Being a New Englander, I should know by now how cruel Mother Nature can be this time of year. As February fades and March blows in on an icy wind, true New Englanders finally start to tire of the cold and snow and darkness, and start longing for signs of spring. But just about then the length of the days starts to increase enough to be noticed; the days of getting up in the dark and leaving work in the dark abate, and it finally gets noticed that, yes, the days are indeed getting longer. Then the vise-grip that winter holds on the thermometer loosens a bit and we see a few days in the 40s – and even the 50s – to tease us with a promise of better things to come. Joggers and cyclists emerge from hibernation in the blink of an eye to clutter the still-snow-narrowed roads and make driving even more difficult. Then the first warm-weather Nor-Easter hits during these relative heat-waves, so the would-have-been 3-foot blizzard becomes the 4-inch street-flooding deluge, melting gobs of snow before our very eyes, as long-lost yard tools and outdoor toys emerge from beneath the white blanket to remind us of yard-work to come. If one were so inclined, one could finally take the outdoor Christmas lights off the shrubs and trees and put them away until next fall.
But the tease is but a set trap, and the trap inevitably gets sprung, with a rapid and all-too-soon shift back to arctic blasts that feel all the colder and cutting after a few 50 degree days. The squishy mud that formed hardens back into concrete, the joggers and cyclists disappear again, the weatherman resurrects the dreaded wind-chill readings, and the weaker of our Brethren start mumbling to themselves about Florida or Arizona and how they hate winter.
We’re in the throes of the first thaw of the season at the TreeHouse, having been skipped over for the usual January tease. The electric spot-light and serpentine cord that illuminates the house wreath during the holiday season has re-emerged from under the snowbanks along the front walk (if I could pull the mounting spike out of the perma-frost I would pack it away until next fall, but that will have to wait for a deeper thaw), and the landscaping walls that demarcate the raised beds out back have reappeared from under the blanket of snow. Most everyone else is reveling in the warmth and diminishing snowbanks (I can see around the corner at the end of my street again for the first time since December!), but I know better. It’s only March – EARLY March at that – so we’re bound to have a return to winter sooner or later, and it will push the weaker ones over the edge. I remember the April Fool’s Day Blizzard of 1997, and the big surprise snowstorm on May 9th of one year (I forget which) that destroyed thousands of fully-leafed-out trees and bushes.
In a fit of prescience brought on by the warming-trend and a weather forecast that included somewhat copious amounts of rain, I finally got around to doing what I had been planning to do for 15 years; I installed an electrical outlet by the back door for the outdoor sump-pump.
We have had water problems at the basement door since we bought the house 20+ years ago, which has gotten worse as time advanced and neighborhood construction altered the water-table. We live in a split-level-style house, and the lower (basement) level is finished off, so any basement flooding would have disastrous and expensive consequences. The back door is slightly below-grade, so water entry was always a problem when torrential rains descended upon us, especially in the spring or fall. At those times (once every 3-4 years at first, a few times a year now) I would stay up all night, manually operating a bilge pump just outside the door to keep the water from flowing under the door and into the finished basement.
Because of the enormous hassle and threat of serious destruction that a basement flood would cause, I dug out the area outside the basement door and built a dry-well of sorts, using landscaping timbers to build a walled-in area by the door. I then dug out and filled in the area with a good depth of pea-stone. That helped get the water back into the ground quickly before coming in under the door, and gave me visual warning of impending doom when the water was coming down faster than the ground could carry it away, as I could see the ground-water rise up through the pea-stone and that acted as an early warning (an hour or so in a good rainstorm) that it was time to drag out the sump-pump and start pumping. This arrangement was better than before, but not great, as I still needed to stay up all night and run the pump intermittently so as not to burn the pump out running it dry (it pumped water quicker than it seeped in, so it couldn’t be left to run continuously).
A few years after that I got smart and dug out a section of the dry-well-like landing and planted a sump-basin in the ground that allowed me to use a water-height-activated pump. By setting the pump in the basin just outside the basement door, the pump would cycle itself on and off as water collected in the basin and I could leave the pump plugged in and go to bed (as long as we didn’t lose power in the night – I have a generator for that contingency). Of course, the logical final step would have been to mount an electrical outlet outside the basement door so the sump-pump could be left plugged in and do its work as-required, but I never got around to that last step and have spent the past 15 years manually running the cord inside the house under the door whenever there was a flooding threat.
I’ve had all the parts waiting to be installed for five years or more now, but I finally took last Saturday to spend the time to finish the job. So much nicer! As fate – and luck – would have it, the new arrangement was put to the test less than 24 hours after installation as a warm Nor-Easter came through, dumping 2-3 inches of rain onto still frozen ground (nowhere for the water to go) and threatening once again to flood the basement. But the pump cycled faithfully all night long and kept the headwaters of our “crick” from slipping under the door! I declare victory!
To plagiarize Alfred, Lord Tennyson (and probably make him spin in his grave), In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of… BASEBALL! Spring training is in full swing, and the Red Sox have re-loaded with new and exciting all-stars to join the returning formerly-wounded to make up a team which, on paper, looks downright invincible. But I’m still a long-time Red Sox fan (with a long memory – ’67, ’75, ’78, ’86, ’03), so I cringe at the expectations and predictions coming out of Fort Myers these days. But mixed in with that dread is a little bit of excitement at the sheer potential the ’11 team possesses. I’ve managed to acquire tickets to two games this year (2nd home game of the season, on April 9th, against the hated Yankees, and a night game on May 19th against Detroit) and am looking forward to watching the healthy and re-loaded Red Sox in action! Go Sox!!
My powerhouse workstation (A PowerSpec E360, with Intel Q6600 Core 2 Quad Processor, 4 GB memory, and 3 TB of internal hard drive space [including two 500 GB drives in a RAID0 configuration creating a high-speed 1 TB boot drive]) has had a habit of burning up CPU fans lately. The CPU fan comes attached to a heat-sink that gets mounted (with thermal grease and four long screws) right on top of the CPU. The first fan died after a little over a year (so it was out of warranty), resulting in a thermal-triggered shutdown to keep the CPU from being damaged. The replacement fan/heat-sink failed in the same way after about 6 months (on a 90-day warranty, alas). So I’ve replaced it again and am back in business. There may have been a defect in the 2nd fan, as it was always noisy, and the second replacement is as quiet as a mouse. The fan/heat-sink assembly is not expensive (under $10) so I bought a spare one to have on-hand, in case the pattern is repeated. No indication so far.
While I had it disconnected and pulled apart, I tried installing a PCIe eSATA board so I could attach my external SATA drive docking station via an eSATA cable instead of USB 2.0 (in addition to the 3 TB of internal disk space, I have another 4.5 TB of disk space on swappable drives for for music, image, and video archive and system backups). Alas, the eSATA board recognized the dock and drives, but never gave me access to the drives via the operating system, so I reverted to the USB 2.0 connection scheme – much slower, but at least it works!
Digitizing VHS tapes
I’ve been digitizing a dozen or so VHS tapes for my sister, since her VHS player died and it’s getting harder and harder to replace VHS equipment these days (the only VHS player/recorder I could find at Best Buy was a dual VHS/DVD device for $300!). I bumped into a small problem after I agreed to do the conversion for her and she had sent me the tapes; the device I previously used to capture analog audio/video to digitize it (a Pinnacle Dazzle Digital Video Converter [DVC] 150 USB device) does not have 64-bit drivers for use with Windows 7 or Vista (only 32-bit drivers), and I switched over to 64-bit Windows 7 over a year ago (gives you an idea as to how often I do this!). So, I reverted to the S-Video & Audio inputs for my Hauppauge WinTV-HVR-1600 internal HDTV card (which does have 64-bit Windows 7 drivers and has been working as a broadband cable TV capture board just fine). I had to buy an in-line composite-to-S-Video converter for $3 (the Hauppauge board only has S-Video inputs), but it works like a champ. Once the video/audio stream is digitized, I use Pinnacle Studio v14 to process, produce, and burn to DVD. Some of the tapes take more time and effort than others (video processing, audio scrubbing or replacement, etc.), but the process itself is straightforward and is fun from a creative aspect, so I’m enjoying it.