Sunday 20 October 2013

Computer Problems :-(


Not so much a post as an aide memoire but I have spent the last week, around 5 hours each day, trying to sort out my computer which at one point wouldn’t even let me log in!

As with most computer problems I’m not certain what caused it or what cleared it hence this post to log what I think happened and what I think sorted it. 

I think what triggered the problems was the latest Skype upgrade.  After deferring the upgrade a few times – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it – I was persuaded by the security warning.  However the upgrade failed for some reason.  No matter, everything was still working and when the next loading of Skype brought up the same request to upgrade I again left it for a day or so.

Later I attempted the upgrade and again it failed but this time because it said it was already installing it.  Then a massive batch of Microsoft security update arrived; I OK’d them for install and………… nothing much happened.  The computer just hung on the install screen.  Just in case it was a large file I left the computer installing overnight.  Come the morning it was still trying to install the first update.

From then on the only way to shut down the computer was with the power button – never a good sign.  Occasionally I could get one of the Microsoft updates to load by trying them one at a time but eventually that failed too.  Even unselecting all of them failed as Windows always seemed to have something to install at shutdown.

So where to start:  By this time I was having difficulty logging in as well, one time it hung on the log in screen and the power button was again needed.  System Event was showing an apparently random collection of service fail errors so first up was a clean boot.  No change, then scheduled error checking followed by start up repair, ran a full virus scan, loaded into Safe Mode both with and without networking.  The computer ran a bit faster but still wouldn’t load whatever was the update it was trying to load.  So I turned my attention back to Skype.

Skype download doesn’t contain an uninstall routine so it relies on Windows/ Programmes and Features.  I uninstalled it that way and then re-installed it only to be told on the install that another installation of it was running and therefore no go.  So I now had a programme that refused to install because it said it was installing already, the install wasn’t working and I couldn’t uninstall because as far as Programmes/Features was concerned, wasn’t there anyway!

I still had Internet access so much searching ensued.  There were reports of some of the Windows Updates causing computers to hang but none of the updates were on the list I was trying to install; this list was now up to 28 important and critical updates.  There were also a lot of reports of the latest Skype causing problems so hours were spent reading through forum threads finding if anything matched what was happening with my computer, whether it was a current thread, (a lot were from months to years ago) and then, after assessing the safety of following the instructions, a long period of trial and error began

First up, I discovered Microsoft Fix It.  I was relatively happy to download and use these and I came across one that was for problems with the installer – by now I was thinking that the installer programme was corrupt.  I could only run the Fix It in safe mode but it found and sorted a problem with Skype.  But there was no change with the computer, it still hung and it still wouldn’t let me re-install Skype.

Needless to say, many hours were wasted repeatedly running the Fix It’s ( yes plural as I found that there appeared to be more than one for the same problem); as far as Fix It was concerned the installer was fine.  I did discover two things though; first up was the reason Fix It wouldn’t run in normal mode was the virus checker so had to suspend that to run any of the Fix It repairs and two a slight change in the wording of the search string brought up different Fix It’s.  I originally searched for “hung on install” which gave me the first Fix It, I then used “hung on 50%" install” and that led to another Fix It which actually did a registry patch.

All these little victories still didn’t solve the problem.  I gave up on Skype and started trying to get the security updates in, just in case one of them was a patch to this problem. I selected them one at a time and occasionally one would load but on the whole it was no change.

There were two large updates on the list for .NET Framework and on a whim I did a search on them.  That pulled up a couple of complaints about it being corrupted.  I also found some very interesting rants by people very unhappy with the latest Skype upgrade and what it had done to their computers and how they too were in no mans land, unable to uninstall or re-install.  That discussion pointed to a programme called Revo Uninstaller. 

I have an aversion to the plethora of programmes out there claiming to help clean up your computer etc.  I don’t trust any of them but by now I was desperate – the thought of having to re-install Windows and what it might or might not do to my data was a big worry – I decided to give it a go.  With fingers, toes and anything else I could cross, crossed I dragged the hunter mode cross wires to one of the Skype icons still on the desktop and set it on its way.  It founds loads of files and registry updates and deleted them.  With great trepidation I restarted the computer:  It still worked and was working even faster but… it still wouldn’t run the updates!

I then turned to  .NET.  The discussion I’d found about that led to another Fix It.  Virus checker suspended, I downloaded and ran it.  It too found a problem and effected a repair.

I tried the installer again with one of the smaller Office updates waiting to go in.  It worked.  I tried another, it too went in.  I then worked my way through the remaining five Office updates and that brought me to the remaining two updates, both for . NET.  Gingerly I kicked the first one off and went outside to do a bit of work.  It was a large download and I didn’t want to sit and watch it – I’d done enough of that over the preceding week.  When I came back in to my great joy it had worked.  I kicked off the second .NET update and that too worked.  Not only that, after the final restart, I now have a computer that runs fast and isn’t stuck on trying to install something or other.

The day after, I gingerly re-installed Skype with the new version and after a few anxious moments plus remembering to un-tick all the pre-ticked boxes that install all the ‘features’ that you don’t want, that too was up and running again.

Now I just have to catch up an the weeks worth of real work I should have been doing while I sorted the computer – I reckon it is around 35 hours – but it does mean I have a backlog of Guardian quick crosswords to work through during coffee :–)

Wednesday 11 September 2013

I Think It Might Be Autumn

The weather weird-ing continues, one stormy night followed by a day of rain and showers and the daily temperature has dropped by around 12C.  The usual couple of months where the temperature slowly ramps up in spring and then descends in autumn haven’t happened this year which is a great pity as it is those months when most of the outside work gets done.  Never mind, there is always next year Smile

The harvest this year is much less than usual at my place; the cold spring along with the wet early part of summer which then over a couple of days turned to an extremely hot summer with no rain meant not many pollinators made it to my place and the plants themselves struggled to grow.  However in august things started growing so I had some fresh vegetables.

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The nectarines were rather small but tasty.  The ones in the basket above are the white fleshed type.  The yellow fleshed ones, which are generally sweeter, only had 2 fruits that made it through to somewhere near ripening and they were both eaten by the hornets before they were ready to harvest.

The peaches though did reasonably well. 

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Most of these were knocked off by the wind but I don’t leave the peaches on the tree until soft, again because of the hornets, wasps and ants.  As soon as they start to go yellow, I go through the tree and give each one a gentle twist and take off those that basically come away in my hand.  They are still hard but I found this way of ripening them somewhere on the Internet and it works better than any other method I’ve used.  The peaches are laid out on a cotton cloth and covered loosely with another one.  I check them every couple of days and remove any that are starting to go off but on the whole they soften ready for eating.

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This year it was the early flowering almond that got the best of the weather.  Usually it doesn’t produce much as normally it gets the worse weather.  I don’t have anywhere near as many almonds as last year but that will make these even more tasty. 

The wild hazel trees have struggled too.  Most of the hazelnuts above I think are empty – they don’t fall out of their cases – but I will open them just the same until I convince myself that my theory works.

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I lifted the shallots a few weeks ago and they hadn’t produced many large bulbs.  I’ve used a few but the majority will be going back in the ground for next year.

With the changing of the climate I think that saving your own seed is going to become more important to ensure that the plants you grow can flourish in your particular environment.  Lets just hope we can stop the EU legislators from banning us from saving and using our own seed so we have to fill the coffers of the mega companies.

The bees are still here too!

The swarm has probably quadrupled in size over the summer so I’m hopeful there will be enough of them to survive the winter; there needs to be a big enough group to generate enough heat to keep them warm and alive through winter.  However, I don’t think they have enough honey so I’ve not taken any for myself and have started feeding them some heavy syrup.  I will keep feeding them this syrup for a couple of weeks as I think they still have time to convert it to honey.  If however the weather looks like it is going to degrade further I’ll have to stop and change to fondant. 

Today though they were out and working and were bringing in a lot of pollen. 

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Yesterday when I checked them, I also fitted the mouseguard as part of the winter preparation.  Again the bees were very patient with me despite me faffing about and intermittently closing off the entrance while I tried to get the height of the guard right.  Note to self, fit the mouseguard before filling with bees next time!

They adapted to the mouseguard really quickly and it will serve a double purpose.  Not only should it stop any mice from entering and building a nest to overwinter in the warmth of the hive but it also makes the entrance more defendable.  That point was brought home while I was doing my hive check. 

I’d just opened up the hive when I noticed a hornet taking rather a lot of interest in the bees that were on the crown boards I’d taken off.  Thankfully it was the European hornet and not the Asiatic.  I gave it a bit of a dousing with the water spray and it moved off.  About a thirty seconds later I realised it had returned.  I’d not seen it come back but a couple of the guard bees had wrestled it to the ground and were battling to kill it.  My boot came down rather heavily as I didn’t want there to be any chance of it going back to its nest and telling the others.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Cherry Vodka

It’s raining but that gives me time for a catch-up post on making the cherry vodka back in June.

While the spring here might have left a lot to be desired, the sour cherries took it all in their stride and produced a good crop back in the early days of this summer.  As I’d also had a good crop of the late dark cherries, which are far sweeter for eating, this year these cherries were just for Cherry Vodka and the rest left for the wild life.

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Since I first started making cherry vodka back in 2008, the recipe I use has changed a little, basically because I have less time and do it from memory.  It may be simple but it is also very tasty – safety note here, consume in moderation as alcohol is dangerous in excess!

So, all you need are the sour cherries, or griottes as they are called here, vodka, large plastic bottle, and some sugar – as I said it’s really simple but it takes a bit of time.

I use around 1 pint of cherries for a 75cl bottle of vodka.  I also take the time to stone the cherries as having soaked them in vodka for 6 months, I have no intention of just throwing them away at the end of the process and stoning them now saves having to spit out the stones at a later date when you eat the vodka soaked cherries.

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The griottes are quite small and I find it better to use the individual cherry stoner otherwise a very large proportion of the cherries are left with the stone in if I use the table-top one I show back in this post.  I stone the cherries over a bowl and the cherries are then dropped into the plastic bottle. 

I generally use 2 litre diet cola bottles I collect over the year and there is a reason for this.  I’ve discovered by trial and error that if you store these bottles without rinsing them nothing grows in them during storage – makes you wonder about what is in the drink though!  I give the bottles a quick rinse just before I need them and drain well.

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Once all the cherries are done I then strain the liquid that has come out of the cherries along with the stones, from the stones and add that liquid to the bottle.

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Next step is to add the vodka, but save the vodka bottle so you can refill it with the cherry vodka at the end of the year.  You will need an extra bottle then as the vodka will also contain cherry juice and sugar.

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Then I mark the bottle with the contents and year.

After that comes the long bit.  Each day for a couple of weeks or so I invert the bottle once or twice and the colour of the cherries begins to colour the vodka.   Then I put it aside usually until the end of October or the beginning of November.

That's when the sugar is required – I hadn’t forgotten about it!  I think the original recipe said add 300g of sugar but I found that a bit too sweet for my taste so I add around 200g of sugar.  The bottle needs to be gently shaken each day until the sugar has dissolved.  You can then taste the vodka to see if you need to add any more sugar – hic.

Normally at this point of the year I would have to wait until I was adding the sugar to get photographs of the final stages but I forgot to do last year’s batch until just before I made this batch.

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Once the sugar has dissolved, separate the cherries from the vodka; pour the vodka into the saved bottles and store the cherries in an airtight container.

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The vodka cherries are a wonderful, if rather potent, adult hors d'oeuvre and a few of them with a drizzle of spiced cherry sauce on vanilla ice-cream make a lovely dessert too.

Wednesday 7 August 2013


Still here and still working. 

I seem to have had a succession of days where I feel I’ve worked all day but have nothing to show for it at the end.  It would be nice if those days were balanced out by days where I feel I’ve done nothing but loads gets done. 

I can but dream Smile

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Spinning Suri

Amongst other craft work and farm work I’ve been spinning my first Suri fleece, Mr Frizzle’s to be precise. 

Suri fleece differs from the Huacuya fleece by not having much crimp and by being silky and hanging in ringlets.  The lack of crimp means that longer fibres are required in order to get a thread that doesn’t break which is why Suri alpacas are usual shorn every other year.

I was told that it was simple to spin Suri direct from the staple, (the ringlet) but I didn’t find it worked for me.  So after a bit of experimenting I ended up with the following method.

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Starting at the left of the picture above is the raw fleece.  There is no need to wash it as unlike sheep’s fleece there is no lanolin to contend with.

I separated out the locks into manageable pieces; they are shown above the hand carder.  I then drew each lock across a hand carder until I was left with a lock of straight silky fibres – the lock to the right of the hand carder. 

The soft fluffy fibres I removed, shown at the top right in the patch of sunlight will not go to waste.  They will all be drum carded, the fibres on the roll at the bottom right, and spun at a later date.  I will then compare the two types of yarn I produce.  But at present I’m concentrating on the long silky fibres and trying to produce a worsted type of yarn.

The colour changes in producing the yarn is also impressive.  Alpaca wool may not contain lanolin but anyone who has watched alpacas in the field will know they love to roll on the dirt.

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So on the left are the carded locks, in the middle is the plied yarn having come off the spinning wheel and on the right is the balled yarn after it has been washed. 

It’s really hard to believe that it’s all come from the same fleece.

I’m really looking forward to spinning the combed out fibres too; they are much softer and fluffier that what I’m spinning at the moment and I want to try and spin them in a woollen style and compare the two types. 

Sunday 21 July 2013

Boys Toys

I’ve started on converting my oil storeroom into a work room.  The earth floor has been replaced with concrete and next up was replacing the Perspex sheet I’d put in a few years ago to block the hole in the wall, with a real window.  I didn’t want to go upwards as there was already a lintel there and I didn't want to go down as the hole in the wall is only a couple of feet off the ground as it is.   Eventually I found a window of the right depth that tipped inwards rather than swing open.  It was however wider than the original hole.

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No problem, I thought; I’ll just get out my trusty angle grinder and cut through the concrete blocks.  After an hour I stopped and assessed how far I’d got.  The cutter disc had been glowing red and I’d donned my hard hat to protect my head from the hot pieces of disc and brick that were flying about.  I was also wearing goggles and had my arms protected too.  I had only managed to cut a groove of about a millimetre or two depth on each side!  This was going to take ages.

Enter knights in shining armour, both male and female.  Friends said, “we have a proper stone-cutting angle grinder” and what’s more, B said he would do the cutting as well.  I’m really pleased he did as I’m not convinced I would have had the strength to control the cutter safely. 

Comparison picture!!

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Even with the proper cutter it took a good hour to cut through; goodness knows what had been done to these concrete blocks, I think they must have been designed to be bomb proof.

But before long the window was in place and the foam filling in the gaps was left to set.

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Next day I trimmed away the excess foam and am now cementing in the gaps.  Outside there is a bit more work to do as the edges and windowsill need rebuilding.  This will take a little while as I can only do it in the morning before the sun gets there and it also needs to be built up.  I think I’m going to need to rig up some shuttering but at least I can get on with the inside here it is cool enough to work.

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So next up, I will be learning how to apply doublage – plaster and polystyrene panels.

A Bit More Bees

I collected my wild colony of bees in a standard Langstroth brood box, but because of my height or rather lack of it, I don’t want to be lifting heavy supers so I’m trying out the horizontal version of a Langstroth hive.  While the hive itself is more difficult to move, the frames are always easy to reach.

So the morning after collecting the colony I put the traditional hive in place and let the bees out and gave them a couple of days to orientate while I fed them sugar syrup to help persuade them to stay put.  As they didn’t all fly away immediately I was hopeful that we had got the queen.  Even if we hadn’t  I knew we'd got eggs and uncapped larvae so they could raise a new queen.

As I still had bees after a couple of days it was time to move them to the long hive. There is a rule of thumb for moving hives, you either move them to a spot less then 3 ft away or more than 3 miles away.  So despite the two hives looking slightly different I decided to just exchange them but making sure the new entrance was in the same place as the old one and transfer over the frames.

So we went from

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My experiences as a beekeeper are rising exponentially at the moment, every check of the hive is another learning opportunity.  I’ve fed the bees for about a month but now they have had time to mature and have a complement of flying bees along with the improvement in the weather and the return of flowering plants, I’ve stopped.

I’ve still not seen the queen though, partly due to not yet being able to make a proper inspection.  One of the reasons for this is that where we’d used rubber bands to to hold the wild comb against the frames the bees weren't keen on them and had started chewing through them before they’d built up enough new wax to hold the combs in place.  The combs were falling off the frames and into each other and in general a total mess was in process of starting.

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So a carving knife joined my beekeeping kit and I bought some different stuff to tie on the combs.  The ties are lengths of thin plastic tubing that is slightly stretchy and designed to tie in plants.  The knife is to cut the comb between the frame and the scissors to trim the tied ends of the tubing.

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Considering what I was doing to their home the bees were really calm.

A week later, another check showing a bit more of the kit and a couple of extra frames with foundation.

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I’m gradually getting better at keeping the smoker alight.  I’ve once had it go out mid inspection but was able to continue as I had my water spray and could ‘persuade’ any bees that were taking too much interest in me to head back to the hive.  I also use the water spray to clear away any bees that may have landed on the back of my bee suit before I take the suit off.

My bees, they really are there, they just carry on working on the comb as long as I don’t keep smoking them.

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The smoke agitates them so I use it by the entrance before I start the inspection so they fill up on honey, (they are less likely to sting if they are full of honey), and then try only to use it around me if I have a bee that is insistent on flying round me.  They really are very calm and as long as I don’t drop the frames or knock them they tend to leave me alone to get on with the inspection.

I’ll be inspecting them again early in the week and really hope to see the queen.  There were lots of uncapped larvae last week so something has been laying eggs but it could be laying workers so I really need to see the queen.  One positive sign though is that while I have spotted a couple of queen cups I’ve not seen any queen cells.

Bees like all insects need water but can’t take off from the surface of water and drown if they land on it so I’ve put in a bee drinker for my bees and any other insects that need it.

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