Wednesday, March 31

Google! Flunk!

Google should be called Giggle. One of my nieces in Australia has a Web site that teaches people to create things from paper. It’s called Paper Craft Central, and is about paper crafting, including things like scrapbooking, which is very popular here in the US. She made a video to introduce people to her Web site. I clicked on the YouTube video and watched, but couldn’t get the audio, just silence. Undaunted, I enabled the feature called Transcribe Audio. Words appeared below the picture just like the closed captioning you can receive on most new TV sets.

I asked her if what I read on Transcribe Audio was anything like what she had actually said. She was amused with Google’s translation, and sent me a script of her words; it goes like this:

“Hmm. Should I cut it out, or leave it as it is? Decisions, decisions.

“Oh, hi! I’m Susan of PaperCraftCentral. Welcome. Among the pages here you’ll find lots of ideas for making scrapbook layouts, handmade greeting cards, artist trading cards, three-dimensional paper projects and more. You’ll also find places you can share your own work with me, which I hope you will do.

“I have a free newsletter that I would love for you to subscribe to. It’s called Paper Twists. You can subscribe to it by scrolling down on this page and finding the ‘subscribe’ button.

“I hope you enjoy your stay here. Happy paper crafting!”

Here is the Google Transcribe Audio version. It is simply incredible:

“Mm. Should colin powell leavitt presidents since this is it.

“Ohio. I’m a citizen of had across central. Welcome. Another fuel find lots of ideas the makings that behalf. Kennedy not I was trying to harness the intentional qaida in Iraq animal.

“You’ll also find places that you can’t sit here and I think the that the military I happen to you.

“There are a lot of resistance life today it’s called victories. You can subscribe to it by selling down from the sky is and binding is this going to happen. I’m going to resist idea how do you take a crafty.”

Admittedly, Australian and American English don’t exactly rhyme, but Google! Back to the drawing board! At least run it through an Aussie filter.

Hey! It’s supposed to be spring!

This morning the hills to the east were dusted with snow. But it’s supposed to be spring! I wonder if the meddlers in Congress decreed that spring was starting a month early this year, just like they changed the start and ending dates for daylight saving time. We’d better keep an eye on those guys before they start messing with our lives!

Sunday, March 28

Gargantuan termite mounds discovered!

Out there in the cold dark dankness of space are huge pillars of dust and gas made by termites. They resemble the mounds found here on earth, but differ in that they harbor not only termites, but other creatures as well. About two-thirds of the way down on the leftmost mound, a cat crouches, ready to pounce on a gopher hiding in a hole in the protrusion to the right. It is unlikely the cat will be successful in catching its prey, since the gopher is about 200 light years away and the cat will be long dead about mid-leap.

The usual, boring, “scientific” explanation can be found at Astronomy Picture of the Day, titled M16: Pillars of Creation. Click on the photo to enlarge.

Credit: J. Hester, P. Scowen (ASU), HST, NASA

Saturday, March 27

Slo-o-ow baking

We like occasional snacks, and to keep the waistlines in check we munch low-fat stuff like celery sticks, carrot sticks, and whole-grain cracker breads (with an occasional chunk of cheese for flavor and fat—go figure). Yesterday in the Big City we picked up some more Knäckebröd (Crisp Bread), “Original Swedish recipe” that’s made, oddly, in Finland. And for good measure we got some Wasa crisp bread made in Sweden. On its logo, it says Baked Since 1919. Wow. That’s a lo-o-ong time in the oven!

Thursday, March 25

This lasts for only 11 seconds…

but I bet you’ll laugh for 12!

(Maybe even more, judging from Karla’s response.)

“GreenFrog, I served with Clarence, I knew Clarence,

Clarence was a friend of mine. GreenFrog, you’re no Clarence.”

In 1988, the nation was entertained by the debate between two vice-presidential candidates in which Lloyd Bentsen remarked to Dan Quayle, who had made remarks about his own resemblance to the late president Jack Kennedy: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

This little green frog seems happy to remain outside by the fountain, unlike Clarence, our very own in-house amphibian. Clarence provided us with a lot of entertainment as he would occasionally emerge from hiding to munch down various insects as we watched. Once he had eaten, he would sneak off to wherever he lived till he was hungry again. He had no fear of humans, and seemed to be attracted to us because we brought food to him.

Maybe GreenFrog is better off in his outdoor abode since Clarence met his maker when one day we found him in the cupboard smashed between two dinner plates. His little body was stone cold. Oh, wait—he was always stone cold.

Tuesday, March 23

Horse hair discovered on sun!

The picture above is very similar to the picture below, wouldn’t you agree? I took the picture below a couple of years ago when rain had brought out the curl in Geronimo’s hair. The resemblance to today’s picture on is enough to convince me that under all the mysterious gases and magnetic fields on the sun lies its true covering—horse hair!*

Photo credit: Roger Marcon, Campinas, Brazil via

Photo credit: Yours Truly

*Oddly, horsehair (one word) refers to hair from the mane or tail only, used to make brushes and furniture stuffing. Horse hair (two words) means horse hair, used to cover horses’ bodies.

Monday, March 22

Invasion of the horned ones

We are almost constantly (well, occasionally) chasing cows off our place. At one time, the neighbor had a bull about the size of a freight locomotive that regarded a barbed wire fence as a nice place to walk through to scratch a mild itch, but that bull is now gone. So now we have tons of cows with their kiddies, and the occasional mild-mannered bull munching our precious grass. You might think that a place that’s two miles long and an average half mile wide has enough grass for all our horses and some cows, but a lot of the place is very steep and rocky, and parts are covered with thick brush. Besides there are wild deer, pigs, gophers and other veggies taking their toll.

These are some rare cows, ones with horns. A neighbor who thought they might be his drove over and found that they weren’t. We tried to look up the brands on them, but couldn’t find an exact match with the brand directory. We don’t know who they belong to. I wonder if they’re tasty.

Saturday, March 20

Cockroach plant

Commonly known as Horsetail Plant, uncommonly known as Equisetum laevigatum, today I was cleaning out some of the fallen stems from our half-barrel fountain and was impressed with this plant’s primitiveness. With no leaves and no flowers and an unstoppable urge to propagate rampantly, horsetail reminded me of the ancient insects that do the same. Scorpions, centipedes, millipedes and cockroaches are essentially unchanged since their origins how many millennia ago. There must be something awfully perfect about this life form for it to continue unchanged forever. We humans are still going through evolution from, for example, thin to fat. From hairy to smooth. From dark to light, and light to dark. From ignorant to…


No comment.

Wednesday, March 17

Giant chicken skull found near Mars!

Orbiting the planet Mars is a 25 kilometer- (15.5 mile-) long chicken skull, the largest ever discovered. The now-beakless skull is difficult to identify due to millennia of relentless pummeling by meteorites, but preliminary study has shown it to be that of a Rhode Island Red hen. Although some scientists argue that it is a Barred Rock, all are mystified by the fact that none of the remaining skeleton has been found. Click the picture to enlarge.

Credit: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA

Tuesday, March 16

Crime marches on…

A floor statement made on March 15, 2010, by Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware is worth your time to read. It’s a bit over 3,300 words, but it outlines what may become a huge criminal case against Wall Street and its banks for causing the biggest collapse in the American financial system since 1929. Some excerpts:

“Only six U.S. banks control assets equal to 63 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product…”

Regarding wall Street, “fraud and lawlessness were key ingredients in the collapse as well.”

What we need now are competent and honest regulators to put things right. Senator Kaufman warned: “As the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Heard on the Street’ noted last week, ‘Give Wall Street a rule and it will find a loophole’.”

Personally we are moving our accounts from one of the world’s biggest banks, one we’ve used for 30 years, to a small community bank that’s based locally and is fiscally prudent. I encourage everyone to do the same.

Now if we can only get rid of the money-value-rotting Federal Reserve…

Thanks to David in Sweden for the heads-up!

Sunday, March 14

Sun eats yet another comet

Friday seemed totally normal to most of us, but those who keep an obsessive eye on the sun were shocked, I tell you, shocked to see that the sun ate yet another comet. It’s not like we’re going to run out of comets, but still…

The brutality, the utter remorselessness. Click here to see the terrible act in motion. Shield the eyes of any youngsters who are not used to the violence of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Story here on

Cat finds daylight saving time to his liking

Raven, the black cat, was rendered speechless when I presented him with a bowl of food an hour early today. I’m not sure he really understands DST, but then very few humans do either. Supposedly it has saved billions of kilowatt hours since being introduced back in the time of World War I, but it has never been easy to get used to for the first few days every spring. Wait—it’s not even spring yet! They snuck in an earlier start time. Gotta watch those legislators more closely.

Today the two old horses we feed didn’t even bother to come in for their snacks. I guess DST has them confused even more than the cat.

Saturday, March 13

“Here kitty kitty…”

Lens cap=2.7", 67 mm. Paw print=3.7", 94 mm.

Late Friday afternoon it started to rain lightly, then heavier as the night wore on. This morning the sky was clear, and we had gotten 0.8 inches of rain (20 mm). We took a walk down to the first gate and on the way spotted some large cat tracks on the soft parts of the road.

Everything about the tracks—size, shape and distance between them (the stride)—meant they were made by a mountain lion. Perhaps this explains why Raven, the house cat, was reluctant to go outside last night when Karla opened the door for him to go wreak havoc on small nocturnal creatures. He must have sensed that the bigger cat was waiting to turn the tables and make him into a tasty snack.

It’s a cat-eat-cat world out there.

Shadow play

At various times of the year, we are treated to an intriguing image on the simple muslin curtain by the dining table. As the sun comes up, it casts a shimmering oval shape, reflecting off the surface of the water in the half-barrel fountain outside. The darker shadow is from the Wax Plant (Hoya carnosa) that sits on a shelf in the window. The view is best experienced in person rather than in a still photo since there is a lot of movement, mostly of the water.

This tranquil scene starts to get exciting if the cat pursues a mouse that is running up the curtain. Or when a red-tail hawk chases a dove into the window, adding a crimson hue to this otherwise monochrome scene. Things get really immersive when a 4.5 to 6.0 earthquake rattles the curtain and shakes dust bunnies and half-forgotten lizard bones from the logs overhead as you anxiously try to decide whether to watch the spectacle or duck under the table. Either way you’re going to need a change of undies.

Unless, of course, none of this happens.

Monday, March 8

An astonishing discovery!

In my bag of Tostitos® 100% White Corn Crispy Rounds what should I discover but a chip that looks exactly like Pac-Man! I was rendered speechless by the resemblance. It reminded me of my discovery years ago of a white radish that looked just like the Easter Bunny and a yam that looked exactly like Barbra Streisand. What would have happened if I had been endlessly munching those chips out of a bowl in my lap while watching the Colbert Report instead of looking at each one? I shudder at the thought.

Sunday, March 7

Mundane beauty

I was just about to toss something into the dishpan when I decided that it would be bad not to take this picture. So I did.

Saturday, March 6

Film magic

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the performance we attended at Robin Ralston’s place and mentioned Ken Ralston’s Web site and the fact that he was working on the new Disney film, Alice in Wonderland. Here is a link to an article in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times about the production of that film. Watch the video. They used every trick in the book!

Image from Los Angeles Times

Friday, March 5

How does he KNOW?

This morning we got up at 5 and got ready to head for Death Valley. I opened the front door to gather some firewood for the stove and Raven shot out like he was on fire. Weird. Raven, the cat, is usually meowing for food every morning at the first sign of human movement. If he’s not fed first, there’s no way he is ready to go outside. I was mystified.

On Thursday we went through the routine of getting ready for the trip. We gathered the stuff to take with us and loaded the truck with containers to protect our cargo in case it rained. Our neighbor, Sandy, the only one in the whole valley who wasn’t going to Hilary’s baby shower, was shown how to take care of the two old horses we feed every day. I had prepared the cat’s dish by centering it in a pan filled with water to keep ants from getting to his two day’s worth of food. This was the routine: Give the cat enough food to survive. Give the cat enough water to survive. Keep the cat indoors to protect him from elephants.

But the cat decided that this routine really stinks, and shot out the door pronto. He can survive very well eating birds, mice, gophers.

But the mystery is—what triggered his odd behavior? Is he reading our minds? We are truly mystified.

What a bore

There are so many misused terms regarding natural phenomena it makes your head spin. For instance the term tidal wave. A tidal wave can be a tsunami, the Japanese word meaning harbor wave. Tsunamis are caused by the displacement of undersea crust that displaces a large body of water. Another tidal wave is a bore, the wave caused by a rising tide traveling into a gradually restricted space, such as moving up a river. The picture above shows a tidal bore.

In the early 1980s during a period of significant seismic activity nearby, I experienced a micro tsunami at Florence Lake. I was piloting the ferry boat on the first run of the day at 8:30 AM. In early morning the lake is usually glass-smooth since there is no wind. As I headed across the still waters I noticed a line of raised water traveling in the same direction as the boat. The leading edge of the wave matched the shape of the shoreline behind me. What had happened was the occurrence of another of the many earthquakes that were occurring at Mammoth Mountain, 20 miles to the northeast. The quake shocked the rock that surrounds the lake and shoved the water in a shape matching the surrounding terrain.

At Florence Lake we can never experience a bore. A bore takes a tide to create it. What happens is the moon travels over the ocean and its gravity causes the water to lift. The rising tide travels toward a space that incrementally restricts it laterally. The water piles up into a wave that moves into a more restricted space. The result? Boring. But interesting.

Photo from

Math is weird

When I was in the Navy studying electronics in order to become a fixit man on the world’s biggest ship, I had to recall all the stuff I had “learned” in high school regarding logarithms and related mathematical mysteries. A logarithmic scale is useful when you are trying to compress events to a manageable size, a chart for instance that can fit on a piece of paper that doesn’t require the devastation of an entire forest in order to manufacture it. For example, the magnitudes of earthquakes are described on a logarithmic scale that goes from near zero, a wrist-slap, to ten (ten has not been experienced by humans so far, but just you wait till the US Congress passes its healthcare bill!). The asteroid that hit the Yucatán Peninsula a while ago and wiped out the dinosaurs probably registered at 13.0, but that happens so rarely as to not even rate a mention on the ordinarily used Richter scale.

The reason I am bringing this up is that I heard a report that the recent 8.8 quake in Chile was 500 times more powerful than the 7.0 quake in Haiti. That seems at first glance to be erroneous, but I did the math. Fifteen-point-eight gigatons of TNT was the equivalent power released in Chile. Haiti came in at a mere 31.6 megatons. Do the math. It came out five hundred times bigger for Chile.

For regular folks without advanced mathematical training, the Modified Mercalli Scale is more useful for describing earthquakes. This scale uses terms like “many frightened and run outdoors,” “dishes and glassware broken,” “rails bent greatly.” It starts at Roman numeral I and rises to XII. At the bottom, “I” is usually only detectible by instruments or “favorably deployed persons.” A III equates to a passing truck. Whether that truck is carrying goose down pillows or granite boulders isn’t specified. A VII might break furniture, or cause damage to poorly designed structures. A XII, Catastrophic, means everything is destroyed, presumably even the ability to assign a XII.

But ending at XII is shortsighted. I propose expanding the scale to XIII: Since everything is destroyed, we humans should at least be rewarded with (1) complete intuitive understanding of logarithms, and (2) amnesty from not declaring local sales tax liability for all the stuff we bought on the Internet.

Graphic from Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 3


On the south side of the house, the view is into lots of oak trees. After they drop their leaves, they present a complex array of limbs, branches and twigs. You could say that the arrangement follows the idea of fractals, “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole” according to the dictionary on my Mac. To me, the scene I saw tonight is simply a beautiful arrangement of a life form against a deep blue sky. And that is very satisfying.

Way cool

In the picture above it says HTML5. What the heck is that? If you maintain a Web site, you already know about the latest markup language and you will drool. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and is the lingua franca of every Web site. 5 means five, and is the latest iteration of the language. If you’re using a modern browser you will enjoy a richer experience when visiting a compliant Web page. (If you are among the roughly 20% of people still using Internet Explorer 6, you are in the Stone Age. Switch to Firefox!)

Clicking here will send you to a site that has the drum kit shown above. Clicking on the little squares will trigger various sounds of drums, cymbals, cow bells and so on. You can change the tempo, too, from geezer poky to hyper. Whether this turns out to be a good use of your time, I am not to judge. But compared to Solitaire, I find it almost equal in value. Maybe even more equal.

If you duplicate the choices shown in the picture, you can see where I’m at. Is it cool? Or am I an irredeemable geezer?

Gearheads rejoice!

High technology at your fingertips! When your iPod battery dies, you can always fall back on your ring for entertainment. The next time you’re near someone who smells of WD-40, check his hands for this item.