Monday, January 31

Discovering new forms of edibles

Hilary captioned this photo “Discovering rocks for the first time at the Teahouse.” Ben is finding one of the favorite foods of little kids: small, smooth rocks. Later I’m sure he’ll find one of my favorite foods when I was his age: Just Plain Dirt. Moms hate these discoveries, but hey—it’s all part of growing up. For both kids and moms.

As an aside, when Hilary bought her new camera, she ordered a very special lens. A wise choice! Look at the shallow field of focus—blurred in the foreground and everywhere behind Ben, directing the viewer’s attention to the main subject. The right lens can turn an ordinary snapshot into a work of art. Congrats, Hilary!

“They POP when you squeeze ’em!”

Hilary’s birthday was Saturday. Our package arrived a little late, on Monday. In the package was probably 20 feet of bubble wrap, and much to Ben’s delight, bubble wrap makes the best NOISES! Dog Bella, in the background, is waiting for Ben to stop being so darned delighted.

Sunday, January 30

From the source…

The Arab News network, Al Jazeera, is not available to viewers in the United States except in Washington, D.C., and local markets in Ohio and Vermont. But their English language Web site is available to anyone with access to the Internet. Their coverage of what’s going on in Egypt is very thorough and they have a live stream of the action on the ground. Worth a look at what’s happening before it goes through the American networks’ filtering.

It just keeps getting crazier

NASA is supposed to help us make sense of the planets and stars and stuff. But they keep presenting weird images to confuse the issue. This picture, which looks a lot like a fungus I once dug up by accident when my metal detector said I had found a gold nugget, is Jupiter’s moon Europa. It’s supposed to be covered with water ice, and may have a liquid ocean beneath the surface. There could be life in that ocean! At least that’s what NASA says.

After studying the picture for awhile, I came to the blatantly obvious conclusion that this so-called moon is actually the solar system’s largest scoop of vanilla ice cream, laced with butterscotch drools and some chocolate sprinkles. If you look closely (click on the pix to enlarge), there are several cities located at the junctions of many of the drools. Santa Claus has made a deal with heaven — if he’s determined that you’ve been nice more often than you’ve been naughty, living on this moon is an option to walking on clouds while wearing a white robe and lugging around a heavy golden lyre after you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Now if NASA can find a “moon” consisting of lemon sorbet, I say yay.

From APOD. Credit: Galileo Project, JPL, NASA; reprocessed by Ted Stryk

Gored oxen?

Washington would be littered with the bodies of gored oxen should these people be taken seriously. It’s a Libertarian discussion of the president’s State of the Union address. John Stossel is one of the very few Libertarians in public media, Fox Business News in this case. Eleven minutes plus is all it takes to watch Stossel and his panel bring the nation’s deficit into actual surplus by eliminating useless spending and agencies. They didn’t get around to eliminating the Department of Education (Jimmy Carter’s gift to the education lobby in exchange for its support for his presidential bid), but that would sweeten the pot even more.

Monday, January 24

Cheap stuff? NO! Stuff cheap!

Costco sells some surprisingly good stuff for (relatively) little money. When you buy jewelry from them, for instance, they include a gemological certificate certifying the value of the gems. This gives you an idea of what a regular retail dealer would charge for the item you just bought. As an example of the savings available, a couple of years ago I bought Karla a nice necklace for her birthday. The Costco price: $xxx.99. The gemologist’s estimated price at retail? $XXX.99!!

I forgot to mention—these prices include shipping!

Economist Magazine contest

"Is it just me, or does anyone else smell garlic?"

I always like to enter contests where silliness is prized. I subscribe to The Economist, so I receive invitations to be silly. In the upcoming edition of the magazine, they will use this picture of Suleyman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman empire.

Here is how they introduce the competition:
CAN you write an Economist picture caption? The excellent standard of entries in our previous competitions suggests that many of you can: here's a fresh chance for you to see your wit in print.
My suggestion is shown beneath the picture. I could use your support to help me win. There isn’t any judging that you can participate in, so just think good thoughts. Thanking you in advance, I remain your humble servant.

Thursday, January 20

Ben thinks

Hilary got a new Canon 7D camera with a spiffy lens today. She is just starting to use it, and sent this picture of Ben. He’s thinking, “Mom sure has good taste in cameras!”

Tuesday, January 18

Always a good read

This is a blog I check every week. Peter M. De Lorenzo had a two-decade-plus career in automotive advertising and marketing. He knows the car industry inside and out, and is not shy about calling it as he sees it. It’s always an entertaining read, and you just might learn a whole lot about what is going on. He comes down especially hard on the haughty snotty German automakers. Saucy, salty, delicious. Usually published every Wednesday.

Australian flood, California Super Storm

Loyal blog reader Susan in Australia sent a link to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Web site that shows some of the areas in and around Brisbane before and during the recent floods. You can mouse over to see what they looked like dry, then flooded. Clever graphics.

Recently the Los Angeles Times reported that California could soon be in for what is called a Super Storm. These storms occur on a regular basis according to geologic evidence. As much as TEN FEET! of rain could fall in a short period which would simply demolish much of the state. Over a period of only a few days an “atmospheric river” flowing in from the Pacific Ocean could bring in moisture equal to 50 Mississippi Rivers!

Sacramento sits amidst something like 1,500 miles of levees. They would be washed away, leaving the state capitol devastated. (Now if the flood could also wipe out the state’s deficit, it might be worth the trouble.)

Here in the foothills, a Super Storm would leave us isolated for sure. We have two ways out of our valley: One is a narrow road that climbs a very cliffy hill which would surely disappear in a series of landslides; the other is across the Chowchilla River over a war-surplus portable steel bridge that one of our neighbors commandeered from a National Guard unit and got the county road department to install and maintain. Its approaches are lower than the bridge itself and in the past have washed out, leaving nothing but immense heaps of boulders and cobbles at both ends of the still-standing bridge.

So that means we had better get ready to sit on our hands for a few weeks until the rest of the United States finally takes pity on goofy arrogant self-righteous California and starts flying in rations. We ourselves could prepare by stockpiling things like rice, beans, freeze-dried lobster, macadamia nuts, and wine. Why wine? Well, beer doesn’t stay fresh for long. But I guess we could just keep drinking it starting with the old stuff and keep stockpiling fresh stuff until the disaster occurs. We might actually enjoy the whole experience. It would certainly provide lots of blogging material. If there’s still an Internet, that is.

Graphics: Australian Broadcasting Corporation/AP Photo/National Weather Service

Long dry spell coming?

The blue in the center of this graphic is cold water moving from left to right, causing a condition called La Niña

Good news/bad news: We are in a La Niña weather pattern this winter. Usually, an El Niño period causes an increase in rain and snow to fall here in California, and La Niña brings a lack of precipitation. It would seem that since we have been inundated with tons of rain and snow so far this season, way above average, we dodged the bullet.

But it turns out that strong early-season storms often occur during a La Niña, with the lack of rain coming later in the season. A neighbor of ours in the High Sierra says that you can predict what’s going to happen weather-wise in the summer by what happens in January: Lots of rain in January means lots of rain in the summer. So far this January we’ve had little rain; most of it came in December.

I’m reminded of the joke where a forest ranger, new to the district, asks an old Indian (native American to my Bay Area and East Coast readers) what he thinks the weather will be like for the upcoming winter.

“Long winter. Cold, very cold,” the Indian replies.

“How can you tell that?” asks the young ranger.

The old man intones, darkly, “White man putting up much firewood.”

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 17

Crummy day for solar power

I hope we don’t keep getting days like this. The photo shows the entire Central Valley of California just brimming with fog. It even creeps into the foothills where we are normally immune from its blanketing effects. Maybe we should put our solar panels on really tall towers, like a couple of hundred feet. But then airplanes would crash into them, so we’d have to put blinking red lights on the towers, using all the power we get from the panels.

Bad idea unless we rent space on the towers to the phone company so they can put up cellular antennas. With that money, we could buy a bigger generator to keep everything going. But the cell antennas would provide service to only about a half dozen phones in the valley and may not provide a good return on investment. So how about WiFi antennas? Again, bad investment. I know! Nest boxes for owls! Dozens of them! That would take care of the over-abundance of mice we have. But that could starve the feral cats we love so much. Coyotes too. Maybe even snakes.

So many tradeoffs. Maybe I should just settle for putting up with occasional fog.

Sunday, January 16

Adventures on the trail

On the afternoon of New Year’s Eve day, I started coughing. By late that night (about 1:30 AM, after the fireworks at a neighbor’s) I knew I had a cold or something. Parts of that misery are still lingering today, weeks later. The upshot of this illness is that I am left weakened. A few days ago we brought home some 50-pound sacks of horse feed, something we do often. I drove down to the barn to unload the sacks and lifted one. It felt like it weighed 150 pounds! I literally could barely carry it.

About a week ago I resumed my daily hikes to Dragon Hill, a spot that’s less than three-quarters of a mile up from the house, with about a 250-foot elevation gain. I got pretty good again at making these hikes, and it seemed to bring back my lost strength a bit. The cold still lingers, though.

Today we decided to take a different approach and hiked to a place we hadn’t been to for a long time, like years. We passed by Lying On The Ground Tree, a large oak that had fallen many years ago but stayed alive, sending strong branches straight up from its long trunk. As we followed a horse/deer trail, Karla mentioned that there is “so much land around here!” I agreed, saying that no matter where you looked, there was more land. “In fact,” I concluded, “this is the landiest place I’ve ever seen.”

Sioux, Hilary’s dog who is living with us this winter, had often wandered over to this place on our other hikes, and we were curious about why. We found out soon enough. Lying in a creek bed were the skeletal remains of a deer, a large buck, or most of one anyway. The head was still attached to the neck and spine and rib cage, but the legs were missing. We found one nearby. We wondered what had happened to the deer but there were no obvious clues.

Several hundred feet farther along, I spotted a set of bones, bigger ones than the buck’s. We were looking at a hind leg and hoof of a horse. Finally we had found what we had suspected, the bones of a horse which we hadn’t seen for several months. We had smelled something dead back then, but looking for a body turned up nothing. Apparently coyotes had torn the carcass apart and dragged one leg down below a thicket of trees and brush that we couldn’t penetrate without saws and machetes. That must be where the other remains are.

A couple of days ago a neighbor called to inform us that another neighbor found a calf with its head missing. “The bear is back,” she said, and warned us to stay alert. She felt safe because she always hikes with her two dogs (and a pistol), but she was worried that another neighbor hikes all over with only a camera and tripod. I said she could shoot the bear with her camera. “That’s funny, Tom.”

There are lots of hiking stories to tell; this is only a small sampling of our exciting way of life. Hope I didn’t make anyone nervous. But do check under the bed before you turn out the lights tonight.

Saturday, January 15

Gigantic black olive found in Antarctica!

Imagine the surprise caused by such an unusual sight—the world’s largest black olive totally obscuring the setting sun. This man just jumped from his chair, martini in hand, chasing after the olive to complete his after-work drink. While most martinis feature a green olive, that doesn’t work in Antarctica because the cold turns green ones black anyway (as seen above) so imbibers often substitute black olives. Since Antarctica has so few trees that can be used to make toothpicks, the olives are pierced with small penguin quills instead. Toothpicks can only be imported at great expense, and besides if you have limited cargo space in the supply plane you’d rather use it for vodka instead of toothpicks or even olives anyway.

Scientists have tried to explain this picture by calling it a solar eclipse, but we know better, don’t we?

Credit & Copyright: Fred Bruenjes (

Saturday, January 8

Bad time for solar power

It’s a good thing we have a backup generator to refill the batteries once in awhile. There were a few days last week that gave us plenty of sunshine, but the outlook for the coming week looks bleak.

Does anyone out there know how to make electric power out of fog? I’m listening.

Tuesday, January 4

Chokes me up

The beaming face in the picture is of ten-year-old Kathryn Gray, a Canadian girl who is the youngest person ever to discover a supernova. Her dad, himself an amateur astronomer, helped her eliminate the possibility that they were looking at an asteroid, and checked the history of supernova discoveries in that particular region of the sky.

When I first saw her picture, I immediately broke out in a smile. I hope my readers had the same reaction. Achievement by young people, in nearly any field, makes me glow with heartfelt approval. I guess I must be a teacher at heart. Thanks, neighbor Bill, for the link. Read more here.

Monday, January 3

Cheap stuff?

Just in case some of you think of Costco as a place where you can buy cheap stuff instead of stuff cheap, here is a recent offering. Not quite as costly as the $104,000 ring Karla and I saw at their north Fresno store opening, but still.…

Not only that, they include shipping for free!

Sunday, January 2

HughesNet flops again

My new HN9000 modem and antenna installation worked for awhile, but now the set doesn’t either transmit or receive. The failure took place on Friday, and I just went back to dial-up using an external modem and the poky phone line. I haven’t even called Hughes since I don’t think I can stomach another hour-plus drudgery dealing with some uneducated untrained uncaring “technician” in India or the Philippines. Then having to wait over a week for someone to make the repairs because Hughes’ chosen local service provider won’t hire but one field technician in order to save money. Hughes doesn’t give you any credit for the downtime either.

Meanwhile I won’t be posting much to the blog since it takes too long, especially if there’s a picture.

Anybody out there know of a better satellite Internet provider? I’m ready to switch right now.