Wednesday, June 30

He got the joke!

This morning Hilary had to jump on a horse and ride a mile or so away to round up some horses to haul in to the high ranch this weekend. I got to tend to Benjamin. I brought him one of his favorite companions, a plush rocking horse with a bear riding on its back. Turn the key and it plays Brahms’ Lullaby on its built-in tinkly music box. Benjamin loves it.

I was showing him the bear on the horse’s back and happened to make a joke about the pair of them riding “bear-back.” He laughed! He got the joke. I tried to get another laugh for the camera, but the moment had passed. Even a good joke rarely elicits a second laugh.

Monday, June 28

Simple server

Today Hilary and I struggled to understand how to get database files onto a new remote server, one that’s located way off in the boonies of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas and Frankfurt. It’s a really good outfit as far as making it so simple to upload data files that even two boondocks dwellers can do it with (literally) one click of the mouse, but we ran into some minor problems that seemed insolvable. Like “How come we can’t see the file we just uploaded on the list of files?” We were doing so many different things regarding Internet addresses, passwords, database addresses, downloading and merging data from the old server, it got confusing. We had sticky notes all over the computer screen, and had a difficult time deciding which of them does what.

Then Hilary got a great idea—“I’m going to call them!” She did. Problem solved. Whew! We now have three databases that are essential to the operation of our business way off in the wilderness safely ensconced in an accessible place. Protected behind firewalls, bombproof walls, heavily-armed security guards, junkyard dogs and secure password-protected hard drives supplied by ultra-redundant power supplies gushing gobs of data on encrypted fiber-optic lines encased in dilithium crystals. We can get to the files using our database program or even the plain old World Wide Web. We’re so proud of ourselves! Did I mention it’s cheap? The first month is free! There’s a discount if you prepay for the year—you get another month free. I mean, who could ask for more?

Wow. Dilithium crystals finally come to the boonies.

Sunday, June 27


This morning before it got too hot outside, I dragged the hose around and gave some of the plants and trees a drink to prepare them for the onslaught of summer heat. I noticed an unusual object on the ground beneath the apricot tree—an apricot! Glory be! First one in years! It was pale, but as it turned out, delicious. Hilary had noted that the birds were beating us to most of the ripe plums, so we picked some not-so-ripe ones to before they got munched. They were sweet and juicy. Then she thought of the tomato plant she had brought up from Death Valley. “Let’s make a bountiful harvest picture!” Then she went over to the strawberry barrels and plucked one for the picture. Laid out on the bricks by the birdbath we had a gorgeous heap of Central California Bounty, proof that living in Central California beats living in Central Antarctica, but only a little bit.

Cool frog

It’s that time again when the old swamp cooler has to be brought out of hibernation. I give it a few drops of oil on the bearings and make sure the water flows in right and the drain is adjusted to drain off a bit of the excess in order to keep calcium deposits from coating everything. This season there was a bonus, a nice frog greeted me as I removed one of the pad holders. I wondered how the frog got in, but since swamp coolers aren’t air tight, there must be a way. Aha—a shrunken pad. Once it gets wet, it may cut off the frog’s exit. I’ll have to check tomorrow. Don’t want a dead frog floating in the cooler water, stinking up the house and driving us all out into the searing sunlight where we’d surely perish.

Colors of the sun

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the day is of the colors of the sun. Feh! I can find more colors in the paint section of The Home Depot. My parents’ 1957 Chevrolet was painted in two colors that don’t even show on this chart—Dusk Rose and White! I mean, where’s white? Dumn sun.

Credit & Copyright: Nigel Sharp (NSF), FTS, NSO, KPNO, AURA, NSF

Thursday, June 24

An anguished lament

Poor California. Once the world’s hope for innovation and achievement and all that. Now the world’s best example of bad governance. Horrible budget mess. Highest taxes. Awful schools. Totally trashed liberties.

And we’re stuck with it. Having a business that is anchored to the ground can be trying. We have gorgeous scenery, a pristine river, hot springs, meadows and all that. But you can’t dig it all up and move it to Montana or Dakota where taxes and regulations are not so onerous. California has been grasped by over-regulators and greedy labor unions and bought-and-paid-for politicians who pander to all of them.

Years ago we had to remove a perfectly good underground 1,000-gallon gasoline tank. We used to check the tank at the end of the season to see how much gas remained. At the beginning of the following season we checked it again. It never varied. But California declared that all underground tanks leaked and were destroying the planet, maybe even the whole universe. We had to remove it.

The workers removing the tank were way outnumbered by the horde of bureaucrats overseeing the operation. Representatives from five federal and state and county agencies were there with their clipboards and thermoses full of coffee. They commiserated as the backhoe operator tore away the sand and gravel that covered the tank that had been serviceable since 1949. It was beautiful—not even rusty since it was buried in soil that drained as quickly as moisture came through. We had emptied it of fuel as instructed and it barely smelled gassy. It was ritually triple-rinsed. Later on a state inspector came up with a sniffer to find any leakage contaminating the the soil. None was detected.

We had to install a 6-ton double-walled steel and concrete above-ground tank that was certified to be Bullet proof and Fire proof and Earthquake proof and Everything Else proof.

It cost us over $15,000.

And we don’t even sell gasoline to the public; it was just used for our ferry boats.

We asked the bureaucrats in attendance who we should contact to legalize our new tank. They shrugged. Over the years random bureaucrats wandered by and laid claim to the new above-ground tank. “Don’t you know you have to register with the Hazardous Substances people? How about the Toxic folks? The Spill Handling people? The Air Quality board? The Annoyers?” We had to buy some very expensive bomb-proof containers of absorbent materials and personnel protection gear and train everyone who pumps gas into a can as to what to do if some gas spills when they remove the nozzle. Fire extinguishers. Adsorbent and absorbent pads. Placards warning of hazardous materials. Personnel protective hazardous substance clothing. Every year we have to fill out forms sent by various agencies and pay their fees and assessments and other charges for overseeing our stupid gas tank. All of them threaten that we could be in violation of their rules and subject to fines if we don’t comply. Immediately.

It’s amazing how many regulatory agencies there are in just this one county. Nowhere did we find a guide to list all the things we have to do in order to conduct business without violating some law. None of the agencies has a list of all their cronies in the regulation business. You’re on your own, and subject to fines for your ignorance.

And that’s only gasoline. There’s the oil you drain from a generator. The battery you remove from a truck. All toxic. All regulated. All charged for by some unneeded agency that only wants more money from you.

Addendum: I forgot to say that this shiny new gas tank caught the eye of another bureaucrat who lets us hire an outfit to come up and check it out every year to see that the vent works properly. The check takes about 5 minutes. We get charged $450 for the privilege, and that’s cheap because we schedule the check the same day as PG&E gets their tank in the mountains checked too.

Being in business used to be fun. You try to create something people desire and be rewarded for it.

I am ready to leave California. Permanently.

Can’t get no respect

Even Rodney Dangerfield, who used the above line in so many of his comedy routines, didn’t have to suffer such indignity as my poor wooden rooster. It would appear that to little birds a safe perch can be provided by another, admittedly abstract bird. But when you gotta go, you gotta go.

I have always had an affinity for chickens and as a result whenever a birthday comes around I usually get some artist’s rendering of that brave breed of birds (although once I got a tin raven). Contrary to popular belief, chickens are really smart and resourceful. Sometimes their eating choices make me wonder though, such as their almost obsessive taste for styrofoam, but who am I to judge? They must think me strange for not eating earthworms. To each his own. Let us all have some respect.

Tuesday, June 22

Smile practice

’Nuff said

Love and trust

After a hearty meal of 100% organic Mom’s Milk, Benjamin decides to bliss out while Mom beams at his blissfulness.

Out to the world, for sure!

Monday, June 21

Time to start yelling

What are we gonna do?

Looking at the problems of American government at both the state and federal levels is a very depressing exercise. Here in California we face bankruptcy, plain and simple. In the past, when there were acrimonious feelings toward the citizens by the leaders, the California legislature decided the best way to exert their dominance when money was short was to cut essential services that affect us all, like education funding and fire protection. Close a few libraries. Close some state parks. But never touch the sore thumb sticking out with deficits written all over it—state workers’ salaries and pensions. I know a teacher who retired and gets a really nice percentage of his salary as a pension. That percentage? 104%! He will probably live for another 40 years. Another teacher gets, for her years of service, a “Golden Handshake” of $800 per month on top of her regular pension. And of course these payouts are subject to COLAs, Cost of Living Adjustments.

Recently I read that the actual premium paid to a person working for the government, at all levels, is twice what the same job pays in the private sector when health insurance and other benefits are factored in.

Can we sustain this folly? The current administration in Washington DC is expanding government hiring and control. A recent issue of The Economist, an Obama-favoring magazine, finally got the gumption to call our Dear Leader “an American version of Vladimir Putin.” With one exception, I might add. Putin is an effective thug.

Sunday, June 20

Father’s Day

For all you dads out there who don’t have an artist for a daughter, I will share the card that I found on the kitchen work table early this morning. Mm-m-m—pistachios! They’re not just for breakfast anymore!

Saturday, June 19

Wow, another milestone

3,400 games won. What an accomplishment. Things that end in lots of zeroes must be celebrated. At least that’s what I was taught growing up. It doesn’t matter what the thing achieved is worth, it’s the zeroes that count. I feel so empowered. I could move mountains. I could point to my zero collection and lord it over my peers, leaving them whimpering in their mere-ness, their lack of zero-achievement. I am so pumped. Now my goal is to get the numbers in front of the zeroes even higher. 3,500 games of solitaire won. Wow. My chest swells with pride. Oops—there goes another shirt button, launched into the computer screen. It bounced off and fell on the rug. Hope I can find it. Hope it didn’t leave a scratch on the screen. Dang! IT DID! Drat! Oh well, achievements come with consequences; it’s the price you pay. I’m up to it. I can handle it. It’s the obligatory burden that accompanies greatness.

Friday, June 18

A puzzle

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day has an interesting depiction of the night sky that reminds me of a Vincent Van Gogh painting. A camera on a tripod with its lens left open for a period of time will produce a picture of the sky with star trails making circular streaks as the earth rotates during the exposure. Can you determine, by looking at the picture, how long the shutter was left open? Click the picture for a larger version, making it easier to figure out.

Image Credit & Copyright: Daniel López

Wednesday, June 16

“New” truck arrives

Last night Luke drove the ’Mog home. Today I got some pictures:

Humongous ground clearance is provided by putting the axles at the top of the wheel, instead of at the center. There are gears inside each wheel to allow this to happen.

I could drive my old Austin Healey Sprite under this thing without having to duck my head (kidding).

Nice fish. I don’t know why the Swiss Army puts fish on their doors, but I’m not going to argue with them.

See? It says UNIMOG. Just like I said.

Altogether a very functional package. Shifting gears requires mastery of about six levers and a cool hand, which Luke has, naturally. He demonstrated “crawl” mode last night. He got in, put the levers in the right positions, popped the clutch, then got out! The truck moved almost imperceptibly forward as the engine idled—you actually had to watch the wheels to see if it was moving at all! Wondering why such a mode would be needed, I came to the conclusion that if your army wanted to take a country without a fight, you would just drive all of your Unimogs up to their border, hook onto the border line, and slowly push your boundary into their territory! Nobody would even notice until it was too late. Brilliant!

Tuesday, June 15

Waiting for the truck

For nearly a week Luke and Karla have been pounding the pavement, traveling with a heavy trailer all the way to Ohio in pursuit of a truck. An Internet search turned up a Unimog, a tough very industrial-strength, very off-road truck made by Mercedes-Benz, that we need to make our operation in the High Sierra viable into the future. We have had another Unimog for several years, and rely heavily on it. But if it breaks, we need a backup.

We found a chiropractor in Ohio who had the ideal machine for us, and at a good price. This particular model starts out at $130,000 new. We waited 40 years and got it for a bit less. But this vehicle isn’t worn out after a mere 40 years of relatively light use, so we’re looking at adding another 40 years to its useful life. Imagine: 24 speed transmission, both forward and reverse. Air brakes. A dump bed that not only dumps out the back, but to either side. Diesel engine. Heated leather seats, iPod connector to the 1,200-watt stereo and 10 cupholders. Okay, I lied about that last.

We have relied on military trucks from the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, all of them Dodges. Super trucks for sure, but really old trucks. Buying parts for them requires dealing with antique collectors and their inflated prices. Mercedes still makes parts for their old Unimogs, and even though they’re expensive, they’re readily available. And you don’t need them too often.

The truck is coming home tonight. But it will stop at a neighbor’s first to be fitted out with a new muffler. Not a Mercedes muffler, but a generic American muffler. There—we already saved some money!

Monday, June 14

Wilderness skills

A few days ago I wrote about how we must be the only people in north America who still wash dishes by hand. Here’s another primitive skill to toss into the mix—using a clothesline. Actually, we have a clothes dryer and we use it almost all the time, but king-size sheets just tend to roll up in a ball and sweat while the dryer spins, wasting a lot of gas and electricity since the drying time is like forever. Besides, sheets dried in the sunshine and gentle breezes come out so much nicer.

Bonus: This part of the clothesline Hilary is using was strung between oak trees by Luke, who used several pieces of polyurethane baling twine from one of the grass hay bales we buy every year. Even though the line is blue, it makes us feel green to multitask.

In 1987 I volunteered to help the US Forest Service replace a footbridge on Paiute Creek in the John Muir Wilderness. Our mandate was to do the entire job using hand tools. The bridge steel and wood was hauled in by mule after we carried it across Florence Lake on the Sierra Queen, our steel-hulled ferry boat. I drove the boat, and it was an experience I’ll never forget. Each load weighed way over 11,000 pounds (about 5,000 kg) counting bridge parts, crew of seven men, and food. We didn’t have a lot of freeboard, but it was a calm day. The landing was the most interesting part of the trip since our momentum was enormous for a 29-foot boat. About three minutes before reaching shore, I had already put the engines in reverse to bleed off our speed. On both trips, the boat just tapped the shore, almost completely stopped. And we did it without the aid of tug boats! When we completed the bridge, it won the 1987 Wilderness Primitive Skills Award from the Forest Service. As I tell people now, I took on the job for the T-shirt. (We also got bronze belt buckles with mules and stuff on them, and a plaque with my name misspelled.)

The opposite shore of Paiute Creek is on National Park Service land. The Park guys aren’t restricted to using hand tools. While we would be cutting trees with a misery whip (very long hand saw), they would be obscured by the smoke from their chainsaws. While we used mules to haul in bridge parts, they use a helicopter whenever they can afford it. We pounded deep holes in solid granite to anchor our construction highlines using star drills and sledge hammers. They use gas-powered drills.

But they don’t get nifty belt buckles, T-shirts, or mispeled plaqs.

Politicians and diapers

After changing Benjamin’s diaper, Hilary was reminded of a saying:

Politicians and diapers should be changed often, and for the same reason.

Saturday, June 12


Hilary used the term angelic when describing Ben today. When he’s asleep, anyway. I hope he learns to walk pretty soon; he’s over ten pounds already, and that’s getting to be a heavy load on any trek over a couple of hours. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I started walking, but if memory serves it was a couple of months or so. Oh yeah—three months. Right after I was talking in whole paragraphs, but before I had my premiere piano recital at Carnegie Hall to a packed house that called me back for almost three hours of encores. Boy, that was a night! We left the fawning mob and I helped Dad fly my homebuilt airplane back to California (I mostly navigated; I was still too short to reach the rudder pedals). When we landed, the crowd at the airport, having heard the concert on the radio, insisted on carrying me on their shoulders back to the house. “I can walk, fer gosh sakes,” I yelled in four of the six languages I spoke at the time, trying to get them to put me down. “Besides, I gotta pee!” (I hadn’t yet finished the lavatory in the plane). Mom was so embarrassed to hear me talk that way. Apparently my dialects were unpolished, and some of the crowd stared uncomprehendingly. Mom and Dad hustled me to the car, our brand new 1941 Chevrolet we bought with the advance on royalties on my soon-to-be-published autobiography, and I sat on Dad’s lap, steering, as we slipped into the night, leaving the sweeping searchlights and cheering throng behind. Oh, the memories—they serve me well.

Friday, June 11

Soft, bright, fragrant!

Karla and I must be among the last people in north America who wash dishes by hand instead of in a machine. Even when living in the urban refinement of Hollywood, where we had a dishwasher, we used it only once, then reverted to our cave-dweller roots. One thing about hand washing that’s nice is when you run out of dish detergent, you can substitute a detergent made for something else. Today the dish stuff was running low and I didn’t want to make the two-hour round trip drive to the nearest store, so I tried laundry detergent instead. Wow, what a difference! The dishes came out so much softer, brighter and fragrant, and as a bonus there was no static cling!

Thursday, June 10

A disturbing article

In my daily perusal of what’s going on in the world via the Internet, I ran across this article in the New York Times. It concerns the distracting effect of our electronic gadgets and the “need” to be connected at all times, regardless of the current circumstances and especially the needs of our kids. Ironically, the better-off among us, those making in the range of $100,000 per year, those who have in the past provided the richest experiences for their offspring are also those who are now most likely to be too distracted to be there with their children. Read the article; read the comments, especially number 11 which expands on the age range of this troubling addiction.

Photo: NYT

Monday, June 7

Unlimited possibilities…

What goes through the mind of a grandfather when contemplating the untapped potential of his grandson…here sleeping peacefully beneath a print signed by nearly every astronaut who ever walked on the moon. Will he be a spacefarer? An earthbound explorer? A poet? A wrangler? A bandit? A philosopher? A sculptor? A pitcher? A teacher? A judge? A leader? A lover?

The possibilities…


Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Sunday, June 6

The world’s ugliest dog is dead

“Miss Ellie was a wiggly-eyed Chinese Crested Hairless mutt with a drooping tongue and a scruffy mass of sprouting grey hair.” That’s how The Register, a UK paper, described her. Frankly, she doesn’t hold a burnt-out stub of a candle to the previous World’s Ugliest Dog, which died several months ago. He had scraggly fangs and was covered with ghastly sores. His blind grey-white eyes stared uselessly in disarray. Ellie might even be called kinda cute. Maybe she could surpass his ugliness if they simply let her body lie in a warm, humid place for awhile.

Friday, June 4

Claptrap balderdash

How truly disconnected from reality can our Dear Leader be when it is reported today “President Barack Obama said on Friday the gain of 431,000 jobs in May is a sign the economy is getting stronger, although there will still be ups and downs going forward.”

Of that 431,000, 411,000 are government jobs, and temporary ones at that. I guess he thinks we dumb unwashed drones without law degrees can be endlessly fooled. As a result of his optimistic pronouncement, the stock market took a dump. At least Wall Street isn’t buying his flapdoodlish codswallopy bushwa bunkum. Nor am I.

(I see that the price of Purina Gopher Chow has fallen as a result of the new employment figures. The hamster up there at the right eats gopher chow, the green stuff. My budget allows for much more gopher food now, so feed, feed, feed to your heart’s content! And thanks for your continued support.)

Thursday, June 3

What can you do with your iPad?

I’ve heard that hospitals are trying to get iPads for their medical staff to use, that Mercedes-Benz wants to give them to their showroom sales people, that stores want to have sales staff scan bar codes on products to get all the info on products for their customers, and restaurants want to use them for menus instead of fragile and un-updatable paper ones. But this is the cleverest so far—

(It’s too wide to display on this Blogger site, so you have to go to YouTube to see it. Sorry.)