Appreciating the Value of Microclimates

There is probably something odd about your house and you might not be aware of it. In fact, there was something odd about my house and it took me a while to discover it. Houses create microclimates in the right conditions. Such is the case with my house. The thermometer on the back porch is often warmer in the fall months than the thermometer on the front porch. Given there is no sunlight hitting the back porch, the only explanation I originally came up with was that one thermometer was off. However, moving the thermometers around proved this assumption wrong. The temperature really was higher in the back where the sun didn’t hit. What I was seeing is the effect of a microclimate.

The temperature differential isn’t very large. On a really good day, it can be up to five degrees. It also doesn’t last indefinitely—the differential between front and back temperatures eventually evens out. The microclimate is formed by a combination of the house and the overhanging trees. It’s almost as if there is a kind of blanket over that area so that it stays cool longer in the summer and warm longer in the fall. The rate of temperature change is slower, which creates a condition favorable to certain kinds of growth.

An interesting part of the microclimate is that I just finished picking the last tomato, radish, and green pepper from my container garden on the 23rd. Yes, there had been several frosts before this time, but the microclimate kept the temperature at the back of the house just warm enough to prevent these container vegetables from freezing until this major frost. Everything in the main garden and the areas outside this little microclimate had died out for the winter long ago. So, microclimates can help you continue producing vegetables long after everyone else has stopped picking for the year.

The microclimate is also the reason that I think herbs do so well behind the house. Instead of suffering the extremes they would encounter in other areas of my property, the herbs are treated to a more or less constant temperature that makes them grow well. The constant temperature also reduces stress, so I have fewer pests and it seems to intensify the flavor of the herbs. In short, microclimates can improve whatever you’re growing as well as allow it to grown longer.

A lot of people have microclimates available to them, so they could grow items far into the fall. Good candidates are items that have a longer growing period after pollination (such as green peppers and tomatoes) and items that don’t require pollination (such as radishes). The items also need to be able to grow in a container so that you can move them as needed. To find these microclimates around your house, use thermometers to measure the temperature at a specific height above ground. Make sure every thermometer is at the same height or you won’t get a true reading. You may be surprised at what you find.

The best place to find a microclimate is an area that is sheltered somewhat like the area between my house and the woods. Look for overhanging trees. You could also check south facing areas of the house where the sun can provide a heating effect in the fall months to extend your growing season. Appreciating the value of your microclimates is one way to get more out of your investment in plants. Let me know about your microclimate experiences at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

How to Butcher a Pumpkin…

When I was growing up, it was my uncles’ job to wield a big knife and peel the raw pumpkin so that my mom could bake pumpkin pie and make filling for canning. Watching one of “the boys” handle the knives while trying to carve away the skin of a raw pumpkin was usually a little scary and sometimes hilarious. It all depended on who was careful and who was just cutting up! When I moved into a home of my own, I had to learn a different way to separate skin from the flesh of a pumpkin because I am married to a man who loves pie, made from scratch, and he likes his pumpkin made that way as well.

Besides, it’s very cheap and easy to do. So here’s how to butcher a pumpkin in seven steps:

  1. Be sure that your pumpkin will fit inside the shallow baking sheet that you are going to be using. It doesn’t matter if both halves fit but you want to have the edges of the pumpkin completely inside the baking pan. Choosing the right sized pumpkin for this process is very important.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet

    Be sure that the edges of the pumpkin are inside the pan.
  2. Cut your pumpkin in half.

    Raw Pumpkin halves
    Raw Pumpkin Halves
  3. Carefully scoop out the seeds with a spoon. If you have kids that want to help, this is a great chance to include them—handling the guts and seeds is really fun (and gross)! The seeds can be washed and baked with seasoning for an added treat.

    Scooping out the seeds
    Scoop out the seeds with a spoon
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
    Save the seeds for roasting later!
  4. Flip the pumpkins cut side down and place them onto a shallow baking sheet with a lip all the way around the pan. I used an Air-bake pan because it is double layered and gives improved stability while loading and unloading the heavy pumpkin from the hot oven.

    Cut Side down in shallow baking sheet
    Place Pumpkins Cut Side Down
  5. Add a small amount of water to the baking sheet. Just enough to cover the surface of the pan about 1/4 inch deep. The water will boil and steam the pumpkin inside while the oven is baking it from the outside.
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
    Pumpkins in 350 F oven
  6. Bake in a 350F oven until you can pierce the skin of the pumpkin with a fork. If you want the pumpkin to be more puree-like bake it longer. You may need to carefully add water while the pan is in the oven, but bake the pumpkin until it is as soft as you want it to be. The halves may collapse just a little bit as the insides get soft.
    Fork tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
    Fork Tender is done enough for chunky pumpkin
  7. Finally, let the whole thing cool down. When it is cool enough to handle, peel the skin from the flesh and discard the skin. Then you can use it however you like. My last experiment was a simple blend of fresh apple chunks, some pumpkin chunks and curry powder to taste. No sugar and no recipe. I just mixed up what I had and popped it back into the oven to soften the apples. It was delicious!

This method of processing pumpkin is economical, healthy and easy. There are absolutely no additives or preservatives so the only thing that you will taste is pumpkin. It also works for winter squashes of all kinds.

So, if you decided NOT to carve your pumpkin for Halloween, consider Butchering and Eating It! You’ll be glad you did!

If you have any pumpkin tips or stories, I would love to hear from you! Please respond to this blog or email John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Interesting New Words

Every day I learn at least two new words. On some days I learn more. A lot of those words are interesting, but I probably won’t use them very often, if at all. However, they at least tell me something about English and provide some food for thought on how to use words in the text that I write to convey specific meanings. I’ve written about this topic before in Not Mere Words and again in Power Words. However, it’s a theme that needs to be repeated because people often find it hard to convey their thoughts due to a lack of words in their vocabulary. The result is often garbled, with the hearer not really understanding what the speaker wants to say.

I learned two new words this week that I could potentially use at some time. The first is metathesis, which is a mispronunciation due to the transposition of letters or syllables in a word. The most common metathesis for me is saying Calvary instead of cavalry. The transposition of the letter l is the problem in this case. It turns out that some words in our language are actually created because of metathesis. For example, the word mullion (a vertical divider, such as a piece of wood in a window) comes from the metathesis of the word munial. It doesn’t surprise me that there is a word to describe an error that most people make, but until now I didn’t know what it is. The funniest word that I’ve learned is formed from metathesis is girn, which is a kind of grimace or snarl. Of course, the source term is grin.

The second word is biovermiculation, which refers to lines drawn on a surface by a microbial community. I read about this word in a National Geographic article entitled The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth. I found the implications of the article amazing, but the addition of a new word to my vocabulary is a bit more practical. Without the proper word to describe this phenomena, it would be difficult for me to understand that biovermiculation on another planet could possibly point to life on that planet—at least, sometime in the past. Knowing the proper words gives you the power to convey specific meanings and provides you with an advantage over someone whose vocabulary is less comprehensive (and therefore, less precise).

I build my word power through a number of sources. Of course, National Geographic and Smithsonian both provide me with new words that appear with surprising regularity in my writing. However, for those two daily words, I look to A.Word.A.Day and Word of the Day. In addition, I build my word power through all sorts of technical sources, including other books. There are many places where you can find interesting new words to use when writing or simply speaking to someone else. What new word have you learned today? Tell me about your positive (and G rated) word learning experience at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Human Face of 3D Printing

A lot of my posts discuss the technical side of issues such as 3D printing. They’re a clinical treatment of a technical topic—devoid of sentimentality. Of course, this is a natural outcome of the kind of writing that I do. Most of my books contain accessibility aids in them because I strongly believe in the power of the computer to level the playing field for those who need a little extra help to be productive. Some of the things I’ve seen during my career have just amazed me and I’m sure that I’d be even more amazed were I to see it all. However, the technology I present is often faceless and lacks that human touch that really is needed to convince people about the validity of using technology to make life easier for those around us. That’s why a recent Parade article, How 3-D Printing is Transforming Everything from Medicine to Manufacturing, struck such a chord with me.

No longer is the technology faceless. You hear about how 3D printing has helped a real little girl live a normal life. The look on Anastasia Rivas’ face tells the whole story. It’s the same look that I’ve seen before when people’s lives are transformed by accessible technologies and it’s the same look that continues to drive me to cover accessibility in every book I write, in every way I possibly can. For me, technology isn’t about games or productivity software; it’s about making a difference in people’s lives—helping them do more with every asset they have. It’s the reason that I’d love to see fully secure, ultimately reliable, and easy to use software sometime in my lifetime, even though such a goal seems absurdly unrealistic today.

The point of this post is that the software you develop has real implications for real people. There is a tendency by developers to view software as an abstraction—as something that simply exists. In fact, there is a tendency to view software simply as a means to an end, but software and the hardware it runs on is so much more. I usually leave out the specific “who” part of an article to help you better concentrate on the technology you’re using. However, after seeing the Parade article, I just had to say something about a specific person affected by the technology that we all use and create as developers.

When you write software, make sure you consider the specific “who” of that software. Specifically who will use the application and what are the needs of that specific person? It’s a question we all need to answer despite the tendency to view software in the abstract. Let me know your thoughts about the human face of technology at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Tea Time with a New Toy

What warms the hands as well as the heart, especially on a blustery Autumn night? A nice cup of tea.

How can you make a new acquaintance feel special or comfort an old friend? With a nice cup of tea.

I love to drink tea. I like it strong and I like it hot!

 

Recently, I received a gift from a friend who knows about my love affair with tea. It is called an “Almigh’ Tea Bag” from Supreme Housewares. This cute little thing is made completely from silicone. It is shaped like a tea bag with tag intact! I’ve carried it to work with me and tried it out with several different cups and mugs.

Cup, Saucer and Tea Bag
Cup, Saucer and Tea Bag

The base of the bag comes off so you can stuff the insides with your own mix of herbs and spices. Some like it strong, some like it light. With the Almigh’ Tea Bag, you can make it just like you want it.

Almigh'Tea Bag
Almigh’ Tea Bag

Here are some of the advantages that I found with this item as compared to the metal spoons or tea balls that you have in your utensil drawer at home.

  1. It is adorable.
  2. It is inexpensive.
  3. There is no metal to ruin your microwave.
  4. It travels well in your “go to work” mug.
  5. To clean out the tea leaves, simply turn it inside out. The leaves come out very easily.
  6. Small quantities as well as buying in bulk will save you money.
  7. No waste, even the used leaves can be added to the compost.
  8. Fresh tea leaves and herbs give more robust flavor.
  9. You aren’t stuck with a whole box of tea in a flavor that you didn’t like.
  10. It is easy to experiment with flavor combinations.

 

My experiment included whole cloves,              star anise and orange mint
My experiment included whole cloves, star anise and orange mint

There are also other uses for this tool that are yet to be explored. I wonder how it will do for a small “bouquet garni” in a small beef stew? I also wonder how Coffee Beans will work, if they are course ground and stuffed inside with course ground hazelnuts? As you can tell, playing with this teabag may keep me occupied for some time.  It is definitely an item that I will be adding to my stocking stuffer list for Christmas this year! The bag comes in four colors: yellow (shown), green, red, and ivory.

If you have any ideas about what can be stuffed into the “Almigh’ Tea Bag”, or have had any experience with it, I would love to hear from you.  Please respond here or send an email to John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

API Security and the Developer

As our world becomes ever more interconnected, developers rely more and more on code and data sources outside of the environment in which the application runs. Using external code and data sources has a considerable number of advantages, not the least of which is keeping application development on schedule and within budget. However, working with APIs, whether local or on someone else’s system, means performing additional levels of testing. It isn’t enough to know that the application works as planned when used in the way you originally envisioned it being used. That’s why I wrote API Security Testing: Think Like a Bad Guy. This article helps you understand the sorts of attacks you might encounter when working with a third party API or allowing others to use your API.

Knowing the sources and types of potential threats can help you create better debugging processes for your organization. In reality, most security breaches today point to a lack of proper testing and an inability to debug applications because the inner workings of that application are poorly understood by those who maintain them. Blaming the user for interacting with an application incorrectly, hackers for exploiting API weaknesses, or third parties for improperly testing their APIs are simply excuses. Unfortunately, no one is interested in hearing excuses when an application opens a door to user data of various types.

It was serendipity that I was asked to review the recent Snapchat debacle and write an article about it. My editorial appears as Security Lessons Courtesy of Snapchat. The problems with Snapchat are significant and they could have been avoided with proper testing procedures, QA, and debugging techniques.This vendor is doing precisely all the wrong things—I truly couldn’t have asked for a better example to illustrate the issues that can occur when APIs aren’t tested correctly and fully. The results of the security breach are truly devastating from a certain perspective. As far as I know, no one had their identity stolen, but many people have lost their dignity and privacy as a result of the security breach. Certainly, someone will try to extort money from those who have been compromised. After all, you really don’t want your significant other, your boss, or your associates to see that inappropriate picture.

The need to test APIs carefully, fully, and without preconceived notions of how the user will interact with the API is essential. Until APIs become more secure and developers begin to take security seriously, you can expect a continuous stream of security breaches to appear in both the trade press and national media. The disturbing trend is that vendors now tend to blame users, but this really is a dead end. The best advice I can provide to software developers is to assume the user will always attempt to use your application incorrectly, no matter how much training the user receives.

Of course, it isn’t just APIs that require vigorous testing, but applications as a whole. However, errors in APIs tend to be worse because a single API can see use in a number of applications. So, a single error in the API is spread far wider than a similar error in an application. Let me know your thoughts on API security testing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Death by Connected Device

The title for this post is dramatic on purpose. In my book, Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements, I describe all sorts of useful technologies for making the lives of those with special needs better. In fact, this particular book has received so much attention that I’ve expanded its coverage significantly by devoting forty (and counting) posts to it. The fact is that implanted devices will continue to be a part of our lives and their use will only increase, which is why articles, such as Cyber crime: First online murder will happen by end of year, warns US firm, have me more than a little concerned. The fact is that we’re all in line for a major wake-up call at some point if something isn’t done to secure the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems we all rely on to connect devices to the Internet today. The hardware, software, and other functionality required to make everything happen is encapsulated in a technology known as the Internet of Things (IoT). Soon, everyone will know about IoT, but few people will know or understand the underlying SCADA systems that goes with it.

The part of the articles that I’ve read so far that intrigues me most is that politicians and others in the know have been disconnecting themselves from the Internet. Note the mention of Dick Chaney disconnecting himself from the wireless part of his implanted device in the aforementioned article. If the devices and their connections were secured, our former vice president wouldn’t be quite so worried. Unfortunately, the rest of us probably won’t be quite so lucky unless we refuse to have the devices implanted at all (which would seem to be a self-defeating stance to take). I’ve actually been discussing this issue for quite some time now. The latest significant treatment of the topic appears in my An Update On Special Needs Device Hacking post. I’ve also broached the topic in Determining When Technology Hurts. The point is that this issue isn’t new, but we certainly haven’t done anything about it.

Will it actually require a slew of front page news stories depicting people assassinated through their implanted devices for someone to get the idea that there are really awful people out there who would like to kill someone (anyone) with impunity? It seems to be the case. So, now we’re seeing stories about the event actually taking place sometime soon. Even if we don’t see someone killed, I can see a situation where people have money extorted from them by hackers who have gained illegal access to their implanted devices.

I’m all for the advancement of technology that has significant potential to help people. I’ve written more than a few posts on the topic. Helping people to walk, see, hear, touch, and have generally better lives is a great idea in my book. However, the time is long past for securing these devices in a meaningful way so that only those who really need access will actually get it. Just why there hasn’t been any legislation regarding this need is beyond me. Our politicians are obviously aware of the problem and have done the work required to protect themselves, but they don’t see to be in much of a hurry to protect their constituents.

Given what I’ve seen in the past, I’m sure the medical community won’t be in any hurry to secure these devices because security has been a legislated requirement in the past. With this in mind, what do you feel needs to happen with these devices to make them a better deal for those who need them? Let me know your thoughts about the lack of security for implanted devices and devices connected to IoT in general at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

VBA Examples Online

When I originally wrote VBA for Dummies, I included a number of links to third party resources. Of course, a few of those links are no longer active. I was really happy to hear from JoJo Zawawi the other day about the link to his excellent VBA examples. The link found in my book, http://www.jojo-zawawi.com/code-samples-pages/code-samples.htm, is no longer active. You need to use http://www.thezcorp.com/VBACodeSamples.aspx instead.

If you ever find a broken link in one of my books, please be sure to let me know about it. I’ll be more than happy to provide an updated link here so everyone can continue to use the resource. Please contact me about your link concerns at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Get Fluffy!

 

 

Quilt, Comforter and Afgan

A Quilt, a Comforter and an Afghan meet on the clothesline…

When I was a kid, October was the month for the “Autumn Airing of the Quilts”. My best friend’s mother had a wide range of quilts and comforters, many of which had been passed down for generations. On a sunny Saturday afternoon we would take them all out of their storage chests. Then we would repair any damage. If they smelled musty, we would wash the bedding and let it dry in the fresh air. Anything that was brightly colored was carefully monitored so that it could be taken off the clothesline just as soon as it was dry so it wouldn’t fade in the sunshine. After that was done, all of the beds in the house were made up with winter sheets, clean blankets and these heirloom quilts and comforters.

As a result, comfort came home!

As it is with anything that you want to last, proper storage and care is necessary for bedding. In order to provide proper care, it is important to know what you have. Knitted and crocheted items are called afghans and require a different type of care than quilts and comforters. Comforters, quilts and blankets are made from fabric.

  • When the item is made of fabric there are several ways it could be made:
    • A quilt is made of pieces of fabric sewn together in a pattern with a top, middle and bottom layer sandwiched together and then sewn.
    • A comforter is made by sewing two sheets of fabric together and filling the inside with something fluffy often feathers or down.
    • A blanket is a single layer, traditionally cotton or wool and in modern times, microfibers.
  • Ask yourself: Is the item supposed to be fuzzy,smooth or satiny? Different fabrics require different treatment to keep them in the best condition through the years.
  • Were these given to you from someone as an heirloom or is it simply a hand-me-down? Heirlooms command much more respect and warrant special attention due to the emotional attachment that comes along with it.

Here are some considerations for airing your own comforters, quilts and blankets.

  • Check over the bedding carefully and mend any seams before attempting to clean the items. Remember the quote from Poor Richard’s Almanac “A stitch in time saves nine”? It is certainly true when it comes to mending bedding.
  • Be certain of the material that the item is made from. Wool must be cleaned differently than cotton. Microfiber can be treated differently than sateen. Look for fabric tags. If there are care instructions, follow them carefully for best results.
  • Be careful with bedding if anyone in the home has pollen allergies. While bedding is outside on a line, the pollen and pollutants from the surrounding countryside can settle on it. If there are allergies in your household, you may choose to tumble your bedding in a drier instead of airing it on a line.
  • Do not crowd bedding in the drier. For a large comforter it is worth the time and money to take it to a laundromat to use large capacity machines. If you decide to dry your bedding in a home machine, add small items to create movement in the dryer. Be sure that the items are completely dry before folding or storing to prevent mildew.
  • Filled comforters, with down or manmade materials inside, should always be tumbled dry. For fluffiness, add a couple of tennis balls or similar item (I wash and use my dog toys) in the drier. A comforter is warmer when fluffy, because the down captures and holds warm air inside the layers.

It will soon be blustery and frigid outside. Although it takes time to make sure that your bedding is cleaned, mended and ready for winter, the investment will keep you warm and snuggly all winter long!

If you have any stories about your experiences with quilts or comforters, or pictures to share, I would love to hear from you!  Please add a comment to this post or contact John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Beta Readers Needed for Build Your Own PC on a Budget

There is a certain excitement about building your own system. You decide what hardware should go into the box and you decide how everything should be put together. A lot of people would like to have more control over how their system is configured, which is why I decided to write Build Your Own PC on a Budget. This book is intended for anyone who wants to build their own system. You don’t have to have prior hardware experience; although, the ability to use basic tools will most definitely help.

Of course, you might wonder what the purpose would be of building your own system. After all, you can go to just about any store or shop online and get a decent computer for almost nothing today. The systems you get in the store are built using the least expensive components available for the most part, unless you go to a “boutique store” such as Alienware, where you’ll pay through the nose for the system you really wanted. Building your own system means that you can pick and choose which components to emphasize for your particular needs. In fact, you can add non-standard parts to your system so that it can do more than most off-the-shelf computers can do. The point is that you can make this system however you want it to look without anyone placing any limits on what you can do.

The point of this book is to help you create a system that meets your needs, allows for future expansion, and still won’t break the bank. That’s a tall order, but this book will help you make the sorts of decisions you need to make in order to create such a system. You’ll find these topics discussed in the book.

  • Part I: Developing a PC Plan
    • Chapter 1: Defining What You Want
    • Chapter 2: Introducing the Major Parts
    • Chapter 3: Considering the Vendors
    • Chapter 4: Getting What You Need
  • Part II: Building the Hardware
    • Chapter 5: Installing the Motherboard
    • Chapter 6: Adding RAM and Processor
    • Chapter 7: Providing Video
    • Chapter 8: Mounting Permanent Storage
    • Chapter 9: Attaching Auxiliary Devices
  • Part III: Considering Networks
    • Chapter 10: Installing a LAN
    • Chapter 11: Connecting to the Internet
    • Chapter 12: Accessing Wireless Devices
  • Part IV: Installing the Software
    • Chapter 13: Installing the Operating System
    • Chapter 14: Accessing the Devices
    • Chapter 15: Choosing Applications
  • Part V: Performing Maintenance
    • Chapter 16: Maintaining the Hardware
    • Chapter 17: Managing the Software
    • Chapter 18: Preparing for Updates

As always, I want your input to help avoid making any errors in the book. If you have any desire whatsoever to build your own system from scratch, please contact me at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. In consideration of your time and effort, your name will appear in the Acknowledgements (unless you specifically request that we not provide it). You also get to read the book free of charge. Being a beta reader is both fun and educational.