of opening this unrecognized file (with a lot of binary data ofcourse). When she said to go ahead, it showed the second dialog asking her to select a program to open it or look in the net to find a program. She selected to pick one from the list.. Boom, a dialog with a lot of red comes up telling her that windows cannot open this dangerous file.

Ok, this is frustrating. If Windows Mail knew about this file being a suspicious one and prevent her from opening it at the end, why did even go through the other two steps!!! Anyway, we told her that when she gets these kinds of files, that does not have a word icon to it, save it to the local folder and then open it from there. And this is not a good advice. The protection one gets from within Windows Mail against malicious files is not available from the explorer. But in this case, the sender is a trusted source. Once it is saved, one can follow the traditional way of picking a program to open the file, which in this case is MS Word. Once again, a bit un-intuitive that it first gave the user an impression that this process can eventually succeeded, eventhough Widows Mail could figure out that it is not the case. The messages were a bit too cryptic as well.

Third Problem - When a new mergemail document is created and gave the address in the first dialog box, print it does not do anything...

She showed me this, and yes, it does not (apparently) do anything. We repeated the step a couple of times, until we found out that if we want to see the new document, we need to press the New Document button after entering the data. Well, this time, it is equally a user error. The UI could give more information about the possibilities, but the help was very comprehensive. So I cant put the blame on Microsoft.

Fourth Problem - After creating a new label document, you cannot copy selected text. When you do a highlight, right click copy and paste operation, data previously copied was getting pasted. Whatever she does, the it never copies the intended text. In this case, we actually found that she was right clicking outside the selection, which in turn was unselecting the already selected text. Interestingly enough the Copy menu was still enabled. However, when you move to the next cell and right click paste, nothing happened. (We did not have a previous Clipboard content).

Shobha took over from me and gave a thorough lesson in copying and pasting and various tricks and tips. Thus that problem solved.

There remained other mysterious problems about backup (the desktop shortcut of backup turned out to be an XCopy batch file) and something else.

We finished the session by removing several programs including the SuperSpy ware and toner reminder (can you be more blatant!!!) and some other unused programs, set up windows backup to her removable hard drive etc.

Well, everything is fine for about 12 hours now. I am sure she will find other unfamiliar areas as she explore more and more. I am also sure that she is going to teach a thing or two to the expert who tells her that it is all because Vista is buggy, and she needs to go back to XP.

We, on our part, once again will be rewarded in hell for helping the Evil Microsoft Empire!!!!!

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