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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Back Dated Wine & Beer Post, Q1 2014

I've had bottles building up in my office, and I need to recycle them before our out-of-town house guests arrive this weekend.  I don't want to LOOK like someone with a drinking problem, to a first time visitor.  So instead of multiple smaller posts, this is going to be one big conglomeration of several different beverages, all in the same post (it's my blog and I will post what I want to, post what I want to, post what I want to....)

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne.  Maison Fondee en 1811 (the house was founded more than 200 years ago)  Epernay France, NM-267-001.  Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase NY.  This was a good champagne.  About $25 a bottle, it was drank in celebration of Dr Desert Flower's new job in February of this year.  Not too dry, not too sweet, wonderful bubbles.  Dr Desert Flower picked it out, and we enjoyed it together.  Good quality bubbly.

I do not mean to sound like I am pontificating, but Pontificis was a delightful, delicious, discerning French red that surprised me.  Bought at Trader Joe's for less than $7 a bottle, the Pontificis 2012, Grenache (40%), Syrah (40%), Mourvedre (20%) mix (I can't use the word 'meritage' as it is so often abused in California) is a Indication Géographique Protégée we really enjoyed.  It had a silken finish, complex notes, a hint of pepper on the edges of the tongue, a mineral finish, and a mouthful of enjoyable flavor.  DDF and I both enjoyed it.

What is an Indication Géographique Protégée? you might ask?  Well I learned today, that it is a step DOWN from AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée ) and a step up from "table wine" (AKA  Vin de Table).  So it is a "mid range" wine in the French quality control & production classification, but we found it to be first rate.

La Mano Mencia Roble 2010 was not a bad wine, and for $5 a bottle, it was an excellent bargain and very drinkable.  This Spanish red was imported by Axial Wines USA, Manhasset NY (another Trader Joe's wine), Mecia Red Wine, Denominacion de origen Bierzo (the Bierzo region, in the north of Spain).  I continue to believe that there's many very good Spanish reds out there that are undervalued in their home country, and jettisoned off in a shipping container to the US, where enthusiastic amateur neologists like myself can discover & enjoy them without ever having to fly over an ocean.

Sadly, there is one final wine I bring to readers that was an abject failure.  Grifone's "1967" Toscana, Indicazione Geographica Tipica made two sips into my mouth, which confirmed its medicinal tasting quality, and one sip into DDF's mouth, which she spit back out.  I poured the bottle down the drain, as it was not fit for human consumption, cooking, or any other productive means. (life is too short to drink bad wine)

Not only were there strong notes of Robitussin, but it stunk of tobacco, mushrooms, and "old musty shoe" smell.  The cork was fine, and had not lost its seal, but the wine within was undrinkable.  And that really is a shame as I've enjoyed several bottles of the Grifone Primitivo (and I thought other Grifone selections, but google is not finding them for me) and they were delightful.

So two good French beverages, one good Spanish, and one fallimento italiano.

This brings us to the American selection.  Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter.  Brewed by Flying Dog Brewery Frederick MD, the Gonzo Imperial Porter was not bad.  I first saw it on the beer list at the Carolina Ale House in Greenville South Carolina in January.  I tried to order it, but the apologetic barkeep told me they were out of stock.  So when I got back to California in February, and saw a bottle for $4 at WholePaycheck, I thought i'd try it - since that was 1/2 the price that CAH was charging as the bar price.  It did not knock my socks off, and it was not as good as a Stone Brewery Russian Imperial Stout or Smoked Porter, or a Left Coast Voo Doo American Stout, nor anywhere near Pugsley's Perfect Porter, but it was not bad.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dana Point Dragon Fossils

Last week, I spent a great deal of time at Dana Point's Strand and Salt Creek beaches after work in the afternoons.  One of the surprising things I found, were the remnants of ancient dragons, buried in the sand along the point where Salt Creek turns into Strand Beach.

Perhaps it was because it was a very low tide that I was able to see these "little before seen" fossils... or maybe they washed ashore recently, from a briny depth during the recent storm.   I do not know.

When our son Nathan Jr was a very young child, just old enough to grasp language, and we would be driving along in one of our Hondas down I-65, I-74, I-75, I-40, or I-85 (the roads on which we spent a disproportionate amount of time traversing in the '90s), and I had been working at Michelin in their truck tire plant, whenever we'd see a separated truck tread on the side of the road, I would call out to Nathan Jr in his center-located car seat behind me "look son, the dragons were shedding their scales here last night!"  ... and amazed, he'd watch the KM rubber fragments on the shoulder as we passed them going 70mph.  They Did Sort Of look like dragon scales...  or old alligator tail scaled strands.

It wasn't until 2 years ago that I was driving with our son on an interstate and he pointed out several 'dragon scales' to me, and reminded me that when he was a very small child, he actually believed that the rubber fragments Really Were dragon scales.  I guess I was a bad dad.

I also taught him to sing "I want to pet you like an animal!" whenever Nine Inch Nails Closer can on the radio (or CD player).  ....maybe I was not so bad of a dad?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Where Is 9M-MRO?

9M-MRO is the tail number of the Boeing 777-2H6-ER aircraft that was designated as Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing last week.  The location of the aircraft, crew and passengers, remains unknown, but on Friday night (US time) the Malaysian government issued a statement that they believe the plane's South and Westerly flight paths towards the Indian Ocean - instead of the NE direct route intended to go to Beijing over the South China coast line - were the result of a hijacking, and are now treating the disappearance of the plane as a crime.

While this may sound grotesque, I hope a debris field or fuel slick in the Indian Ocean are found soon.  Why?  Because if the passengers are still alive, they are imprisoned, hostages, or worse.  If they are all dead, then their families can begin to have closure and mourn their losses.  

Why would they be alive, and the plane possibly landed somewhere?  Well, consider the following evidence:
- Rolls Royce's monitoring system (9M-MRO was equipped with RR engines, instead of GE90s) continued to get satellite "pings" from the plane, for more than an hour past the time it was supposed to land in Beijing; meaning, the engines were still on, and still running.
- The built in Boeing transponder that sends out location signals was manually turned off over the middle of the gulf of Thailand, just after Kuala Lumpur air traffic control handed over guidance of the air craft to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon, in southern Vietnam).  
- The pilots (Zaharie Ahmad Shah [Zaharie was also qualified as a flight instructor] & Fariq Abdul Hamid) never checked in with Ho Chi Minh city.  They told Kuala Lumpur "Good night", and then turned their plane around, away from the Beijing flight path, over the Malaysian mountains, and out towards the Indian Ocean.
- yes, both the pilot and co-pilot were Muslims
- Not a single cell phone, black berry, iPad, iPhone, smart phone, smart watch, laptop, tablet, or other device carried by the 227 passengers has been answered, or has sent out any kind of tweet, FB post, distress call, text message, or anything else.  If the passengers (from 15 countries, most of them device happy Chinese) are alive, all of their electronic devices have been totally confiscated.  Missing not a single one.  If the mobile devices had been destroyed, then they would not be "going to voice mail" or ringing without being answered.  They would be giving "no longer in service" responses, from their respective mobile provider networks.

So where is 9M-MRO?  Why don't I call it MH370?  Well...  my theory is that it will never be seen again as MH370, unless it has crashed somewhere and a debris field is found, or a fuel slick spotted in the Indian Ocean.  Instead, either a "State Actor" or a "Non State Actor" has stolen the plane, killed or imprisoned everyone on it, and they are in the process of re-painting it to look like another country's airline 777...  probably a United States based airline, like Delta, American, or United, or a Emirates or Qatar airlines 777.  If there is an old, abandoned WWII runway somewhere near the Indian Ocean, and Zaharie was able to land his plane there, my guess is it being repainted, the electronics are being re-configured to send out a less conspicuously serialized signature that no longer resembles MH370, and the plane is being loaded with fuel, and (probably) explosives, or a WMD.  

What would a State Actor do with such a stolen plane?  Well, "Red Dawn" showed what Cubans could do to the US with troop carriers disguised as commercial airlines.  Tom Clancy probably has several novels that could provide a road map as well.  It would have to be a state actor with few connections to the west - like North Korea or one of the former Soviet "disillusioned-stans".  If it is a non state actor, like Al Qaeda, Basque Separatists, Philippine Separatists, Shining Path, or a Bond villain, then all sorts of terrible things could be planned.
- fly it into a large commercial building, ubiquitous in SE Asian capitals
- fly it into a military base, again, ubiquitous 
- fly it into an LNG plant in the gulf (many to choose from)
- fly it near a US Carrier task force, and detonate a nuclear device within the plane, before the navy shoots it down
- land it in a Western airport, and then detonate the WMD (nuclear, chemical, or biological, basically destroying that airport for that city)
- execute one passenger every time a US drone strike takes place, anywhere in the world (it is well known that Al Qaeda fears drone strikes more than any thing else), delivering the video of the passenger execution to Al Jazeera each time it does, so it can't be traced as to where).  With 227 passengers, that will halt the drone  strike program.  

Like I said, I hope a debris field is found soon, and the families can begin the mourning and closure process.  If their family members are still alive, nefarious things are going to happen to them, or they will be used as bargaining chips and more pain and suffering and death will be brought to more people in the world.  

I theorized this on Monday of this week, when everyone in the media and all pilot experts were saying "it is too early to tell" and "we should not speculate".  BS.  Many humans are evil, and the smart ones who are evil have nasty plans for the rest of us.  Plan ahead to deal with such evil, and minimize its impact on the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ospreys Over Dana Point

Yesterday I did yoga down at Salt Creek, and after a good 90 minutes on the mat - the last 30 minutes of which I more-or-less meditated and observed whale watching boats shadowing a northern bound gray whale, who was close enough to shore that I saw the tail flukes - I decided to take my camera up to the Ritz Carlton, which sits on a massive cliff over-looking Salt Creek.
Gray Whale spout to the right (starboard) side of the right boat

"The Roth Group" was holding some massive meeting / seminar at the Ritz and had previously Taken Over the Salt Creek / Sea Terrace Park parking lot, obliterating 1/2 the public parking spaces with some plutocratically permitted "event tent".  Last year "38 Special" played at the Roth Group's opulent gathering that invaded the public park where I've paid $110 dollars to park annually ($55 x 2 cars), and it aggravated me that I could not park despite having a permit since I wasn't a large capital investor, but I was within bike riding distance so I thumbed my nose at the suits & security and rode where I wanted.   This year, living 4x as far and carrying more expensive camera gear, I had to drive.  Luckily, timing had the event tent being taken down, and the ear-peice wearing security guards all vacated, but I still heard - through an open door near the Ritz Lobby as I passed through - "we are the Roth Group are recommending these small cap companies as leaders in innovation".  Whatever.

So out on the Ritz seaside terrace, I took pictures of the whale watching boats.  Then took some pictures of the lovely Ritz Carlton garden.  And then, out of no where, a Very Large raptor starts hover about 20 feet away, at eye level with me (since I am on a 150 high cliff's edge).  I was amazed, stunned, enraptured even, and then remembered...  duh..  I am holding a camera!  I began trying to take as many photos as possible, being SO Close.

The raptor was hovering, like a kite (kite bird, not kite-child's-toy) and diving occasionally.  A murder of crows who live in the Ritz's palm trees began harassing it, so the raptor dove to near sea level, and searched for prey.

As it swooped down over Strand Beach, the sea gulls and sand pipers scattered anxiously out of its path.  Everyone in the bird world knew there was a large killer above them.  No one in the human world seemed to take notice, except me.

Was it a Sea Hawk?  A Cooper's Hawk?  A Red Tailed Hawk?  A Sea Eagle?  The wings were too big to be a Peregrine Falcon, too big, and too curved, and I've never seen a Peregrine FLAP it's wings to hover, it just extends then straight out.  This raptor was working hard to maintain altitude & position, but it Was remaining quite steady in the air when it wanted to hover, and then it would Dive and Swoop rapidly, before coming back up for a hover.  Could it be an Osprey?
I'd have to consult the Cornel website when I got home, to see for sure, and blow up the photos on a much larger screen than the 2 x 3 Lumix camera flip-screen to discern distinguishing characteristics.
This was taken at a distance of over 1/2 a mile horizontally, and from approx 100 higher elevation than the raptor.
Then, 3 minutes later, after the large unknown raptor flew off, I saw this Marine aircraft flying north up the coast from Camp Pendleton.
One of the many V22 Ospreys that buzz over La Jolla and Northern San Diego daily.  Their rotors are so loud, that even mostly-deaf Dr Desert Flower can hear them, and is often frightened by their sudden low flight paths directly over head.  The V22 Osprey's tilt rotors allow it to take off and land vertically, but at the same time, fly much faster than a helicopter and carry heavier payloads.

When I got home, I was tired and hungry and in no mood to post anything on the blog, so I left the camera be.   I went back out to the Headlands today and saw the faster creature on the planet, and her mate, exchange food in the air above me, and then sit and soak up the rays of the setting sun.  After doing parkour to get back to my car, I drove home, uploaded the pics to iPhoto from yesterday and today, zoomed in, and opened up Cornel's site in parallel.

Indeed, I HAD spotted an Osprey!  Very Ironic that the military version appeared in the same venue as the natural raptor.  The natural Osprey was much quieter, flew with less energy exerted, has never flipped over and killed any US service personnel or Boeing technicians or test pilots - I am certain it has killed it's fair share of fish.  Lucky for those gulls and sand pipers, they were not on the menu! (link here)

I will try and post more on today's tidal pool excursion later this weekend.  It's dinner time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Brain Dead Zombie Plot Dead Ends

Frequent visitors to JustJoeP know that I have a fascination with zombies, and post about them frequently (link here).  I want to clarify that I "had" a fascination with zombies, but that "The Walking Dead" has killed that earlier interest, and now, really, I just want the series to end and all the people to die or get eaten.  The premise has shown its limitations, and instead of interesting with a thread of believability, it has devolved into an unintentional comic farce.

Ok, I get it:
There's a viral break out and people turn into zombies.  ✔
Those zombies then are driven to attack "normal humans" who are not zombies, to "eat them"✔
(this "zombie hunger" premise goes way way back, sometimes to eat all of them, sometimes to eat their brains, but either way, 'a zombie's gotta eat', I get it)
If you cut off a zombie head, the body stops coming after you, but the head is still animated. ✔
(considering "The Matrix" premise of the brain as a powerful battery, ok, I could believe this)
Zombies are attracted to loud noises, machinery, voices, etc, ok. ✔
If you burn a zombie to a crisp, you will stop that zombie. ✔
If you destroy the brain of a zombie (head shot) then you will "kill" that zombie. ✔

Those are the standard zombie rules of the genre.  "The Walking Dead" adds in
Zombies have a keen sense of smell, and if you are smelling all "alive" they will follow their nose and sniff you out.
(highly unlikely...  since their lungs are not drawing in air, but the nasal nerve is a short route to the brain, so maybe...)  maybe...  ✔
Grass and shrubs stop growing, all on their own, instead of overrunning the world. ⬇
Dust is apparently Not ubiquitous in every building they enter. ⬇
Getting splattered by zombie blood in the face (eyes, mouth, nose) is not a source of contamination, and the whole 'Blood Borne Pathogen" standard should be thrown out. ⬇
Everyone is really a zombie, and once they die, they'll reanimate if they are not burnt or head-shotted
(a STRETCHED premise, for sure... but at least they have not reanimated ancient grave yards, only the more recently buried, since the viral outbreak) ⬇
One can stop the onset of becoming a zombie if you amputate the leg of the old veterinarian who was bitten on the ankle.
(maybe, if Herschel had Really Poor Circulation...  then maybe...)  ...maybe ✔
No Matter How Long Ago a person turned into a zombie, they will remain animated, "forever", hungrily seeking out the living to feast upon.  It does not matter if they are rotten down to just 1/2 a torso with flesh falling off their bones, the "zombie-ism" is so strong, the craving for fresh meat so powerful, that they will continue "endlessly" to stumble around and seek out people / animals / anything to eat.  ⬇⬇⬇

It is this last "add in" that REALLY bothers me.  Without respiration & digestion (to bring in nutrients),
"Warm Bodies" Boney Skeletons
or a circulatory system (to deliver nutrients and remove waste products), or an immune system (to repair things that get broken) all the zombies are in the process of decomposing into (eventually) skeletons.  At what point does the zombie brain - starved of all oxygen, water, blood flow, electrolytes & nutrients it needs (since even IF the zombie finds a fresh meal, the zombie cannot digest it) - cease to function as this amazing battery that can over-come rigor-mortise, lactic acid build up, parasitic infestation (not enough emphasis has been placed on flies, rats, and crows, who would have a population explosion with so many slow zombies stumbling around unburied), neuro-muscular decay, et al.  And the digestive tract would slowly eat out all the torsos from the inside, with the hydrochloric acid therein eating through the non-replinished stomach walls - remember, all mitosis has stopped, no new cells are being made or added.  Decay & decomposition are progressing.  Nothing is getting repaired.  Lost parts are not "growing back", zombie wounds are not healing, they're festering.

I could understand a "recent zombie" being a fairly formidable opponent.  But a zombie who has been stumbling around the heat of rural Georgia for more than a year, as anyone who has watched CSI can tell you, would be a goopy mess of skin hanging on bone with not enough remaining muscle tissue to move a single arm, leg, or jaw.  It is this "eternal zombie" paradigm and next week's preview of "we're all haunted" being stated that are making me just want to retch.  Please, kill off all the characters except Michonne and Daryl, and let them go live on an island somewhere.  Everyone else has made some really terrible choices, and should no longer be alive.  End the series soon, like "BReaking BAd" did, and stop trying to milk it.  The first two seasons were ok, but now it is just devolving to a bad comedy.

Maggie's use of a "No Parking" sign as a cleaver was hilarious!  But in a meeting of unsharpened sheet metal vs cervical spinal cord, driven by an angry human (not by a speeding school bus) a decapitation would be highly unlikely, even if the zombie had started to decompose slightly.  It was effective at making me laugh, but not effective as an plausible anti-zombie weapon, in a world governed by physics.

And Maybe that's what really bugs me?  They can screw up the biology to the point where Dr Desert Flower refuses to watch it, but I can still keep watching, suspending disbelief about SOME of the biological aspects, until the point where they mess with physics
- nearly every head shot (no matter how dull of the weapon, or how weakly delivered by the human) easily penetrates zombie skull? ⬇⬇⬇
- no matter how many rounds of bullets are fired, 'The Governor' never got hit? ⬇⬇⬇
- no matter how dull an object, or how weakly it is swung, it can easily decapitate any zombie? ⬇⬇⬇
- Daryl's cross bow bolts can take out hundreds of zombie skulls, unscathed, but miss one squirrel and hit just one tree, and the bolt breaks?  ➵ ⬇⬇⬇
Don't mess with physics.  It's a deal breaker.  Toy with biology...  ok...  but not physics.

750 Miles Too Far

Dr Desert Flower's Volvo started making grinding sounds last month when the brakes were applied.  It was the dutiful wear indicator, built into every set of brake pads that makes a metal-on-metal grinding sound when the pad is 95% worn out.  It does this to tell the driver "hey, buddy, get it fixed, you're about to ruin your brake disks".  I stupidly ignored it initially, the first time I heard it with the convertible top down.  Then a week later, I heard it again (I don't drive her car everyday).  But by that time, DDF wanted to go to Arizona to visit her former co-workers and friends for a crawfish boil in Gilbert, on Phoenix's east side.  375 miles, each way.  As we were crawling down CA91 through Riverside, stuck in East Bound traffic trying to get away from Los Angeles, the driver's side wear indicator started to grind as well.

On the way back to California, I applied the brakes as little as possible.  Everytime we stopped for the rest room or gas, I could hear the wear indicators screaming at me, with the windows rolled up, the sound gripping the base of my spine.  First thing Monday morning, I called Niguel Motors and Ramon told me to come on down.  I drove Celeste to the garage, and Ramon met me in the parking lot.  We exchanged key, names, phone number, and he estimated $200 if the disks could be turned.  About twice that if they had to be replaced.  He showed me his brake disk grinder, and the 3 bay garage FULL of Acura NSXs.  Really nice.  I walked the 1.5 miles to DDF's car where she parked it for car pool, and drove myself home (Celeste's trunk is not big enough to safely take a 29 inch mountain bike).

4 hours later, I called Ramon, and he gave me the news that the passenger side disk was ground down too much.  Can't replace just one and not the other as the future wear would be very uneven.  $400 instead of $200.  Maybe it would have been cheaper to fly to Phoenix?
Volvo C70 brake disks (bottom) are almost the same size as an Acura NSX's (picture in the top left)
But regardless, Ramon is an excellent mechanic, honest, direct, personable, great guy.  His technicians appeared to be very happy.  My former yoga instructor called him "The Volvo Whisperer" and highly recommended him.  His Yelp reviews are STELLAR, and his work was timely, precise, accommodating, and reasonably priced.  I am sure that a Volvo dealer repair would have cost at least twice as much.  I asked him to check the front brakes while he had the car up on the lift, and look for any leaks or ruptured CV joint boots, or any other wear, and he told me everything looked fine when I picked it up.

Next time you hear a grinding, grating sound coming from your brakes when you apply them, act promptly.  You have about 2 or 3 days of light driving before those wear strips eat into the brake disks. Not 2 or 3 weeks, and not 750 miles.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Girls On Film

Last night, I enjoyed a nice bottle of Ballast Point Victory At Sea while watching the sunset in my back yard, and had my camera out.   The hummingbirds were loading up on sugar water - as they typically do just before sunset - and the airspace over my pool resembled the sky over 1939 London, except instead of Messerschmitts & Focke Wulfs battling Spitfires, Hawker Hurricanes & Typhoons, there were Rufous, Anna's, Black Chinned & Costa's hummingbird males diving, lunging, attempting to skewer each other with their bills, dodging, bobbing, spiraling, and weaving, and performing impressive aerobatics that even a vectored thrust Su-27 or JSF35 would find it difficult to execute.

I tried - in utter futility - to get pictures of the boys fighting, swooping, jousting, but the lighting levels were so low, and they moved so quickly, that it was all just a blur.  The only time I could get a picture, was when a hummingbird sat on one of the feeder perches and drank some nectar.

The females had it all figured out.  They'd alight on a "near fence" nectar feeder perch, and they would drink their fill of sugar water, while the vociferous & pugnacious males fought each other.  At one point, I captured two females sharing the same feeder - common for eastern Ruby Throated hummingbirds, but much more rare and harder to spot in California (for me at least, so far).

But then, something really amazing happened.  I watched as a female Rufous hummingbird sat on her perch, drank, and let me get within 3 feet of her.  My camera on 24X zoom, her tiny little form filling the screen, I snapped photo after photo.  She posed.  She appeared to love the attention, and was not afraid of the clumsy bipedal nearly hairless ape with one Big Black Eye so closely focused upon her.  Either that, or, she figured that with me standing So Close to the feeders, that the pugnacious males would leave her alone to have a drink in peace.  I noticed, as I took image after image of her, that battles RAGED Right Behind me.  The shrill battle cries, and buzzing wings were so close several times that I could feel the draft of the hummingbird's wings.  I heard the distinctive cries of the larger dominant Anna's and the chattery-nearly-non-stop-babble of the Rufous males Right Behind, and Right Next To me, while the little Rufous female posed, and drank, and posed, and decided I was not a threat.

After the sun went fully down, and it was too dark to take pictures even with a flash, I went inside to take a shower, having finished my 22 oz beer,  and kept singing "Girls On Film" to myself in the shower. (lyrics)

"with the bright green feathers iridescent rolling down her back..  down her back...."
"Girls on Film! Got your nectar! Girls on film!"
(drum fill)
"See you smiling, there you just made 8 million (megapixels)"
(guitar solo)
"na-no-coatings all over the lens, he's clicking"
"and she wonders how she ever got here as he takes her picture again..."
"Girls on Film! Got your nectar! Girls on film!"
"delicious juices pumping to this bird on a wire"
"take one last drink into the night, that camera's flash is cold & bright"
"(the ape he holds it) Holds it tight"
"Girls on Film! Got your nectar! Girls on film!"

A murderous quintet heading to South at dusk to roost, with their kin, in very tall trees near Saddle Back College