Wednesday, September 30

I’ve got a lov-e-ly bunch of ol-ives here!

Reader Susan was thinking that all we grew here were those sour little oranges that we turn into marmalade in December. The 100 persimmon trees blog was news to her. Well now, we have more! How about a pomegranate tree? It grows unattended in a creek bed and every year it produces a few fruits, actually very few fruits. Like you could count them on one hand—even if that hand had a traumatic encounter with a table saw and lost some digits. So the pomegranate tree doesn’t count.

Olives, well that’s another story. This year’s crop is a bonanza! They’re growing in bunches, almost like grapes! I’ll be processing them in large buckets in a few weeks.

Speaking of grapes, we have some domesticated grapes that the birds, wasps, and squirrels find irresistible. This year I got exactly one bunch of grapes that escaped their notice by being hidden behind a shroud of leaves. Wild grapes, however, are all over the place. They’re pea-size tiny, and even when they’re fully dark purple they elicit tight sphincter response in the mouth (sour), so like the pomegranate they really don’t count either.

Besides the four olive trees, our other cultivated trees include two loquat, six pistachio, and one each plum, apricot, peach and lemon. I have a nice bunch of chives, some oregano, ginger, rosemary, and sage. The cactus fruit makes fine jelly.

Then of course there was the potato.

Potato harvest finished in one day

It’s harvest time! Several months ago I had a few spuds that were forgotten under a sack in the back room. They were sprouting like crazy, so I decided they should be planted. We had a nice patch of very rich loose black compost out by the old incinerator—the perfect place! Every day the spot was watered and soon enough a whole bunch of green shoots appeared and over time became a nice forest of greenery.

Time passed and one by one the little plants disappeared until there was only one. Today the remaining plant was lying on its side, gnawed off at its base by some animal. Potatoes are in the nightshade family, so I can only hope that the glycoalkaloids in the stems gave the little squirrels and bunnies a memorable fit of vomiting and diarrhea.

How exciting when the time comes to reap the reward of my dedication. With a garden trowel I carefully explored the rich damp soil, searching…searching…voila! I followed a root to its end and the result is proudly displayed here.

Now I have to decide how to prepare my treasure.
  • Slice it into pommes frites to cook in a teaspoon of virgin olive oil then garnish with a few dashes of hand-harvested Himalayan salt and fresh ground pepper?
  • Peel, slice, and boil it for mashing with a dollop of milk and a dot of butter?
  • Slice and lovingly intersperse with flour and butter and top with shredded white cheddar and bake at 350°F until it miraculously turns into scalloped potato?
Stick it in the microwave on high and watch it explode? Toss it in the compost bucket? Leave it in a saucer on the kitchen prep table until it sprouts, then plant it? Wait till it shrivels then toss its desiccated carcass in the compost bucket?

I know! Take a picture and blog about it. Then toss it in the compost bucket.

Saturn’s ring composition revealed


A much better image can be had by clicking on the picture above.

Finally, after how many centuries? scientists have determined the exact composition of the rings of Saturn. The picture shows the planet at its equinox; the rings are lit by the sun edge-on which allows us to answer the age-old question: What are they made of? The Cassini spacecraft conducted extensive spectral analysis and it comes down to three elements: Outermost ring—milk chocolate; Middle ring—latté; and innermost ring—horse manure. The planet itself appears to consist of peaches and cream with blueberries on top.

Photo credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA

Possum apple season

Every year about this time our 100 or so feral persimmon trees produce thousands of little golden orbs. Orange sugarballs they should be called since they’re amazingly sweet. When I go over to the corral to feed the horses, I can usually find at least one of these gems on the ground. A quick rinse at the teacup spring and chomp chomp it’s down the gullet. If I’m lucky, there will be another on the ground on the way back from feeding.

Here is one of them, mere seconds before I ate it. (Shown on an ancient Peruvian vase for scale)

Tuesday, September 29

Say what?


This morning’s Sydney Morning Herald online has a story about switching from analog television broadcasts to digital. While a weak analog signal may have snow and ghosting,
[u]pgrading to digital television eliminates such problems but the trade-off is that a poor signal or local interference can cause the picture to freeze up completely. One moment the bowler is approaching the crease and the next the wicketkeeper is throwing his arms in the air, leaving you scratching your head as to what happened in between. About now, you will start pining for analog television again.
(Italics mine.) Bowler? Crease? Wicketkeeper? Why don’t they just switch over to baseball, whose terminology we all understand? Like “flied out,” “grand slam,” and “unassisted triple play”? The last in this list has happened only twice in major league play, in case you’re keeping score. But then you knew that.

Peace in the Valley…mostly


My morning duties include feeding a gaggle of roughly 20 horses, most of whom are nice to each other and to me. The exceptions are the two mustangs we are babysitting for some people who moved away and don’t have room for anymore. They’re rather mean to our civilized horses, chasing them away from their feed just for the fun of it. I’m getting some stone-throwing practice with them as targets, but my skill isn’t improving noticeably. I must have peaked athletically already, but the upside is that the corral area is being cleared of small stones.

I’m about to start a search for a French chef, saying we have some on-the-hoof fodder for his/her restaurant. No charge. Perhaps they can use them for horse d’oeuvres.

Sunday, September 27

I won’t complain…

I had just prepared a couple of pieces of steel for welding for a jig I want to use in making a table. “Why weld them?” I thought to myself. “I’ll just lay them here on the big metal table and let the sun melt them together.” I hate it when I have to keep all metal tools out of the sunlight or they’re too hot to pick up. I came in to the house just about a half hour ago to escape the heat. Right now it’s 98°F , 37°C in the shade. Welcome to Autumn?

Just for fun I checked the forecast for Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. That’s where Hilary and Karla and some horses are heading to from Bishop on the east side of the Sierra. Yesterday (Sunday) they rode over the pass from the ranch with 19 or 20 horses, taking them to their winter home at the stable down there.

Look at the drop in temperature they’re expecting—from a high of 113 down to 88 just two days later! It must have something to do with being 183 feet below sea level. I hope Karla remembered to pack her down comforter.

Thursday, September 24

What are you lookin’ at?



What else?

Sunday, September 20

Old car discovered in barn!

Well, not really discovered. Twenty years ago we put Adeline’s old 1959 MG in the hay barn to preserve it. One of the main problems with old MGs is that they take up a lot of room that could be used for storing hay. The car was buried under a whole bunch of old horse tack. There were heaps of saddle blankets to keep the mice happy making nests out of them. Empty feed sacks found a home on the car, too.
But, as eventually happens to every old car stored in a barn, we yanked it out. Meanwhile, Luke had rented a car-hauling trailer.
Friend Merkell came by and even though he forgot to bring his Superman suit, he had enough strength left to pull the car onto the trailer.
Time to leave. Bye-bye, old MG. It’s going to Merced and will be with Karla’s nephew, Vincent, who promised to fix it up and not sell it. It is part of the family after all.

Wednesday, September 16

Tire melter

The US Army has a big tank, the M1 Abrams, that has enough torque to push buildings out of its way. So what could be better than to have even more torque in a bright red car? Audi’s concept electric vehicle, the e-Tron, does the tank’s mere 2,750 foot pounds of torque one better: 3,320. With a motor at each wheel, this car can turn a set of tires into blue-white smoke in mere seconds. Who could ask for more?

Monday, September 14

Have you ever noticed…

I noticed a pattern when I checked our bank accounts online. (In the illustration above, the most recent transaction is on top.) The bills paid on any particular date are paid in the following sequence: Biggest amount first, second-biggest amount next, followed by the third-biggest amount and so on. Why? It’s simple. Say for example the balance in your account is $1,000 and ten checks come in and nine of the checks are small enough that they all could be paid, but one of them is close to $1,000. When they pay that large check, the following nine checks bounce. Nine bounced-check charges! Happy bank. Very unhappy customer.

The practice is rampant; it’s unlikely you can switch banks to get an ethical one. Ethics? Banking? Don’t make me laugh!

Wowsie powsie


The newly upgraded Hubble Space Telescope now has eyes so sharp it can resolve not only extragalactic planets, but individual aliens mowing their lawns as long as they’re wearing light colored clothing. Ha ha. Joking. Actually the picture shows a nighttime explosion at a Christmas tree light factory. Ha ha. Joking. Actually it’s newly discovered photoluminescent plankton. Ha ha. Okay, I’ll stop now.

The Hubble is on a tear—it’s making sharper, more-detailed pictures than the old Hubble could ever produce. To see a much larger picture of the center of galactic cluster Omega Centauri, go here. Thanks to Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Sunday, September 13

Cat does cheetah impression

This evening I went out to water the trees near the house. The air was cool and pleasant. As I approached the faucet Raven, the cat, watched me from a distance. The faucet squeaks when I turn it on. There could be something in a cat’s brain that triggers the run response when that sound is made, for he instantly took off and did a remarkably realistic impression of a cheetah. In fact, if you consider his smaller stature compared to a cheetah, his speed was probably proportionate to that of the bigger cat.

It’s odd that a sound that doesn’t have an analogue in the natural world should trigger such a response. It must have been something he learned. Hm-m-m. I wonder if perhaps he experienced being squirted by a garden hose, and associates that with the sound of the hose being turned on. That sure would explain his odd behavior. But who would have done that?

I’ll have to ask around.

Tuesday, September 8

Person, heal thyself

I read a very interesting article in Wired News about the problem that pharmaceutical companies are having with placebos. It turns out that in double-blind tests of new drugs, far too many people are being benefited by the fake pills, which makes it difficult to measure the real drug’s efficacy. The article concludes that when people are given hope for a benefit, their brains start sending out the proper signals for the body’s own curative powers to kick in. Some physicians are using the placebo effect to help their patients by prescribing drugs that won’t have any direct curative effect on the complaint; it’s all in the bedside manner and the patient’s desire to get better.

Size doesn’t matter

A real treat on my morning rounds of irrigation duties is a stop at the old peach tree to sample its fruit. The original tree died years ago during a spell of global cooling. A new tree emerged from the root stock and produces fruit the size of ping pong balls. Smaller, actually. With enormous pits relatively speaking. But taste? Powerful. A whole big peach’s worth of flavor stuffed into its fuzzy little body.

The most surprising thing of all is that these little gems are actually reaching maturity. Sweet, juicy, and wonderful! And for some odd reason, the marauding bands of thieves haven’t decimated the crop. Neither horses nor raccoons have discovered them—yet. I’ll just enjoy them for now.

Sunday, September 6

White stuff

More on the big job being done on the Bay Bridge—

The entire project was jeopardized when some sharp-eyed inspector noticed that one of the massive eyebars (circled in red, left) that holds the bridge together had a very large crack in it. Quick like a bunny they ordered a new one made in Arizona overnight and flown to Oakland then rushed behind Highway Patrol escorts to the bridge. Ten people are assigned to install the new eyebar. Whew!

[Update: A repair clamp was installed, not a new eyebar.]

In my previous blog, the photo shows the new section being put in place. One thing about that section made me curious; why is it so white? Looking closely at the picture, the white is something laid on the structure, like large tarps or the like.

Aha! I know! I know! The white stuff reflects sunlight and keeps the new section of the bridge cool. That makes it not swell and be hard to put in place. Every fraction of an inch counts in a project like this, and I’ll just bet that’s what they had in mind.

Or I could be full of baloney and it’s covered so people don’t get it all scuffed and stuff.

Photo: Caltrans/Chronicle

Saturday, September 5

These guys are amazing

Imagine building two steel-and-concrete football fields one on top of the other, doing it 15 stories up in the air, then cutting out the same size piece of a near-80-year-old bridge and hoping that relieving the stresses by doing so doesn’t make the whole thing shift a few feet up, down or sideways, then putting your new football fields in place of the old ones.

And getting the whole job done in time for the morning rush hour traffic Tuesday, after the three-day holiday weekend. Caltrans was smart in hiring the guy who moves heaven and earth to get a job done, and is handsomely rewarded for it. His last job on the approach to the bridge when a gasoline truck burned its whole load and caused one of the approaches to collapse was done so quickly that he used his bonus money to buy himself a new jet plane. He deserved it.

They’re using Dawn dish detergent to grease the skids, by the way, and 5,000-ton hydraulic jacks to hold things up. At this writing, the new piece is in place and ready to be tied off with rawhide made from yaks. Nothing is tougher when it dries, plus it’s easy to remove when they’re done with this detour in 2013.

Read all about it in the San Francisco Chronicle. Photo: Michael Macor / the Chronicle

Friday, September 4

IBM is going to make us all smarter

This commercial is being run in Australia and New Zealand. I imagine with a little translation they could run it in the US too. (Maybe it already is—I don’t have the TV satellite receiver turned on this summer.) IBM is counting on getting tons of business by convincing us that we have to make all of our systems smarter; electricity, transportation, and now water. I like its use of animation and well-written copy.

I especially like it 30 seconds into the spot when Sarah says “So wouldn’t it be better if it was a hose like at home?” The words hose and home are single-syllable in the US. The Aussies add at least one syllable, sometimes more. Hilary and I were fascinated by Aussie speech when we traveled there in 1998-99, loving it.

Thursday, September 3

Perpetual motion perfected!

Finally, a practical solution to so many problems! Thanks to Susan for the lead.

Wednesday, September 2

Imagine life without…

…the Internet. For years! The world would come to a halt till we remembered how to send smoke signals. Could it happen? Yes! It already did 150 years ago today with the equivalent of today’s Internet. The Carrington Event story is here, at the September 2 2009 SpaceWeather.com.

Imagine seeing the aurora borealis clear down south of the equator! It happened! Wow!