Thursday, December 31
In keeping with the serious and meaningful intention of this blog, here is my entry for the last day of the year. To the right is a simple game where you move and drop five numbered circles and try for the highest score you can get. Quite by accident, I discovered a foolproof way to get all five circles in a zero slot. So far it hasn’t failed me.
Here is your challenge: Get a zero score consistently; it’ll put you in the proper frame of mind for the new year. From there, everything is up.
Happy New Year!
Wednesday, December 30
When it’s cold here, it’s the coldest cold you’ll feel for a given temperature anywhere in the United States. I noticed that when we were walking outside at night at the Furnace Creek Ranch, it was downright chilly even though the temperature wasn’t anything to write home about. When the air is 45°F, 7°C, it’s no big deal at my normal elevation of 1,600 feet, 487 meters. That’s because air is not a very efficient heat conductor, and is thinner at my place. But when you’re nearly 200 feet, 61 meters, below sea level, the air is packed more tightly and is a better conductor of heat. Your skin loses heat faster.
I remember reading about a person who lived in Denver and was surprised by how much colder it felt in San Francisco at the same temperature. Same reason—Denver’s high-elevation air is much less dense than San Francisco’s sea-level air.
Unlike my last visit to Death Valley, this time I remembered to add a little air pressure to the tires before going below sea level. I’m sure you’ve heard of submarines going below their rated depth and getting crushed. Well, the same thing happens to your tires. So I pumped them up a little to keep them from getting flabby. (Oddly, the National Park Service has not put up any warning signs about this anywhere in the valley.)
But I couldn’t do anything about another effect of increased air pressure—slowing of the vehicle due to greater wind resistance. I noticed that I had to use more pedal to the metal in order to maintain speed. It was subtle, but it was there. Streamlining the truck might help, but I soon discovered that retracting the radio antenna made no difference. Same for folding the outside rear view mirrors against the body, removing the windshield wipers and all external decals, duct taping all the body seams and shrink-wrapping the entire truck in wet Teflon. Not wanting to attract the attention of the Highway Patrol, I decided to put everything back the way it was. Besides, the increased accelerator pressure could be offset by the increased amount of oxygen available to the engine, so maybe it’s a wash.
In conclusion, some of this is true. Some isn’t. I’ll leave it to my dear readers to decide what, if any, to believe.
Tuesday, December 29
Here is a bighorn sheep bed. A species of tumbleweed, when it dies and dries up, is pulled from the ground by wind and tossed about, spilling its seeds. Wherever there is a depression in the ground that’s big enough, the spent weeds finally come to rest. Bighorn sheep are rumored to use these pits as comfy beds, though we didn’t see any of them on this trip.
Going up the canyon, the walls get closer and higher.
After not a very great distance, the canyon ends in a covered grotto with a natural bridge crossing overhead. The spookiest thing about this place is that the walls aren’t very solid.
Time to leave. This shows the depth and narrowness of the canyon walls. On the way out we stopped to examine some other features, to be shown in another blog entry.
Monday, December 28
This morning we stopped to look at the Death Valley sand dunes that were traversed over 30 years ago by C-3PO and R2-D2. The dunes looked pretty much the same, but were silent. We thought of the projectionist who turned the sound down at the Chinese 30 plus years ago.
So to save time, I put the truck in Warp Reverse, re-entered the wormhole backwards (highly not recommended!) and popped out about twenty miles before our entry point. We re-drove the whole entry to Panamint Valley, and I simply refused to listen to the cat’s yowling about my incompetence. Karla, wisely, kept her mouth shut until we got to the Tehachapi snow-removal fans. Then she gently suggested that I was an idiot. We celebrated our return to the United States at a nearby Denny’s.
What a trip.
Sunday, December 27
Here is a whole home improvement center’s worth of sheetrock. Just peel and stick on some cardboard.
Apparently not noticing what’s right there beside them, Karla and Hilary pass a whole canyon-side of mud crystals, a very rare phenomenon.
Saturday was a day for doing some serious hiking. We only drove about 30 miles round trip, but it feels like we hiked 50! First, up Golden Canyon. The scenery was spectacular, and we got a slight feeling of déjà vu when we spotted one of the settings for a scene in the original Star Wars movie.
It was as much a geology field trip as a sightseeing venture. From what I’ve heard, Death Valley has more geology than any other place on earth. It’s wall-to-wall geology, plus more. I’ll have more in a later blog.
Friday, December 25
We drove past a place where someone has installed a whole bunch of really big fans. Getting out of the truck, we were almost blown over, the wind from them was so strong. The last time I was at this place, there was a whole bunch of cows munching on grass that was cleared of snow, blown away by the enormous fans on the nearby hills. To me it seemed a terrible waste of resources. Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to simply put some heating coils in the ground to melt the snow rather than use huge fans to blow it away? Unless electricity is nearly free, wouldn't it be even cheaper to simply move the cows to lower ground where it doesn't snow? The picture shows just a few dozen of the hundreds, maybe thousands of fans on these hills. Makes you wonder.
Wednesday, December 23
The valley air was especially clear since all the crud blew away to Nevada. There are too few people in Nevada to make much of their own smog, so I’m sure they welcome this early Christmas present from California. It will probably take days for significant smog to be blown back into the Central Valley from the Bay Area. Millions of gridlocked commuters plus the thousands of diesel trucks hauling freight from the Port of Oakland have their work cut out for them. Until things return to normal, I hope valley people remember to protect against the glare of a brilliant sky with sunglasses, and slap on another layer of sunscreen. Hats on, bald guys!
Monday, December 21
I can’t remember which of the online petitions I “signed” to get the attention of both of California’s senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, but I got a response tonight from both of them. The petition provided a space for the sender to type a personal message to the senators, which I did. Both senators’ replies to my inquiry about the pending health care reform legislation were pure boilerplate. Senator Feinstein sent a “rich text” response, while Senator Boxer’s was “plain text.” Is one trying to be more regal while the other is more down-to-earth? I have never gotten an email response to any letter to a millionaire US senator, so I don’t know what to think.
Several decades ago I sent typewritten letters to both of California’s senators regarding pending legislation establishing the John Muir Wilderness, and got typewritten responses. Senator Hayakawa’s response was crafted on an IBM Executive typewriter, with proportional spacing. Very elegant, since he was a semanticist he put his best words forward in a very respectable form. Senator Cranston, however, was being a minimalist; his response was pounded out on a manual typewriter, probably by a haggard old wench who hated her job and deliberately hit some of the keys so softly they barely registered—perhaps she was undernourished. Both responses, sadly, were boilerplate.
I guess as mere citizens of this country we don’t deserve a measured, thoughtful response to our concerns. I can understand that when a million letters arrive, it’s difficult to sort them out for individual responses, but with today’s technology perhaps the robots that respond could be programmed to recognize patterns and select from a menu of individual pieces of boilerplate. Toss in a few unique rivets or weld seams to make each response different; maybe even use different primer and top coat. Or ship the letters off to China where child laborers can actually read them and come back with their odd expressions of English.
An analogy is in order. Say you’re the ultimate chief in charge of feeding flies. You sit in your elegant office, advisors flow in and out suggesting what you should use as fly food. Some say nourishing meals, certified organic fly food. Others suggest sewage. You make your decision: Sewage. As part of your job, you are required to open your window occasionally to hear what the flies think. They swarm into your office, buzzing around and ruining your day. You take a long shower. You step into your Gulfstream and jet off to home and your super-wealthy spouse and adoring supporters. Somehow it’s all worth it. Life at the top can be very nice. As for the flies? Feh!
Sunday, December 20
IMAX theaters have not only humongous screens, but surround sound that includes speakers not just all around you, but beneath and above you. (For an additional charge, they’ll stick a speaker up your—just kidding.) The problem thus far is getting in. A Web site that lists showtimes for the film indicates every performance sold out so far, not only in the IMAX but the adjacent stadium-seating multi-screen theater. Plus this is the week when every kid is out of school and free to go to his or her second or fifth or seventeenth showing of the film, so the din in the theater should just about drown out all 50 of the speakers surrounding them.
What’s the alternative? Avatar will be available in 3-D on BluRay discs. We have a BluRay player but we don’t have a 3-D TV. Besides our puny 40-inch Sony just doesn’t cut it magnificence-wise. We’re going to have to see it at the IMAX. Wait! I just remembered that I know the manager at the IMAX theater! We worked together at the local ABC TV affiliate when we were youngsters back in the late fifties! I can get a command performance for Karla and me! Problem solved!
The film is way over two hours long. I don’t know how much popcorn it takes to last two plus hours. A bag? A box? A bucket? A barrel? Where do you put your Coke between gulps? As I recall, a lot of sticky dried Coke ends up on theaters’ floors, providing a good way to keep your feet anchored during the really exciting scenes. With a mouthful of gummy Giant Jujubes clamping your teeth together, how do you scream without swallowing your tongue? I forget. This could get dangerous.
I’m going to have to think this over.
Image: Twentieth Century Fox
Saturday, December 19
Tuesday, December 15
Now we have to try a Chinese place that, once again, was on the top-rated must-go list of every epicurean in San Francisco. The owner/chef loves fire! In a magazine I saw a picture of him standing in front of an astonishing stovetop conflagration. He relocated to Fresno a couple of years ago and it took a while for his old Bay Area customers to find him again and get their fix. Imagine, San Francisco snotties making the trek to Fresno of all places to sate their lust for gustatory excitement! Who woulda thunk?
[Addendum: I forgot to mention the reasons these two brilliant chefs relocated to Fresno. In the case of the east Indian, it was for health reasons for his children. That’s all I know about that. As for the Chinese chef, he wanted to be closer to the source of his ingredients. A lot of people from Asian countries grow their native-land vegetables locally, which lose their essence quickly after being harvested. When the chef says fresh, he means fresh! He’s especially picky about fowl, and wants to be sure they are raised on the correct diet. He knows a lot of local farmers and keeps in close touch with them.]
Sunday, December 13
Our lemon crop (one tree’s worth) got a slow start due to my having to ration water last summer, but now it can pick up enough to give us some nice fat fruit. Recently the price of just one lemon in the supermarket has gotten close to a dollar! We may have to put a fence around our tree and hire an armed guard if this keeps up.
Saturday, December 12
1. Break the lawAs for the first item, I was looking for a different vessel to hold my morning shot of OJ. Hey, we have some old ceramic Hires Root Beer mugs up on top of the cupboard that haven’t been used in decades! They’re so cool—older than dirt (covered with same) and interesting looking. So I got them down and washed them.
2. Be otherwise bad
When I turned them upside-down, I noticed some type on the bottom: USE AS CONTAINER EXCEPT FOR HIRES IS ILLEGAL. If I fill them with OJ I will be a law breaker!
Hires Root Beer is one of the two oldest continuously made American soft drinks. Introduced in 1876 by Charles E Hires in Philadelphia (he was a pharmacist)*, it has been in continuous production and is now owned by Cadbury/Schwepps/Dr Pepper/Snapple/etcetera. I wonder if the new owners will enforce the law or maybe they’ll leave it to the local prosecutor. We could draw the blinds and unplug the phone during breakfast and no one will be the wiser. Kinda gives you a chill knowing that the act of sipping OJ just might get you packed off to the pokey if you’re caught. Puts a little tingle in the dull old bowl of oatmeal, if you get my meaning.
As for item #2, we have a little tabletop dispenser for soy sauce. We’ve used it for at least a couple of decades, and it’s been refilled countless times. Oddly, the soy sauce leaves a brown residue inside the bottle, so today I scrubbed it out. While doing so, I noticed something printed above the UPC symbol:
REFILL ONLY WITH KIKKOMAN. Omigosh! This will be a day of rebellion! All these years I had ignored the warning, using who knows how many brands of soy sauce to top it off. In fact, the only reason I got that little bottle out of the cupboard was to refill it with about a dozen unused packets of soy sauce we had saved from numerous sushi purchases. NONE of which were KIKKOMAN!
The whole reason for this blog entry is to warn my sister and loyal reader Pat, who I know has kept and refilled a bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce that she has used since getting married mid-last century. It is so old it has a glass stopper! Definitely worth keeping, but Pat, protect yourself and check the bottle for any warnings of misuse! It’s too late in life to spend the rest of it using a heavy sledge hammer to smash large rocks while wearing horizontal stripes for gosh sakes!
*Here is an example of a pharmacist promoting sugary drink. Kind of like physicians in later years promoting cigarettes for their mildness and calming effect. What does this say about American medicine? Don’t get me started.
Friday, December 11
Soon the potato slicing on the Swedish Cuisinart had to stop because as I reached the thick middle of the potato the slicing blade was too short. Now I had to break out the real Cuisinart and find the slicing blade in the messy cabinet where all the odd things that are rarely used are stored—things like the apple peeler/corer, the hand-cranked grinder, the 86-year-old electric waffle iron that still works beautifully, and various lidless storage containers and piles of lids for no-longer-owned storage containers.
Our Cuisinart blade cuts a 3-millimeter slice, which is not really what you want for chips/crisps since they come out too thick and tough, so I made what ended up as round thin French fries (chips). Again, the turning, draining, patting and salting took so long that what had started as a project with the potential to be really fun turned into a drudge.
Eventually I finished cooking the two potatoes and had a big mess to clean up. I remarked to Karla that I couldn’t imagine how the Frito-Lay company made any money doing this. Then I figured that they probably didn’t use frying pans on a wood-burning stove, and they probably had a bigger Cuisinart with a thinner blade. But their paper towel bill must be staggering unless perhaps they use cloth towels that they wring out at the end of every shift. Still I can’t imagine how they reach such a high volume of production without going batty with boredom.
Then there is the thing that makes every bag of chips so dismaying to the consumer—packing the large, whole chips on top, broken ones beneath, and finally the teensy flakes and potato grit at the bottom of the barely half-filled bag. Now that must take real skill!
Wednesday, December 9
Monday, December 7
Sunday, December 6
We then entered the museum on the site. It was the restored house of the man who founded Raymond in the late 1800s. Lynn pointed out the hand-dug well on the property, “33 feet deep, dug by hand, and it still supplies all the water we need.” Inside the house was an intriguing collection of artifacts contributed by the people of the area, everything from baskets and arrows from the Indians to tools and utensils from the pioneers. The most intriguing thing about the museum is that almost everything on display can be handled by the visitors. Very little was protected behind glass.
Lynn is so contagiously enthusiastic about the whole town. It was a much more interesting place than just about anybody would suspect. Mainly it had a very busy railway coming up from the San Joaquin Valley that brought people to the stage line that took them to Yosemite. “Two trains a day, and right out the window was where they turned it around for the return trip.” She pointed out the grass-covered space where the turntable used to be. The track split into three to accommodate the passenger cars and the freight cars that were loaded with Sierra White granite from the nearby quarry. Raymond granite is widely on display in San Francisco, from common curbstones to the steps of the US Mint and the façades of many other prominent buildings. Lynn excitedly told the story about John Muir, on hearing that President Theodore Roosevelt would be in San Francisco, raced to the city to try and convince him to come to Yosemite. Roosevelt agreed and rode the train to Raymond, got on the stage, and a couple of days later toured Yosemite with Muir. Roosevelt was convinced that making the place a national park would be a wise move. I told Lynn that I had read that Roosevelt and Muir traveled around the park alone—no Secret Service accompaniment. What a different time!
Lynn is interesting in her own right. She and her husband made their living being actors in soap operas, As the World Turns and Days of our Lives, if I remember correctly. Several years ago they came to our area and bought some property. (Their land abuts ours about a mile north of the house.) Lynn fell in love with the funky, stuck-in-time town of Raymond and is now its chief promoter. She bought the museum property and got the railroad track installed by the road and rounded up a caboose to sit on it. Sometimes it takes an outsider to wake up the populace to the historic treasure they inhabit. I have a feeling we are going to get involved in her vision of Raymond’s renewal.
Friday, December 4
It seems all kinds of numerical milestones are occurring all at once—3,000 solitaire games, 4,600 ReCaptchas—the mind reels. Speaking of reels, I wonder how many fish I could catch on 2.5 miles of line with hooks every 20 feet. Depends on where the line is put in the water. I’ll have to ask reader Ed, who lives in Hawaii where the fishing is good. Or David in southern Sweden where the fishing is good. Susan in Queensland, Oz, may snag a saltwater croc or two. But I’ll skip Hilary in Death Valley, where the fishing stinks, though the rat-size scorpions could make pretty tempting bait.
Thursday, December 3
Wow. Another hundred. [Yawn…]
I’ll put this accomplishment right alongside my 3,000 wins at solitaire. With all these accomplishments adding up, I’m going to have to order up a really large tombstone because the epitaph just keeps growing. Might have to order two plots, one for my enlarged head. Oh well, later. Now back to solitaire…
Tuesday, December 1
I am surprised that he keeps coming back because one day I saw him flying around, looking a whole lot shorter. At first I thought it was a different bird. Then I discovered what had happened to him—there was a pile of tail feathers on the carpet in the bedroom. He had met Raven, the cat! He seems none the worse for wear; I guess wrens don’t really need tail feathers!