Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Cybercrime Revisited (Verbrechen und Bestrafung)

I periodically look at the stats from this blog to see who's reading it and from where. I can make a reasonable guess based on the location data that gets logged as to which friends and acquaintances periodically look in (you know who you are—remember, I'm watching you). But most of the people reading it are clearly people with no connection of any kind to me personally, and who are just being directed to this posting or that through Google searches on some topic that coincidentally happens to have shown up in this blog at some point.

I'm sort of amazed at the number of readers who end up at the brief post I titled "The Monkey Clock Conundrum" back in December because they are searching for terms like "no one would ever shave a clock onto a monkey". It just seems sort of strange that anyone would be searching for that half a year after the cartoon in question appeared in The New Yorker, but it comes up surprisingly often.

But far and away the most popular post I've ever published is the one I called "Cybercrime and Punishment". Long-time readers (both of you) may recall that it was about a peculiar spam email I once received. Well, I guess the same people continue to send out wave after wave of that message, or maybe variations on it, because about once every six weeks I will get bunches and bunches of hits on this one posting from people who have Googled some search term related to it.

But now this story takes another strange twist. When I checked my email today, I found that I had a new spam message—in German, of all things—that nonetheless looked strangely familiar with respect to content and style:

Wirklich toll:

Vor kurzem fand ich eine sehr gute Seite, ist es verkaufen Handy, Computer, TV, GPS, MP3-und Motorrad und so weiter. meisten Artikel sind zu Großhandelspreisen verkauft, werden Sie viele tolle Schnäppchen finden Sie hier. Und sie haben eine Verkaufsförderung von nun an, mehr kaufen, mehr sparen und weitere. Ich denke, es ist ein guter Ort für Sie geeignet. Registriere Login Check it out!

Das Firmengelände ist: :

w w w/p o L o a a/c o m 

r arms are free to treat their own woman.

This is beyond weird. It's not enough that I got the fractured English version; for some reason I am now getting it in impenetrable German (sprinkled with some random English) as well. My attempt to translate for my non-German-speaking readers, while trying to retain the gist of the mesage and to approximate its peculiar grammar, is as follows:

Really cool:

Recently I found a very good page, it is sold cell phone, computer, TV, GPS, MP3-and motorcycle and so forth. most articles are sold at wholesale price, are going you to find many good bargains here. And you have a sales promotion from now on, more buying, more saving and other. I think it is a good location for you suitable. Register Login Check it out!

The company campus is: :
w w w/p o L o a a/c o m 
r arms are free to treat their own woman.

I guess that I am at least recognized as a Man of the World by these spammers since they have chosen to approach me in multiple languages. I am certainly flattered. Of course, in either language the same element of incomprehensibility remains. That last "sentence" ("r arms are free…") just baffles me. And once again there's a URL sent in a non-standard format that I can't click on; I'll guess that maybe this was done to try to get around spam filters. But when I type it into my browser in proper URL format, I get redirected to the same bogus-looking site as discussed in my previous posting.

I can't wait to see what version I will receive next. I'm hoping for Esperanto.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Crop Is In

So, Memorial Day weekend is winding down, and with it my spring planting extravaganza.

From Saturday until today I've been out digging up beds and working compost into them, transplanting the various things I started around the end of March and sowing the various items that get planted as seed directly. I'm tired now.

Off to a Good Start

View from the Garden Gate
I did take some time out on Saturday to watch my daughter run a couple of events at the state track meet, for which her high school team had qualified in various events. La Principessa is an avid runner and has the good fortune to be on a high school team which is one of the better ones in Massachusetts. As a result she ends up running not only in the regular season events, but often enough in the state-level meets as well.

LP takes after her father in a lot of ways, but an urge to run around a track is not one of them. I went to high school in a small town in the North Valley in California. When we came back to school each year in late August or early September (I forget which, exactly) the daytime temperatures were still usually in the upper nineties or sometimes even the lower hundreds. And what was the first unit we did each year in PE? Track. So there we'd be, running in circles in the heat on this dusty dirt track, and I found it utterly unfathomable that anyone would want to do that voluntarily. That's still the association that I have with running in general. I prefer to walk, thank you.

But I digress… At any rate, after days of toil I'm glad to say that everything is planted. Now it's a matter of watering, weeding and waiting. And trying to foil the plans of wildlife of all sizes. My arch-nemesis for now is the flea beetle, a little black beetle about the size of a pinhead that likes to eat little holes in the leaves of my eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, so many that it can stress the plant to the point that it withers and dies. I can see that my jalapeños have also been getting munched on by what I suspect to be Japanese beetles. For both I've sprayed rotenone-pyrethrin spray, which is supposed to be an organic compound approved for organic gardening.

Bigger things I have to watch out for are squirrels and robins. You wouldn't normally think of either one as a typical garden pest, but they cause me some headaches. The squirrels are a problem because they see from the disturbed soil that someone or something has been digging in the soil, so they start digging indiscriminately in search of whatever hidden treasure might be buried there and in the process make a mess of things. The robins are a nuisance because they go hopping through the beds in search of worms and in the process may break off bits of the leaves and stems of cabbage or broccoli seedlings, which at this stage can still be a little brittle. The defense against both is to protect whatever we've planted by surrounding it with a little wall of sticks that we've stuck into the ground. It looks sort of weird but so far it's generally worked.

Gonna Grow Me Some Sticks
So now I look forward to following the progress of my little farm from now until harvest time, and of course enjoying the fruits (or vegetables) of my labors. I'll be sure to bore you, dear reader, with regular updates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gentleman Farmer

Memorial Day is coming up fast. Here in eastern Mass, that means planting day is just around the corner. You don't want to put your seedlings out until the danger of frost is definitely past, and here that's not until the end of May. I've occasionally seen snow here in mid-April, fer crissakes. But even before the seedlings go out, there's plenty to do.

There are lots of signs that spring is finally on its way. The first harbinger of warmer days ahead: Slime mold!

What's that I spy?
Every fall I rake up a ton of leaves, run over them with the lawnmower and then dump them in a little pen for storage so that when lawn-mowing time comes I can mix the clippings with the chopped up leaves for a fine (and truly delicious) compost. At some point every April, when the pile of leaves is still wet from rain but the weather has gotten up into the 40's and 50's for a day or two, a small patch of pale yellow goop will appear on the leaves and rapidly grow for about three days, then dry out and die off as suddenly as it appeared. I'm pretty sure that what I'm seeing is slime mold. To be more precise, I believe that what is inhabiting my leaf pile is Fuligo septica, the Dog Vomit Slime Mold.

Why, it's my old friend Dog Vomit!
Slime mold is fascinating stuff. It isn't really mold or any kind of fungus, apparently. Although it reproduces like a fungus by producing fruiting bodies that send out spores, it's really sort of like a giant amoeba that just cruises around looking for something to eat, and then surrounds and ingests whatever tasty morsel it happens upon. Apparently a lot of people are afraid of slime mold. I can see why. Look out! Here come Dog Vomit! Maybe we can outrun it!

A lot of wildlife starts showing up about the same time. Most notably, the turkeys will appear. For a few years we had quite a few that would go parading through our yard a couple of times a day. More recently there have been a number of coyotes showing up, and since then we've seen far fewer turkeys each year. The interesting thing is that this is all happening around eight miles from downtown Boston.

The turkeys are kind of amusing. The males put on quite a show on my lawn every spring, parading around with their wings and tails all fluffed up. All they would need is a polyester suit and a string of puka shells around their neck to be largely indistinguishable from some people I knew in high school. The downside of having the turkeys around is that they like to roost in some trees not far from my bedroom window, and as soon as it gets light in the morning they're making a huge racket with their "gobble gobble gobble" call.

Your place or mine?
Baby, don't you want a man like me?
Another annual rite of spring is the ceremonial first mowing of the lawn. I do not enjoy mowing the lawn, because I have a big one. All told it's about a quarter of an acre, which is a fair amount of lawn to be pushing a mower over. Since I compost all those clippings, the mowing time is increased because the bag-thingy that catches the clippings fills up fast and then I have to haul it over to the compost pile and mix the clippings with the leaves from my leaf pile (you can read about that exciting process here).

All told, it takes me roughly three hours to do the whole job. My neighbors, an older couple whose lawn is contiguous with mine (I don't think either of us knows exactly where the property line is), have a gardening service that comes and shaves their lawn down to stubble once a week. I manage to do mine about once every two or three weeks, so by the time I do get mine mowed, the contrast between the two is pretty stark.

Guess which side is mine.
I've never thought seriously about hiring a lawn service to come mow it for me. My kids will tell you it's because I'm a notorious tightwad. Actually, I am perfectly willing to pay good money for the level of quality I want in a good or service. I pay extra for quality tools, for example, because I know they will probably last a lifetime and will be more accurate and dependable than the cheap version from the bargain bin. (Also, I just really like nice tools.) And I don't mind paying someone to cut my hair or fix my roof or provide some other service for which I lack the the skills or the necessary equipment. But the idea of having someone come to mow my lawn or clean my house or some other such homekeeping chore that I'm perfectly capable of doing myself seems kind of decadent and pretentious, regardless of how tedious the task in question may be. I'd venture to say that there would be a lot more humility in the world if there was a law that everyone has to do his own laundry and clean his own toilet.

Last summer I did pay my son a token amount to mow a few times when it was getting urgent but I just had too many other, equally urgent things to get done over the weekend. I wanted to do that again the weekend before last, when it was pretty clear that the time for mowing was upon us, but unfortunately The Young Master recently whacked his head pretty hard on the ground while playing goalie in a soccer game and ended up with a concussion, so he is now excused by doctor's orders from most physical and mental activity while he convalesces. I took him to see the doctor, who ordered that until the test he has to take weekly indicates that he is back to normal, TYM is to (doc's actual words) "avoid using his brain". You can imagine the spontaneous response this advice will elicit from the father of any fifteen-year-old boy, but before I could open my mouth, TYM already was saying, "Now my dad's going to say I never use it anyway." Knows me pretty well, he does.

I spent a lot of the weekend cleaning up the garden and getting it ready for next weekend's planting extravaganza. One of the things I had to do was to replace the wooden planks that contain the dirt for the raised beds. I had not originally planned to use raised beds, but the spot we selected for the garden was nearly impossible to dig up for gardening purposes. As I discovered when I tried, there are some fairly huge boulders buried in there. There's also a bunch of old asphalt chunks and other crap that was apparently dumped there as fill to level the whole area out when they started building on our section of the street in the early 1960's (I am told that our back yard was once a pond before they developed the area). You need something to hold in the dirt for raised beds, so after considering a bunch of alternatives, I chose to go with construction-grade 2x12's as the most cost-effective option. They last 5–6 years and then rot out and need to be replaced, so I had to replace a bunch of them this year.

A Sorry State Indeed

You never know what you're going to find when you start peeling the old boards off. When I was taking one of the box frames apart, a little vole came running out. I could see the little tunnel leading to its nest, which was now exposed. In the nest were eight or nine little baby voles. I hate voles in my garden. They dig in the beds and chew on my vegetables. I am not putting all that work into this in order to keep the local rodent population well fed. But being a live-and-let-live kind of guy, I collected the entire vole family (the adults are pretty slow and clumsy, so they aren't hard to catch) and carted them off to their new home in a little wooded area further down the street.

What's this?

One Big Happy Family

The Proud Mother
Once rid of unwanted guests, it's a messy but simple job to put the new boards in place.

Ready for Another Five Years

Of course you need something to put in the beds once they're ready. Besides voles, I mean. We have a total of eighteen beds; nine are 4' x 10' and nine are 4' x 8' in size. One of the 4' x 10' beds is always reserved for lettuce, the growing of which, for some reason, has become the job of My Favorite Wife. I am not sure how exactly we evolved this system by which she tends exactly one bed while I for some reason do all of the weeding, watering, fertilizing, cultivating and harvesting of the remaining seventeen, but that's how we do it. From early April she's out there fiddling with her lettuce. I guess it keeps her out of trouble. But the box frame is falling apart, I protest. I need to fix that first. Sorry, she says, it's planting time; figure out a way to fix it after I plant, but don't mess up my lettuce! Lettuce waits for no man.

Kopfsalat is das halbe Leben
I planted my seedlings around the end of March, as I've reported previously. This year I put my planting bench in the garage, My Favorite Wife having unreasonably banished it from the dining room, and I'm not so sure that was a successful experiment. It was still pretty cold in the garage in March and April, and I think that the seedlings grew far more slowly than they ever did in the warm house, so they're smaller than I would like for them to be by this time of year. In the meantime I've transplanted everything into bigger pots and put them on trays on our funky sun porch. On sunny days I take them out on the lawn for "hardening off", so that they can get used to the sun and wind and also just enjoy playing together outside, which is important for their social development.

Almost Ready

The final step before being ready to plant is to generally clean up everything. Replacing the rotting box frames is part of that. The rest is pulling out all the old leftover vegetation from last year, pulling up all the stakes and frames that are still stuck in the ground, and especially pulling up all the weeds that now populate all of the beds and the spaces in between; it's amazing how quickly they take over the whole place if left to their devices.

It doesn't look so bad from here…

…but from here it looks like work.
So as it turned out I spent the better part of last weekend repairing the box frames and generally cleaning up. It's not the most exciting way to spend a weekend, but it was definitely nice to spend a couple of warm spring days outside after being cooped up in my basement office for the whole previous week, not to mention the whole previous winter. But I'm ready to start this year's farming activities and for me that's pretty exciting.

Now, doesn't that look nice?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not Quite Enraptured

Hellloooooooooo… Anyone here? This blog's gotten pretty stale. There's sort of a mildewy smell. I'm afraid to look under the furniture because I have no idea what I might have left lying around on my last visit.

Blame it on work. The consulting business, in which I find my moderately gainful employment, is a real feast-or-famine kind of lifestyle. At one end of the extreme I'm between projects without a whole lot to do and generally just trying to find something useful to do to justify my continued employment. That's when I have plenty of time for some recreational keyboard work.

At the other end of the extreme I find myself working on multiple projects, maybe working on a proposal or two on the side, interviewing job candidates here and there, and generally so busy that I have no idea how I'm possibly going finish everything that I need to get done. Well, I've definitely been in feast mode lately. I sit down at my desk around 7 AM in the morning and work until 6 PM or so, with a few short breaks in between. A substantial number of the people who work on my projects (I'm the project manager) are in India, so I often come back for an hour or two after dinner to make sure I've communicated to them adequately to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what I need from them when they come in at the beginning of their day. When I'm working in that mode, my enthusiasm for spending my limited non-work time at my desk is pretty limited. It's all I can do just to sit down and write a few checks to keep the water running and the lights on. That's been the situation for the past five or six weeks.

But enough whining about work. I mainly just wanted to check in to note that the Rapture appears not to have happened. Who woulda thunk? Way back when I started this blog in, oh, 2010 (seems like so long ago), I put a link on my page to the web site of Family Radio Worldwide, the apparent chief sponsors of the event. I have of course been waiting with bated breath ever since to see what would happen on May 21, 2011. Would I witness all those True Believers suddenly exiting their clothes and flying up to heaven? Would I endure half a year or so of pain and tribulations? Would I finally be cast into the Lake of Fire?

So now it's May 22 and the only thing that's happened is, well, nothing. I have scoured the news for accounts of True Believers who have turned up missing en masse, but have found no such reports. I checked the FRW web site and it's still up, assuring me that yesterday was Judgment Day, but the home page is full of broken links so if anyone got "raptured" I guess it might have been their webmaster. I'll be curious to hear how Harold Camping, the guy behind FRW, will explain all this. I wonder what all of his non-"raptured" followers are thinking after quitting jobs, giving away their posessions and such. Beyond that, I guess I'll just wait for the next End of the World, which I am told the Mayan calendar has predicted for Dec. 21, 2012.