Sunday, August 31

Adeline’s story

This story appeared Saturday, August 30, 2008. Its author, Jim Steinberg at the Fresno Bee, told us, “I can do a 12-column-inch article on Adeline; that’s all the paper allows.” He did 29 inches including a color photo and said, “Her life deserves being a book.”

You can read it here:

Saturday, August 23

Gone to a beautiful place…

This morning at around 3 o'clock, Adeline Smith quietly and peacefully left this earth. She was 93. Daughter Karla and long-time family friend, Susie Hickman were with her. As Karla described it, they both noticed a stillness. During the night Karla had felt the very strong presence of Adeline’s mother, Sophia. In her last days, Adeline spoke with many long-gone friends and family from her past, often in Swedish. When she was asked what she had seen, she responded that it was so peaceful, so beautiful.

On June 20, Adeline’s birthday, we accompanied her on a helicopter ride from the ranch in Ahwahnee to her beloved high-country ranch at Blayney Meadow. She stayed there until a couple of weeks ago. Then, her health failing, she was evacuated via helicopter to the hospital in Clovis. During her stay dozens of family and friends came to visit, for which we are so grateful.

Her contribution to thousands of lives is cherished, and she will be missed.

Photo: Galaxy cluster 1E 0657-56; NASA

Friday, August 22

Pay attention!

I was only four years old (goin’ on five) when this happened. The people in the foreground to the right of center haven’t yet noticed what was happening in the background. Twenty thousand TONS of TNT equivalent was exploding in the second nuclear blast in wartime history. Nagasaki was being obliterated; the date was August 5, 1945. Three days earlier a similar bomb had destroyed Hiroshima.

Since that terrible time the world has argued whether the bombing with nuclear weapons was justified. The argument by the United States was that it saved the lives of thousands, perhaps millions of soldiers and civilians because it forced the recalcitrant Japanese warlords to surrender, which would not have happened if the US had only fought with “ordinary weapons.” The overwhelming terror of the individual atomic bombs convinced the Japanese that they simply had no choice.

What fascinates me about the photograph is that something so overwhelmingly powerfully destructive can be happening and not be noticed immediately. (By clicking on the picture you can see it a bit larger.)

Wednesday, August 20

An update

Today at noon the hospital kicked Adeline out, saying “We only allow sick people to stay here.” So I guess the verdict is that she doesn’t qualify. She will be staying at a hotel in Fresno, getting care from her daughter and a friend and others 24 hours a day. We shall see what happens from there.

Thursday, August 14

Time out

I will be taking time off to handle a family situation that has come up. Karla’s mother is in a bad way and is hospitalized. We’re not expecting a very good outcome. I’ll return to my usual silliness and nonsense when we get everything handled.

Wednesday, August 13

Monty Python? Or the real thing?

Supposedly an interview with an Australian senator regarding a recent oil spill caused by the front of an oil tanker falling off: - Watch more free videos

Thanks to loyal reader/part-time neighbor Bill for the tip!

Tuesday, August 12

Oil price falling!

Great news! With oil prices falling, we can soon expect to pay less at the pump to fill our cars and trucks.

Rumor has it that with prices falling at the current rate, in about three weeks we will be able to drive in to a gas station and fill up and get free money! I have it on good authority that if you fill a large near-empty fuel tank you can get as much as $50. In cash!

If you bring in your own 55-gallon drum, they will fill it and give you up to $75! But at the supermarket you will have to pay over eight dollars for an ear of corn. Popcorn in theaters now costs more than twice the ticket for the movie. Butter and salt is extra. But I guess it’s all part of maintaining balance. I’m so pleased that our government is working to achieve balance. Give a little here; take a little there. It all balances out and everyone is happy. In the end, everyone’s ox is gored, but in turn, evenly, over time. Happy, happy.

Monday, August 11

Celebrating a millenium of blogging!

It’s time to celebrate one thousand years of continuous blogging! Not because I’ve actually done a thousand years of blogging, but because when that time comes, I’ll be dust and unable to celebrate, so I’m doing it now.

In these thousand years we’ve achieved the eradication of poverty and hunger. Transportation is powered by mere thought. Candy is good for your teeth. Waiting in line at movie premieres is history, as are lines at Apple stores when the new iBrains/iBods are released. Everyone loves the taste of broccoli and nobody’s afraid of snakes or allergic to peanuts. You always get the girl/boy of your dreams. Tomatoes taste like tomatoes (just kidding!). No lawyers. No taxes. No liberals. No conservatives. No moderates. No government. No spam. Telemarketers are serving multiple-lifetime sentences in phoneless prisons with background sounds of ringing phones which get louder at mealtimes. Great shows on all ten million channels. Forests never burn down, rivers never flood, hurricanes stay out at sea, tornadoes are just high-altitude thrill shows for comfortable earth-bound audiences to wonder at. Earthquakes are totally predictable and present opportunities to get cans of paint and martinis shaken with no effort. Cattle, sheep, and pigs become house pets, along with fish, chickens, and turkeys since meat is synthesized, cholesterol free, and cheap. The Chinese and Koreans have stopped eating dogs; house cats have become extinct. Everybody is just flat beautiful. You get to choose how long to live, and can come back even better than before, and with total recall, if you choose to return to earth at all. You can be a free-floating all-knowing all-experiencing spirit forever immersed in beautiful music and surrounded by incredibly fascinating, loving friends.

Ah yes, wonderful. Nice celebration. But right now I have to mop up the spot by the TV where the cat just peed.

Sunday, August 10

Condor sanctuary destroyed

Again, reader Marguerite sends an item of interest. The Basin fire/Big Sur fire severely damaged the Ventana Wildlife Society’s very successful California condor re-establishment center for Central California. Two of their breeding birds are feared dead, since their radio signals have stopped. They need funds to help rebuild, and are asking for contributions. Here is their message:

Foreclosure’s upside

Los Angeles Times article here talks about a company, Sapphire Energy, proposing to make fuels from algae.

With houses being foreclosed at a record rate in the United States, there may be an upside. Many of these houses have swimming pools in their back yards. The abandoned pools are filling with algae, which can be turned into fuel, perhaps at a rate that would pay off the mortgage (as long as the houses remain abandoned and the pools neglected). All it would take is water enough to keep the pools producing.

Oh yeah—the drought.

Never mind.

Thanks to reader Marguerite for the tip.

Mega nuts

The local digger or bull pines produce what are probably the largest nuts of any pine tree. Shown above with a fossil ichthus squishus flattus for scale, you can see that they’re something to behold. The shell is quite thick, though, so the flesh inside isn’t quite as large as you’d think. We found these on the morning walk, lying on the road uneaten by the squirrel(s) who cut the cones from the trees. It takes pliers to open them, though the ancient humans from the BP (Before Pliers) era probably just smashed them between a rock and a hard place.

Saturday, August 9

Hidden meaning

Above is a calling card. This person could play music for you at a party, or on a radio station. But there is further meaning in the letters on the card. If you are good at recognizing patterns, you should be able to decipher the hidden meaning. Hint: The person is female.

When my daughter was taking a mathematics class, her professor presented pattern recognition questions to the students, and asked for them to come up with some of their own. I had thought of this one years ago, and offered it to her. The prof was impressed, I hear. As he should have been; how many college professors get feedback from a genuine blogger?

Hhhorses, you already know this one, so keep it to yourself until all the other readers give up.

Update: Congratulations are in order for Pete S, who is the first to officially give up. So here’s another clue: The first name is June.

Update II: There are two other female names in here. Susan may be on to something.

Update III: The card contains 12 letters. Twelve. Hm-m-m.

Update IV: Susan is getting closer. She just MAY solve it!

Friday, August 8

A paradigm shift with global consequences

Many of us in the United States have given up on the idea that this country can recapture its once-mighty manufacturing industry. Who would ever believe that IKEA, the mega-global-department store with super-low prices, would sell products made in the USA? IKEA has announced that it is opening manufacturing plants in the east coast states of Virginia and the Carolinas, which were once powerhouses of furniture manufacturing until cheap labor in southeast Asia put them out of business.

What could possibly be causing such a dramatic shift from making products in labor-rich wage-cheap southeast Asia? The price of oil. The cost of shipping has risen to uneconomic levels. Not only that, but the huge container ships have reduced their speed by 20% to save fuel, thus slowing deliveries. It is no longer feasible for companies to ship raw materials from one part of the world to another to be made into something that is then shipped to still another place for sale. Lots of hardwood is grown on the east coast, so that’s now the cheapest place for it to be manufactured into furniture to be sold in the United States.

The New York Times has a very good article on this whole trend here. I bookmarked it for further perusal. It’s a good one.

Thursday, August 7

Man on wire

The thing depicted in this film could only be more dangerous if it had taken place on September 11, 2001.

The download of the preview took many long minutes for me. This could simply be because my Internet connection is via satellite, and I have to run outside to shoo the California condors off the antenna because when they’re picking the cooties from their wing feathers they shade the antenna from the satellite and I can’t get a signal. I really hate to shoo them away because I think they’re after the cat. If you’re connected to something faster, this preview is worth the download time.

If you, like me, get tingly rubber legs when you see people doing really dangerous things at really dangerous heights, don’t watch. I wish I hadn’t, but then I’m a coward at heart. It won a prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. But I still wish I hadn’t watched. And this is only a preview!

The Web site:

Wednesday, August 6

Telegraph fire is out?

It’s funny, you can get conflicting data on something that should be either yes or no. Depending on where you look, the Telegraph fire is out, or 95% controlled, or 100% contained but not out. There are still over a thousand people milling around with hoses and shovels and axes and chainsaws and bulldozers and helicopters and trucks and buckets. So I guess it’s as out as it can be if you don’t count the parts of it that are still burning but not a threat to the surroundings. It might be a good idea to let areas burn that don’t pose a threat to anything else. Smooth off the land so nothing sticks up high enough to catch fire. It puts all the minerals the trees and brush took up for the last hundred years back into the ground. All we need now is enormous rainstorms to wash everything off the hillsides into the canyons and streams and rivers causing huge mudslides. Ah, nature. How wonderful things are when we mess with the fire cycle. Thank you, Gifford Pinchot!

Monday, August 4

Fire in the bush

High winds were whipping the fire around the bowl-shaped canyon. This front would not rush past; it would scour the landscape until there was nothing left to burn. The children and the grandparents were indoors, but Carlene and John would have to stay outside and fight.
A spot fire started behind the house. They rushed toward it before stopping short. They would have to drag hoses across a long stretch of burning ground, and dared not risk it.
The above is excerpted from an article that appeared recently in the Los Angeles Times. It compares the way wildfires are handled in Australia versus the United States. A compelling read, especially if you live in a fire-prone area.

Thanks to Pete S for the lead!

Photo: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times

Sunday, August 3

The sun’s beauty

Hoping you don’t think I’m a total astro-nut, here is another shot of something you should see. There was a total eclipse of the sun Friday. An amateur astronomer in Russia took several exposures and made this composite of the moon in front of the sun. Here’s the report:
The sun's wispy, dancing, mysteriously-hot outer atmosphere is one of the prettiest sights in the heavens. The trick is seeing it. Under normal circumstances, blinding sunlight hides the corona from sensitive human eyes. Last Friday, however, was not normal.

Hartwig Luethen took the picture on August 1st when the Moon passed directly in front of the sun, briefly revealing the corona for all to see. To photograph the eclipse, Luethen stationed himself in Kochenovo, west of Novosibirsk, Russia, deep inside the path of totality. “I used a Canon 350D to make 24 exposures varying in length from 1/500 to 2 seconds.” The resulting composite shows the ghostly corona, a magnetic prominence surging over the lunar limb, and the Earthlit surface of the Moon itself.
You can find things like this for yourself every day at
That’s where this comes from.

Jewel box

You APOD readers have seen this. You who aren’t APOD readers, copy this to your bookmark file:

The above they call Open Cluster NGC 290, a jewel box. It’s an open cluster of stars; the picture was taken with the good old Hubble Space Telescope, probably the best bang-for-your-buck NASA ever did besides the Apollo moon landings.

Photo Credit: ESA & NASA; Acknowledgement: E. Olszewski (U. Arizona)

Saturday, August 2

497 and counting…

Running out of PlastiKoils brought an end to finishing off almost 500 books; there are 87 that need the coils spun on to finish the binding. Plus there appears to be maybe another hundred books that haven’t been collated; they’re just boxes of pages. There are enough covers to put maybe three or four covers on each book, front and back, which would make the book thicker and give it more impressive heft, but that would probably be stupid.

I should figure out what to do with over a million little round pieces of paper that were punched out to bind the books. The pieces from about 25 books is shown above, a tiny pile. I could compost them. Or use them as cat litter. I could celebrate the finishing of the books by tossing them in the air as confetti. Then clean up the mess with the new robotic vacuum. The possibilities are positively thrilling!

Friday, August 1

The latest Toyota

Toyota bought Sony’s robot division and has presented a new way to get around (if you don’t count Dean Kamen’s Segway). They call it the Winglet, and it does a lot of what the Segway does, but a lot slower. Presumably a lot cheaper, too?

The Segway will travel at 12.5 mph (20 kph); the Winglet only goes 3.7 (6). I have a question: On the smaller unit, what are you supposed to do with your hands? At least the demonstrator could be playing a trumpet or something. Or text messaging. Or, in the US, eating a hamburger and fries.