Tuesday, May 31

Are we crazy? (part two)

Fresno Piano is going through its final liquidation sale this coming weekend. All the remaining pianos and all the store fixtures are on sale Saturday and Sunday. We’re going down Saturday and our aim is to buy this wall. The doors are beveled glass and the paneling is walnut, I think. Karla remembers a nice chandelier in the Steinway room. (Our piano is the one in the center of the picture with the red “Sold” tag on it.) We can build a nice new house around it all.

Are we crazy?

Tuesday, May 24

Strange tracks…

Recently a California condor was spotted here in the valley, across the river from us at the old schoolhouse. When I saw the above tracks, I thought maybe they were caused by a condor, but they weren’t.

They were caused by Ben! His dad and mom left early this morning, leaving Ben with his grandparents, and you know how grandparents have a reputation for spoiling grandkids.

Like here, when Ben is accompanied by Sallie and Bella as he takes off and crawls a few hundred feet up the road by himself.

On the way he discovered many things, like rocks that have to be tasted. He decided the smooth ones were really good, but the rough ones were, well, yucky. Here he savors a smooth rock while the rough one in the other hand is getting ready to be tossed.

Later his grandparents gave him some really yummy food, like ice cream and cake and cookies and soda pop (kidding!!).

Google is maddening

I have spent at least two hours trying with every browser I have to sign in and post a new post. Error 404. I reset my password. No luck. I tried to contact Google but their "help" page is only sure to send you to a psychiatrist instead of their "helpers."

Finally through unyielding diligence I found a workaround to get to post. But now I'm in a bad mood. So I'll wait. See you later.

Monday, May 23

Headin’ fer them high hills

Tomorrow we have some folks gettin’ up early and tearin’ outta here to Wishon to catch a ride to the ranch. The road over Kaiser Pass is bein’ plowed by the Edison Company as I write this, but they haven’t busted through yet. We can’t wait for that Company to piddle around settin’ up ground transportation, so we’re gonna fly in to get the ranch set up and to clear all the fallen trees from our own “road.”

Luke, his brother Michael, and Tim, who has worked for us for nigh on to forever will be loadin’ all their vittles and stuff onto Richard Ambrosini’s helicopter and makin’ a couple of trips from Wishon to the ranch. Why Wishon? ’Cause there’s no snow there. Normally we fly outta Huntington Lake (or better yet, the Ahwahnee ranch) but there’s still six feet of snow at China Peak Ski Resort, our usual takeoff point.

So how come I’m writin’ this blog with all the in’ instead of ing endin’s? Well, Saturday we had our spring roundup and messed around with at least 40 horses and 30 people who were either doin’ or watchin’ and that’s jest how I talk till I get outta the mood. Sorry, it’s jest the way thin’s are wit’ me. Live wid it.

Here’s a pitcher of Doctor Mike with his arm clear up the south end of a northbound horse (he’s wearin’ a really long glove). He’s pokin’ around with his ultrasound sensor to see if she’s preggers. She weren’t. Dang. Wasted money on a very expensive stud fee. It’s a lesson learned. Buy ’em when they’re on the hoof and you can see the whites of their eyes.

Wednesday, May 18

Record snow year calls for drastic measures

We just found out that the snow in the High Sierra this year is so deep they had to re-route the International Space Station in order to not smack into it. The real mission of the final launch of the Endeavor Space Shuttle, according to secret info we have access to, is to deliver a really big snow blower that will be attached to the front of the ISS to remove snow from its path so it can go back to its normal orbit. We’re hoping this will aid in opening the road over Kaiser Pass.

Get the truth on this blog—we’re not fooled by facts or reality.

It’s mid-May, fer cryin’ out loud!

The weather this year has been anomalous, to be sure. Here in the last week or so we have received about 1-1/2” of rain, a quarter inch of it just in the last hour over a 5-minute period.

Neighbor Bill came up with his tractor to help us dig out lots of 4" steel pipe fence posts that made up our old round corral.

First, give the post a nudge to loosen.

Then pluck it out of the ground and haul it to the heap.

Without the rain, it would have been a bit more work, but as you can see, we got a little too much rain!

I wouldn’t want to trim hooves in this muck!*

We have to prepare the ground for this weekend’s annual roundup where we give the horses their immunizations, trim their hooves, check their teeth and so on. There will probably be twenty or so people at the roundup, some doing the work, others doing the spectating and all eating our sumptuous barbecue. It’s always a good time for all.

Now we have a brand new iron/concrete pile!

*Actually, I wouldn’t want to trim hooves even on a thick plush wool carpet with soft music playing and a beautiful masseuse rubbing my back and feeding me canapes and fine wine.

Monday, May 16

Making analogies and comparisons

With the recent flooding of the Mississippi River being in the news, I have come across some rather meaningless comparisons regarding the amount of water being released to ease the downstream pressure on the levees. The cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans are going to be spared the worst effects of the flood by having the water diverted onto some upstream floodplains. Pictures of water gushing out onto the hapless upstream folks’ land have prompted news reporters to make comparisons to more mundane things that everyone will be able to relate to. In one report, the water was compared to the amount that would be discharged from “tens of millions of garden hoses.” Rather vague, if you ask me. How big are the hoses? At what pressure? Exactly how many tens of millions of hoses? A pretty weak comparison.

Another report stated that the amount would “fill the Empire State Building every fifteen seconds.” Ridiculous. Is that with all the windows and doors closed? Open? Toilets and sinks plugged so the water can’t run through them?

It’s time these guys narrowed their field of comparisons to things that are far more meaningful. For example, the amount of water being released every minute:

  • equals that which is expelled by the five million beer-guzzling attendees of the two-week-long annual Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany.
  • matches the accumulated total soaked up then wrung out in the ShamWow commercials multiplied by the number of viewers over an eight-month period.
  • is enough to wash every teacup made in the northern hemisphere since March 14, 1887 (includes rinsing).
  • and finally is equal to half the sweat expressed by the workers in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

I should be a reporter.

Photo credit: P.C. Piazza, Lafayette Daily Advertiser / May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 14

Learning experience

I have been using Macintosh computers since 1995. During that time I have built up a repertoire of programs and add-ons that have become “necessary” for daily use. It turns out that many of those items are really unnecessary, and can become a cumbersome burden over time.

After having taken my main computer in for repairs, I was feeling sorry for myself by being demoted to using a laptop to continue my daily work. A funny thing happened, though. The little computer I was forced to use is fresh—it’s one of the Macs we bought for the high ranch and it sits dormant during the winter months. It isn’t loaded with plug-ins so it’s pretty clean and uncluttered.

Being clean and uncluttered, it has taught me a lesson. It showed me that my habits are formed and set in stone because of my historical use of computers. Sixteen years ago I had to do a lot of things manually that have since been automated or made unnecessary on the newest computers. The reason my main computer has so many add-ons and helpers stuck to it is that I hadn’t realized they were no longer needed. I was actually slowing my work by having those “helpers.” I was going through unnecessary motions because I thought I had to. But the little laptop computer forced me to skip a lot of that stuff because it didn’t have the “necessary” plug-ins—the computer simply did what I needed by itself. It’s hard to explain without going into all my actions, but it turns out that over time the clever folks at Apple built in the helpers that I used to have to find and install myself.

Whenever I got a new computer I would simply plug in a FireWire cable to the old one and upload all the files, programs and old junk. There were so many peripheral drivers on the computer the technician at the Apple Store thought it was a miracle that it worked at all! Since I keep a backup copy of everything with my Time Capsule, a Wi-Fi and backup disk combo, he said I could safely clean off the hard drive and re-install the operating system from my original disks. Then bring back only the stuff I need from the backup disk.

Finally, I have to clean up that other impediment, my old habits.

Friday, May 13


Apple’s hardware diagnostic program doesn’t mince words

The near-impossible has happened—my computer has a problem that actually made me take it in to the Apple Store yesterday. Our appointment was for 10AM, and when we strolled down the mall toward the store, we spotted it a few hundred feet away—it was the only store with a line of people out front. An employee came out and divided the queue into those who had appointments, and those who were desperately hoping some iPad 2s were in stock. When we approached the back of the store, there must have been 30 or so yellow-Apple-logo-shirted school kids who were finishing up a lesson in video editing. Throughout the rest of the store were lookers at every table, poking at the vast array of Apple products from the tiniest iPods to the gigantic Mac Pros, with their 16 processors and vast terabytes of memory.

Meanwhile I have been demoted to using a mere 15"-screen MacBook Pro, a nice computer if you’re just going to play, but definitely not something I use at work where I have three or more large windows from various programs open at once, with constant switching back and forth.

Fortunately my three-year warranty still had a healthy nine days remaining, and that gets extended for another 90 days after the repair, kind of a warranty warranty. The technician was running lots of diagnostics which showed the necessity for even deeper looking. He started a program that would, he said, probably take more than an hour. Could we find something to do for that hour, he asked. “Gosh, I don’t know,” I said. “In an Apple Store? We’ll try not to get bored.”

We asked one of the Apple folks about integrating iPads into our daily operation at the high ranch, and got re-introduced to a very knowledgeable woman whom we had dealt with before. She remembered us and the ranch and had all kinds of new info for us since the introduction of the iPad had changed the game considerably. With her help, we found that we could speed things up, do less work, and save money at the same time. She’ll have more-specific information for us when we return to pick up the sick baby when it’s all healed and has a new heart.

Saturday, May 7

Big stuff

Sioux trots down the road where weeds grew to relatively normal height

Two and a half weeks ago, I said I would show some of the extra-large growth that resulted from the abundance of rainfall this winter. I was hoping to show some spectacular hemlock (which makes a tea that’s guaranteed to end any addiction you might have to tea) that had grown to shoulder height right outside our back door. There were some memorable thistles, too. And the miners lettuce was getting noticeably larger.

Miners lettuce becomes Majors lettuce.
“Normal” size in background.

But I spent all of my time working on the studio for Babe, the piano, and missed all the best lighting opportunities. I’m sure you’ve taken the perfect picture of the memorable scene with the only problem being it was the wrong time of day and the picture was a disappointment. Photographs are made with light, and light’s quality varies throughout the day.

Mowed weeds in foreground, unmowed weeds in background.
These are knee deep; some got to be hip deep.

Meanwhile, Karla started the annual fuel reduction process. That means she uses a string trimmer and starts mowing down acres (literally) of weeds surrounding our buildings. One of the first items to bite the dust was the hemlock. Then came some gargantuan thistles. The miners lettuce was spared, mostly because it’s so good to eat.

Thistles taller than the old tractor

The result was that I couldn’t get the really good stuff photographed, so I have prepared some cell phone pix that I grabbed recently on my horse-feeding journeys.

Thursday, May 5

Keep? Toss? A dilemma—

I appreciate clever design. Even of such mundane objects as mustard bottle caps. Here are two mustard bottles with different caps. The smaller bottle has a Stay Clean Cap. It is very cleverly designed, having a built-in silicone rubber stopper. There’s a tiny x-shaped slit cut into the silicone. When you squeeze the bottle, the pressure forces the slit open, letting mustard through. Stop squeezing, and it slams shut. Hold the bottle upside-down without squeezing and no mustard drips out. Its only flaw is that over time a tiny mustard scab can form that has to be popped out and tossed (or munched—Yum! Mustard jerky!). So its Stay Clean promise is compromised.

The larger bottle has a NEW! No Mess Cap. Less intriguing for sure, with no moving parts, it has a very small dispensing hole, so small that the thixotropic-ness of mustard plus a clever built-in trap keeps it from running out when you tip the bottle into squirting position. It doesn’t dispense mustard as robustly as the Stay Clean Cap does, though, so I’m not sure it is suitable for the high-volume mustard squeezing you’d find at a popular hot dog emporium.

Both bottle tops are intriguing enough to me that I want to keep them for future generations to enjoy.

My collecting-of-containers passion started a long time ago with a collection of roll-on deodorant bottles. They had tiny marble-sized roller balls. It took lots of strokes to get full coverage. I knew in my heart that those rollers would get bigger as time went on. My own armpits were getting bigger as I grew up, and I figured everyone else’s were too. Sure enough, the width of my most recent deodorant stick is a near whole-armpit-wide in size.

When I was a kid, mustard came in a small glass jar. Matter of fact, it seems everything came in a small glass jar. Once I was exploring an old dump in the mountains and found a Listerine mouthwash bottle. Glass, with a cork stopper, it held four ounces! Imagine! Back in the 1920s people must have had very small mouths. Compare it to the bottle of Listerine I recently got from Costco—1.5 liters! That’s a hefty one quart, one pint and 2.7 fluid ounces, twelve-and-a-half times bigger. I must have a big mouth.

Diapers used to be small too. Now you can get them big enough to fit an adult. So far I have no need for them. Wish me luck.

Back to my mustard bottle dilemma. As unbelievable as it sounds, I am sure that as time and technology march onward, another cap will be introduced making mustard dispensing even easier and mess-free. Would I be cheating future discoverers by tossing these bottles and caps into a recycling bin, rendering them faceless and soulless to be reborn as who knows what? Or should I squirrel them away, waiting for some fresh-faced innocent explorer to discover them and be delighted by their cleverness? Or does anyone care? (My unselfish offer to donate them to the Smithsonian was politely turned down even though I offered to pay for shipping!)

Maybe these bottles with their clever caps should rest their souls in cyberspace, memorialized only in this blog post. Who knows?— in a hundred years these bottles’ high density polyethylene could be pronounced highly toxic and ownership of it made a felony. It’s a good thing I didn’t save some other common hardware store items from my youth—cyanide, DDT, lead bullets, blasting caps and dynamite—any one of which could get someone tossed in the pokey nowadays, myself included.

Decisions, decisions.


On the left, the silicone-stoppered cap. On the right, the simple small-hole cap.

The silicone-stopper cap in closeup. What makes it work is the x-shaped slits cut in the silicone, keeping it from dripping when the bottle is inverted but opening wide when squeezed.

The small-hole cap in close-up. Its secret is beneath the outlet, an offset entry which acts kind of like a speed bump on a residential street. The descending mustard has to make a sudden sharp bend to one side in order to flow from the nozzle. A very clever way to prevent inadvertent drippage.

But, as with anything else in commerce, a major determining factor in switching from the silicone-stoppered cap to the small-nozzle-plus-speed-bump cap is cost. Compare the pictures of the two caps. The one on the left is made of three separate pieces which must be assembled! Which is time-consuming and expensive! A potential looming inventory nightmare! What if, at the end of a typical million-bottles-of-mustard production day, you have a million cap bases, a million silicone stoppers, but only 999,999 toppers of silicone stoppers? Fire that cap designer!

On the right, the small-nozzle cap is a single piece of plastic. It only has to be munched together into one elegant mustard-squirting miracle. Winner!

A puzzle

This morning I went to feed our two Older Americans, Pelton and Geronimo. Karla usually does this, but she’s in Death Valley at grandson Ben’s first birthday party (Today!), so the duty is mine. I also have Sioux, our adopted (from Hilary) dog. We start out by walking up the road, crossing Chocolate Creek, then going down to the barn and round pen where the horses get fed. Good early morning exercise, a total round trip distance of close to a mile if we then go all the way to our first gate..

This morning Pelton was ready and waiting, but no Ger. Odd, but anyway I put food in both their bins. Then I went to check the spring that feeds to the Teacup, our watering trough. It was plugged up with roots again, so I removed its cover and tried to get the roots out. No success without tools, so I decided to take Sioux and walk all the way down to our first gate on the road to top off our exercise. As we approached the gate, I saw Ger standing by the fence. Well, not exactly by the fence, he was standing in the fence! He was standing outside the top and bottom wires, and inside the rest of the wires in the middle.

How he did this magic act I’ll never know. I got a fence tool and got him out of there and he ran up the road to the Teacup for a drink, then into the round pen for his breakfast. He had lots of wounds all the way from his left ear to his rump to his withers, and ending up at his right front leg. I washed them off, then put on some gooey medicine that I understand performs miracles for healing. His wounds were superficial, not the deep kind which happen when a horse thrashes and tries to get out of a trapped situation. He didn’t finish his breakfast but decided to let himself out of the round pen and walked off into the wilderness, probably to think about being a horse with no tools or opposable thumbs. I let him go because it’s not nice to keep a horse penned up on a hot day, which this one will be soon. The forecast is for 92°F (33C) in Fresno. Oh well, at least he’s not in Death Valley with Karla where it’s expected to be 104°F (39C) today.

Sub-par picture quality due to having only my iPhone camera and the lighting being very contrasty and a bit too challenging for it.

Wednesday, May 4

Adding an S

How many people do you know who say “driver’s license” rather than “driver license”? Or “daylight savings time” instead of “daylight saving time”? While it’s true that some states do call their privilege-to-drive cards driver’s licenses, nobody should add the extra s to the time-change thing.

To carry this added-s-ness even further, there are those loathsome people who say Sierras. The mountain range is officially called the Sierra Nevada, shortened to the Sierra. One of the few times you can legitimately say Sierras is when you’re referring to more than one GMC pickup truck of that name.

In the central California community of Clovis, there is a neon sign looming over the main drag that was installed decades ago declaring Clovis to be the “Gateway to the Sierras.” There have been endless arguments ever since about the appropriateness of the added s. To resolve this morphological conundrum and still allow the Clovens to cling to their idiocy, perhaps they could modify their sign to say “Gateway to the deers, trouts and quails.”

To make themselves even more right, they could change the town’s name to Cloviss.

Tuesday, May 3

Another milestone

The 5,000th win in computer Solitaire is an amazing achievement. I timed a series of games and discovered that each game took about 1.25 minutes to complete. That adds up to 104+ hours, and that’s just for the winning games. The entire total of almost 30,000 games used up 625 hours. Had I spent that amount of time in a useful pursuit, I could have accomplished:

  • learning to count by sevens all the way to 1,001
  • developing a low-flow toilet that actually works
  • finding a cure for paper cuts

or any number of more useful things. But then what would this blog be about?

Monday, May 2

Welcome, Babe

I have been in a relatively blog-free zone recently, not due to getting tired of blogging, but getting tired from intense physical work every day and not having the energy to sit down and think up something to say. Physical work can take a toll; mental work can take even more.

We have been working to prepare a space for the baby, not Ben our grandchild, but Babe, our new piano.

If we were normal people and like most buyers of a new grand piano, we would simply re-arrange some furniture and call the delivery guys. Being far from normal, we had to smooth out a little over three miles of unpaved road (our driveway) that had taken a beating from a whole winter’s worth of near-record rainfall. We trimmed trees to allow the delivery truck to come in without getting scarred. And not only did we have to move some furniture, we had to prepare a whole space to make it suitable for a fine instrument. Luke and Hilary had built a structure on a concrete foundation that Karla and I had made many years ago with the intention of putting a studio space on it. It’s a nice little building, sturdy and heavily insulated with its thick walls and stout roof. But not yet finished inside.

Nice pianos just don’t fit in with rough concrete floors, so we installed hardwood flooring with resilient cork underlayment. Pianos don’t sound their best unless the ceiling is bathed in acoustic tile. And I am guessing, but they most likely don’t like unpainted walls—too much of a contrast with their burnished ebony finish. A vacant opening should be filled with a nice door. A simple chandelier might make it feel more at home too.

So we did all that, and it’s been non-stop since April 10, what with trips to the lumber and door company, the flooring company, the acoustic ceiling tile company. The paint company, the nails and hinges and doors and trim and tools and miscellaneous stuff companies all made their contributions. A new paint sprayer came without an instruction manual, so the Internet download company did its part too.

I wish I could have connected with the brains company to help me figure out how to set my saw to cut the angles necessary to put in a ceiling cove to fit not just two 45° angles at the corners, but the additional 12° on the low side and minus 12° on the high side of a sloped ceiling with cove strips that themselves are odd to start with—I cut every possible angle on several pieces till I got it right and that’s for only two of the corners. I spent hours. I must be smooth-brained. Maybe I’ll just butt the other pieces together at the corners and fill in with modeling clay.

I now have massive respect for painters. Without the experience, it’s hard to know if your paint is too thick or your nozzle in the spray head is too large or too small. It’s hard to believe that a ceiling that measures 10-1/2 feet one way and 13 the other can soak up a whole gallon of paint! But it did, three times! We used the wrong paint to begin with. Dark, moody, semi-gloss, interesting. But we decided it should be lighter, so we bought another gallon of flat finish. Using a sprayer that made me stand on a ladder to reach the ceiling, I got the coverage very uneven. Used a whole gallon. We went to the paint store for another gallon and a sprayer that had an extension wand. Much better now—I could see from floor level that the paint went on evenly. But I used too big a nozzle so there went another gallon! We ended up with a nice ceiling in spite of my goofs.

Building and installing a whole frame for a door is something else! The last time I did that was several decades ago. Since that time, I have bought and installed whole door systems—the door with all the hardware installed in a frame that you simply plug into your space. Just add a latch mechanism. But doing it à la carte! The hinges have to be inset flush, using a router and/or chisels, the holes must be drilled for the doorknob hardware, all that stuff. It took me a long time fiddling and trying to remember how, but it came out right. And oh yeah, the staining and finishing of the raw wooden door. The solid alder door we bought because it was beautiful is also heavy heavy! Gad. Then there’s the trim. Hammering away at finish nails is not my forte. Being ambidextrous, I can use a hammer with either hand, equally badly. Lotsa divots.

The piano is now in its temporary home. For its permanent space, we’re going to make a dedicated room in our new house to be built a mile down the road, with temperature and humidity control and all that stuff. The inner mechanisms of fine pianos are made from several kinds of wood, all unvarnished, which means they will absorb and emit moisture, and flex when the temperature changes. The hammers are made with fine Merino wool felt so you have to keep moths away. The bass strings are wrapped with pure copper so don’t let them corrode. Hummingbird tongues and hens’ teeth round out the list of exotic materials employed.

Periodic tuning and regulating and balancing are needed. Even the outer ebony-black finish should only be cleaned with knitted cotton that’s dampened with water. Never use furniture polish or wax. And you wipe with the grain, not across. If the inside of the piano gets dust and junk in it, call a professional piano cleaner. Fussy, fussy. But the feeling of playing on such a fine instrument is unsurpassed. The sound reaches out, soaks into and encompasses your soul—you become part of its acoustic aura. There simply is nothing else like it.

A little booklet that came with the piano welcomes us to the Steinway family. We welcome Babe to ours.


I was taking pictures of our new piano for the insurance company tonight, and captured this image of part of the innards. I thought it was good looking, so why not make a blog of it?

We bought a piano recently. With a glass of wine, I strode out to the studio and plunked around on it, inventing chords and melodies that have never been heard in all of musical history. Hopefully, they’ll never be heard again. The insurance company wanted pictures of the piano and its studio. With the sun late in the sky, the best lighting, the “golden moment” was occurring. I wanted to show them the model and serial number and captured this image, part of which is shown.

Steinway makes beautiful instruments. This little closeup shows some of their craftsmanship. It took almost a year on the part of hundreds of craftsmen/women to produce our piano. It is gorgeous and sounds like something that comes straight from Heaven. It just flat out digs into your innermost heart and soul. Nothing sounds like a Steinway. Nothing feels like a Steinway. We love it. We’ve named it Babe.