Saturday, July 31

The tech idiot

My Internet connection via satellite has failed. I called the provider, HughesNet, for technical assistance in getting it back up. Unfortunately I got their village idiot. This guy with a very heavy Indian accent spent one hour and forty-five minutes chasing down the problem in an entirely wrong way. He was concerned that I was using a WiFi router. That had to be the problem, he thought, so he had me unplug the Ethernet cable from the satellite modem to the router and plug it directly into the computer. This disables the LAN (local area network) and makes the connection direct. He kept asking if the LAN light on the modem was on, and I said no. He didn’t realize that by connecting the modem to the computer, the LAN simply no longer exists. He had me switch ends of the cable, then try using another cable thinking the cable was at fault. Since the computer was getting the troubleshooting data from the modem, I saw immediately that that was not the problem, but he couldn’t quite get his head around such an obvious fact. I suggested that since the main symptom was low signal strength from the satellite (20 out of 100) and that could be the problem, he reminded me that there was a definite troubleshooting protocol that I couldn’t possibly understand, and he had mastered. When he got no result from his bumbling approach, he finally consulted a person of higher intelligence and training (probably the janitor). He came back on the phone and had me go to a page in the system menu where I changed the satellite’s frequency and some other techie stuff. The signal got worse. That two or three-minute procedure is what he should have started with.

He finally concluded that the modem or the transmitter or the receiver was at fault—an equipment failure. After reading me the whole list of things that would invalidate any claim I could ever come up with regarding their equipment, he said I would be liable for $150 for repairs, but only if I had not done anything to the equipment covered in the list of stuff he had read to me. Then, the shocker. “A technician will come to repair the fault in five days.” FIVE DAYS!! Don’t they know FIVE DAYS is an ETERNITY in today’s Internet world? I could be DEAD in five days. My computer could be obsolete! The whole Internet could be last-century-passé in five days. Even the magical iPad could be old news. Good grief. I am going to have to fill my days with endless games of mindless computer Solitaire to keep my skills sharp since my only alternative is to use my dial-up modem plugged into the telephone jack and suffer download times that are measured in whole … minutes. And that, my friends, is a fate worse than…

…Words fail me. There’s no way to describe that fate.

Friday, July 30

A past life mission

About 8,000 years ago I was a nit-picking mosaic maker in Egypt. My project at the time was a huge floor in a temple that had a very intricate design rendered in tiny mosaic pieces. I know, I know, nothing like that has ever been found by modern archaeologists, but that’s simply because they haven’t found it yet. I spent so many years on that project that my knees simply ossified; I had to be lifted off the floor after a day’s hard labor and carried off to the place where I was bathed, dressed in night clothes, fed and given copious amounts of beer before being trundled off to bed.

Initially I was in charge of the project and quickly discovered that none of my apprentices had the required amount of skill. After all, who would want to spend years on his knees putting tiny pieces of stone and ceramic in wet lime in an exacting pattern? We didn’t have projectors or lasers or anything but our instincts to guide our placement. Only I could do it right, I thought, so I took on the entire project myself. It took almost twenty years to finish, and that huge amount of time was approved by the pharaoh because he was young and I had convinced him that I was the only one who would really get it right; it would be finished well before he died and he would get his name on the final product. I was totally forgotten of course, but then I wasn’t Pharaoh.

Oh well. At least the project was well done. Now all that has to happen is for it to be discovered. And since you read about it here first, you’ll know that I was the guy who did the deed. Thank you in advance for your accolades. Much appreciated. Now for a beer.

Tuesday, July 27

Sitting in a meadow…

Whenever I sit in a meadow, I get stuck with a pointy weed seed or a sharp rock or bitten by an angry bug. As these pictures show, it is possible to sit in a meadow without experiencing pain. Hilary’s friend, Brianna, even gets Benjamin to smile, which he’s doing almost all the time according to Hilary.

Sunday, July 25

Meteor crater found using Google Earth

Kamil Crater in Egypt

How amazing—here’s a meteor crater that wasn’t discovered before? It took Google Earth and some inquisitive searchers to find it? Egypt isn’t all that big, and people have been looking for buried cities, pyramids, necropolises, and all that ancient stuff and never found a whole big honkin’ meteor crater? Unbelievable!

Meteor crater in Arizona, at the exact end of the road!

It reminds me of the time I traveled the short road off Interstate 40 to the Meteor Crater in Arizona. The crater was amazing, for sure, but what really impressed me is that the meteor crashed into the earth at the exact end of the road! Sure saved a lot of money building a whole new road to the crater for tourists and oglers to travel. Serendipity, I guess.

Getting tanked

Friday morning a nice man named Tom (nice name) came by and installed a new 500-gallon propane tank for our backup generator. He did a very nice job of placing the tank, rolling out about 70 feet of flexible plastic pipe and sense wire (so you can find the buried pipe electronically) and hooking up regulators at both ends.

We can now let the backup generator turn on whenever it pleases without worrying that one of our smaller 25-gallon bottles might run out mid-need. Life in the foothills—it just keeps getting better all the time.

Now if only our deep-well water pump hadn’t crapped out on the same day! Life in the foothills can be daunting.

Saturday, July 24

The Big Scaredy-Bank

One of America’s largest banks is doing everything it can to dump us as customers. For the first time in our near-30-year relationship with them, they refused an unsecured loan. Small businesses depend on startup cash to get rolling for, in our case, the start of season. During the season, as money comes in, we repay the loan. We’ve done it for years. After grilling us and getting a complete listing of all our assets, and almost refusing to believe that we have so much property and no mortgage, they admitted that we looked good on paper and had a perfect repayment record, but the economy is tough so they refused the loan.

This morning I got an email from the Bank of Cowardly Sheep saying they had put a freeze on our debit cards and wouldn’t lift it until we telephoned them. I called and punched in the account number and verified that we had opened the account in California. I was put on hold. When I finally got a representative, she asked the account number and whether it was opened in California (again). It took her about five minutes to “find” the alleged suspicious behavior—an online bill payment to our satellite Internet provider, one we’ve been paying the same way for at least 20 years, and also doesn’t involve the use of a debit card; it comes directly out of a checking account. I scoffed at that, so she apologized and dug up another suspicious payment—to Costco! We’ve been buying there since 1985! I told her those were ridiculous and she responded that it wasn’t a human judgment; the suspicious activity was discovered by an automated process. I asked if the card could be shut down at any time by a machine. Yes, it could. Without human review first? Yes, it could.

I talked with Karla this morning and told her of this idiocy. “That’s why my card was refused at Shaver Lake last night! I couldn’t believe it!” She was trying to buy fuel for the van.

I’m sure the bank will be alarmed to find so many of its customers leaving for smaller, local banks. I am also sure the big banks will lean on the Congress of Cowards in Washington, DC, to make moving an account from a big bank to a small bank subject to review by a government panel for its effect on the banking system, with the power to refuse a citizen’s right to change banks. Or they may simply put more pressure on small banks to fail earlier and save them the hassle of making a decision.

Wednesday, July 21

Some ditch!

I have until Friday morning to finish a 70-foot-long trench for a new propane line. We ordered a new 500-gallon tank to supply our backup generator. Friday the propane people will come with the new tank and a flexible plastic line that they’ll lay in the trench down to the generator, then they’ll hook up both ends and we will have a steady supply of fuel without having to load 25-gallon bottles onto the truck and truck off to the propane dealer and pay double to get them filled. It’s odd—the propane costs half as much when they drive out our awful road to fill a tank than it does when we take a tank to them. Of course, they’ll be selling us 750 gallons at a time (we have another 500-gallon tank) instead of 75, but still.

My job this week has been to dig the last eight feet of trench and deepen all the rest to the specified 18 inches to meet code. Where I can’t go the full 18, they said I could pour concrete on the line to protect it. They’ll bury a copper wire alongside the plastic line so we can find it with a metal detector if need be.

We didn’t know we would have to use so much standby power, especially in the summer. But solar PV panels really poop out when the weather gets hot. Like about a 30% drop in power! And the trees keep getting bigger and thirstier so I have to run the well pump longer. This new tank and line will make life easier for sure.

Sunday, July 18


From Hilary: FINALLY!! It only took 2.5 months to get a smile picture!

The unsuccessful metamorphosis

It’s a bummer when your wings don’t come out right. It sure has kept me earthbound. This morning I was making my watering rounds and spotted this poor dragonfly trying to get out of its nymph case and become an adult.

The wings were askew and it kept getting its legs caught in them. There were tatters and holes in one wing. That ain’t natural if you want to be able to fly with the amazing skill that dragonflies exhibit. Was it due to global warming? Ultrafine particle pollution? Too much UV? Too much TV? Too much SUV?

I feel so guilty. I tried to help the guy/gal, but I think the damage is done and this dog won’t hunt, to coin a phrase. My miracle-making skills have gotten so rusty I can barely fly anymore myself except in dreams, and even then I only get maybe half a body length off the ground.

Saturday, July 17

What do they have in common?

The residents of Brimfield Massachusetts, New Rochelle New York, and Calhan Colorado share something very rare and special. And I’ll bet the hugely vast majority of those people don’t have a clue as to what it is. Imagine living in such unique places and being completely unaware of their specialness. Do any of my readers have a clue?


While Karla was here for a day, we walked around outside to see how things were going. To our utter surprise, we saw some grapes that were actually maturing unmolested. Usually they get almost ripe then are assaulted by birds, squirrels or wasps and we don’t get to enjoy them. But there right in front of us were two big bunches of them, ripening enough that we were able to pick and eat a couple of them. Will wonders never cease?

Friday, July 16

All wrapped up

Watching Mommy do office work while in bouncy seat, all wrapped up and wearing John Muir Wilderness hat.

What the heck—today’s blog above is written by Hilary.
One thing I envy though, Benjamin is wrapped up against the coolness of the High Sierra while I’m running an air conditioner to fend off the current 105°F, 41°C inferno outside.

Thursday, July 15

Goodbye Miss T

Geronimo (left) and Miss T enjoy a snack

Today we discovered the cold still body of our oldest horse lying in a dry creek bed. Miss T was 38 years old and had suffered an injury to her left hind leg that was healing nicely, then suddenly erupted into an infection that made her lame. In only two days, she went from a horse with a sore spot to a cripple. Karla came home from the lake with some medication to give the horse which would stop the infection from getting worse.

This morning we took the trail to the corral and as we approached the creek saw Miss T lying in a very narrow, steep, cramped part of the creek bed. She had fallen and must have died around midnight. So often old horses suffer for a long time with injuries that can only be kept from advancing, but finally sap their vitality. Miss T suffered for a very short time.

She had a good life. The most affected being is her longtime companion, Geronimo, The World’s Greatest Horse. They were inseparable. Today he hung around the house, as if to plead with us to bring his best friend back. All we could do was console him with carrots and apples and compassion.

Wednesday, July 14

Learnin’ to like it.…

There comes a point in everyone’s life when you’ve got to learn to tolerate some necessary things, like getting used to bathing in a natural hot spring. At the ranch, we have the “cool bath,” a moderately warm pool that is especially attractive to kids. Benjamin got his first dip in the pool yesterday, and so far seems to put up with it without a fight. I hope he gets used to this kind of abuse; he’s got a whole life ahead of him to try anyway.

Lucky kid.

Photo: Hilary Hurley Painter

Grader 2. Tree 0.

This morning before it got too hot outside I drove the road grader down to a place where parts of a very old dead bull pine had fallen across our road. I had managed to get around it with the car the previous day. From the looks of it, it wouldn’t have been worth cutting into firewood. So the thing to do was to simply shove both big chunks off the road.

Our grader is unique in one way; the front end, the “frame” as it’s called, bends to the left or right. This allowed me to line up the dozer blade parallel to the tree part so I could push it without simply spinning it. It was easy to push both pieces off the road just where I wanted them.

Tuesday, July 13

Super palindromic ZIP codes

As a natural followup to yesterday’s 1881 blog, here’s more. What are the smallest and largest ZIP (Zoning Improvement Plan) codes that are perfect palindromes, meaning they read the same when viewed forward, backward, upside-down and mirror image. Once you have them, are there others that fit the criteria? What are the towns with those codes? For all of you outside the US who couldn’t care less, think of something to do while the American readers wrack their brains and flood Google with time-wasting nonsensical queries. For example, find palindromic car prices both before and after the Second World War. Show proof.

Monday, July 12


The last true multi-dimensional invertible reversible palindromic year. Imagine—you can read it backward and forward, you can invert it, you can mirror-image it. You can do anything with it and it still reads 1881. No more perfect palindromic number was ever conceived. Well, maybe 11 or 101 or 181 or 1001 and others, but who remembers those years?

The year 1881 has historical significance. It’s inscribed on the façades of many 129-year-old buildings. It’s going to be a very long time before another perfect palindromic year comes along. You see, it takes ones and zeroes and eights to make multi-palindromic numbers. And we’re not going to be seeing a year like that again until 8008. That’s a long way off; I doubt that too many of us will be witnessing that event. I plan to be elsewhere by then, and I and my spirit buddies probably won’t care about numerals, just lots of laughter.

Hm-m-m—palindromic humor. I’ll have to work on that idea, where the punchline precedes and follows the premise without giving itself away. This could take awhile.…

Sunday, July 11

Sourdough in space

The European Rosetta probe has gotten some pictures of Lutetia, a large (130 km, 80 mile) asteroid orbiting just beyond Mars. The detailed pictures are hoped to provide clues to the birth of the solar system. CNN describes this rock as “deeply pockmarked” and “a very old object.” They say is is shaped “like a big potato.” To me it looks very lightly pockmarked. Old, for sure. But I have seen even small potatoes that resemble this asteroid, and in fact I have a broccoli crown in the fridge right now that looks more like an asteroid than this potato which actually looks more like a slightly melting scoop of butterscotch ice cream. As a matter of fact I have an old natural sponge in the bathroom at this very moment that looks far more like an asteroid than any head of cabbage ever did. More like a cat’s brain, in fact. Or a really over-risen loaf of sourdough bread-to-be. I think I can describe asteroids better than any hack at CNN who simply recycles old asteroid-as-potato garbage. I would never eat a potato that looked like that. Would you?

Saturday, July 10


One of my jobs is to receive emails from people who are going to be hiking the John Muir Trail and want to send a resupply to the Muir Trail Ranch since we’re halfway between Yosemite and Mt Whitney. I then use their name, address, and so on to put together a set of mailing labels and a claim check for their resupply. It is a file they can then print, cut up, and stick on the package. There is a bar code that gets scanned when their package arrives at the ranch and they get an automatically-generated email saying their stuff arrived. When things work, which is most of the time, it eases the workload on everyone involved.

Many of the emails are sent with a “signature,” a listing of the sender’s phone numbers, address, and so on. Some people personalize their signature with a favorite saying or poem, like this one I received today from a woman in Auburn, California:
Listen to the mustn'ts child
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts
The impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves
Then listen close to ME
ANYTHING can happen child

~ Shel Silverstein
Don’t you just love Shel Silverstein?

People don’t read

After years 0f maintaining Web sites for our two businesses (plus those of other people), one thing stands out: [Many] people just don’t read. I get emails and phone calls and snail mail from folks who start out by saying, “I read your page on [subject] and have a few questions.” Then they proceed to ask about the things that are clearly explained on the pages they just mentioned. People send money via our credit card service for things that they are warned to contact us about prior to making a payment, but don’t. I put up a huge bright red headline right before the button they click to make a payment for a boat reservation saying to make a reservation first before clicking the button. We still get payments before reservations from people who apparently don’t see red.

It’s not only Web pages that don’t get read. We have provided a radiotelephone at the Muir Trail end of the lake for people to call for a ferry boat. The instructions for phone use are to press the button to speak, then release the button to listen for a response. It’s a two-way radio, for gosh sakes. But here’s what we sometimes hear: “Boathouse, this is the south landing.” We can hear background noise and talking as the person holds down the transmit button. Soon we hear them saying to their friends, “This thing doesn’t work.” [Tap tap, bang bang.] “Boathouse, this is the south landing. Please answer.” More background noise and talking. Finally we hear someone say, “Look at the sign.” Silence. Then, “Boathouse, this is the south landing.” Then silence, and we answer, “South landing, this is the boathouse. Go ahead.”
“Uh, we have six people here for the next boat.”
“Thank you. We’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

It got so bad I took pictures showing how to use the radio. In picture #1, the hand is holding down the transmit button, with the words “Press to talk.” Picture #2 shows the hand holding the receiver with the fingers off the button, “Release to listen.” The picture is right inside the door to the phone box, hard to miss.

Here’s the part that is most interesting, though. The majority, almost exclusive violators of not following instructions come from one demographic/employment category: Female university professors. Second are physicians and third are attorneys, both genders. Why? My theory is that these people already know everything and aren’t about to waste their time reading instructions. Especially instructions from rubes in the wilderness about a stupid little phone.

The Web page non-readers are mostly from the same categories, judging from the signatures of their emails extolling their titles and honoraria. The butchers, bakers and candlestick makers are easiest to deal with because they take the time to read and understand. They make our lives, and theirs, much simpler.

My most memorable non-reader still makes me laugh. We had a problem with the radio phone, and posted a sign on the phone box saying that it didn’t work. We instructed people to put their backpacks against the lake-facing side of the little building where they wait for the boat. We said we would look for their backpacks with our very powerful binoculars. If we saw them in front of the building we would send the ferry boat across the lake at the regularly scheduled two-hour interval. Simple enough, eh? At nine o’clock one morning I looked for backpacks against the building. There were none. I checked again about ten minutes later. Still none. The boat stayed at home. At eleven o’clock I saw backpacks and took off with the ferry. I picked up the passengers and they got settled in for the ride. Then one of them approached the cab, stuck her head in, and proceeded to read me the riot act. “We waited for TWO HOURS for this boat. We got here before nine o’clock!” I responded that I had looked for their backpacks and didn’t see them at nine o’clock or even ten minutes later.
“When the boat didn’t show up at nine, we took the packs down,” she answered. Either her watch was fast or her action was stupid. Maybe she was simply prevaricating.

When the ferry reached the dock, I tied up and everyone got off. She asked who my supervisor was. “Me,” I answered.
“Who’s in charge of your permit here?” she demanded. I told her.
“Who’s in charge of this forest?” She wouldn’t stop till she knew the name, address and phone number of the guy in charge of the entire Sierra National Forest.

“My uncle is SENATOR Alan Cranston,” she shouted, “and HE’S going to HEAR about this!!”
“He probably won’t respond. He never really answers my letters about getting our ranch road excluded from the wilderness in the upcoming wilderness bill.”
“What do you mean? He has 300 people on his staff answering letters.”
“Yes, I get an occasional piece of boilerplate,” I responded. “And the typewriters they use must be surplus from the Second World War. Senator Hayakawa’s letters look much better, but they’re also just boilerplate.”

She stormed off with her friends(?) who came to pick her up, one of whom said, “Don’t get so worked up. After all, you can never count on public transportation.”

Karla heard the whole exchange from a distance. She said she was glad it wasn’t her driving the boat and getting chewed out. “It was fun,” I said. “I enjoyed it. Maybe I’ll finally get something real from Cranston.”

Senator Cranston never chewed me out. Later he died.

Friday, July 9

Why do people call when I’m away?

I almost dread getting in the car and heading off to Smallville to buy horse feed. When I return, the message “New Voice Mail” is invariably on the phone’s screen. When I check for messages, they almost always were made just two or three minutes after I had left the house.

“Hi. This is Mmft Woobblm and I was just checking to see if you have….”
“Hi, this is Griffmbl Bennidgg and I wanted to know if you need….”
“This is a message for Brejmkl that we’re not coming.…”
“… number is sixoneseventwothreezeroeightfiveonenine and we wanted to find out [mumble, muffle]. Please call back in [muffle] minutes [mumble] my cell battery is dy….”

It’s like someone is watching with binoculars then saying “I see his dust cloud! He just went through the first gate—start calling!” But that couldn’t be because most of the calls are from Massachusetts or Scotland or Vermont which means I’ll be boosting up the long distance bill with my return calls. Over forty bucks last month to return calls with mostly negative responses: “No, we don’t have openings that week.” “No, the boats are all rented that day.” “No, your resupply hasn’t arrived.” “No….”

I’ve tried Call Forwarding to my cell number, but I live in a dead zone that takes at least a half hour to get out of, then is followed by iffy reception and more dead zones. I could forward all the calls to the store at the lake, but everyone there would probably kill me for dumping my calls on them.

Most of the calls that I get in the car come when I’m being followed by either the sheriff or Highway Patrol. I sneakily open the phone in my lap and shout “I got a cop on my tail! Call back in five!” then snap the phone shut and look for a place to pull off the highway. That must instill lots of confidence in the legitimacy of our business! Now that I think of it, nobody ever calls back.

I am not going to wear a dongle on my ear and use Bluetooth because it takes 14 button-presses on my ancient Motorola Razr to connect to it, and I can’t justify buying a spiffy easy-to-use iPhone because my annual talk time is probably about ten minutes, mostly shouting about being followed by cops.

Maybe I can find a phone that would sense my return then play a cheery tune and say, “Bummer, you’ve got voice mail, but you’ve also got a nice cold beer in the fridge!”

Rattler under the porch

On returning from a town trip I noticed the cat was looking at something under the front porch. As I stepped onto the porch a familiar sound erupted. A rattler was under it. Oh well, I took the groceries in and put them away. When I went back outside, the cat had backed away a little, but was still staring intently at the noisemaker.

You can estimate the size of a rattlesnake by the sound it makes. Small ones make a hissing sound, kind of like air leaking from a punctured bicycle tire. Bigger ones can really get your attention, what with their lower frequency and higher decibel count. But this guy—whoa! I stomped the porch and all of a sudden the nails popped and the boards started flapping so violently the entire porch became a blur. It sounded like a fleet of big rigs with their Jake Brakes on, barreling out of control down Interstate 5 on the Bakersfield side of the Grapevine. The cat took off so fast that when he jumped up into a nearby tree he knocked the whole tree over which scared the horses so much they bolted and took out two or three miles of fence. The sparks from their iron shoes set the entire valley ablaze. I jumped in the car and fled. Maybe I’ll come back in a week or two after things cool down a bit. Hope the cat’s okay.

All right, all right, I was just kidding. About the cat, I mean.

Wednesday, July 7

Using ants to tell temperature

Remember when you were a kid and your parents or a teacher told you that you could figure out the temperature by counting the chirps of a cricket over a short period of time then plug that number into a formula and know what the temperature is? Amazingly it worked! Well, here’s another way to figure out how hot it is. Measure the distance covered in two seconds by the little black ants that I can never seem to get rid of when I want to cut off a slice of bread. I will bring out the loaf from the fridge, study the work table top to see if it’s clear of the little buggers, then start to cut. Suddenly an ant appears, running toward the bread. On a hot day they get there a whole lot faster than on a cold day. Noting that fact, I laid out a piece of graph paper with eight divisions per inch in the path of the ants. On my computer, Garage Band has a metronome sound I can crank up really high so I can hear it from the kitchen. Tick…tick…. Here comes an ant! Tick…scurry…tick…. She covered 2.125 inches in 2 seconds (most ants are girls, remember?). The temperature is 78°F, so the formula would be
D x 36.7=T
where D is distance in inches traveled in two seconds, and T is temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. You can round the multiplier to 37 so it’s easier to do this in your head, and you can probably round off the inches too if you’re not really fussy.

You may complain that ants don’t always run. True, sometimes they dawdle when they’re in the midst of something to eat like a dried spill of orange juice. But I’ve noticed that when they’re on graph paper, they scurry.

So there you have it. Some people may object that it’s too hard to carry around graph paper, a metronome, and a calculator to get it really right. Ants may scurry across the paper at an angle, skewing the accuracy. Besides, what about Celsius? True. But then you can always count cricket chirps. Or use my old standby: Count the number of insects a dozen swirling, darting barn swallows catch in a minute and divide by 16. Works every time.

Tuesday, July 6

Can you say DUMB?

Phishing and spamming are everyday occurrences on the Internet. Many of these crooks are sophisticated enough to fool even the experts. But some of them are beneath stupid, like the one above I got in my in basket today. I hovered over the link, "Chase Online" to see what the actual address was that I would connect to. Gaming Gangsters? Are they kidding? Go to the back of the room and put on that conical hat, dummy!

Tar ball found in bag of chips

Near the bottom of my bag of Fritos® corn chips I was surprised to find a tar ball from the oil leak in the Caribbean. Either that or it’s a corn chip that got stuck in the deep fryer and went through several re-cookings. Yeah, that seems more likely since Frito-Lay doesn’t make chips anywhere near the Caribbean and have drastically reduced the petroleum content of their products.

Monday, July 5

A good start

When I heard the rumor that the President’s first response to the oil disaster in the Gulf was to send a bevy of lawyers, I wasn’t appalled as were so many people. In fact, I lauded the effort. It reminded me of the joke about what you would call a dozen lawyers lying dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. Answer: A good start. I was later disappointed to learn that Mr Obama’s lawyers weren’t going to be used to plug the hole.

My encounter with the Secret Service

I can’t remember exactly when this happened, but I guess it could be pinpointed in time if need be. Late 1950s anyway. I was going to college and was a teenager working my first job at a television station in Fresno. I started out as “Assistant to the Art Director” because the guy who got me the job was my high school art teacher and happened to know the TV station’s boss. My art duties consisted mostly of putting together ads for the two TV listings magazines of the era, TV This Week and TV Guide. If I were to see those ads now, I would probably shrink away in embarrassment. I remember once when the station’s General Manager asked me, “Can’t you do anything but cartoons?”

Soon I was assigned duty in the Floor Department, part of the Production Department. Floor duties included hauling props into the studio, setting up commercials, running microphone lines, aiming lights and holding cue cards for the announcers. Everything was live; videotape for local TV stations was still on the horizon. It was a hoot, and I loved the in-the-moment intensity of it all.

One day we had a remote broadcast from the Rainbow Ballroom in downtown Fresno. The occasion was Vice President Richard Nixon speaking about some farm stuff. (I never paid attention to the significance of an event, only its production values.) It was a rainy day. We set up our black-and-white camera at the opposite end of the ballroom from the speaker’s podium. The camera had four lenses on its turret; a 50mm, a 90mm, a 135mm and a nine-and-a-half-incher. The 9.5 was the one that really was a “tight” lens and could frame just about anything at a distance. But it wasn’t enough. We needed the seventeen. I was told to run out to our remote truck in the alley behind the ballroom and get the 17. The 17 was huge. About five inches in diameter and over a foot-and-a-half long. I picked the 17 out of its velvet-lined box, tucked it under my official KJEO Channel 47 jacket to keep the rain off, and darted back through the rear door of the ballroom.

It’s hard to recall exactly what happened next. I was thrown against the wall by two big men. One of them jerked the lens out of my grasp. A voice demanded “WHAT’S THIS?!” They thought I was running in with a bomb. They quickly figured out who I was and what I was doing, but despite that one of them told me in no uncertain terms, “NEVER run when the Vice President is here!”

Lesson learned. I have never since run in the presence of a vice president of anything.

Sunday, July 4


There are 166 bizarre non-Photoshopped photos in an article here in today’s Los Angeles Times. This is just a sampling.

Room to grow

It’s pretty amazing that we can now see extrasolar planets directly like the one shown above its star in this photo taken in 2008. Gives us hope for sure since we’re getting so crowded on this planet and need room for expansion. Only 500 light years away, this gigantic planet is still very young and therefore very hot. Give it time to cool and build up your strength since it’s estimated to be eight times more massive than Jupiter and will surely tax your ability to stand up. But by the time we’re ready to go there maybe we’ll have developed ways to get around by crawling. Or oozing. Of course if everybody is lying on his/her belly or back, we’ll take up more room than if we stand, but hey, on a planet that big there’s plenty of room.

Get a load of the catchy name for this planet’s star—1RXS J160929.1-210524! Astronomers sure could use a new naming scheme. May I suggest Ball-O-Fire or maybe Foton Faktory or Super Giganto Shine-o. As usual, click the photo to enlarge, and thanks to Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Credit: Gemini Observatory, D. Lafreniere, R. Jayawardhana, M. van Kerkwijk (Univ. Toronto)

Friday, July 2

Absence makes the heart…

Here I sit before the computer writing about my new feelings now that my two good friends, Hilary and Benjamin, have left for the high mountains where they’ll be for most of the summer and into the early autumn. I miss them both already. I’ll be missing Ben’s remarkable growth, both in body and personality. In the past few weeks, he has come to recognize and actually like me. Every morning I would smile at him and he would beam back at me with a little coo. Wow. That’s bonding. I’ll miss Hilary’s total devotion to Ben, and remarkably buoyant spirit even when Ben’s demands get pretty strident. Being Ben’s exclusive source of affection, care, and food, she is the perfect mother in my estimation, one whom I would love to have had as my own.

Two beautiful spirits, gone for awhile. I’ll adjust, but it will take time.