Monday, August 29, 2011

Dante Speaks

Dante is the only dog who ever arrived at our house as a puppy.  I think we talked to him differently because he was a baby. Single words. Lots of repetition.

I was taking a grammar class when Dante moved in.  Our teacher talked about how we can understand what is meant from context and voice tone even when we do not understand the words.  Grammar means that there is a logic to the word choices.

For example, when my father read us the story of “The Three Little Pigs” he would always read the section in which the wolf dressed up in sheep’s skin to trick the pigs as “Ah Foo Lamb” cried the Big Bad Woof.  At the time I did not know he was supposed to read “I’ll fool them.”  But I understood that the wolf was being sneaky.

And sometimes words have no context at all.  For example, when a parrot learns to talk, the parrot learns whole sentences, such as “Polly wants a cracker,” or “Pretty boy.”  But the parrot will never say “Polly wants a pretty boy,” or “Pretty boy wants a cracker.”  Parrots don’t understand grammar.

Dante understood grammar and meaning.  When he fell off our bean bag chair, he said, “oooo” and he limped. He’d heard our girls cry when they fell, and he was imitating them. 

We took him to the vet who gave him a pain shot so he’d lie still for an x-ray. Dante loved that pain drug.  Long after he recovered from his sprain, he would suddenly say “oooo” and start limping.  

I was impressed by his cleverness, but I didn’t take him to the vet. 

Our goal was to house train him.  We took him for walks in the morning and evening.  And during the day, we would take him to the door open the door, say “out” and then accompany him into the yard.

The first time Dante tried saying “out” on his own, he went to the back door. He very loudly and distinctly said, “Ow.”  Thrilled, I hurried to the door and opened it. A light rain was falling.  I stepped into the yard.  Dante did not accompany me.  I thought maybe he hadn’t understood that “out” meant he was supposed to go out.  Maybe he thought it meant that I would go out.

A few minutes later, Dante stood by the front door and said, “Ow.”  I wondered if he was teasing me.  But I figured it was worth a 2nd try.  I opened the door.  The sky was sunny.  I looked out the back window.  Rain was still falling.  Our house must have been at the edge of the cloud.  I went out.  Dante accompanied me and did his business.

He did know what “out” meant.  But ever after that, if it was raining at one door, he always wanted to try the other one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hurray for the Magical Jellybean Keyfinder

Sometimes being a computer repair person is like being a surgeon. I’m not referring to opening up the box and swapping out dead cards or upgrading RAM.  I’m referring to delivering bad news.  The worst news is – your computer isn’t worth fixing – it would be cheaper to buy a new one.  The second worse news is – your operating system seems damaged. Let’s save your data, wipe your drive and start over with a fresh installation of your operating system.

That’s where I was this morning.  I’d backed up the data. I’d put the Windows XP CD in the drive.  The screen asked for the 25 digit Windows Installation Key Code.  The sticker on the box didn’t have a 25 digit code.  There was no code in the box where my client kept her disks and manuals.  I called her vendor and left a message on their voice mail asking for a key code.  But I’m on the clock.  I can’t sit there waiting for a returned call.

So, I went out to surf the web – Missing XP key code

And to my wonder and amazement – up popped a website with a free downloadable program to recover lost keys.

Yay for the Magical Jellybean!  I installed that program, ran it, and there on the screen appeared the 25 digit key code for Windows XP.  I entered it, and was able to proceed with the installation.

I don’t make my clients pay me to sit there for an hour while Windows installs.  I’ll go back later and check on it, and install the drivers.  If there’s any chance of saving this puter, I’ll know soon. Meanwhile – thanks again to the Magical Jellybean!  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How to Choose a Pineapple

One of our stops in Costa Rica was a Pineapple Plantation.  On the way there, our guide asked how we selected pineapples at the grocery store.  Answers were varied.  Smell them. Pull on the leaves to see if they are loose. Feel for soft spots. Tap them and listen to the sound.  Look at the color – is it golden?  Check the size of the pattern on the sides.

When we arrived at the plantation, we learned a bunch of things I hadn’t known about pineapples. 

First of all – they do not continue to ripen after picking.  They are picked when they are ripe.  All that happens to them after picking is fermenting or rotting.  So, once you get the pineapple home, you should pop it into the refrigerator.  Leaving it out at room temperature will speed the rotting or fermenting process.  

The only purpose to smelling the pineapple is to discover if it is fermenting or rotting – not to find out if it is ripe.  None of the other tests are useful, unless you are looking for a table decoration.  Then the color and size of the pattern matter.

Second, pineapples are epiphytes – like orchids.   They take almost nothing from the soil, so a pineapple plantation can be used for years without depleting the soil.

Third, you can grow a new pineapple plant from the top of a pineapple.

Fourth, pineapple plants can be encouraged to set and bear fruit if you expose them to ethylene gas, which is made by mature pineapples, apples, bananas and other fruits.

Fifth, fresh squeezed pineapple juice is delicious – it hasn’t picked up any of that metalic taste I always associate with pineapple juice.

About 75% of pineapples in the USA come from Costa Rica.  It’s great to know that they are organically grown, since I’ve become addicted to them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Last Time I Saw You, You Were an Old Lady

I hadn’t seen my younger daughter in almost 5 months.  

5 months ago, I needed a cane. I had to force myself to walk a few blocks to the nearby park. I had to sit, rather than run after my grandchildren.  I couldn’t join a game of kickball. Every time I moved it felt as if a knife was stabbing me in the hip. 

But in my mind, I still wanted to run after my grand children, kick the ball, climb the slides and play as I had always done.  It never occurred to me that I was acting old.  I didn’t feel old.  I just had a worn-out hip.  A replaceable part.  And I had an appointment with the surgeon.  Why would anybody think I was old?

But my daughter greeted me, "Last time I saw you, you were an old lady."

When I was my daughter’s age, I imagined that somehow people’s thoughts changed as they aged – they no longer wanted to run and kick balls and climb things.  I was never old – in that sense.  But indeed, I did act like the old people I used to watch and wonder what on Earth they were thinking – that they chose to sit rather than play.

Now, I could play again.  My thoughts hadn’t changed.  My body did.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Barbed Wire

One of our jungle boat rides took us to the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  Note the barbed wire on the Nicaragua side.  

Our boat took us one foot over the Nicaraguan border, just because we could without being caught. 

Our guide, Paul, told us a story.  The local newspaper was interviewing the farmer who had won Best Corn Crop prizes 10 years in a row.  The reporter asked, “What do you do with your best seeds?”  

The farmer answered, “I give them to my neighbors.”

The reporter asked, “Then why do you have the best crops?”

“I have good seeds.  And they cross-pollinate with my neighbors’ seeds.  That way we all get better crops.  And since my land is surrounded by healthy crops, my crops are the best.”

Likewise, Costa Rica welcomes illegal immigrants with free education and free health care.  Disease does not know borders. If a sick person comes for help instead of staying home and infecting the community, plagues can be stopped.  Costa Rica has a literacy rate of 96%. All Costa Rica residents get a free education.  The illiterates are the illegal immigrants. Costa Rica would like to have 100% literacy, so they will educate anybody who comes to their schools.

How does Costa Rica afford health care and education for everybody?  In 1949, they voted to get rid of their army and spend the money on education and health care.

This is not to say that Costa Rica has no barbed wire.

Until 3 years ago, anybody who was caught committing a robbery in which he didn’t hurt anybody and didn’t steal more than $1000 worth of property was not punished.  This led to repeat offenders.  3 years ago, the limit was reduced to $100.  But people still feel the need to protect their buildings, so in the cities, we saw lots of barbed wire on what looked like inexpensive homes and buildings.

Bottom line – Costa Rica tries to educate everybody, keep everybody healthy, and keep people out of jail.  I think those are three wonderful goals.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mt. Poas with my New Hip

Our first adventure day, we rode a bus most of the way up Mt. Poas, one of 7 active volcanoes in Costa Rica.  (There are also 60 dormant volcanoes.) We were given a choice of two paths to the crater.  A) through a cloud forest over hilly terrain or B) a nearly level path.  This was my first unpaved road walk with my new hip, and Jean has trouble with altitudes, so we decided on the level and slightly shorter path.  Our guide pointed out large roundish leaves as “poor man’s umbrella.”  My husband, the alien stood by one.

The path was only about half a mile. Jean and I were fine.  Our guide had warned us that the volcano might not be visible because of cloud cover.  But we had a clear sunny view.  There are advantages to being a weather witch.  The tour group that arrived about half an hour after we left called our guide to tell him that the volcano was no longer visible.  Despite repeated evidence throughout the trip (one day he checked the radar and saw that we were in the only sunny spot in Costa Rica) he refused to believe in weather witches.

My mother had told me that when she was there, Poas was throwing rocks.  The day we were there, steam billowed from a lake in the crater.

Jean decided to stay on the level path back to the bus. Eric and I accompanied her.  But I determined that next time we had a choice, I would take the adventurous path. My new hip and rehabilitated muscles were up for it.