Monday, December 30, 2013

Ryobi One+ Small Yard Quality Products

Back in December, I posted about how nice of a reel mower my Fiskars Stay Sharp was - and I've gotten a huge number of hits to that page coincidentally (link here).  So I wanted to make a mention of how satisfied I am with the cordless Ryobi power tool & lawn products I've purchased since moving to our new home in early October.

For a cordless drill, my basic requirements were simple:
- wanted a solid brand name that would not be going out of business in the next year or two
- needed a 20 to 30 minute minimum battery life, since the jobs I have are not "all day" jobs
- needed a "several hour" or "over-night" recharge capability
- chuckless, since I broke the chuck key on my True Value variable speed 1/4 inch drill that I've had for the last 25 years.
- minimum 1/4 inch capacity, but bigger would be fine too
- something less than $100, that would last at least 5 years, but hopefully closer to 10 or 20 years (I tend to keep my tools)
- compatible with cordless lawn equipment using the same batteries
You see, I tried using my corded 110V drill to turn a stainless steel scouring brush in an attempt to remove calcified deposits on the side of my pool tile, that had built up over the last 2 decades, and I was  deathly afraid of having the plug and/or extension cord drop into the pool and electrocute myself, before Thanksgiving.  So cordless was mandatory and drove the purchase.

I looked at Home Depot (closest to my home), Lowes, and online.  Home Depot appeared to have the widest selection and most in stock.  So after reading multiple reviews, I went with the Ryobi One+ 18V Lithium Ion cordless drill.  Keep in mind, I had not bought a power tool since before the Clinton Administration, so it was unexplored territory for me.  When I got my Ryobi drill out of the box, I was delighted.  Not only was it ergonomically comfortable and fit in my hand very well, but it was balanced, powerful, had a built-in magnetic drill bit holder, a built-in bubble level, and had 3 variable speeds and torques to be able to adjust.  Sweet!  I spent 2 days leaning over the edge of the pool grinding off calcium chloride deposits (while wearing a dust mask, to avoid inhaling the dust & ground-off-sealant fumes.

Satisfied with my drill purchase, I looked for a weed wacker.  I consulted my father, whose yard I used to cut as a teenager & college student in Indiana.  We had a junky old Toro corded weed whacker that never really worked right when I was a kid, and the cord was such a pain.  With a pool int he back yard here in CA, a corded device was again counter-indicated, so I read up on the Ryobi weed wacker / edge trimmer combo, and bought it for less than $100.  It works marvelously!  Powerful, precise, well balanced - it is the perfect tool for my small yard with ~200 feet of fence and ~100 feet of sidewalk edging.  And with some practice, it is even possible to NOT throw whacked weeds and plant material into the pool - despite the gardener's previous desecrations.

I wanted to get a cordless leaf blower, but there were none available that had "the punch" necessary for blowing leaves over grassy surfaces.  On the North side of my home, there's a grassy incline that rises a good 5 feet to meet the neighbor's fence.  Not having to rake it, and being able to quickly use gusts of directed air to "push" apple, nectarine, apricot, and guava leaves down the yard would have been ideal. But alas, the cordless Ryobi "hard surface blower" that I got for $70 at Home Depot (without a battery) cannot handle the job.  I was clearly warned, by the packaging label information, the online reviews, and my father's own advice...  but that's fine.  For as small as my yard is, the Ryobi blower is "good enough".  I can blow the pool deck clean, without blowing anything into the pool.  I can "sweep" the patio with directed air, and "push" the leaves and debris away from the pool and towards my garbage cans (including a composting green waste can that the city picks up for free).  And it uses the exact same battery that the weed wacker uses, so I can finish weed wacking & trimming, then pop out the battery, and power the blower.  It would have been nicer if the blower had a HIGH and LOW speed, but single speed is OK, and it works fine on paved / flat surfaces.  It is practically useless on grassy & uneven surfaces - be forewarned.

So if you have a small yard, without a huge amount of trimming to do, the Ryobi weed wackier / edger combination works well.  And the blower - if you get it without a battery & charger - compliments the sister device very well.  My drill came with 2 batteries, and the weed wacker one, so I have 3 batteries and 2 chargers now.  The batteries charge up in "smart chargers" in about an hour - much faster than I expected.

Affordable, good quality.  Not contractor quality, or capable of "running all day", but that's not how I have been using them.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Not Renewing NFL Sunday Ticket

I'm not going to renew my expensive Direct TV NFL Sunday Ticket package next year, or "The NFL's & Direct TV's greed disgusts me".   I was born and raised as a Bear's fan.  I watched them lose throughout my childhood, and then when I was in college, they won the only Superbowl during my lifetime, before becoming Green Bay's perpetual punching bag, year in and year out under Favre & Rodgers.

Until we lived in Phoenix, and Qwest lost their contract to provide Cable TV through Motorola boxes, and we were forced to go to Direct TV if we wanted to continue cable service, I'd never even considered getting Sunday Ticket. My cousin in Phoenix had Sunday Ticket, and he watched "All the games" in his efforts to keep up to date on his fantasy football league.  I'd go over to his house from time to time and watch my beloved Bears lose to various NFC teams.  Always a playoff Bridesmaid, never a bride.  Dr Desert Flower and I would frequently go to Old Chicago and watch Da Bears play with several dozen Bears fans, all in Jerseys, for camaraderie.  But then we moved to California, at the end of November, and Direct TV gave us Sunday Ticket for free.  "Sweet" I thought.

Then they start billing you in April, Long Before the next NFL season starts.  It's steep, $375 for a full season, which is non-refundabe, non-cancelable, so that by the time pre-season comes around in August, you've already been milked of your cash.  So what does this $375 get the subscriber?  Does it get 100% of every game?  No, not if the game is not sold out.  Does it get you commercial free games, since you've paid so much?  Hell no!  The $375 is just to have "access" not to have 'commercial free access'. Does it get the subscriber Anything Additional on the games that are nationally televised?  (like Sunday Night, Monday Night, Thursday Night, or the 'game of the week' each week?) Absolutely not.

Sure, the rabid NFL fan gets the "red zone" where you can see picture-in-a-picture, and "alerts" if you care about Fantasy Football or "all the games", but I don't care.  You get the 'fast forward summary' that comes out at 1am that shows all the major plays of the game,  spliced together, rapid fire.  And while the 'fast forward' is nice, it is not worth $375.

This season, I could have seen 1/2 the Bears games for free, on Fox, CBS, ESPN, the NFL Network.  The other games I could have gone to a local bar and watched the game for $15 or $20 in beer and wings, and a dollar or 2 in gasoline to get there.  That still puts me nearly $200 ahead, and feeling much less violated.

If NFL Sunday Ticket guaranteed 100% of the games, regardless of sell out or not, eliminated the ubiquitous commercials, worked glitch free regardless of clouds, wind, rain, snow, or any other weather conditions (all of which a Real team, who doesn't play in a domed stadium, are accustomed to playing in), then I might consider renewing.  But I don't want more of my hard earned cash going to the Erebor sized gold pile the NFL has accumulated over the last 4 decades.  To me, it is just not worth it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This Doesn't Suck - Laguna Christmas

Spent a very pleasant Christmas day with our son.  Took a walk around the neighborhood.  Baked and decorated Christmas cookies as I used to in Indiana when I grew up.  Lounged around the pool in the 72F sunshine until the sun went down, and then sat in the 102F hot tub at dusk, grazing on 3 kinds of almonds, fig jam, Toscana cheese, wine, and beer.
Yes, I decorated the snow man, and gave the stegosauruses and allosauruses natural camo patterns in icing
Fist Bump Lions, Poolside
Now it is dark, and Dr Desert Flower is baking a delicious Trader Joe's ham - couldn't stomach spending $120 for a free range WholePaycheck organic ham - that we'll eat in an hour or two.  A very pleasant Christmas.

Yesterday, as a family we walked on the beach from Salt Creek to Strand to the Headlands Nature Preserver and back.  Along the way, we saw migrating whales - a mom and her calf from the size and shape of the spouts and flukes, probably Blue whales - migrating South along Salt Creek beach and Strand Beach.  We then came home to soak in the hot tub and enjoy drinks as a family before dinner.

No, I am not sad or disappointed that I didn't fly to 15F Chicago to visit relatives.  I do not miss the isolation and desolation of western Phoenix, and we feel far too young and lively to spend another Christmas in Palm Springs (as we did back in 2010).  We do miss our friends in South Carolina, but we do not miss the bigotry, racism, humidity, or lack of career opportunities the South Carolina Upstate had.  Southern California Christmas suits us.   It's really nice here, celebrating our first Christmas in our new home.  Come visit us.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gluten Free Dumb

I am really starting to get tired of seeing "Gluten Free" labels on food items that in no way, shape, or form, could or would ever have any gluten on them.  Take for example, bacon.  Bacon, comes from a pig's belly - a typically fat pig's belly.  Yes, the pig May Have consumed some gluten in it's life time.  Pigs eat alot of things (Leviticus 11, 3-27 warn against them), and they turn the things they eat into delicious pig flesh.  I am a huge fan.
Duh - of course it is "Gluten Free"  
But I also paid attention in my science classes.  And I married an incredibly smart scientist.  In our home, we are "science literate".  To see "gluten free" on ANY meat product that is not breaded, or soaked in a wheat based beer, or cured in a rye whiskey, or in any way influenced, affected, or afflicted with the residues of any wheat, barley, or rye, is a clear illustration of several things:
1) The US educational system has miserably failed to train our kids to be science literate
2) Marketers prey upon the public's general ignorance and lemming / herd like mentality
3) Consumers who SEE the "gluten free" label on foods that inherently could not or would not contain gluten and then BUY them based upon that irrelevant label, should be removed from the general population and not allowed to reproduce, teach children, or hold elected office.

It would be like labeling fruit in the grocery store to say "no artificial sweeteners added" - of course not, mother nature already loaded up all the fruits with loads of natural fructose to entice animals to eat them and distribute the seeds in their excrement.  Such a label would be superfluous and misleading to the uninformed who might start to think (by way of push-marketing) that some natural fruits MIGHT contain artificial sweeteners?

Any gliadins and gluten the pig ate might have damaged its intestines (if it did not just pass through them, undigested), and the residual peptides(if they were even absorbed into the small intestine) we're metabolized, but they did not accumulate in the belly fat that became my bacon.  I know 1 in 133 people have a gluten allergy (and 1 in 3 hipsters, yuppies, valley girls, nouveau riche, Californians, and steam punks claim they do) and many governments Require the labeling on food packages, but really... is it necessary for foods that Cannot contain gluten in the first place to have to be labeled?

Just let me fry (in my cast iron skillet) and eat my Canadian maple cured, thick slice bacon in peace.  I will continue to publicly scoff and mock "gluten free" labels on food that doesn't require them, and mourn for the scientific ignorance of the North American population who fall victim to such misguided marketing.

Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc 2012

I've mentioned here (link) before my "go to" paradigm for Rodney Strong wines when dining out.  They're consistently good quality, typically not over priced, and pair well with many a restaurant meal.  Well Dr Desert Flower Does enjoy her white wines, so we picked up a bottle of Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc, Northern Sonoma County 2012.  It did not disappoint.

"Sustainably Farmed" is on the back label.  I hope it is.  I wonder however, what "sustainably farmed" actually means?  After all, it is California.  They have high labor costs, and high refuse disposal costs, and high taxes.  If they are NOT sustainably farming, they won't be in business very long.  Rick Sayre (Winemaker) makes good wines, year after year.  I hope they stay in business and don't get bought up by some other nameless-faceless-corporatist wine conglomerate.  "Family Owned, Heraldsburg California" - please let it stay that way.

Yabber & Sons - Flat out like a lizard drinking

Some time ago in the Fall, I bought an inexpensive bottle of Yabber & Son's Red Blend, Wine of Australia.  It had to have been less than $5 a bottle, at Trader Joe's most probably.  "Flat out like a lizard drinking" it says on the back label.  "They were right.  The Yabber Brothers said it was good, but we did not know just how good.  Then we tasted it.  No wonder the wine maker is madder than a cut snake for letting us bring you this incredible wine at an unbelievable price.  Now we are all flat out like a lizard drinking & grinning like a shot fox... & maybe missing a few kangaroos in the top paddock".

Now, while I do not recall the amazing-or-not-so-amazing qualities of this wine, the label is humorous, and the back label ( "missing a few kangaroos in the top paddock") made me chuckle.  It was not horrible, I would would have remembered pouring it down the drain.  I'll need to pick up another bottle the next time I see it on sale.

Norwegian Math Test - Verks 4 me

I got this from my Godfather, Uncle Joe just a few minutes ago, and it made me laugh.  As I have a penchant (or some say proclivity) for languages, I thought I'd pass it onto you, to enjoy as well.

Verks 4 me.
A Norwegian Math Test --- This only works for those in Minnna soda , Nort DaKoda, or Viskonsin dont cha know!

Ole, a Norwegian fella wants a job, but the foreman doesn't want to hire him, so he says he won't hire 
him until he passes a little math test. Here is your first question, the foreman said. 'Without using numbers,
represent the number 9.'
'Witout numbers?' The Norwegian says, 'Dat's easy.' and proceeds to draw three trees. 
Description: B702E2F8D2CA4131AD5AEAB6E3217A5B@Everest
What's this?' the boss asks.
Vot! You got no brain? Tree and tree and tree make nine,' says the Norwegian.
'Fair enough,' says the boss. 'Here's your second question. Use the same rules, but this time represent 
the number 99.'
The Norwegian stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a 
smudge on each tree. 'Dar ya go!'
Description: 7EA371A52F33440490354EB3FFF3F7BE@Everest
The boss scratches his head and says, 'How on earth do you get that to represent 99?'
'You must be from Iowa.  Each of Da trees is dirty now. So, it's dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree. 
Dat is 99.'

The boss is getting worried that he's going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, 'All right, last
question. Same rules again, but represent the number 100.'
The Norwegian fella stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little mark at 
the base of each tree and says, 'Dar ya go! Von hundred!'

Description: F1D06248122F432A8F2A174E19FB26D5@Everest
The boss looks at the attempt. 'You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!'
The Norwegian winces and shakes his head. UFF-DAH! you must be a Finlander from Iowa; he leans forward 
and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, 'A little dog come along and pooped by each tree. So
now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, and dat makes von hundred !!
So, ven do I start

Quality Kiwi Wine Observations

 At Thanksgiving (to show you how 'behind' I am in my blog postings), we had one of Dr Desert Flower's co-workers and her family over for the holiday dinner.  They were from New Zealand, of they (of course) brought New Zealand wines.  A young Marlborough Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2013 white wine, and a Marlborough Jules Taylor Pinot Noir 2011.  Both were delicious wines, and went well with the convection oven roasted WholePaycheck free range turkey, stuffing, potatoes, green bean salad, spinach salad, and many other side dishes that were enjoyed by the 7 of us gathered.

For the Kiwis, it was their first "Real Thanksgiving" at a home in the US, and they enjoyed it immensely.  For the Americans, we got to sample a non-grape-fruity Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand - which in my perspective is a wonderful rarity.  DDF and I enjoy a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, but not the overwhelming grape fruit explosion that is often the case with discounted New Zealand whites.  The Oyster Bay did not has this same citrus invasion, and it was tasty.   The Pinot Noir from Jules Taylor was also delicious (we went through 2 bottles of Pinot between the 4 people drinking red) and very enjoyable.  It had far more body and fullness to it than the inexpensive Pinot Noirs I am used to tasting in California - at least the ones that are less than $12 a bottle; my own personal 'comfort zone' for where I begin to fret at the store if I am buying a 'ever day table wine' for drinking, and not for an occasion.

On the Google, the Jules Taylor Pinot Noir can be found online for around $20, and the Oyster Bay 2013 Sauvignon Blanc for $11.  I'll keep my eyes open for these gems the next time I am at the wine shop.

He Went To Jared!

That Sauron, he's so thoughtful!

Thanks to my buddy Ryan for this hilarious image.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Suzy Snowflake

Another Christmas classic that Ray Rayner used to show...  Suzy Snowflake.

I used to think she was real when I was younger than the square root of 36.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Louis C.K. Oh My God

Dr Desert Flower and I watched Lois C.K.'s HBO special "Oh My God" last week, and laughed our asses off at Louis's hilarity.  Filmed in Phoenix in February 2013, it is classic Louis C.K.  Parts of the show can be seen here:  link
(caution, NOT appropriate for Children, if you have little ones around, wear head phones)

Some of the quotes that make me laugh every time I hear them:

- "the dog's got a cloudy eye, she's got a cloudy eye, they stand there looking at the street in 2 dimensions together"

- "her legs are a nightmare, they are white with green streaks"

- "he's living in 2 second increments"

- "any other kind of thing, you're in the food chain.  We are OUT of the food chain.  That is a massive upgrade."

- "another thing you have to deal with…  you get a thing in the mail that your phone is different, and your mortgage is another company now…   there's always f*cking cheetahs at the train station!"

- "embarrassed sharks"

- "grown ups aint worth the meat"

- "can you make me a fountain?"

- "cuz why not start there?"

- "this is private property" "well, I don't really believe in that"

- "a cocktail of anger and confusion"

- "like trying to get an old Honda out of a snow bank"

- "you're going to be the branch she can reach before she hits the ground"

- "1/2 bear 1/2 lion"

- "the resolution on the kid is unbelievable!"

- "of course….  but maybe…."

I did not know that Louis C.K. is actually Louis Szekely (which, to American ears, sounds phonetically like "CK").  Probably because we are close to the same age and can relate, we (DDF & I) think Louis C.K. is extremely funny.  Louis's position on marriage & divorce is not one with which we concur, but the rest of the act is very very funny.  [note, there used to be a youtube video of the entire performance, but HBO lawyers made youtube take it down, here].  

Les Portes De Bordeaux Haute Medoc

Les Portes De Bordeaux Haute Medoc 2012, is the latest offering from Les Portes De Bordeaux family.  I mentioned earlier (link here) how Les Portes de Bordeaux expanded from just the Bordeaux Superior to a Fronsac. Well they also have a Haut Medoc, and a St. Emillion (the Saint will be blogged about after Christmas, when we'll drink it).

For $9 a bottle, this is a fantastic Haut Medoc.  It was rather young, at just 2012, but very drinkable and enjoyable.  Like other Haut Medocs, I found it to have a lingering mineral finish on the tongue, pleasant, and dry.  A grande vin de Bordeaux indeed.  If you see a bottle at your local Trader Joe's, try it.

Highly recommended.

Hardrock, Coco & Joe

When I was a kid, growing up in Da Region, I used to watch the Ray Rayner Show on WGN each morning.  At Christmas time, Ray would always play the Hardrock, Coco & Joe video.  I loved it!  Dr Desert Flower had never heard of this classic, so I googled it:
Looking back, I see the creepy, almost non-human depiction of "Santa" here, appearing nearly evil - not so much "jolly", but more of a WWII era Pacific Theater propaganda film genre.  I also never recalled - though hearing this dozens of times as a kid - that Santa had "no need for Joe, but takes him because he loves him so".

"I'm Hardrock,
I'm Coco,
I'm Joe"

Apparently, only Donner & Blitzen (and 4 other un-named reindeer) were necessary to pull the fully laden sleigh.  No need for 8 or 9 or a glowing nose variation in the lead.


Monday, December 16, 2013

The Desolation of Tolkien - The Hobbit, Commercial Installment Part II

The Animated Version of Smaug the DRAGON (not the Wyvern)
Tolkien's Original Hand Sketch of what he (the author( envisioned as Smaug
I just got home from going to see "The Desolation of Smaug" , aka the 2nd Hobbit movie in the needless trilogy, and I can't say I am not significantly disappointed.  I don't want to fill the start of this with many spoilers (those come at the end) but the film does Not follow the book much at all, other than a very very very loose story line and some of the same casts of characters.  Most of the "places" in Middle Earth are still there, but what happens in those places, who goes there, and how they get there are nearly completely different than anything I read in the book decades ago.
Peter Jackson is a very good movie maker, and loves elaborate scenes, but he also loves commercialization, merchandizing, and taking massive 'creative license' whenever possible.  Contrary to some of my friends' perspective on the first movie, "An Unexpected Journey" I generally liked the first movie.  Yes, it had some divergences and dwelled too long here or there, but it seemed to carry the general spirit of Tolkien's original work, or at least the first 1/3 of the short novel, and I walked away from it in Christmas 2012 not feeling let down, ripped off, or baited-and-switched.  "Desolation of Smaug" tremendously let me down, confused me, and was just plain-out gratuitous where it didn't need to be.

If you've not seen it yet, and don't want to have any "spoilers", stop reading now.   Come back later after you've seen it, and let me know what you think.

Positive Points:  (I like to put the good before the bad)
- Smaug (the character) is done very well, crafted in pure evil.  Nicely done in Smaug's personae as represented by his dialogue, intelligence, ferocity and wickedness.
- The King of the Wood Elves is done very well, very haughty, sticking close to the original (mostly)
- Peter Jackson makes a second appearance near the very beginning, as does Steven Colbert 1/3 of the way through the film; both very minor roles, but sweet little cameos.
- the blue butterflies Bilbo stirs up at the Mirkwood canopy when he climbs up to get his bearings are beautifully done
- women (and 10% of men) who love Orlando Bloom will be able to swoon looking into Legolas's iridescent blue eyes.
- the natural beauty of New Zealand is spectacular, and Jackson shows off many pastoral, mountainous, and CGI sceneries.
- the Spider encounter is even creepier than the book or animated movie, and the "it Stings!" quote it spot on
- Smaug's in angry condemnation "I am fire, I am death" and "there is no where to hide" as well as Bilbo's flattery of Smaug under the mountain in the great hall is spot on, Spoken very well.

Negative Points:
- there were no female elvish lead characters in the book or the animated movie, but obviously Jackson's marketeers (or maybe Jackson himself in his own creative license) decided that injecting a main lead female character would SELL MORE Merchandise, inject more positive female role models, and perhaps was an attempt to get more female movie goers (little girls and their parents) to go see a movie of a book that most of them had never read.  "Mommy, I wanna be like Tauriel! she fights so fiercely AND helps people!"  Ugh.
- there were no orcs who ever entered Laketown.  So the Laketown lackey police can stop "smugglers" but don't monitor their ONLY land bridge?  No one sounds an alarm, anywhere?
- Bard the huntsman / archer was not a smuggler nor a rule-breaking philanthropist in the book, no was he being spied upon by Stephen Fry's slimy henchmen
- none of the trees attacked anyone in Mirkwood, unlike (as I recall) they did in the book
- none of the dwarves entered Lonely Mountain in a ludicrous attempt to "save Bilbo" in the book, once Smaug was awakened
- Thorin Oakensheild never held his sword to Bilbo's chest while standing in the dwarven great hall greedily demanding if he had gotten the archenstone or not
- Bilbo Never took off his ring in front of Smaug, in the book, who would have instantly incinerated or eaten him, if he had
- In the book, Smaug was a dragon, and in Jackson's 1st movie ("Unexpected Journey") he was a dragon with 4 legs and 2 wings, but then in "Desolation" he becomes a Wyvern instead...   sadly  (for more, read here).
- the Orcs in the book do no chase the barrel riding dwarves down the river.
- the Orcs in the book do not approach the elvish capital inside the forest, and stay far away
- the Orcs in the book are not slain, in droves, as easily as they are in "Desolation" (heck, it took a "battle of 5 armies" to slay sufficient numbers of Orcs, not just two elves with excellent archery skills)
- Legolas of the book has no love interest in any other elf
- all the elves in the book have contempt & disdain for all dwarves, and there is no sub-plot of love interest or singular compassion, when the dwarves stumble into the elvish citadel
- Laketown in the book is not a dilapidated, run-down, Akron-like, has-been cesspool as Jackson has made it out to be (if you don't like "Akron-like" then insert your favorite city who has been past its hey-day and is now, in severe decline or a shadow of its former self; Terre Haute, Hammond, Baltimore, Newark, New Orleans, Wilmington, Allentown, Toledo, Detroit, Birmingham UK, etc)
- no elf in the book stood on the heads (literally) of any dwarf, anywhere
- Laketown was not "full of spies" like an Erick  Honecker East Germany was, or a modern Chinese Great Wall tourist exhibit is
- the dwarves, though skilled craftsmen, miners, and smithies, did not have MASSIVE, Incredibly Easy to light & ramp up to smelting temperature, sic-fi scaled blast furnaces (not "forges" as "forging" requires Pounding to align metallic grain structures, consult a metallurgist, Mr. Jackson, please!  And even if they did, such furnaces would NOT instantly light off and run perfectly well after 75+ years of no maintenance by anyone while a giant red dragon occupied the entire underground mountain complex.
Tolkien's sketch of Laketown (not too shabby)

So what Peter Jackson did, was to borrow Tolkien's rich narrative's characters, geography, and plot, and then super-impose his own version of what he wanted to see in a movie version of it, drawn out into three parts (when it really could have been just one, or maybe 2 [MAX] movies of "The Hobbit") and in doing so, distort the fundamental nature of Tolkien's original works.   I must say I was enormously disappointed leaving the theater... and if Dr Desert Flower and Nathan Jr go to see it when he visits next week, I doubt I will go with them.  I went to see Tolkien's move come to life, not to see Peter Jackson's remix.  In fact, Puff Daddy's "Every Breath You Take" is proportionally Closer to The Police's original version, than Peter Jackson's 2nd Hobbit installment is to Tolkien's book, to illustrate Just How Far Off I think Jackson is on this film.

But I am sure it will sell alot more merchandise this way, and more little girls will ask to go see it, and people who have never read the book will probably love it.  Bleh.   I'll pass.

And there wasn't even any Desolation caused by Smaug in this movie - misnomer!  You can't Drown a Red Dragon in liquid gold...  you'll just piss him off, royally!  Tsk, tsk, tsp Peter.  You should have known better.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Young At Heart

An interesting diversion:  originally a "mental age test" developed in Japan.  It takes less than 2 minutes to take.   Answer honestly.   I placed me at "10 years younger" than I am. Link here.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

December Laguna Sunsets

The Sunsets have been pretty amazing too.  This sequence was taken the evening of December 11th, from my office window, backyard, and front yard.


And as I took these images at dusk, I was wearing sandals, shorts, a light weight shirt, drinking a delicious red Bordeaux wine, and it was 65F.

Yeah, living here doesn't suck.

Glorious Laguna Sunrises

December 13th's Sunrise

One of the nice things about the short December days in Southern California, and having to wake up before dawn to go to work - and work in a home office whose window that faces East - South East, is that You Know when dawn arrives.  You've already been working for 30 minutes or an hour, and then the darkness outside begins to gradually diminish. The birds start singing to each other.  The rest of the world begins to arise.  And since it is December, there's very likely some moisture in the air over Southern Orange County, and the cloud formations enhance the sunrise even more spectacularly than the setting sun can at dusk.  I've been lucky enough to see several remarkable sunrises this month, outside my window, just 3 feet to the right of my computer monitor.
Dec 12th's Sunrise

This last week was my final full week of work this year, as I accrued substantial amounts of vacation that I've not taken.  I'll still work an occasional 1/2 day here or there in the next 3 weeks to catch up on emails and time cards and deal with those who don't plan very well...  but I'm essentially "checked out" for the rest of the year.  Circadian rhythms still have me getting up at 4am, but rolling over and going back to sleep until 7am was a wonderful experience this morning.

His Noodley Majesty the Flying Spaghetti Monster made an appearance in the sky to bless my morning, on December 12th, catching my eye.  It's been a long time since He's shown Himself to a mere mortal like myself, but I was honored to be able to be a witness to His glory.  Ramen!
FSM in the sky above Laguna Hills, December 12th 2013
I had also never seen such a small, localized, independent cloud burst in California, or anywhere else.  Atmospheric conditions with dew point, winds, and the dawn's initial solar heating to drive the distinctive "tendrils" of rain from not just one manifestation of the FSM, but 1/2 a dozen of His likenesses across the morning sky, some smaller or further away, but all with the same rain-indicative geometry.
Witnessing a glorious sunrise and being blessed with a sighting of the FSM energized my morning on the 12th, and put me in one of the best moods for a work day that I've been in all year.  I feel priviledged and honored to be able to share these images with you, the visitors to JustJoeP.  Be well.
In the center of this image, you can see a black bird flying, from the SE towards the NW.  This happens EVERY Dawn, in large murders as well as singular individuals.  EVERY dusk, the birds make a return journey, from NW to SE.  What drives this daily migration, I have no clue, but it is as repeatable as the arrival or dawn & dusk are.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mother Nature & Radagast The Brown

Dr Desert Flower and I were "A Year Without a Santa Claus" last night and the coincidence struck me,  Mother Nature strongly resembles Radagast the Brown from "The Hobbit".  

They both are intrinsically linked with Nature.  They both keep birds on their heads.  They're both fond of hats.  They both have to deal with violent and dangerous individuals in their other wise bucolic lives.

Perhaps they are distant relatives?  Perhaps fraternal twins, separated at birth?  Mother Nature is 'probably older' than Ratagast, but Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" long before Rankin & Bass produced their stop motion masterpiece.  It is very likely that Peter Jackson saw, or was exposed to, "A Year Without A Santa Claus" in his childhood, or sometime before he began production on the milk-it-for-all-it-is-worth Hobbit trilogy.

I am just glad that Mother Nature doesn't have bird poo running down her head, and somewhat saddened and disappointed that Jackson emphasized the somewhat creepy and gross nature of Ratagast proudly (or completely unaware?) having it streaming down the right side of his face.  I concur with my buddy Ryan (who is going to see the midnight opening of "The Desolation of Smaug" tonight) on this - it is just wrong.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fiskars Reel Mower Real Deal

When we moved into this house, as part of the Closing agreement, the sellers agreed to "keep on" the pool service and the lawn service guys.  The sellers were original owners, and had been renting to 'questionable quality' renters for 2 years who had not been maintaining the pool and yard so well.  After the renter's lease ended this summer, the sellers re-instated their pool and yard guys and told them they'd stay one with whoever bought the house, at least for the first month - as the sellers were paying.

 Dr Desert Flower and I figured we'd "test drive" the lawn and pool guys, and see how well they do, what their prices were, and maybe keep them around.  When the lawn guy would come after the pool guy, I'd spend a good 20 or 30 minutes manually skimming out grass and weed clippings out of the pool, every Tuesday in October.  When the lawn guy would come before the pool guy, I let the hired pool guy do the skimming, but regardless, the lawn guy could not keep his weed whacker and mower from jettisoning copious amounts of biomass into the pool.  On top of that, he never weeded, the lawn was increasingly filling up with crab grass and dandelions, and he trimmed none of the many bushes and hedges.  I could not justify keeping around a lawn guy for $80 a month who did 5 minutes of mowing, 10 minutes of weed whacking, and 5 minutes of leaf blowing, to be gone in less than 1/2 an hour and who caused me 30 minutes of needless pool skimming (the pool guy began coming earlier and earlier on Tuesdays; but we let him go too, since as a educated scientist and engineer power couple, if we can't regulate chlorine ion concentration, pH, and water hardness / stabilizer, even after taking a combined 4 years of chemistry classes, then we needed to remove ourselves from the gene pool).  I bid the lawn guy adios, gave him a huge bag of guava, and told him I'd give him a call in 2014 if the lawn was too much for me to handle.

The day before I'd spoken to him, my new Fiskars Stay Sharp Max 18 inch push reel mower (6201) model # 62016935J Home Depot SKU # 605931, internet SKU 202563265 had arrived.  I put it together in my garage with a simple allen head screw driver in less than 5 minutes.  Very straightforward and logical.  No adjustments were needed, and it was ready to cut.  $199 was my investment (free shipping) and I was ready to try out my new human powered reel mower.

5 days later I was briskly pushing my mower through my small lawn when one of the front wheels Sheared Off a sprinkler head, and then 10 seconds later, I bent a 2nd head.  "Be more careful Joe!" I reprimanded myself and added "Don't mow the lawn near dusk when it is hard to see!"  I turned off my sprinkler system so it wouldn't erupt the following morning, and broke out my shovel and mini-pick-axe.  Took 20 minutes to repair the damaged heads the next day, and I reinstalled shorter heads with pop-ups that won't get caught by the mower.   A month later, I KNOW where all the heads are now, and I avoid them completely.

Originally I thought I'd get the grass clipping bag attachment, but it was an additional $50 and it looked cumbersome.  In retrospect, I am Very Glad I DID NOT get it, since it would have made turning and maneuvering the mower very difficult and occluded visibility tremendously, virtually guaranteeing more sprinkler head and other injuries.  Plus, my lawn is so small, I don't need to "catch" the clippings - remember, the lawn guy did it in less than 5 minutes with a gas powered mower.  I take 15 minutes, and do a double 'cross hatch' in that time, walking briskly to keep the blades spinning rapidly.

The Stay Sharp has a built in fly wheel that works really nicely.  In accordance with the multiple online reviews I read before buying, it Does Not cut weeds or mulch leaves.  Those need to be removed by hand, or chemically.  It cuts grass very nicely.  It is easily dried by 20 or 30 seconds of brisk walking along the side walk to get the blades spinning up to wind turbine airfoil speeds.  The handle "folds" or rather "leans vertically for storage" conveniently so that it takes up a very small footprint in my garage.  The mower is the most expensive and most mechanically intense Fiskars product I've purchased or used, but it does not disappoint.  Like all my previous Fiskars cutting tools, it is durable, intuitive, high quality, straight forward, easy-to-use.  I am looking forward to getting a lifetime of use out of it.

And yes, it IS possible to cut grass and weed whack and NOT jettison the clippings into the pool.  It takes some practice, and the first time I put a handful in by accident, but the 2nd and third grass cuttings and weed trimmings (via Ryobi, more on that later) left no more than 2 or 3 blades of grass each time to be fished out of the pool.  It just takes an understanding of physics, momentum, and the time and care necessary to intentionally not send bits of lawn and plant matter into the pool.

Now if just a few of my neighbors could embrace reel mower technology...  Saturday mornings at 7am would be so much quieter all around the neighborhood!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cat's Nuts Again A Roasting

We have our fire going this evening, as it is getting down into the upper 30s here in Southern CA (and the locals think it is "the end of the world" by their arctic attire appearance).  This image is again, very appropriate:


Fist Bump Lions Yoga Studio

The home we were renting earlier this year here in Orange County had no Southern Exposure in the backyard, so doing yoga in the Winter there had only a small 45 minute window when the entire backyard was not completely in the shadow of the 2 story peaked roofline.   While we lived there, I often drove or biked down to Dana Point and did yoga seaside, at the shore (link here) or up on the "Sea Terrace Park" concrete pad a few hundred feet higher, here -->

So when we found the house we eventually bought, I was delighted to see that there was ample southern exposure, and (as Dr Desert Flower's friend Jill, the Mistress Librarian, coined the phrase) "fist bump lions" around the pool.  The fist bump lions and numerous hummingbirds, finches, and phoebes keep me company as I do yoga in the back yard 4 to 5 times a week.  I save the gas and the 20 minute commute time down to Dana Point (or closer to an hour by bike), and instead just do yoga in the warm sun of my backyard, pool adjacent.  The spa over-flows into the pool, making a pleasant "water feature" and the water-falling noise also white-washes any background sounds, like the very distant CA73 Toll Road, a mile or so away (and about 100 feet below us in elevation).  At 330 feet elevation we don't have to worry about any meteorite (like the Apophis meteor in 2023) or earthquake caused tsunamis affecting our property, nor are we in an active "liquefaction zone" on the neighborhood map - which I found out just prior to closing that liquefaction zone risk Must Be disclosed in California by the seller.
Earlier in the afternoon, the upper deck where the table & chairs are is very sunny & a wonderful spot to put your mat.
Note BOTH Fist Bump Lions can be seen in This photo - and the calcium carbonate * calcium chloride deposits on the side of the pool's red tile has since been completely Ground Off using my new battery powered Ryobi drill.
Come visit us in California, and you can "fist bump" our lions that are pool and spa adjacent - and yes, the pool has a natural gas fired heater that can get the spa to 103F in about 20 minutes, for $2 in natural gas.  We use it several times a week, as often as we can.

25 Year Old Birds of Paradise

Our backyard has two massive 25+ year old Bird of Paradise palm trees in it, that are a good 30 feet tall.  There used to be three of these, but the previous (and original) homeowners cut down the one that arched out towards the pool.  Having recently struggled to trim just the lowest - and deadest - branches of this fan palm, I can see why.

In the photo to the right, the green tree to the right of the B.o.P. palms is a fully grown Mexican Cream Guava tree - the prolific one that produced dozens of bushels of fruit this Fall.  It is 20 feet high at its peak.

To trim the B.o.P. palm's dead branches, I got out my 10 foot ladder, climbed to the 2nd to the last top step, and then extended my 12 foot long Fiskars tree pruner, at my maximum arm extension, and I was barely able to "nibble off" the lowest and deadest fronds.   The one completely brown & shriveled frond brittlely fell off without an problems, but the next two 1/2 dead fronds were a significant challenge.

WHen I told Dr Desert Flower that I wanted to get "spiked boots for tree climbing", my very intelligent wife said to me "let's consider this: how high are you going to climb?"
My reply: "high enough, that if I fell, I'd sustain a serious spinal or pelvic injury, the severity of which might be up to and including becoming a quadraplegic"
"Are you sure you don't want to hire someone, who's specialty is climbing up palms and trimming them?"
"Yes, spending $300 for a professional tree trimmer is worth not having to spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair or worse."

The B.o.P. palms are very cool to look at when doing yoga on the pool deck beneath them, in Bridge pose, supine pigeon, or during crunches...  and the birds - as well as spiders - seem to love them.  I hope I can keep them alive another 25 years.

Just 10 Days to Saturnalia!

5 years ago, when I first started this JustJoeP endeavor after being prompted by my buddy Ron to do so, I incorrectly spelled "Saturnalia" as "Saturnaria" and wished everyone a "Joyful Saturnaria" as well as Merry Christmas, Blessed (late) Eid, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year (link here).  Well, this year, Hanukkah is already behind us, occurring at Easter (Nov 27th to Dec 5th).  Eid was WAY back in August (7th & 8th) - living in the medieval Arabian desert, and dictating calendars for holy days, with a strict sense of obedience to not change or modify that calendar when it tends to drift after a few 100 years is a hallmark of fundamentalist dogmatism.

But the Western calendar was handed down by the Romans, and embraced by the Roman Catholic church who propagated it globally, and Saturnalia begins December 17th ("the farmer should have finished his autumn planting") link here.  Since today is December 7th here in California (as I write this), there's just 10 days left before Saturnalia begins!  Hooray!

To celebrate the holiday season, we put out lights and wreaths around our very green & temperate yard. We had to adapt the Phoenix lighting scheme to our new environs, and had the addition of several sets of blue LED lights which we've found to be phenomenally bright (bought after Christmas last year, on massive mark-down). So while there are no more cacti, there are many more - and much larger - palm trees and street facing windows.

Happy Saturnalia to all!   And if you celebrate Christmas, then a Merry Christmas to you as well.