And then there was one

In 1985 Lori and I bought our condo, and one of the first things we did was go out and get some kitties. Three in fact, Fred, Lucy and Ethel. We lost Ethel after she was hit by a car, and the spring of 1998 we had to put Lucy down as her health was failing.

Before Lucy’s death there was a feral cat that often visited our yard. We tried making friends with her by bribing her with food. She was a skinny little calico, and she was willing to accept food from us, first from a distance, and finally she became brave enough to accept food out of our hand, but would quickly run away with it. One day Lori was lucky enough to sneak a pet in, and I was able to capture that on film.

meg001After several months of not making any more progress we gave up, as she just seemed too feral and untrusting.

After we had to put Lucy down, we thought we would get a couple of more kittens, but we were soon leaving on vacation for three weeks to England, so we put it off until we got back.

A couple of days after our return home, I found an orange kitten wandering in our backyard. Later in the day, I found a grey kitten. With no sign of the mother, I gathered them up and brought them inside. Finally the concerned mother showed up, and it was the cat we had been trying to make friends with. We couldn’t believe she had been pregnant, she was so skinny when we left on vacation.

I rigged the cat door so it would swing in but not out. That way she could come visit and nurse the kittens but we could make sure the kittens were safe. Every time we’d let her back out she’d run across the yard, hop the fence and visit the neighbors behind us.

A few days later I was in the backyard, and our neighbor asked if we had seen any kittens. He said he had two of them but couldn’t find the other two. I explained that we had them, and they were being taken care of. It seems the momma cat had the litter in their attic. A short custody battle ensued, but I was determined to keep them as the neighbors behind us were, well, let’s just say they were a bit rough.

Momma cat finally settled the issue by bringing the other two kittens to us. She figured out our porch was way more comfy than an attic during a San Jose summer. So at this point they all got names. The four boys were Ricky (to complete the I Love Lucy family), Wedgewood (gray one I caught after he got himself stuck in a picket fence), Einstein (always had crazy hair) and Galen (named after Galen Rowell because he was the climber of the group). Momma was named Meg, since Lori liked that name from the book Little Women.

With the cat door still rigged so she could come in but not leave, we got regular visits from Meg, but she remained a feisty, wild cat. I have never seen a cat get so pissed off as Meg would when we were in the room with her. We kept the four kittens until they were weaned. Then Einstein and Wedgewood went to live with my brother’s family, and Meg was taken to the vet, fixed, and released.

Then a funny thing happened. Once we started letting the kittens out in the backyard to play, Meg, who had been hanging around missing her kids, suddenly transformed. She calmed down, started letting us pet her, soon wanted to come back inside with her kittens, and within a few weeks was sitting on our laps, purring.

I honestly think there must have been a conversation between the kittens and Meg. “Mom, mom! They feed us every day, there’s lots of toys to play with, a comfy bed to sleep on, treats at bedtime. You should come and live with us. It’s a lot better than that hot stuffy attic you call home.”

And so, in the summer of 1998, Meg came to live with us. She really liked not having to hunt for her food, and within a few months you wouldn’t have recognized her as the cat in the first picture.

Galen, Ricky and Meg

Galen, Ricky and Meg

A rare belly up photo of Meg

A rare belly up photo of Meg

 

Meg enjoying our garden in San Jose

Meg enjoying our garden in San Jose

Meg, after going through treatment at the Knowles Weight Gain Clinic

Meg, after going through treatment at the Knowles Weight Gain Clinic

Meg quickly became the best lap cat ever. She had the softest fur and was a pleasure to pet, as long as you didn’t try to pet her paws or her tummy. A cat is not a cat unless it has some personality quirks, one of Meg’s was the fresh blanket.

When Lori and I sit on the couch we usually have blankets on our laps both for warmth, and to protect our skin from the cat’s claws. At the slightest hint of a blanket being moved on the other lap, Meg would have to go try that lap, hence the “fresh blanket”. It got to be a running joke between Lori and I. If Meg was on your lap and your legs were going asleep or you needed a potty break, the other person just had to fluff their blanket, and sure enough, Meg would be over in a flash.

With most of our cats, Lori’s lap seemed to be the default, but Meg was good at sharing. But most often than not, you’d find Meg curled up with Ricky on her lap rather than mine.

One of the rare occasions all four cats were on the couch at the same time.

One of the rare occasions all four cats were on the couch at the same time. Ricky, Meg, Artie, and Trevor.

 

Meg reacting to the paparazzi

Meg reacting to the paparazzi

Once in a while Meg would play, and when she did, her deep past as a feral cat would come through. She utterly destroyed this Christmas present in minutes.

Meg playing with cat toy.

A few minutes later it was just a pile of feathers on the kitchen floor.

Mostly what she liked doing was eating and sleeping, and commanding us to pet her.

icky, Galen, and Meg napping on the kitty condo

Ricky, Galen, and Meg napping on the kitty condo

After we lost Galen, Meg seemed even more devoted to her son Ricky. If they weren’t both sitting on Lori’s lap, they could usually be found napping somewhere, cuddled together.

Napping with Ricky on a sunny afternoon.

Napping with Ricky on a sunny afternoon.

When the nights get cold...

When the nights get cold…

For the longest time Meg ruled the house as queen. After Fred passed away, Trevor showed up to replace him, but Trevor was a sissy cat and Meg easily dominated him, keeping Trevor on alert at all times. When Galen passed away and Artie showed up to replace him, she was in for a surprise. Artie didn’t take shit from her like Trevor did. So while she was still enemies with Artie, she at least respected him and gave him a wide berth.

So I was very surprised one night to find Meg sharing her bed with Artie. Must have been really cold that night because hell froze over.

Meg and Artie

The night hell froze over

Befitting her royal aspirations, Meg had a fondness for the color purple, usually in the form of catnip filled mice that bore no relation to those she used to make a living from. I think it was her way of distancing herself from her meager beginnings. So while photographing some jewelry for a client, I decided to see how Meg would look adorned as an Egyptian queen.

Meg, during her short modeling career

Meg, during her short modeling career

There was also that big day where she traveled to my photography studio for a family portrait.

Ricky, Meg, Artie, and Trevor

Ricky, Meg, Artie, and Trevor

Sadly, in the last four months, we’ve lost three of the four cats pictured.  Ricky passed away in October 2013, Artie in December of 2013, and now Meg, on Jan. 13, 2014.

Even though we didn’t get her as a kitten, she spent 16 years with us, and at 17 years old, she was the oldest cat we’ve had.

For the first time in a long time, Lori’s lap was empty last night. Meg, you will be missed.

Meg, and her favorite purple sequined mouse

Meg, and her favorite purple sequined mouse

 

Unplug and Reboot – Troubleshooting Apple Airplay, a Yamaha Receiver, and Frontier DSL

07ED180BE35443FAA6D01C48DE795B0A_12075If you’ve ever placed a call to a tech support line for computer equipment, you know that usually one of the first things they’ll instruct you to do is unplug the device, wait 15 seconds, plug it back in, and then reboot it. I used to give that same advice when I worked for a company doing tech support. I should have followed that advice, but it’s amazing how you can get tunnel vision when working on a problem.

Last year I purchased a new stereo receiver, a Yamaha RX-V473, after my previous receiver blew up. One of the reasons I purchase this particular receiver was for its Airplay and Internet radio capabilities. For those of you not familiar with it, Airplay is an Apple technology that allows you to listen to the music you have stored in iTunes on your phone or computer through your stereo. It’s pretty cool technology, and I had gotten used to it, as well as I loved listening to net radio.

I found a couple of great stations on net radio that I really liked, the Jethro Tull station, and a big band jazz station. It became our weekend routine to listen to the big band station in the morning.

That all came to a halt when I decided to switch my Internet service from Suddenlink cable to Frontier DSL. Over the years I had grown to hate Suddenlink, for while my bill kept increasing, their performance and reliability suffered. When I was supposed to be getting 8MB service, I found that at night when everyone was downloading Netflix streams, I could barely get 2MB. So I downgraded to their 1MB for cost savings and ditched Netflix. When some vandal started cutting Suddenlink’s cable every few days, I finally had had enough. Not because the outages were their fault, but because they were the type of company that would inspire such vandalization in the first place.

So we made the switch to Frontier and everything went smoothly. Frontier’s bundle meant I was getting my DSL at no extra cost, plus my download speeds were improved to 6MB. But there were two problems that I put on the back burner for awhile.

First the Internet radio was full of clicks and crackles, like listening to an old record. While listening to the big ban station I just pretended it was an old record, but after awhile I got tired of my own delusion.

The second problem was that Airplay no longer worked.

The odd thing was that I could see the receiver on the network, and I could even use the iPhone app Yamaha provides to turn it on and off, and switch inputs, as well as changing radio stations. I couldn’t figure out what would cause a digital signal to degrade the way it was, usually digital signals are fine or they don’t work at all.

I tried playing with the router that Frontier provides, a Netgear 7550. This model of router is sold only to telecomm companies, and they don’t provide a manual for it but I was able to find some info on the web for it. But nothing seemed to help.

Finally I decided to put the router in bridge mode and go back to using my old router. Again I found instructions on the web, but I still couldn’t get it to work. So I called up a local network guy and had him come over just to double check everything. He was stumped, but finally made the suggestion to just try unplugging the receiver since it was normally in a standby mode when turned off.

So I unplugged it, waited the 15 seconds, plugged it back in, and after it warmed up both problems vanished. The net radio was crystal clear, and the Airplay was able to stream. Because the LAN IP address changed from my old router to the new one, some old setting was saved in the receiver and it was screwing it up. I don’t know what it saved, and I don’t really care. The important thing is my music is back.

I did decide to keep the old router in place, mainly because it puts the wireless access point in the part of the house where we most often use wireless. To do that I just disabled the wireless in the Netgear 7550, then plugged the old router into a port of the 7550. No other configuration changes were required.

So my lesson learned was just because a device shows up on a network, it doesn’t mean the old unplug and reboot trick isn’t necessary.

P.S. I really love the Yamaha RX-V473 receiver and the iPhone app that is a free download. It is so much easier controlling the receiver with the iPhone than using their standard remote control. It is such a great app, I’m thinking of someday upgrading to their blueray player that also can be controlled by the app.

Poppies and Darwin

California PoppiesMost people who have lived in California any amount of time have become familiar with Eschscholzia californica, whether they know it or not. It is after all the state flower, and it grows almost everywhere, both natively and cultivated. Yep, the California poppy is what I’m talking about. We have it in our garden, and it moves around every year, depending on where it feels like growing for that season.

But there are several different types of poppies, and the Papaveraceae family includes about 770 species of these cheerful flowering plants. I have always loved Oriental poppies, which are perennials, and tried growing them several times in San Jose to dismal failure for one reason or another. This year I tried some different types of annual poppies and had better results, although still some failures.

Heirloom Pepperbox poppyHeirloom Pepperbox PoppiesIn a carefully marked seed bed in our kitchen garden, I planted three varieties from Renee’s Garden: Falling in Love, which is a Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas), Hungarian Breadseed and Heirloom Pepperbox, both of which are in the Papaver somniferum family. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that out in the sun and rain, Sharpie permanent markers don’t live up to their name. By the time the seedlings started showing up, the labels had disappeared and I lost track of which bed was planted with which variety.

Then to make matters worse, the weeds started growing much faster than two of the varieties of the poppies. I was clearing the weeds around the poppies that I did see coming up, when I noticed that under all the weeds another of the poppies was just showing up. I noticed this only after I saw little poppy plants mixed in with all the weeds I pulled up. Oh well, next year I’ll try and water the seedbeds and turn them over several times to get rid of the weeds first before planting what I want to plant.

Fire Pepperbox PoppyI did get one of the three varieties going, but it wasn’t until they bloomed that I knew which one it was. It turns out the Heirloom Pepperbox was the star performer. Most of these poppies are dark red although some are purple or pale lilac. There is one special one though. While so far all of them that have opened are single and an unfringed, one red flower decided to be different from the rest. I think this one special flower knew it was growing in a firefighter’s garden, and so it decorated itself with a flame like appearance.

Double poppyPoppies from Nilsen'sOver in the other side of the garden, in the long border (ok long for us, not by English garden standards) I had planted some poppies I found in a six pack at Nilsen’s. I’m not sure what species of poppy they are because I forgot to save the information when I planted them. But they are about 40″ tall, and feature large, dark purple, almost black, very double blossoms. Except for one. This one, in the opposite move of the Pepperbox poppy, decided he didn’t like the frilly look, and instead came out wearing only a single row of petals. Other than that, it totally matches the other 5 plants that shared the six pack.

I love these little surprises in the garden, and I love that there are 770 species of poppies. In our travels we have seen beautiful blue Himalayan poppies that we need colder winters to grow. There are the huge Matilija poppies from Mexico that need more heat and less water than Ferndale provides. We can grow the Flander’s red poppy and I’m looking forward to spreading some seeds given to me by a friend. I’m still determined to grow some Oriental poppies, and of course I can always grow California poppies, even if most days Ferndale fails to provide enough sun to convince them to open their bright petals.

All this variety, and the fact that one can see these changes right in your own garden, convinces me that Darwin was right. It is hard for me to understand how 46% of Americans don’t believe in evolution, when the proof can be found right in one’s garden. The alternative of not believing that genes and mutations created these varieties, is to believe that even though he’s been busy for over 2000 years trying to get us to stop killing each other in his name and hasn’t been successful at all in that endeavor, God took a little time out from his bigger duties to put a little fringe on one of my poppies.

Let’s Make A Deal

In Sam Harris’ book, The Moral Landscape, the author makes the point how hard it is to change someone’s belief, even when you present them with facts. To illustrate his point he provides the following example.

Imagine that you are a contestant on a game show and presented with three closed doors: behind one sits a new car; the other two conceal goats. Pick the correct door, and the car is yours.

The game proceeds this way: Assume that you have chosen Door #1. Your host then opens Door #2, revealing a goat. He now gives you a chance to switch your bet from Door #1 to the remaining Door #3. Should you switch? The correct answer is “yes.” But most people find this answer very perplexing, as it violates the common intuition that, with two unopened doors remaining, the odds must be 1 in 2 that the car will be behind either one of them. If you stick with your initial choice, however, your odds of winning are actually 1 in 3. If you switch, your odds increase to 2 in 3.

It would be fair to say that the Monty Hall problem leaves many of its victims “logically dumbfounded.” Even when people understand conceptually why they should switch doors, they can’t shake their initial intuition that each door represents a 1/2 chance of success.

I have to admit after reading that problem, I was one of the victims who was dumbfounded. Even after reading the end notes that explain the logic further, it was still hard to grasp.

But there was one way to prove it, and that was to write a program that would run the game show contest over and over, and compile the results. So that’s what I did, and here are my results:

Games Played = 100000
Switch & Won = 33228
Switch & Lost = 16772
Stayed & Won = 16594
Stayed & Lost = 33406

That’s pretty close to the 1/3 chance of winning if you stay with your first choice and 2/3 chance of winning if you switch. Now I just need to get on that game show for real. We could use a new car!

Once I wrote the program I had a better understanding of what was happening. Hopefully with some pie charts I can help you wrap your head around this teaser.

Here’s our chances at the beginning of the game. Three doors, there’s a 33.3% chance that the car is behind any door.

You decide to select Door #1. Your slice of the pie is 1/3 with 2/3 remaining.

Just to make that clearer, here’s the 1/3 you picked, and the 2/3 left over. The car has to be in one of those two pie slices, either the 1/3 you picked or the 2/3 you didn’t.

Now you’re shown that the car isn’t behind Door #2. But that doesn’t change the fact that you still only have 1/3 of the pie. It does mean however, that the other 2/3 that you don’t have has been consolidated into Door #3 because you now know the car isn’t behind Door #2.

Just in case you’re interested in trying it out yourself, here’s the PHP code I wrote to test it.

$count = 0;
$switch = "yes";
$staywin = 0;
$staylose = 0;
$switchwin= 0;
$switchlose = 0;

while ($count < 100000) {

// Set up the array

$door = array("goat", "goat", "goat");

// Select the door to put the car behind.

$doornumber = rand(0,2);

$door[$doornumber] = "car";

// Contestant chooses a door

$choicenumber = rand(0,2);
//echo $choicenumber." - ";

// Host opens one door

$validdoor = "no";
while ($validdoor == "no") {
$opennumber = rand(0,2);
if ($opennumber == $choicenumber or $door[$opennumber] == "car") {
$validdoor = "no";
} else {
$validdoor = "yes";
}
}

// Contestant decides whether to switch or not

if ($switch == "no") {
if ($door[$choicenumber] == "car") {
$staywin = ++$staywin;
} else {
$staylose = ++$staylose;
}
$switch = "yes";
} else {
$choicenumber = 3 - ($choicenumber + $opennumber);
if ($door[$choicenumber] == "car") {
$switchwin = ++$switchwin;
} else {
$switchlose = ++$switchlose;
}
$switch = "no";
}

$count=++$count;
}

echo "Games Played = ".$count."
";
echo "Switch & Won = ".$switchwin."
";
echo "Switch & Lost = ".$switchlose."
";
echo "Stayed & Won = ".$staywin."
";
echo "Stayed & Lost = ".$staylose."
";
?>

Allstate Motorcycle Insurance – Loud pipes are all the safety equipment you need.

 

Featured prominently in the February 2012 American Motorcyclist is a full page ad for Allstate Insurance that depicts one of the worst characterizations of motorcycle safety I’ve ever seen in the magazine.

Before I get to their ad, first a little history on Allstate and their support of the motorcycling community. According to the October 2001 issue of American Motorcyclist, Allstate was one of the insurance companies that was blacklisting certain high performance motorcycles because apparently they were terribly unsafe. The list of motorcycles they blacklisted showed they had no clue about motorcycles, and even if the concept of not insuring certain motorcycles because they were “unsafe” was valid, they missed the mark when they targeted certain motorcycles.

For example, they banned every motorcycle made by Moto Guzzi, and Ducati. Were they racist against Italians or what? Sure Ducati has a reputation of making some great sportbikes, but they also make adventure bikes and sport touring bikes. Those two classifications generally get good insurance rates, because it’s an older, more experienced, and safer group of riders that own them. I’d also venture to say from my observation over the years that adventure riders and sport touring riders are the ones you’ll most likely find wearing all the gear, all the time.

And that brings me to the ad in this month’s magazine. For a company that has a huge financial stake in promoting safe motorcycling to send out this image is not only bad business for them, but it sends out an entirely wrong message to the public. They’re basically telling motorcyclists that you don’t need to do anything to protect yourself, because when you crash, we’ll be there to pick up the pieces.

So just like when I was a kid and I played “Find what’s wrong with this picture”, I got out my virtual crayons and highlighted the most glaring things that make anyone who is interested in motorcycle safety and presenting a good image for motorcyclists cringe. (click on the ad to see my comments)

Riding Gear

Rider’s have a responsibility to reduce their own risk. Why should my insurance premiums pay for treatment of head injuries, broken bones and road rash that could have been prevented by wearing the proper safety gear?

  • Helmet – The rider is wearing what is probably the unsafest legal helmet. While the model of helmet depicted is probably a legal model, it is a small step above the illegal helmets that the Harley crowd favors. It is a huge step down from a full face helmet that has a chin bar that actually protects your face when it meets the pavement or the side door of an SUV.
  • Allstate Motorcycle Insurance adJacket – A leather jacket or a nylon jacket with armor would be preferred to protect against road rash should he have an accident. Armored padding protects bones during a fall.
  • Pants – Same story as the jacket. Jeans protect very little.
  • Gloves – Why would you not even wear gloves? Aside from giving some relief for vibration (which I’m sure that machine has), after the helmet, they are perhaps the most important and commonly worn protective gear.

Motorcycle Equipment

Let me just say, I think cruisers are a joke in the first place. To hamper performance, comfort, handling, and braking performance so you can look cool is just stupid.

  • Ape Hanger Handlebars – There’s a reason they’re illegal in some states and it’s because they have a very bad effect on handling. Of course the whole layout of that bike means any accident avoidance is going to be limited to yelling “Oh, Shit!”.
  • Turn Signals – I’ve seen Harley riders with no turn signals on their bikes. Apparently it’s much cooler to take your hands off the handle bars and do those nifty hand signals. Love it when it’s the passengers job to be the signaler.
  • Headlight – I’ve been riding for over 30 years and ever since I started it’s been the law that motorcycles must run with daytime headlights. But this guy is saying he’s extra cool, he’s not a safetycrat, he doesn’t need some government official telling him how to protect himself so he went to the trouble to disable his headlight.
  • Front Fender – Fenders are required so that tires don’t kick up rocks, or spray you with water. Seeing as this guy is riding with a bare face and bare hands, you’d think maybe he’d want a fender. Also on many bikes the front fender is needed to provide stability to the forks. But being cool is better than having a safe and better handling bike, so let’s remove it.
  • Brakes – Other than most dirt bikes and the smallest economy beginner bikes, most bikes built these days have two front disc brakes for better stopping power. Depending on the bike style, 80% to 100% of the stopping power comes from the front brake(s). Maybe he didn’t want to overwhelm the minimal traction that stylish but skinny front tire could provide.
  • Loud Pipes – Everyone knows that if you install illegal and obnoxiously loud open pipes on your bike, you don’t need all that other safety equipment. For some unknown reason, loud pipes envelope you like some impervious “Star Trek” field force that protects you from texting teens in SUVs, oily spots on the road, and suicidal birds. The fact that everyone stops what they’re doing and looks at you is just an extra bonus.

NOBODY PROTECTS RIDERS BETTER THAN ALLSTATE

What a piece of crock! They don’t want me riding a bike that has massive acceleration to get out of someone’s way, a bike that has quick handling to swerve out of harm’s way, or just not get me in trouble in the first place, and they don’t want me riding a motorcycle that has brakes strong enough to jolt your eyeballs out of their sockets, but they’re totally fine with the image in this ad? I’m sorry, but I won’t be doing business with Allstate. Ever!

He Finally Figured It Out

TrevorTrevor, our part time cat, first showed up at our house in the fall of 2002. We call him our part time cat because he’ll show up religiously every day for a few days, and then we won’t see him for 3-4 days at a time.

He mostly comes by for food and drink, although he is a really good snuggler when he finally settles down. He eats like no other cat I’ve ever seen, yet where he puts all that food we’ve never figured out. He’s the only cat we’ve ever had who hasn’t turned into an overweight lump of fur. He’ll clean out the food bowl and then start looking around for any dishes to clean, and he’s great for cleaning up the food the other cats spill on the floor.

His drinking is legendary. I’ve never seen a cat that loved milk as much as this one. He gets so excited about milk that he does a little “Milk Dance” when ever he gets a hint that milk will be served shortly. Whether it’s hearing the fridge open, or seeing me get a bowl out of the cupboard for my morning cereal, he’ll be right at my heels doing his dance.

This love of milk must have been responsible for what finally pushed him over the edge. For nine years now we’ve been trying to get Trevor to come into the house through the cat door. He has the going out part down just fine. In fact when he gets scared (which is often) he manages to fly through the door without a second thought. But no matter how much we cajoled him, bribed him with food, or pushed him through it, he just has never been comfortable with the thought of entering the house though this convenient contraption called the cat door.

You see, Trevor’s never been the brightest cat. In fact he’s picked up the nickname of Captain Slow (with a nod to Top Gear) because sometimes he moves like molasses, taking forever to do things like getting up on the couch. I think he’s always afraid that Meg is lurking around, just ready to beat the crap out of him. He’s kind of a wuss that way.

Every once in awhile, Lori or I will see Trevor in the house and not being the one who let him in, have asked the other just to confirm, “Did you let Trevor in?”

For nine years the answer has always been yes.

Until today. This morning I was getting my usual bowl of cereal ready when Trevor came running into the kitchen. I didn’t realize he was in the house and at the time Lori was taking her shower, so I didn’t think she could have let him in. When she got out I asked her, and for once the answer was a remarkable, “No”!

So finally, after nine years, it appears that Trevor has finally figured out that the door swings both ways. Hopefully he’ll use it more often, especially during the winter.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but apparently, the same doesn’t hold true for cats.

In My Own Backyard

It’s often true that people don’t discover their nearby attractions until relatives or friends visit from out of town and they become the tour guide. People travel all over seeking out the new and interesting, when sometimes the best places are in their own backyard.

Today I realized that literally, one of the best places is in my backyard.

Williams Creek, a small tributary to the Salt River, runs through the back portion of our yard. Our property extends a bit on the other side of the creek, but for all intents and purposes, the creek defines the back border of our property.

The creek has also become one of the features of our yard that has me hating our property at times. Because the Salt River is no longer a real river, Williams Creek often floods our property and each time it does, it brings in a new crop of weeds and deposits another layer of silt across our yard.

Willows line the banks of the creek, and below the prodigious branches of the willows grows an increasing tangle of berry vines, stinging nettle and horsetails. I used to be able to mow much of the backyard, but with everything that’s gone on the last few years the willows and brambles took over.

Two weeks ago a large willow fell over during a light summer rain, and so I’ve been sawing and hacking my way through the mess it caused. This afternoon I made it to the old wire fence that runs the length of the property in the back. It had always annoyed me because you can’t weed whack along a wire fence. So I spent most of the day clearing the brush off of the fence and started pulling the wire and stakes.

This opened a path to the creek, something we hadn’t had in quite some time. Being an unusually warm day in Ferndale, I was ready to quit my yard work at that point. Lori had been busy in the front yard pulling horsetails and I knew she’d be ready to quit soon too.

We had talked about setting up our foldable settee and sitting out in the back yard since it was such a nice treat to have a real summer day in Ferndale. But I had an even better idea.

I took our settee down to the creek bed, which required getting out the extension ladder as the banks are pretty steep now from all the erosion. Then I got a couple glasses of lemonade and put them in the cup holders of the chair.

Lori loved my surprise. We spent about an hour and a half just sitting with our toes in the cool water, enjoying the slight breeze that made its way through the trees. There were little birds and tiny water bugs to entertain us, and we dreamed of finding gold in “our” creek.

I had brought her iPhone down with us to take pictures, and while we were down there enjoying the splendor of our own backyard Lori suggested we could listen to some music on her phone. I decided to try Pandora, and it struck me as very odd to be sitting in the middle of a creek and still be connected to the Internet. I pulled up a George Winston station which seemed very appropriate for the locale. The third song that played was a track by David Lanz which was so nice we ended up purchasing the album on iTunes.

At that point I was starting to lose the feeling in my feet from the cool water, so we ventured back to the house to listen to the rest of the album on the stereo.

During the 90 minutes we spent sitting in our creek, I fell in love with our house again. So often it is just a source of endless chores, and we never take the time to just sit and enjoy it. But looking at the scenery in our creek, I realized that people drive long distances to enjoy scenery like this. We’re very lucky to have this little paradise in our own backyard.

Next week I’m going to try and find time to smell the roses we’re growing.

Comments

Today is one of those days where I’m pining for the Internet we had back in 1995. When I first found out about the World Wide Web it was a welcoming homey place. A place where you felt safe because it was just people sharing their knowledge.

Back then I never came across people trying to get your bank account numbers, black hat SEO wasn’t a problem, and I got a lot more work done.

These days I spend a lot of time worrying. I notice something funny going on and it requires research just to figure out whether it’s something I really need to be worried about or not.

This morning I received the bill from Hurricane Electric who is one of the hosting companies I use for my clients. I had slightly gone over my bandwidth limit and so there was an extra charge. Since I hadn’t added any big new clients lately (dang!) I became suspicious that maybe my server had been co-opted for some nefarious purpose. So instead of doing any meaningful work, I spent my morning on the phone, and looking at log files. Anyone who has viewed raw log files knows there are more pleasant ways to spend your morning.

Then all morning I started getting comments to moderate for this blog. Rather unusual because normally I’m lucky if I receive 1 comment a month here, so 6 in one morning caught my attention. They were all from different parts of the world, and all with different comments. Ok, that I get, comment spam. Usually done to promote some web site. Only these didn’t list any web site URLs, either in the web site field or in the text.

They all did have some weird misspellings, and were generic comments that had nothing really to do with what I wrote about. So yeah they’re spam, but what’s their motive, their agenda?

The only thing I can think of is that WordPress has a setting where once you approve a comment by someone, further posts from that person can be automatically approved. I don’t use that setting, but the spammer has no way of knowing. So they submit a rather innocuous first post hoping it’ll get approved, sure to be followed up by their real spam later.

The misspellings are random, I think to make it harder to Google a phrase to see if it is a common generated comment.

Doesn’t matter to me. I treat all comments that don’t mention what the post is about as spam. So if you want to spam my comment field, you’re going to at least have to read what I wrote. And you’re going to have to write a comment that relates to the post. I feel that’s only fair.

Now stop wasting my time. I’m trying to earn a living here.

The Kitchenaid Bank

This afternoon I finally got around to tackling the biggest project on my honey-do list. I had to. I was running out of clothes to wear.

For the last few months our clothes dryer has been making an increasingly loud squealing noise that didn’t go well with our quiet living in the country lifestyle. At first it only did it with large loads so Lori simply started doing smaller loads. That’s the beauty of being an intelligent creature, you adapt.

But then it got to the point where the dryer was bitching about having to dry more than one sock at a time. This got to be impractical. I kept putting off looking at it because I’ve been busy painting and working on the fence, fixing the truck’s bumper, doing a valve job on the KLR650 and a host of other things around the house. I thought about just calling a repairman, but that’s such a sissy way out. I at least wanted to have a crack at it and see just how far I could get in over my head before calling for professional help. Besides, just a few days ago I was staring at the inside of the motor of my KLR. If that doesn’t make you do the Mr. Tool Time grunt, then it’s time to just get rid of your tools. All of them.

So this afternoon I decided to take a look at our 10 year old Kitchenaid. First I pulled the back panel off. That was easy. Only problem was that it doesn’t get you anywhere. There had to be another way in, only I couldn’t find any other external screws to take off.

A quick Google of “Kitchenaid Superba Dryer Troubleshooting” got me the info I needed. (When you pronounce it super-ba, it sounds like a really dumb name for anything except possibly a loud sheep.) A couple of screws come out in the lint screen, and then the whole top just flips up like the hood of a car. Except the Kitchenaid engineers aren’t kind enough to provide the little pole to keep it propped up and it’s connected by way too many wires to easily disconnect it and get it out of your way.

But once you get that off then you can also remove a couple more screws that allow you to remove the front panel. And that’s when I got a big surprise. I never realized that our dryer had become our piggy bank. A large pile of coins spilled out on the floor, and after counting it all up, I was $20.62 richer. Enough for a night out at the movies.

With the front off, you can then disconnect the drum belt and lift the drum out. Underneath the drum I found my target, two drum rollers that needed some oil. I then put everything back together and it works and there are no screws left over. So not only did I not have to pay for a repairman, or wait for him to show up, I also have a pocketful of change to go have fun with.

While I had it all apart, I searched carefully, but all those missing socks were nowhere to be found. That part is still a mystery.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

One of the problems of having a camera that you can tuck just about anywhere, is that it can get tucked just about anywhere. So for a couple of months I’ve been without my take it with me camera, my little Pentax Optio. But it recently resurfaced at the bottom of a bag of stuff I brought back from the studio, and with it, a few long forgotten pictures. So here’s a brief recap of progress on the house.

I started off the summer finishing the top of the fence. The Cecille Brunner roses we transplanted are doing great and the one over the gate even bloomed, providing a nicely scented welcome to our front yard. I can’t wait until we get the whole front covered in roses.

After finishing the top of the fence it was time to start working on pickets. I figure I need over 300 pickets. Here’s the first batch that I finished cutting, waiting to get painted.

I’ll be glad to get those up on the fence so people can finally see what the whole thing is going to look like. But that project got interupted by the fair, and now it’s into prime painting season so they’re on hold for awhile since I can paint them indoors. Can’t waste the precious fall weather on indoor projects.

After last fall’s heat gun incident, I needed to find a safer way to strip the paint on the exterior. After reading lots of reviews online, I finally decided to try out a Paint Shaver Pro. It arrived last week and I got to try it out for the first time yesterday. Right away I love it. In one afternoon I stripped the rest of the south side of the house. With the heat gun it would have taken me about a week or more. Plus I didn’t have to call the fire department, which is a huge bonus. It does scar the wood a bit, but most of the marks will sand out, and it’s a lot easier sanding the bare wood than it is sanding through layers and layers of paint.

Today’s project was to work on the top molding and the window trim. A lot of the window trim needed to be replaced as it was rotted, plus it allows me to prime and reattach the siding behind the trim. Redwood has a way of dissolving nails over a hundred years so it’s good to get everything re-nailed. I’m getting pretty used to finding wacky things done to this house by previous owners, but what I found today made me chuckle. Behind the window trim, insulating the space where the window weights used to hang, was a pair of workman’s coverups. I don’t know the R-Value for used clothing, but it has me wondering did the workman save these for just such a purpose? Or did he just blow out a knee and decide right there to recycle them. If I find a pair of jeans and a shirt in the next window, I’m really going to be wondering.