Adventures in Mushrooms – the unintentional

A while ago, I listened to an episode of The Survival Podcast about mushroom cultivation – Episode 1326 – Peter McCoy on Mushroom Cultivation via Radical Mycology – and in that episode an easy way of growing mushrooms was suggested: growing them in coffee grounds.

Right now I have 6-and-a-bit 1-gallon ice cream tubs on the go, all with coffee grounds and mushrooms of one type or another, and only one is making a serious effort at looking promising. And that one has lots of fungus, but nothing looking like the classic mushroom shape just yet.

Today’s post isn’t about that. In our new raised beds, we have some volunteer mushrooms that have shown up in a couple of spots. We’re not entirely sure where they came from, I think we’re currently taking their presence as a sign of good soil health.

We have two patches of this stuff:

mushroom growing wild in our garden

I tried searching online for mushrooms that looked like this, but I didn’t get any results that I was happy with.

Mother-in-law thinks they’re poisonous. She’s probably right. And even if she isn’t, it’s best to assume they are if you’re not sure.

Near one of these patches, another, closer-to-traditional-looking mushroom has appeared, and compared to these things that stick close to the ground, it’s pretty tall. How-did-we-not-notice-it-when-we-noticed-the-others tall. And it’s also probably poisonous.

Hope my on-purpose, edible mushrooms decide to Do Something soon.

Review: The Phoenix Conspiracy

This was the second audiobook I listened to, this reading program. When I added the books to my player, I didn’t remember what most of them were about. This was one of those I remembered nothing about.

The Phoenix Conspiracy by Richard L Sanders, on Podiobooks.

I’m a pretty big sci-fi fan, so it was nice when the book started and I found out (at least for the second time) that it was a sci-fi book.

Asari Raidan, the captain of a big military ship, is arrested and put on trial. Summers Presley, his second-in-command, feels betrayed because of what he did, but also because she had been kept in the dark. Calvin Cross, captain of the intel ship that located and arrested Raidan, wants to get to the bottom of why Raidan did what he did, and soon finds the trial, and his superiors, are trying to keep him from finding out.

I liked the story. Had a good number of twists, characters with different styles that either work well together or don’t. Different motivations and levels of trust.

One touch that I particularly liked, was the different shifts on Calvin’s ship. Basically three crews on rotation, which makes a lot of sense, but you don’t tend to see much.

At least once in Star Trek: The Next Generation you see the beginning of the day shift, and that changeover, but different shifts were never integrated in the story. The adventures only happened during the day. And Star Trek Voyager, Harry Kim got to run the night shift sometimes, because Nothing Happens At Night, Harry Never Sleeps, and who knows whatever happened to whoever was in command during Night Shift before. Maybe he forgot to make the coffee for Janeway to drink when she showed up on the Bridge for work.

Anyway, in this story, the different shifts are more integrated in the story, with Calvin being less familiar with the crew of shifts he’s not usually on duty for. I really like that.

The Phoenix Conspiracy was a good space fiction adventure.

The other thing I didn’t remember, was that this book was the first in a series. The fifth book is due to be released as an ebook in September, and the fourth as an audiobook soon, according to the author’s website.

Not a bad strategy, releasing the first book in the series for free, and charging for the other ones. Might be a while before I can get to the others, though.

There are some big questions left to be answered after the first book, and I’m kind of hoping we get to see Presley and Raidan interact before too long.

Always leave ’em wanting more, and that was a great start to the series.

The Phoenix Conspiracy at the author’s website.

Adventures in Windows 10 – The Start Menu

In giving Windows 10 a go, I browsed the App Store for some free games. Also, given that I’m part of the Insider Program, I looked into the Insider Hub to see what was there. They have Quests, which are basically “try out new features, then give feedback”. Which, conscientiously, I ought to do.

The Quest I tried was to investigate the Start Menu. Being used to 95, 98, ME, 98, 98SE, XP for years and years, and Vista for a while, I’m comfortable with the old-style Start Menu. Windows 8’s Metro Screen, which some people in the house are running, I plain don’t like. Windows 10 has a hybrid of both Start and Metro, the latter initially taking up about twice the space, but with settings you can make the Metro part full-screen if you want to.

Shudder.

Windows 10 Start Menu

(I clipped off the very top of the Start Menu, which has my name. The first Metro section is headed “Life at a glance”, the second “Play and Explore”.

Generally, I just ignore the Metro part.

Just now writing this, I right-clicked on the Windows logo which passes for a Start button, here’s what I found:

context menu from right-clicking on Start in Windows 10

Well that’s some pretty useful stuff there. I mean, I actually use that stuff. That’s actually a pretty nice change.

Yesterday I noticed another neat feature. At the bottom of the main Start Menu screenshot earlier, there’s the All Apps button (similar to in Vista, where you’re shown your recent programs and then there’s the “All Programs” button).

These have been streamlined, too: most stuff isn’t in folders anymore, it’s just all listed alphabetically. Some things are still foldered, there’s a downward arrow next to it to let you know.

How folders are handled in the Start Menu

I mentioned at the beginning of the post about trying out a few free games in the App Store. Well, some of those I decided I didn’t want any more, after a quick test. Before I seriously thought of hunting for whatever they call “Add/Remove Programs” this time round, I right-clicked on one of the programs in the Start Menu.

Uninstall from the Start Menu

You can do it right from the Start Menu.

I didn’t expect to be this impressed with Windows 10, but I really like how they’ve streamlined all this stuff.

Forms

I’ve never really liked forms at the best of times, there’s something about the rigidity of them when the question cannot be answered in the manner asked.

And that’s more true when living abroad.

Of course, you can’t fault the forms in the host country being geared towards people from that country. You kind of laugh at them when they say things like “We do not discriminate on the basis of…. national origin.”

The biggest pain in that regard is the educational systems are different. A-Levels being roughly equivalent to Associate’s Degrees or Advanced Placement, depending who you ask.

Addresses and phone numbers being entirely different formatting, of course.

The most annoying one I have to deal with is forms that only take one middle name (basically the forms where it Really Matters, like bank accounts, Social Security cards and the like) when I have more than one.

One of those parts of life that I find less fun.

Books n stuff

Took Oldest and Middlest to the library the other day, and we got our rewards for reaching certain stages in the reading program.

One of my prizes was picking out a book. There were two in the box that looked interesting: one was by Preston & Child, I don’t remember which. I know I’ve got three of theirs in a series, I know it wasn’t one I had, but I couldn’t say if it was in the same series or not.

The other one was The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell. It is the eighth book in the Saxon Stories series, and i know I’ve got most of the others – I’ve got at least as far as The Burning Land, which means I’m missing two after that, if my list is up-to-date.

Felt the need to track down a Solzhenitsyn quote this evening. I was introduced to him by this podcast, and I’ve read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The quote I was looking for was “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”, though I didn’t remember that it was from Solzhenitsyn.

A quote like that, sometimes we really see it in ourselves more than at other times, don’t we?

I wasn’t just looking for who it was by, I was trying to find out where it was from. A quick search brought me this Goodreads link, which has a couple of different variants on that first page, both listed from “The Gulag Archipelago”.

I happen to have that book, haven’t got round to it yet. But there were a few good quotes from it on just that first page.

“It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.”

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”

“Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.”

Ouch, I ain’t very good at that last one.

Maybe I should bring that book to the front of my “books to get to next” pile (the pile being, sadly, rather theoretical: lots of shelves and lots of boxes, and the books I want to get to next are not all organized in one place).

Anyway, worth reading the rest of the quotes on that page.

Which quote resounds with you most right now? Which books are in your “books to get to next” pile? Let me know in the comments.

Lego Dimensions

It’s been a long time since I was taking much notice in the cutting edge of games. Command & Conquer from Tiberian Sun to about Red Alert 2. Star Trek Armada. Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri.

The most recent game I got that was particularly current was LEGO Marvel Superheroes for DS, and it had already reached the dropping-in-price stage when I got it.

But somehow, this year I’ve been faced with a few trailers from E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The Final Fantasy VII Remake has me drooling for it and the PS4 (also waiting for some more information about Final Fantasy XV, for that same system).

Backwards-compatibility and several games also have me drooling for the PS3. PS4 doesn’t really do backwards-compatibility (although it’s been more prevalent in the last few years, not putting 2 or more machines in 1 isn’t exactly unfair).

So the other game I’ve seen trailers for, is LEGO Dimensions: similarly to The LEGO Movie, breaks down barriers between different Lego worlds (and licenses).

I had to investigate exactly what it is, because the quickest explanation is “It’s like Disney Infinity”, and though I’ve seen trailers for Disney Infinity, I don’t really know what that is, either.

You get the Starter Pack, which contains a gadget that plugs into your console to make the game work. It has the platform-specific version of the game, and some characters and a vehicle to make the game work. And some Lego for decoration.

You go through the game with the characters that you have.

You can buy extra packs with more characters, vehicles and even levels for the game.

I looked at Amazon for what was available for pre-order, and Wikipedia for everything that was announced.

Right now the Starter Pack for PS3 or PS4 is $99.96, some other systems were 99.99, the full retail price.

Level packs with extra levels and extra characters are currently 29.99, there are 4 listed of those.

Team packs with 2 characters and 2 vehicles are 24.99, there are 4 listed of those.

Fun packs with 1 character and 1 vehicle are 14.96, there are 24 listed of those.

The idea is that more can be added as time goes on, and I would imagine that some characters and packs would be less popular and so their price will drop, but if you were going to get everything that’s currently listed (though not all of it will be available when the starter becomes available), at retail price (or just-about for the PlayStations), you’re in for a few cents shy of $679.

Plus the console, if you don’t already have one.

So you know.

Adventures in Windows – dual-booting Vista and 10

I said the other day that I was going to try out the Windows 10 Insider Preview. I downloaded it, it took me a couple of days to be ready to try to install it.

During those couple of days, Microsoft has turned a bit cagey about just how things will go after 10’s release date – where they said before that I would be able to switch to the full release Win10 when release day hits, and have it be genuine and supported forever, they are now vague about how long Release Windows obtained that way will last. Staying with Windows Insider will mean I can keep running Win10 allegedly indefinitely, at the potential cost of stability.

With the knowledge that I can switch back to single-boot Vista if Win10 turns out to be a bad proposition, I figured, after all this work, I might as well still give 10 a go.

The prep:

My C: drive is a terabyte. Using Windows disk management and then MiniTool Partition Wizard, I shrank the one partition on the disk down to 500GB. Using AOMEI Backupper, I backed up the partition to D:. I did this twice, once including the boot record, once just the data on the partition.

I used the Universal USB Installer from Pendrivelinux to put Windows 10 on a bootable flash drive (I told the program that it was Windows 8). I installed Windows 10 – not entirely surprisingly, I couldn’t just install it to the Unpartitioned Space, Win10 had to change the partition style to GPT.

The installs:

I told Win10 to use 400GB, with that and the other boot partitions, this left 540GB to put Vista back onto.

Win10 install went fine.

Tried installing Vista from scratch onto the unpartitioned space. The installer complained “Windows cannot be installed to this disk. The selected disk is of the GPT partition style.”

Yes, I know it’s of the GPT partition style, and I’m even reading Microsoft pages saying that Vista supports it.

I’m also finding tons of other pages with other people having the same message.

Most of the advice offered to get around this problem, not usually explicitly, means going back to old-style MBR rather than staying on GPT. Sadly, that’s not an option for me, 10 only likes GPT.

Some instructions said Vista needs to be with SP1 to support GPT. Other places said to force booting in UEFI mode in the motherboard. We put the Vista-with-SP1 installer on a UEFI-enabled USB drive (using Rufus, this time), and I tried rather a few UEFI Bios settings, and kept ending up with the same message.

Somewhere in this process, while fiddling around in GPart (if you look around this subject for any time at all, you’ll find instructions on using this), I accidentally wiped the C drive and the installed Windows 10. Didn’t take long to reinstall it.

In the end, after a lot of searching and trying variations on the above themes, I installed AOMEI Backupper on Windows 10, and restored the just-the-data backup to the Unpartitioned Space.

I loaded the Vista+SP1 installer from USB, and told it to Repair the install. It said that Vista and Windows 10 were now in the bootloader.

Booting into Vista (both times I’ve done it now), it’s wanted to verify the integrity of both hard drives on startup. I have not yet agreed to this.

Booting into Vista the first time, Vista installed some drivers or something, then restarted (hence going into Vista the second time).

Another thing I’ve noticed: in the simple version of the BIOS, the boot order section has displayed some different things over the course of getting Vista to work:

I think with the Windows 10 USB installer, that USB drive had the UEFI sign over it. Not 100% on that, but I seem to recall it.

After installing Windows 10, a boot loader thing showed up in the boot order, with the UEFI sign.

After restoring Vista, another item with the same listed details as the Win10 boot loader, and the same UEFI sign, showed up in the boot order. This loaded Vista the first time (I think on restarting, the computer went into 10, memory is starting to fail me).

After Vista installed the drivers and restarted, I noticed a third bootloader thing listed in the boot order. This went into Vista as well. I hope these things don’t keep being added to what’s there. Visions of Tribbles multiplying and accumulating, came to me.

That’s where things stand at the moment, I haven’t quite had the time today to try more things: to let Vista do the integrity check, try the different bootloader things more, to find out why I haven’t seen a proper OS selection screen – and if that last one’s a problem, to try and Repair 10 to see if that fixes it.

“The course of the adoption of new technologies never did run smooth.” – William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Technical-Problem-I’m-Determined-To-Fix-Right-Now, Act I Sc I.

As a side note, Windows 10 (which skipped right past Windows 9) was codenamed Threshold. In the Star Trek Voyager episode Threshold, Janeway and Tom Paris exceed Warp 10.

Keep an eye out for Windows 10 early adopters turning into slugs. </PSA>

Loss

Yesterday, I said something about it being a good time in our lives for melancholy music.

A little under a week ago, my wife’s Grampa was admitted to hospital because of a stroke. Since then, we’ve been doing dog-sitting, various family members have been up to see him, some even from out-of-town.

Yesterday, it was hinted that we might be getting The Call soon: he wasn’t expected to recover.

Today, we got The Call.

I met the man for the first time, ten years and a few days ago. That was on my first trip to America, and it’s kind of crazy that anything involving me and Stateside goes back quite that far, but Tempus Fugit, donchaknow.

I grew up pretty close to all my grandparents. I know my life overlapped with two of my great-grandparents, one of whom I have fragments of memories about.

My Great Nan – I remember she sat in her chair. I remember “fuzzy kisses” (my words). I remember one time having an urge to go and see her (I suspect that didn’t happen often, may have been the only time). We didn’t go then. She died soon after (I think probably days, I don’t think it was into a plural of weeks). I remember a bit of the funeral, not the service, but outside. I think the casket must have been lowered into the ground. “That was my Great Nan”, I said, I think to the clergyman. Not teary, I think matter-of-fact but hearing my voice across the years, I wonder if I strayed too close to the border of cheerful.

When I was in my teens, my Grandad got Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer. Between that and the chemotherapy, he got weaker, and after a while, he was stuck in bed. The chemo didn’t make him better. I remember one time someone (maybe my Dad?) asked him how he felt. “Like death”, was the reply. What do you say to that?

There comes a point where everyone becomes aware that things aren’t going to get better. I remember I cried a lot one night, after that point came. Not long afterwards, maybe even the next day, my Dad and I were at his bed. Dad and Grandad were both crying together. I don’t think I’d ever seen that before. I felt bad about not joining in, it was like I’d used up my tears, and in the back of my mind I didn’t want them to think that I didn’t care, when I very much did.

That was the first close relative that I lost.

Since moving to America, my two grandmothers have died. Both had been declining over the years.

Granny had always been a great cook. I remember at one point noticing that now my mother was the better cook. Between when Oldest was born and when we moved away, she seemed less engaged. Happy to see us and the kids, but… you want your wife and kids to remember the person you knew, rather than the old lady in the chair, you know?

Mum said that in the last week, it seemed like Granny was like a flower that had been picked: the spirit, the connection to life had gone, but the body took a bit longer to catch up.

My poor Nan had a steeper decline earlier, but then hung around for longer. Strokes took it out of her, she was stuck in bed in a nursing home for a long time. I think my kids only knew the old woman in the bed, who had trouble speaking. Oldest was there when Nan thought I was my Dad, and that my Dad was my Grandad. I didn’t really know what to say.

With my Grampa-in-law, I know there’s many things he’s turned his hand to, and been successful at. And I’ve visited every week for a while, learning to weave. And I’ve seen the decline here, too: having trouble finding the word to finish a question, having trouble finding the word to start a sentence. In the winter, declaring my hands are cold when I get there, and that they’re so warm when I’m ready to leave, to not finding the words to express temperature (he recognised when we guessed the right words). To sitting there for most of the day, not saying much. A small appetite most of the time, not even wanting to join us at the table once.

I didn’t go visit in the hospital, as others did. Seemed more my place to enable others to go: watch dog, kids. Not get in the way of their time. I’ve had time being with him while he was still at the house, and I’m more peripheral family.

Death is a part of our existence. And yet death is tragic. Our people can’t stay forever, yet we keenly feel their absence when they go. And so much that was known to them, that they learned and got good at, that they experienced in their too-brief passing through history, that will forever be beyond our reach.

I don’t know what I would ask, but I think that now I’d love to know all about the person behind those fuzzy kisses, the old lady in the chair, my Great Nan who lived through so much.

I’m glad my older two kids got to meet FIVE of their great-grandparents. Not so many people can say that. Youngest has met two, he’s even with me, there.

Lord, have mercy on all those we love who have moved on. Forgive us for all the knowledge, skill and wisdom we failed to learn, retain, keep alive, when those that possessed it slipped out of our reach. Comfort those of us left behind.

Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX

Here, have the album on while you read this:

A few weeks ago, I happened to have some MP3/video/ebook credit on Amazon, due to choosing No-Rush Shipping for a few things. Determined not to let it expire this time, I went looking around the music.

The problem is, if there’s a CD, then I’d rather have that and rip it to hard drive, than just have the files. Same with movies and DVDs – only then it seems more critical because you never know how long Amazon (or the like) will have that item available for streaming.

Getting nowhere slowly with just browsing the selection, on the off-chance I did a search for Final Fantasy. I’ve been playing the series since I got IX when it was pretty new (my PlayStation was second-hand, though, and still works fine). A few years earlier, a friend of mine had raved about how good Final Fantasy VII was. Now I own I-IX (III on DS, the rest on PlayStation).

I played VIII and IX most heavily at the time, I have now finished those and VI. I’m a way into VII now, but just haven’t been playing it much.

I’ve liked the music all the time, had a bunch of MIDIs from VIII and IX, which I listened to a lot on my phone. More recently, I’ve discovered the Distant Worlds series of CDs (plus others that are harder to get on CD over here – until recently, GrooveShark was my friend in that regard).

Among the Amazon results, were some albums by “TPR” – “Memoria: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy IX”, “Fragments Of Memories: A Melancholy Tribute To Final Fantasy VIII”, and some others. VII and X.

I did a search for these albums elsewhere, and found they came from a YouTube channel that had the tracks separately, but also videos of the full albums. Yay for Try Before You Buy!

The tracks are well-played, they sound great. Some of them are very close to the originals, some have been rearranged to fit the style. I’ve got to say, it all works. And the track selection was great – the opening track, “Terra”, is a tune I’ve particularly liked over the years, and it’s not one you encounter much on albums and collections.

The only problem with the album is that I wish the last track, “You’re Not Alone” (one of the most popular FFIX tracks) would go on a whole lot longer.

“Leave ’em wanting more”, as the ancient Chinese proverb goes.*

Music has a few particular uses in our house. Obviously there’s what someone listens to on their own, but the other main place is to have on in the background at mealtimes. We have lots of music that fails that particular test, but this album seemed to go over well, and pass that test. Even before the next paragraph.

This moment in our lives, shall we say, is a good time for some melancholy music. That’s why I write about this today, while I was thinking about what to write about, and other stuff going on at the moment, I was humming some of the tracks from this album. Rose Of May, Steiner’s Theme.

If you’ve got some tough stuff you’re going through in your life, remember: “You’re Not Alone“.

The album can be found on Amazon here. And yes, I did spend that credit on this album.

*Probably not Chinese.

Games and Processed Meat

I had a couple of spam comments the other day, but yesterday’s post on The Ra Expeditions really tapped into a vein (well, 21 spam comments). A couple of them mentioned “video”, I wonder if the YouTube link triggered it. Well, I’m throwing in a bunch more, today!

I played a couple of old games today: the first one to keep Oldest and Youngest distracted (it only worked for Oldest), and the second because it was easier to switch back and forth between that and dealing with kids, that trying to concentrate on something more productive and dealing with kids.

So the first game was Gran Turismo 2. Youngest loves cars (and trucks, he doesn’t have many words but he distinguishes between those), and Oldest does like playing games.

We were playing a 2-player game in Arcade Mode. This has a reasonable selection of cars, and a limited number of tracks (3 tracks in Road Race, 1 in Rally). You can add more cars by extensively playing in GT Mode, I haven’t played that extensively, and I’m not sure I even have any saves of it.

I won most of the games (as you’d expect), even with having to deal with Youngest (who would occasionally point and say “car”, but most of the time was trying to escape to be with other people).

Oldest almost won a round, running with a 200-odd horsepower car while I ran with the significantly less powerful classic Mini Cooper. Not only was the Mini the car with the absolute least horsepower available (61 IIRC, with a couple of other options clocking in at 63 and maybe 65?), it was also terrible to steer. This of course made Oldest terribly excited, he kept wanting me to use that car again. I did, after trying the other 60-something HP cars first, he won that one.

Funnily enough, after resisting the Rally option the whole time (I forced it on him at the end), he won that round, too. That time, I was running a 400HP car against his 200-something HP car. Thre were just points where my car wanted to do nothing but spin…

I wanted to find the part of the single-player campaign that acted a bit as a tutorial – a big yellow line on the track to help you learn how to take corners is a feature I particularly remember – to help Oldest learn how to play well/beat me. By the time I’d figured out what it was (going for licenses on GT mode), Oldest was done with Gran Turismo for the day.

The Rally track, and Oldest’s favourite Road track, both had “Tahiti Road” in the name. It’s a magical place.

I remember with car racing games on older systems (Commodore 64, Sega MegaDrive) scenery appearing when it was pretty close, you couldn’t see it very far ahead. I noticed that on some corners on GT2 this time round (“oh, this bit of track is visible now…. here it is!”), but thankfully it’s still far enough in the distance that you’re not basing your next few steering moves on it.

The second game is one I’m currently having a “reminiscence run” of, is Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation (download link). I have the CD, it’s nice to not need it.

BOTF is along the lines of the Civilization games. Expand your territory, make the other major races your friends, then squash them like the bugs they are. There are some minor races that you can befriend or conquer.

The opening videos aren’t very inspiring (and weren’t at the time), the “You Won” messages were something of an anti-climax as well, and sometimes the micromanaging (and doing the Exact Same Thing in each new system you colonise) can get tedious, but there’s still a lot going for the game as well.

I like how each race gets a different design for the game screens. That’s a genius move that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and if I’m forgetting a game that does that, then I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen anything that does it to the same extent).

The game has its own screensaver (that I haven’t seen this time round) – each ship in the game rotates around a few times before it gets switched out for the next one. And there are two models for the Borg Cube in that screensaver – on one, one side has a smiley face. Gotta love programmers having fun.

I like the Wormhole mechanic, the Outpost and Starbase mechanic, and the terraforming mechanic.

The space battles with the different tactics are pretty cool, don’t think I’ve seen that sort of thing executed in turn-based strategy anywhere else, and it’s not exactly easy to pull off in real-time strategy, either.

The Open Hailing Frequencies option never seems to be a good choice, sad to say.

And there’s something incredibly satisfying about having your 9 Romulan Warbird IIs decloaking and blasting the Borg Cube to pieces.

Fun times, and memory lane. Don’t have a lot of time for this now.

And I think I’m about out of time this evening for dealing with a Poison Headcrab