Rural Internet Thoughts

Last week Microsoft made a big announcement about how they are going to invest a sum of money into bringing broadband to the 25 million rural Americans who don’t currently have access. I applaud this effort because it is sorely needed and it will be the heat death of the universe before telecoms will spend the money to build out these sparse areas. Since many of you reading this have good to great internet I thought I would give you a little idea of what it has been like here in a very rural part of Missouri.

When we moved here to the farm in 2009 we had dial-up service through our telephone provider CenturyLink. We had established this before we moved so when we came down for a weekend to move stuff we could get on the internet and check email and browse the web. We had DSL in Chicago (at that time a whopping 768Kb service) so dial-up was not feasible long term.

CenturyLink had announced it was bringing DSL to our area but as it turned out the copper wire and old infrastructure was so bad they could only get reliable service about 2 miles down the road from the equipment building on the main highway which left us about three miles short. We had no cell service (still don’t) so the only high-speed internet option was satellite. At the time we could have chosen between Wild Blue (not around any more) and HughesNet. We chose HughesNet since they had a better plan and more history. The service was 3 Meg down but only 128K up -way better than dialup and faster on the download than our previous DSL in Chicago. The slow upload was not an issue at the time but the other two limitations that come with satellite -high latency and quotas – were major downsides.

High latency means you get pings of around 600 to 900 ms which causes delays in opening web pages and can also cause sites to think you are dropping packets and keep resending which means pages sometimes don’t load. Secure websites can be more sensitive to high ping rates. The reason you get this with a satellite is because in order to cover a large area of the globe, these birds are in geosynch orbit which is 22,500 miles above the earth. So a signal has to travel from our dish to the bird, then back down to the ground station that connects to the web then back up to the bird and back down to our dish – a round trip of 90,000 miles. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second so that is a half second right there. Then add the typical times to process and such and you get those long ping times.

For the most part you get used to the extra time it takes to open pages and delays caused by this but the quotas are the real bugaboo. Since the satellite has a limited capacity they have to try to balance the usage among all the users, during the day and evening we had 350 MB per day of use. For web browsing and email that was not a problem. Updates and large file downloads were the issue. These had to be downloaded during our “free” time between 2AM and 7AM.

Even with these restrictions in the early days this setup was fine but then a few years later we both had iPads, social media was in full swing plus mobile games meant the daily quota was onerous. We ran over several days a month and the slow down to basically dialup speeds was horrible. Then Janice got the opportunity to be a beta tester for HughesNet and that meant the daily quota was increased to 500MB and anything left over was added the next day which helped some. We still had to do updates at night or for the iPads we could drag them into town and use wi-fi at places like restaurants and such.

We would call CenturyLink every six months and ask when we were going to get DSL and we always got the same response “You are on the list but we can’t say when it will be available”. Every time we would see a spool of orange cable being installed in the county we would be jealous and wonder if maybe we were next. Last spring we read in the local paper that CenturyLink had accepted a large portion of the funds from the government to build out broadband to unserved areas here in Missouri. A few months later we had some line problems with the phone and while talking with the repair tech he said we were supposed to get DSL this year. So far no orange cable.

But don’t feel too sorry for us because earlier this year HughesNet put a new satellite online and Janice got in on the beta. In May we got a new dish put up (it is a little bigger than the old one) and a new modem which has the router built in and we have rocking internet for the first time here at the farm. We get 15-25 Meg download speeds and 3 Meg upload which is very sweet. Updates that would take hours are now done in minutes. We can stream video if we want as long we don’t watch a movie every day (we still have a quota) but the quota is monthly instead of daily. When we go out of town or on vacation we don’t lose the data for the day. The bonus period is not unlimited but it is large enough that we would never use it all in a month and it goes to 8AM which means in the morning when we use the internet the most we are mostly on the bonus time and we can do updates then because they finish well before the bonus period expires. Happily the one month we went over our limit the day before the month end, our speeds were not much slower. As more people sign up for this upgraded service we may see some slow down but for now it is sweet.

The latency still exists but even it is a bit less either due to the faster upload speed and/or some improvements to the ground network. Since we aren’t real concerned about video streaming this setup is exactly what we need. If DSL ever does come we will see what kind of speeds they offer and at what price to see if it is actually better. Hopefully we will have that chance but I would not be surprised if it is years before we see DSL here in our corner of the Ozarks.

In summary if your only option is satellite there are at least two providers almost everywhere and if you have reasonable expectations about what your service will provide you likely be satisfied. Online gaming is likely to be impossible because of the latency , facetime or Skype may be a little out of synch, large data downloads will have to be done off peak and you will be very limited in your video streaming. As long as you accept that, satellite is not as bad as some would make you think and certainly better than it was last decade.

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Chickens

Chicken is one the country’s most popular foods; we fry it, bake, form it into nuggets and of course who doesn’t like wings. But chickens are also one of the most popular forms of livestock for most people. Almost every farm has chickens and many homeowners in not so rural areas have a few hens as well (no roosters allowed in the city). Why you ask? Because they are easy to raise and are entertaining – some breeds are quite striking in their appearance – and of course fresh eggs. Farm eggs are the best hands down especially if you like your yolks runny (like I do) due to the yolks dark, rich color and flavor.

To get started raising chickens you either buy newly hatched chicks from a hatchery, or you get some fertile eggs from a neighbor who has chickens (and we have a neighbor who has a LOT of chickens). And the basics of biology indicate you need to have a rooster to get fertilized eggs. Did you know the eggs you buy in a store are typically not fertilized? That’s because hens will poop out eggs almost daily regardless of a rooster or not. And yes the eggs come out the same opening as the poop – even the eggs in the store contrary to some reports on the internet. When we first started out years ago we got chicks from a hatchery. One advantage to a hatchery is if you only want eggs you can get just females and not bother with a rooster. The other is that you don’t need any equipment to incubate the eggs.

Now we have a couple of incubators and hatch our own. Small incubators are not expensive and will hold about 30 chicken eggs and has a rack that tips the eggs back and forth at intervals. You have to move the eggs regularly or they won’t hatch properly and turning them over manually is a chore. The incubator has a fan and temperature control and just needs a bit or water from time to time to keep the humidity up. This setup is less than a $100.

Since that first batch years ago we have hatched eggs we collected, bought more chicks from hatcheries and even raised some ducks, geese and turkeys. We have even gone a while without chickens but last year we got a batch going and have enjoyed eggs from them as well as the antics of the roosters who we keep in the yard except at night and they have personalities all their own. The most interesting is when they get all macho and go at each other neck feathers expanded and everything. You can see how they are descended from dinosaurs.

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Our current ducks

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These are our current hens trying to stay cool on a warm day

This spring Janice put a couple dozen eggs in the incubator from our neighbor who has chickens of all breeds. We had a real good hatch with all but a few eggs hatching. The eggs take about 21 days to hatch and there is always an early bird (groan) who starts pipping first. A little crack in the eggs is visible and then it gets larger until you can see the beak poking out. Over an 8-12 hour period the chick is furiously pecking away and eventually cracks through the shell to greet the world. During this time it is cheeping away and as more start hatching the chorus builds.

They can survive a day or so without food and water while they dry out and then they get moved into a brooder. We use a large tote in the back room with pine shavings, a waterer and a feeder. These are essential and need attention frequently as chicks have just four activities for this period in their life – eat, drink, poop and sleep – repeated several times a day. Their chirping is fun to listen to and they grow so fast you could swear you see it happen before your eyes.

They start to feather out in just a few days starting at the wings and once they have gotten most of their first feathering in they can survive outdoors unless it is the middle of winter. They get moved to a small pen we built just for this phase which has a heat lamp for cool nights and a larger feeder because they still eat like pigs. It has chicken wire around three sides with plastic we can pull down at night to keep the predators at bay. When we first built this pen we just had a wire bottom to let the poop fall through but the predators (mostly raccoons and skunks) would reach through it and pull their victim down through the wire. Now we have a wooden board underneath which has stopped these nefarious attacks.

After about 10-14 weeks they are too big for the small pen and get moved to a regular coop with a box for getting out of the rain and roosting and night safe from predators. During the day they roam around the larger caged in area digging in the dirt and eating any bugs that fly in along with the feed we give them. The hens won’t lay eggs for a few months yet and by next year the older hens we get eggs from now will start dropping off in production. The roosters are another story. They are starting to be noticeably larger and getting their wattles and crown as well trying to crow. At first it sounds more like a strangle than a crow but each day it gets a little better. So far only one is crowing but the others will start soon. It is hard to tell how many roosters we will get but so far we seem to have a lot more hens which is good since the roosters are good for entertainment value only.

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The new batch picking around for food

Of course crowing is not the only thing a young rooster starts to do, the natural urge starts and soon the hens will start sporting bare spots on their back where the rooster mounts. Once it gets too annoying, we will put the roosters out of the coop and they can fend for themselves in the yard. They will not like that at first, in fact they will walk all around the outside of the pen trying to get in but eventually they will realize that is not going to happen and they will start to wander. At night we put them in the cage but the coop door is closed to keep them away from the hens. We will keep one rooster with the hens to get fertilized eggs so we can hatch another batch when ready.

Now you know more than ever wanted to know or need to about chickens.

TV Musings

We don’t watch much TV in the summer (which allows us to catch up on movies) but I thought it was time to mention a few shows:

Salvation – This is a new summer series on CBS that is about an asteroid that will hit the earth on 6 months. Of course it is a planet killer and we have the usual plot lines as to the government trying to deflect it and a tech wizard knowing that is futile so let’s use ark ships to save humanity. The first episode was interesting even though the characters were all thin. We’ll see what develops over the next few episodes.

Candy Crush – The trailers for the show looked interesting – the show not so much. First of all they are using celebrity type contestants from past CBS shows like Survivor and Big Brother which are not shows I care about at all. Then the competition is not really that interesting. To me it looks like a way for CBS to try to capture younger audiences but it failed miserably. It is off the DVR in one week. Which may be about how long it lasts on the network.

The Wall – Not a new show but new for summer and while I like the Q&A part and the ball drops, the scripted (or at least directed) angst and emotion between the husband and wife is getting old fast. A good show to watch while catching up on social media on your phone or tablet.

Penn and Teller Fool Us – We love P&T and this show brings out some great magicians and the trick at the end of each episode is often fun so we are happy it is back for another season. Allison is back as host and the real question is whether she will wear the same red pantsuit for every episode like the blue dress from last season. Maybe they shot them all in one day or maybe the wardrobe budget is minimal. In either case the magic is the focus and always enjoy this.

That’s all I have to say about summer TV for now. 

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

When Sony chose to do another reboot of the story with the Amazing Spider-Man films starring Andrew Garfield I threw in the towel. I mean how many times do I need to see the origin story of a character this well known. The only reason I decided to see this new “reboot” film is because I liked the way they wrote the character into Civil War and the prospect of bringing Spidey into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was intriguing – plus Iron Man right?

Sadly this expectation was unmet. The first twenty minutes was so full of teenage angst and dumb characters (especially Peter’s best bud Ned) that I was ready to walk out of the theater. The story eventually improved with some interesting action scenes but overall it felt sluggish and tired. The Vulture was a weak villain, staying mostly in the shadows until the last third of the film. The scene with the Staten Island Ferry that is so prominently featured in the trailers is interesting but requires way too much suspension of belief that it was almost laughable.

The twist before the final big action scene was a surprise, but lacked the energy and tension that Marvel regularly achieves with the Avengers films. But it isn’t all bad, there are some bright spots in the film.

  1. Tom Holland plays his role well and with a better script may have been able to bring a lot of more life into the film.
  2. Zendaya is terrific as the loner girl Michelle who seems to have a better idea of what is going on than anyone.
  3. The Captain America cameos are hilarious (stay until the very end of the credits) and all the references to the Avengers and the Sokovia accords is also interesting and does help bring the character into the fold.

From a story aspect though the only thing that I found interesting was Peter Parker’s growth as a person in the end and that was way too obvious. It will be interesting to see just how this whole Spider-Man MCU thing plays out but unless future films tie-in closely it’s doubtful I will go to the theater to see any more Spidey films.

In the final analysis giving the film to a director without a big film under his belt and six different screenwriters I snot always a formula for success.

I give it 5 of 10 stars

Movie Review – Despicable Me 3

In this film Gru is still working for the Anti Villainy League and the opening scene is full of action as Gru and Lucy try to catch a new arch villain who is the main villain in the entire film. The result sets up the whole story line which includes Gru’s long lost twin Dru.

As in the previous films there is plenty of action, laughs (mostly from the minions) , tender moments from the “the girls” and a twist or two. For me the highlight of the film was when the Minions go Gilbert & Sullivan. This is classic stuff and I can see replaying this scene multiple times when the BluRay comes out. I also founds the scenes where Lucy is trying very hard to be a Mom the the girls to be well done.

Overall this movie is another steady effort and worth seeing especially if you like the series. Early box office has been underwhelming so this may be the last one unless they do another Minions which could show up in a couple years. Oh and you may not be able to easily tell which character Julie Andrews voices and also you will understand what all the internet buzz about pink toilet paper has been.

I give the film 7 out of 10.

State Park Marathon

It has been a while since we did a whole day of state parks and we were both in the mood to make some more progress toward seeing all 88 Missouri parks. After a quick breakfast we headed for our first stop which was going to be St. Francois State Park on route 67 north of Bonne Terre (Bonne Terre has the flooded mine which we will get to some day as well). As we got to where route 32 heads east to Bismarck we saw a detour sign since MODOT is replacing a bridge between Caledonia and Bismarck. You now have to go north a bit and then wind east to come into Bismarck from the north. Since we had to go north on the detour, we decided it would not be too out of the way to go to Washington State Park. This was cool because this park has several buildings built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s. The rustic stone and beam construction is quite beautiful plus a surprise was the petroglyphs carved in the dolomite by pre-historic Indians who lived in the area a millennia ago. Some were very faded but a few were very easy to see and showed up well in the photos. Below is a very clearly a thunderbird.

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After that we headed back to St. Francois park and while it is primarily a camping and fishing park with trails – most of the parks are like this – we had a great chat with the people in the park office after getting the stamp in our passport and some stickers.

Next stop was Sandy Creek Covered Bridge state historic site. It has one of four covered bridges left in Missouri. It is a Howe truss design originally built in 1872. This design was very common for covered bridges in the surrounding states as well. I knew the main reason for covered bridges was the roof helped prevent weather from damaging the bridge so they would last longer but I also found out that the covered bridge was like a barn so animals would cross with less fuss and it provided shelter form a sudden storm. This bridge was rebuilt twice with the last being in 1984 sixteen years after the state acquired it.

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After that stop it was a 15 mile trip east to the Mississippi where the gravesite of Daniel Dunklin who was the 5th Governor of Missouri is located. He is considered to be “the father of public schools” in Missouri. He was a shrewd businessman and had acquired a vast estate that the son managed to lose over time except for a one acre parcel where the historical site is. There is an interpretive sign and a small cemetery with the graves of Dunklin, his wife and two children. The site has a great view of the river and is right next to a small mansion that I suspect is built on the original property. I wonder how they like the site beng right next door. Fortunately for them I suspect not a lot of people visit.

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A nice view of the Mississippi River form the Dunklin site:

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We saved the best for last as we headed up the road a few miles to visit Mastodon State Historic Site. We drive by this every time we head to Chicago or go to Collinsville for Archon every year and we always say we should visit and we finally did. While there is a recreation area with various trail heads, we headed right for the museum since that is why we wanted to visit (as well as get the stamps in our passport). The museum is not large, but it has several excellent displays of animals and Paleo-Indian Clovis culture from the time of the mastodon fossils found in the Kimmswick bone bed just yards from the museum. These date back to around 14,000 years ago. The highlight is the reproduction of the mastodon skeleton (the original fossil skeleton is in the British Museum), but they also have a giant ground sloth and a dog sized beaver. It is all displayed a giant diorama like scene that is quite nice to study. There is also a short film with some of the history of the dig there. There was a small admission which we gladly paid considering the quality of the exhibits.

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The photo above is the reproduction of a giant ground sloth. He is a little meaner looking than Syd from the Ice Age films.

We did trek down to the bone bed but there was not much to see because after the excavation in the 1970’s they filled it in to preserve it and it is all grown over with brush. The exercise was good and we got to try out our new walking poles.

We have now visited 35 of the 88 parks and plan to do more this month yet. I hope that those of you who are locals will be encouraged to get out and see some of the great parks here in Missouri. If you are out of state, they are a good excuse to visit.

Book Review – Rise by Mira Grant

For all you fans of the Newsflesh series this is the culmination of that series in a way. It is a collection of novellas plus one short story that cover a variety of events in this universe. Some involve familiar characters, some tell the story of someone or something referenced in one of the stories and others fill in the details of what happened to beloved characters. I cannot stress enough how you should read this if you want some closure on a few things from the series because once you finish this you will be happy to know what happened.

The style of the work is very consistent and is written with love for the characters and the reader. Grant always writes in a page-turning style and never bogs the story down with unnecessary prose. I also find that the plausibility of the science as well as the believability of the characters and their actions make these stories seem very real.

I am glad I read this because I am happy and satisfied that this whole series is now neatly tied up. If you have not read the previous books in the series you may want to before starting this, although a few stories do hold up well on their own.

I give this 5 bookmarks out of 5.

Movie Review – Transformers The Last Knight

In this the fifth film of the series – and some say it may be the last – the earth is still cleaning up from the big battle at the end of the last film. The decepticons are planning something and the autobots are in hiding since all transformers are being hunted down. The film starts with a scene from medieval times that sets up the whole plot of this movie. That is all you get about the story from me since I don’t want any spoilers.

I feel this is the second best film in the series after the first one. While I enjoyed all of them for the most part the middle films were mainly action, a few one-liners and great visuals. While this film has all of that in spades, the story is more interesting with the historical implications and the wonderful performances by Anthony Hopkins as the somewhat eccentric keeper of the flame and Stanley Tucci’s short but great role as Merlin in the beginning. Hopkins especially brings wit and charm that has been missing in the previous films. Mark Wahberg plays his role with a little more depth than in the last film and, in my humble, is a better main character then Shia LeBouf ever was.

There were only two things I didn’t like and they are somewhat minor. Although the film was long at over 2.5 hours, some scenes still felt chopped which distracted from the flow. The second was the odd way they did the end credits. The main cast and production names were ran over a foreshadow scene that sets up the next film (if they make another one) but as soon as that was done they ran the rest of the credits not as a roll but in blocks that moved so fast you couldn’t possibly read any of them. For someone like me who likes to watch the credits for various reasons this was disappointing. For most people it is a non-issue. I suspect this was done because if the film was much longer it would eliminate one showing per day in each theater and cut into the $.

Overall if you are a fan of the series you will enjoy this film and like many of these big action films it really is better in a theater. I give it 7 of 10.

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Welcome to Ozark Writer

Welcome to my blog. This is a place where I can and will write about all kinds of things. I am not famous or noteworthy on the web and I don’t have a lot of followers on social media but I feel I have things to share and this is where I will share them.

Some of things I will talk about here are:

Movies – I love movies and have an extensive collection of DVD’s and BluRays to show for it. I really enjoy seeing films at the theater but since the nearest cinema is an hour drive one-way, I don’t get there as often as I like.

TV – I am less of a fan of weekly television than I used to be because so many shows are serials and while I understand the economics behind that, too many do a poor job of it. If a show spends week after week just working through the main story arc it gets tedious to me. I much prefer a show that has a story for that week that ties into the arc but has a beginning, middle and end so it can stand alone. The other problem with serials is that they too often get cancelled before they get a chance to end the story arc. That is major frustrating and as a viewer I now have to decide each season whether a new series will last long enough to wrap the story. Add to that the annoying system on cables networks that has a series run 10 weeks and then you wait 40 weeks for the next season. That is like reading the first 10 chapters of a book and then putting it aside for a year and then picking up. Not my thing.

Technology – I am a geek and taught myself everything I know about computers and the like over the last 30 plus years. I am not as day to day a tech geek as I was when I was before I retired and building my own PC’s, but I still follow a lot of tech sites and will report and comment on things that I find interesting. I used to be a Windows person but once I bought my first iPad about 7 years ago I have slowly moved to Apple. I still have a Windows PC but use it rarely. I am really interested in the resurgence of space technology with the private sector getting involved like SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Life on the Farm – I will offer my experiences as a city girl who moved to a 27 acre farm in the Ozarks almost ten years ago. It is different with a lot of plusses but also a few minuses. I am happy with the move and would not want to go back to living in the city but there are some things I miss. Connectivity is a big one as we have no cell service and can only get internet via satellite which used to be terrible but recently was much improved.

Politics – Doesn’t everyone have opinions on politics? Certainly since the election in 2016 everyone does. I will not overload this blog with political posts but there are and will be things I feel I must comment on and will try to be objective which is something I don’t see a lot from either side right now.

Travel – Being retired gives us lots of time to travel and we do our fair share. We drive most of the time which gives us a chance to poke our noses into places that you miss flying. Our favorite kind of trip involves back roads and small towns where the interesting stuff is. The Interstate is nice and gets you there faster but is usually boring. Expect posts and pictures when we travel someplace interesting.

Whimsy – Life is full of moments and serendipity and when that happens I will write about. Hopefully it will make you smile or laugh or just make you wonder.

So that’s what you can expect here. I hope you will enjoy your visit here and if you like it feel free to tell your friends. I expect nothing from those who visit except courtesy and civility if you choose to leave a comment. Trolls are not welcome.