Saturday, January 28

The darned thing broke

Today while Karla was helping neighbor Bill tighten some of the thousands of bolts in his new metal shop building, I was cutting away at the ground with our road grader, putting in approaches to our house site. I ran into some really large rocks that needed to be dug up and moved away, then I tried to remove a ceanothus bush that was in the way of where we wanted our garage. Since it had been awhile since I had driven the grader, I forgot that I shouldn’t approach things with the left-hand side of the mold board (the big earth-moving blade that is in the middle of the grader) extended all the way forward. As I nudged the bush, I heard that sickening sound of a hydraulic ram rod bending. It turns out that the manufacturer used too small a ram for that particular part of the grader, and about five or six times since we have used it, it has bent to a 25° or 30° angle. It’s easy enough to bend it back by using lots of boards and jacks and the grader’s other hydraulic actions, but it was a stopper for today’s work.


Anyway I dug up and moved a bunch of big rocks.

Sunday, January 22

Badwater Ben

Here’s a Benjamin update! It was a very windy day at Badwater, and he had a ton of fun running around on the salt.

Photos: Luke and Hilary Painter

Wednesday, January 18

More bad legislation

Watch this speech called Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea), a TED presentation by New York University adjunct professor of the interactive telecommunications program, Clay Shirky. The crux of the abomination called SOPA occurs about 9:30 in and is concluded at about 11 minutes in, when he says you’re guilty till proven innocent.
Much like the gift from our president two weeks ago when he signed (admittedly with reservations about parts of it) the act called NDAA where any person, citizen or not, if suspected of being a terrorist, can be locked up (by the US military!) and won’t get to consult a lawyer or go before a judge. Just shut up and stay in prison till you rot. You’re guilty. The president says so. Period.

Now, let’s define terrorist—could it be anyone who opposes the will of the president or the legislature or the courts and is therefore a threat to the United States? Anyone who broadcasts their opposition on the Internet via a blog or a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet?  Hm-m-m.

Let them know…

 I use both Google and Wikipedia almost daily. Today they’re black in protest of the US legislators’ wish to mollify their campaign contributors in the movie and music industries by passing legislation that supposedly will end piracy of movies and music. The legislation will supposedly keep people from getting to the suspected sites by redirecting them to another address. This is dangerous because over time, the government can use their powers of redirection to keep people off any sites they deem unsavory. Censorship of expression, in other words.
Governments always start with the vilification of those people or ideas who are in disfavor with the majority of people. Get everyone’s agreement that the targets are bad, then ask for the power to silence them. That’s the first step. Anyone remember how the government made avoiding income taxes a criminal offense by getting everyone to agree that Al Capone, the Mafia boss, should go to jail for it? Now anyone can be tossed in jail.

Go here and sign the petition to stop SOPA and PIPA. Remind your “representatives” in the House that we outnumber them by 700,000 to 1.

Monday, January 16


Lookee here at this beautiful forecast. We are so parched here the air is crunchy. Over the weekend Yosemite National Park was advertising on the radio for people to come up and leave the tire chains at home—all the roads are free of snow for the first time since 1933. Skate on the lakes and ponds. Heck, even go out on the ice and have a picnic since it was warm and sunny and you won’t get your picnic blanket all dirty.

This morning I heard on a San Francisco radio station that people should prepare for pounding rain. Pounding! I hope it doesn’t all come in at once then run off before soaking in. Nice and gentle. Take your time, clouds. Just come in and park here for awhile. Free parking, we promise.

Saturday, January 14

New! Lose seven pounds in only two days!

I have discovered a quick weight-loss method that gives guaranteed results. Let’s say you’ve expanded to the last notch on your belt and don’t have a leather punch. Just catch “the bug that’s going around,” spend a couple of days in bed, make sure you’re close to a toilet and have a plentiful supply of TP, and be prepared to dash to said toilet every one or two hours (leave the lid up). Sweating and a dull headache are optional. Make sure you have a nice clean wastebasket to use for depositing the weight you’re losing orally while simultaneously losing more on the toilet (this was handy at least a couple of times).

I started this program Wednesday night. It ended Friday night. Would I recommend such a rigorous regimen? Only if you don’t have a leather punch or a longer belt.

Wednesday, January 11

Buckled in, ready to launch

Ben is strapped into his car seat, ready for the first stage takeoff. He’ll be going to Huntington Lake today, then over the mountains via Tioga Pass (still free of snow, amazingly!) and down to Furnace Creek and Papa. He and Hilary have spent the past several days here at the foothill ranch while Papa and his brother did some nasty plumbing repair. Luke and Hilary didn’t want to expose Ben to the possibility of airborne mold that was the result of a dripping garbage disposal that went undetected for awhile. The floor under it was damaged and had to be replaced.

So Ben and Hilary will return to a nice clean house.

Tuesday, January 10

Sub-Scientific American

I have subscribed to Scientific American Magazine since the 1950s. I stopped my sub when an editor turned the magazine into his personal political rant. Finally he got replaced by a woman who seems to think the magazine’s mission is to write about science rather than left-wing social issues. Now the magazine has a blog that comes to my email box (since I’m once again a subscriber), and the blog is written by some amazingly incompetent people.

In the most recent issue, the first article in the blog is about charging stations for electric cars. The author talks about the stations using “220 volt” connections as opposed to 120-volt connections. The correct voltage is 240, since electrical distribution in the US is whole or half. (End-use American power comes in three flavors, 480, 240 and 120 volts.) The article describes a string of charging stations which will extend from British Columbia in the north to Baja California in the south. The author says it will extend to “Baja, California” as if Baja were a city. Quibbling minor error, but still ignorant.

The next article describes a new crop of televisions. It describes them as having 1.4 meter screens. In America, that means 55-inch screens (it’s Scientific American, remember, not Scientific European). The writer must think Scientific American readers are all metric-savvy in everyday usage. Not in my house. Go to any Best Buy or Costco and ask to see a 1.4 meter television and you’ll get a blank stare.

The next article has the headline, “Floating Wind Turbines Set to Conquer Deep Ocean.” The deep ocean needs wind turbines to “conquer” it? Bad headline.

Next, a review of the upcoming flood of laptop computers called ultrabooks. The author describes the term as being a vague, amorphous description of the computers which can be interpreted at anyone’s whim. In fact, the term Ultrabook™ is trademarked by Intel Corporation, and is very strictly defined as being computers that are 3.1 pounds or lighter, 0.71 inches thick maximum, and have at least 5 hours of battery life.

The rest of the email has articles that are beneath-high-school-journalism-class quality. The writers are lazy, the proofreaders are asleep, and the publisher simply doesn’t seem to care what is being published. Shame!

Monday, January 9

Did it work?

I think it worked, anyway. The jars are still warm, but the residue of marmalade in the big kettle is jelling nicely. But wow, the work! I spent at least four hours making this stuff to fill two one-quart jars. By the time I was finished, my right hand had developed finger cramps; the ring finger, then the index finger just became rigid and refused to bend. The reason, I think, is that I used that hand to grasp the tiny cooked orange rinds while the left hand dug out the pulp and tough membranes that remained after the skins were boiled.

At first I used spoons to remove the pulp, but they didn’t work too well since they didn’t have a sharp enough edge to dig in as needed. So I used my thumbnails, alternating from hand to hand. That worked very well. I now have the cleanest thumbnails in this whole valley. If I make another batch of marmalade, I am going to try and figure out how to use my toenails—they need cleaning too.

Sunday, January 8

Marmalade time?

This poor little orange tree is working its branches off holding so much fruit! Last winter it got stunted by some very cold nights that killed off its younger shoots, along with all of the oranges. In spite of not getting a lot of watering during the summer, it managed to replace all the lost fruit, to the point that the branches may start breaking.

Making marmalade will be tedious for sure, since none of the oranges is even the size of a tennis ball, and some are hardly bigger than an olive. Slicing, seeding, juicing, and chopping the skins will take a lot of work. Cooking to the exact temperature needed, for the exact time needed will make a decent marmalade without the addition of pectin for thickening. But miss the time or miss the temperature and you end up with soup. Orange soup. Not even orange syrup—thin soup. Should I invest the time and energy? For soup?

I’ll think about it. Either way, I need to at least pick all of them so they don’t further damage the tree. Tedious.

Saturday, January 7

Proud Grampa Moments

The current visit by our grandson, Ben, has brought some really interesting things to my attention. First of all, his complexion is positively radiant, which means his loving parents give him the very best nutrition: fresh homemade foods with almost nothing packaged or prepared in a factory. And his enthusiasm for these nutritious foods is a testament to his body’s appreciation for them. I mean, how many kids do you know who love broccoli? Even without mayo! Yesterday I had puréed some apples in the blender because we knew he loved applesauce. Just apples, whole, skins and seeds included (only the stems were excluded). No sugar added. He ate it out of his bowl with a spoon, and smiled after every luscious bite.

His energy is boundless, at least compared to Grampa’s energy. He can outrun and out-hike me without breaking a sweat. He’s better uphill; I’m better downhill.

He loves to contribute to household chores. Karla had emptied the wagon of firewood so Ben could ride in it. When she went to the woodshed to refill it for tonight’s fire, Ben went along and helped by picking up heavy pieces of firewood and stacking them in the wagon. “Here, Ben, put this in the wagon. It’s heavy. And here are five more. Put them in too.” Then she asked him to help by pushing the wagon as Karla pulled it back to the house, which he did willingly.

Later in the day he decided the kitchen floor could stand mopping. So he upended the dog’s/cat’s near-full water dish, resulting in Grampa’s bringing in the mop to clean things up. Smart kid!

When Hilary was a little teeny child I doted on her. I was anticipating what we ended up calling the “Big Rock” moment. It occurred when we were at Florence Lake. As we stepped out the cabin door,  Hilary pointed to the enormous boulder to the west and said, “BIG rock!” It was her first two-word utterance, an adjective followed by a noun. Today Ben approached the front door and said, “Door, open.” That was really significant, being a noun-verb word pair, since he was asking me to open the door. I was blown away (as only a doting grampa can be). Later in the day I handed him the remote control for a large globe light hanging high in the living room. I reminded him to press the number three button, since that controls the light. He did. Then he said, “Light, turn on.” Wow.

Proud Grampa moments in abundance today. More tomorrow? I can’t wait!


For several weeks, the weather forecast has looked pretty much the same—daytime temperatures more like what we’d expect to see in springtime. It hasn’t rained for almost two months. No rain in the near future, either. In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, they reported some hope for rain—in late January!

Steinway Saving Time

Ben and Hilary are with us for a few days. After helping us feed twenty or so horses and playing “splash” in the the horses’ water (which explains why he’s shirtless—his shirt’s drying in the house), he was itching to pound the keys, so Karla took him to her little studio (our former chicken house) where she has her Technics electronic piano. It can sound like a pipe organ, a string ensemble, a xylophone, and any number of other instruments. It can also, shall we say, withstand a firm touch. Its piano mode is based on a Steinway grand, and sounds really nice, but doesn’t fool us.

Ben loves it, especially since Grandma’s real Steinway grand doesn’t have a chicken on its music stand.

Friday, January 6

Ethiopian orphans

Our very good friend Audrey has gone to Ethiopia to help expectant mothers deliver healthy babies. Right now she is working at an orphanage in Hawassa. Today she sent some pictures of the children she’s working with. It’s hard to believe that parents could give up such beautiful kids.

Thursday, January 5

Modern art

Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is gorgeous. This is a photo that belongs in a nice frame to hang on the wall in an elegant home. To anyone living on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, the view of the rings around the giant planet is something never seen except edge-on. The shadows of the rings on the planet provide a clue as to their shape, but that’s all.

Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Wednesday, January 4

A fish tale

If you’re too cold to eat, you’re in trouble. It’s a very different story if you’re a fish, though. I have found that when the temperature of the water in the fish barrel is below 42°F (6°C), the fish simply aren’t interested. After a little research, I found that goldfish can go for weeks, even months, without eating at all. Not only that, they can be frozen solid, then thawed out after several years. But that tends to kill them.

Tuesday, January 3

Lion Creek

A few days ago, we went to our bank so I could change the PIN on my debit card, which had been re-issued because some bad person had hacked it. 

(As an aside, it’s so nice to walk into the bank and Shawn, the customer service guy, says “Hi Tom. Hi Karla.” Makes you feel warm and fuzzy. Nice bank.)

On the way back home, we drove up the hill from our house site to where we plan to put our water tank. We also wanted to see how much water was coming out of the main spring that feeds the creek that runs alongside the site. Oddly, even though this season has brought almost no rain and has actually tied a 138-year-old record for lack of rain in December, Lion Creek is running. Not a gusher, but flowing nonetheless. While the rest of the mountains for miles around are starting to look more like a desert, Lion Creek canyon is lush. Horse tracks all over the place attest to the canyon being an important source of their sustenance. I had only my cell phone with me, so the pictures aren’t the greatest.

We have been users of alternative energy for decades. The high ranch has been off the grid for its entire existence, depending on water to provide it with 60,000 watts of electricity when the creek is high. Here in the foothills we have depended for 20 years on solar power, giving us a much lower 2,400 watts. During the winter when the days are shorter and the sky could be dark with clouds, it would be nice to supplement with some hydro power.

Lion Creek could supply us with that at our new house site where we plan to install 6,000 watts of solar panels down the hill below the house, and another 2,000 watts by the well. Even if the creek gave us only 500 to 1,000 watts, that runs lots of LED light bulbs when the sky is dark. After our years of experience on solar power here at the foothill ranch, we know how to stretch energy budgets. It’s just the opposite of how you do it on the grid: Run the big power-hungry appliances during the daytime.

Monday, January 2

Did Bucky Fuller peel mandarins?

R. Buckminster Fuller was a genius at rejecting the ordinary then creating the extraordinary. His Dymaxion map let us see, for the first time, the world’s landmasses with the least possible distortion of sizes of the continents and islands in relation to each other. By making triangles which could be moved around and butted up to other triangles, the relative distances between points on the globe were more accurately presented than using other mapmaking techniques.

 When I peeled a mandarin orange this morning, I was flattening a globe. It struck me that Bucky may have gotten his idea from the same activity. “Food” for thought, methinks.

Dymaxion map from Wikipedia

Sunday, January 1

Happy New Year!

If I were French and my last name was Inou-yére (pronounced ee-noo-year), would I have had the nerve to name a son born on the first of January Hap?

Play with your food

I love it when our good friend Patt sends us a Priority Mail box jammed full of mandarin oranges from her orchard. The little seedless gems are so sweet! When I make our annual batch of cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries, I toss a few whole mandarins in the kweeze (Cuisinart), skins and all. It’s so good!

But it’s even better when we simply eat them, ’cause that’s when we get to do some creative peeling, like in the photo here.