February 2007

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


RV Trips

Idaho to Home

Salton Sea

Arizona 08'


Wednesday, February 28, 2007

6 AM - A nice layer of snow on the ground this morning and it's still coming down.  The Satellite dish is covered so I won't get this posted till I climb the hill and dust that thing off.  Cath is still going to try to go to work so I'm sending her off in my truck with the 4 wheel drive.  Tried to talk her into staying home but she won't go for it.

She did stay home yesterday for her birthday and we took a drive on the back roads up to Julian then over Sunrise Highway and back through Pine Valley.

3 PM - Dang, we went from blizzard like conditions this morning to a partly cloudy, Spring day this afternoon.  Amazing how fast the snow melted once the sun hit the valley.  A few hours ago we were completely covered in a white blanket and now, not a speck of snow remains.

At least I got out early to take a few clich� snow pictures before I lost my chance.  I didn't photograph anything really memorable but when you have a new camera, you have to get a few obligatory shots out of the way so you can move on to the other stuff.  For photographers, that means getting a time lapse photo of water running down a creek and the requisite close up of a bee on a flower.  Back in the 70's, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull was a  cult hit and everyone in my photography class went running off to the beach to get sensitive seagull shots. Our teacher refused to look at them.


Monday, February 26, 2007

9 AM - Cold and overcast but without the satisfaction of having serious rain. Spent a little time outside yesterday doing some chores and taking photographs but all in all, not a great day for being outdoors.

I'm still obsessing about my new camera and have spent most of my time reading everything I can about the latest trends in digital photography. And related to that, I made my first ever purchase from E-bay.  Someone recommended a hard to find camera lens at a good price so I took the plunge and made the purchase.  Considering my interest in the internet, I'm surprised that I haven't gotten into E-bay before now.  I guess I have the feeling that overall, when people get caught up in the auction bidding  frenzy, they usually end up paying more than they should.

And the thumbnail photo that I've posted here is my latest photographic effort. I'm still at the novice stage and one of my concerns is figuring out how to post photos that retain the original quality without taking forever to load.  Many of the people who visit this site live in rural areas where dial-up is the only option. Actually that was me just a year ago and large photos can be a major hassle.

And now I'm headed out to retrace my steps from yesterdays walk so I can try to find the mounting clip that fell off my tripod.

Saturday, February 24, 2006

6 AM - I always find a way to add my hobbies to this website so I've put up a page that will deal with photography (See Ranch Photography link on the left menu)  I've also added another page where I take suggestions and post photos that I'm trying to improve.

Bob (BobWoolcock.com) is versed in Photo Shop and he is able to take my average photos and make them better. Really useful advice and he also pointed me to another site that allows free on-line storage of photos. This link will take you to that site and show you one of my photos that he's worked on. http://thumbsnap.com/v/prI67HW6.jpg


Thursday, February 22, 2006 - Well Repairs

12 PM - It was well repair day and Russ Seevers showed up at 8:30 to do the job.  It's one of those jobs that's technically not too difficult if you have the right equipment.  In this case, the equipment is a truck with an extendable crane that is tall enough to pull 20 foot sections of 1 inch steel pipe up and out of the well.  Our well pump is 200 feet down so with it and all the pipe attached, we've got a lot of weight hanging in that hole.

Pulling a well pump isn't something you can do at the drop of a hat so when it happens, you want to make sure everything is in working order before you put things back.  That means making sure that the pipe hasn't corroded, the wire insulation is still good and the pump isn't showing signs of wear. Everything on this well had been replaced about 10 years ago but the pipe and pump still look good. It was only a $23 check valve that had gone bad and considering how simple they are, it's the last thing we would have expected to break.

Our steel pipe probably has another 10 years of life left but guessing how long the pump will last is a little more difficult.  Lots of things can shorten the life of a well pump and for us, the biggest danger is having the water table drop so low that the pump runs dry and then burns up.  In our area, that's a definite possibility so I've installed a device on the pump controller that monitors the electrical resistance that occurs while the pump is in operation. It's called a pump saver and it's supposed to shut off the power when the pump runs dry or becomes clogged.

And finally, for those who are really into this sort of thing, the photo on the right shows a modern submersible well pump.  Ain't it a beauty!


3 PM - My monthly Amazon order came today so I'm stocked up on reading material for awhile.  One of the readers of this journal recommended A Place in the Woods by Helen Hoover. I really enjoy back-to-the-land stories and this describes the life of two people who left their professional lives to live in the wilds of 1954 northern Minnesota.

I'll also be reading Lisey's Story by Stephen King who seems to churn a book out about once a week. And finally, I'm reading The Digital Photography Book. No nonsense tips that will help when I get that photographer job for Playboy Magazine.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007 - Well Repairs

4 PM - A sunny day with temps in the 50's but snow on the mountain just a few hundred feet up from us.  This afternoon I returned to the south well to make repairs and add a check valve where the pipe exits the sleeve.

Eventually our well guy will be pulling the pump and installing another check valve down in the well but until he has time for that, I've gone ahead with this temporary fix.  In Southern California we can get away with using PVC pipe for repairs that would never hold up in the Midwest.  When I'm done, I'll be wrapping the exposed PVC pipe with fiberglass insulation and covering that with plumbers tape.

Using PVC pipe also simplifies repairs when mixing brass fittings with steel.  As most plumbers know, if you join brass to steel, a condition called electrolysis occurs which causes the steel to corrode at a rapid rate. Actually, the correct term is  galvanic corrosion but why quibble. Using PVC at the transitions prevents it from occurring.

So tomorrow, if I can remember what goes where, I'll be rewiring the pump. Actually, I took pictures of the wire connections before I disconnected them, just in case.


Monday, February 19, 2007 - Book Reports

12 PM - It�s hard to be sick with a cold and stay on a diet. I�m one of those people with tunnel vision and I can only focus on one discomfort at a time. It�s raining so the �get lots of rest� part is easy and I�m sitting on the couch, reading and eating.

I finished Jamestown � The Buried Truth.  Interesting to compare the Jamestown settlers with the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth 13 years later. At Jamestown you don�t find the deep philosophical idealism that was present at Plymouth. Jamestown was all business and founded on entrepreneurial spirit. Backstabbing politics and duel fighting shenanigans were so rampant that they could inspire a cynical Michener Novel. Uhm, that would be his book Chesapeake.


1.18" of rain since midnight. That's this seasons record for a single storm and I can once again hear the creek flowing. From experience I know that we need a few more storms like this to keep the water flowing into the summer.   Our next chance for rain is on Thursday and hopefully it will produce at least as much.

Saturday, February 17, 2007 - Gardening

10 AM - California White Alder � Very tolerant of heat and wind. Prefers plenty of water. 50' plus.

The perfect tree for our area, on two counts at least. The �prefers plenty of water� is a big stumbling block and it means that this tree will never be self sustaining on our property. Maybe if I planted it in our creek bed but even then I suspect it would struggle.

So in my desperation for shade, I�ve planted 3 close to the house and I�m resigned to the fact that I�ll have to irrigate them during the summer. But the �very tolerant of wind� is an important selling point so I�ve planted them on the north side of the house where the Santa Ana winds howl the most.

And the winds are doing that this morning. I was up at 5 staking the Alder that I planted late yesterday afternoon. We're getting gusts up to 49 MPH so I rolled down the hurricane shutters while I was at it.

Friday, February 16, 2007 - Internet, Web Design

8 AM - Today's photo shows Catherine working on her rock stairs. Flat spots are at a premium on our property and these stairs will be a welcome addition. They lead from the house, down the hill toward the barn. She's doing a beautiful job and I'll try to get a photo when she's done.


I've been browsing a lot of blogs/journals recently and I've noticed that these days, most people are using hosts that provide pre-packaged blog specific formatting. (Blogger.com etc.) Actually, they do an excellent job and frankly, if I were starting over, I'd probably go that route.

But, I've got my own domain name and I've invested a lot of years in this website so I guess I'll stick with it. It's a fun hobby. On the other hand, keeping up with the latest internet trends and producing a site that displays on all the different web browsers, in all the different resolutions, is a daunting task.

I got an e-mail from Bonnie who pointed out that my post yesterday didn't display properly when viewed on her 800 x 600 resolution screen.  When I browsed my site in that resolution, sure enough, there were lots of problems.  I tried to make some changes to correct the situation but it's really hard to produce a site that fills every need. For what it's worth, I really appreciate the feedback. Usually. One visitor likes to point out my spelling and grammar blunders. What can I say, I went to a state college.

But battling the constantly changing trends in cyberspace is frustrating. While browsing the net, my computer is constantly invaded by programs that work in the background and try to "help me out" by installing upgrades. And I'm not talking about those covert Trojan-horse programs. These are legitimate internet tools like Java that are supposed to mesh with my default browser, but never really seem to get it right.

In the past few months, without asking, I've been upgraded to Internet Explorer 7, Norton's has wrestled with my settings and installed unwanted safeguards, and now Dell has installed some sort of caching routine that speeds up browsing but doesn't refresh web pages that change often. (Like my webcam page). At least I think it's Dell. It could be my satellite provider Hughes, who also installs "helpful" background programs that mess things up.

And next month I'll be upgrading my operating system to Vista.  It may be a rough ride.

2 PM - Even though I didn't have much choice in the matter, I have to admit that I'm pretty happy with Internet Explorer 7. They finally got around to allowing tabs which means you can browse to other websites but still keep a copy of the forwarding site in one of the tabs.  Clicking on the center wheel opens links into a new tab.

And they've also integrated RSS feed browsing into the program. That's a great feature and you can learn more about it here.

Thursday, February 15, 2007  Photography

6 AM - Only mid February and I've already spent my yearly toy allowance. First the computer and now a camera to replace my 7 year old Nikon Coolpix that failed. The new camera is a Nikon D40 digital single lens reflex. It's considered an "entry level" SLR camera and is their newest model in that category.

The "entry level" classification tripped me up a little but realistically, that pretty much describes where I am. 30 years ago I took a photography class in college though things have changed a bit since then. (Ok, ok, it was 35 years ago.) This camera has more features than I'll use and I can always upgrade when National Geographic gives me that call I've been waiting for.

10 AM - So what does a digital SLR give you?

Well, you're looking through the lens when you're setting up the shot so you get a true WYSIWYG picture. (What You See Is What You Get). Using an LCD screen is awkward and almost impossible when taking outdoor shots in bright light. And with the pocket digital cameras, it's difficult to center the shot when taking close ups.

With an SLR you also have the option of trying different lenses. The D40 comes with an f/3.5-to-f/5.6G,18mm-to-55mm IIED AF-S DX lens (28.8 to 88mm equivalent). That covers a pretty good range for my type of photography so I don't expect to be experimenting with different lenses (they cost a fortune). I may try some of the various filters that are available though.

The holy grail of digital photography is to match the quality of the 35 millimeter film cameras. For my purposes, this camera does that. I'm taking my shots at the highest resolution it can give and the detail is exceptional. Of course posting high resolution photos on the internet without having them take forever to load is impossible. But the photo on the bottom gives you some idea of the detail that can be retained when cropping from the huge photo on the left.

Of course a professional uses a high end camera and knows how to set up his shots so she doesn't need to crop. But if you take your time, use a tripod, and pay attention to all the details, this camera is capable of producing professional results.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

7 AM - I've been reviving my interest in photography and thinking about creating some sort of slideshow page to display my favorite photographs. Also, I'd like a simple way to share the family slides I've been scanning with my brother and sister. My current website hosting storage is getting full and rather than upgrade, I'm considering going with the free Google/Picasa photo album site. So for now, this is my practice photo site at Google: http://picasaweb.google.com/creekbed.rob/RanchPhotos

We finally got some usable rain last night though it was still less than a half an inch. Sadly, this is the most rain we've had at one time for the entire winter.  I guess I'll have to force myself to stop worrying about the drought situation.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

I bought this small travel trailer a couple of years ago. It's a good size for getting into small places and it works well when we want to camp in secluded spots off the beaten path. I don't tow it often so I'm still getting used to driving with a big heavy box trailing behind and blocking my rear view. 

You've gotta have confidence that the hitch will hold and you have to make sure that all the wires and chains are connected properly.  The consequences of doing it wrong are obvious and always in the back of your mind. Backing up is cumbersome and requires special skill. You have to avoid tight spaces where you can't turn around. You have to get used to going slower than main stream traffic and you must accept the fact that other drivers will be annoyed when they can't pass.  Have fun.

And it is possible to have fun as long as you stay away from those crowded, pay-to-camp, trailer parking lots.  The photo was taken this week at Culp Valley Primitive Camp just outside Borrego Springs.  We could hike all day and still come back to a shower, warm meal and comfortable bed. Not quite the rugged back-packing trip that Catherine prefers but she was willing to compromise to suit her wimpy husband. Uhm, that would be me.

The bottom photo was taken at a place called the Pumpkin Patch. The large boulders are formed when wind and rain erodes away sandstone. The remaining glob-like concretions were formed when sand particles cemented to small particles of shell or insects. Kind of like pearls in an oyster.   

Monday, February 5, 2007

6 AM- Mice! Again! For the life of me I can't figure out how they get in. No holes where the septic line or power enter the house. The water line and air conditioning connections are sealed and all the crawl space vents are tight. I know what to look for and I've checked. A lot!

But the other night Blackie brought a mouse into the bedroom and of course let it go for us to catch.  2:30 in the morning and Cath & I had to race around falling over ourselves till we finally succeeded. Blackie loves the show.

And this morning he's high on the cabinet listening to scratching inside the wall.




Saturday, February 3, 2007

6 AM - I've been getting frustrated with my tree planting project.  There are lots of things to consider when planting a tree; considerations that are thwarting my every move.  You shouldn't plant trees over your septic lines and that is especially true for Cottonwoods which will grow into your leech lines in nothing flat.

Another consideration is the quality of the soil on the spot where you want to plant the tree.  Our property is on the south slope of Mount Cuyamaca and the spots that don't already have something growing are that way for good reason. Those are the spots where 2 or 3 inches of topsoil cover hard strata of compacted decomposed granite.  With lots of effort you can dig a hole but in the end, it's not suitable for sustained healthy tree growth. After hours of digging and dozens of false starts, I've only planted two of my Cottonwoods.


I've been spending a bit of money in the past few weeks. Some discretionary (new computer), some budgeted though still painful (propane) and some emergency (well repair, new glasses).

So my failing camera is not something I wanted on my shopping list. Though you can't tell from the "snap shot" quality of my journal photos, I've been interested in photography since the early 70's. During college, I was obsessed with the subject so I took a class and built a dark room in the garage.  With all of life's distractions (having to find a job etc.), I was never particularly good and I never really approached a level that could be considered artistic.  At the time, being competent was a sufficient goal. In Rob's obituary, "He strove to be competent".  Hmm, I might want to re-think that philosophy.

With the help of a friend, I've selected a replacement camera though, I'll wait a month or two for the budget to get back in line before making the purchase. In the meantime, I seem to remember buying Catherine a digital camera a few years ago that she never really used. Are you reading this Catherine?

While I'm digressing, these clickable thumbnails are a few of my favorite photos from those early days. The photo of my brother at Alcatraz was actually grabbed off my site and used as a background on the old TechTV computer show. They didn't even ask for my permission but then, I've never been much for posting internet copyright declarations.

Friday, February 2, 2007  - Solar Power

Yesterday I visited our neighbors who live at the far end of the valley.  In fact, they live so far that the electric lines don't reach their property and they've had to install state of the art solar technology to power their house.  At first I was skeptical but after exploring their setup, I've become a believer. They're living "off the grid" but still able to live normally in a modern house with all the usual electrical devices. (Including an electric stove)

In the left photo you can see the solar panels, the auxiliary generator and the shed that houses the batteries and inverter. The photo on the right shows the battery array and the inverter.

$30,000 will get you a setup like this and these days, many remote country homes are using this system.  The thought of not having to pay electrical bills is enticing though in my case, not practical.  I'm probably paying somewhere around $1,500 per year on electricity so it would take 20 years to recover the cost of a solar installation. (And you probably have to replace those batteries every 5 or 6 years)