Wednesday, February 29

Play With Your Food

I wanted to call this blog entry “Semaphore Girl.” But Play With Your Food is more fun. I was eating a cracker, biting, then turning and biting again. I noticed its shape looked like a dress. Nearby was a bag of Chex Mix. The rest, as they say, is history.

Turkeys galore

Yesterday we went out to the big world to pick up our mail. Since it’s about a two-hour round trip, we only get to the post office once or twice a week. We have a PO drawer, not a PO box. The drawer is big. Once last summer I was leaving the post office with a huge pile of mail in my arms. As I got to the door, a man approached from outside and opened it for me. He gawked at the enormous amount of stuff I had, so I said to him, “Don’t worry. I left some for you.”

As we returned home, we saw a herd (bunch? batch? wad? gaggle? heap?) flock of what must have been a hundred wild turkeys! They were spread out in a loosely-structured line that must have been a couple of hundred feet long. Some of the toms were in full display, with their tails forming a big fan and the rest of the feathers all over their bodies standing on end. I wonder what that feels like? Do they get goose bumps? Turkey bumps? I’ll have to look that up.

Cell phone pic by Tom Hurley

Monday, February 27

I tried, honest I did

Karla and I visited Death Valley a couple of weeks ago and returned home the day after Valentine's. But in trying to compose a blog about it, I wasted over five hours using Google's weird new Blogger software to no avail. Unlike its previous software, the new improved version limits what you can do regarding placing pictures where you want them to be. It was looking like my only choice would be to break the single multi-picture blog into several parts, which simply wouldn't work as I wanted. It would be like breaking a novel into several books instead of one.

I usually compose a blog entry in a word processing program, then copy and paste it into the Blogger software. If there's only one picture, and it's above the story, I can load the picture after the words since by default it appears on the top of the story. If there are two pictures, I have to start getting tricky, especially if one of them should be in the middle of the story. If I place the cursor where I want the picture to be, sometimes the picture can be made to appear there. But sometimes not. Sometimes I can drag the picture where I want it, but often that doesn't work. Sometimes if I try to select one picture to move, two pictures get selected instead. I won't bore you with more details, but it's always a crap shoot to get what I'm after and takes a lot of fussing around.

It reminds me of the old days when we had a Windows computer and tried desperately to put together the monthly newspaper for Hilary's school using Windows 3.1. We used a program called Microsoft Publisher. It was maddening. We would compose a single page the way we wanted it, and when we tried to print it, that one page would be scattered to bits, it would come out of the printer as sometimes ten pages with enormous spaces between each line of type, the pictures distorted to smithereens. I am sure it cost us lots of sanity.

Blogger software must have been written for Windows, then ported to Macintosh. Because it sure reminds me of Microsoft Publisher all over again.

A period of many days went by before I finally figured out how to make a multi - picture - with - words - between - them - layout work. It came to me in a dream (nightmare?). It goes like this: put in some text, like xx. Then hit the return key and upload the first picture. Then hit the return key and put in another xx. Hit return, put in picture, and repeat till all the pictures are in place. Then go back and paste in your text one paragraph at a time between the pictures. Erase the xx's. Done. It worked, and resulted in the blog called "Slow down when wet."

I am on a roll now. Expect more-frequent posts. Feel my pain. Thanks for listening. Good night.

Saturday, February 25

Ben visits Tatooine

While we were in Death Valley, Hilary showed me a cell phone picture of Ben on the sand dunes to the north of Furnace Creek. I was reminded that those were the dunes used in filming the original Star Wars.

It had to have been the most amazing stroke of luck that the moviemakers were able to find sand dunes right here in California that looked exactly like the ones on the planet Tatooine. It must have saved them tons of money in location costs.

Slow down when wet

I’m not sure of the exact wording, but the title of this entry is pretty much what the roadside sign said on California State Route 58 heading east toward Tehachapi, Mojave, and that general territory. People tell me that the sign refers to the condition of the road, but I interpreted it as meaning if I, the driver, was wet, I should slow down. Since I was dry, I kept going along at 70 mph or whatever the rest of the traffic was doing. Coincidentally the road also happened to be dry.
None actually impressed me as important. Perhaps I missed them.
Karla and I were on the way to the kids’ place at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It was a mini vacation, the first we had taken in a very long time.

A couple of days later Luke and Hilary and Benjamin and we went on a tour of the sights. We had seen many of Death Valley’s attractions on previous visits, so we headed for Nevada where Luke had managed to procure a hard-to-get haircut appointment at SuperCuts in Pahrump, and Hilary had some banking business do to. On the way we stopped to admire the World’s Largest Cow. Honest. It’s a great big cow that just lies there and seems to wish she could stand up at least one more time before she dies. Huge. Honest.
Too windy to see the Pupfish.
We also took a detour to Crystal Springs. Warm water gushes out of the desert at 2,500 gallons per minute. A sign placed by Audubon piqued my interest. I didn’t see any really important birds, however. Maybe birds don’t flaunt their importance like humans do.
Luke, Hilary, Ben and Karla on the boardwalk from the spring. Nice sky!
As we approached Pahrump from the west, we saw a curious traffic sign. It warns of an upcoming stop ahead, and does it with unique precision. It says, “Stop ahead 473 feet.” Makes you want to get out your measuring tape to see if they’re serious. From the opposite direction, the approach sign simply says 400 feet. It must have been installed after the precision-freak sign guy got fired for his first sign.

Visiting southwestern Nevada was enlightening. I was reminded of President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, and her campaign to beautify America by limiting the profusion of billboards. Nevada apparently didn’t get the message; in Pahrump huge billboards seemed to be about every 250 feet or so along the main road. They were spaced only far enough apart so they wouldn’t obscure each other’s messages.

Being in Pahrump reminded me of its best-known citizen, Art Bell, the former late-night host of Coast to Coast AM, a four-hour seven-times-a-week radio show on some 600-plus stations in the US that starts at two in the morning on the East Coast, ten PM on the West. He made his broadcasts from a double-wide mobile home in “The Kingdom of Nye.” (Nye is the name of the county.) His subject matter emphasized weirdness, from UFOs, the mysterious Area 51, the elusive chupacabra, a beast that sucks blood from goats, and myriad oddities of the imagination. From what I could see, at least one of Pahrump’s streets bears his name.

On the way back to Furnace Creek, we dropped down into a canyon of fractured rock held by walls of hardened mud. Long ago miners dug borax out of those walls. At the bottom of the canyon is China Ranch. Over a century ago, a Chinese man noted its abundant water and fertile mud and planted date palm trees. Now it’s a diversified date orchard with a gift shop. One claim to fame is explorer Kit Carson’s overnight stay. “Kit Carson slept here,” bragged a sign by the restroom. From all the bragging signs I’ve seen about famous visitors at obscure places, it seems that all they do is sleep. China Ranch must have been just as exciting back then as it is now.

In the gift shop were little bags of date seeds. A dollar-fifty. Seemed like a joke to me, since most tourists would buy a bag of fresh-picked real dates. They’d be full of date pits. Maybe date pits aren’t date seeds. I’ll have to look that up.
Did the road disappear completely? As we drove, it seemed to be re-creating itself ahead.
The next day we had a scrumptious dinner at Luke and Hilary’s celebrating Valentine’s Day. The following day we headed back home. Driving south through Panamint Valley I was compelled to take a picture of the longest straight stretch of highway I ever saw in my whole life. It disappears in the distance to invisibility. A few nights ago as we were driving through Panamint to Death Valley, approaching headlights seemed to be there forever before the cars finally reached us.
Tehachapi was snowy. To Sioux it was a lovely huge cow pie.
We drove through occasional rain and snow flurries as we approached Tehachapi, where the world’s largest array of wind turbines spun frantically in the stiff wind. We stopped at Denny’s Diner to fuel up for the rest of our trip home. Sioux, the Wonder Dog, ran on the snow in the vacant field next to the restaurant. She rolled in the snow as if it was the biggest, freshest cow pie ever. (Sioux does her own fragrance management.) Incidentally, I talked to the manager of Denny’s. I told him that his restaurant was highly recommended by many travelers, and that the only complaint I had about it was the incessant wind. I said, “It would be much more pleasant here if they’d turn off those big fans up on the hills.” He laughed and told me he hadn’t heard that one before.

We arrived at home to find that the temperature inside was 56°F since the house is heated with wood and we had been gone for several days and it had snowed in the meantime. The woodshed held lots of dry oak and pine firewood, so we got things back to normal in a hurry.

All in all, it was a very nice vacation.

Friday, February 10

Mystery word

I don’t know why it is but every once in awhile I run across something that catches my attention in a beyond-the-obvious way. It could be a tree that has odd little clusters of leaves, it could be a big rock that doesn’t have any lichens on it. It could be a roadkill skunk. Or it could be a word that has way too many vowels in a row.

Here’s a challenge to my readers: What word has the vowels EAUI in it all in a row? Hint: it starts with P and ends in G and is three syllables long and means reaching a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress. It has an L and an N and a T and another A in it. Ten letters.

Who could ask for more?

That reminds me…

In spite of practically re-making the music industry in favor of digital music on iPods, Steve Jobs preferred to listen to vinyl records. I discovered that the usual digital file of a song on an iPod may have only five percent of the content that’s stored in an original studio recording tape. To match even an old-fashioned vinyl record would require gigantic digital files. The biggest advantage of a digital file is its tremendous dynamic range, the difference between the soft and loud parts; vinyl could never match that range.

While I was thinking about vinyl records, it reminded me of the tales told by a friend I knew while working at a TV station when I was a teenager (I was called “The Kid”). He had been a DJ at a 500-watt daytime AM radio station in Fresno in the 1950s. He said the greatest invention for DJs was the LP (Long Play) record. The station where he worked consisted of two small rooms on the fifth floor of an office building downtown. The restroom was on the second floor. He loved coffee. You can guess why he loved long-playing records.

The radio station staff was small. It consisted of the owner/manager/salesman, the pretty receptionist, and the “talent” who spun the records and did everything else. Once he even had to climb to the top of the broadcast tower to change the burned-out bulb of the red warning light. He hated that even more than having to run down three flights of stairs to pee.

He had the gift of gab to such an extent that even though he never went to college, he ended his career as the head of public relations at one of America’s top private universities. One time I corrected him after one of our late-night local newscasts; he had mis-read the word “debris” as “derbis.” When I told him the word was debris, he said, “So that’s how you spell debris! I could never figure out what derbis was.”


After I finished writing this piece, an email from The Economist popped into my inbox. It was an article that gives a very good rundown regarding the differences between recording methods, and is  worthwhile reading.

Tuesday, February 7

More from Ethiopia

Our good friend Audrey sent a heart-wrenching story of two births she attended to in Ethiopia, one ending in tragedy when the baby died. The second birth was to a young woman who had been raped and didn’t want the child. She offered the beautiful baby to Audrey, who would have willingly taken him, but it would have been impossible.

Before attending to the births, Audrey had finished presenting an art program to the children at the orphanage, so she had paint-spattered clothes. After the births, she had blood on her. There was no place to wash up at the hospital so she headed for home. Here is a small part of her story of that day:

I look down at the blood on my arms and ask the nurse if there is a place where I can wash up. No, there is not. I will have to go home and wash.

So I go home with Saba, since I'm locked out of the house-gate today. I have no key. That’s why I came to the hospital in clothing spotted with paint from the morning art project at the Children’s Center. “Peace Begins with Me” was our painting inspiration.

Saba gives me a shirt to change into and drops me off at my home gate. Still there is no one home, and my mind fills with frustrated, negative thoughts again. “This is ridiculous. I can’t even go home! This is the fifth time I have been stranded out on the road! I need to move.  I should have a key to the gate!” etc. Breathe, Selam. Remember peace begins with me???? So I head to a nearby restaurant to get something to drink and eat and relax. My pants are dotted with watercolor paints and blood. I’m wearing an Italian polyester, bright orange, green, blue, and yellow spotted shirt. With that description you could find me in a crowd of a thousand. But I’m too tired to care.

Finally I return to the gate an hour and a half later. Kalkidan, one of the girls, opens the gate and lets me in. “Sorry no one was home all day,” she says.

“That’s okay,” I say. “I just need to get out of these clothes, take a shower, and go to bed.”

“There is no water,” she replies.

I catch myself getting irritated by the news, and check myself back into reality.  If no water for the evening is my biggest problem today, I’d better count my blessings.

Sunday, February 5

Less-Than-Super (Bowl) commercials this year

I like to watch the Super Bowl each year, mostly for the commercials. Matter of fact, three of the front page stories on today’s Los Angeles Times’ online page were about the upcoming commercials, so I’m not unusual in that respect. I had already seen the VW commercial, a takeoff on last year’s masterpiece featuring a little kid in a Darth Vader costume trying to cast a hex on various things without success till he went out on the driveway and got the Volkswagen’s engine to start (his dad had seen what the kid was doing and started the car remotely). This year’s commercial featured a dog who was too fat to fit through the doggie door to chase a passing VW, so he exercised to lose weight and was finally able to dash through the door and chase the car. The scene then shifted to the Star Wars Cantina where various creatures debated whether the new commercial was on par with the Vader kid commercial. Of course, Darth Vader showed up and put a stop to the argument and got the protagonist to agree that the kid-in-the-Darth-Vader-costume commercial was the better of the two.

For production value, Chevrolet won in my estimation with its armageddon spot. The world was being destroyed by the wrath of the Mayan prediction’s 2012 end of the world. A few guys jumped into their Chevy trucks and managed to punch through the collapsing buildings and widespread fires and destruction and got out of the mess to meet at a pre-arranged spot. One of their buddies was missing. Turns out he was driving a Ford.

Coca-Cola’s polar bear commercials left me flat. Kinda dopey.

 Madonna is just amazing
The halftime show starring Madonna was amazing. She puts on a performance that is hard to match. At least two decades ago when we had a huge ten-plus-foot-diameter satellite dish to pick up television broadcasts, I was searching the skies one afternoon for something interesting. Encryption didn’t exist, so you could watch feeds from around the world. I happened across a live feed from France where Madonna was putting on a performance that was to be made into an HBO special. It was two solid hours of the most vigorous singing and dancing I had ever seen. She was relentless and untiring. I couldn’t believe that anyone could maintain such intensity for so long without collapsing. My respect for her soared as a result. So her performance this afternoon seemed almost routine, even though she was at least 20 years older.

And to tie all this wonderful entertainment together, the broadcasters filled the intervals with a kinda interesting football game. I can’t remember who played or who won, but some of the plays were pretty good. Karla managed to stay awake through most of it, while I kept refilling my glass with cold beer.

Oh yeah—the Audi vampire commercial was absolutely wonderful, a masterpiece! I almost forgot. (Must be the beer.) I hope it’s replayed later on.

Overall, though, the commercials weren't up to par compared to years past. Must be the malaise of our overall economy.

Wednesday, February 1

Bent again!

It’s a long time between uses of our road grader. Sometimes a whole year. It has idiosyncrasies that must be accommodated, such as coming to a jarring halt when I run into a big rock. That’s pretty obvious, so I am prepared for it. But one that I almost always forget after a couple of months is that I can’t direct the angle of the mold board (the big central blade) all the way forward on the left side if I expect to hit something that won’t move. Like a tree. I’ve already written about this incident, but didn’t show a picture of the damage.

With the use of a few pieces of 2x4s and the grader’s other hydraulic movements, I straightened it out in about half an hour. There’s only a teensy bit of a bend left in it, so it won’t retract fully. But, as a friend used to say, “It’s functionable.”