Delicious Queen Anne’s Lace Jelly

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote The Wonders of Queen Anne’s Lace. In that particular post, I provide a recipe for making a delicious jelly from the flower. This year’s jelly is the best Rebecca has ever made. The flowers were plentiful and extremely fragrant this year. In fact, the wildflowers as a whole were amazing this year. Something about the cool wet spring and odd summer weather caused the wildflowers to grow in such profusion that every trip to town was a joy (I just wish I had thought to stop along they way and take some pictures—such is the problem with missed opportunity). The difference was so incredible that the road department actually held off mowing the shoulders just so people would be able to enjoy the flowers longer (the shoulders have since been mowed in the interest of public safety). Wisconsin’s rustic roads received quite a workout as people enjoyed the splendor.

In thinking about my post earlier this week about every year being a good and a bad year at the same time, the profusion of wildflowers this year is definitely a good thing. However, it also brings to mind an issue that everyone needs to consider when using herbs of any sort (including Queen Anne’s Lace). The difference in potency this year is striking. Just sticking my nose into the bag I used to collect the flowers this year was overwhelming and you can definitely taste the difference in the resulting jelly. Herbal potency varies year-by-year and also location-by-location (it also varies according to the age of the plant, the part of the plant used, and a number of other factors). It’s important to consider the strength of the herbs you collect when you use whole herbs as we do. We don’t use herbs for medicinal purposes (an exception is comfrey, which I do use for foot baths and on sore muscles), but we do use them in cooking where a difference in potency can be quite noticeable and sometimes unwelcome when the result is unbalanced. In short, you need to take potency into consideration when picking and using herbs.

Some people try to overcome these differences by using a standardized herbal extract. A standardized extract contains a specific amount of the active ingredients in a particular herb. You can depend on the herb extract acting in a certain way. However, the equipment needed to create a standardized herbal extract is well beyond the means of most enthusiasts working in smaller herb gardens. In addition, there is some discussion that standardized herbal extracts leave out valuable, but less researched, components that are also useful and helpful. In short, when you buy a standardized herbal extract, you might not get everything the plant has to offer.

In looking at the beautiful jars of Queen Anne’s Lace jelly now adorning our larder shelves, I know I’ll enjoy a bit of summer this winter every time I have a bit of it on my toast. Sometimes the wonder of herbs comes from enjoying them just as they are. Even so, the smart gardener does keep potency in mind. Marking jars with perceived strength is a good idea, especially when cooking with a particular herb could lead to a resulting imbalance in the taste your food. Let me know your thoughts on herbal potency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Continuing Education

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m continually asking questions in my blog posts. In fact, you can find questions in a few of my books and more than a few readers have commented when I ask them questions as part of my correspondence with them. I often get the feeling that people think I should know everything simply because I write books of various sorts. In fact, I had to write a post not long ago entitled No, I Don’t Know Everything to address the issue. Experts become experts by asking questions and finding the answers. They remain experts by asking yet more questions and finding yet more answers. Often, these answers come from the strangest sources, which means that true experts look in every nook and cranny for answers that could easily elude someone else. Good authors snoop more than even the typical expert—yes, we’re just plain nosy. So, here I am today asking still more questions.

This year my continuing education has involved working with the latest version of the Entity Framework. The results of some of my efforts can be found in Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step. You can also find some of my thoughts in the Entity Framework Development Step-by-Step category. I’ve been using some of my new found knowledge to build some applications for personal use. They may eventually appear as part of a book or on this blog (or I might simply choose to keep them to myself).

However, my main technical focus has been on browser-based application technology. I think the use of browser-based application technology will make it possible for the next revolution in computing to occur. It certainly makes it easier for a developer to create applications that run anywhere and on any device. You can find some of what I have learned in two new books HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and CSS3 for Dummies. Of course, there are blog categories for these two books as well: HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies and Developing with CSS3 for Dummies. A current learning focus is on the SCAlable LAnguage (SCALA), which is a functional language (akin to F# and many other languages of the same type) based on Java.

Anyone who knows me very well realizes that my life doesn’t center on technology. I have a great number of other interests. When it comes to being outdoors, I’ve explored a number of new techniques this year as I planted some new trees. In fact, I’ll eventually share a technique I learned for removing small tree stumps. I needed a method for removing stumps of older fruit trees in order to plant new trees in the same location.

I’ve also shared a number of building projects with you, including the shelving in our larder and a special type of dolly you can use for moving chicken tractors safely. Self-sufficiency often involves building your own tools. In some cases, a suitable tool doesn’t exist, but more often the problem is one of cost. Buying a tool from the store or having someone else build it for you might be too expensive.

The point I’m trying to make is that life should be a continual learning process. There isn’t any way that you can learn everything there is to learn. Even the most active mind picks and chooses from the vast array of available learning materials. No matter what your interests might be, I encourage you to continue learning—to continue building your arsenal of knowledge. Let me know your thoughts on the learning process at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Early Fruit Harvest

I’m continually reminded by the weather that nothing is certain about gardening than uncertainty. Our pear trees served to illustrate the point on Saturday. I had checked them just a few days before and the fruit was still rock hard. Of course, that was before a heat wave hit (it has been in the upper 80s and low 90s here) after a relatively fall-like period. The change in weather caused the fruit to ripen incredibly fast. By yesterday (Sunday) we already had some fruit on the ground because it had fallen off, overripe.

The odd thing is that the weather has only affected four of our pear trees. Normally, the pears ripen pretty much at the same time, but that isn’t the case this year. We’ll have two distinct picking periods, which might actually be beneficial given the size of the harvest this year. You can be certain that I’ll be watching the other four pear trees quite closely.

Even with the drop off, the harvest this year is huge. We didn’t pick up any of the windfalls yesterday because they really were quite bad. The trees have yielded 200 pounds of fruit so far and there is more to pick. We stopped picking because we’ve run out of space to put the pears in the house. So, we’ll process this batch and pick some more.

Of course, I’m wondering what has caused the odd ripening and why it has affected only some of the trees. I think the weather is definitely the cause. The variance in temperatures can be attributed to global warming, but I think there must be something more to it than that. I do know now that I’ll need to check the trees every day during this time of the year from now on (normally I check every three or four days until the fruit starts to ripen, at which point, I start checking every day).

There are consequences to the early ripening. In checking the fruit yesterday, I did note that the pears are larger than normal, which is probably the result of those early spring rains. The water content is also considerably higher than normal, which means that we probably won’t be making much pear butter this year (it would take too long to boil the pears down). Even though the pears taste wonderful and are a bit more flavorful than normal, the sugar content is considerably less than normal. The main reason is that the pears ripened before the sugar content could rise. As a result, we might have a hard time making pear jam and using the pears for wine will be harder too. The pears will make amazingly good juice, chunks, and pear sauce. Rebecca also plans to make some more pear mincemeat. Our larder was starting to get a bit low and we had hoped the pears would be suitable this year (they are).

The lower sugar content has had one positive effect. Normally we have to battle hornets during this time of the year. They like to eat holes into the pear and sometimes a piece of fruit will contain a hornet when you go to pick it (making it necessary to look carefully at the fruit). The hornets are definitely fewer this year. On the other hand, we’ve noticed a few more earwigs than normal. Both hornets and earwigs are beneficial at other times of the year because they do keep other parasites in check. The key to avoiding an infestation is to ensure you pick the fruit just before the peak of ripeness (the fruit has a good taste and the sugar content is high, but it’s still a little hard). If you wait until the fruit is completely ripe, hornets and earwigs will almost certainly attack it.

We have been working with fruit for about 17 years now and no two years have been precisely the same. There are general trends in how our fruit will react in any given year, but nothing precise. Flexibility is key in making an orchard work. So, what are you seeing in your orchard this year? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Every Move You Make, Every Breath You Take, They’ll be Tracking You!

I read a ComputerWorld article recently entitled, “So what’s wrong with being tracked by advertisers?” that really makes me uncomfortable. The author describes scenarios whereby advertisers could track your every move—up to and including your bathroom habits. Such complete tracking doesn’t seem doable today, but the author’s arguments really do make such tracking seem like a reality that is about to happen. Of course, the question that comes to my mind immediately is whether the author is sincere in stating that only advertisers should be able to perform tracking at this level. It’s naive to think that governments and others won’t use the same technology to their advantage. For example, consider the crook who tracks your movements and holds you up immediately after you cash a check or obtain some other source of money to maximize their haul.

The article is eye opening because apparently, some companies are already involved in this behavior to some extent. My Tracks seems like an interesting app for your smartphone until you begin thinking about the implications. Any signal sent out by any device is capable of being intercepted by anyone, including that person down the street who makes you feel really uncomfortable. It makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would install such an app in the first place.

Don’t get the idea that smartphones and other sources of electronic emission are the only potential tracking devices. Your computer makes it possible for someone to create a thorough profile of your behaviors and to track your activities to a point that you’d probably find unbelievable. Most people realize that browsers use cookies to track them, but you’re open to tracking in so many other ways. The InfoWorld article, “Anonymous is not anonymous” makes it clear that the best attempts to hide your online activities are completely worthless. The movie view of the “ghost hacker” is a myth today (if it ever existed at all).

It isn’t just computers either. The rewards card that your supermarket or drugstore issues likely has a Radio Frequency IDentifier (RFID) tag in it that makes it possible to track your precise movements through the store. The fact that RFID is passive technology makes it particularly onerous because you have absolutely no control over its use.

People have to start thinking about securing their privacy in the same way that others think about peering into their every activity. A recent article, “Hacked wireless baby monitor lets pervert spy on and cuss at baby girl” shows just how far other people are willing to go to pry into your life and turn it upside down. You can read about other sorts of appliance-based spying in the article, “Your Home Appliances May be Spying on You.” This sort of activity happens regularly now. Someone may be spying on you right now through your home security system if it contains any wireless elements at all. More importantly, you really do need to consider what you’re giving up by losing your privacy. A recent article entitled, “Noonan: What We Lose if We Give Up Privacy” provides great food for thought on the issue.

I don’t mean this article as a scare tactic. What I want to do is arm you to think about your privacy and security in light of the gadgets that you use. My post, An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy, received quite a bit of attention and I received more than a few emails about it. Some people felt that I was making up some of the issues I discussed in that article. It truly is hard to believe that things have become so bad, so fast. However, your privacy is in your own hands. If you want to keep a secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. Likewise, if you don’t want someone to know your location, leave your cellphone at home. If you don’t want someone to spy on you, make sure your home security system doesn’t have any outside connections or rely on wireless communication. Yes, the solution to the problem is inconvenient and frustrating, but that’s the only solution you truly have. Let me know your thoughts about tracking at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

The Moderate View of Global Warming

A number of people have written to ask me lately about my perspective on global warming since I seem to take a middle view of things. That global warming exists is no longer the question. Some form of global warming is taking place. However, a moderate view of global warming also considers that the effects may not be as pronounced as some people state or from the specific sources that some scientists prefer to quote.

Global warming also doesn’t manifest itself as instant deserts where you stand. In fact, the temperatures during some points of the year may be quite a bit cooler than normal. For example, Wisconsin is having an amazingly cool summer this year—at least, it is in the area in which I live. We only had a few days so far this summer that have required us to use the air conditioning. What I do know is that the extremes in weather have become more pronounced and that we do see a larger number of warm days on average than we did in the past. I have related some of my observations about global warming in the past in such posts as Real World Global Warming and A Really Wet Spring. Putting the effects of global warming into terms you can understand personally is an important part of understanding the phenomena as a whole.

Admitting that there is a problem—one that affects you directly—is an essential first step toward resolving it. Until the issue becomes a personal problem that you have a stake in solving, it will remain a problem that some scientist somewhere is worried about. Of course, this is the very issue that most of the media seems to miss. I don’t imagine you’ve ever seen your local news do interviews of fellow citizens in your particular area on the personal effects of global warming. Perhaps if the media had done this, you would have more reasons to find a solution for the problem (as would I).

The source of the problem isn’t the concern. That there is a problem is the concern that makes finding all of the true sources of global warming essential. People do create pollution and I’d be the first one to recommend that you reduce the amount of pollution you create in order to stave off global warming. However, blaming emissions of one sort or another as the sole source of global warming is the easy way out and won’t solve anything. We really do need to know how much of the global warming that takes place today is as the result of the natural earth cycle, how much comes from natural sources, how much is directly attributable to human activity, and how much comes from other sources. Before that information becomes useful though, you need to know just how global warming is affecting you as a person.

I’d love to hear about how you think global warming is affecting you personally and what you plan to do to reduce global warming at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. I’m not looking for grand strategies here. What I really want to know is your personal solution—what you personally plan to do. Even small reductions in pollution from personal sources will make a huge difference when you multiply those reductions by the population of planet earth. Remember that an ocean begins with a single drop of water.

 

Management Lessons from the Military

Having spent 10 years in the Navy, I know that military life can provide some benefits that translate well into civilian life. Enforced discipline, often described as training, does create an environment in which you can learn how to perform tasks more efficiently and with greater success. The training isn’t always comfortable, but the feeling of success when the training is over is always amazing. That’s why I went through the Ten Workplace Lessons From the Military slideshow on Baseline with great interest. It actually does help you understand how someone who has had military training can provide significant benefit to an organization of any sort.

From a personal perspective, I credit my military training with giving me drive and ambition required to write books and to also work through many of the issues in self-sufficiency that I have. The techniques that I learned in the service have translated well into creating an environment where I can work productively and ensure good results. The organizational and planning skills I gained in the service still serve me well today. I’m not saying that I succeed every time—far from it, but I have learned to keep trying until I find a way to succeed.

My service was quite some time ago, so I can’t speak to the training that the military receives today with any authority. However, judging from the content of the slideshow, I’d say that the military still values the kinds of things that helped me become the sort of person I did after I left the service. Things like learning to see what is important in a list of to do items, and what isn’t, is part of the military way of doing things. You never have enough time to complete a to do list in the service—prioritizing is a must.

The main reason I’m writing this post today is to support my fellow veterans. When you hire a vet, you’re getting someone with a broad range of experiences that you simply can’t get outside of the military. You get someone who had the drive to complete tasks under fire and will certainly have the same drive to complete tasks for your organization. Let me know your thoughts on the military method of management at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Handling Printed Output in a Colorful World

There is an issue that most writers encounter when creating art for a book, but which readers seldom think about. Everything you use on a computer includes color, yet most books (especially technical books) are printed in black and white due to the prohibitive costs of printing them in color. Even many e-books use black and white images because the publisher typesets the document that way. Fortunately, e-book output is changing and you can get color images in them now, but the problem for the author is still there and will be there for quite some time to come.

Translating a colorful world into something that prints well is hard. Most publishers have strict guidelines on configuring a system to produce optimal printed output. Even though the output is optimal, the resulting system display seldom looks like anything you’d use on a regular basis. Even font smoothing is discouraged because it causes problems in the printed output. So, as a starting point, you need to understand that the plain image you see in the book is plain in order to make it easier to print.

Still, even with all of the settings that publishers require and authors invoke, the computer display is still ablaze with colors—some of which won’t print well and some of which will blend into each other. These two problems aren’t apparent at times until the book comes out in print. Putting sky blue next to buttercup yellow works just fine when viewing them in your browser, but they don’t print well. Assuming that the two colors print at all, they’ll be exceptionally light and will tend to blend in a way that makes it impossible to tell one from the other in the book. So, color choice becomes problematic for the author trying to seek a balance between what looks good in the real world and what looks good in a book.

It’s important to remember that books are printed in only two colors: black and white. Gradients of color, grayscale, are simulated by varying the dot density in a particular area of the book so that it appears the colors are either lighter or darker. The best an author can hope to achieve in simulating this environment is to employ a screen capture program that can also create grayscale output. In fact, that’s one of the tasks I perform as part of writing a book. Here’s a color version of one image I added to a recent book.

9781118441428FG1005

As part of the writing process, I converted the image to grayscale to see how it would appear in the book. Here is the grayscale version:

9781118441428FG1005Grayscale

The grayscale version isn’t nearly as pretty, but it does work. You can see all of the details on the page. Of course, it won’t look precisely like this in the book, but the grayscale version does help me visualize an approximation of the image appearance.

As more publishers begin to use color in their e-books and you begin to employ it to dress up your examples in book, you also need to consider special needs requirements. With this in mind, I also check all of the images in my book with VisCheck, a color blindness simulator, to ensure that readers who have special visual needs can work with the book without problem. Colorblindness (or more precisely, color shifting) causes some people to see colors incorrectly (often blended) even though they appear quite different to someone with normal color vision, so ensuring the colors work for someone with colorblindness is also important to the author.

Every graphic you include in a book is important and readers need to see them well. It may seem like a lot of bother to perform checks like those that I employ, but from the reader’s perspective, the time is well spent. Let me know your thoughts about working with color in books at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Moving Heavier Tractors and Cages Safely

It’s important to chicken and rabbit health to move tractors and cages regularly. We don’t keep our chickens and rabbits in a barn because allowing them access to sunshine and fresh air is far healthier. However, it’s harder to keep the tractors and cages clean outside. The manure builds up and ammonia emissions can begin affecting animal health. So, the solution is to move the animal to a new location so it has a clean place to live. You can then allow the manure to compost in place or shovel it up for centralized decomposition. However, moving cages can be hard on the back and you need multiple people to perform the task in many cases. The solution to this problem is to build a dolly specifically designed for the purpose of moving cages.

One of the questions that you might have about the need for a dolly is whether it might be easier to simply add permanent wheels to the cages. There are a number of problems with this approach:

 

  • Cost: Good cage wheels cost quite a bit and duplicating them over twenty or so cages gets pricey.
  • Maintainability: Anything left outside for an extended period tends to get dirty and to corrode. Keeping permanently mounted wheels functional is difficult.
  • Practicality: Chicken tractors must sit completely on the ground because the open bottomed cages provide protection by keeping predators out.
  • Control: Although rabbit cages are normally raised above ground level, having them on wheels is impractical when your property lacks level land (as our does). The tractor or cage could literally run away with the animals in them if the wheels are permanently mounted.


A problem with most dollies is that they have four wheels. The idea is to keep whatever you’re moving level. However, this approach doesn’t work well with tractors, where you want to raise the cage only enough to move the chickens or cages where you want to transition the rabbits to a moveable state a little at a time. Using a four wheel dolly also places stress on the tractor or cage and can cause the wheels to dig into the soil.

The dolly I created for moving the tractors and cages has only two wheels. The setup automatically adjusts for the current level of the tractor or cage and the wheels don’t dig in as a result. You raise the end of the cage up, slip the dolly underneath, tighten a strap to keep it in place, and you’re ready to go. Here’s how the dolly looks when attached.

Dolly01

As shown in the picture, the dolly is made up of a 2 × 4 that is a little longer than the end of the tractor or cage. There is an eye bolt at each end of the dolly for attaching the strap. The strap is the ratcheting type that has a hook on each end to make for easy attachment. The wheels are 4″ in diameter and swivel in every direction. Here is a better look at the method used to strap the cage down.

Dolly02

Strapping the cage in place is essential and a bungee cord won’t do the trick. The cage will slip off the dolly and you’ll lose control. Make sure you get a good nylon strap with an attached ratcheting device. Otherwise, you risk losing the cage and possibly hurting the animals that you’re trying to move.

Make sure you purchase high quality wheels for your dolly. The wheels should offer four sturdy bolt positions for attaching the wheel to the dolly. In addition, the wheels should come apart for cleaning as shown in this picture.

Dolly03

Notice that the pin holding the wheel bolts in place. Removing the bolt makes it possible to take the wheel completely apart for cleaning so that you can continue to obtain good service from the dolly.

Building two dollies will make it easier for anyone to move a relatively large tractor or cage with ease without doing much lifting at all (except to attach the dolly initially). Let me know your thoughts about tractor and cage movement devices at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Designing with the Entity Framwork

A number of factors have contributed toward the evolution of the Entity Framework (a technology used to map database entities to objects used within .NET application programs). However, one of the major factors is the way in which developers work. Not all developers work in the same way and not every situation requires the same solution. With this in mind, Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step helps you understand how the evolution of the Entity Framework has been affected by these factors. It points out how the alternatives provided by the Entity Framework make your job easier by increasing the flexibility of the development environment.

One of the more important evolutionary steps is the inclusion of three modeling techniques within the Entity Framework: Model First (where you create a database based on a model you define), Database First (where you generate a model based on an existing database), and Code First (where you generate a database based on the objects in an existing application without using a designer-based model). You can read about these three models and how they affect your application development in my recent article, “Choosing the Right Entity Framework Workflow.” The purpose of this article is to help you make the best choice in modeling technique for your next Entity Framework project. The article also points out the need to combine techniques at times to obtain a desired result and helps you understand some of the pros/cons of each approach. Of course, there is no wrong or right approach—simply the approach that works best for you.

The Entity Framework is a necessary technology when dealing with the complexities of a large scale development. Modeling tools make it possible to understand complex interactions with greater ease and to explain those interactions to others who might not have development experience. In addition, you use modeling tools to document how objects in an application relate to the tables and other features of a database. Knowledge like this is incredibly important when working in a team environment where team members must communicate well with each other or the project is doomed to failure. Most importantly for the developer, using a modeling technology like the Entity Framework greatly reduces the confusion that can occur when developer moves outside the comfort of a familiar development environment.

Of course, there is a lot more to be said about the Entity Framework and this article (and even my book) are really just a starting point. I always like to get the reader perspective about materials that I write. What are your experiences in using the Entity Framework? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Finding the Errata for Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step

I’ve written about the potential for errors in books before as part of my Errors in Writing post. One of the reasons I have created this blog is to help you through some of the worst errors that make it into my books (despite the best efforts of myself, other professionals, and the hard working beta readers). Now that Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step has been released, a few readers have noted a couple of glitches.

One of the most noticeable errors appears on page 384. Look at Steps 6 and 9. The graphics after the two steps have been swapped. The image shown after step 6 should actually appear after step 9. Likewise, the image shown after step 9 should actually appear after step 6. Generally, graphic mix-ups like this don’t occur, but they do sometimes and they always prove confusing for the reader. It’s one of those situations where the mix-up escaped everyone’s notice during the proofreading process and I’m sorry about any confusion the error might have caused as you start working through the procedures in this chapter. You can see more errors and additional information for this book in the Entity Framework Development Step-by-Step category of this blog.

There are also a couple of other minor errors that have been found by readers and uploaded to the errata page for this book on the O’Reilly site. The table shows the location of the error and the resolution you should use when working through that error. Generally speaking, if you see an entry in the table, it probably affects all versions of the book, not just the single version in which the error was originally found.

You should also go to the general page for this book to gain access to other publisher-supported resources for it. For example, the general page contains links for the companion content for the book, as well as a means to register your book purchase with O’Reilly.

I always want you to have a great experience using my books. Errors tend to make that experience less than stellar, but mistakes do happen and the best I can do is to tell you how to correct them once they’re found. If you ever find an error in this, or any other of my books, please be sure to write me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. Thank you for continuing to support my writing efforts. I greatly appreciate your help.