Thursday, June 30, 2016

Off the map

Once again I'm on that familiar road to Michigan, but this time within a couple hours of leaving the house I'm off the map!

My GPS insists, even at zoom level 11 where all the roads, and even some driveways, are visible, that I've left any and all known roads and am now traveling at 65 MPH across open land. At least that's the case with the Delorme Topo 10.0 running on a laptop that I use as my GPS when on the road - or not on the road as the case may be. Maybe if I used a Garmin or some other big-name, small screen GPS some sort of regular update would have let it know that the latest segment of 99, the Grand Parkway, a loop road arcing around Houston at a jagged radius of some 25 to 30 miles from the city center, opened up last month, But I like my Delorme Topo.

My Delorme map clearly does not show (Of course if it's not showing how can that be clearly??!) the new parkway now arcing in a quarter-circle from near Katy in the west to Porter in the north
Though it's there on Google Maps so it must be real!!

True, it seems to take Delorme forever to add new roads to the map, and Delorme doesn't support a typical update protocol, requiring me to buy the latest version all over again instead, (At around $40 every 5 years or so that's not as bad as it might sound.) but I like my nice big, laptop sized map that I can split between wide-angle and closeup views. I like being able to put permanent pins in my map marking places that interest me. I like being able to download the tracks of my hikes and paddles from my portable GPS onto the Delorme to create a composite record of my treks on the big map. So no, I don't have any immediate plans to change things up, besides, I've gotten kind of used to driving off the map, like US50 west of Jeff City Missouri, SR25 between Lafayette and Logansport Indiana, I49 between Shreveport and Texarkana or I69 slicing across southern Indiana.

What my screen looks like in GPS mode (Minus the little green arrow that is me when the USB GPS receiver is actually hooked up.) On the left is a long range view with the green box in the center representing the area shown on the right which is a closeup view where I can see all the minor roads and even some driveways. (I can zoom in 5 more full steps closer if necessary. That gets me to a level that shows which pump I'm sitting at when refueling!)
I can also add pins to the Delorme marking my personal points of interest. Man that's a lot of different interests!! I wonder if I have some form of ADD??
I can also download the tracks from my portable GPS so in my dotage I can go back and relive some of my hikes and paddles. (OK, so maybe I'm already dangerously close to dotage, all the more reason to keep track!)

Meanwhile, back on the Grand Parkway. With the completion of this latest segment, I can sweep my way from I10 on the west, all the way around to I69 to the north (Which, in my day, was just US59.) and avoid any entanglement with the city whatsoever, which is a good thing since it's the nations 4th largest!!

Of course this is a toll road, almost the only kind of major new road being built anymore, and it's one of those new-fangled no-booths kind of road, one where if you don't have an electronic tag on the windshield you can't use the road, which kind of leaves out the entire demographic most likely wishing to avoid the city altogether, the out-of-towner just trying to pass through, but I've got one of those tags because it works on all toll roads in the state, so here I am, zipping through swamps and pastures and the backside of the occasional subdivision, rather than crawling past strip centers and hospitals and car lots and office building, twisting and dodging a seemingly endless onslaught of on-ramps and unpredictably darting vehicles.

On the other hand - I'm pretty sure not everybody can be happy with the whole deal. I don't know of many that buy remote homes out in the country in the hopes that one day a major highway will come slashing through their back yard like a dull, dirty, perpetually noisy, knife, or ranchers looking forward to having their grazing land split in two and big chunks forever lost to massive ribbons of concrete, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be thrilled with having a 10' high concrete 'sound barrier', one that's never going to be completely successful at blocking out the constant whine and growl of of hot tires going too fast on textured concrete, erected down the side-yard of my once near-country suburban home.

But then again, even the empty land isn't going to stay that way now. I wasn't on the new road more than 5 minutes, looking out on pastures and swamp previously only known to a select few, before I started passing signs for something called Bridge City, (Confusing since there's already a Bridge City in Texas. . .) a new "planned community now just minutes from downtown!" (Of course they don't advertise that it's actually more like 90 minutes during rush. But hey! That's still minutes!!) And it looks like this developer has it right. The first thing going in are the shopping centers. Once those cathedrals of consumerism are up the homes and schools and parks are sure to follow, because who among us can resist the opportunity to buy an oversized house we can't really afford (So in reality it's more like we're renting it from the bank while taking on the full responsibility of upkeep, taxes and repairs.) that's only minutes from places we can spend more of the money we don't really have in order to increase our stash of baubles? Because we all know life isn't worth living without more baubles!

But it all works out fine for me! Now I can slip around the city fairly unscathed and be on my way, all for a handful of bauble-buying deductions on my EZTag account.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016


By now pretty much everybody knows Einstein's doing-the-same-thing-expecting-different-results definition of insanity.

Well I have a new one.

Doing something you've never done before, on a very tight schedule, for public consumption of those harshest of critics; family. (Actually I'm my own harshest critic but I've got to blame somebody!!)


  • On or about the 1st of May we received an invitation in the snail (Which we go into town and check on once a week or so, . . . on good weeks, so it might have been there for a while.) for a baby shower; a grandniece to-be.
  • The shower is nearly 2400 road miles away and scheduled for May 21*
  • In lieu of cards the organizers recommend sending a children's book, new or used.
  • One of us, I won't say who but it wasn't me!, came up with the bright idea of writing our own children's book, one customized for this particular child. 
*Goes to show how security obsessive conscious I am. Very few people know exactly where we live, even fewer exactly where my family lives, yet I use an estimation of miles so no one can pull out a map and begin to work out our home location. . .

OK, show of hands, how many out there have written, illustrated, printed, bound and distributed a book before??

Maybe you can't see this, but over here neither of our hands are raised. . .

Off and on, between reading the back issues of the local paper that were also stacked up in the mailbox that day, clearly with my head in the sand pretending I had nothing more pressing to do, we spent the rest of the day batting around concepts for the book. I mean what the hell! We had like, what? fifteen whole days to complete an illustrated book leaving 5 days to ensure it got delivered to the other side of the country in time.

We decided on what in the industry is called a board-book. (I didn't know that until after we started this project.) Limited text and lots of illustrations, a book designed for very young children.

The next morning we sat down and in about two hours had hashed out the text. But let me tell you, that's the last part of this whole project that went quickly!!!

 Having no clue what I was doing (OK, point of fact, reading thousands and thousands of books as I have over my lifetime (I read so much I buy them 30 to 50 at a time from the clearance section at used bookstores) is no help at all when it comes to actually producing a book!) I started out thinking 8.5 X 11 format because that's the size of the photo-paper I had for the printer. It wasn't long before we decided that looked like - well - crap, so we cut the format down to 8.5 X 8.5.

I also had no idea how to actually go about binding a book, though I briefly had some vague, and I mean very brief and really vague, thought of binding the book in custom wood covers, though I never really worked out how to actually manage this because it was clearly a crackpot idea as the covers alone would take up all the available time.

In fact, by the time we had the artwork and text put together to form one of the easier pages I knew we were in trouble! Big trouble!!

Having been there, done that now, I'm here to tell you that the experienced book writer needs to allot three solid 8 hours days per page if they are to include (simple, you know, kid stuff.) original artwork. The inexperienced book writer? Well they're screwed!

Resigned to the fact that we would not be able to produce nearly enough original artwork for a whole book, it was back to the drawing board, or more correctly, away from the drawing board and over to the web and Photoshop.

Some of the original artwork we produced for the book.

By this time we'd also made a desperate trip into the city and trolled one of those massive craft and hobby stores hoping for some insight on how we were going to manage the binding of our masterpiece, something on which we were completely clueless even after some frantic brainstorming. Scrapbookers to the rescue! We found a nicely bound book filled with heavy, non-toxic, clear plastic sleeves that we could slip the printed pages right into. Saved our asses!!

Except that the format was 8 x 8 which meant we had to go back and redo the couple of pages we already had so the text size would remain consistent from page to page. Our purchase also dictated the final length of the book. Since there was 10 sleeves in the book and no refills on the shelf, (Thankfully!) our book would be 20 pages long.

Now a 20 page book might not sound like much, but believe me, it was plenty long enough!!

Long story short, (I know, I know, already too late for that!) the next couple weeks were filled with long days standing at the computer sweating out each detail, interspersed with sessions at the workbench with pencil and paints in hand, the whole time with the deadline hovering heavier and heavier just over our shoulders. (And the fence up the hill at the gate is still crying out for it's semi-decade coat of fresh paint but books with deadlines trump decaying fences. . .)

My feet hurt, my legs ached, my eyes burned and I nearly wrecked my mouse arm, (Fortunately I mouse with my right hand and draw/paint with my left.) but right on schedule for a cross-country delivery with one day to spare just in case, we made the trek into town and released our precious project into the hands of the USPS.

After creating and printing the cover page, we had to carefully cut each letter out. Now they could have named the child something short like Joy, but noooo, they had to pick a name with eight letters in it! (As you've probably noticed, I've blobbed out the any identifying bits in the photos to maintain privacy and security.)
Then we taped the original page to the cover of the book to act as a guide as we glued each letter into place one by one.
The finished cover with the plastic sleeve back on it. I'd like to say that I printed the cover text on the wrong side of the photo paper to reduce the risk of sticktion between the letters and the sleeve over time, but the truth is I just put the paper in the printer upside down which gave the printing a slightly muted aspect. After a brief consult we decided that was acceptable, pointing out to each other that against the black even muted colors popped and the plastic sleeve would give the cover plenty of shine.

Here are a couple of pages of the finished book. There are many pages I can't show without giving away more family information than I'm comfortable with but these two pages are OK since I've made no secret that my family is in Michigan. In this case, with the exception of the background photo of immigrants standing in line, the artwork on the left page is all original, though I did cheat a little (OK, a lot!) since I did the pen and ink train many years ago based on a photo and drug it back out of the archives for this project. The ship however was done in pencil specifically for this project.

Just for grins, some stats.

The folder on my computer for this project is currently nearly a half GB in size (And was backed up several times a day! Being an ex computer geek whose job was to keep the things running and pick up the pieces when they didn't I don't trust the dang things!) and has 223 files in it, 92 of which are Photoshop files. Each of the 20 completed pages are a Photoshop file with anywhere from 5 to 23 layers each, the smallest at 5,169KB, the largest at 23,462KB. We went through a half dozen #11 blades just cutting out the letters for the cover and another handful cutting the printed pages down to size to fit into the binder and, fortunately, only had three botched printouts (Every one of them my fault since each time it was because I failed to tilt the output tray back into place after loading a fresh sheet into the in feed tray. You'd think I'd learn after the first time, or at least after the second, but apparently I'm a threefer kind of guy!)  so our 50 pack of photo paper was enough.

But I'm not done yet. . .

Not satisfied with the amount of web-purloined images (Fortunately this was not for profit, nor for wide distribution, so I could safely; sort of safely; skirt copyright issues.) I discovered that shipping the book off didn't mean I was done with it. In fact as I write this we're still working on the dang thing.

For example


This is one of the pages as originally sent. Reasonable I suppose but decidedly uninspired.

And this is the reworked page. Maybe not any more inspired, but at least this time with all original artwork.

In the original version of the book there's a girl on a couple of the pages, Here we've started adding her to other pages as well (She's just peeking out from behind the world on this one) and we also created the simple little mouse which will eventually appear in some form or another on all the pages as we rework them.

 Well, sort of the end.

We just printed out 13 revised pages and I'm heading to the bench in a minute to cut them down to size.

Only 7 more pages to go!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Two Day's Old!

On June 3rd the pregnant doe that's been hanging around under the birdfeeders in hopes that the softhearted fool equally hanging around in the adjacent barn will toss just one more handful of corn her way was - well - hanging around under the birdfeeders.

The next day she didn't show up at all.

Seeing as how she's been a regular, multi-times per-day, visitor for the past month this was notable and, given the nature of these things, the softhearted fool figured she might be busy dropping the little one.

One more no-show day and the softhearted fool - OK, OK, me - was pretty sure there was a new resident of the neighborhood.

June 6th I looked out the door and the doe was back, munching down on a few leftover kernels of corn like it was just any other day, but to my surprise, she had the little one with her!!

She was more twitchy than usual, but that didn't stop her from soon returning once I tossed a little more corn.

I say surprised because the doe's usually keep fawns secluded and out of sight until they are about two weeks old, but here she had brought a virtual newborn down and, as long as I stayed behind the glass of the door, she let me get to within a few feet. (Many of the photos here are not their sharpest because I had to shoot through the double-paned glass of the door.)

Of course one advantage of going along with mom on road trips is near continuous access to the buffet. Like having your very own Vegas Casino on the hoof.

But the downside is that the buffet is on the hoof and can, without warning - well - hoof-it.


And when you're this small, when mom hoofs-it you want, I mean really want, to be sticking close.


 But when you can walk under mom's belly, head up, with room to spare, following her can have it's challenges.

In fact things can quickly turn into a game of hide-and-seek.

Spotting mom out and about with such a young fawn once was pretty remarkable, yet little more than an hour later the two of them ambled by between me and the pond.

 But like all youngsters, this one was pretty sure mom was dragging him/her away from something really interesting back there.

Mom returned to the feeders this morning, but apparently she learned her lesson yesterday and left the fawn bedded down somewhere where it will stay motionless until mom returns or until some clumsy buffoon not paying attention nearly trips over it. (Yep, did that to one of last year's crop of fawns one afternoon when walking down to the well house.)

And these next two photos are to give figurative hope (No, not figuratively, I mean literally figurative hope!)  to all those women out there about to experience their first child. For those women that have been there, done that and know better, this is to make you jealous.

June 3rd, about to burst and having to resort to granny panties.

Same girl today, June 7, (Note the scrape down her front left leg in both photos, probably from misjudging a fence) all perky and svelte, ready for bikini weather.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Wild Kingdom Kind of Day

Within minutes of publishing my previous post about the gang of bucks on the other side of the pond I was walking another piece of the property and spotted a little crescent of color so vivid I thought it was a piece of plastic and reached down to put it into my pocket until I got back to a trash can.

But I was clearly wrong, it wasn't plastic at all but rather the entirely organic remnant of some reptilian inhabitant, and by the smell, not a very recent remnant either.

The remnant (Of which I've cropped the bloody and otherwise yucky end out of the photo.) was about the length of a finger but skinnier and clearly not plastic. Unfortunately I could not capture the brilliant, iridescent blue and yellow that first caught my eye with the camera. If you look close at the second segment from the tail end there's just a hint of what it actually looked like in the sun except the blue is actually much deeper and rich.

I went searching through my field guides and on-line and the closest thing I could come up with, other than some really scary-toxic snake from a thin sliver of the Australia coast is a Texas Banded Gecko.

Texas Banded Gecko photo off the web
It's not an exact match in color, band spacing and proportion, (Though my remnant is clearly desiccated so allowance needs to be made for that.) but I've learned through using field guides over the years that exact matches are not always going to be found, especially through photos, which is why the best field guides continue to use drawings instead.

That insurance gecko might seem like a cute little guy, but in truth they are carnivores and fierce hunters, scorpions being among their favorite snack. When threatened they will face the threat and hold position without moving except to flick that tail up and down. If the threat continues to approach the gecko zips off with amazing speed while shedding the tail which remains behind, still twitching, as a decoy. (It's precisely because of strategies like this that children should be taught to observe wildlife but refrain from approaching too close or even worse, trying to capture it.) So that's the story I'm assigning to this little remnant out in one of our fields.  The tail got left behind but the gecko lived to grow another.

But wait!! We weren't done for the day yet!

Despite the fact that in my previous post I said that bucks tend to keep their distance, a few hours after I published that

this guy, oops, wait, (photo-bombed by a branch!)

this guy, turned up within 50 feet of the barn.

To be fair though, he's still really more of a baby than a buck and was hanging around with one of the does.

In fact he was hanging with the doe that's been feeding just outside the door lately and she was standing about 20 feet to my left as I took the photo of the spike.


But I don't think she was very impressed by my photographic endeavors. In fact I got the distinct impression that at this stage she would rather I put the camera down and GET THIS DAMN THING OUT OF ME!!!

 And that should be enough for one day, right?

But nooo.

A bit later, just an hour or so ago, I looked up and

  spotted this on the near end of the pond's dam.

Now at this age fawns on their feet like this are never far from mom. (If mom isn't close by the fawn is bedded down and won't move until you practically trip over it.) 

And that was true in this case too. Mom was right there. In fact there was one more in the group that was slowly working their way across the dam

And I'm pretty sure it was the same little spike I saw earlier. If so he's clearly a fickle thing because the oh-so-pregnant doe he was with a few hours ago was standing right there in the field on the near side of the pond as I took the photos.


So that's it for the day. I think. Maybe. In fact if anything else happens I'm going to keep it to myself because I've already over-blogged for the day!!

A Touch of Velvet

Some of this year's fawns are still waiting to be dumped out into the sunlight, (The doe that feeds outside our door was on the near side of the pond as I was taking these photos and hasn't dropped her fawn yet.) but these guys are already gearing up for next fall's round of mating.

There were about a half dozen of the lads over on the other side of the pond this morning.

If you look close you can see that I caught this one in mid-chew with his lower jaw cocked to his left (Our right) and his eyes half closed.

And I guess it was my day for catching unflattering poses. I'm not sure what this near-spike was doing. Coughing? Maybe singing an aria?

But I wasn't going to run on over there to get signed releases for the photos. Especially from this guy who I'm pretty sure was hollering at me to knock it off and put the camera down.

Though the bucks are always more standoffish than the does, (Based on my own experience I surmise that having testes automatically imparts a confusing sense of bravado and guilt so they tend to keep their distance.) at this time of year they are pretty gentle and gregarious, hanging out a lot with their buddies, but come fall rut they're going to turn into lads in the English sense, which is synonymous with football(soccer) ruffians, and will be kicking ass and - well - just plain bitchy!!