Saturday, January 31

Muybridge’s galloping horse

It would be hard to top the pioneering work of Eadweard Muybridge in photographing motion before there were reliable motion picture cameras. He used a rather elaborate setup whereby many cameras were loaded with film, one sheet at a time, and set up along a track where the subject, in this case a horse and rider, would go down the track, triggering each camera to take a single shot as they went past. Combining the individual pictures as in a flip book made a movie.

Below is a 12-frame movie that proved that all four feet of a horse left the ground at once when it was galloping. It settled a bet with people who simply didn’t believe a horse could do that! Many artists had depicted horses in a gallop where the feet were extended, and off the ground. That isn’t what Muybridge found; the feet were off the ground when gathered under the body instead. Much more is here at the Wikipedia entry.

People had some goofy ideas a long time ago, like one man who stated that the highest speed sustainable by a human was 120 miles an hour. Others thought the earth was flat. Even today, some people think you can print money fast enough to end an oncoming depression! Nutty.

Friday, January 30

Feel the Spirit

Crank up the subwoofer. Here’s a roughly six-minute history of the Mars rover, Spirit. Today Spirit is proving to be a little troubling to her masters down here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Here’s hoping they can solve whatever problems come up.

Click here for the movie.

Wednesday, January 28

Long lost kin?

From 1857, a picture of a man who’s either hiding something unattractive, or thinks wearing a cap so jauntily will attract a gorgeous woman. This photo, known as a salt print, is quite rare, and is for sale on eBay for $450. I asked my sister if this guy is in our family, but she couldn’t make a connection. One curious thing about this photo is the letter X. All the penmanship is flourish-y except for that letter, which may be all the subject was capable of writing. If he’s illiterate, then for sure he isn’t related to me! Innumerate, maybe. Unattractive, well…

A thorough explanation for making a salt print is here; the Wikipedia entry here.

Tuesday, January 27

Now it’s fish!

Many of the plants we put on our Great Wall got eaten by gophers, horrid little birds, squirrels, rabbits, horses and probably pigs. This pretty little plant, originally brought from Death Valley by daughter Hilary, was originally accompanied by a lot of succulents. All the succulents were eaten, and this plant, whose name I never knew, survived nicely and is thriving. Must taste awful.

Recently we put about a dozen ceramic fish on the wall, filling in where plants used to be. I don’t recall putting this particular fish so near the pot, and only yesterday saw that it’s about to munch this lone remaining plant. What am I to do?

The fish, by the way, was made by Marilyn MacKenzie, a friend from way back in high school days. She has a fanciful interpretation of many animals, and has a Web site here.

Monday, January 26

Advertising brilliance

On Sunday February 1 in the United States, billions of kilowatt hours will be consumed to present the Super Bowl on millions of huge flat-screen TV sets, many of which will be returned to the place where they were bought right after the game, especially if they were bought from Costco. (When I served on a jury, a Costco manager/jury member told me that right after the Super Bowl is the time to come in to buy a lightly used TV really cheap!)

The cost of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl is astronomical (three million dollars). Alcoholic beverage advertising time will be dominated by Anheuser-Busch, America’s largest beer maker. MillerCoors, the second largest, is going to skip a huge exposure during the big game. Their ad agency came up with a winning idea; they produced a commercial that lasts exactly one second. And they have been advertising the commercial! “Watch the Super Bowl for our commercial,” they’ve been saying. “It lasts only one second!”


If you want to see a selection of their one-second commercials click here. (I think they’ll use the one where the guy yells “Miller time!”) The commercial will be shown during the pre-game portion of the show. Here’s a justification to advertise during the Super Bowl, according to many advertisers. I love advertising.

Sunday, January 25

Construction wizards

Who’d a thunk that a spider could come up with such an intricate structure?

The pewter people below are supporting something that makes them look pretty meager.


It makes cleaning up cobwebs almost criminal.

I am a criminal…

…who lives in an almost clean house.

Saturday, January 24


North of Fresno county is a county shaped like something you’d find in the back yard if you hadn’t cleaned up after your dog for awhile. Our place is directly north of Fresno, near the northern border of that other county. It was raining like crazy when I captured this picture. So far, over 3.5" (90mm) for three days. That’s a lot for where we live. We sure can use the rain, but it’s coming down so hard most of it will run off. Oh well, the Chowchilla River will deliver it to the nearby reservoir for the ducks to enjoy.

Living in California has its drawbacks. Among many (high taxes, poor services, loony legislators—don’t get me started!), one of them is inaccurate weather forecasting. Even with satellites looking down on the entire Pacific Ocean, where most of our weather emanates, local forecasts leave much to be desired. The current storm system we’re experiencing was simply not predicted to have this intensity. In fact, it was going to be a simpy nothing-burger only three days ago. Showers and cloudiness, that’s all. Now the forecasts take the storm clear into next week. Who knows? Time to break out the Ouija board.


Deja vu all over again

In this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle is a story about another Bay Area pilot carrying out the safe ditching of an airplane, only in the middle of the Pacific Ocean this time. It was October 1956. Here is a 10-minute movie, made by the Coast Guard, of the incident.

All passengers and crew were rescued, but a ton of Hawaiian canaries died. The story is here; the movie is only a click away.

Friday, January 23

Big game coming—great commercials! late post today, since we took off early in the morning to go to the Big City to do Big City stuff. It rained off and on all day. On returning, I perused my email and ran across this really neat commercial by the Coca-Cola ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy, that will appear during the upcoming Super Bowl. If you’re a Super Bowl fan, you know that some of the very best commercials are shown there. Since part of my rèsumé consists of working at an ad agency, I’m finely tuned to the good stuff, one of which is shown here. To add further intrigue to the upcoming game, Karla’s yoga instructor Audrey’s brother will be playing in the game for the Arizona Cardinals. I mean, how much better can it get than that?

When I was younger I dreamed of playing for an NFL team, but my knowledge of the game was meager; I don’t think I would have qualified to even be a bat boy.

Thursday, January 22

Late breaking news…

The president was reading my blog on his cell phone when he was called away to stop the Russians from launching a missile strike on Washington. Before leaving, he laid his BlackBerry down on the order he was about to sign that would put an end to teachers stopping students from reading Mad Magazine in class.

Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

Time out

Today’s usual busy schedule of feeding the ravens, the other birds, and the cat was interrupted by a call from the new president. We discussed the future of the nation, the world, and the universe. I had to interrupt the call when I got an email from my daughter asking me to upload her old address book of names of people who were interested in her sculpted horses. The president assured me he would call back when I wasn’t so busy.

Photo: Pete Souza/The White House
Thanks Pete

New fans

Let’s face it—a blogger has to be an egotist, or at least a little self-centered. Unless of course he/she is trying to save the world and is a totally selfless person. Every once in awhile I check in to see who is looking at the blog. My biggest audience is in California, since that’s where most of the people aware of this blog live. Today, much to my surprise, I find that my influence is transcending terra firma—whales are checking in!

Hooray! It’s raining! Oh no! It’s raining!

It’s always a mixed blessing when the clouds roll in. If it rains, that’s wonderful. If it’s cloudy, that’s terrible. The sun just can’t poke its way through clouds. Today we got 0.7 kilowatt hours by 3 in the afternoon from the sun (we are solar powered, in case you didn’t know). So our backup generator turned on to get us through the darkness.

When we come home from being away, all we have to do is look down from the road at the pad where the generator sits. If some of the bricks are light-colored, the generator has been on. Its cooling air dries the bricks. What a waste! Who needs dry bricks?

Generators like this are at best less than 30% efficient; the bulk of the energy is thrown away as heat. There are some new materials that can capture energy from this so-called low-grade heat. But of course they’re not yet available. It reminds me of the promise of electric power from nuclear fusion, which has been pursued for several decades at the cost of billions of dollars. It goes like this: Nuclear Fusion—The Power of the Future! So far it looks like it always will be.

Tuesday, January 20

A television day

This day was interrupted so many times it’s hard to recall all of it. First off, after getting dressed, I went out and fed the ravens some of our old dry dog food, as usual. I turned on the TV (which I almost never do) and whaddaya know—there’s some big shindig going on in Washington. Huge crowds of people gathering, the Capitol building all dolled up with flags and thousands of chairs on the grounds outside. I fed the cat. Lots of well-dressed people were being escorted down the steps to a seating area behind a specially-built podium. I called to Karla so she could see what was going on. I cleaned the cat’s water dish and refilled it. Lots of former presidents were arriving with their wives and taking seats. Surely some big deal was brewing. I let the cat out. Sure enough, we were getting a new president today. The Chief Justice flubbed his lines during the administration of the oath of office. This was getting good. I let the cat back in. The new president gave a really good speech. Then he and a bunch of others went to a private lunch during which two older senators collapsed to the floor, grasping their chests. The cat jumped up onto Karla’s lap (he never jumps onto mine). The outgoing president was escorted to a Marine helicopter and flew off to Texas. The new one got into an over-six-foot high, 7-1/2 ton limo with doors as thick as a bank vault’s and it seemed to have been stuck in first gear with the brake on; some guys in suits walking alongside were able to keep up easily. The new president and his wife must have gotten really frustrated at the slow-moving car because they got out twice and walked along in front of it. When it got too cold outside, they went back in. I went outside and topped off the bird feeder. When the limo finally arrived at the White House the occupants got a chance to relieve themselves (good grief—didn’t they see the 5,000 portable toilets that lined the streets?). That reminded me; I emptied the cat’s litter pan. Soon they walked to the reviewing stand in front of their new house to watch endless marchers go by. Then it hit me: This is America’s first High Definition President! 1080p! We could see every hair, every pore, every piece of lint on his black coat. He spoke in surround sound. Wow. I’ve got to feed the cat before the dancing starts, ’cause I hear they’re really good.

Monday, January 19

Sponge? Coral? Nope!

Sometimes I wonder if the guys at NASA are pulling our legs. Above is supposedly a picture of one of Saturn’s moons, Hyperion, as it was shown Sunday on the APOD site. My first impression was that it was a picture of a dead, badly weathered brain coral, or maybe a stromatolite. I dug up a bath sponge I hadn’t used in 20 years, shook off the dust, wetted it, wrung it out, and took the picture below. Pretty close to NASA’s picture if you squint till both pictures nearly disappear.

In their description of Hyperion they mention that the bottoms of the craters are filled with a dark substance, some mystery matter. I looked at the bottoms of the “craters” in my sponge and saw the same thing! When I shook it, out fell deposits left by myriad mice over the years. But I doubt that’s what is darkening Hyperion’s craters. On close examination of their photo, I believe it’s oil! Lots of it! We should toss a line out to lasso that little puppy and tug it into geosynchronous orbit, poke a hose in it, and revel in free oil forever!

How come NASA never thinks of neat stuff like that?

Hyperion photo credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA
Sponge photo credit: Moi

Sunday, January 18

Leaf me alone

Getting deeper.

Have to break out the blower.




Saturday, January 17

Time well spent

Shown in the picture above is evidence that I have dedicated hours, even days, to the quest of helping make every printed document in history digitized and available to anyone with a computer and a connection to the Internet. Spending hours and hours with ReCaptcha is also less guilt-inducing than spending the equivalent time playing computer solitaire, even though I have only a couple of thousand words deciphered and digitized with ReCaptcha, versus well over 12,000 well-played games of solitaire, of which I won almost 1,800 (15%)! Solitaire is at best a loser’s game. You can find and download “fixed” games that will allow you to win 100% of the time. Ah, heaven! Gotta get one, on my iPod Touch at least.

But I’ll still continue my selfless dedication to the mankind-redeeming-and-edifying goodness of ReCaptcha.

When I can find the time, that is.

Leaves still falling…

What could possibly be more boring than a blogger describing falling leaves? This guy needs a life. Put yourself in my position and you’d probably run across times when nothing happens worth writing about. But there, in front of you, is a blank screen and a keyboard and an expectation from your loyal followers that you fill that space, satisfying the yearning in their lives. At least momentarily.

So—falling leaves.

Maybe you could try getting a life. Mine’s too boring, even for me.

Friday, January 16


I believe it is only in America where autumn is called fall. It must be because that’s what every leaf on every deciduous tree does every winter. Winter? Shouldn’t it be autumn? We have been wondering why all the oak trees are still hanging onto their leaves—until yesterday that is. It’s as if some big switch has been thrown and with the tiniest breeze it’s like a snowstorm outside.

I used our leaf blower to clear the walkways yesterday. Today it looks like I hadn’t done a thing. The oak trees still have tons of leaves to let go of.

In a week or so we may finally get to see the forest through the bare-limbed trees.

Wednesday, January 14

Wish I could do that

If you have a minute, waste it here:

Tuesday, January 13


We made it! Got home in relatively one piece, though tired and strangely numb. The Forest Service meeting went relatively well. I got to crack a few jokes to lighten the mood. No blows were exchanged, and in the 3-1/2 hours without a break we actually got some good business done. Hands were shaken (not fists), and some actual hugs were exchanged. (Hugs with our friends, not the Others.) Finally, we arranged for a meeting in March to catch up with the decisions discussed in yesterday’s meeting.

One of the grumpier members made a comment comparing the FS’s handling to hospitals charging $10 for a Band-Aid. Later I corrected him, saying that aspirin is $10; Band-Aids are $20. Another member thought his pack station shouldn’t be deducted one service day per person (the measure of how many people we can take into the wilderness on a horse or mule) when he is hauling in state agency personnel, such as Fish & Game, Department of Water Resources, and so on. I suggested that he ask the agencies to provide exempt license plates which he can attach to the pack stock’s tails. When another’s cell phone rang for several seconds without a pause while he kept talking, I asked him if that sound was a phone or if his defibrillating pacemaker was about to fire. He grabbed his chest in jest and writhed in his chair.

As to what we actually discussed during the meeting, I forget.

Sunday, January 11

Imminent Forest Service meeting

I just thought I’d better make a note of what will happen tomorrow. On Monday, January 12, 2009, we are driving to Clovis for a meeting at the Sierra National Forest headquarters of the United States Forest Service. USFS meetings tend to dull the brain to the point of unconsciousness. Unless they make you so mad you want to kill and eat puppies. Since both Karla and I will be in attendance, we rely on having at least one of us maintain awareness/self restraint/sanity to the extent that we can leave the meeting and make the car or truck we drove to the meeting become operable and take us away from the big ugly covers-a-whole-city-block building far enough that we can recover at least some of our pre-meeting wits. If for some reason this doesn’t happen, this blog will be ended forever—this entry will be the last. What a shame. Wouldn’t it be nice if it ended on something worthwhile? Like puppies that weren’t killed and eaten…


Cow door

Yesterday’s hike was taken along the west side of the ranch, just for variety’s sake. Some places we had never seen, or maybe not seen for years, were pretty fascinating. One was a hidden tree cave, or at least a tunnel through the low growth of trees, where the ground was so churned up by pigs that it was absolutely fluffy to walk on! Mushrooms everywhere, leaves as deep as you could poke your hand into, and dark. We marveled at the feeling of being in a dark place on a bright sunny day.

Then we turned toward the fence line and followed it north. Very soon we ran across what is shown here—several hundred feet of fence wire lying on the ground, obviously a cow door. Oddly, there weren’t any horse tracks, so there is no reciprocation on their part; it would be nice if the horses shared our neighbor’s grass as much as his cows enjoy ours.

Here we see a fence post that has outlived its usefulness. The bottom is rotted off; the top is burned off. It couldn’t hold another wire beside the one held by its lone staple. Thanks for your hundred years’ service, little post remnant. We’ll give you a place of honor on our firewood stack.

Saturday, January 10

Sleeping on the plane

When I was a kid, riding along Highway 99 in central California was an adventure. There were roadside drive-up hamburger stands built in the shape and color of gigantic oranges, and several gas stations had World War II surplus fighter airplanes that appeared to have crashed into the roof and were still poking out. The giant oranges are all but gone (I think one remains near Madera) and all the airplanes were probably made into beer cans. A picture of a now-defunct Giant Orange is on this site, the sixth picture from the top.

So what’s next in the world of strange? How about this—

Friday, January 9


Today’s hike led us a mile down the road to our potential new house site, where we have a huge collection of 8,000 handmade roof tiles to remind us that we haven’t yet built our house on which these tiles are supposed to make up the roof. It’s good to take this hike on occasion so we don’t forget, which, with our busy schedules, is so easy to do. “Oh, yeah, we should remember to build that house one of these days,” we’re reminded when we re-encounter this enormous two-deep tile pile.

Busy, busy.

Fallen angel

On today’s walk, which was longer than we had originally anticipated, we ran across something intriguing. At first it looked like the rotting vertebra of a long-dead horse. But on closer examination it was a fallen angel. Creepy. I didn’t know they were so tiny. Or so chalky.

Pet rock

Karla loves soft things, even rocks.

Thursday, January 8

Bloggin’ in the Fog

The weather forecast for today called for cloudiness. We walked maybe a half mile (0.8 km) up from the house and got into some pretty heavy fog. Rather than tempt fate and smack into something unseen, we turned back. After all, we could have been mobbed by horses who could be blindly dashing down to the brand new salt block we bought them yesterday. Horses don’t have fog lights (neither do we) and because of the limited visibility we could collide with disastrous consequences. On the way back I managed to sneak up to a couple of the neighbor’s cows which had snuck onto the place and were munching our precious grass at their usual frenetic pace. Compare the rates of consumption between horses and cows: Cow—munchmunchmunchmunch, swallow, munchmunchmunchmunch; Horse—munch, pause, chew, munch, pause, chew. Swallow. Belch. Munch. Chew, pause (it’s about here that horses get confused and break the sequence, so they stop, think for a bit, then resume). Munch, pause, chew, munch…

Wednesday, January 7


Today as I was leaving the bathroom, I noticed a black shape at my feet. It was Raven, the cat. His tail was sticking straight up, and his bright white bottom was aimed at my feet. I noticed a thin line coming from the cat connecting to my pants leg. He was relieving himself on me! I was the hydrant to his dog! I must have bellowed an oath, because he shot away and ran upstairs.

I couldn’t believe it; I’d been peed on by a cat! When Karla came in the house after feeding Geronimo, and I told her about it, she could hardly contain herself. “He was getting even with you for putting George on the couch,” she laughed. George, who is bigger than Raven, is our stuffed cloth trout who lives on the bed by the pillows. Most mornings, when the cat jumps on the bed, I grab George by the tail end and make subtle, menacing motions toward him. It almost always works—he jumps off the bed and complains by uttering those low growly yowls that cats do when they’re angry or frustrated. Yesterday I put George on the couch where Raven loves to sleep during the day after wolfing down his belly-busting breakfast. Turns out it didn’t have the desired effect; the cat just pushed the fish out of the way and slept next to it.

But I guess Karla is right. She said maybe peeing on me was the only way the cat could express his disdain. I am still looking for a fake snake that will strike out when you push the button on a remote control. Meanwhile, I’ll keep using a little trick my dad used to play on our way-abundant herd of cats. He’d be sitting innocently in a chair, reading the newspaper, and when a cat walked by he’d scuff his shoe on the floor, making a little “chiff” sound. The cat would leap in the air and continue walking. It worked 100% of the time, and was most satisfying, especially when your timing was really good and the cat was walking under a low table. Chiff. Bonk! Cool.

Tuesday, January 6


As the picture shows, we’re not getting a lot of sunshine today. Same as yesterday, when there was abundant drizzle.

Today everything is dripping from the fog that’s been with us since last evening. If I wanted weather like this, I’d move to the coast where fog is almost a daily occurrence.

Last time I checked the solar panels’ output, it was something like 50 watts, two percent of its potential. Yesterday’s total input from the sun was less than half a kilowatt-hour. At current rates using utility power, that’s about 7¢ worth.

Makes you want to stay indoors and eat soup and play solitaire or something. I know—I’ll search the Internet and see what I can buy for 7¢. As long as that includes shipping, of course.

Monday, January 5

Green=warm. Red=cold. Weird.

Our horses subsist on geraniums. Or at least a close relative, locally known as filaree. It’s also known as storksbill or heron’s bill. The botanical name is Erodium. They produce spiral/helical stickers in abundance in the springtime. When these stickers lodge in your socks, they’re referred to less in Latin terms and more in the Anglo-Saxon, if you catch my drift. After the first few autumn rains, those nasty seeds sprout (good riddance!) and we get plants with the leaves that horses love to eat.

A curious thing happens when the cold days of winter arrive; some of the leaves turn from deep green to bright red. Another curious thing happens; the filaree that grows under trees, as shown in the picture above, stays bright green. The trees are keeping the ground under them warm enough to stop the reddening that occurs when the leaves are unprotected.

It doesn’t seem that the shade of a tree almost barren of leaves could make that much difference in ground temperature, but the pictures shown here should prove that it does. Green or red, the horses chomp away, so we’re not worried. Now if only they would eat those nasty stickers! But they’d starve, so…

…never mind. Besides, horses don’t wear socks, so they couldn’t care less.

Sunday, January 4

More deep thoughts

Maybe I’m picking nit, but there’s some really reckless wording on the bottom of this four-cup measuring cup. The writer didn’t bother to use any punctuation; there’s no period at the end of the “sentence,” if you can call it a sentence. Read it and tell me if the word USE is supposed to be used once or twice.

As I see it, it says “Use only for general household and photographic use,” which is pretty clever; the word use gets used twice and the words actually form a sentence with use used as both a noun and a verb even though it only appears once in the line. Actually you can’t call it a line since the words are in a circle. Do the rules of grammar change when you write in circles?

Or maybe it’s supposed to say, “For general household and photographic use only.” Yeah. That makes sense.

Never mind.

Saturday, January 3

Deep thoughts

Where do I start?

At first I didn’t realize, when I picked up our one-cup cup to measure out popcorn kernels, that I was holding an enigma in my hands. (By the way, is popcorn called “pop-maize” in the rest of the world?)

Then suddenly it hit me—Never once had I thought about who designed these iconic culinary necessities. Who picked out their shape? The sides of the cups shown slope outward at exactly 7.7° from the vertical. Who chose that angle? Why are the sides angled? Why aren’t they straight up and down like a laboratory flask? Wouldn’t that be simpler? The markings must be tweaked slightly as they go up; they get closer as they rise from the bottom. It would be so much simpler to double the distance per cup or ounce or milliliter as you rise rather than moving them ever so slightly closer as they go up the sides. Why are the markings red? Is the design and shape copyrighted or patented, or am I holding a piece of public domain design in my quivering hands?

I am so glad I became aware of all these unanswered questions when I wasn’t actually cooking. I coulda burned something, or used salt when I wanted sugar or water instead of milk. Disaster averted! What serendipitous timing! (The popcorn was delicious.)

Tomorrow: More mystery!

Friday, January 2

Big pig dig

On a walk to the corral we were surprised to see the huge pit dug by the local gang of pigs. It’s big enough to bury a cat. (Hm-m—Don’t give me ideas.) Pigs are very smart animals, but they aren’t known for making and using tools. In fact, they use their snouts for digging. So to see the great big hole beside the trail made me wonder about the condition of those snouts after all that work.

Also, what were they looking for? The nearest oak tree has no acorns that we know of, and if any tasty roots were down there, we don’t know what plants produced them since there’s only some miner’s lettuce and a bit of chickweed. There is a walnut tree nearby, but it died ten or more years ago.

Maybe they were celebrating the new year by having a contest to see how many snouts deep they could go before they suffocated. Or maybe they just wanted to see their work featured in a blog again. I’ll bet that’s it—they’re pulling my leg. It’s all a joke. I’ve been tricked again into writing meaningless nonsensical pig news.