Monday, 15 January 2018

Deus Pox Machina

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

Deus ex machina
is a Latin phrase borrowed from the Ancient Greeks which refers to 'god from the machine'. A few years ago I first became aware of the term when I went to the cinemas to see a film of a similar name. I enjoyed the film and in the story line, the artificial intelligence robot seized an opportunity and dealt humanity, in the form of actor Domhnall Gleeson (who is also in the latest Star Wars franchise instalment), a harsh blow.

That is the thing about artificial intelligence, you never quite know who's side it's on. I was considering this problem the other day, because over the past few months I have had dealings with a semi-intelligent ticket vending machine in a car park. I loathe this particular machine and I hope it gets a pox!

Unfortunately, I know a lot more about car parks than any sane human should. One fun fact about car parks is that they make for boring dinner conversation, so I never talk about car parks. Another thing I noticed about car park owners and operators, is that they always want to make more money from their car park and so there is a temptation to replace human ticket vendors with a machine. What could possibly go wrong?

Every few weeks or so, the editor and I share a car journey into the big smoke. I like car pooling with the editor as we talk about a lot of rubbish (and serious stuff) and generally have a nice time. Sometimes, unfortunately for me, that nice time ends in a car park in a run down inner suburban shopping mall. Even not washing the small Suzuki Swift dirt mouse is no guarantee of a trouble free parking existence there. At a guess I reckon over half the shops in the mall are empty and I pay $16 per day for the privilege of that car spot. The mall has a feeling of decay, which is quite unusual in Melbourne.

Out front of the mall, what appears to me to be groups of junkies, hang around swapping barely coherent words at high volume all the while enjoying the morning summer sun. Into that heady mix of humanity, there are also high stress looking women wearing active wear and pushing prams. Meanwhile, the tolerant old timers who hail from post European WWII immigration, well they push shopping jeeps and form lines outside the banks on pension days. It is a strange mix of people, but the only thing that has given me hassles in that area so far is the loathsome semi-intelligent ticket vending machine.

Machines are meant to obey commands and perform functions. But who really knows what an artificial intelligence will possibly even want, and given my experience, I sure don't want to find out. I'm certain the machine is playing tricks on me because every time I use the thing, it does something different. Sometimes, the machine refuses to accept credit cards and demands cash. I feel as though I am being shaken down for loose change by this machine, which is possibly how it is. Sometimes the machine issues a receipt, and other times it teases me by suggesting that a receipt will be forthcoming, but it never appears. And other times, no receipt is offered. This semi-intelligent machine sure has a complex personality.

The other day was the final straw for me. I couldn't believe it. The machine refused to accept payment by credit card. Indignantly, I fed cash into the machine, and then just to add insult to injury, the nasty piece of work short changed me. I'd kick the machine if I wasn't so concerned about injuring my foot and all of the ubiquitous security cameras that like in a scene from George Orwell's classic book 1984, record all of our goings on.

But of course, it wasn't really the final straw because in the future I know I'm going to have to have interactions with this machine again!

Fortunately, my grumpiness at the machines last insult was short lived because I soothed my shattered nerves with a coffee and a small cake. Now here is the interesting bit. I have known the lovely lady who served me that day at the cafe for more than a decade, but perhaps less than two decades, and without me even mentioning my interactions, she slipped me a free cake for being such a long term and delightful customer. My faith in humanity was restored, my faith in machines, well not so much...

As an interesting side note, I have a secret super power. Everyone does. My secret super power is that for some reason people who serve cakes and other delightful pastry items tend to occasionally provide me with free food. I'm unsure why this is the case, but as the old timers used to say: You must not look a gift cake in the mouth! Wise words and life is too short to go without tasty cakes and pastries!

A couple of good summer storms have rolled over the farm this week. The first storm changed the prevailing weather from very hot summer days to what felt to me like the late days of autumn. The rolling cloud sure looked impressive and there were even a few thunder claps to send a Scritchy the boss dog to hide under the bed (her super power is that she is a storm detective and can predict storms hours in advance. Sometimes the storms are even as far away as interstate).
A thick storm cloud rolled over the farm late this week and turned summer into what felt like late autumn

By the time the second storm rolled over the farm, we were running the wood heater and it felt like early winter. The setting sun as seen through the thick clouds looked awesome.
The storm that followed soon cooled the area further and it soon felt like early winter

The frogs enjoyed the rain and I discovered this frog on the side of the house sheltering from the storm.
Tree frogs seem to be multiplying around here!

Scritchy did not enjoy the rapid change into winter like conditions and I placed a woollen jumper over her so that she kept warm.
Scritchy the boss dog was very cold after the storm, so I draped my woollen jumper over her

At other times, Scritchy was busy monitoring her fluffy collective.
Scritchy monitors the fluffy collective as they enjoy a well earned rest
Scritchy has issues this week as we visited a local animal shelter and purchased a new fluffy. Meet Ollie, the six month old Australian cattle dog:
Ollie enjoys a well earned rest among the fluffy collective
There will be a more thorough update on Ollie next week.

'Tis the season for storing sun dried and seasoned firewood for use over the coming winter. This week we spent two days on that task, and this year we have been moving firewood down hill which is a remarkably easier job than bringing it back up the hill. Who would have thought that? We have been using gravity and simply throwing firewood downhill. The firewood had been cut years ago and has been well seasoned. In between relocating the firewood and storing it, we leave any damp chunks out in the hot summer sun for a few days, before then storing it away.
A huge stack of firewood was thrown down the hill and was then stacked

Another load of cut and split firewood drying in the hot summer sun prior to storing
Who doesn't love the bright yellow trailer? Everywhere I take that trusty old workhorse, blokes tell me how much they like the colour. Of course, they themselves would not dare paint a trailer that colour. But the trailer isn't fussed and it gets a lot of love. Unfortunately, the rear flap succumbed to the dreaded steel worm (a fancy name for rust) and it fell off at an inconvenient moment. Fortunately, like the 'A Team', 'MacGyver', or the 'Six Million Dollar Man' (edit: note the excellent use of the Oxford comma), we have the skills to take a bunch of rubbish chunks of steel and create a brand new rear flap for the bright yellow trailer!
We have the technology, we can rebuild the rear flap for the bright yellow trailer!
Have arc welder, can rebuild! 100% solar powered too. Hello Ollie!
With a bit of fancy cutting, and a lot of hours of work, I turned a whole lot of scrap steel into a brand new rear flap for the bright yellow trailer.

Speaking of scrap steel, we decided to use some scrap aviary steel mesh to temporarily increase the height of the dog fence in their outdoor run. Ollie looks like he may be an escape artist extraordinaire because I tied his lead to a post near to where I was working and he undid the complex latch and came bounding over to tell me about his latest feat of trickery!
Temporary steel aviary mesh was added to the dog enclosure to increase the height of the fencing
Just to prove that it is not all hard work here, we can do stupid too!
The author interacts with Ollie the Australian cattle dog puppy. Ollie is concerned!
I have to get a wriggle on! Fruit, well there is a fair bit of that stuff at the moment. The other day I decided to harvest some of the apricots that looked ripe to me. We may bottle (can) them in a couple of days time.
Lots of yummy apricots fresh from the trees!
The blackberries are just starting to ripen and they are both huge and tasty!
It looks like it may be an excellent blackberry year
I reckon cucumbers are of the Triffid family (that is the fancy scientific name).
Surely cucumbers are of the Triffid family of plants?
In other plant news...
Chilean guavas are swelling in size. This fruit is tasty as!
We made a batch of elderflower wine, but the thousands of berries I am leaving as a gift to the birds
Here are some for the flower enthusiasts (of which I include myself):
A bee and some bugs are enjoying this Balm of Gilead. There is no privacy in bugland.
The bees also enjoy this Cat Mint
This Salvia looks great and produces reliable flowers despite the heat that summer can throw at it
Lavender is another hot weather loving plant
The mint family of plants is as summer hardy as and this Oregano is no exception
If nothing else flowers in a hot summer, the Agapanthus always delivers for the bees
The temperature outside now at about 9.00pm is 12’C (54’F). So far this year there has been 21.8mm (0.9 inches) which is up from last week's total of 0.0mm (0.0 inches)

Monday, 8 January 2018

Wish you were here

This blog is now available as an mp3 podcast through the link: www.ferngladefarm.com.au

The house is now quiet. There are no more large trip hazards in the kitchen. And there are certainly no flooring stomping and attention grabbing sounds from under the dining room table as we eat our lunch. The chickens are no longer protected by a patrolling dog, and the foxes are rejoicing. An era has ended, because on Saturday morning, the editor and I took Sir Poopy Fox and Rat bane to the local veterinary to have him put to sleep.

Sir Poopy, the Swedish Lapphund had been ill for many months now. His eyesight was rapidly deteriorating and he was incontinent. Despite those conditions, he was full of excitement for the world. I have never before experienced the company of a dog so full of joy. As a blind dog, he learned to climb up and down stairs and even continue performing boundary patrol duties on his own. He was a useful and valued member of the household. Two weeks ago he even killed and returned to us a fox cub who foolishly underestimated him.

Alas, last week, he began suffering painful seizures. He would scream and scream and then be disoriented afterwards. The seizures were becoming more frequent and so we gave Sir Poopy a gentle exit out. The night before he died, he and I sat in the orchard and supervised the chickens. He was for the first time in his life, depressed, and all he wanted then and there was a sit and a pat and shared companionship. And I knew what had to be done to my little mate.

"So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell"

He lived life to the full that dog and I will always fondly remember our trips to the local cafe (in the absence of the editor). Sir Poopy would happily sit and enjoy the occasional chunk of fruit toast which was sneakily thrown in his direction. He knew better than to outrage the local notables by being caught eating at a dignified table.

Indeed, he was outraged by the acts of the local marsupials who shared his domain. It was like a scene from the old Warner Brothers cartoon with: Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog; as Mr (at that time) Poopy would clock off as the sun set and the marsupials would then clock on. I'm pretty certain Fatso the wombat used to remark to Sir Poopy, "evenin' Poopy!" to which he'd reply: "evenin' Fatso!" Mr Poopy would retire to his beanbag which was convenient to the wood heater.

The birds still sing, and the cicada's roar their summer songs, but Sir Poopy is now quiet. We buried him up above the courtyard where his spirit has a magnificent view over the surrounding valley and planted a Cumquat (Kumquat) tree over his grave. Rest in Peace little matey, it was a real treat knowing you.

Sir Poopy the Swedish Lapphund Fox and Rat Bane
A C/Kumquat tree planted on hot summer's day over Sir Poopy's grave
"Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?"

Saturday was no day for planting trees, or burying dogs, but what has to be done, has to be done. The previous night the sunset was full of colour:
Friday night, the sunset was full of colour
On Saturday, at one short moment in the late afternoon, the outside thermometer displayed 42'C / 107.6'F. Here are some temperature readings throughout the long day. The blue square in the next photo displays the outside temperature and humidity, whilst the yellow square displays the same information for the inside of the house.
Some temperature readings throughout the hot day
We have no air conditioning in the house and I reckon the thick insulation in the walls, floor and roof, works pretty well. The inside of the house began the day at 23'C / 73'F and peaked at 29'C / 84'F. At that point, we opened the doors and windows to the night air which cooled the house.
The sun sets after a very hot day and the smoke from nearby fires
Earlier in the week, we repaired the concrete floor in the second firewood shed. That shed was originally the old chicken shed, and it had a very dodgy concrete floor. The problem with the dodgy old floor was that if any water from storms managed to get into the firewood shed, it would pool at the low point in the middle of shed, and the firewood would begin to break down and convert into soil!
A new concrete floor was poured into the secondary firewood shed
The new wide and flat path between the house and the secondary firewood shed is now complete. I reckon it looks pretty good, and it will make life much easier during the damp winter months.
The new wide and flat path between the house and the secondary firewood shed is now complete
We had been putting off a repair job to the plastic bumper bar of the little dirt mouse Suzuki. The editor unfortunately had a minor incident a long time ago which cracked the thin plastic on the bumper bar. I recall the days when these things were made from steel...
We began repairing a minor crack in the plastic bumper bar on the dirt mouse Suzuki
The time to hesitate was now through, and so we just got on with the repair job. After a very good YouTube video and some mucking around, we removed the plastic bumper bar from the dirt mouse.
Sir Scruffy the Charming is impressed by our vehicle dismantling skills
We then used a stainless steel plastic stapler repair tool to shore up the broken plastic. The first step was to melt in some stainless steel staples so that the break held together:
Stainless steel staples are melted into the broken plastic
Then the plastic seam welder was used to heat and smooth the area (at the rear of the bumper bar panel - not the painted surface) and the join is as good as new(ish):
A plastic seam welder heats and joins all of the plastic in the repaired area
That day we discovered the hugest stick insect on the underside of the wheelbarrow:
A huge stick insect enjoys this quiet spot underneath the old wheelbarrow
The fruit and vegetables are doing really well despite the crazy hot day. On Saturday the prize for the most wilted plant in the heat of the summer afternoon goes to: Zucchini's (courgette)

The most wilted plant on that really hot day were the zucchini (courgette)
The next day, you'd never know that they'd wilted in the heat. And the plants are full of fruit!
Triffid alert: Zucchini (courgette) are full of yummy fruit
I've been tempting the local Crimson Rosella's (parrots) with the huge haul of almost ripe apricots. It is a fine balancing act between us harvesting the fruit after letting it ripen just that little bit longer on the tree, or having and the birds harvesting the fruit when we aren't looking.
Apricots ripen in the hot summer sun
Apples are continuing to swell and ripen and the summer sun is providing the fruit some blush:
Apples are swelling and ripening and you can see the direction of the sun by the blush on the fruit
Blackberries are almost ripe and it looks set to be a huge harvest. Most of that fruit will be made into jam and wine:
Blackberries are almost ripe and ready to pick
The tomatoes, melons, corn, eggplant, and capsicum (peppers) grew strongly this week:
The tomatoes, melons, corn, eggplant, and capsicum (peppers) grew strongly this week
Our most reliable heat hardy summer greens are the perennial rocket. We pick huge quantities of this summer green and it is very tasty. The bees love the flowers and the plants happily self-seed:
Our most summer heat hardy fresh green: Perennial Rocket
Most of the garden shrugged off the extreme heat of Saturday and there are still plenty of flowers:
California Poppies scream bring on the heat! As does the nearby Catmint.
Densely planted garden beds are very heat hardy. It was almost 40'C / 100'F when these two photos were taken
Feverfew flowers in profusion in this hedge
Agapanthus is just beginning to flower. Mr Toothy is depressed at the loss of his mate
Two pink Poppies flower in among the Lamb's tongue
This Fennel flower has attracted a local wasp
The Hydrangea's bounced back after the hot day
This mauve Salvia enjoys a commanding view
The final word should go to Pink Floyd who are responsible for the lyrics that were included in this week's blog. Not only are they outstanding musicians, the 1975 song Wish you were here is among my all time favourite songs. I hope you enjoyed it too. And Vale, Sir Poopy, you'll be sorely missed.

"How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here."

The temperature outside now at about 6.45pm is 18’C (64’F). So far this year there has been 0.0mm (0.0 inches) which is not much rain at all!