Saturday, April 26, 2014

Beach Triathlon

I am contemplating starting a Beach Triathlon event, but I think I am probably the only one who would ever participate, so it would be more of a "competition of self improvement".  Here's the two variations I am considering:

Beach Parkour Triathlon:  Start off at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point.  Wearing Merrell hiking boots, running shorts (or jeans, if you're not confident), a backpack with camera & binoculars, sun screen and hat, you sprint across the beach and at the very first rock, you begin to parkour, leaping from rock to rock, the 3/4rds of a mile from the beach to the farthest western point.  Then, when reaching the point at low tide, you take out your camera, take as many pictures of wild life as possible, in the air, the tide pools, and on the water.  Controlling your breathing is essential, to be able to focus.  After taking the photos, return the camera to the back pack, take out the black garbage bag and dark brown old ratty gloves you have packed, and pick up as much garbage as you can, enroute back to the Ocean Institute's parking lot that careless tourists and self-entitled locals have strewn along this other-wise pristine coastal area.  Variations on the parkour include
- stepping on only rocks whose base is wet, as the tide recedes
- avoiding certain colored rocks, for a degree of difficulty (like no pink, or green rocks)
- adding on 10 seconds every time you don't step on a rock and your foot touches sand (like "hot lava" when you were a kid)
- subtracting whatever time it takes to explain to curious tourists what this bird or that creature is, when asked, and then doubling that subtraction for good karma.
I did this form of parkour last Saturday when I returned from my GA/SC trip, and it was invigorating.

Beach run / climb / photo Triathlon:  Start off at Strand Beach parking lot.  Wear running shorts, a sweat wicking shirt (like my Nike Combat shirt), and Columbia Velcro'ed all terrain sandals, carrying a face wiping sweat rag.  RUN down the stairs (all +200 of them) to the bottom and then sprint down the vehicle ramp at the bottom until you get to the sand on the beach.  Touch the "No Dogs Allowed" sign, and SPRINT Back Up the ramp and the +200 stairs.  Repeat - repeat as many times as you can until your legs feel like lead.  That was 5 times for me yesterday.  Then, jog down the board walk on lead legs, and try to jog up the zig zag on the South side of Strand Beach.  Take photos along the way of the hummingbirds, raptors, pelicans, skunk, lizards, and any other living non-human creatures you see that are appealing.  When you get to the top of the zig zag, go back down, and repeat.  I did this 3 times yesterday.  Then walk back to your car on your own power, and drive home for a relaxing Stout Ale and hot tub soak.

Each variation has its advantages.  Both require being able to have a steady hand and breathe normally while shooting photos.  Both require significant physical exertion.  The parkour variant (I believe) helps to stave off Alzheimer's and senility by ACTIVELY engaging the brain, as the leaping pace from boulder to boulder is RAPIDLY calculated, and eye-foot-balance coordination is paramount to avoid a nasty misstep that will rip open one's shin, knee, or hand upon falling.  The parkour variant also helps the environment by collecting trash on the way back, and helping to educate tourists.  This variant is best tried during low tide, as the parkour course is widest at low tide.

The Strand Beach variant however, is not tide dependent.  It affords much safer running surfaces, and greater physical exertion.  While there's little to no aquatic life to be photographed in the Strand Beach variant, there is no shortage of land and air based wild life to photograph, and it doesn't track sand into your wife's convertible when you drive home.

So each has its advantages.   I am going to hone my skills practicing both variants this summer, and I will try and comment this Fall, as to which one I've enjoyed more.

Come visit us here in California, and I will let you race me in the triathlon if you want to!  =)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My New Wallpaper

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

Yes, I like living in California.

Wildlife Filled Wild Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

Dozens of flights of pelicans soared past.

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

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

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

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

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

Celestial & Mazdaic Adventures

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

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

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

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

The Scent of Jasmine

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

OC Lifeguard Dispatch

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


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

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

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

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

Bloody Heart Virus

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

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Daenerys Targaryen, "Mother of Wyverns"

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

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Being An Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Dark, Murderous Garbage Collectors

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

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

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

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

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