Saturday, November 30, 2013

Circle The Cat Time Waster

If you're looking for a mindless electronic diversion, visit the "Infinite Cat Game" (link here).  My Godfather sent me the link back in September, and I played it a few times, losing 80% of the time while the cat escaped.   Then I studied the programming, and have my win percentage up to about 75% win, 25% loss.

Since the dark dots at the beginning are randomly scattered, leveraging them to help "block" the cat takes some practice.

The Very First time you win the game, and circle the cat, it's a good feeling.  Then, when you win 4 out or 5 games after practicing, it loses it's attraction... but it is still a fun 3 to 4 minute time waster, every-now-and-then.

Blue Diamond Smoked Delicious Evil

Earlier this year, at a neighbor's home in Laguna Niguel, we were introduced to the smoked delicious evil that are Blue Diamond smoked almonds.  We were having drinks at our neighbors' home when one of them innocently opened a can of these addictive nuts.  Though I'd eaten dinner a few hours earlier, I Devoured the nuts, voraciously... or as my buddy Matt would say "we could get you a feed bag if that would be better Joe".  Picture a more mannered "Cookie Monster" and you can easily see where I was going with the nuts.

A few days later,  Dr Desert Flower and I were out shopping at a local grocery store, and we came across this large 1 pound bag of Blue Diamond "smokehouse" almonds.  We bought it, ate it all in one weekend, and then bought some more.  They're delicious, addictive, but Terrible for you.  Yes, almonds are a rather "healthy nut" and have a pretty good PUFA ratio to them, and are a healthy snack when eaten in moderation.  But take an almond, cover it in HFCS, salt, polyunsaturated oils to make things stick to it, and "smoke flavor" and you've engineered a mouth watering, hypothalamus targeting, finger-licking-good treat that clogs the veins and arteries while flushing out the lower GI tract with all that synthetic oil.

"Irresistible Snacking!" - certainly
"Smart Eating" - not if you have more than a very small handful of these...  no
"2g net carbs" - well...  with the amount of synthetic oils and additives, carbs are the least of your concerns

They are amazingly tasty, but I'm making a conscious & conscience effort to not buy them anymore.  And if I am at a holiday party where they are being served, to avoid devouring them like a Cookie Monster in a cookie factory.

Brother Thelonious

My local COSTCO started carrying Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale.  Brewed by North Coast Brewery, Fort Bragg CA (yes, I didn't know there was a Fort Bragg outside of North Carolina, but Google Maps showed me there is), this is a delicious craft beer (er, craft Ale).  I found it drinkable, full bodied, and quite pleasant.  And a 22 ounce bottle at just $6 COSTCO price, affordable.  WholePaycheck sells 12 ounce 4 packs of Brother Thelonious as well, but I've not tried those yet.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Harthill Farms Cabernet Sauvignon

WholePaycheck had a pallet of Harthill Farms Cabernet Sauvignon wine strategically placed between butcher shop beer cooler.  It was < $8 a bottle, and I thought to myself "I'll try it, why not".  It was fine.  Not bad.  Not remarkable, but for less than ten dollars a bottle, my expectations were reasonable.

There was a Chardonnay as well, but we don't like to drink "grassy wines", and Dr Desert Flower detests most Chardonnays so I can't comment on that, but the Cabernet Sauvignon was OK.

Dryer Duct Squeezing

Our new home has a built-in geometric challenge, that we did not notice when we put an offer down on it, had it inspected, closed, and then moved in last month.  We call this challenge "the laundry canyon". You see, the house was built long before front loading washer & driers were common-place consumer appliances.  30 years ago, most houses (if they had built in laundry rooms) had top loading washers and driers.

We figured out Just How Tight the appliances barely fit in the allotted space, when the movers tried to wedge the appliances into their spaces, last, after all the other household goods were unloaded and put into the house.  Front loading washers and driers are deeper than their top loading counter parts.  The additional depth means they "stick out" farther, and in sticking out they block the door to the garage.

As an engineer, I knew that 'proper ventilation' of the exhaust duct is essential.  Decrease or "neck down" the duct cross section, and you're wasting energy, taking longer to dry your clothes, and damaging the dryer over-all.  I knew there were dryer duct conversion kits commercially available, but of course they are Very Slow moving inventory, so retail stores don't carry them.  Lowes online, and Home Depot online did have them.  I wanted to get a reel lawn mower  - human powered instead of gasoline powered - and if I bought both together there would be free shipping, so I got the 28 inch "Spacer Saver Aluminum Duct" Model #UD38S, SKU 202449700 from Home Depot online for $20  (along with an awesome Fiskars Stay Sharp 18 inch push reel lawn mower, but more on that later).  A week later, it arrived.

I had to climb Over the dryer, and lower myself down behind it.  Installed the duct, piped it to the flex tube on the wall, and climb back out, but it saved me 2 critical inches of door clearance, so that the door  to the garage can now open nearly 100% - vs the previous 75% swing prior to installation of the duct.

It was high quality, sturdy gauge aluminum construction.  Well tolerances, easy to install.  I am a happy consumer.

Rabbit Ridge, "Allure de Robles" 2012

Rabbit Ridge "Allure de Robles" 2012 was a less than $10 purchase from Trader Joes, purchased in part because we learned that the "dead looking" vines on an arched arbor outside of our family room window are actually living Syrah grape vines from Paso Robles Califonia.  Not being familiar with Paso Robles wines, I bought this Syrah to begin some extensive sampling.

It was not a bad wine.  A little bit fruity, but not overly sweet, both Dr Desert Flower and I enjoyed it.  I'll likely buy it again if I see it at the store.  And I am looking forward to harvesting the grapes growing on the arched arbor.  The former owners said that the arch used to be thick with grape wines and heavily laden with fruit.  An apple tree growing nearby still has evidence of the vine's tendrils having "reached out" to "grasp" several of the apple tree branches in previous growing seasons.

But no, I am Not going to "make my own wine".  The equipment, patience, cost, and quality needed to make delicious wine is best left to those countries and regions who have refined their techniques over the centuries and whose governments assure and control the best quality (France, Italy, Spain, for example, and Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Portugal, and the Republic of California as well).

Don't Forget Your Flair
"Don't forget your Flair"


Stephen Colbert Thanksgiving Dinner

This is a new classic.  (link here)

This hits all the high points of a dysfunctional family gathering.  Too funny.  "No girl friend, you ride a bike, and you brought quinoa."  

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Back in September, I saw a conveniently placed stand of Zevia canned beverages at my local Whole
Paycheck store, near the cash register check-out aisle.  Intrigued, I put on my reading glasses, and reviewed the label.  No sugar, no aspartame, no artificial sweeteners at all, just Stevia.  They had Cola, Ginger Ale, and a lemon-lime flavor, in canned six packs.  $5 a six pack seemed rather steep, but I wanted to try it, so we got a Ginger Ale six pack.

I had some on ice.  I had some with whiskey.  I had some with a vodka drink.  I added some to a banana rum drink.  It was quite tasty.  If I see Zevia out at a store or restaurant, I will likely purchase it again - I won't go out-of-my-way to find it, but if I stumble across it, why not have some zero calorie, tasty bubbly soda?

Scattered, Unadapted, And Forgotten

When I first heard about Annalee Newitz's book "Scatter, Adapt, And Remember, How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction" I thought to myself "this sounds like a really cool book, I want to read this!" I had a Barnes & Nobel gift certificate, so I headed down to Aliso Viejo's B&N and bought myself a hard back copy.

I read it in August and September, intermittently at the beach, while watching the sunset, or absorbing UV and making vitamin D.  Chapter after chapter I kept hoping it would get better, or "pull itself together" into a unified cohesive theory.  Instead it devolved into a seemingly never ending series of disconnected interviews with academics.  I was sorely disappointed.

Perhaps my expectations were set far too high?  Maybe Newitz's writing style and my reading style are just not compatible in any sort of copacetic way? But I think it was her disclaimer in the first chapter that the book was NOT going to be an actual survival guide or manual for survivalists, but rather a commentary about what might, eventually happen, and how humans might try to cope with it future mass extinction events as a united "one big happy planet"could attempt.  And that kumbaya unification sounds so non-sensical and impossibly imagined in today's fractured and subdivided world that I found the theories put forth in the book laughably impossible.

This is the first book I've ever bought, and then given away to charity, without offering it up to my other family members or friends to also read & enjoy.  If you're looking for my copy, contact the Salvation Army of Orange County.

Bere Toscana

The bottle of Bere Toscana wine we had earlier this Fall was OK.  It was much less than $10 a bottle (though it was so long ago, I can't recall exactly how much it was), drinkable, pleasant table wine.  You could do worse.  I know this is not a ringing endorsement, but it didn't leave a strong impression.  Toscana geographica tipicia 2009.  

Time Spent

So true...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Hope There's No Season 9

I just wish they'd all get eaten...   except for Daryl.  And Michonne.  They're the two redeeming characters.
I really hope there's not many seasons left.  End it, please.  There's been far too many bad decisions made by characters and writers.  Fast forwarding through DVR'ed episodes (especially ones heavily involved with "The Governor") take me less than 10 minutes now.

Beauty & Brutality in OC

I was walking through a park at the top of a hill just a few blocks from my home here in Orange County on Monday evening at sunset, when I took this picture with my phone:
It was a lovely sunset on a cool evening, in the lower 60s, with almost no breeze.  I'd just finishing talking to my best friend Ryan on the phone who I've known for almost 35 years as I walked around the neighborhood.  We spoke about our mutual distaste for country music, why all proper dragons should have 4 legs while wyverns have just 2 (take note, Peter Jackson!), and then he had to bathe his adorable baby daughter before bed, and we said goodbye, when I clicked "end", and then took this image.  As I hit "SEND" to show Dr Desert Flower (who was still at work, down in the valley below) the sunset from the park near our new home, and finished "add from recent calls" I heard a vicious GRRRROWLING and RRRRREEEAR-HISSSSing over my right shoulder.

I usually walk with a quarter staff (actually, it's a buck a quarter quarterstaff, but I'm not telling him that!) to fend off any stray dogs, rabid raccoons, gang members or hooligans (when we were in Arizona) that I might encounter during a walk.  But Monday night I headed out sans-staff, so I was caught "off guard" and unarmed.  Through the dwindling twilight of dusk, I saw what looked like a big German Shepherd sized dog, attacking a black cat who was trying to climb a very large trunked tree.  The cat was putting up a Big Fight, but the "dog" had gotten ahold of at least one leg and shook it off the tree.  "Hey! Is That Really Necessary!?!" I shouted towards them, and began walking the 40 or so yards that separated me & the park bench from the vicious battle I was witnessing.  The cat broke free and headed rapidly towards me... 'probably a domestic house cat' I thought, 'who is seeking the protection of a human against its attacker'.  But it was too late.  The attacker pounced, grabbed the black & white cat by the spine, and SHOOK it violently side to side, the whole time the cat's crying out pitifully, now 20 yards from me.

'I could kick it, if I got close enough, but what if one of them is rabid and attacks me?' Rabies shots suck... but I had broken out into run towards the melee.  I'd seen my buddy Matt's German Shepherd mix dog named Spapoop ("doodads", upside down) shake a squirrel to death 20 years earlier as I looked on from his apartment balcony, and didn't want to see this cat suffer the same fate.  Then I noticed the "dog's" white tipped tail, its Really Big ears, and the grayness of its coat. This was a hungry coyote.  The coyote noticed me too, and having stunned its feline prey sufficiently by the violent shaking, it turned, cat-in-mouth, and bounded away from the approaching human (me) and down the steep hill, undoubtedly to its den to feed its cubs.  Sadly, I could hear the pathetic moaning cries of the doomed cat fading into the rustle of the leaves as the coyote dashed down the hill.  Having recently lost a 17 year old feline member of our family just a few weeks before, seeing this made me very sad at first.   Then I remembered naturalist Rudy Mancke from South Carolina, and how when he would see predator successfully take down prey, he would comment in his South Carolina accent "well there she goes, turning domestic house cat into coyote, it's how the food chain works".

I took a deep breath, and headed for home to go pet our 19 year old surviving cat.  Along the way I encountered a lady in her 50s walking a Very Alert, smooth & shiny coated, leashed German Shepherd down the path.  I asked her "do you see many coyotes here?".  She patted her dog and said "She's been telling me the whole walk up here that there's a coyote nearby."  I leaned down and petted the well behaved canine and let the dog sniff my hand.  The lady added "Usually right around this area we see a black and white cat..." ...I cut her off "Not anymore. That cat is being turned into coyote now, down the hill" and I pointed to where the coyote fled.  When I got home, I petted my elderly cat for a solid 10 minutes and let her bask in the attention.  We'll be keeping her inside.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dr Desert Flower: Home Electronics Specialist

When we moved from Arizona to California on a "corporate move", the packers took all the TV and stereo wires, put them in a big dish pack box, and DUMPED them in a Huge Pile in our living room when we got to California.  I said "you're going to plug all those  back in..  right?"  and the United Van Lines movers said "no, that's not our job".  It was disappointing and aggravating.  When a "corporate minder" called to see how the move was going, I unloaded on her, saying how upset I was that I'd have to waste an entire day untangling the wires, and then figuring out where the heck they all re-connected to which device.  "I can send someone to hook it up, professionally" the minder quickly stated "included in the price of the move" - "certainly, can they come today?" "This afternoon, after 2pm". "Great!"  
A few hours later, a professional electronics installer arrived.  He was an ex-Direct TV installer, ex-Time Warner cable installer, part-time DJ who was very perfectionistic.  He wire tied all the cables, hiding them from site with cable ties, and made "just the right length" connections.  My stereo system had never been so expertly installed.

Then we moved ourselves from the rental house to the bought house, in October.  Non-corporate.  We're paying for it directly out of our pockets, not a corporate move.  So I took pictures of the connections, to remind me what was connected where.  And then I intended to reverse engineer from the photos, and re-establish the connections once we were in the new house.

One thing lead to another, and I put "functioning stereo" low down on my list of things to do at move-in, after "get garage clean enough to park cars in it" and "adjust sprinklers so that they do not soak the entire pool deck and furniture rendering pool deck uselessly wet" and "unpack my office so that I can work the next Monday morning" (we moved on a Friday).  

Dr Desert Flower Really does not like to work around the house in silence.  She craves, she needs, a musical soundtrack to keep her moving, make her feet want to dance, liven the mood.  So while I was occupied elsewhere doing many other things, she took the pictures here, and single-handedly re-connected the entire stereo system herself.  This was no small task, in that the home we bought has "surround sound" in the walls of the family room, and speakers attached to the outside walls pointing at the pool.  She got it all to work, using just her wits, patience and these photos, and saved me a good 4 to 6 hours of my day, with lots and lots of frustration in trying to do it myself.  I did not know my wife had it in her to be so adept at electronic connections, but I am happy to see she could and she did.  I am a lucky man.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dawn, on the Laguna Hills non-Plain

When I was a kid, Mutual of Omaha used to run shows on Sunday night that I watched whenever I was visiting my grandparents in Calumet City.  There was an episode "Dawn, on the Serengeti Plain" that I can recall vividly, even 40 years later.  Even as a small kid, it gave me an appreciation for the beauty of what a dawn could be.

In our previously rented house, my home office was behind the garage, next to the garbage dumpsters (and their smell), with a view of the neighbor's house about 3 meters away.  Dawn came everyday, and I saw light filtering through the blinds, but I never saw the actual sky, or had anything resembling a "scenic view".  Then we moved to Laguna Hills.

This was what greeted me Tuesday morning.  I call it a "furnace sky" in that I've seen many a steel mill, forge house, heat treater's furnace, kiln, and smelter…  and the sky, when it gets an orange / pink / yellow hue, reminds me of an industrial furnace heated up to neat 2000 F. 

I'd say the office and view are a "significant upgrade".  It gives me an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, and I am delighted to be able to share it with you, the visitors to JustJoeP.

Nightstand Face-plant

When you move into a new house, make sure you put the night stand EXACTLY as far away from the bed as it was in the previous house.  That is, far enough away, that when you roll over at night, and out of bed, during a dream sequence where you are scaling a wall and climbing over the top of it, when you LAN on the "other side" of the wall, it doesn't involve face planting your eye into the corner of the night stand.

This resulted in a 330am trip to the emergency room, which cost me out-of-pocket (even with corporate insurance) a $1000, plus another $150 to have the stitches taken out 6 days later.  Dr Desert Flower was nice enough to drive me, calmly, to the ER, 2 miles away.  I am glad I did not lose my right eye.  There was enough blood pooling initially in my hand and the corner of my eye, that I'd thought I'd lost the use of the eye.  Luckily, that was not the case.

So if you have night stands with sharp corners, and you move, make sure you place the night stands SO CLOSE to the bed your head can't fit between the edge and the mattress, or, far enough away that when you clumsily roll out of bed, you miss impacting the night stand all together.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Laguna Rainbow - Post Closing

The day after we closed on our home in early October, I saw this rainbow when I walked out of Home Depot

It was a lovely sight.  No rain at all on my car, but it was raining between me and Saddleback Mountain, where the clouds and rainbow occurred.  Very cool.

And below the rainbow, in the foreground, is the first, and only "In and Out Burger" where DDF and I have ever eaten.  We went in on a Saturday or Sunday, some time in early October, after hearing every one RAVE about how AWESOME In-and-Out-Burger was.  The parking lot was jam packed.  The drive through crawled around the building.  We went in, and found the place to be standing room only, every seat taken.  Placed out $7 order (for two burgers) in less than 2 minutes, and then waited for nearly 20 minutes for the platoon of high school student fry cooks to prepare our order.  There as a Boy Scout troop, several sports teams, and a bus of developmentally disabled people there all at the same time, which I am sure slowed down our food prep time...  but...  the burgers were not exceptional, and we don't understand the devoted loyalty people have to In-and-Out.  It was "OK" at best.  The rainbow was far better.

Feline Familiar Frailty

So much has transpired chez nous since my last blog posting back in October, with moving into our new home (well, it's older than son, but it is new to us) and unpacking and fixing up the place.  It's been keeping us extremely busy, and going to bed very tired, but it's a good tired.

Our 17 year old cat Natasha succumbed to what was very likely pancreatic cancer that had metastasized  into her brain, the day before Halloween.  This image is the last time she actually ate, on October 28th - I was so delighted to see her eating something, that I photographed her.  At one point, when DDF was doing her doctoral thesis, she referred to Natasha as the "leptin deficient" cat who had ballooned up to 16 lbs in her middle age.

When we tearfully took her to the vet to be put to sleep on the night of the 30th, she weighed barely 4 lbs - down from 6 lbs back in July.  She was just skin and bones, and no longer leading an active life, or any semblance of her former life.  It was a very sad night, the night before Halloween here.

Meanwhile her 19 year old older sister is as active and spry as she was 10 years ago.  She patrolled the house for a week in November looking for her absent sister, who had been a part of our home for 17 years, but now older sister has forgotten about Natasha, and lounges leisurely on the futon in my office while I work each day, a very happy familiar.  The American Domestic House Cat, when kept indoors and away from pathogens, is living to be 20 to 22 years on average, I read earlier this year in a Pet magazine.  I think our 19 year old will be with us for another presidential election or two.  Her gentle snoring is adorable, and even though I am allergic to her, I know I'll miss her tremendously when she's no longer around.

Peregrine In Our Park

In the park at the edge of the neighborhood, overlooking Laguna Hills, there's an ancient species of conifer that is a good 30 feet tall.  It rises above houses and surrounding landscape, and makes a perfect perch for a bird of prey to survey the buffet of food sources.  It is one of Dr Desert Flower's favorite trees.   One morning last week, DDF noticed this raptor on the top of the tree, and tried to take a picture of it first with her iphone, and then a few minutes later, excitedly with our Sony 7 megapixel (with Zeiss lenses and autofocus).

It was the right size, shape, and coloring for a peregrine, but it didn't flap its wings or fly away so it was difficult to definitively identify.  There are "so many birds" during DDF's morning walks...  and that's a very cool thing.