Goldenrod, Falsely Accused

The real allergy culprit is ragweed

One of the things we look forward to as fall approaches is the goldenrod blooming. The bees and butterflies clearly appreciate the explosion of pretty little yellow blooms as well. There is one small plant that grows outside one of our windows. We cherish it and don’t treat it as a weed. The picture above is of a larger cluster of goldenrod in a bed in our backyard. Unfortunately, as showy as it is, it gets blamed for the crimes of some other plants.Goldenrod is related to asters and is appreciated as a garden plant in some other countries. Here it has the misfortune of blooming at the same time as ragweed, a plant with insignificant flowers that produce large quantities of wind-blown pollen. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky, it depends on insects to be transported between blooms.

Goldenrod is only a weed if it is growing where you want something else to be.

Carolina Wren Nests

Location, Location, Location…

With Fall coming on and the end-of-summer sales going on, we have decided that it is time to go shopping for a new wren nest box (also known as a gas barbeque grill). Earlier this summer when I was getting ready to prep the grill for cooking marinated chicken, I opened it up to find quite a surprise. The Carolina Wrens had found another use for our grill. Carolina Wrens build dome-shaped nests. The entrance can be seen near the center of the photograph.The nest had not gone beyond the planning stage. I am sure the lady wren had realized the black grill got far too hot to be a suitable nesting spot. The male will start several nests and then the female will choose one and finish it to her liking. We had to find another way to cook our chicken that night. In cleaning up the grill we determined that the wrens had done us a favor. It was apparent the grill was reaching the end of its useful life and would have to be replaced soon.

Carolina wrens are reputed to be shy but we have not found that to be the case. Usually it is our garage that is chosen as a desirable location for a nest. Almost every available shelf or nook has had a test nest built on or in it. The birds are incredibly loud for their size and on occasion seem to be trying to convince us that they would be willing to share their garage with us.

This nest was very close to completion. It was in a grocery bag full of pinecones hanging by the door from the garage into the house. If you look carefully, you can spot the snake-skin “rug” placed near the entrance. I have read that this item is highly favored by female wrens. There were no eggs in the nest so we removed the bag. The garage is closed at night and would not be a good location for a nest.

No Vacation From Mowing

Usually, we get a break from mowing during late summer.

In most years, the grass usually stops growing during August and early September. This provides a welcome break from the chore of mowing during the hottest parts of the summer. This year, it wouldn’t stop growing. While pop-up thunderstorms are not unusual, this year there were more than seemed normal, and several other weather systems added more moisture to the area. Every time I look out the window, I can see it there, growing.

As a positive, the increased cloud coverage did keep the temperatures a bit lower. The highest temperature so far was 96.5 F. This is about 5 degrees lower than the 100.1 F from 2016 or 101.1 F from 2015. It was hard to tell though as the extra rain meant that everything was damper and the humidity higher. These temperatures are from the personal weather station in the middle of our backyard. It might not have the best location, but it is definitely better than being next to a parking lot or air conditioner.

Tersa Sphinx

A very stylish and elegant moth.

This moth surprised us when we spotted it a few years ago on a crepe myrtle at our previous house in Montgomery, Alabama. It is a Tersa Sphinx. I thought it a svelte and stylish creature and grabbed the camera. It took me some time to determine what sort of moth it was. It is not considered rare but I had not seen it before or since. The caterpillars feed on catalpa and pentas among other things, and are large and green like those of many other sphinx moths. Perhaps I need to plant some host species and attract some at our current location. I would like to see one again.



Bluetooth Frustrations with Windows 10

Not our usual fare, but computer issues are a problem everyone faces.

I was recently forced to rebuild my computer due to a leaky liquid cooler (for the CPU). The new processor required a new motherboard, and since the copy of Windows 8 I was using was tied to the motherboard, I was forced to upgrade to Windows 10 as well. One of the features of the new motherboard was a built in Bluetooth transmitter. Things appeared to be working just fine for the first couple of days. The next day I attempted to use a Bluetooth game controller that I had been using the day before. It refused to connect.

This is what it should look like

I quickly discovered that as far as Windows was concerned my computer did not even have a Bluetooth transmitter. The icon was missing from the notification area of the taskbar. I continued on to Device Manager. It had entries for the Bluetooth transmitter, but claimed that the device was missing.

This led to multiple online searches for problems with Bluetooth and Windows. I discovered that several of the major Windows 10 updates caused a rash of Bluetooth issues. It did not help that the newest update (the Creator’s Update) was just starting to release and some of the troubleshooting information was targeted at that version. The suggested fixes included new drivers, older drivers, checking to see if there really is a Bluetooth transmitter, and making sure the correct services are running. None of these potential solutions worked.

After a couple of days struggling with this problem, I discovered two things. First, my computer had issues with Windows’ fast startup. Secondly, if I unplugged my computer after turning it off, Windows would find the Bluetooth transmitter when I started the computer again. Unfortunately, it would again disappear a few hours later. In the end, I found the solution to the problem on ASUS’s Republic of Gamers Forum (the motherboard manufacturer). A member of that forum, bowman9991, suggested turning off the option that allows Windows to power down the Bluetooth device to save power. This reminded me of a different problem I ran into some years ago when Windows powered down my computer’s hard drive. Several programs would promptly crash to desktop the next time they tried to access the drive. As a result I tried this solution immediately.

This screen is obtained by going to Device Manager (available in the menu produced by right clicking the start button in Windows 10), and then right clicking the Bluetooth device and selecting properties.

This was the solution to my problem. After changing this option, the Bluetooth transmitter has worked flawlessly.

I can only guess that there is some sort of incompatibility between Windows’ power saving programming and the Bluetooth transmitter (or its driver). Unplugging the computer can sometimes clear volatile memory on the computer that is preserved on a normal shutdown, and this apparently includes the power status of the Bluetooth transmitter. I will have to watch for major updates to Windows in the future. They have a habit of reverting settings to their default value. I ended up receiving the Creators Update in the middle of this process and it turned Fast Startup back on.

I cannot guarantee that this will work for you, but it would be worth trying if you are having problems with your Bluetooth transmitter disappearing. It would probably be worth checking whenever there is an issue with a device on your computer. My question is, how many perfectly good motherboards (or other hardware) have been returned or replaced as a result of this power management setting?

Eclipse Photos

Our Favorite 2 Pictures

We were pleased with the performance of our long box pinhole viewer. It looked a bit better in person than in this photo from my cellphone’s camera. This photo was taken near the peak for our location (~90%).

While it never got dark here, things did look just a bit, wrong. The light level was closer to early evening, but the sun was high in the sky and the shadows were short and crisp. It was easiest to see when you went out from inside. It simply wasn’t as bright as it should have been. We tried to capture this in a photo, but our cameras were not cooperating with us. Finally, I tried one last time in the middle of the afternoon, and the camera demanded that I raise the flash.

Look at the 1/8 second exposure it wants to use.

One of the most impressive changes we noticed was that it felt a bit cooler during the eclipse. A fact that was confirmed by the weather station (Davis Vantage VUE) that we have in the backyard. From the measurements it took, there was a temperature drop of about 8 degrees during the eclipse.

The birds didn’t seem worried.

Solar Eclipse Pinhole Viewer

The eclipse is not total here, but it is still worth looking at

The August 21 Solar Eclipse is not going to be total where we live, but it should reach about 90%. As a result, we decided to construct a pinhole viewer to watch the eclipse because even 90% should be fairly impressive.This shoebox was our first attempt. We attached a white notecard on one end of the box and cut an about 1 inch square hole on the other end. We covered this with a small piece of aluminum foil (not seen here), and then we used a pin to make a very small hole in it.We went with this much longer box (about 3 ft) because we were dissatisfied with the small size of the image produced by the shoebox. The longer length helped produce a larger image, one that seemed big enough to be useful. We added a small hole near the bottom (only cutting 3 of the 4 sides so it acts like a door) to view the image produced.We are looking forward to the eclipse on Monday. Since it won’t be total here, it can’t be ruined by a single small cloud at just the wrong time. We hope that everyone trying to view the eclipse has clear skies for their attempt.

Drying Peppers

Compressing Peppers by Drying Them

Green peppers have been one of our most successful and early crops this year. I bought plants from a local store since the ones I grow myself invariably turn out very leggy. This year I decided to concentrate on four plants planted in our raised beds on the south side of a row of tomatoes. Since tomatoes and peppers do not require pollinators, they were in tents of mosquito netting to protect them(mostly) from caterpillars and stink bugs (see Growing Tomatoes in the South). Our first flush of peppers was very nice this year. These were the biggest from three plants shown with a coffee mug for size comparison.

We generally use our peppers in chili and other dishes where they can be reconstituted from a dry state. We washed and diced them, and spread them on screens on four drying racks of our 30 year old Harvest Maid food dryer. It took two runs to get the eight peppers dried. It takes about 8 hours at 135 degrees for each batch.

We store them in jars that we vacuum pack with the jar attachment on the FoodSaver. It takes about 2 tablespoons of the dried pepper to equal an average green pepper. The jars take up much less room and keep without refrigeration.