Monthly Archives: March 2019

Planted Asparagus

We decided to put in a few root crowns of asparagus this year. I started with a dozen but I think we could use a dozen more.

I was losing my light but got it done before it was too dark.

The local garden store had the Mary Washington variety which is fine with me.

Growing asparagus from root crowns is faster to harvest than growing them from seed. Still, it’s the 3rd year before you can harvest. I have some more work to do back there tilling around the beds and mulching. It will help to have longer evenings.

To plant asparagus, dig a trench 12-18 inches deep and about 20 inches wide. Add as much as 6″ of compost or manure to the trench and a dusting of 10-10-10 fertilizer. Mix or till this together with some soil from the trench and make mounds about 1 foot apart in the bottom of the trench. Drape the root crowns over the crowns and fill the trench to cover the roots with about 2 inches of soil. The tops of the roots should be about 4 inches below the surface. As the asparagus grows, add more dirt until the trench is full to provide support.

Don’t harvest the first year at all. Water well and let the spears grow ferns and feed the root crowns all year. Mulch to control weeds and fertilize at least once in the spring. Asparagus is a heavy feeder. You can also add compost to the surface to keep the soil rich. Next year, cut the ferns down in Spring before new growth starts. Harvest only lightly the second year, allowing most of the spears to grow into ferns. The third year harvest until the weather warms and spears begin to get thinner, then let them go to ferns.

Time to seed Peppers

Here in Idaho, we’re now only 7 weeks away from average last frost (about May 10) and about 10 weeks away from June 1st which is the safest time to set out heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. I know that by planting now, my peppers will be blooming vigorously in their pots by June 1, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I’m anticipating a warmer year this year so I’m hoping to be able to set these out a little before June 1.

Peppers germinate best at 80 degrees so I use a reptile warming mat under my seed tray to simulate Mexican conditions here in March and control it with a thermostat.

Pepper seedling tray on warming mat

The light you see is coming from the shelf above which has other seedlings on it. It isn’t needed for germination. Here is a close-up of the thermostat I use below. You can get these on Amazon or maybe at your favorite gardening store.

Heat Mat Thermostat

You can see the little wire running into the middle of the seed tray in this picture below. That’s the temperature sensor.

Temperature sensor

I seeded some lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, leeks and onions a while back and they’re all doing great so far. I hope we have a cool spring for their sakes.

I can tell right now I’m going to need more lights, more shelving, and more storage for all the veggies we’re going to freeze, can, ferment, juice, preserve, dehydrate, and otherwise store and enjoy this year (Lord willing) – and give away.

Gardening is such a joy. It’s relaxing even though it requires some strenuous labor, and it’s endlessly fascinating how God makes it all work. It makes me think of the creation story because the Bible says God made man and placed him in a garden (Gen. 2:8). Apparently, we were quite literally made to do this. It also reminds me of all sorts of other Bible truths, such as the law of sowing and reaping (Gal. 6:7) and the future resurrection and transformation of all believers who will receive new immortal heavenly bodies (1 Cor. 15). I have time to think about these things while I’m gardening. It also reminds me of the tragedy of sin when the weeds come up, diseases appear, pests devour, and adverse weather cause failures (Gen. 3).

The Benefits and Joy of Dot Matrix Printing

I was fortunate to grow up in the 80s. I remember writing school papers on the TRS-80, or the Atari 800 with the Bank Street Writer word processing program, and printing those documents on printers like the Atari 825 or the Star SG-10.

Later, when I “upgraded” at home to an IBM clone, I got a Panasonic KX-P1091i, a printer that printed in Epson or IBM Proprinter mode. Back then, printing text was fast, direct, and cheap. Graphics looked bad, mostly. But you could print a long Happy Birthday banner for your younger sister or school buddy’s birthday party using The Print Shop or something if you wanted to. And you could print pages and pages of text before you had to change the ribbon.

The Problem

Then came inkjet. Wow, look at the great quality, right? But then people started to realize what they had gotten themselves into when replacement cartridges came at a cost of $35 – $75 a piece. We could hardly bring ourselves to buy them but soon, we hardly had a choice. We couldn’t afford a laser printer at home so most of us had inkjets, and dot matrix printers became increasingly hard to print to with every new iteration of Microsoft’s dominant operating system. And with the inkjets came new papers and labels. No more giant boxes of tractor feed anything was available. And this new stuff wasn’t cheap either. I remember paying $30 once for a single pack of Avery address labels for my inkjet printer at Staples. Sure, the new inkjet-printed, peel-n-stick labels were nice looking, but at what cost?

The Benefits of switching back

So I looked online and found a Panasonic dot matrix printer that is still being produced and supported. The KX-P1150. So I bought one.

My Panasonic KX-P1150 at home

Actually, I bought two. One for home, and one for the office. Then, I looked online and found that ribbons are still available for these. I get them on for $11.49 a 6-pack. That’s $1.92 per cartridge!

The Panasonic printer ribbon

These ribbons print until the cows come home, and then some. And when the text starts to look a little light, you stick a pen into the little hole on the front like you see pictured there, and it magically darkens up again for a while longer.

Great, right? Wrong. Because the problem you run into, is that while most modern operating systems can technically print to these things, they no longer do so by sending *draft text* to the printers, so the printers can print in those native, fast, simple draft text fonts like they used to under old 8-bit computers, or under MS-DOS. Instead, modern printer drivers send image data to these things that the printers then try to approximate graphically, and it is horrible. It’s slow, and it looks bad, and for some reason, it takes several passes of the print head just to print one line of text. So after a lot of experimentation and disappointment, these printers ended up not getting used very much. For quite a while. At work, I would print internal documents on them that end up in the filing cabinet anyway, like bank reconciliations and things like that, and that worked fine mostly. Employees complain about the noise, but I just tell them that that is the sound of savings.

The Joy of beating the game

Then I decided to solve the problem once and for all. I bought an old IBM AT clone, a 286 if you remember those, and it runs DOS, just like the old days.

My Packard Bell PB-800 286/10 MHz PC

Now yes, I can virtualize DOS on my home computer (running Linux) using built-in tools, and I might be able to get virtual DOS talking to a local printer, but guess what? I don’t have a parallel port on my current main home PC. And the USB to parallel technology is iffy and only works with some printers. Besides, I wanted the fun of running a vintage PC again anyway. So, here’s what I did.

I Win

I searched the DOS software archives at and finally found an old abandonware version of Act! 1.10 for DOS. It even came with a pdf file of the complete user manual. With this program, I can store my small mailing address lists and print labels from them directly to this printer and it knows just what to do. I even found these old-school tractor feed labels at for about $22.00 a box shipped.

This box contains 5,000 labels. This will get us through many decades of Christmas letter mailings! For printing single labels, I found a little program called LabelPro that lets me enter an address and print out a quick label on the fly. Nothing could be easier, or cheaper, and dot matrix is more than adequate for addressing mail. In fact, it looks *nice*. For the Christmas letter itself, I use MS-Word version 5.5 for DOS and just print out 120 copies. It prints fast using native fonts on tractor-feed paper, and it is cheap per page for that ink and paper. It is still the cheapest way to get ink on paper that I know of.

So I win! I beat the inkjet cartridge racket once and for all just by resurrecting some old technology that should have never been completely, forcibly replaced in the home. Now I have the joy not only of saving gobs of money every year, but also of using and keeping alive nostalgic vintage computing and printing technologies that remind me of the good old days, and that obviously still offer a lot of value!

How to connect to OpenVPN server with Debian Linux (8.11 Jessie) using Network Manager

To me, using the Network Manager GUI tool is the preferred way to connect to a VPN server because I can easily switch the connection on and off or see if it is active or not as needed without bringing up a terminal and issuing any commands (though there is nothing wrong with doing it that way!) For those of you new to this, Network Manager is a GUI applet in Gnome and other GTK-based desktop environments (its the default in Cinnamon, and is available in XFCE, MATE, etc.). It’s the Ethernet Jack icon in the middle of the system tray in Cinnamon:

The first thing you want to do is install OpenVPN and the OpenVPN Network Manager plugin on your computer. (The ‘openvpn’ package in the Debian repositories will install the server and the client). The plugin is another package. Use ‘sudo’ or ‘su to become superuser and install the packages:

apt install openvpn network-manager-openvpn-gnome

Once you do this, you will find a new category of connection types available to create in Network Manager called “VPN”. First, click the Network Manager icon and select “Network Connections” – then click “Add” to add a new connection. Under “VPN”, you will find “OpenVPN” and “Import a saved VPN Configuration”. We’re going to choose “OpenVPN” and configure it ourselves.

In the configuration box that comes up you can name the Connection at the top, then under Gateway, enter the public IP address or DNS-resolvable name where your server resides. Then, select the Authentication type used by your server. There are four types available: Certificates (TLS), Password, Password with Certificates, and Static Key. In my case, I’m connecting to a Synology NAS and the server is configured to give VPN Server access to Synology users, so I set the type to “Password” and the credentials here are my NAS user credentials. Your connection may require certificates and keys. Check with your IT Department or person, if you have one, about whether you need to use credentials or certificates and keys for accessing your OpenVPN server.

For the certificate, I simply specified one of the certificates given to me in the zip file that came from the OpenVPN server.

Next, I simply opened the configuration file that I got from the OpenVPN server in a text editor, and then clicked the “Advanced” button here (above, bottom right) and toggled/entered the corresponding configuration in the GUI tool so it matched the config file. For example, here is a condensed version of the config file I got:

dev tun
redirect-gateway def1
dhcp-option DNS DNS_IP_ADDRESS
proto udp
script-security 2
reneg-sec 0
cipher AES-256-CBC
auth SHA512

**Certificate data omitted**
**Certificate data omitted**

As you can see below, many of these configuration file options have corresponding checkboxes in the GUI tool:

Check the boxes that correspond to the options in your configuration file. On the security tab, you can set the encryption options:

Here, set the correct cipher and authentication methods. When you’re done, if you’ve done everything right, you should have a new, easily toggleable VPN connection in Network Manager to turn on and off as you wish.

Toggle it on and see if it works, and tweak the configuration until it does. To test the connection, click here and follow the instructions near the bottom of the page under “Testing”.