The Chicken House

February 15, 2009

The question before me was: Raze or raise the Roost?

I decided to raise it.

I do not have many hobbies but the ones I do have, I take with deep seriousness and commitment. One of these hobbies is building renovation and anything which obliges me to learn a new manual trade like plumbing, cabinetry, stonemasonary, the theory of chimney building and so on. This all started at a very young age.

When not actually nicking my fingers, I do watch Carpenter at Large, Spanner in the Works, Gardener in the Dunghill and a slew of upstarts. The origin of this programming has been traditionally from the Beeb. (But I avoid Colin and his poncie friend, whatsitsname, flitting about like two bats at dusk undecided which fly to catch.) The stuff from the US and Canada is chock-a-block on Finnish telly thanks to City TV (and no thanks to City we also have a lot of schlock too). We now have a new exporter – Ozland – thank you – fitting my taste in DIY to a Tee. Bonzo in the Bog, Lost in Lost Space in the Sid – excellent like it when they throw in a cutsie marsupial, now and then, to spice up the proceedings. Forward – let this tale scaffold.

I picked up this penchant for DIY programming already as a young man. Yes, there are things one should not admit but now I am ready to reveal the truth about how I misspent part of my young life. I admit to listening to afternoon radio gardening programmes, for years, when I lived in Canada. I looked forward to the drive from St Catherines to Fort Erie, timing it so that I would find out how to keep our bleeding hearts from succumbing to an aphid infestation. It has done me good. When wife asked me about root and crown rot on the tomatoes, I could usually recite something intelligent. Now the gardening is outside my ken.

No, what I do, willing, with gusto, is grasp a saw in hand and cut something. Ugh Ugh. When all is said and done, listening to the radio and watching the telly is never as good as actually getting your hands around a hammer and smashing your thumb silly.

This obsession – yes, this is what the dearest and nearest call it – I inherited from father’s tireless efforts to fix where no man has fixed before indeed where no fixing needed to be fixed. It seemed that whenever we moved into yet another tenement flat, he would lather himself into a frenzy, get the dull saw out sit it gently beside an hammer cast before WWI, and without a by your leave, without pen and paper, plan out his next Dunkirk. Ok, perhaps I am not as obsessed as deceased gramps only because poverty is not the force that drives me – wait, maybe it is obsession. I call it a hobby.

The flats were too often too small for the four – later five – of us. Unpaying and uninvited tenants where chock-a-block: cockroaches, centipedes and rats were not strangers and we even had to suffer the idignities of the two legged kind. Uncles are fine at distance but when they crud up your bathtub and leave their toe nail clippings on the toilet seat – well ’nuff said.

In one little jewel of a flat, we were all four (at the time) squeezed into the front room. There was another room but the parents let this out to a man of indeterminate height, build and character and not a blood relative. All I recall is that he left a ring around the bath tub but judiciously disposed of his toe nail clippings in an unobtrusive manner.

I think this is where my obsession – er, I mean, my infatuation for DIY. You might say that DIY became my hobbyhorse. The Kensington flat was narrow and desperately in need of dividing walls. Father, in an attempt to get some privacy for mum and himself, built a wall of bamboo curtain, dividing the front room in two. He forcefully recruited me into being the extra pair of hands he wished he had. A job well done but I came to conclude two important things: avoid being around when dad was in the middle of the a building frenzy. The second went unsaid: I knew I could do it a little better but he never did.

Raising the Chicken House

I have been rennovating our home for nigh on twenty years. The work I took on has been massive by any measure. It is coming to an end and with this in mind I started another project. I call it the Chicken House but due to familial objections, it is now the Roost.

This building is small hence manageable. I mean I do everything myself. No surprise there as I have renovated my house all by lonesome. OK, brother-in-law, who as it happened was and is a plumber – did chip in for the plumbing and heating. The first question that wife and I discussed before anything was done was: what shall we do? Raise it or raze it?

The easiest course would have been to tear it down. But that was the easy way out. Why do it the easy way, when you can do it the hard way? The neighbourhood in which we live is one of the older quarters in our town and indeed, to mine eyes, one of the prettiest. The area is immediately next to town square. It started is transformation from farming countryside to an suburb in the late eighteen hundreds. The oldest surviving buildings date from that period. On our street, the oldest buildings are just across the street and date from the first decade of the nineteen hundreds. These are workers flats constructed by the steel mill.

Our chicken house, or more properly, the sauna, woodshed and outhouse, was built in 1921. It is one of the older buildings stll standing on our street and for this reason I decided to renovate it, to bring it back to its former, but humble, glory.

The original building was re-clad in the 60'sHere is what it looked like when I started.

Here is what it looks like today.

Here it is now. The neigbhours have uttered words like "handsome" which to my mind is like pulling teeth from a smiling man. It was a bit of work to get it to this stage. But it is, "handsome" is it not?

More to come.

Intelligent people live longer!

June 15, 2008

I better get my last will and testament sorted out, toute suite. According to this study on aging, some of us are more equal than others. Some will die tomorrow and others will live long enough to wear nappies. A study from Calabria Italy shows that clever people live up to 15 years longer than their dumber species brethren.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Nikon D300

June 1, 2008

I rather clever thief (or a gang of them) stole my camera bag literally from under my nose in Lisbon some months back. I had a rather nice – and what I considered suitable for my limited photographic skills – a D80. There was one problem with it – the lens picked up dust and spoiled many snaps. I had it cleaned but after some time the dust came back. Of course I used the camera in what could be considered less than genteel environments. Now, I thought, is my chance to get a camera which can sort out this dust in the lens business and is capable of rough and tumble.  I thought, in any case, I deserve it and like any amateur who has grown too big for his boots, he trades up. I decided on the D300 but it was a toss-up with another marque. Both cameras were in the same price league. The major difference is that the D300 is a rather bulky camera whereas the competitor was not.

I may have bitten off more than I could chew. Or to put it more prosaically, I found myself in deep water. The D300, rather than being more forgiving than the D80 – after all its price tag should mean something more than weight – is a beast to use and needs constant attention to adjustments. It is not a point and shoot camera but rather a point shoot, pray and shoot again quickly, just in case camera.

My first foray into our town square resulted in photos which seemed rather odd  in colour. The composition is a matter of taste however I think colours are quite universal – in spite of what I learned in the countless linguistic lectures about the relative nature of human perception. Surely blue should be blue and violet should most definitely be violet and red red and so on. But the D300 seems to have another set of rules in its processor.

After some three months of using the D300 I have decided that I should have bought something more or rather less – without all the bells and whistles –  and smaller. I am now own a machine which requires that you get a drivers licence, and not just the AB kind for small vehicles but the kind you need to drive a lorry and bus.

Here are some examples of "odd" photos which I took in automatic setting with my D300.

salo tori in blue 21-04-2008 08-13-30 2144x1424

DSC_2027 DSC_1796 DSC_2241 

The snap of a Palace Royal Guard is the oddest of the odd in that the helmet gives the illusion of clear focus but it is not and nor is the face though it too gives the illusion of being in focus but it is less in focus than the helmet – if that makes any sense. The photo of Salo’s town square is blue but the colours of the buildings are correct. The gray photo outlining Stockholm’s (Gamla Stan) Old Town is beyond me. I was not focusing on the sea gull but the camera my have been doing just that. The photo with the chap looking up towards the church nave is also odd in that text on his T-shirt is clearly in focus but benches are not.

If there is anyone who knows what is going on then by all means let me know.

Map image

Nokia is serendipity, says a professor

October 12, 2007
At a public forum yesterday, in Salo, four distinguished people met and discussed why it was that the Salo region was what it was, economically speaking. The Salo region is home to circa fifty thousand souls. Half of them live in Salo proper. This region, according to Professor Paavo Okko, is statistically very unusual. On a per capita basis, 3800 Euros is spent on R&D. The R&, one assumes, is related to electronic hardware, namely mobile or cellular phone technology. Next in line is Oulu with 3400 followed by Tampere at 2600, Turku at 1100 and so on. Helsinki is not mentioned in the list. What this means is that industry in this region is spending a lot of money on R&D. In concrete terms this means Nokia and all the sub-contractors in this region as well as a handful of smaller firms also in the electronic high technology sector are at full gallop and the others are far behind. Software is not included because it is non-existent. In context, this means, according to the Professor, that Nokia is responsible for one third (33%) of all R&D spending in Finland. The state takes another third and all the remaining one third is spread nationally amongst the remaining industry. To put it another way, Nokia R&D is equal to all university and state R&D. But this is only what is happening in Finland. If all Nokia R&D activities are considered internationally, then it is twice what the Finnish state and Finnish universities spend on R&D. Telling numbers. If the Finns were Catholic they would bless themselves. As it is they suck in their breaths, silently as any good Finns does. One of the panel participants was instrumental in Nokia arriving at the position it holds today. Jorma U. Nieminen was the managing director of Mobira, some twenty years ago. (He was also the founder of Benefon, a mobile phone company with a less happy ending, it seems). This is the same company which was spun out of Salora and was eventually bought out by Nokia, becoming what we know of as Nokia, or more properly Nokia Mobile Phones. Nokia itself is a very old firm founded 1865 on the banks of the Tammer Rapids or Tammerfors (Sve.) as it was known then and now known as Tammerkoski (fin.) or Tampere. Nokia’s first products were paper based, namely toilet paper, at the time a very forward looking idea. The humble toilet roll was a product’s time which time was just around the corner – it remains to be said that it is pure genius to be so forward looking as to understand that  there is a fortune in cleaning peoples’ behinds. Eventually it started making wellies, tyres and diversifying in the 1960’s. Why I mention this is that the good Professor claims that the success of our region is due to serendipity. Fair enough, and but surely the hard fact is that you have all the luck in the world but if you are not capable of taking advantage of what is in front of you then luck is like water off a duck’s back. Let me put it another way, you make your luck. This is what happened in the Salo region. The electronics industry which was primarily based on radio frequency  products  (wireless sets) had its history starting back just after WWI. It started because a few clever blokes, who came up against the reality that they were not destined to be farmers or cobblers, went on to study things like physics and other mysterious arts. Finally, they began to understand and, I imagine, that the wave theory, Ohm’s Law and such esoteric things actually had practical use. Luckily, the Finnish military was in a position to help them along by buying the resulting products (army radios and related gear) and the industry was born. But rather than sit by and wait for luck to knock on the door – again – these same people understood that Finns, Europeans, people everywhere, need to wipe they behinds – or in this case – were interested in buying wireless sets so that they could listen to news from the capital city. Eventually this same company (Salora – Salo Radio) also recognised that that even money was not a hinder. People, it seemed, had money, even during the inter-war years – and soon they were buying televisions on lay away plans just so they could get pictures sent from far off Helsinki. Many of the old timers in our town still remember the days when they worked in the industry pre-Salora and post-Salora. Then came the Mobira-Nokia times and the town has never looked back. Now that the sugar industry has taken a bullet to the skull and closed the Salo sugar in, the main stink in the air is money.

Gnome in Fluxbox

August 26, 2007

I do like Debian or more precisely I like Ubuntu. By an off-the-cuff reckoning I have surely tried almost every Linux and Unix distro (and every MS Winz too as well as exotics like C/PM and every known flavour of DOS). My favourite Desktop/Xwindows manager is Gnome although OsX is quite a brilliant UI which will probably make it the next big OS – perhaps even beating out MS Winz in the race to dominate desktops. But because my hobby is photography, I do need a fast UI. My G5 is as good as I can have it. However I do like to sit down in a comfortable chair, in front of an LCD. My X300 is eminently suitable for this – my G5 is a tad large to sit on my lap. I had been running Ubuntu 7.04 with Gnome (Version 2.18.1) but, frankly, it is as heavy as a Diamond T 980 loaded down with lead ingots. My underpowered Dell was unable to muster enough resources to feed the gnome beast. I have used "lite" window managers but the one which I find comfortable and as fast as cack through a goose is Fluxbox. It seems that I have now found a balance which means that the OS is fast but it has all the whiz-bang goodies I crave – including, if not especially, eye candy. Ah, my fickle heart beats in fulfilled serenity.
Now, I am not only running Fluxbox with Gnome as the panel manager, but it seems, miraculously, that even my BCM 43xx card works like a hot knife through butter (though not as fast – it is limited 10M bandwidth) – and gosh, even Wine works without any signs of flatulence. Only one crash in one month. O happy days!
Here is what I did to get Fluxbox and Gnome workng in syncopated harmony. Remember that I am installing on a Dell X300.

  1. Install Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, which includes the full Gnome installation. A successful installation on the X300 also means that your BCM card will be and installed installed as well.
  2. Install Fluxbox using Synaptic – or apt-get.
    •  sudo apt-get install fluxbox 
  3. You really do not have to install any other Fluxbox components..
  4. Make sure you have not removed any Gnome components. If Metacity is not installed then install it too.
    •  sudo apt-get install metacity 
  5. Edit the .fluxbox/startup file
  •  sudo nano .fluxbox/startbox 

  • # Place ”&” at the end to terminate the command
     metacity &
    nautilus &
    gnome-panel &
    # a neat wireless manager
    nm-applet &
    #--------------------- now start fluxbox
    exec /usr/bin/fluxbox

That is it! It looks easy, doesn’t it. I can tell you that to get it distilled to the bare bones (above), it took many hours. Oh, and a some final points: I boot Fluxbox from GDM. If you decide to run it from the command line you will have to use the following command:

 dark@felt-dell:~$ startx /usr/bin/startfluxbox 

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