Thursday, September 30

I just love hard work!

Contractor Kim is ready to fill a 5-foot-deep by 18" footing!

Hard work—I could watch people do it all day. Karla and I took off at around 7 this morning and drove down to the neighbor’s where there was going to be some concrete pouring going on. (Hey, it’s more exciting than watching paint dry!) We were interested in seeing how the real pros do it, since in our lives we’ve poured and finished a lot of concrete foundations and slabs ourselves. Turns out they do it pretty much the same way, only with such coordination and teamwork and skill that we feel almost stupid. Kim, the contractor, put together a team of guys who worked like a well-oiled machine; no missteps, no blunders, just relentless hard work and supreme craftsmanship. We were mightily impressed as the workers kept up with the relentless chain of six or seven ready-mix trucks that came in and poured their “mud.”

A really skilled team impressed us with their professionalism

The contractor is acquainted with many of the people we know around the area, and was the person who built the new handicap access ramp in front of the post office up at Huntington Lake, where Karla picks up hiker resupply packages for the high ranch every week during the summer. “So that was you,” they almost simultaneously said on recognizing each other. “You’re the woman who was rolling out those big bins of 5-gallon buckets.” “You’re the contractor who put in that beautiful ramp!”

Smoothing, smoothing, smoothing…

He knows Randy, the man we will very likely hire to pre-build the panels that will make up our new house, and has done the final construction for him on many projects. “I’ve known Randy forever,” he says. “I put up a near-impossible huge house for him in Oakland where we had to use a crane with a hundred-foot reach to lift those panels up to the top of a hill.”

Some of Randy’s pre-constructed house panels have been shipped clear off to Lebanon and Japan. “Randy’s the most honest man. He’ll give you full value for your money, and he uses the very best stuff in all his houses,” Kim said. I think Kim will be the man who builds our new house. But first, we have to re-do the plans for something smaller than our designer did for us a few years back. And we’ll have to figure out where we want some beautiful concrete work done outside around the place.

Tuesday, September 28

“…and in this corner,…”

It’s like the preliminary routine before a prizefight. Two opponents checking each other out before the bout to come. One, named Boots, feels uneasy defending her spot in one of the windows, glaring across the void to the stairs on the opposite side of the room at her adversary, Raven.

Raven is not happy; he’s been king of the house for years now without challenge. Boots is the official High Ranch Mouser, being mostly an outdoor cat, surviving by using her wits. Raven is well fed by his human staff, with an occasional bunny for variety in his diet.

It was going to be really hot today so I decided to let Boots come inside where it’s much cooler. Later she, along with her sister Florence, will be packed off to their winter lair in Death Valley where they become indoor cats at the Furnace Creek Ranch. But for now, we may witness the battle to decide who owns this place after all. “Can’t we all just get along?” was the lament by Rodney King, the recipient of a beating by Los Angeles police that started a race war in Los Angeles several years ago. Cats don’t get along without a fight first, kind of like horses. Our herd consists of half of the horses who hate the other half of the horses, especially when it comes to who gets to eat first.

It’s a good thing that people are so compatible and get along so well with each other.

Sunday, September 26

The migration

Benjamin was strapped into his car seat for another long day of traveling. He mostly sleeps during these trips so he’ll be missing some spectacular scenery. I’m sure he will have many more chances to see the country as he grows up and gets to look outside more.

Hilary loaded Bill and Rocky, two gigantic mules and a large yellow horse, appropriately named Butter (if they get another yellow horse, will her name be Margie?), into their trailer. At the same moment, the crew at the high ranch was leaving with horses for their day-long ride over Paiute Pass.

Hilary and company will cruise through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass to North Lake where they’ll meet up with the ranch crew. From there, it’s onward to Death Valley for the winter.

BIG rock

Ben is introduced to what will probably be called Washing Machine Rock, the big stone that Luke dug up when making a flat place for a couple of storage sheds. Hilary’s first word pair was uttered at the house at Florence Lake when she looked out the door and exclaimed, “Big rock!” when she saw an enormous granite boulder nearby.

Friday, September 24

Coming home (again!)

One more trip down to the low country! Benjamin has been a well-traveled kid, what with a trip down to the foothill ranch after being in the high country. He just got back from Furnace Creek in Death Valley after traveling with Mom and a big load of hay. Then he will be going over Tioga Pass again to DV! It’s a good thing he has very functionable Eustachian tubes and doesn’t get plugged up in the ears with all the elevation changes. Almost two miles up, then almost 200 feet below sea level and everywhere in between.

Hilary came by today with quite an inventory of stuff: Three horses, two cats, Ben, and a golf cart that needs some repair. For her next trick, she’s going to round up a couple of mules and take them to North Lake, on the other side of the Sierra. To get there she has to drive through Yosemite; I could think of a worse way to spend some driving time. But in the meantime, she gets a whole day off to spend here at home. Time to relax!

Thursday, September 23

Equal time

It almost escaped my attention, but today’s daylight hours and nighttime hours are equal, twelve and twelve. I was getting suspicious you see, but today’s picture of the sun from the Astronomy Picture of the Day site confirmed it. This means we still have the opportunity to perfect our tans with the favor soon going to the southern hemisphere’s inhabitants. I remember in 1964 getting the fastest tan of my life while lying on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise as we were on the home stretch of a historic world cruise. Three nuclear-powered surface ships went all the way around the world without taking on any supplies. The food was getting a little strange-looking and once the ship’s medical officer got on the 1MC (the public address system) and said that tinges of green in the butter were harmless. One day everything served for breakfast was orange-colored!

Anyway, back to the tan. It occurred off the coast of Brazil. We left a port call at Rio de Janeiro and were inspired by the Girl From Ipanema and just had to get as tan as possible. Some of the crew just got burned instead, but that happens to guys from the New York and New Jersey area—it’s just not in their genes to tan. We west coasters gloated about our ability to color up in mere minutes. I got at least a shade tanner in only a half hour, then tanned the other side for another half hour. The following day they went back to putting airplanes all over the flight deck. The party was over but it was fun while it lasted.

Photo credit: NASA / Goddard / SDO AIA Team

Wednesday, September 22

Something’s gotta die…

Loyal reader Pete S. brought this to my attention. I thought I was being good buying the e-versions of books for the Kindle since it results in fewer dead trees. Somehow there is something missing in the experience, though. So why not enhance this cold sheet-of-lead-feeling reader by wrapping it in dead cow skin? Leather e-reader covers! Now, that’s more like it! The cover shown here even depicts what looks like a dead tree, fulfilling the need for killing at least something in order to read a book.

Cover photo:

Tuesday, September 21

Easing into the 21st Century

I just bought a Kindle. The cheap one. It’s really neat. Here it’s shown in front of a few books I bought recently. Volume-wise, it is definitely less, but density-wise it’s a bit more. There is an odd feeling to its mass; I would compare holding it to holding a similar-sized thin sheet of lead. If it were thicker with the same weight, it might feel more “natural.” I’ll get used to it, I’m sure.

The type is clear and sharp. The contrast between the letters and the background is good, with the letters being not quite black and the background being not quite white, but enough of each to work nicely. I understand this is their sharpest and most-contrasty display. There are six books on it already, books that I had downloaded onto my iPod and iMac previously and only two of which I actually paid for. You can synchronize and share your books freely between all your Kindle readers without extra charge, and the new Kindle picked up on the exact page that I had last read on my computer. It seems that books published in the early 1920s and before aren’t copyright-protected anymore, and Amazon lets you have them for free. Many new authors let Amazon give their work away at no charge, just to get exposure.

I am faced with a dilemma, though. In the past I have sent books up to the ranch after reading them, thus making the ranch’s library more interesting for the guests. Does this mean I will have to buy a bunch of Kindles for the lounge up there, all registered in my name so I can have enough books for folks to read? Or should I keep buying dead-tree editions with my Kindle editions? One of the attractions of the ranch is that people can get away from technology like phones and television for a bit and really relax and unwind. Will a Kindle upset that? And if someone wants to read while soaking in a hot spring bath, will it be wise for them to do it with a Kindle? A regular book can be tossed into the clothes dryer to bring it back after a soaking, but I think a Kindle would be toast. Cold, toxic-waste toast.

I’ll have to think about this for awhile.

Monday, September 20

Time to revive a legend!

A pile of peach pits…

a broken branch…

fewer and fewer peaches…

raccoon tracks…


Let’s revive the Legend of Davy Crockett and give every kid in the United States a genuine coonskin cap!

Sunday, September 19

Scary book

Yesterday I bought the Amazon Kindle edition of a book that is pretty frightening while at the same time assures us that we’ll survive if we keep our wits about us and hang in there and take the authors’ advice. It’s about bubbles, like the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble and so on. This book predicts the popping of the government debt bubble and, worst of all, the dollar bubble.

The authors, two brothers who are in the financial advice field and a third co-author, wrote another book a few years back when things were rosy and everyone was getting drunk on the rising values of real estate, taking out home equity loans and living high on the hog. In that book, the authors predicted the popping of the real estate bubble, and the banking and financial industry bubble. They certainly gained credibility when their predictions came true. Their latest book explains how they make their predictions, and makes a compelling case for the collapse of our entire economic system. I haven’t heard too much about this book in the normal media, probably because it is so scary a premise that nobody wants to hear about it, so it’s being ignored.

While they’re not into playing a blame game, the authors make the case that bumbling government policies, greed on the part of bankers and stock brokerages, and euphoria on the part of ordinary citizens both here and abroad brought on these messes. They advise us to get out of most stocks but not out of the stock market. There are opportunities to not only survive, but actually prosper. But in the meantime.…

I’m only halfway through the book. Last night when I went to bed, I locked the doors, closed the curtains, unplugged everything that had a glowing LED, turned off the lights and crawled under the blankets. I left the cat outside to guard the house.

Saturday, September 18

Still working on it…

Benjamin enjoyed seeing himself on the computer screen and decided to work on his Smiling Buddha impression even more. His mom, Hilary, encourages working on impersonations. She wrote, “I showed him your blog and he tried to do a better Buddha.”

Friday, September 17

Working on it…

…on his Smiling Buddha impression, that is. When Benjamin grows some teeth, he’ll be even better at it. Wait and see.…

Thursday, September 16

The stupidest company I’ve ever dealt with

Their slogan is a lie.

We have three accounts with an Internet provider that delivers via satellite. Our three business locations don’t have access to normal DSL via telephone line, and certainly not fiber. Somehow I picked HughesNet to provide our service. The company has a policy that if you use more than your allotted 200 to 375 or whatever megabytes of allowance (depending on your plan) in a single day, they reduce the speed of your Internet connection to roughly that of a dial-up service for an entire 24 hours. No matter if you used far less than your allotment in previous days, just go over in a single 24-hour period and you’re toast.

Recently I was fascinated to watch a very long video of a TED conference where Apple Inc’s Steve Jobs was being interviewed by Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. I was really getting an understanding of the philosophy of this most-admired and most successful CEO in America (98% of Apple employees give him the highest marks, more than any other top boss in the country). Our Apple stock closed today at $276.57, so naturally I was very interested. Near the end of the video, the stream stopped and I got a warning that I had exceeded my 375MB for the day. Bummer. I couldn’t watch the conclusion.

The following day I logged on and noticed that I was being punished by the idiotic dial-up-speed policy. So I called their toll-free number to see if I could do something about it. After navigating their menus “Press 2, Press 3…” I got hold of someone in either the Philippines or India whose English was not just a second language, but maybe a fifth. It turned out that I had violated not just one, but two of the company’s policies. First, I exceeded their allotment of megabytes. Second, it happened to be the day they automatically billed a credit card for payment for their service. Double whammy! The credit card had been spammed by some bad guys a few weeks ago and HughesNet didn’t have my new card number. I gave them the new number and what happened next defies logic. This non-English speaker started to read to me the entire contract of service, pausing after each three-minute-long paragraph of arcane legalese to ask me if I agreed to the terms. After several paragraphs that included how to contact them by phone or by sending an email or a letter to an address in Germantown Virginia I said STOP! THIS IS RIDICULOUS TO HAVE TO GO THROUGH FOR A SIMPLE CHANGE OF A CREDIT CARD NUMBER! I told the rep that I absolutely hated her company and its idiotic policies. (A month ago I had to sit through one hour and forty-five minutes with a bumbling inexperienced tech idiot in India and was really fired up.) She of course apologized and said it was required that I agreed to the “new” arrangement. I told her that giving a new credit card number was not like setting up a whole new account. I told her that she was working for a company run by idiots. I really unloaded on her. I was really steamed. I hope she goes back to being a basket weaver. It will be better for her mental health.

In contrast, later in the day I contacted the billing department of The Economist, a magazine that renews annually by billing my credit card. I gave them the new number. They thanked me and wished me a nice day. The transaction was done in maybe two minutes. The HughesNet call took over a half hour.

I am definitely going to switch to another Internet provider when the current contracts expire. I know of one that averages users’ needs and won’t shut them down if they exceed their allotment on a single day. It means investing in all-new equipment, but at least I get out of having to talk to the Philippines or India when I have a problem. I hope.


I was watering the lemon tree today when a skinny little praying mantis leapt out from a small dead oak branch. He had a tinge of green on his mostly-beige body, so he was pretty noticeable. But his companion, a much bigger and much fatter missus mantis stayed behind and only moved a little bit, catching my eye. I went to get my camera and came back out to see that the little guy hadn’t moved, but the bigger one had disappeared. Praying mantises aren’t really fast movers when they’re stalking prey, so I figured she hadn’t gone too far. But it took almost ten minutes to finally catch sight of her again, and that was only because I shook the branch to make her move. Her body color so closely matched the oak leaves I was amazed. If it hadn’t been for her spiky front legs, she would be nearly impossible to spot.

In the upper photo her abdomen is the dark spot near dead center.
Here she is just slightly to the right of center.

How do I know she’s a she? First, it’s egg-forming season which would explain her bulging belly. Second, she was so big compared to her companion. Of course, she could be a he who just ate a whole rat.

Wednesday, September 15

Making a flat place

For years we have been buying hay in the fall for use in the winter. If we buy a whole trailer load of around 200 bales, we save money. But storing that much hay has been a problem since we were doing it on pallets covered with a large tarpaulin. Mice, rabbits, and even frogs take residence in the hay making it a bit less palatable to the horses, I’m sure. (The frogs like the little rainwater puddles that form in the folds of the tarp.)

Yesterday Luke laid out a new area for a couple of large storage containers that we plan to buy. Using a rented Bobcat, he shoved dirt and rocks around while I manned the nozzle on the end of 400 feet (122 meters) of garden hose I had laid out the day before to control dust and perhaps soften the dirt/clay/rock soil mixture. One part of the project that took the longest was extricating a rock that eventually came out after a couple of hours’ work. What was left of it was almost as big as a washing machine.

Anytime we want to put up a structure we have to make a level place for it. On our entire two-mile-long piece of property there are maybe five or six natural level places, each the size of a postage stamp. Our new level spot is the size of 103,680 stamps! It could hold quite a stamp collection, but will have to settle for a couple of hay-filled aluminum freight containers instead.

Tuesday, September 14

Wishing stickers

Several years ago I had an idea: All the nifty stickers that come on fruits and vegetables are usually thrown away with the peelings; why not save them and make some art in the process? Thus started the collection on the end walls of our kitchen cabinets, where the colorful little stickers were stuck. To justify this nonsense, we invented the idea that once we got the entire surface covered, we can move down the road and build a new house! That was an exciting idea, but a bit difficult to make happen the way we wanted. These little stickers are made for only one purpose, and that is to identify the fruit they’re stuck on to enable a grocery clerk to check you out quickly at the check stand. The adhesive only has to last a few days or weeks before its purpose is fulfilled and the sticker can fall off if it wants.

Kitchens get humid, then dry, repeatedly. This takes a toll on little stickers’ adhesive. Some of them have better adhesive and have hung on for near decades; others have given up and gone down the drain with the dishwater. Onion stickers are impossible to remove with their adhesive exposed, and stickers on peaches won’t re-stick. Many stickers are unusable to us as a result.

New patches of wood are exposed as they fall off, making our wish to cover the entire surface seem unachievable. Does this mean we don’t get a new house? Or should we save up some money instead of pasting stickers on a cabinet and hoping for a miracle?

Monday, September 13

Too big to do the work themselves

We have dealt with a large, huge actually, bank for about 30 years. They offered good service during that time including fraud protection in case our accounts were invaded by bad guys, which never happened until a few weeks ago. It’s reassuring that they’re on guard in our favor. Several months ago at their local “banking center” they installed new ATMs. These machines were touted as being easier to use. Instead of putting cash and checks into envelopes to make a deposit, the user could simply slide them into a slot and the machine would miraculously read the values of the checks. Trouble is, the machine could not deal with most people’s scrawls; it took a huge amount of time while not being very good at reading the amounts. So the customer stands there while the machine groans and beeps and makes an idiot of itself, then finally asks the customer to input the amounts manually.

…or slower!

What used to be a quick transaction was now taking at least ten times as long to accomplish. People line up behind a depositor, waiting and waiting. What the too-big-to-fail bank’s ATM is doing is making the customers do the work once done by bank employees—inputting the values of the checks being deposited—a great time- and money-saving tactic on the part of the bank.

I received a fraud alert from the big bank; someone had spammed my debit card. They canceled the card and told me I could get a temporary card at the banking center. I did so. To activate the card I had to go to its ATM and do something. I decided to made a deposit of $20 to my account. I put a fresh nice-looking $20 bill in the drawer and the machine almost bit it in half! I re-tried, placing the bill very precisely onto the cold steel plate in its nasty maw. The machine slammed its door and made the awfullest paper shredder sound, like it was tearing the bill into bits. Grinding, grinding, grinding. It went on for way too long. I was thinking I had lost my twenty when it finally declared that my deposit was accepted.

We are in a transition period, moving personal and business accounts from the big bank to a small local bank. Only minutes earlier I had made a painless deposit using a deposit slip and envelope at the really old ATM of our too-small-to-matter bank. It went so fast I was astonished. Boom! Over! Done! Go away and enjoy life! The small bank even provides huge shade trees to cool the parking spaces. The people inside the branch know my name. They provide a comfy chair in a private nook when I make a merchant’s deposit, and count the money by hand! The interior of the building is spacious and very attractive with a big walk-in fireplace set into one of the all-stone walls. There’s a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal on the table in the lobby, along with other newspapers. I haven’t seen any cookies and milk yet, but I won’t be surprised if they show up.

Another small bank in town has doggy treats if you bring your dog. It reminds me of the toys that accompany fast food kids’ meals. I can imagine a customer driving past the doggy bank and being nagged by Fido to stop and go in. Is that the bank’s intention? Hm-m-m.

I fervently hope the small bank can keep its identity and not get swallowed up by some unfeeling behemoth. The world needs more banks, not fewer.

Sunday, September 12

In defense of dirty windows (and old computers)

Imagine how the above picture would look if the window were spotlessly clean. A dull, boring, out-of-focus shot of a tree’s foliage and a big granite boulder. I haven’t washed any windows all summer. They preserve a history of what’s happened: bird splats on the outside, bug splats on the inside, spider potty, fly dung, everyday human abode grime. It’s a chronicle of LIFE! An archaeologist’s dream window.

I do lots of things that future archaeologists will love me for. First, I resist the temptation to throw really cool things away. I have my first computer, a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, in its original box, a machine that was the bee’s knees, the cat’s pajamas in the early 1980s. It had 16 kilobytes of memory, programs and data were stored on an audio cassette recorder, and it displayed through a modulator on either channel 2 or 3 on an old television set. I taught myself programming in Basic using that computer.

A Commodore Amiga 2500 is next in the lineup of saved stuff, a breakthrough computer that could drive a display to show an astonishing 1,024 colors, four times as many as other computers. Even today there are Amiga aficionados who revere its simplicity and brilliance in design. Maybe they can make me an offer. I still have a Canon computer that came with a gargantuan hard drive—40 megabytes! And one of the most maddening operating systems, Windows 3.1. My first Apple computer, a Power PC 8500, was so badly made that I had nearly all of its innards replaced under warranty. (Steve Jobs hadn’t yet returned to Apple.) I joked that the only thing left that was original was the paint. I kept adding memory chips to make it run faster. Laine, the very smart (and very attractive) woman who helped me so much at her Apple shop in Fresno once asked me why I wanted to buy even more RAM. “Tom, you already have forty-eight megabytes!” Over time and after spending gobs of money I managed to boost its memory to over 170 megabytes! The computer itself cost over $4,000 which included a mouse. The keyboard was another $150. The color monitor was $1400. There must have been some powerful motivation at the time to spend so much, but I forget why. Glad I did it, though. Twelve-year-old daughter Hilary used it to write her book, Never a Dull Moment. We’ve been Apple fans ever since.

Back to the original premise of future archaeologists and anthropologists loving guys like me, I can only warn you to not try this at home. Most people don’t have as much space as I do to fill with life’s detritus. But those who do will be loved by future scholars of artifacts. So my advice to you if you want credit: Put your name on everything! And stop washing your windows.

Saturday, September 11

Follow-up on counterfeiting

Several years ago the US Treasury decided to make American money harder to counterfeit. They completely redesigned the paper currency and introduced the now-ubiquitous polyester thread sandwiched between the two sheets of paper that make up every denomination except the one-dollar bill (See? I told you that’s the one to go after!). Hold the bill up to the light and you can see USA 10 or USA 50 or whatever printed on the thread depending on the denomination. Also the thread glows under ultraviolet light, in a different color for each denomination. They added a watermark to the paper repeating the portrait featured in the central engraving. Subtle colors of ink are used to print faint images in the background that are very difficult or impossible to duplicate with an ink-jet printer, or any other printer for that matter. Commonly-used computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, once the counterfeiter’s ally, now have currency-detecting features that disable the printing function. We’re screwed.

I read an article that referred to all the counterfeit-foiling features of the new money. A treasury official noted everything mentioned above, and concluded with: “And we shifted the presidents’ portraits to the left, off-center.” Whoa! That was the topper, the killer to any counterfeiting effort! They put the portrait off-center! I can just imagine the outrage and upset from all the world’s counterfeiters. They must have thrown their hands in the air and said, “I quit! They moved the portrait off-center! That’s WAY too hard to copy!”

Friday, September 10

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Recently I was reading about the production of paper money. United States currency is printed on special paper made by only one company using methods they never divulge. It has a distinct feel, and can be easily recognized by people who handle lots of currency, like bank tellers and store clerks. If you were to try to counterfeit US money with different paper, it could be detected by feel alone. So counterfeiters often bleach a lower value bill and print a higher value on that paper. There are ways to detect the counterfeit without too much effort, but the feel remains the same and most people don’t notice the fraud.

In 1865 President Abraham Lincoln created the Secret Service to find counterfeit bills and their makers. These days they don’t bother much with monetary denominations below $5 or $10, putting their main effort into catching 20s and up. And this is where a golden opportunity comes in. They never look for counterfeit $1 bills. You could bleach a bunch of fives and make a killing in ones without ever being caught! What could be safer? Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Sometimes I think counterfeiters aren’t very bright.

Here’s a more involved way to get into counterfeiting that nobody else has thought of either. Make up a phony currency from a country that doesn’t even exist, like the 100 gomer note of Boogalü, an imaginary middle-Asian country. Make the bills attractive and colorful, maybe featuring pictures of kittens, rainbows, spotted mushrooms, and unicorns. Go to a small rural bank with a bunch of bills to exchange for dollars. The teller will have never heard of such a banknote, so—and this is the really clever part—you pull out your iPad or smartphone and call up a Web site that lists current values of various countries’ money. Since you’re the creator of the site you can pick any value you want for Boogalüese money and publish it there. Let’s say you decide that 100 gomers is equal to $50, which certainly sounds reasonable. Most people believe what they see on the Internet, so you can walk out of the bank with as much money as you want. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

Thursday, September 9

What the…?

An artist friend of mine once told me, “Collect enough of anything and you can make something interesting out of it.” Another friend volunteers at a recycling center and for years saved wine corks for me. I am now the proud owner of several cubic feet of corks, but still haven’t figured out what to do with them.

Can you guess what this obelisk in Santa Rosa, California is made of? Go here to find out.

Photo credit: Ilana Spector

Wednesday, September 8

Tar weed nuts

Bet you didn’t know this—when the weather gets hot, the tar weed around here sprouts nuts!

I was mystified on first seeing this strange phenomenon. I noticed that the nuts would suddenly fall off the tar weed when I approached; I never even touched the plant! Strange indeed. Then I noticed that some of the nuts actually flew off straight up in the air! Even stranger. Then I noticed the nuts looked just like grasshoppers, for camouflage perhaps, I reasoned.

On a very hot day the ground temperature can soar to the point where no small animal can survive. Insect-type animals have the choice of either burrowing down to where it’s cooler or climbing up to where it’s cooler. Thus we have hot-day tar weed nuts.

This year’s crop of grasshoppers is enormous. Driving along on our unpaved road I run into patches of them, usually in shady areas, that explode into the air. It’s almost like driving along the bottom of a pan of popping corn. If the car’s windows are rolled down, as mine are until I decide that getting the air conditioning fixed is really worth almost $2,000, they come flying into the car in great numbers. One time a grasshopper landed on one of the lenses of my sunglasses. That was a startle! I thought I was being attacked by a dragon.

Mother nature strikes balances all the time. Since we had lots of rain last winter, we got lots of grass. So she counters that abundance with lots of grasshoppers. Keeping things in balance, you see.

Tuesday, September 7

Panel-washing hazard

The solar panels on our storage building need a bath, but Karla is at the lake and won’t let me go up onto a slippery wet metal roof two stories off the ground unless she’s around to call for a rescue helicopter in case I fall. That’s never made sense to me; by the time a helicopter arrived I’d have already hit the ground!

Monday, September 6

Horse sense?

Every morning two of our older horses are fed some supplements to their usual dry grass. It never fails that they simply can’t wait and almost run me over to get at the bucket of grain and stuff before I have a chance to dump it into their feed tub. Then, when they’ve finished eating every last tiny morsel, they nose around and tip the tub over to see if maybe there’s more. There never is. They always try. It never works. That doesn’t stop them. Maybe, just maybe it’ll work this time, they think. It never does. They always try. It never works.…

I read somewhere that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again expecting a different result. Does that tell you something about horses? Just sayin’.…

(Horse-loving commenters: I have my armor on, ready for the onslaught. Fire away!)

Sunday, September 5

Mommy! No more ghost stories!

Photo of Benjamin by Hilary Painter

Omigosh! I’m four already!

Months, that is!

Photo of Benjamin by Hilary Painter

We’re rich!

Yesterday was another in a string of hot days here, a touch over 100°F (38°C) so I ran the backup generator to fill the batteries of the solar power system. Hot days mean low power from solar panels, and I wanted to give the new well water pump a tryout. I ran the pump for about four hours and got a nearly-full water tank! Down just a bit less than two feet from the top, that means we got about 1,800 gallons (6,800 liters) of water! Finally I can start feeding all the trees and plants what they need to get through this hot spell.

I can flush the toilet after every use! I can take a shower (whether I need one or not)! I can brush my teeth! And everything around here will smell so much nicer.

Saturday, September 4

Eating out of the palm of his hand

Neighbor Bill alerted me to this. He figures he’s feeding around 560 hummers every day at his place, and has counted up to 50 at a time at the feeders. We stopped feeding up here because the birds would land in our quince bushes, low to the ground, and Raven the cat would grab them for snacks.

Oftentimes when I’m watering plants from a hose nozzle, the little birds approach and hover near the spray, darting through it to get either a bath or maybe a cool-down. Watch the YouTube video which shows a man feeding a hummingbird from his hand. He dyed the food red to attract them, since that’s their favorite food color. I have seen them approach red jar lids, red rubber bands, and occasionally even some red Chinese.

Friday, September 3

Pump woes

This morning a little after 7 the pump doctors arrived to see what could be done for the patient. Our well pump was not producing what it should, so it was pulled. It’s a Grundfos pump, supposedly top-of-the-line stuff according to a ranch guest who happened to be the CEO of the American manufacturer in Clovis, California (their main plant is in Denmark). After talking with him over a several-day period I was convinced that we would get a nice long life from a Grundfos. It lasted a little over five years before giving up the ghost.

The two workers pulled out 23 20-foot lengths of pipe to get to the pump, then added five more pieces and a new non-Grundfos pump and stuck everything back down the hole. This time a sand filter about four feet long was added. It seems there is a lot of gritty sand near the top of the well that drifts down and was probably what wore out the pump to start with. The whole operation took about six hours.

Some stats: The depth of the well is just shy of 1,000 feet.
The static water level is at 326 feet.
The new pump is at 560 feet.
The bill for all this will knock me off my feet.

More stats: Our old pump drew 1,700 watts. The new one uses 2,700 watts. The wire size down the well had to jump from #10 to #8 (fatter). We’re going to need more solar panels! Or pay PG&E, the local utility, $104,800 to run power up to our house.

I think we’ll stick with solar power.

Thursday, September 2

Glory be!

Years ago Karla and I were hanging around the Mariposa Airport, a 3,300-foot (1 kilometer) strip in the foothills north of where we wanted to buy some property. We met a park ranger and his wife who had just landed in their Cessna 210, a nice big fat six-place single-engine airplane that they had lucked into owning. (That’s the only way to get an airplane if you worked for the National Park Service back in the 1970s.) He had just finished testing new radios and navigation gear that he had picked up for a song from a brand new crashed Piper aircraft. (It was a test flight; the test pilot bailed out and survived.)

They loved their airplane and could hardly wait to share it with flying enthusiasts, which we were at the time. They gave us a ride and we flew north from the airport over the gold country of 49’er fame. There was some ground fog in low places, and looking down we were surprised to see the plane’s shadow surrounded by a circular rainbow. It’s called a glory, which is nice to see in a picture like the one above, but even better in real life.

Dan and Elaine were their names. I wonder if they still have that great airplane. Those things never wear out if you keep up the maintenance. The FAA once said that an unpressurized single-engine small airplane should literally last forever. If it doesn’t crash, that is. And even then it comes back as thousands of nice shiny new beer cans. I’ll drink to that.

Photo: Nick Bradley via

Wednesday, September 1


When I first saw this picture after reading about it, I said “Wow!” out loud with nobody to hear me but the cat. And even then, the cat was outside where I doubt if he even heard me. You might ask what is so special about this picture; we’ve seen hundreds like it from the Hubble Space Telescope and other sources. The reason I said Wow is that this picture was taken from the ground right here on Earth—by an amateur astronomer! In Australia, of all places. I didn’t know they even had astronomers, just outbackers, boomerangs and wombats. (Go ahead, Susan. Tear me a new one.) Some observers are calling this picture the finest ever by an amateur astronomer. Give it a click to view a larger version.

I found it on where they post a lot of amateur pix of astronomical things, though their emphasis is mainly on what’s happening on the sun. The photographer, Anthony Wesley, is a world-famous amateur in astrophotography circles.