Wednesday, August 31


I got the picture shown here in an email, and sent it off to a few people on my mailing list. The signs at first make me laugh, then they make me fearful of living among people who need signs like these. One of my correspondents mentioned hearing someone say that he has a couple of kids in school and they’re not being taught longhand writing; that form of writing is like hieroglyphics to them. I recalled that the original United States Constitution is written in longhand.

Yesterday I heard government agency representatives talking about how the victims of hurricane Irene could count on assistance from the federal family. Not federal government—federal family. Remember when people on the leftward end of the political spectrum called themselves liberals? Now the preferred term is progressives. When I was in high school, the term progressive was used by those who didn’t like being called socialists.

I don’t believe any of this is happening by accident. I just bought the Kindle edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Gotta brush up on Newspeak.

Sunday, August 28

Another astonishing…

…astonishing what? How can I describe the most thrilling moment in Solitaire? This game went so smoothly and well that when I finished it I wondered—did I actually do that in one time through the deck? Fortunately I can back up the game completely with the Undo key and replay it, card by thrilling card, feeling my heart pound, the tingle running up both legs, the shortness of breath, the sweat gushing from my brow, the dry mouth, and finally the exhausting elation of playing all the way to another once-through-the-deck fabulous win!

Excuse me, I have to go lie down.

Saturday, August 27

Wrench stretcher

When the most prevalent sound around here is twin-engine airplanes with bright red tails flying over the house, you know it’s that time again. Now we have a wildfire burning to the northeast, shutting down Highway 140, the middle way into Yosemite National Park. The park is being powered by its emergency generators since the utility lines are down. The fire was caused when a motorhome’s propane tank caught fire. The motorhome was completely lost in the conflagration, and the residual effect was that several thousand acres of rugged country are now burning.

When I discovered a few weeks ago that the valve controlling our fire hydrant was split, I bought a replacement. Installing it was something else again. The old one was on so tight I couldn’t budge it with my puny eighteen-inch pipe wrenches. I had a 24" and even a 36" wrench but they were nowhere to be found. Probably went to the high ranch where the pipes are bigger. So I put together the rig shown above. The green nylon strap load binder can exert 1,500 pounds of force. It worked. I got the new valve on. Now if only those noisy airplanes would stop flying over all day long, things could be pleasant around here once again.

Thursday, August 25

I just love this illusion

I had first seen this illustration many years ago, and ran across it again today used in a Scientific American article about making a better light bulb. Without diving into the article, I tried to remember what the picture demonstrated, and came up with this: Two squares are labeled A and B. Which is darker? Well obviously A is darker than B. Duh.

Wrongo! They’re the same brightness! To prove it, put the fingers of both hands together at the tips, index to index, middle to middle, and ring to ring. Leave little diamond shaped holes between the fingers and superimpose them onto the A and B squares, masking the surrounding squares. Surprise! A and B are identically bright.

The whole idea of the illusion is to demonstrate context. You can try another experiment yourself that involves taste, not vision. A lot of people don’t like the taste of broccoli, for example. That’s because they are probably eating broccoli alongside things they do like such as mashed potatoes and gravy and fried chicken. But try this: Take a swig of a mixture of paint thinner, mashed ants and cat pee. Swish it around for a few seconds then spit it out. Then take a bite of broccoli. Wow! It’s love at first bite!

Wednesday, August 24

Google math

I was checking into using Google for Business to handle our ranch’s email. We already use their Gmail, but the Business mail offers more and only costs $50 per year.

I was checking out the features and had to view their introductory video twice because I thought something didn’t quite add up. As background, do any of you remember Google’s billboards recruiting people to work for them? The boards showed arcane symbolism that only a geek could appreciate. Like the sum of primes of factors of mathematical constants, or zeroes and ones that spell out something that no normal human ever heard of. The billboards were very successful in recruiting some very smart people to do Google’s magic. The problem was (and still is), very few normal people work at Google, the kind of people who can communicate effectively with the unwashed masses that make up Google’s audience. And some of their communicators don’t speak very clearly nor can they do simple math.

To illustrate my point, click on the link and view the short video titled Gmail Overview. The “announcer” mumbles his way through the script. At about the 1:10 mark listen to him say “that’s more than fifty times the industry average.” Google gives you 25 gigs of storage while others give you only one gig. Twenty-five times one equals fifty?

Google, you make me giggle.

Friday, August 19

Odd wasp

Some ground-nesting birds use an interesting behavior to lead intruders away from their nests. The grouse, for example, will make a fuss and lead a possible enemy far away before returning to the nest and its babies. But have you ever heard of an insect that does the same thing?

Several times, when coming back from my morning chore of feeding a couple of horses, I have seen a brilliant iridescent blue wasp staying just ahead of me on the trail, fluttering its wings, darting back and forth across the trail, always leading me up the hill until I’m safely away from whatever it is the wasp is trying to hide. Of course I don’t have a camera with me when this happens.

Today is different. I hung my nifty little Flip Ultra HD video camera on the doorknob so I wouldn’t forget it when leaving to feed the horses. After giving them their feed, I quickly headed back up the trail, hoping to see the blue wasp. And wouldn’t you know—for the first time there was no wasp! I guess the baby grouse it was raising grew up and flew away.

Sunday, August 14

Windy day

In the summertime, I always hang my laundry on a clothesline instead of putting it in the dryer. It saves gas and makes for less wear and tear on the fabric. The days are hot enough to get the job done quickly, and shaking the items as I take them off the line gets rid of the stiffness that normally sets in if there’s no wind to fluff things a bit.

Imagine my surprise when I went to take clothes off the line and discovered an entire sock blown clear to the ground! This year has been a big one for wind damage across the country. We here in California don’t usually get big blasts strong enough to lift a whole cotton sock clear off the line, and when it happens, it’s blogworthy.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Saturday, August 13

Warning! Your PayPal account has been limited!

It amazes me how people for whom English isn’t their first language (or if it is, that’s even scarier!) think they can pull in victims with the like of the wording in the screen shot shown above. I hovered the cursor over the link, and it shows that it’s a place called “surf in israel.”

My PayPal account doesn’t even do shekels.

Monday, August 8

They’re ba-a-ack

I hadn’t seen raccoon tracks in a long time, but when I headed uphill to start the olive tree soakers, there they were. The picture above shows them along with several other tracks: Car, Me, Cat, and Rabbit. A record of our passing is made daily in the sand, and if we stop to study it, we are reminded that we’re not alone. The tracks are spread out over time mainly because we can’t all occupy the same space at the same time. If the car makes a track, I will be in the car. When I make a track, the car is elsewhere. When the raccoons make their tracks, I, the car, the cat, and the rabbits are absent. You get the idea.

People of an analytical bent could create a chart showing the presence/absence/time relationship of the various actors in this scenario. One thing that could be anomalous is that some of the bunnies around here are fearless regarding human presence; we could make tracks together. One of the rabbits has actually befriended the cat (or at least isn’t afraid of it)! That’s probably a temporary situation; I better keep the cat well-fed so he doesn’t get any ideas.

When I feed one of our old horses, sometimes I almost have to boot a couple of rabbits away in order to pour the feed into her trough. Currently only one squirrel is fearless enough to sniff at my sandals. It reminds me of the times a decade or so ago when we had a low-to-the ground horse trough that would nearly fill up with squirrels (fourteen at a time!) waiting for the raining down of grain and pellets. I would have to stand in the trough and shove the squirrels to one end to give the poor old horse access to his feed. Our bunk (an off-the-ground trough and hay-holding combo feeder) gets visited by the ravens, who only rarely use it as a toilet, much to Geronimo’s approval.

I really enjoy the company of our wild animals. As for man-made animals, I reserve judgment. Well, no, I don’t reserve judgment. People have created house cats, for instance. Ours is a cross between [deleted] and [deleted]. Horses are…I better hold my tongue since there are dozens of them around here most of the year, along with people who really like them. Dogs are cool as long as they retrieve a thrown ball and don’t get it too wet and slimy.

It always amuses me—

when I see this printed statement:

This page intentionally left blank

Sunday, August 7

I took off running!

This afternoon I went over to the corral to let Geronimo out. He had been working for over four hours to eat his two-bucket ration of senior horse feed, something that’s so full of nutrition it makes him look like a real horse. He has all his incisors so he can bite things off, but the few molars he still has don’t match up. Chewing is not possible, so swallowing lots of pellets and ground-up grains works to keep him healthy. He still acts like he’s chewing, though, probably just a habit.

A few days ago I had sprayed him with fly repellent which is effective for several days. There is a species of smallish black flies that land in hordes, covering parts of the horse and making it look black. His normal brown coat is nice and shiny, but the flies can change that quickly. It’s funny—when he shiver-shakes, as only a horse can do, the flies take off and he’s a brown horse for a few seconds. Today I noticed that some new flies, very large yellow ones, were bothering him. I was familiar with the really nasty black “regular” horse flies which are about an inch (2.5 cm) long, but these big yellow ones were new to me. We have had smaller yellow flies before, and they pack a painful bite. I went to the barn and grabbed the big bottle of repellent and started to spray his back and belly. Flies flew off in clouds. The yellow ones were especially bothered by the spray and were very angry that I had made their meal ticket off limits to them. So what did they do? They came after me! I, with a bald pate, a thin t-shirt, and shorts and sandals made a very tempting target. I tossed the repellent into the barn, slammed the door, and took off running back to the house.

Felt good. I hadn’t run in months.

Monday, August 1


For some odd reason, the grapes around here are hanging in there without being munched by all the wild critters. No wasps, no birds, no vine snakes are eating them as fast as they ripen. Maybe Karla will get to eat some of them; they’re one of her favorite fruits. All she has to do is get down to the lower ranch once in awhile….