December 2006

Ranch Weather Station
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Ranch Operations
Ranch Wildlife
The Indians
Stealth Cam
Ranch Photography
Cedar Fire 2003


RV Trips

Idaho to Home

Salton Sea

Arizona 08'



Sunday, December 31, 2006

12 PM - In the past 5 years, cordless tools have really gained popularity with the construction crowd.  At the SDSU Physical Plant, every shop had at least one and tables were set aside to hold the clusters of  battery charging manifolds.  Skil and Milwaukee were the popular brands and a good power drill with battery and charger could easily set you back several hundred dollars.

For the ranch, I went with a slightly cheaper setup that came with two batteries, a power drill, circular saw and reciprocating saw.  It's not one of their high end models but it was made by Skil which is a brand that I cautiously respect.

But, as most construction workers know, the weak link with these convenient tools is battery life.  They work exceptionally well in remote situations when power isn't available and your job is small and un-repetitive.  But the battery charge doesn't hold up during extended use and if you have a job that will last all day, you might as well bring a generator and use your corded tools. (or have several batteries that are being rotated in the shop charger.)

Another drawback is that the nicad batteries are expensive and can't be expected to last over two years. (Mileage varies) And that's where I am today, with two 18 volt nicads that won't hold a charge and will only power my tools for short bursts of action. On sale, replacements cost $50 each and with that, we're approaching what I paid for the entire set of tools, including the batteries.

So instead, and trying to be cagey, I got on Amazon and ordered a rebuilt skill power drill that comes with the two needed batteries but only costs $70. Sounds right, the model numbers match, looks like I might have made a smart move; I don't see any small print... What could go wrong???

I'll find out on Tuesday.

3 PM - Another year, another diet.  After four weeks I'm down about 5 pounds. I'll take it but it sure feels like it should be more.  If anything, I suppose I need to step up my exercise a bit. It'll take more than just eating boring food so this morning I moved my set of weights up to the back porch.

And the 2nd photo of the day is of Blackie the cat who's living up to his name.  For two weeks his favorite napping spot has been in an old box full of packing peanuts.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

9 AM - Other than the light drizzle storm we had yesterday, summer has returned to our ranch in the valley.  And the mild temperatures have inspired me to step up my attempts to neaten up the property.  Basically, I'm consolidating all the random piles of junk and moving them to the north corner.  My goal is to create a park like atmosphere while dedicating a small isolated space for storage of the junk that always seems to accumulate on rural land.

So, for the past week I've been moving old piles of lumber, rolled up fencing, lengths of pipe, and old tires to the storage area (junk yard).  It's one of those deals where you don't notice that the junk is gone but you couldn't miss it when it was there.  And that's the effect I'm trying to achieve. When walking on this land I want the eye to be drawn towards nature, not clutter.

Our goal when we purchased this property was to return it to its native appearance but we got sidetracked with trying to build and maintain the infrastructure that allows us to live here comfortably. For the most part, the utilities are completed so today I'm working on moving a pallet of bricks that clutters up the view. Of course I don't have a pallet jack so it means lots of un-stacking and restacking. My exercise for the day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I still try to get some target practice in during the week and I've slowly improved to a point where I cautiously consider myself 'competent'.  As far as I'm concerned, shooting a pistol at 25 yards and keeping the holes on a pie plate sized target can be called competent but not good.  For me, good would be if all the holes were within the #2 circle.

Of course mileage varies depending on the caliber of gun and the conditions of the shot. Frankly, if you're using a quality firearm and you take your time to line the sites up properly, the bullet will go were it's supposed to.  I'm still thankful to my father-in-law who years ago, before I ever considered getting into target practice, gave me a quick course in marksmanship. He taught me one little trick about dealing with an un-steady hand that I somehow remembered and has proved useful.

Cath is still sick so we're staying close to home.  It's really quiet in the valley and I'm wondering if all our neighbors have left for the holidays.  If Catherine doesn't visit her mother in L.A.,  it will be the first Christmas we've stayed at home since we've been together.  All things considered, not a bad prospect and I find nothing wrong with a quiet holiday by ourselves.

And I'm still working on being able to spend the whole day reading without feeling guilty.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

8 AM - We've been having a quiet pre-Christmas week which for the most part has been spent at home.  We did get out on Tuesday for a drive on the back road up to Julian and then further up to Mount Laguna where people were gathering to play in the snow.  It's a fun 3 hour drive especially when done during the middle of the week.

Cath has been home with a sore throat so I've been doing my morning walks alone.  The ground has stayed frozen and I kind of like the feeling of ice crunching under my feet while I'm walking my trail. In the interest of losing weight and complimenting my diet, I've upped my walking distance and sometimes I'll add a 20 minute bike ride at the end of the day.  After two weeks I've lost very little weight in spite of my efforts. My next doctors appointment is in February and I'd like to drop 10 lbs before then.

Cows on the road to Julian

4 PM - I'm currently reading On The Wild Edge by David Peterson. It's a book about living in and appreciating wilderness. Written in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, it's about living simply without all the trappings of our materialistic society. I appreciate the philosophy and concur with the spirit of the theme though, as a superficial lover of consumables, I'd never be able to put his philosophy into practice.

I guess it's all a matter of degree. I know of some who consider my life in Sherilton Valley as primitive. It's 25 minutes to our one-store town, 45 minutes to a "civilized" Wal-Mart and an hour drive to the nearest theater. But there's nothing primitive about our home in the valley. It comes with satellite TV and a 200 amp electrical service that I'm not afraid to use.  Motorcycles, 4-wheel drive ATVs, two Toyota pickups and a continuous internet connection all add up to a lifestyle that any nature loving hippie would consider decadent.

Peterson lives in a 550 square ft. self-built cabin with a wood stove and an icebox full of food that he hunted himself. He's a true minimalist who doesn't make concessions to the world of material things. And he's smart. He spends days on end reading and writing without the need for trivial diversions.

Admirable, but in my current state of philosophical development, it's not a life-style that I could replicate. On occasion I fantasize about unplugging the TV for a week but that's a lofty notion that quickly goes away. The incentive that would cause such a radical change in my worldly temperament would probably have to involve some form of drug addiction or a spiritual epiphany along the lines of Joseph Smith. Frankly, and not to put myself down, I don't think I'm that philosophically deep.

On the other hand, the world is teeming with people fascinated by Britney Spears' lack of underwear and feuds between Trump and Rosie. I suppose the depth of one's personal philosophy is relative.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It snowed this afternoon. It melted right away but it was still a pleasant surprise.  Our low last night was 27 and I expect it will get down to at least that tonight.  Those are the temperatures that crack pipes so  in the morning I have to make sure I check the plumbing that supplies the outlying areas.

We put up a Christmas tree the other day and Blackie the cat is having a great time knocking off the plastic balls and leaping up to grab his stuffed polar bear toy.  I didn't hang it too high just to give him a sporting chance.

And getting in the mood, I watched Miracle on 42nd Street along with A Christmas Story and the TIVO is set to record the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. Don't settle for any other version.

The photo today was taken by the web camera at 2:10 this afternoon. Snow at the higher elevations so Julian and Cuyamaca will be getting a lot of visitors over the next few days.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

After my morning exercise, I spent the rest of the day reading. The TV was on but muted and tuned to CNN.  From noon onward CNN was doing their never ending, breaking story about the lost climbers on Mount Hood. Nothing really to report but I guess it was a slow news day so they stuck with it the entire afternoon. I suspect it's a story that will end poorly.

The book I finally finished was The Discomfort Zone by Jonathan Franzen. It took a couple of months to get around to finishing this book and I almost gave up several times.  My problem was that I just couldn't find a reason to like the author.  He was an excellent student, always fit in, never had to hold a job and his parents paid for college including studying in Europe. For some strange reason he feels that those circumstances are antithetical to the popular conception of a normal life and it somehow made him an outsider worthy of a book describing his suffering about trying to fit in.  I'm not exactly sure what's going on with this guy. He seems to have a twisted world view that says if you have it all, you are automatically a misfit because you're above the lowly rabble that make up the majority of the populous. That feeling of superiority was probably behind him insulting Oprah Winfrey which got him un-invited to her show. No doubt the publicity about that insult gained him all sorts of favor with the elite intellectuals he covertly tries to identify with.

It's late, end of book review.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

7 AM - Good morning. The results are in and everyone who wagered lost, including myself.  The .38 cal bullet fired without a hitch. Bam! It wasn't effected at all by going through the wash and I would have bet money against it.  According to Smith & Wesson, if you want to disarm a bullet, you should soak it over night in motor oil. They don't say anything about water.

And a bigger surprise was that the flash memory card also worked perfectly. I let it dry out for a day and it still held all 200 photos that it saved from the stealth cam. Quite a surprise but from now on I'm still going to try harder to check my pockets before washing .

Today's quiz. What important American was born on this day in 1949.  A: Sissy Spacek  B: Bruce Springsteen  C: Rob Horne  D: Meryl Streep

2 PM - The Hughes satellite technician was here today to check my setup and diagnose my connection problems.  Visually, the way the dish is mounted looks pretty shaky but when you get up next to it, you see that the poles are mounted in concrete and that they are tightly supported with guy wires.  (In the photo it's the one on the right) The support stand doesn't move however he did find that one of the bolts that connects the dish to the stand was loose.  He replaced the bolts and re-pointed the dish which brought my signal strength up from 60 to 86.  For now, my browsing speed has improved, that is to say, it's better than dial up but not as good as a cable connection. With satellite internet, you don't get any better than that. (The hughes support technicians say that signal strength doesn't effect browsing speed but that's only when they don't have someone available to re-set the dish.)

Whatever. I've reprogrammed my weather station to update more often and set the webcam back to update every 15 minutes. This is just in time for our first real storm that is predicted for Saturday night and we may be seeing snow on the mountain by Monday.  I'll spare you my usual rant about how poorly the weather is predicted in our area.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

8 AM - Yesterday was a LDDH (Lost Day Due To Headache). Today I'm feeling pretty good so I got out early for my 30 minute walk and for breakfast I had one of those 240 calorie diet drinks. Of course that drink is supposed to hold me till lunch when I get to feast on celery and water. No problem.

This morning I'll be doing some housework while preparing for the dumpster pickup at 10 AM. Exciting times.

I've mentioned that I've been taking Lovastatin and it got my cholesterol down to a healthy level. But not so fast! If your doctor only gives you a one number figure when discussing it, he's only giving you part of the story.  You've also got your triglycerides, your HDL's, your LDL's and don't forget about your high density lipoproteins.  Those little add-ons are what continue to give me problems and even though the Lovastatin has raised my ALT value, (yet one more acronym to figure out) my doctor wants me to continue using it.  "Is all this going to be on Friday's quiz?"

Ultimately I'd like to make what my brother calls "a lifestyle change" which will mean that I don't have to take the Lovastatin. I'm just hoping that this change will eventually feel natural and won't dominate my every thought for the rest of my life. Diets & exercise tend to do that to me. Gets boring after awhile and I move on to idleness & ice-cream. (Also known as i i c syndrome).

11 PM - Doing my part to keep the world informed about important matters, I'm introducing a new series to this journal called, Will it Break?  In today's installment I'm asking the question, "Can a .38 caliber bullet and a 512k Compact Flash card survive going through the washer and dryer?".  Place your bets now, the answer will be revealed tomorrow.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

7 AM - I'm getting a lot of useful advice from readers about managing my photos and slides. Clarence of Can You Hear Me Now? mentioned Picasa which is a free program from Google that you can get here. (Windows XP only) This is an excellent full featured program that is better than most programs that cost money. It searches your computer for graphics files, sorts and organizes them, compiles them and burns them to a CD. It also comes with many tools that automatically repair and improve old photos.

I've been a fan of the Google company for some time. They haven't disappointed me yet.

12 PM - I've been spending time today trying to sort out all the wires from my new computer peripherals and get them routed to the computer. Old legacy USB 1 cables are different from USB 2 and though they will work, you loose speed if you use them to connect the newer USB 2 devices. Lots of fiddling required.

And the photo of the day is my "Healthy Meal" Salisbury steak breakfast. It looks much bigger than it was.

Friday, December 8, 2006

7 AM - Got an e-mail from Bob Woolcock, my photographer friend. (His website here.) He used Photoshop to make adjustments on the photo I posted yesterday and he improved it immensely.  The photo on the left is mine and the far right is after Bob worked on it. Years ago at work I took a two hour seminar on using Photoshop and learned some of the basics. It's a huge program and a person can easily get lost if you want to master it.  Obviously I need a little more practice so I'll be fooling around with that in the days ahead.

And today the satellite internet connection is working perfectly even though a technician is still being sent to my house on the 14th. At least they told me that I won't be paying for the call.  Just the same it seems like a useless waste of time because I think the problem is on their end.  And even more ridiculous, I think they know it.

9 AM - Health stuff, geez how boring. But I can't ignore it any longer. A year ago I went biking with some people who were almost 10 years older than me and they left me in the dust. Jim at Jim's journal is a couple of years older than me and he regularly runs in races. Just about everyone I know is in better shape but dang, it's not like I sit on my ass all the time eating nachos and drinking beer.

8 months ago my health appraisal reported my cholesterol level as elevated.  It wasn't "through the roof" but I started taking Lovastatin to bring it down. That worked but today my results showed an elevation in the ALT test which means the medication is effecting my liver. easy fix for me.  I guess I'll be dropping the medication and getting serious about my diet & exercise. Dang.

4 PM - I'm back from a shopping trip where I bought boring diet food and an external USB drive to store the photos I'm scanning.  Surprisingly the drive installed without a hitch.  "Plug and play" has finally arrived; as long as you have Windows XP, all the updates and a computer with USB 2.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

7 AM - Yesterday I lost my satellite internet connection. Same story, different day. As usual I spent time on the phone trying to talk to a person in India who's accent was so strong, I could only understand about every other word. I'm not sure but I've either agreed to have a technician sent to my house ($200) or I'm paying to have a new satellite launched into space ($200,000,000).

The frustrating thing is that the problem is most likely due to improper settings in the Hughes network operation center (NOC).  The guy in India just follows a written script that has nothing to do with actually diagnosing the problem.  The problem is intermittent and related to congestion caused by too many people trying to use the satellite during peak hours. The Hughes people handle that by flipping switches and juggling network settings that rotate the load which means that one day your connection is trouble free, the next day you have nothing.

11 AM - From my last entry you may have noticed that I'm playing around with resurrecting my father's slide collection.  It consists of hundreds of slides taken in the 40's and 50's and these days, digitizing photographs is the only reasonable course of action if you want to preserve the family album.

It can be a big task that is equipment and software intensive.  Luckily I already own Photoshop and my computer is relatively new with plenty of memory.  My five year old scanner was not up to snuff so I purchased a new one that can scan up to 16 slides at a time.  It's an HP device that scans the slides and automatically places the photographs into Photoshop where each one is then adjusted, fine tuned and saved into a usable format.

Today's photo is my nod to 1941 and the day of infamy.  Well, the photo was taken in 1949 but at least it was in the same time zone as Pearl Harbor. Sheila & Barry, my sister & brother.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

In 1955 my father had just earned the rank of Commander and our family was stationed at the Naval Ordinance Training Center in China Lake California. Dad was the base legal officer and he later described it as his favorite tour of duty. His friend and drinking buddy was a crusty old guy named "Pop" Lofinck who was the base range guard and worked out of an isolated desert outpost called Junction Ranch. I'm not sure if it was always work related but every chance they got they would spend days exploring the Mojave Desert and nights at Junction Ranch drinking beer and telling war stories. On some weekends our family would join the party and I have fond memories of riding in old 1945 vintage jeeps on safari like expeditions that my dad called "boondocking". The photo on the right is of me, my brother Barry, my sister Sheila and Pop.

Even at that age I recognized that they were exciting times. The father of one of my classmates had invented the sidewinder missile and even in the first grade, we knew what his dad had done and that it was important. The base was a high security area and when you exited the main gate you passed a large billboard that read, "What you see here, what you do here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here." All the base dependents were required to wear neck chains with laminated I.D. cards attached. They had to be visible at all times and we never left the house without them. Baby boomer children playing cowboy and watching The Mickey Mouse Club but always ready to present their identification.

From the window of my first grade class, I could see missiles being test fired from desert launch sites but the most notable test occurred one morning before sun rise. My father herded my brother, sister and I out on the front lawn and we stood in the cool darkness facing east. For just a few seconds it looked like the sun was coming up. The horizon lit up, glowed brightly and returned to darkness. The Nevada test range was over 100 miles away but not far enough to diminish the radiance of an atomic bomb being detonated.

Photo taken by my father
He labeled the slide - Atomic Bomb, seen from our quarters at China Lake

Though I was only five, I remember it as a rare time when our family was happy. Being older, my brother and sister view 1955 from a different perspective and from their vantage point, they noticed clues that hinted of trouble ahead.

Life went on though somewhere along the line things got out of kilter. Excessive alcohol consumption is the easiest and most convenient explanation for the events that followed. A fitting explanation and in this case, significantly valid.

Our family survived and we ultimately turned out fine in spite of what some would call a dysfunctional childhood. For me though, 1955 was perfect.

China Lake - 1955