Sunday, February 28

More on mountain attractions

At the House Concerts at Coolwater Ranch site, Robin Ralston lists some interesting links at Local Sights/Points of Interest, the first of which is the Web site of Ken Ralston, showing his photography. He and Robin were ranch guests several years ago, and took a pack trip to Evolution Valley, led by daughter Hilary. It was Hilary’s first solo pack trip.

Ken has made a name for himself in pursuits other than photography. He has been nominated for seven Academy Awards so far, and is the recipient of a Special Achievement Award and four Oscars in the category of Best Effects, Visual Effects in films from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi to Forrest Gump. He is the Visual Effects director of the soon-to-be-released Disney 3-D film, Alice in Wonderland.

Another of the links is to the site of Stephen Stavast, a local painter whose favorite subject is rocks. We have visited his studio in Oakhurst several times, and are amazed at his ability to imbue such mundane objects with astonishing vitality. Robin includes his work on her links page because on the wall behind her concert performers are four of Stephen’s paintings. There is another in her den.

Other links round out a real promotional piece for attractions in the area, including one where Hilary celebrated her eighth-grade graduation with nine of her closest friends, Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst.

[Note to Hilary: Check out Ken’s site—go to Gallery > Random Thoughts and click through to the photo TreeTunnel1. Familiar? Let us know with a Comment.]

There’s some mighty good quality stuff happening up in these here boondocks I tell ya.

Food for the soul

Saturday evening we attended a Coolwater Ranch House Concert in the nearby town of Nipinnawassee, a series of musical performances held in the house of a former ranch guest, Robin Ralston. It’s such a neat idea, having top-notch performers appear in her large living room before an audience sitting on folding chairs she brought in from the nearby Oakhurst Community Center. Although the house wasn’t designed for acoustic performances, her pro-quality sound system and the fact that there were about 70 bodies there to absorb any echoes made for a perfect experience. I overheard at least two attendees saying they came all the way from Los Angeles since this was tonight’s performer’s only California appearance this year.

The guitarist, Michael Chapdelaine, was simply awesome. His mastery of classical guitar was so complete—he totally “owned” that instrument. He has won top international awards with his fingering and did more with a guitar than I ever thought possible, at times making it sound as if a small ensemble was backing him up. His rapport with the audience made the performance that much better. Three hours of playing, with an intermission so he could mingle with the crowd, was so deeply satisfying I doubt I’ll ever attend a better concert.

The audience sat transfixed. About halfway through the performance, I realized that nobody had coughed. Of course then someone coughed.

Throughout the evening, he kept us smiling and laughing. He told the story of one piece he wrote where he imagined himself on top of a mesa in New Mexico, where he teaches music at the University of New Mexico. He said he looked down and saw some Indians performing a rain dance. “Of course,” he said drily, “it didn’t rain.” Then some of the younger Indians asked their elders if they could give it a try. Their updated version of the dance, of course, brought rain. Lots of rain. And more rain. It was too much rain, and the elders told them to make it stop. So the younger Indians told the elders to do their old rain dance. “Of course, then the rain stopped.”

During the intermission, I asked him about his guitar. He told me the name of its maker, a custom designer whom I don’t know. He said he was trying out some of the man’s instruments, and played this one. “I want this one,” he said. “No, that’s my lab guitar; I use it to compare the others to,” the maker said. “I want this one,” Michael repeated. “It’s not for sale. I can make one like it for you.” “I want this one.”

Several months later, he got this one.

More on Michael Chapdelaine here.

Robin has a Web site that tells of upcoming concerts. She also lists links to some very interesting sites that I’ll talk about in another entry.

Friday, February 26

Thanks Bill

I should hire Bill, my neighbor. Through his connections with the geniuses at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he worked until recently retiring, he comes up with some really good stuff found on the Web. And some truly awful stuff, to balance it all. This one’s a winner.

This video
, taken at 2,000 frames per second, shows what happens when a drop of water hits the still surface of water. It involves surface tension, air layers, and till now unseen magic. Very worth a look-see!

Wednesday, February 24

No American kids allowed

I take dietary supplements to mitigate my tendency toward becoming even more of a geezer. In order to make sure I take them every day, I use a plastic pill holder that I keep in a prominent spot to remind me to take them. Today I happened to turn the thing over and on the bottom it has the following notice:

I guess this thing must be intended for export where kids are less restricted.

Saturday, February 20

How small is your life when this is meaningful…

Here is how it started…

and here is how it ended.

Out of the 22,642 times I’ve played this stupid game, only four or five times have I completed on the first pass, meaning I went through the deck only one time. That’s once in roughly every 5,100 plays. The nice thing about this version of solitaire is that you can back up to the start and re-play the game. Not sure I had done it in one pass, I hit the left arrow key repeatedly till the game backed up to the start point, then re-played it. It came out the same. Totally jazzed with disbelief, I dashed out to the living room and called Karla in to witness this momentous event. Sure enough I went through it once more to the same result. She smiled, patted my head, kissed my cheek, and went back to her book.

I sat there, glowing with pride and awe and utter … um, whatever it is you feel when you’ve accomplished something that must have some meaning, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Thursday, February 18

Sixteen will get you one

Today I looked at what silver quarters were selling for. In quantities of a bag of 4,000 coins, you can get them for a mere $3.99 each. In 1964, the last year the United States Mint made quarters from 90% silver like the one on the right above, I was in Rio de Janeiro where, because of inflation, they had stopped using coins altogether. All the cash registers held nothing but paper money, since it was getting too expensive and unnecessary to use coins anymore. I could have bought a very large paper shopping bag full of Brazilian coins for US$5 (and that was high, probably because I was wearing a US Navy uniform). The coins were made of aluminum and were so lightly embossed as to be difficult to read.

Come back to present time, and look at American coins. Already the mint is spending almost 2¢ to make a penny. Compare today’s coins to those of as little as ten years ago and you’ll see that they’re very lightly stamped. Why? It’s cheaper and faster to just touch the surface of the coins with a die rather than really stamp them harder to make them seem a little more worthy (worthful?).

Why even keep making pennies? The Australians gave them up in 1991, rounding any purchase to the nearest 5¢. In New Zealand, even the 5¢ coin was discontinued in 2006. Why do we even bother with coins at all? Most people don’t like their weight and the fact that you have to dig around in a pocket or purse for them, and most coins probably get tossed into a jar at home when folks return from shopping. Instead of coins being used for change, stores could give you candy instead. Two Jelly Bellies* could fill in for a penny, a small chocolate mint makes a good dime (10¢), and quarters could be Oreo cookies. In America the 5¢ coin is made of nickel, which causes skin rashes in some people, so it should be discontinued. I’d rather have a cello-wrapped peppermint anyway.

[This is updated. Originally I had called the post “Twelve will get you one.” Wrong. Sixteen will get you one. I have always been awful at math. When I took the SAT to get into college, I fell 30 points short of a perfect score, all due to bad math.]

*A popular American brand of jelly beans.

Wednesday, February 17


Go see Avatar. Wow. Don’t listen to the elitist snobs who say it’s nice, but tells a shallow tale. They’re just revealing their inability to go with the flow and accept a version of reality that’s outside their closed little realm. The acting is powerful. The characters totally believable. The effects awesome. This is James Cameron’s masterpiece of excellence in scope, nuance, and detail. Even though the bulk of the film was created using computer graphics, the rendering of the characters is literally impossible to tell from flesh and blood. The scenery is out of this world, but at the same time you just know it exists somewhere.

See it at an IMAX theater. If you know someone with a weak heartbeat, take him or her because the sound alone will turbocharge that ticker. The floor didn’t shake, but the seats sure did. It’s like the wildest amusement park ride you ever survived.

The 3-D glasses aren’t cheesy cardboard, either, but high-class plastic. And they tell us they’re washed and disinfected for each new showing. The bright yellow frames did clash with my shirt, but nobody was rude enough to mention it.

Not to name-drop, but we knew Giovanni Ribisi’s parents from our days in Hollywood. About the time he was born, in fact. He’s one of the main characters in the film. Just sayin’. Oh, and a good friend of ours invented DTS, the sound system that makes it worthwhile to even go to a movie. Just sayin’.

Tuesday, February 16


The upper bill is from the Series of 1996; the lower from 2006. Proof positive that there is climate change!

Sunday, February 14

Crazy surfers

The picture is modified using Photoshop from a photo that appeared in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle. Daughter Hilary was asking for advice in drawing water that a surfer would ride; she’s designing a label for Blind Dog Coffee that will show her dog, Sioux, on a surf board. The last label the dog appeared on showed her in a hot air balloon watching a horseman lassoing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. That dog gets around!

I had suggested using Photoshop to modify a photo into something that would be easier to use to make a drawing, and this photo turned out so neat I thought it could do double duty as a blog topic.

The Mavericks is a contest for world-class surfers that happens when the waves near Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco get to gargantuan proportions. Today I guess they were near 50 feet, 15 meters in height. Some lucky guy walked away with a $50,000 prize, while some spectators on shore got to go to the hospital with broken bones after being knocked to the rocks below by the enormous waves.

Saturday, February 13

Eat your way out of cancer

An interesting article about a presentation by Dr William Li given at a TED conference states that red wine and dark chocolate can actually starve cancerous tumors. Eating cooked tomatoes can help men avoid prostate cancer. Blueberries, among many other foods, are also cancer killers.

From the article, this revelation:
“…pitted some foods against approved drugs and found that soy, parsley, red grapes, berries and other comestibles were either as effective or more potent in battling cancer cells.”
I read a recent study that showed that antidepressants (Prozac, etc.) fared only equally with placebos in controlled tests.

What are the big drug companies to do? Buy all the food processors and destroy beneficial foods? Declare that tomato, blueberry, grape and chocolate farmers are enemies of society? Make themselves the only legal dispensers of beneficial foods? Declare cancer a United Nations World Heritage Disease that deserves our respect and protection? Ban placebos? Buy a better class of Congressmen (fewer lawyers, more bloggers)? Commit hara-kiri?

Or simply go into the confectionery business and sell wine-filled chocolates. That gets my vote!

Thursday, February 11

Nice sunset

I just happened to walk outside this evening and there was the classic orange sky with silhouetted trees. A Kodak moment. I had to grab the camera and take a picture that has been taken by probably ten billion camera owners over time.

One more won’t hurt.

Tuesday, February 9

What we DIDN’T buy…

There must have been over 10 million things for sale at the gift show we attended. Among those things, here is what we did not buy: First, the incredibly beautiful hand embroidered boots above—

The gorgeous artwork rendered in rust was hard to resist—

Genuine wristwatches for less than six dollars each, even cheaper in quantity—that was really hard to resist—

but the rocks with pithy sentiments—that was the hardest to resist. Imagine—a rock that says Mom. Or Breathe. Or Smart. Someone must have stayed up all night and gone through at least a gallon of cheap tequila to come up with such sentiments. Calm, Harmony, Recovery, Hope.



A gorgeous day

San Francisco was on its best weather behavior on Sunday. The day before, rain storms washed out the smog before it had a chance to move eastward and spill into the San Joaquin Valley. Having left the 25th floor of the hotel (the one in the middle of the picture above) after a hearty ($42!) breakfast, we were ready to return to the gift show to choose more stuff for the store. Here Karla looks over Yerba Buena Park, which sits atop the North Hall of the Moscone Center (San Francisco doesn’t waste underground space).

Homage to gaudiness

Every year we go to the San Francisco International Gift Fair to find stuff to sell in our store at Florence Lake. One of the must-buy items is a really gaudy mirror for our customers to use when they select a hat from our hat tree. In the back of the store there’s a driftwood log, actually a whole tree, with its limbs festooned with hats. Customers always want to see how their chosen hat looks on their heads, so we have a mirror nearby. And every year, someone buys the mirror.

In the past the we’ve had mirrors from Mexico, Indonesia, Nepal and Nairobi. This year’s mirrors are from who knows where (we didn’t have time to check for the origin), but they’re outrageous enough to qualify. We got two of them since we know the first will probably sell too soon to be replaced, which has happened in the past. The idea is you’d better get to the store quickly or you won’t know how your hat will look on you until you get out to check it in the rear view mirror in your car!

Monday, February 8

Blogging on a train

I have never written on a train before, so this is a first. We got a seat with a table, which helps since having a laptop in your lap isn’t exactly ideal. Caught the Amtrak bus on Market Street in San Francisco, crossed the Bay Bridge and then left Emeryville on a backward train. Amtrak has stopped turning trains around at the ends of the line, so heading north we get to ride a proper train, with the engine in front. Going south we are being pushed by the engine with the engineer sitting in the tail end of the lounge car which is equipped with lights and horn, and, I assume, a steering wheel (at least I hope it has a steering wheel!).

We survived another Gift Show at Moscone Center in the City. This year the exhibit space was considerably smaller than in the past, occupying only the South Hall. Normally it takes both South and North Halls, and sometimes spills over to another building farther west, the Concourse. With the shrinking economy, the show has followed suit. It may stay that way as time passes since it was so much easier to tour just one building. The exhibitors were in smaller spaces and seem to have been able to exhibit just as much merchandise, just fewer sizes and colors. We arrived and toured the entire show early Saturday afternoon, then went to our hotel. Sunday morning we returned to the show to make our selections at the places we were interested in, then took off to tour the shop at the modern art museum a block away where we bought some really nice stuff and had lunch. It was a relief from all the glittering bling at the gift show.

Friday, February 5

The San Francisco International Gift Fair

The Crooke’s Radiometer

We’re heading to San Francisco to buy a bunch of stuff to sell in our store at the lake this summer. A four-day-long show displaying hundreds of thousands of products is always worth the sore feet we get trying to take it all in. There are the perennial favorites, the beautiful wooden toys, the musical instruments, the fantastic puppets that are always the favorites of elementary school teachers. We’ve purchased items from India, Kenya, Poland, Tibet (Nepal, actually), Peru. Our customers love the diversity of offerings. Many long-time customers return each season to our remote wilderness store in order to see what we’ve discovered.

For us, the show is a vacation from our usual routine. Since we live in the boonies, detached from the throbbing vitality of urban life, it’s refreshing to stroll along the sidewalks of a city where we could be accosted by a homeless man who’s desperate for his next fix. Or be hit by a car running a red light. Or be drenched with the spray from a speeding bus hitting a curbside puddle.

The nighttime view from the fiftieth floor of our hotel is always memorable—an endless necklace of lights in the sky as airplanes from exotic locales approach the three major airports to the south, clogged freeways with the always-entertaining multi-car pileup (especially if one of them catches fire!), the faintly-audible horns and sirens of fire trucks and ambulances rushing to rescue a pedestrian who was dragged for a few blocks under a bus—how could you be bored?

At least once we will escape the show and head up Third Street to the SF MOMA cafe for a bowl of soup and some wonderful sourdough bread. Then duck into the art museum’s store and gloat about how we coulda bought the same elegant Danish-designed wristwatch for half of what they’re charging. Same for the cutesy little art books. It’s the deeply satisfying kind of gloat that only those who can get stuff wholesale experience. Nyah nyah.

After leaving the show we unwind and relax on the train heading home, reviewing our stack of orders. Then comes the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, people won’t be willing to buy the twenty Tibetan prayer wheels or the forty-eight three-legged terra cotta pigs from Chile (guaranteed to bring good luck!) or the elegant handmade wooden noisemakers from England, a big item at football (soccer) games there. But soon we get over the anxiety when we recall that it took only twenty years to sell off the last of the forty-eight solar radiometers I insisted we buy because they would sell out in mere minutes. Mere minutes per sale, that is.

Radiometer picture from Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 3

Aw-w-w. How cute!

Karla with Tajer and Holbrook/Amoré/Bugsy/Apollo/Fang

Sierra Summer

I just HAD to share some pix of the young’ns. Karla and I went looking for them and there they were on a hillside down toward the lower 240. Trying to get them all together for a group shot wasn’t going to be worth the effort, so I divided them up between two pictures instead. These three foals were taken from their moms when about six months old up there in chilly Canada and hauled down to Arizona where we bought them, along with one more, and brought them home. The fourth, Gillie, went to a neighbor down the road a piece. They are the offspring of what are called Premarin mares (Google the phrase and be ready to get sick). Every year a few of the thousands of these little guys and gals get rescued by big-hearted horse lovers like us, but most are sold by the pound to slaughterhouses and appear in truly vile French cuisine and dog food (how do you tell the two apart? — the dog food is cheaper).

In spite of these horses’ independence (we see them only occasionally as they wander the hills in search of adventure), they are still very friendly and can tolerate all kinds of human contact without biting us. The dark one with Karla, Tajer, has hair that stands on end and feels like incredibly plush velvet. The palomino’s name is not yet chosen. Help me here to pick between Karla’s choice of either Holbrook (the Arizona town where we got him), Amoré, Bugsy, or Apollo, and my choice: Fang.

Fang will probably lose and to satisfy my need to be contrary I’ll have to settle for getting a pet rattlesnake and naming it Fluffy.

Monday, February 1

Ninety minutes shortened to 180 seconds

I’ve been very busy trying (in vain, mostly) to learn a new Web design program. When I get something learned, then try to apply it, and watch the result fall apart, it can be a little stressful. Afternoon naps aren’t helping, either. So it’s time for some levity. Apple’s recent introduction of their iPad has been condensed into a very entertaining short video presentation. (If you want to see it in its huge hi-def glory, go here.)

Click, enjoy. And don’t take on any difficult projects for awhile.