Vacation Time Again!

Today is my last day in the office for a little over two weeks. Of course, I’ll still be doing quite a lot, but it won’t be in the office. I’ll see you again on July 15th. In the meantime, it’s time to rest for a while and recharge my batteries so I can continue to do a great job helping you with various technology and self-sufficiency issues. I’ve written about the need to unplug before and I highly recommend that everyone do it from time-to-time. Life is too short to spend all of it in front of a computer monitor .

In the meantime, if you do encounter problems with one of my books, please be sure to check the blog posts I’ve provided. Each one of my current books has its own category with a number of helpful posts about issues readers have encountered. If the posts don’t quite do it for you, be assured that I’ll start reviewing and answering e-mail the moment I return. I want to be sure you have a great reading experience and discover as much as you can.

While you’re reading, I’ll be fishing and gardening (amongst other things). There will be a picnic or two and barbecuing every day. The annual puzzle is a big event (and I may actually review the puzzle when I get back). Most of all, I’ll spend the time with my lovely wife, and that’s the most important part of all.


Shelby and the Chicks

Our animals amaze me at times. We let the chicks out of their sheltered environment the other day and into the larger cage we use to raise them until they’re large enough to go outside. As part of that process, we introduced Shelby to her charges for the first time. Each year Shelby, our border collie, takes care of our meat chickens for us. The process of introduction is important because she has to understand that the chickens are her job, and not something to play with.

Getting Shelby used to the idea of herding chickens instead of sheep took a little while, but not too long. We got their scent on her so she would associate their scent with something to be protected. Then we introduced a chick under highly controlled circumstances and praised her when she sniffed the chick, but didn’t do anything else to it. We then allowed her to nuzzle and move the chick into a protected area. Again, this all has to do with her herding instincts and getting the idea across that those chickens are her job. Border collies have a strong need to be helpful and to feel they have a task they need to do.

The first year we tried raising meat chickens, we did it without dog support. It was a nightmare. The first night we put the chickens out thinking the chicken tractors would keep them safe. Quite a few were gone by morning because raccoons had damaged the cage, gotten inside, and partially eaten a number of them. With stronger mesh in place, we thought our troubles were over, but the third night a weasel got in by digging under the tractor and bled half the chickens to death. Out of 75 chickens that year, we processed perhaps ten or fifteen—the rest were killed by animals. It was an eye opener for us. If you live near a woods, use chicken tractors to give your chickens a lot of freedom, and don’t want to spend your nights guarding the chickens, you really do need to train a dog.

The second year we trained our first dog, Jif, to take care of the chickens. Now, Shelby has the job. She starts her shift protecting the chickens by viewing each one quite carefully. She paces back and forth, looking each chick over.


After she is satisfied with the state of the chicks, she lays down but doesn’t take her eyes off of them. During the evening, she’ll get up and check the chicks fairly often. If anything goes wrong, she makes quite a ruckus until we get there to see what is wrong.


Once we put the chicks (now chickens) outside in the chicken tractors, Shelby will stay with them all during the summer months. Every night she’ll assume her post to watch them intently. She does come into the house during the daylight hours because we can watch the chicks then and we’ve noted the dog won’t sleep on duty. She comes in each morning quite tired and sleeps most of the day.

We do provide her with a house outside, but she seldom (if ever) uses it to gain protection from the elements. What we’ve noted is that she puts anything that she has caught trying to get to the chickens in her house. So, we’ll come out and find a dead weasel or other animal from time-to-time and clean it out. On rainy nights, when we’re sure everyone else will be under cover from the rain, Shelby spends the night inside (mostly because we worry that she won’t use her house—she’ll guard those chickens no matter what).

Animals really are amazing, but only if you let them be amazing. Sometimes, that means working with an animal’s natural instincts to see what is possible. Shelby was bred to herd sheep, but now she herds chickens instead. Not many people would think that possible, but we’ve made it happen with two dogs now and I have no doubt that border collies can work just fine with chickens. Let me know your thoughts on amazing animal behaviors at [email protected].


An Unreasonable Expectation of Privacy

We live in a social world. Knowing a bit of something about someone has always carried with it a certain level of perceived power. The more private that something is, the more power the monitoring entity thinks is at stake. The fact that someone is monitoring someone else at all times shouldn’t surprise you at all. People are nosy, as a result, organizations are nosy as well. Curiosity is a basic factor in our makeup.

I’ve written about the issues regarding social media before. In fact, I made a specific post about the dangers of online social media in my Social Networking Traps post. Of course, none of this means that I think people or organizations are correct in monitoring others. What I’m saying is that the monitoring will occur whether it’s correct or not, legal or not. Yes, we could (and should) pass laws to reduce any organization’s (including the government’s) ability to use knowledge gained during unauthorized snooping against us, but the fact is that the snooping will continue unabated until there are no humans left to snoop.

It isn’t as if any of this is new. Reading history (any history) shows that people, organizations, and governments have snooped for all of recorded history. In a best case scenario, the snooping was offset by the institution of laws that limit the use of snooping. However, even then, some level of snooping has always been allowed. Legal snooping whitewashes the act and makes it appear legitimate, but in reality, it’s still snooping.

Of course, some snooping has paid off in the form of reduced crime or possibly the saving of someone’s dignity, but by and large snooping does more harm than good. Unfortunately, the damage done by snooping will continue. Whether it’s the government prying into our affairs or a neighbor who is keen on hearing about an indiscretion, someone will be monitoring you at all times.

There is one perfect answer to all this. If you want to keep something secret, then don’t tell anyone about it. People are unlikely to follow the advice. We’re social and we just have to tell someone. The second a secret, any secret, leaves our lips, the expectation of privacy should go down. The more people we tell (or are told by those we tell), the less secret something becomes until there is no expectation of privacy at all.

In this day of computers that can record anything perfectly and electronics that can snoop anywhere, it’s reasonable to expect that the government (or some other organization) is snooping on you. What will need to happen is that we’ll have to limit the ability of organizations to use the information obtained from snooping to harm others. The snooping will take place, but we can make it harder to use that information in a destructive manner.

Technology has brought us a considerable number of positives—everything from longer lives to being able to use those lives more fully. However, as users of technology, we have to keep in mind that it has always been easier to destroy than to create. The very technology that enables us to do so many interesting things is just as easily turned against us. What we need to do now is exercise vigilance and use technology wisely. Just as you wouldn’t stick your hand in a fire on the stove, but would use that same fire to cook your food, you need to use technology for the positive purposes for which it was designed. Let me know your thoughts on snooping at [email protected].


A Really Wet Spring

It doesn’t seem possible that I was complaining about drought last year, but I did (see Unexpected Drought Consequences for details). Our spring has been incredibly wet with rain coming every other day (or, more often, several days in a row). It has been so wet that even trying to cut the grass has been a chore. I finally resorted to using a hand mower and a weed whacker to do the job-the garden tractor was hopeless, it either lost traction and got stuck – perhaps some brand new tractor tires are in order – or the deck would become filled with grass and refuse to do anything more. At least we’re not flooding (yet).

Our main concern at the moment is that the garden still isn’t planted. Yes, it has gotten quite late and some items wouldn’t have a chance of producing anything at this point, but many other items will still produce something for us. The problem is trying to till the garden to loosen the soil. The other day I took out my spade to see how things were progressing. The soil in one part of the garden simply stuck together as a mud ball. Digging in another part showed water in the bottom of the hole. Obviously, any attempt to use the tiller will be futile until the garden dries out a little.

At least one reader has heard of our predicament (possibly being in the same state himself) and chided me about my comments regarding global warming. I stand by what I have said in the past-global warming is a reality. Global warming doesn’t necessarily mean things will be hot (although, the global average temperature is increasing a small amount each year). What it means is that we’ll see more extremes in weather, such as this year’s really cool and wet spring.

As with anything, I try to find the positives. I reported on one of those positives recently, our woods produced a bumper crop of mushrooms. Those mushrooms sell for $25.00 a pound if you can obtain them directly from someone who picks them. Morels are in high demand because they’re delicious. If you pick mushrooms to help augment your income, this is your year. We simply enjoyed them in some wonderful meat dishes, which is a treat considering we usually make do with the canned variety.

However, for us the biggest plus is that we’re going to be buried in fruit. The apples, cherries, plums, and pears have all produced bountifully this year. The trees are literally packed with fruit. I imagine that I’ll need to trim some of it off to keep the branches from breaking-an incredibly rare event. It has only happened once before in the 18 years we have lived here. So, for us, this year is the year we pack the larder with good fruit to eat, despite the fact that our garden will produce dismally.

Of course, we really do want a garden. At this point, my only option is to go out there and dig it up by hand and then smooth it over with a garden rake. I’ll this task right alongside mowing the lawn using the weed whacker. We’re talking some heavy duty hours of some incredibly dirty work. Well, someone has to do it. At least I’m getting my exercise, which will help improve my health. We know that to create the garden we had envisioned, it will take a lot of time. We’ve asked friends/family for assistance, as well as getting inspiration from shows such as Alan Titchmarsh’s love your garden, so we think we have more than enough ideas when it comes to creating a garden we will be proud of.

So how is your spring going and what do you expect from your garden this summer? Are your fruit trees literally bursting with fruit as mine are? Let me know what is happening with your orchard and garden at [email protected].

No, I Don’t Know Everything

A reader was taken aback the other day when I uttered the words, “I don’t know.” Three little words (actually four, since one of them is a contraction) seemed to send this poor soul reeling. As an author, I often need to utter those words because it’s a fact that I truly don’t know everything. If I did, life would be boring because there would be no challenge. Looking at the situation logically, there isn’t any way for me to read the daily output of millions of computer scientists—it’s physically impossible. Comprehending and remembering all that output would be a gargantuan task inconceivable in its execution. Keeping up with a modicum of that output is still an immense undertaking, but one I do with joy and a desire to know more.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a societal enmity toward those words. For a professional to utter, “I don’t know” seems to diminish the professional’s stature both with peers and those the professional serves. We expect our professionals to have answers (the correct ones) at all times, which is clearly unattainable. Yet, uttering those words requires courage and someone uttering them should be admired for being truthful, at least.

Of course, uttering the words and doing something about the utterance are two different situations. Generally, after uttering the phrase, I feel obliged to do something about it, assuming that the question is within my purview of interests (which range widely). Most professionals, curiosity piqued, will delve into the abyss and come back with an answer after some period of study. However, by that time the questioner has often pursued other interests, leaving the professional to wonder whether the question really was important.

The answer is always important, if for no other reason than the professional has added new knowledge and opened new avenues of intellectual exploration. Even so, a little patience on the part of the questioner would have been nice. Any voyage of discovery takes time, no matter how mundane the trip might appear at first. In fact, many of my most memorable discoveries came as the result of a seemingly routine question on the part of a reader.

When I utter the words, “I don’t know” to you as a reader, it doesn’t mean I lack experience or knowledge—it simply means that I haven’t yet explored the area of information you desire. In many cases, I’ll take time at some point to explore the area and present you with my opinion on it, but you’ll have to be patient until I’m able to discover the answer for you. In the meantime, it’s my hope that you’ll continue to ask questions that cause me to utter, “I don’t know.”


Limitations of the FindStr Utility

Readers have noted that I use the FindStr utility quite often. This utility is documented in both Windows Command-Line Administration Instant Reference and Administering Windows Server 2008 Server Core (and also appears a host of my other books). At the time I wrote that documentation, I had no idea of how much comment this particular utility would generate. I’ve written a number of posts about it, including Accessing Sample Database Data (Part 3), Understanding Line-, Token-, and String-Based Command Line UtilitiesUsing the FindStr Utility to Locate Errors in Visual Studio, and Regular Expressions with FindStr. It might be possible that people think that this utility is infallible, but it most certainly has limits. Of course, the FindStr utility is line-based and I’ve already documented that limitation. However, it has other limitations as well.

The most important limitation you must consider is how FindStr works. This utility works with raw files. So, you can use it to look inside executable files and locate those produced by a specific organization as long as the file contains unencrypted data. When an executable relies on obfuscation or other techniques to render the content less viewable by competitors, the strings that you normally locate using FindStr might become mangled as well—making them invisible to the utility. In practice, this particular problem rarely happens, but you need to be aware that it does happen and very likely will happen when the executable file’s creator has something to hide (think virus).

Another problem is that FindStr can’t look inside archives or other processed data. For example, you can’t look inside a .ZIP file and hope to locate that missing file. You might initially think that there is a way around this problem by using the functionality provided in Windows 7 and newer versions of Windows to look inside archive files and treat them as folders. However, this functionality only exists within Windows Explorer. You can’t open a command prompt inside an archive file and use FindStr with it.

Recently, a reader had written me about his Office installation. Previously, he had used FindStr to locate specific files based on their content—sometimes using content that wasn’t searchable in other ways. This feature suddenly stopped working and the reader wondered why. It turns out that .DOC files are raw, while .DOCX files are archives. Change the extension of a .DOCX file to .ZIP and you’ll suddenly find that your ZIP file utilities work great with it. Old Office files work well with FindStr—new files only work if you save them in .DOC format.

Another reader wrote to ask about network drives. It seems that the reader was having a problem locating files on a network drive unless the drive was mapped. This actually isn’t a limitation, but you do have to think about what you want to do. Let’s say you’re looking for a series of .DOC files on the C drive (with a shared name of Drive C) of a server named WinServer in the WinWord folder that contain the word Java in them. The command would look like this: FindStr /m /s “Java” “\\WinServer\Drive C\WinWord\*.doc”. When using network drives, you must include the server name, the share name, the path, and the file specification as part of the command. Otherwise, FindStr won’t work. What I have found though is that FindStr works best with Windows servers. If you try to use it with another server type, you might experience problems because FindStr won’t know how to navigate the directory structure.

There is a real limit on the length of your search string. Another reader wrote with this immense search string and wondered why FindStr was complaining about it. The utility appears to have a search string length limit of 127 characters (found through experimentation and not documented—your experience may differ). The workaround is to find a shorter search string or to perform multiple searches (refining the search by creating a more detailed file specification). If you can’t use either workaround, then you need to write an application using something like VBScript to perform the task.

These are the questions that readers have asked most about. Of course, I want to hear your question about limitations as well. If you encounter some strange FindStr behavior that affects my book’s content in some way, please be sure to write at [email protected].


This Year’s Personal Flower Garden

Spring came later than normal this year and it has been quite cold and wet. As I discussed in Enjoying My Own Personal Flower Garden, Rebecca has created a beautiful flower garden for me. I go there during the spring, summer, and fall when I need a break from the office. It’s a sign of the most sincere respect of my need for privacy and of her love for me. The garden is quiet, cool, and serene during the hectic summer months. I go there to contemplate life in general and when I need to think about the specifics of a book. Of course, we also enjoy time together there. Perhaps we will add some nice adirondack chairs so we can sit outside together.

Most of the flower garden came back this year. For example, the wild strawberries look just as beautiful as ever.


We noticed something odd about the flowers this year. Not only are they more plentiful, but they’re also a darker pink than ever before. Some of the flowers almost look light red in color. I looked around online for a reason for the color change, but didn’t find one, so let me know if you have any idea of why they have changed in color this year.

Last year she had also planted some columbine for me. The flowers come in all sorts of colors and I’m delighted to have three beautiful colors to enjoy. The plants are much bigger this year and she has moved them around to provide this tricolor presentation.


The bishop’s weed returned this year as well. The plant has gotten much bigger and has bloomed profusely.


I’ve read a number of negative things about bishop’s weed (such as it will take over the garden), but so far we don’t seem to be having any problem with it. We’re either lucky or some condition in our garden, such as those pesky rabbits that eat absolutely everything, is keeping it under control. A few other sites tell of ways to use this plant successfully, but it’s one that you should probably enjoy from afar.

One of my favorite non-flowering plants is silver mound. Rebecca has tried a number of times to get this plant to stick around and she’s had some success, but last year’s plant succumbed to the drought. So, I have three new silver mound plants to enjoy this year (they’re so nice that the garden just doesn’t seem complete without them).


A new offering this year is the English daisy. It’s quite pretty. Various places I’ve looked online have told me to enjoy it this year because it may not return next year. In England, it’s actually considered a bit of a weed, but something this pretty shouldn’t be called a weed.


I also received new color of coral bells (also called coralbells) with a dark pink flower. It’s not just the flower that is a different color, but the leaves as well. Even when these plants aren’t blooming, they present an interesting leaf shape and add to the splendor of the garden.


Sharing the garden with me for the first time are the chickens. They come by and feed under the bird feeder (picking up all of the seeds the wild birds leave and reducing the weed count as a result). Of course, they’re curious as to why I’m just sitting there when there are so many lovely bugs to eat and wonder whether I might not just serve a purpose by petting them instead of being quiet. They really are funny birds.


Our friend left behind a pair of his boots to use as planters last summer. Rebecca has made full use of them. We now have boot planters on the patio.



A Discussion About Green Technology Pollution

I’ve discussed various methods of saving money while consuming less electricity (thereby reducing the amount of pollution that a typical home generates locally) several times in the past. The two most popular posts on the issue are CFLs for Free and More on CFL Usage. It’s true, using Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) reduces local use of electricity, reducing local pollution and saving money. However, no one has proven they really are greener than using incandescent bulbs after examining all of the evidence. The problem is production. Producing a lightbulb of any sort also creates pollution.

Looking at a CFL, you have the glass, which possesses the same ability to pollute (and at about the same amount) as an incandescent bulb. There is also the mercury contained within a CFL, but burning an incandescent bulb actually outputs more mercury into the environment when you rely on coal fired electrical plants. On the other hand, if the electrical source is nuclear, wind, solar, or natural gas powered, then CFLs are a definite loser when it comes to mercury. You must also consider the wiring within the bulb and the base used to screw it into a light socket. Both of these items pollute, but generally at the same or a reduced amount as an incandescent bulb.

However, none of the articles I’ve ever read consider another important issue. CFLs contain electronics. Producing those electronics creates an enormous amount of pollution. Organizations such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) will tell you that electronics are hardly clean and they do produce some extremely toxic side effects. Plus, the devices continue to pollute after we’re done with them. Because of the strict environmental laws in the United States, much of the most toxic production is now performed in China or Mexico.

Unfortunately, the production pollution is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of these devices also require the use of rare earths, which produce pollution so toxic that all of the mines in America were shut down until it was discovered that we needed one for strategic purposes. (The last mine, the Mountain Pass rare earth mine, was closed in 2002 after a series of radioactive tailing spills.) So, we’re opening (actually, reopening) one of these pollution super sites in the making in order to keep China from having a monopoly.

It doesn’t take long to figure out that green technology isn’t very green. In fact, what we’re really doing in many cases is moving the pollution to someone else’s yard instead of our own. Even so, after reading about the topic intensely, it appears that CFLs are still a good idea and that they do, in fact, reduce the overall pollution of the planet. The lesson though is that it’s important to embrace green technologies with the idea that they aren’t really green and then discuss just where the pollution goes after you start using them. For example, ethanol production will remain a major pollution producer (not a pollution solution) in my book because it really does cause significant damage to the planet. What ethanol does is move the pollution to someone else’s doorstep—making it the worst sort of pollution.

There are also significant questions about both solar and wind power. In both cases, you have pollution created by electronics production and the use of rare earths. Additional pollution is caused when these two forms of power actually reduce the efficiency of power plants that are needed when solar or wind sources are unavailable.

This brings me to new technologies. Scientists are experimenting with all sorts of new ways to produce energy that is cleaner. Recently I read about an artificial leaf that produces power using photosynthesis—the same technique used by plants. However, like many other techniques for producing power, this one relies on electronics and will therefore contribute to pollution somewhere. The issue is whether the pollution is less than other techniques of producing power now. This technology has promise because it appears that it uses less silicon than solar panels. In addition, it’s less expensive than solar energy and there is the potential to reduce costs more. The part that intrigues me most about this particular new technology is that its output is easily stored in a form that doesn’t require constant replacement of batteries. The output is hydrogen and oxygen, both of which can be stored using tanks and then released as needed. The combination of lower cost and low-technology energy storage could make this new method a much better deal than wind or solar power.

People keep looking at the technologies we have now as an end point. Yes, they are an end point, but one that is at the beginning of the route needed to produce truly clean energy, not the end of the road. Many scientists suggest now that the existing clean energy sources actually produce more pollution than the fossil fuel sources they’re designed to replace—we need to do better. The artificial leaf is an example of the kind of technology we could see in the future. Yes, it still pollutes, but possibly at a much lower level than anything to date and it doesn’t require anything special to use it.

What is your take on green technology and pollution? Have you considered issues such as the pollution generated during production and post usage, and the overall effect of using a technology on the system as a whole? Let me know your thoughts on the matter at [email protected].


Spring Change

Nature casts off her winter garb,
pure white ermine,
soft and plain.

Showers in renewing,
springtime rains,
begin afresh once again.

Breezes blow her dry once more,
sweeps the old
clean away.

Sunshine comes,
to give her warmth,
makes her children frolic and play.

Puts on a new,
frock of green,
fragrant, musty, earthy hue.

Displays her jewels,
of flowery delights,
red and yellow, orange and blue.

Springtime’s promise,
of more to come,
brings to mind summer’s fun.

For now we’ll see,
her labors great,
winter’s gone, spring has won.

Copyright 2013, John Paul Mueller


Bounty and Beauty in the Woods

Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time in the woods. There is always something to see there, even in the dead of winter. In reality, there is quite a lot to see that you’ll never find unless you know where to look. Some hidden items bespeak the bounty of the woods, while others tell of the beauty you can encounter there.

Recently I went up into the woods to look for morel mushrooms. Our damp, cool spring seems to have produced a bumper crop of them. In fact, normally I find just a few, but this year we ended up with a bowl full of them. What surprised me most what the size of these mushrooms, they were a lot larger than usual. Here are a few of the larger ones I found:


Fortunately, size doesn’t diminish the wonderful taste of these mushrooms; you just get more of a good thing. Rebecca fixed them up with a roast, which was absolutely delicious. The mushroom season is extended this year and I hope to find a few remaining morels on a venture into the woods today (weather permitting, of course).

Sometimes beauty is also hidden. While wandering through the woods, I noted our may apples (sometimes spelled as mayapple, without the space) are up for the year. When you walk through the woods, you see a nondescript bit of vegetation that is slightly reminiscent of palm trees when viewed closely. Some plants have one leaf (first year) and some two leaves (second year). The second year plants will produce a beautiful blossom (just one). I picked one for my lovely bride to enjoy as shown here:


The single flower has an extremely light, but pleasant smell. The may apple is actually a useful plant, but most people haven’t even heard of it. The leaves, when boiled, produce a natural insecticide that you can spray on a variety of plants. The insecticide washes off cleanly with the next rain. You can also dip seeds in it to prevent a variety of problems.

The native Americans used the may apple root as a medication. It’s used as a laxative and also a purgative. In fact, it may surprise you to find that some modern medications, such as podophyllin, also rely on the may apple.

There is some discussion about the fruit because most people have no clue as to when to pick and eat it. The fruit must ripen on the plant or else you’ll get poisoned (not enough to die, but you’ll wish you had). It has a subtly lemon taste and is absolutely delicious. Most sites tell you not to eat the seeds, which is good advice. The seeds won’t make you sick, but they do tend to have a laxative effect when you eat enough of them.

This is also the season for springtime flowers. While the may apple might be a little on the self-conscious side, most flowers are quite showy. This year we’ve been blessed with an abundance of cranesbill geranium as shown here.


Most of these patches are relatively large and the flowers are knee deep (sometimes deeper). Our moist, cool spring seems to have brought out more than the usual number of these delightful flowers and it’s hard to go very far without seeing a patch of them. They do spring up each year, but this year’s display is astounding. The eye catching beauty of this group of flowers hides the may apples and other plants that are also part of the picture.

The woods tends to hide things from the casual visitor and the presence of showy displays tends to make discrete displays even harder to find. In order to see both the bounty and the beauty, you must look—really look—to see all that resides within. Let me know about your latest experience in the woods at [email protected].