Sunday, April 24

Ben’s first Easter, at the Furnace Creek Inn in Death Valley

Ben is getting ready for his first Easter Egg Hunt!

Enough with the flowers! Lemme at those eggs!

There’s one now!

Daddy! This one’s warm!

It makes peeping sounds!

Look Ben, there’s a very young chick in here!

And in only a little over a week, Ben will be celebrating his first birthday on Cinco de Mayo. The celebrations keep coming. Lucky kid!

Photo credit: Luke and Hilary Painter

An Easter Egg?

The term Easter Egg refers to the things hidden in a computer program that are unannounced to the user. Digging around, one can be surprised when hitting a certain keyboard combination or clicking on an image and the Easter Egg is discovered.

Imagine the surprise felt by the inhabitants of a nearby planet when their sun suddenly exploded in such a spectacular fashion as this one—the Cat’s Eye nebula. It is like what happens when you decide to boil a raw egg by putting it in your microwave oven. Surprise!

Our own sun is expected to end its life in the same fashion in about five billion years. Mark your calendar!

Credit: NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Thursday, April 21

Happy birthday Hubble! You’re 21 today

The Hubble Space Telescope reached its 21st birthday today, and to celebrate NASA released a picture taken by the telescope after its first alcoholic drink. This loopy, fake-looking Astonishing Science Fiction pulp magazine cover-like picture shows that Hubble can’t handle its booze.

Actually, this photo was made December 17, 2010 using three separate filters that show ultraviolet, blue and red portions of the light spectrum. The deployment of Hubble has revolutionized nearly all areas of astronomical research.

Hubble is locked into earth orbit, so it took STEREO, a pair of satellites that show both sides of the sun simultaneously, to conclusively prove that the sun doesn’t have a dark side.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA). Sun picture: BBC

Wednesday, April 20

Lupine, lavender, and a spring shower

The title says it all. Recent rains have made things around here just get crazy big and beautiful. I am going to write about how big things are getting, but first we have three miles of road to patch up with our road grader, parts of which are returning from the repair shop today. Stay tuned and be ready for some pictures of how huge things can get.

Tuesday, April 19

Creative recipes

Karla had a bag of Tostitos® Artisan recipes™ Roasted Garlic & Black Bean chips sitting on the food prep table while she was making up a batch of chicken soup. They’re really tasty and contain just about every whole grain imaginable. I thought it would be nice to make a dip for them, and she suggested using yogurt as a base and tossing in some pesto.

I put a few spoonfuls of yogurt in a bowl and stirred in some pesto, lemon pepper, and a few dots of worcestershire sauce. It was delicious and we enjoyed dipping the chips and some celery sticks in the mix.

Inspired by this little bit of invention, I was reminded of something I’ve been thinking about for years. Start with a patty of ground beef, maybe four or five inches in diameter and a half inch or so thick. Barbecue or fry it. Top it with a slice each of onion, tomato, and maybe some lettuce. Dress it up with some mayo, ketchup and perhaps mustard. Then put it between two slices of a round bun of similar diameter. Add a slice of cheese if you like.

Sounds wonderful and I’m going to get around to trying it one of these days, but first I’d like to think up a name for it. Perhaps my readers have some ideas.

When I once mentioned this to a friend, she said I should call it a “hot dog,” but I think that name is already taken.

Guided discovery

Instead of teaching math, why not let school kids find out for themselves what it is and how to use it? This article in the New York Times is about a way to teach kids using “guided discovery,” a method that is producing miraculous results. John Mighton, the founder of Jump Math, says “Almost every kid—and I mean virtually every kid—can learn math at a very high level, to the point where they could do university level math courses.” And he’s talking about gaining a solid understanding of math at the elementary school level! This is a very worthwhile article for anyone who knows a kid to read and promote to others.

Photo credit: Peter Bregg via New York Times

Saturday, April 16

Another “Do not click”

This one is from Earth Release. Here is the message:

Google Earth User,

We wanted to wish you the best in 2011.

We're also taking this opportunity to introduce our newest 2011 enhancement for Google Earth.

Download the 2011 Version Here

Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on the planet to see satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, the ocean and even galaxies in outer space.

Explore amazing geographical formations, save your toured places, and share with others.

Download the Latest 2011 Version Here

Earth Enhancer
Customer Support

Don’t go there! Notice the message is from Earth Release, but is signed by Earth Enhancer. Doesn’t that ring an alarm bell? This piece of scamming comes from Switzerland. When is this kind of junk going to stop? I guess there are enough gullible clickers to make it worthwhile for these creeps to enlist your computer in a Botnet that sends thousands of messages to everyone in your address book. It’s time to catch these folks red-handed and stuff them into a dark cell with only cockroaches for food and water. (Squeeze the roach for “water.”)

Thursday, April 14

No feedback from Adobe, yet

I guess Adobe doesn’t worry about other people using their name to send false update info. I never got a response to my warning to Adobe that someone in Germany was sending false update information regarding Acrobat Reader. Too bad. At least Adobe could have responded to my having spotted some potentially damaging emails sent to (probably) millions of people asking them to update their Adobe software.

Too busy to get involved in petty stuff, I guess. If I had told them that I knew of a company with 5,000 workers using one copy of Photoshop they had illegally duplicated, that would get their attention since Photoshop provides a huge part of their income. But having people’s computers compromised by the inadvertent download of a fake update to already-free software is no big deal. Maybe sending out notifications to millions of users would be daunting. But acknowledging one of Adobe Reader’s users (that’s me) that he had correctly spotted some fakery would at least make him (that’s me) more likely to spot something more damaging that would be more worthwhile to the huge company. The point I’m making is to reward your friends with at least an acknowledgement of their efforts.

Unless, of course, you’re way bigger than any mere customer.

Monday, April 11

Stinks to high heaven

Recently Epsilon, a company that sends emails for hundreds of big clients, got hacked and millions of email addresses were stolen. It’s a spammer paradise!

Adobe could be one of Epsilon’s clients and today I got an email supposedly from Adobe, the maker of Adobe Reader, the almost defacto program for opening and reading pdf files. Then I got another email with a different subject line, again from "Adobe." Both kind of triggered suspicion, so I contacted the security people at Adobe and gave them the particulars.

The subject lines in my two recent emails are:
Get more done, much faster, with new update Acrobat PDF Reader. Upgrade Available Now

Action Required : Download New Update Adobe Acrobat Reader For Your PC.

I looked further into who sent the emails, and found they originated in Germany. Without even clicking on the links provided, and without hearing back from Adobe security, I know these were intending to do something to steal data from my computer. Especially the one with the Action Required title. It sounds so German! Also, the correct verbiage would be "update TO Adobe…"

When (if) I hear back from Adobe, I'll let you know if my suspicions are warranted. Beware! The world just got a whole lot more dangerous. Get more information here.

The Girl Dog with Green Dung

Perhaps you’ve seen the painting by Henri Matisse called The Girl with Green Eyes. It’s a favorite of mine; I even have a print of it. Yesterday I was reminded of the painting when our dog Sioux got a fresh green coating from a cow pie.

Sioux loves to go on walks with us. Unless we keep her right with us, she wanders off to explore, chase rabbits and squirrels, or dig for gophers which is fine with us except for one thing: When she’s out of sight she also loves to roll in cow manure, mostly with her neck and right shoulder. Somehow that’s dog perfume, and after all she’s a very pretty girl.

Yesterday on our hike to Dragon Hill we saw about ten of our neighbor’s cows on our place. We sicced Sioux on them to chase them toward a place where we know the fence is down. I guess she figured she was owed a reward for her chasing duty, so she found a nice cow pie and rubbed her shoulder in it. The mark was a vibrant green, so it must have been from a very recent deposit. I have often wondered if she prefers the pies when they’re crusty and decomposing and writhing with worms, or when they’re still glistening and steamy. Hard to tell since I’m not a connoisseur; when it’s slathered on a dog it all looks and smells the same to me.

Sioux does this often, even though she should know that her perfume will soon be unceremoniously removed. Karla leads Sioux into the bathroom and says “Up up.” Sioux jumps into the bathtub and gets a warm washdown from the shower head, then a toweling-off and an exit from the house till she loses that wet-dog smell.

Maybe I’m all wrong in thinking Sioux actually enjoys rolling in manure. Maybe she really loves getting a nice warm shower and is just using the rolling-in-manure angle to have one.

Naah—that’s crazy. Deep down dogs love to stink and we insensitive humans are just messing up their lives.

Image: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Sunday, April 10

Are we there yet?

Kids get bored in the back seat during a long trip. “Are we there yet?” is often heard as the parents try to distract them with “Oh, look at the big silo!” Or “Oh look! There’s a cow!” There’s not a chance that today’s kids will fall for that stuff for very long.

To me right now “Are we there yet?” really means, “Is winter storm season over yet?” We need to do some work on our road but don’t dare start until we’re pretty sure we won’t get another half a foot of rain in a day. My rule has been to wait out the winter till things are almost guaranteed to be dry, but by then the road can get too dry to work with our little road grader. It lacks the power and weight to work the road when it’s adobe-brick-hard.

A mighty two-cylinder all-aluminum all-Italian diesel engine makes it go.

Add to that the fact that one of the hydraulic rams that adjusts the angle of the “mold board,” the big blade in the middle of the machine, will bend if I hit something like a root or rock that won’t move. When that happens, it often means a trip back home where I keep the tools necessary to re-straighten the ram rod, which of course means less time on the road where the machine belongs.

It’s the lower ram that bends.

We used to have a full-size road grader, a big Caterpillar built in 1929. Being old was the main problem it had, and it was not very fun to drive either. When we first got it, we had to clean out the fuel tank. Besides a lot of sand, we found six feet of manila rope, an engine oil dipstick, several tin cans, several rocks, a wooden ruler, a bath towel, a rat and two large birds. Its massive three-cylinder diesel engine probably topped out at 700 RPM. To start the diesel, you had to hand-crank a smaller two-cylinder gasoline engine, which I had to remove and rebuild. There was always the possibility that you could get a broken arm cranking that little beast. The grader had power steering which only worked on straightaways and gentle turns. If you had to make a hard turn, the power steering quit. Steering was fine going to the left, but going right meant you’d have to back up and make several passes to get around a turn. Oh, and speaking of backing up, the transmission was so wrecked you couldn’t use first gear. Second gear made the machine go so fast you couldn’t move the blade quickly enough and would often gouge the road or miss the surface with it entirely. Also it had so much end play in its crankshaft that it affected the clutch; uphill the clutch barely engaged, and downhill it could barely be disengaged. If you hit a bump in the road too fast and made the front end bounce, the front wheels would flop to one side (used intentionally, tilting the front wheels was necessary to keep on track when moving a big load of dirt in a turn). So you’d have to stop and re-set the front wheels to upright. Only two of its six wheels had brakes, but they almost never worked anyway. One day a friend, Henry Davis, and I were doing some road work (it took two people to steer this thing) when one of the big back tires went flat. It was on what’s called a split-rim wheel with a bent keeper, surely a death sentence on such a large wheel if you didn’t know how to fix it exactly right. The rim could blow off with terrific force and slice a big Hula Hoop® out of your body. Henry and I looked at each other, shook our heads and decided that neither of us wanted to die quite yet. We drove the grader to its final resting place up the hill and parked it. Years later a phone company worker who restores old tractors and bulldozers spotted it. We gave it to him and he cheerily hauled it away.

In the meantime we bought the grader we have now.

Nine control levers! No waiting!
The mold board moves up, down, left and right, tilts, angles and dances.
The entire front end of the machine extends up to four feet and swings left or right.
Then there’s the dozer blade and scarifier controls. Makes your mind boggle!

On soft roads, it does marvelous work and its power steering works all the time and it doesn’t have a traditional transmission so you can go really slow or really medium-speed or anything in between. It has a bulldozer blade on front, and a three-tooth scarifier you can use to chew up a hard surface.

The scarifier chews ’em up.

In all the years we’ve had it the only trouble it’s given us is the starter solenoid getting sticky. I am very familiar with the insides of that device and can remove and fix it in an hour with my eyes shut. Between uses the battery stays fully charged by a tiny solar panel stuck on one of the machine’s uprights that supports the roof over the cab. Our biggest problem is that we don’t have a garage for it, so it stays outside, and our horses have developed a taste for upholstery foam.

Horse feed.

The seat is a mess. But when you’re doing serious roadwork, you stand up anyway so you can watch what your blade is doing.

Soon I’m going to give it its annual oil change and have it ready for work. But the question still remains:

“Are we there yet?”

Saturday, April 9

Cloudy day happiness

Did you know that a partly cloudy day can provide more power to a photovoltaic solar system than a clear day? It’s called cloud edge effect, where the sun makes the nearby clouds shine brightly. It’s almost like having several suns-worth of power coming down. I have watched the watt meter on our system go from 2,200 watts to 2,800 watts when the right clouds are near the sun. We have only 2,520 watts-worth of panels.

A mix of cold weather (to keep the solar panels cool) and white puffy clouds around the sun means the batteries will be sizzling merrily as they boil away their water. Actually, our power control circuits keep that from happening, but it’s fun to imagine.

It makes me want to turn on the well pump, the table saw, the drill press, the surface planer, the vacuum cleaners, the swamp cooler, all the lights inside and outside, the electric teapot, the blender, the waffle iron, the air conditioner, both computers, both TVs, all the satellite receivers and then build a fire on the living room floor and dance around it chanting. But Karla would probably have me taken away in a straightjacket.

It’s just that partly cloudy days make me so happy.

Friday, April 8

An anomaly

Whenever I am ready to put together another blog, I log in to the Blogger Dashboard page shown above and click on NEW POST. Right above the blue box is the number of posts written so far. In the picture below it shows 1,001 Posts.

However, if you add up the number of posts shown in the sidebar to the right of the blog starting in 2007 with 5 posts, the number comes to 1,031.

If any of my dear readers used the sidebar numbers and didn’t guess the reason for the blog title M, mille, kilo, thus missing out on the multi-trillion-dollar prize, I apologize. Blame Google, the producer of Blogger, for their bad math. After all, they only hire genius nerds and geeks, not people who do such mundane things as add.

So if that’s the reason you lost the contest, well, hard cheese. An old friend of mine used the phrase “hard cheese” whenever he meant “tough luck.” I love “hard cheese.” Makes me think of parmesan which, in Zimbabwe, costs trillions.

Thursday, April 7

Congratulations, Pete S.!

Pete S., the winner of the M, mille, kilo blog prize will be blown away when he opens the letter containing the prize money. How often do you hear of someone winning—are you sitting down?— ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY TRILLION DOLLARS!

He was right in saying that the 1,000 in the title was the number of blogs I have published.

Yes, he wins genuine government-issued money from the exotic far-away land of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), one of Africa’s most interesting countries. People in that country really love their money, to the extent that the government can’t seem to print enough to satisfy demand. Recently I was able to come across some of it and couldn’t possibly justify keeping it all for myself. Spread the wealth, I’ve always said (especially Zimbabwean wealth), so I created the little contest. My advice to Pete S.: Don’t spend it all in one place.

M, mille, kilo

An odd title for a blog, wouldn’t you say? What could it mean? Three ways to express a number which has real meaning for me and my blog. Can you guess what the significance of that number is?

Hint: It is NOT that I need about 85 of them in dollar form to buy a car I like a lot, a 2005 Bentley Continental GT, the ideal car for the boondocks featuring—
  • All-wheel drive, perfect for muddy country roads!
  • A twelve-cylinder 600+ horsepower engine that enables a top speed way past triple the legal limit! A pursuing mountain lion, bear or wild pig doesn’t stand a chance! Nor does a cop, even in a helicopter!
  • A trunk and back seat big enough to hold up to:
  1. Eight sacks of horse feed
  2. Four 50-pound salt licks
  3. A really big chainsaw, fuel can, jumper cables, a shovel
  4. Back seat big enough for two large dogs and two sacks of dog food
  5. All at the same time!
Recently I’ve acquired some significant money, and to celebrate I’m feeling philanthropic. The first person to figure out the significance of this blog’s title, then posts the answer in Comments, will win a high-dollar prize (but not the Bentley). Remember—it’s not about the car. The car is only a diversion.

Contest ends in a week, so think, people! You could win some big money!

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

I didn’t pump up the saturation in Photoshop—
It’s really that red!

The famous line from the ending of the classic movie Sunset Boulevard came to mind when we approached the near-fully restored 1940s-era wooden caboose that sits proudly in front of the Raymond Museum. Its close-up will happen during the upcoming 25th Annual Raymond Parade and Family Fun Day, a spring celebration that occurs every third Saturday in April. It features a parade, craft and food fair, stick-horse barrel racing for kids and big kids’ bull riding event—the elements of life itself! Who could ask for more?

Two people from Hollywood put the Raymond museum there. Wayne and Lynn Northrop took a break from their television careers and rode into town, bought a spread to raise cattle, and thought Raymond was a whole lot more interesting than the current residents realized. The community responded by contributing some significant artifacts to the museum.

In the late 1880s Raymond was the terminus of a Southern Pacific Railroad line. From Raymond, passengers took the stagecoach to Yosemite which was at the time a state park. President Theodore Roosevelt rode into town and took the stagecoach to Yosemite for a historic meeting with John Muir. After that meeting, he declared that Yosemite should become America’s second National Park, after Yellowstone.

Yesterday we were returning from a shopping trip in Fresno. We saw that someone was working on the caboose and decided to stop. When we approached the caboose, Wayne was about to leave, having finished some more work on it. He graciously invited us in to see how the restoration was coming along. (We had dropped by several times previously to check the progress.) It was remarkable! Our neighbor Bruce had contributed hundreds of hours of work, and with his superb woodworking skill had performed some remarkable magic in bringing back the aura of old time railroading. An awful lot of time and a whole lot of money has gone into restoring this piece of history. I hope people will respect that as they parade through the car, giving it its close-up.

Friday, April 1

No blog today

Why? Because it’s April fool’s day, and nobody would take it seriously. Here’s a really good trick to play on anybody who has a Macintosh computer: Hold down the Control, Option, Command keys and the numeral 8 all at once. It takes only a second, and your former friend will wonder what the heck happened. Undo the damage by using the same keyboard combination.

Bonus: Do it when they’re working in Photoshop!

No Macintosh? Go to the nearest Apple Store and try it out! Wear running shoes.