Friday, September 28, 2018

I Can't Stop The Madness!

Surveys show that most of us believe we can multitask, but brain studies indicate that we really can't. What we can do is switch from one task to another and back again, quite rapidly if necessary, but it's still just one task at a time.

This is exactly how modern computers work. When one task is on hold waiting for something, like retrieving data from disk, (In computerese getting data back from a disk takes a looong time.) the whole shebang, memory stacks, registers, and app, are moved out to a temporary holding space while another shebang is moved into the processor for crunching, maximizing those CPU cycles. It's called context switching.

Call it what you want, I've been "multitasking" for as long as I can remember. (To be fair, my memory is apparently highly flawed so just how far back I can remember is up for debate.) It probably got into full swing about the time I hit puberty. Watching TV and thinking about girls, reading a textbook and thinking about girls, mowing the lawn and thinking about girls.

Thankfully that phase passed, and in more recent years I would work on a report while monitoring data center environmental conditions while listening to one of my people explain why they can't work with Ed anymore, or even more recently, just yesterday as a matter of fact, work on a puzzle and think about women. (Oh Crap. But in my defense, the puzzle is titled Gentleman's Club!)

It's been over six years since I retired from the frenetic pace of corporate management in the high tech world, but yet I still have to forcibly remind myself daily that I don't have to overheat my brain like that anymore, that it's OK to Zen, to just be, to sit on the bench for a few quiet moments and savor a mid-morning fruit-cup while watching the pond, without feeling guilty about it.

But I have to admit, all that time and I'm still crap at it.

Just now I sat on that bench, spooning little explosions of cool, tart grapefruit into my mouth, enjoying the reflective surface of the pond ringed by the wispy green-gold of a meadow full of the spindly-tall plants with tiny flowers that sprang up on the back of generous September rains - - - while thinking about which of next week's monthly chores to tackle first, while composing the text of this very post in my head, while thinking about women, while - - -

I sure do wish I could find that damn off switch!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sunburned And A Coverup

That small condenser on the right is part of the heat-pump mini-split we use to keep the living quarters comfortable in heat and cold. (though the wife's definition of comfortable differs from mine and i have to wear a jacket inside during the summer!)

Eleven years ago we built a platform beside the barn 9 feet in the air, (because installing AC units on the ground is pure insanity!) and a friend with the requisite skills installed our airconditioner(s) up there.

Because it's up and away from the dust, debris, and condenser-choking plants down at ground level, it only takes a quick wash-down with the hose once a year to keep things in top shape.

But one thing you can say with certainty about the Texas summer sun is that it is brutal. Even a mid-morning sun is strong enough to burn holes right through the trees.

There's about 6 feet of copper supply and return lines between the condenser and the pipe that penetrates the barn roof and 11 years of Texas sun has not been kind to the insulation protecting those lines. Now the once smooth and supple foam is all alligatorey and brittle and not very insulatey.

You are looking at the top of the big airconditioner we installed to take care of the main part of the barn. That turned out to be one colossal waste of money since it has never actually been used. . .

After taking a few quick measurements I picked up 12 feet of pipe insulation, the stuff that looks like a skinny pool-noodle, for about $5 on our next shopping run. Then I grabbed my cutters and some scrap solid copper wire and climbed up on top of the platform. The platform that was already blazing hot despite the early hour.

To avoid stripping the existing insulation off the copper pipes and making one hell of a mess on the ground below which would eventually wash down into the pond if I didn't painstakingly pick up every last scrap, I decided to just leave it in place despite the bad shape it's in and bought pipe-insulation with a one inch inside diameter that would fit right over the existing stuff.

It grabs on pretty tightly all on its own, but to help keep the new insulation in place, you know, during the next hurricane, I cut a few lengths of the solid wire and wrapped them with a simple quarter-twist, taking care not to wrap them too tightly (Unlike me according to The Wife) so I didn't squeeze all the insulation value out of the - well - insulation.

The green plastic coating on the wire is going to get sunburned and eventually start to fail, but the wire itself will outlast more Texas summers than I have in me, so it will be fine.

The whole job, the part actually up on the platform anyway, only took 20 minutes or so, which was fortunate considering that I did this in mid-August, the hottest, sunniest month of the year around here.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

We Got Flocked!

This is only about a third of the birds that were in the pond this morning

Walked out of the barn this morning (Oct 30 in real time) and the pond was full of big white birds!

We get various cranes, ducks, and herons out there, but mostly in ones and twos. This is the first time I've seen so many in the pond at once, a good dozen or more. (I was too busy trying to ease up to a vantage point with my camera without scaring them off to take a proper count.)

This is the first time we've seen these big-ass Wood Storks around here, and there was a good half dozen of them, all adults with the nearly full blanket of white feathers covering the black wing-tips at rest.

This shot shows just a hint of the stark black flight feathers that cover about half the wing when in flight. (I missed getting any 'flight' shots because my camera ran out of battery at just the perfect moment. . .)

There were also several of these Roseate Spoonbills mixed into the flock (An equal opportunity flocking!)

Here, although trying to 'read' this double-headed shot is confusing, the roseate coloring is a little more pronounced, but these are all probably juveniles that haven't had a chance to fully develop the striking 'orange sorbet' coloring they will have later.

Mixed into this flock were a few Great Egrets.

It must have been tough for the egrets since they rely on stealth to stalk-and-strike while the spoonbills, with very little subtlety, just jam that bill down into the water and swing it side to side until they just happen to encounter food.

And the Wood Storks can't be helping things either since they also stick their open bills into the water then stamp their feet to flush fish into harm's way.

None of these birds are very chill and it doesn't take much, just something like me pulling the camera away from my face to verify that the red flashing light nagging me from the corner of the viewfinder is the battery-has-died alarm, to scare them off.

As soon as the first bird launched itself, with a squawk about as ungainly as his transition from wading to flight, the rest followed and within seconds the whole flock had disappeared over the trees.

Monday, September 17, 2018

One Tough Dude! (Or Dudet)

 I come across some critter or another most mornings when doing my laps on the back of the property. Rabbits and deer mostly, but sometimes snakes, the errant possum, raccoon, even a fox and a bobcat once, but one day it was this box-turtle that was sitting right in the middle of the trail on the far back corner of the property.

It clearly took one hell of a whack at some point in the past but it was moving along pretty well just before I came along and scared it into it's shell. I was tempted to pick it up for a closer look at the wound, which looked to be anything but fresh, but, like my mama taught me, I resisted temptation, stepped over, and continued my laps, leaving the turtle unmolested. (Unless you subscribe to the belief that every photo steals a little bit of your soul.)

When I came back around on lap 2 it was gone so we both got on with our days.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Season of Love Approaches For Our Local Cervids

I looked out at the pond this morning and spotted the group of bucks that have been hanging around most the summer.

Big deal. I've got loads of photos of these half dozen antler-wearing Whitetails moldering away in my camera already.

Except that today a couple of them started sparing in earnest, heads lowered, antlers locked, while the bystanders either looked on with the interest of bookies figuring the odds or were furiously abusing the nearest bush as they laid down their own scrapes, the buck's version of Kilroy Was Here.

At one point I had a nice buck, the elder of the group that knows better than to get involved in this early-season sparing and instead save his energy for later when it counts, looking straight at me from the far edge of the pond showing off the thick neck and powerful fore-quarters of King Buck, all perfectly framed in the middle-ground by the overhanging branches of a Water-Oak on this side of the pond.

Unfortunately the zoom mechanism on the lens of my used-and-abused camera locked up when I turned it on and by the time a couple of serious whacks convinced the damn thing to work, albeit rather grumbly as the gears ground through what sounded like a whole beach full of sand, the moment was lost as the deer began to move on up the hill.

Leaving me with a rather mundane consolation prize of a photo.

In the meantime the ladies didn't need working cameras to start checking out this year's pickin's.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Shirted Pillow Solution

As delivered The Van’s gaucho came with a back-bolster. For normal people this served a couple of design purposes and for me, one un-design function.

It made for a semi-comfortable seating area if The Van ever boasted a crowd. And I do mean a crowd. (For cryin’-out-loud! There are 4, as in four, seatbelts under that gaucho!)

And the bolster also drops down behind the extended gaucho seat to form a snug double-berth.

And one function I’m not sure the designers thought about but worked for me, was protecting my rolled up bedding which tucked in behind it during the day.

As for how useful those first two functions were to me?  Well boat designer Phil Bolger wrote more than once that an ideal cruiser, which I'm sure applies to both land as well as water cruising, drinks 6, eats 4, and sleeps 2, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about me!  Although there have been a handful of people in The Van on a few occasions, they were always there to check out the accommodation and never hung around, not for a chat, not for a drink, not for a dinner, and certainly not for a sleepover. (Which is good because I’m pretty sure The Wife wouldn’t approve of that last one . . .)

But still, every night I had to lift that bolster, (and it is heavy!), maneuver it upright carefully in the limited space available, duck-walk it down the narrow aisle like a drunk dance partner, and prop it up against the rear doors so I could make up my bed. Then reverse the whole procedure the next morning

As seems to be an embarrassing theme in my life, it took many years of this foolishness before I finally came to my senses and now the bolster, tightly wrapped up in heavy plastic in case I ever sell The Van, lives a stationary life on a lumber-rack in the barn.

Upon removing the bolster from The Van I solved the exposed bedding issue by sewing up a simple cover of heavy fabric, the same grey as the gaucho upholstery, that rolls up with the bedding, keeping it fresh and clean during the day.

What I didn’t address for two more years was the pillow issue, or more specifically, the pillow case issue.

Without the bolster in the way the gaucho can be made into a really comfortable place to sit (for a persnickety, anti-social, solitary old grouch anyway) by leaning the pillow up against the back of the driver’s seat and stretching my legs out along the gaucho like I'm sitting on a recliner. I can sit up straight for reading a book, or I can slide down into an infinite number of progressively more reclined positions for – well, you know - napping.

The advantage of this seating spot over the spun-around passenger seat, which is also really comfortable, is that it is right there adjacent to the window and I can get a nice breeze, especially with the Max-Air roof vent running at setting 5. (half speed and half an amp-hour draw on my batteries)

Of course I’m usually seeking out that breeze because it’s hot, which means I’m probably sweating. And if I’m not sweating my shirt is probably not as clean as one would hope something coming in close contact with the pillow-case where my head will be laying in a few hours might be.

My quick fix for this hygienic challenge, spurred by a bout of camping in record heat, was to grab the National Park Conservancy lap-blanket.

I’m not really a lap-blanket kind of guy, but I got this as a "free" gift for re-upping my membership and since it is small and light, I threw it into The Van, just in case. And eventually just in case came along.

I wrapped the blanket around the pillow figuring I can grunge it up all I want and then throw it into the wash, preserving the cleanliness of my drool-stained pillow case for night-time head-resting.

Problem solved! – OK maybe not . . .

Being a lap-blanket this thing is a little on the small side and must be carefully positioned and wrapped to protect the pillow from – well – me, otherwise it falls away, scrinches off, or otherwise just plain bunches up in all the wrong places.

On top of that this blanket is wool, which is a great natural material to have around on cold days, especially damp, cold days, but sucks against my bare, sweaty neck on hot days.

To solve the first issue I toyed with the bright idea of introducing the lap-blanket to the sewing machine and turning it into a loose pillow case. That way it would stay in place and I wouldn’t be re-wrapping every time I wanted to sit down. But, while our sewing machine is a pretty fancy contraption, I can’t seem to find any settings on it that will change the blanket’s wool into something a little more skin-friendly.

Then, while poking halfheartedly around for a scrap of a more hot-and-sweaty-neck friendly fabric to turn into a pillow cover, I got another bright idea, and this time it really was a bright idea. (Hey, they don’t come along all that often, but I’m allowed one of those once in a while . . .)

First, let me be clear. I don’t wear T-shirts.

As apparel they have two strikes against them. They are snug, and I don’t do snug. And they pull on over your head, something else I don’t do, which eliminates me from most event-volunteer positions as well as working as wait-staff at an increasing number of establishments.

But despite those shortcomings, they do have several things going for them, and the following are the going-for-them points relevant to my predicament:

They, the better ones anyway, are made of nice soft fabric.

Many of them have interesting graphics.

They are just about pillowcase size.

And they are relatively cheap as long as you don’t buy them at a souvenir shop or festival stands.

And they are everywhere, and I mean everywhere! In fact right about now I remembered that even I own one!

It was given to me by a friend that does more talking than listening so has a good excuse for being oblivious to the fact that I don’t wear T-shirts, but in this case that could work out anyway.  Now if I can only remember where I tossed the damn thing . . .  (It was wadded up on a shelf  in the closet underneath the sport-coat I never wear.)

And it fits just right!

Now in the morning all I have to do to keep my pillowcase day-grunge free is ‘dress’ my pillow in its lizard-T.


OK, maybe not quite perfect after all.

That neck-hole, the one that chokes off the air of all that dare to wear it the way it was intended, has a habit of gaping when I lean back on the pillow. (OK, to be accurate, when I lean back then slowly scrunch down to napping position.) And it gapes right were the back of my sweaty neck is.


So I had to drag the sewing machine out anyway.

But no big deal, as it was quick work to run a line of stitching around the neck-hole, sealing it off forever. (Whew! Now I can rest easy knowing I can't accidentally get my head stuck in it one day!)

Especially no-big-deal since I didn’t even bother with trying to reload the machine with a matching thread but just used what was already in it. After all, it’s not like this is couture.

 So problem solved. My daytime neck-sweat will never again come into contact with my nighttime drool.

 Oh damn! Did one of those lizards just spill beer down my back?!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Into Every Life Some Crap Must Fall

We are, every one of us, biological creatures.

Most of us would like to just ignore that part of life, you know, the ichy part, and modern conveniences have gone a long ways towards assisting us with that ignorance, but that doesn't change the fact that we take stuff in one end and it comes out the other, and eventually someone has to deal with that.

If your abode, and commode, is connected to a municipal waste-water system then that someone is most likely not you and unless you are in the habit of inviting Ralph Kramden over for dinner you are unlikely to ever run into that someone. But for those of us that live on septic systems are, at some point, going to have to deal with the crap that came out the other end. Well, unless we sell and move on every 3 to 5 years which doesn't seem very practical.

Somehow The Wife and I managed to avoid having to deal with our crap for 8 years of full-time living here on the property, with an additional 3 years of part-time occupation before that. (Hey, we built the place ourselves, working only on weekends, so it took a while to finish. . .)

The key to going such a long time without pumping our septic tanks and not ending up with a mess in the meantime, besides using only about half the average per-capita water per day, (the combined usage for the two of us is an average of 82 gallons per day) avoiding those hideously miss-marketed "disposable" personal wipes, and throwing all food-scraps into the compost, is that we avoided, but didn’t forget.

One of the items on my monthly to-do list, along with checking tire pressures, running the generator, and lubing the gate, is to twist the cap off all three cleanouts in the system, look down the pipe, and make sure everything is flowing properly.

As you’ve probably surmised by now; those of you that haven’t already bailed out of this post in disgust anyway; recently one of the checks of the first cleanout in the system, the one situated between the barn and the first tank, showed that things weren’t flowing properly. It was more than a subtle thing, but still, one I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn’t been watching things flow properly for years.

OK, no need to panic, we've been putting money aside every month for just this (inevitable) eventually, so just call The Guy.

About this time, while I still had the cleanout opened up, The Wife decided to clean the bathroom and flushed the toilet 3 times in quick succession which I have to admit, raised just a little bit of panic . . . So call The Guy right now!

I’ve lived with septic tanks before, but it was a long time ago so I don’t know if things have changed, or if I just forgot, or maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but when I got The Guy on the phone the first thing he asked was if I had the hatches exposed. Well – no. OK call me back when you have them dug out. . .

Well crap!

Fortunately, back in 2006, while the system was still open and waiting for the inspector to sign off on it, I took a series of photos and measurements and tucked them away in both an electronic as well as paper folder. 

(This was the only permit and inspection we needed, no structural, plumbing or electrical needed out here since the county doesn't care and there was no bank involved because we build the place with cash.) 

From here on out the photos were all taken after the fact because of scheduling issues which will become clear in a moment.

The black plastic which acts as a sort of gasket, but more importantly prevents the tapered concrete lid from getting jammed tight into the tapered hole in the tank, is a trick I picked up from Another Guy back when I lived on a previous septic system

So because of those previous photos and measurements I knew that the center of the upper tank hatch (We have two 500 gallon tanks plumbed in series, one right next to the barn and another down the hill a-ways.) is 57 inches from the center of the cleanout.

Even better, that hatch is so close to the surface I can practically sweep the dirt off with a broom.
Finding the hatch of the lower tank is a little more complicated.

First I have to run a tape from the large (now lightning-struck and vine-covered) Cedar

across to the large Water Oak 79 feet away. If the distance isn't 79 feet then I know I picked the wrong tree(s) and need to start over.

Once I get the proper two trees then I measure out from the Cedar 13’8”,

and run another tape towards the pond at right angles to the first.

Six feet along the second tape and I’m directly over the hatch.

That was the easy part. The hard part is that the hatch is a solid 16 inches below the surface, down through silty clay - heavy silty clay - that has been undisturbed for 12 years, and, since The Wife is hell-bent on doing her daily laundry come hell or high-water (Probably both at this rate!) I’ve cheated and already called The Guy back, giving him the impression that both tank hatches are cleared and ready for him.
The Guy is 38 miles away, which on our roads gives me about an hour.  .  .

(Since I own 12 pairs of socks I do my laundry once every 11 days whether its needed or not. The Wife, on the other hand, takes a different approach with her stuff and does a minimum of one load per day. . .)

Armed with tarp, (for loose dirt) two kinds of shovel, (pointed and flat nosed) and a pickaxe, (more specifically a railroad pick with a point on one end and chisel on the other) I headed down the hill at a trot, spurred on by my self-created deadline which was getting closer with every turn of The Guy’s tires.

Unlike on TV where the gardener-guy easily steps it deep into the ground every time, the pointy shovel was no damn good at all until I broke things up with the pickaxe, and once I did, every single shovelful of that heavy clay loam was farther and farther below my feet which was just great on my back!

I studiously avoided checking my phone (my only timepiece) but I had left the gate open and there was no way in hell I could miss the sound of a 20,000 lb. truck coming down the drive, so I worked out there in the summer sun like a madman (OK, it’s been suggested that a more accurate description would be ‘like an idiot’, but I’m sticking with madman)  in the hope that I would get to the hatch before The Guy got to me.

And somehow I made it. By the time I used the flat nosed shovel to scrape the last of the dirt off the hatch, still no Guy.

Yeah for me!

But somehow I did manage to screw up a couple fingers in the process and it was days before I could bend them without dropping to my knees and whimpering.

The Guys (there was actually two of them in the truck) soon showed up, which cut my whimpering short  because - well - whimpering in front of a couple of strangers is just plain embarrassing!

From here on out everything went smoothly. I avoided taking photos of the process and I won't subject you to any written details, but the upper tank definitely needed to be pumped (The fact that the washing machine emptied itself just as the hatch was lifted didn't help . . .) but the lower tank was in great shape. In fact, strictly speaking, it didn't really need pumping at all, but since it only cost $50 for the second tank - and I had already gone to all the effort required to dig it out - we did it anyway.

Because there is such a vertical drop between the two septic tanks, and septic lines should slant down no more than one-quarter inch per foot, partway between the two tanks we have a near vertical drop in the line with a cleanout installed at the bottom of it.

The line then runs through a culvert just beyon the drop so that if we need to drive heavy vehicles over the pipe in the future we won't risk crushing it, which I'm pretty sure would be a bad thing . . .

With both tanks pumped nearly as dry as the day they were installed, it's going to take just short of a week to fill the first tank and get water-flow down there at the cleanout situated between the two tanks again, than another short week to fill the lower tank and get water-flow at the cleanout just ahead of the leach-field.

In the meantime, water is flowing past that first cleanout up by the barn just beautifully again!

In theory we should have at least another 8 years before we need to do this all over again, but we will continue to keep an eye on it every month, just in case. . .

Monday, September 3, 2018

Uh-oh, We Have A Pending Book Emergency!

This is what the bookcase in The Van looks like at the beginning of a trip.

The upper shelf is fully stocked with $1 books from the clearance rack at Half Price Books and in the lower rack are the magazines, in the order they arrived with the oldest in the front, that I subscribe to and stockpile while at home.

I used to have a LOT of magazine subscriptions but I eventually let some of them go (In fact that Wood magazine in front is the 3rd or 4th issue I’ve received since my subscription ran out and I didn’t renew. They just keep sending them anyway. . .) and others died the death of modern publishing which is driving the printed word out of existence, so my magazine stock has been dwindling.

I read books all the time, road or home, but I quit reading magazines at home because I found myself rushing through them. If I wait until I’m on the road, without the pressures of chores and enticement other distractions, I take my time and read them properly.

I have yet to adopt e-books, not because tech scares me, I made my career out of high-tech computer crap after all, but I’m just so used to paper and ink and dog-eared corners when I’m reading there hasn’t been much impetus to make the switch. (Though we are Whole-Food customers so I will soon be taking a closer look at Amazon Prime, and if that pans out I can see a Kindle-Fire in my future.) So what you see in the bookcase is the extent of the reading material I have available, and I read a lot. (One semester in high school I kept track and found that I read 45 books over and above what was required for schoolwork.)


So when my bookcase looks like this I start to get jittery, wondering if I’m going to have to go through the book-withdrawal DT’s.

The magazines, now all of them read cover to cover, have migrated to one of the overhead cabinets where I throw all my recyclable paper until I get home again.

On the top shelf the backwards books on the left are the ones I’ve read and will go to our local outreach resale shop once I get home, so all I have left are the 2 books on the right plus the one I’m currently reading which is where it belongs, in my pocket for easy and constant access.

The left-most book with a green highlighter clipped to it is a special case that probably warrants its own post - someday - - maybe.

It’s a copy of Thoreau’s Walden (This particular edition also includes Civil Disobedience, which will thrill my mom to no end – or not. [You see, she and I shared a personal event when I was in my early teens that involved a late-night traffic-light and the questioning of laws that we both still vividly remember. . .]) that stays here in The Van and never in the house.

So now I need to get the map out and plot just how many books away from the homestead I am, because back there I keep anywhere from 50 to 150 books stockpiled away in an upper-cabinet from which I can replenish my shelf!

And we all know a full bookshelf is happiness.