Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My New Wallpaper

I liked this one so much, it is now my new desktop wall paper on my work computer.

Yes, I like living in California.

Wildlife Filled Wild Tuesday

Yesterday morning, while speaking on a conference call in the twilight hours of early morning just before dawn, I saw a Rather Large Raptor - either a Peregrin, Merlin, or Kestrel, chase a song bird from my thistle feeder outside my office window and into the thickly leafed ficus tree.  The song bird got away, and the raptor (which looked "grayish" in the pre-dawn twilight) clambered out of the leaves, no prey in talons, to hunt elsewhere.  I had no idea when I put up the thistle feeder that it would be a raptor feeder... but that is pretty cool.  Circle of life.

Throughout the day, I saw my buddy the Rufous hummingbird flitting about the crown of the ficus tree, undoubtedly eating small insects, from his movements.

When I went downstairs to make tea (about 5 times that morning and early afternoon) I saw & heard the extended family of red finches who have nested above my kitchen window, as they communally brought food to the hungry chirping chicks.  Clueless morning doves lumbered through my herb garden, slowly poking around for seeds and insects.

At 2pm I realized that Dr Desert Flower had left me Celeste and that she'd driven the Mazda to the train station.  It was a beautiful day, and I was inexorably drawn to the beach.  Loaded up camera, cooler, binoculars, brow-wiping-sweat towel, and wallet, and I headed off to the beach, top down, to run the stairs (just 5 times yesterday, shore to parking lot), the Strand Beach boardwalk (just 3 times) and the Nature Conservancy 'Zig Zag' (just 3 times...   I am resting today, with significant delayed muscle aches, but no soft tissue injuries).

On the Zig Zag, I saw my buddy the Anna's Hummingbird, fiercely standing his ground.  He flared his magenta ascot plumage at me and chirp/whistled/squealed his high pitch call to ward off the one-black-eyed nearly hairless ape who kept staring at him, 5 feet away as he swayed many body lengths, to and fro, in the stiff on shore gusts.

Dozens of flights of pelicans soared past.

Overhead I heard a commotion.  A red tail hawk was being harassed by crows, but he just climbed higher and out-soared the annoying basalt hued frat boys.

Little did he know, that a male peregrine falcon was Very Unhappy that any hawks were in theneighborhood, and the Very High Pitched scream of the falcon was clarion over the sound of the gusting wind.  A Honda Gold Wing (the hawk) is no match for a Ducati Desmosedici (the falcon) and after several quick dives and aerial lunges, the hawk headed inland.

Lucky for this rabbit, grazing in the multi-million dollar lots next to the nature preserve, that the hawk didn't see it.

And lucky for me that I did not closely encounter a Large skunk, who lumbered off under a bush before I could get a clear photo of him, 20 feet from the edge of the Zig Zag path, uphill.
The skunk was nearly 2 feet long
Two females, sharing a feeder in my back yard

When I got home, I soaked in the hot tub to ease my aches and pains, and 1/2 way through a bottle of Wreck Alley, I spotted the Bullocks Oriole I mentioned earlier this spring, alight on the bird of paradise 25 feet above me.  A 2nd finch family was trying to build Another Nest on the 2nd Bose speaker that faces the pool, and a female Anna's hummingbird enjoyed the blossoming orange tree we planted last October in the backyard.

Celestial & Mazdaic Adventures

The months of March and April gave me a great deal of things to work on my cars.  The flat headed screw above, with washer, had embedded into my left front tire on my Mazda.  The washer made a nice "seal" so that no air leaked out, and the tire had less than 10,000 miles on it with a great deal of tread remaining.  Pep Boys in Aliso Viejo took 3 hours to get it on a lift, then once on the lift, they did a THOROUGH inspection.  All four tires, tread depth.  Brakes, CV joint boot cracking, oil leaks (finding none, because I maintain my vehicle fastidiously).  They repaired the flat - gave me the damaging screw and washer - and did not charge me for the 20 minutes the vehicle spent on their lift.  Nice.  I will use them for tires again in the future.

Then I took Celeste to Niguel Motors where Ramon fixed her rear brakes (as mentioned last month), repaired the electronic roof switch (that opens and closes the roof, and had fallen into the center counsel) For Free, so I took her there for an oil change.  I supplied the full synthetic Castrol 20W50, and Ramon charged me $20 for the oil change AND tire rotation.  I told him he will go out of business (since the filter was at least $8 and it took him 30 minutes to change the oil & rotate the tires), and tipped 2X him more than he billed me.

While changing the tires, he and his head mechanic kept switching off using 18mm and 19mm sockets. I was confused.  Why?  Well, the "nut caps" above, which Volvo, Audi, and several other European manufacturers use Fall Off after repeated uses.   With a cap, 19mm hex.  Without a cap, 18mm hex.  They serve no structural, corrosive protecting, or useful purpose other than being cosmetic.  Useless.  So I have 2 tires with homogeneous cosmetic capped tires, and 2 tires with a mixed bag of 18 and 19 mm hex nuts and caps.  Fun.

Ramon at Niguel Motors and Aliso Viejo Pep Boys have proven themselves to be reliable, quality, dependable service providers, and I will use them in the future to safe me time & money.

The Scent of Jasmine

I wish there was some way that a blog could transmit smell.  The scent of Jasmine - in my front yard, at the beach, as I walk through my neighborhood - is intoxicating.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

OC Lifeguard Dispatch

If you see some brain dead tweens repeatedly trying to throw trash from the South end of Strand Beach, into The Headlands Nature Preserve - like say water bottles full of sand - and the bottles keep bouncing off the cliff face but the determined & testosterone driven "hey watch this!" moronic tweens keep trying, call the OC Lifeguard Dispatch number:


And the dispatcher will send over a friendly life guard if one is available to talk with the tweens, and keep them busy until the Orange County Sheriff can arrive and write them (and their parents) a ticket.  Littering in the Headlands, or trespassing off path are violations that carry heavy fines ($1000) and are ticketed by the OC Sheriff.

I was having a very enjoyable beach walk on Monday afternoon when I finished work, that was rudely interrupted by three 12 or 13 year olds in wet suits, rolled down to their wastes, at the SOuth end of Strand Beach in Dana Point, each trying to "out do" the other kid in throwing trash up the cliff and into the cliff top bushes - the same bushes where I've seen active hummingbird nests and swarms of hatchling rufous hummingbirds.  Idiots.  I looked for a parent sitting beside 3 surf boards or body boards, but found none.  I photographed my Anna's Hummingbird buddy guarding his territory on the Strand 'zig zag' and then headed back up Strand Beach towards Salt Creek, where I found 2 life guards and they gave me the dispatch number.
Did I ever do stupid things as a teenager? (like throw grapes from one moving car on I-94 towards another car, to see if we could get them in our friend's mouth, as two cars drove along at 55 mph next to each other)  Yes, I did.  Did I get caught doing it, surrounded by 4 Indiana state trooper squad cars and pulled over, given a warning, and sent on our merry way to the beach?  Yes, I did.  Did I expect a bevy of angry truckers to report a 1970s Honda CVCC and a 1980 Volvo V70 wagon slowing down two lanes of evening rush hour traffic to be upset enough to call in the smokies en masse?  No, but I learned from that experience.  If you're going to do dumb things, don't do them where they affect or inconvenience other people, and don't break any laws while doing so.
The Headlands Cliff is over 100 feet tall (morons not pictured, to the left)

These kids and tourists who defile the beaches with litter and graffiti and lower my quality of life are unpleasant.  I will do my part, as a grumpy old man of Orange County, to try and positively influence their behavior whenever possible, just as my personal anti graffiti campaign in Western Phoenix was very successful during my 5 years there.

On a positive side, I ddi see one older woman in her late 50s or early 60s walking along the beach where waves' edge met sand, picking up arm loads of trash.  Bottles, caps, empty bags... she had her hands (and one arm) full of retrieved trash, and that helped to restore my faith in my fellow citizenry.  If I had any pockets into which I could have put my camera and car key, I would have picked up trash with her - next time I will take a trash bag with me and collect along the way, enjoying both the beauty of the beach and enhancing it with fastidious attention to detail (which I am prone to do, by my nature).
[one of the reasons for posting this OC Dispatch number is so that I can remember it, even when I am without a cell phone, in the future]

Bloody Heart Virus

If you've not already changed your passwords you use to access your favorite sites, you should today (or soon).  This Heart Bleed virus is really annoying, has gathered up tons of account passwords to online email and shopping accounts, and made me waste 15 minutes of my life changing passwords on a bunch of pas that I now have to re-type and re-remember each time I go to different sites.  Annoying.

To see if your favorite site is infected with the Heart Bleed virus, you can use this tool:
I cannot vouch for the veracity of this tool, but Kasperski seems to think it is a good tool I guess (I do not use Kasperski, just read about it online)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Daenerys Targaryen, "Mother of Wyverns"

Somehow, Daenerys Targaryen, "Mother of Wyverns" doesn't have the same ring to it that "Mother of Dragons" does.  "Mother of Wyverns"?  Why yes, as my dear friend Ryan pointed out, Game of Thrones has gone the same way as Peter Jackson did when he ruined The Hobbit by making Smaug a Wyvern instead of a dragon.  Daenerys's wyverns have grown into considerably large creatures in Season 4 - big enough to roast multiple humans, tear apart goats, and scare the heck out of anyone non-magical.
Taken from the G.O.T. wiki (though the wiki is written very poorly; dragons must cook their food, but they can also swallow a horse whole? make up your mind wiki author!)
They also apparently have pretty wicked tempers and snap at their mother quite wickedly.  While they can't burn her, I am sure they could easily eat her.  Apparently Hollywood thinks that any dragon - a creature with 4 walking limbs, and 2 wings, with a long tail, who breathes fire, or acid, or ice, or sleep gas, or lightning blasts (if Gary Gygax, as well as multiple legends have anything to say about it) - must look pretty stupid, or be impossibly hard to computer generate, because they keep putting wyverns in place of dragons every chance they get.  Harry Potter, GOT, The Hobbit, Reign of Fire, all put in Wyverns instead of dragons.  Dragon Heart got it right, with an actual CGI dragon, but that was an exception to the rule (and Sean Connery needed to "catch" the spear shot at him by the mock slayer...   pretty hard for a wyvern to do with no functional front arms that are attached to wings).

While I thought that I was pretty clever with my "Mother of Wyverns" title, a quick google search shows lots of people leaving twats on twitter last year and posting on Tumblr about the "Mother of Wyverns".   Last Sunday's episode was the first time a formidable, threatening, not-cute-in-any-way wyvern (or trio of wyverns) was shown.  And even though they're not truly dragons, they're still cool.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Being An Expert

In my job, in my current role, I am considered a Subject Matter Expert.  I understand how and why things break, and I help my company and our customers to try and avoid breaking their equipment in the future.  So when I saw this link that Dr Desert Flower posted on The Face Book on my "timeline" there, it made me laugh so hard that I had tears in my eyes.  It is both hilarious AND extremely sad, at the same time, due to it's accurate representation of most medium and large sized companies, and how the organization views its Subject Matter Experts. (link HERE in case embedded video fails)

 I can empathize with the light blue shirted expert, completely.  This applies to science, technology, engineering, software, literally ANY field where knowing how to do your specialized-skill-required job & doing it well is never apparently as important as the metrics and directives given by those who have no idea how how the job could be done, how hard it would be to do it, if it is even possible, or that they even know what they want.

"Perpendicular to what?"  
"To...  to....  (shuffling papers hurried and nervously...) to everything!"

While the video is 7 and a 1/2 minutes long, it is truly worth watching to get the full impact.  For those who are experts in their fields, who have mad skills at being able to do, invent, discover, repair, develop, you will probably both laugh, and cry.  For those who barely have a grasp on what they're supposed to do in their job, or those who manage other people whose expertise is far greater than their manager's, or for those who just get by daily on BS, politics, and ball washing skills... well... they'll probably just be confused as to why anyone with a clue would see this video as both funny and sad.

If you found this video as poignant and relevant as I did, I encourage you to please comment here (or send me an email, if you're afraid to comment publicly) as to what was your favorite line (or lines) in this marvelously performed sketch.

My lunch break is over...   back to solving problems...

(Yesterday, the video had a million hits.  Today, it has nearly 3 million)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dark, Murderous Garbage Collectors

The crows in my neighborhood have demonstrated to me repeatedly since I moved into this house that they are ever vigilant, keenly observant, and murderously persistent.  Not only did they pounce upon the mortally struggling lizards in my drive way last week, but Sunday showed they enjoy eating fresh carrion as well.

You see, I had an old, inherited (with the house) bird feeder hanging from the Ficus tree in my front yard. On Sunday, I loaded it up with over a pound of nyjer seed as the finches & sparrows have been ravenously devouring about a 1/4 pound a day.  One of the two supporting strings of this inherited feeder was rather frayed and...  well...  the feeder did not make it through the whole day before it fell from the tree.  Now, it may have fallen on it's own weight...  or....  a Much Larger Bird (like a raven perhaps?) may have tried to menace the smaller birds who were frequenting the feeder.  Either way, I found the feeder on the ground, and a compressed / concussed male sparrow underneath it.  It seems that he rode the feeder all the way to the ground, and then was crushed by its impact.  Seeing the little bird in it's full adult plumage saddened me, since there's a mother sparrow somewhere now whose mate is not going to help her raise her chicks.

I went into the backyard where Dr Desert Flower was soaking up UV, and told her of the fatal accident up front.  She wanted to see if the bird was just stunned, or completely gone from this mortal coil.  But as she rounded the corner of the house, she saw a large black crow Take Off from next to the fallen feeder with "something gray and white in its beak".  If the sparrow was alive, it was being turned into crow before the sun set, sadly.

In addition to the events of the last week, I've seen crows "check out" my rolling trash cans when they've fallen over after the trash collecting truck's robot arm didn't set them squarely back down on the ground.  I've seen crows pick at fallen guava in my back yard, and I've seen them scavenge from the trash cans at both local parks (2 blocks from our home, in the East and West directions).  They like to sit on top of the street lights or a barren tree branch (like my neighbor's birch) and "CAW!" loudly, to proclaim that this territory is theirs.  I don't have any affinity for crows - nor do I for seagulls, who over-populate & pollute the beach.  All other birds I find interesting and useful and "functional" .... but these crows and gulls...   ugh.

I should look on the bright side:  I did not have to collect the corpse of the fallen sparrow.  The crow did it for me.  And, Game of Thrones is about to start soon, and I have a warm spot in my heart for that show's pathetic crows guarding the wall.  I just wish they weren't such bullies.  I've never gotten along well with bullies.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Successful Dana Point Fishing

Last weekend our friends Joe and Anne came to visit us from San Francisco.  It was a lovely weekend of hiking, eating, drinking, soaking in nature, visiting Los Angeles (the first time for DDF and I), and having out with really nice people.  On Sunday afternoon last week, we went down to the Ritz Carlton to have a drink in the 180Blu bar, and after indulging in adult beverages, we walked over to the gazebo that looks over Strand Beach.
My friend the osprey was fishing for food over the beach, and we were lucky enough to see the raptor dive, and emerge with a lunch of fish.  I tried to capture the dive, but all I got was the roiling ocean afterward.  And when the raptor resurfaced, and again took flight, there was a shiny silvery catch in it's claws.  Very cool.  Joe and I both saw it (so I am know I am not crazy).
If you want to catch fish at Dana Point, the best way to insure success is to hover about 50 feet over the beach, and then dive down in your evolutionarily refined avian body form, and plunge in from above - the fish, completely unsuspecting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

To Eat, Or To Be Eaten?

I walked down to the mailbox yesterday, and saw this pair of lizards on my driveway.  At first I could not tell if they were trying to mate, or to fight, or to eat one another.  When I gently nudged them near the tail with my shoed foot - expecting the pair to scatter and hide from the big looming hairless ape - they both ignored me, and continued on with their intense, static, fierce struggle.
Gathering my mail, I returned to my house, walked up to my office... and saw through my window much smarter creatures who had observed my mail gathering exercise, now capitalizing on the high protein meal that my movements just pointed out to them.  Neither lizard won their epic battle.  Both began the process of being turned into crow last night.

Having walked on the beach numerous times, and taken countless bike rides, hikes, and walks through the woods and mountains, I've come to understand that everything is interconnected, no matter how much I wanted to believe it is disconnected or independent.  As I work in a home office alone (aside from my 20 year old cat familiar), all day, 5 days a week, encountering only the occasional delivery person or contractor, and I speak to dozens (or sometimes 100s) of colleagues on the phone each day, I do not interact in person, face-to-face, with that many other living creatures.  But when I do see other creatures - birds, postal workers, bees, feral cats, neighbors, trash truck drivers, lizards - I've become increasingly aware of the interconnected web, the woven fabric of how each different variable can influence the other variables.

Had I not stopped to regard the reptilian struggle on my driveway, would the crows have noticed as well?  Maybe.

When a tourist child has a bag of chips (or crisps, or crackers, or any junk food) at the beach, do the sea gulls notice?  Absolutely. (I gently admonish the tourist children, that the gulls are disease carrying flying rats who over-populate and pollute the beach, asking them to please not feed the gulls)

Did every sea gull, sand piper, and shore bird at Dana Point Strand Beach panic when a large osprey swooped down over the beach (even though the osprey was really only interested in fish)?  Indeed.

When a Ritz Carlton patron walks leaves their table at the 180BLŨ Bar and there's a 1/2 eaten bowl of chips or a plate with any remnant of food left on it, does a diligent & entrepreneurial sea gull or sparrow fly down to the table to check out what has been left there, even if a homosapien or two or three is sitting a meter or two away?  Yes, consistently.  (the two times I've seen this, I cover the other table's food with a cloth napkin, and take it to the wait staff - yes, I am the bane of scavenging water fowl)

The insects the lizards eat often times never see the lizard coming.  The lizards in their mortal struggle on my driveway never saw the crows coming (even while being picked apart by the crow, the aggressor lizard appeared to retain his bite on his opponent).  Most of the myopic homo sapiens at the beach whom I have observed never see the interactions of the larger world around them.  Being at the top of the evolutionary food chain, they're typically oblivious to any threat that Faux News doesn't scream at them, or that does not immediately threaten their life or livelihood.  I used to think and believe that I was also immune / exempt / isolated from the rest of the world and only encountered it when I chose to interact with it, "on my own terms", but increasingly I continue to find that is not the case.  All the little things matter - maybe not at first, but eventually, they probably will.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do Mind The Bullocks

I saw a flash of orange outside my window as I was making tea this morning.  Sprinting to get my camera, I was able to snap these images  through the window & screen:
and then I checked Cornell's site (all about birds) and it Looks Like this is probably a juvenile male Bullocks Oriole.  It strongly resembles an Altamira Oriole, but those are only in Eastern Coastal Mexico, more than a 1000 miles away.  Many many photos on Cornell's site from California posters show Bullocks Orioles...   and one juvenile even looks somewhat like the body coloring, though the wing striping is more Altamira.

Had you told me 7 or 8 years ago that I would have ANY interest in birds whatsoever - other than eating them - I would have laughed and told you that you're insane.  But put a few Anna's, Costa's, Blackchinned, Rufous, and Allen's hummingbirds in my yard, a road runner or two, a few Gila Woodpeckers, some raucous Mocking Birds, some Phoebes, Robins, Warblers, Wrens, Sparrows, Tit Mice, Chickadees, Red Tailed and Red Breasted Hawks, Finches, Fly Catchers, Bee Catchers, an Oriole or two, and a Peregrine Falcon feasting in my street; pelicans, spoonbills, sand pipers, oyster catchers, cormorants, osprey, cooper's hawks, and even sea gulls at the beach, and then add in a 24X zoom lens that can capture them digitally and well...   I find them beautiful, fascinating, alluring, elusive, and fleeting.

I recall my good friend and co-worker Gary (Xiaobin) that he said to me in China when his daughter was just a toddler:  "I want my daughter to grow up where there are birds, and know what birds are".  His daughter will be going to college soon...  he told me that so many years ago.  He's a company  executive and a vice president now...   and I'm still just an engineer... but I sure do have my fair share of birds, and the pictures to remember them by and share with my friends.