Monday, May 31, 2010

Pink Eye = No Eye

Perhaps one of the not so pleasant things that can happen to you in life is to go to bed with relatively good vision and wake up in the morning with no vision. Not only do you have no vision but it feels like your eyelids have literally been sewn shut. Such was my first conscious experience with the Pink Eye disease.

Being red/green colorblind, I'm guessing that shades of pink must probably be thrown into that category. My daughter came down with a cold and seemed to have a lot of gunk that was building in her eyes. When she got up in the morning, her eyes weren't matted shut but they looked like morning gunk in the corner of the eye on serious steroids. The stuff seemed about the consistency of glue and a hot rag only seemed to smear it. The only way I could get the stuff off was to reach in with my fingers and pinch/pull it off. I had the stuff all over my fingers, at the time not really knowing what it was but cognizant of the fact that pink eye is highly contageous. I washed my hands well but just knowing made my eyes instantly begin to itch.

As I said, I don't have any memories of pink eye experiences though I'm sure I got it a time or two as a young kid. So I made sure that when I took Little Abbey to daycare, I showed her eyes to Mrs Z and inquired if she thought it was pink eye, fully aware that I may have to go back home with Little Abbey in tow to avoid passing off the disease. Mrs. Z assured me that it wasn't pink eye and so Little Abbey stayed there and I went to work trying not to think about my itching eyes.

Two days later, Little Abbey's eyes were almost back to normal and I had chalked it up as just a weird cold side effect when I woke up one morning and couldn't see. I've made that trip from my bed to the bathroom hundreds if not thousands of times in the dark and with sleep clouded eyes barely open. However, groping blindly for the bathroom door, the hot water handle and a washcloth to soak my eyes enough to loosen the crud so I could at least get them open was a truly humbling experience. I respect all blind people just a little bit more for their ability to cope.

The worst part about all this is that that first blind wakening experience was a Saturday morning meaning I had two more mornings to look forward to before the doctor's office opened. By then, I knew it was pink eye, not because I could see the colors in my eyeballs or because Mrs. Z finally recognized it but because my wife came home and took one look at me from across the room and said, "Oh, you have pink eye." About two weeks later, the gunk has finally cleared up and I have full vision upon waking up. I'm thankful.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Vampire Repellent

I'm on vacation but will be back next Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eating Well

I'm on vacation but will be back next week.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I'm on vacation but will be back next week.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A World Where Things Last for Generations: Part 2

A month ago, I was blogging about two of many cases I have seen recently of cheaply made products that are simply made to be disposable. I'm tired of buying things that break only to throw them into our overflowing landfills and purchase another one. I have vowed that if I can't afford something that will last me forever, I just won't buy it. Some exceptions apply as you will see.

My decade old can now functionally obsolete

Case one that I presented was my plastic gas can seen in the picture above. The can is still perfect and has lot of life to it but the black collar that tightens down the spout cracked allowing fuel to pour out on the ground whenever I used it. I tried epoxies to fix the collar but it just wasn't going to work around gas which would just dissolve it.

Cheap crap destined for a landfill near you

Over the course of a couple weeks, I stopped at over a half-dozen stores that carry gas can only to be confronted the spout shown above. Due to some crazy law that states that we now have to have ventless gas cans and spouts that don't leak when the can is held UPSIDE DOWN, we now have to have special caps. I can't buy one like what I already have. The second thing I learned is that my decade old gas can has a two inch opening. Today's variety only have an inch and a half opening or a two and a half inch opening. So I had to buy the whole kit and caboodle when all I needed was the caboodle.

Not a very good photo but you can make out some of the moving plastic parts where failure WILL happen sooner rather than later.

As you can see in this picture, the caboodle is engineered to fail within I would guess a year of gentle use. There is a plastic piece on the side that you have to pull back on and flex down into a notch to lock it into place. That piece rotates around a plastic pivot and another plastic piece acting as a spring which pulls a plunger buried in the guts of the unit. As an engineer, plastic is just not designed for repeated stressing as this application puts on it, especially on something that is exposed to harmful UV rays on weekly basis and most likely sets in a non-environmentally controlled garage where temperature variations also reek havoc. I told the dealer at the last place I stopped that I would sooner have to clean and use my funnel for the rest of my life versus buying that piece of crap and he agreed but he said he they were his only choice to buy. And I would have other than the fact that I still couldn't find a cap that fit my can and so my garage smelled of gas fumes every time I entered it.

Fortunately I got a tip on someone who might have an all metal gas can that they would sell me. They were a tree trimming business south of town and although they didn't have any metal gas cans, the did have what you see above. It, like the other piece of crap shown above, is a ventless design and it is still made of plastic but it has just a plastic button that pushed against a metal spring that pushed a plastic plunger to prevent spillage when I carry my gas can upside down like everyone but commonly due for this law to have been passed. A metal spring takes the stresses and not the plastic parts. It still has a plastic collar just like my old one so I'll probably still run into this same problem again ten years down the road unless I get an all metal gas can. I have a couple leads of people looking through some garages for gas cans they no longer want that fit the bill. Talking with the owner, he said that after he found these and special ordered them, he tried giving his old ones like the one pictured above away to charity auctions. Most of the people who won them at the charity auctions returned them for cash since they don't work well and as stated above, are cheaply made pieces of crap.

In case two, I talked about ice cream scoops that are full of plastic and pot metal parts that are forever breaking. I've literally gone through several scoops in the last five years or so. I pontificated about my mother's forged flat iron like scoop with riveted on wooden handles that her grandmother passed down to her and how they just don't make them like that anymore. After exhaustive Internet searching, I found the one pictured above. It is a solid die cast aluminum model with only a plastic end piece at the end of the handle. I could probably lift my weight with it without bending it. The only drawback is that it is aluminum and thus after a round in the dishwasher, gets oxidized like what you see above. The good news is that aluminum oxidation is mostly cosmetic and won't weaken the scoop over time or flake off like a previous scoop I had. Regardless, I hope this sucker will be around until I'm not.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Lost City of Z

Unless you are a follower of the Royal Geographic Society around the early 20th century, you probably haven't heard of Percy Fawcett. But to those who have, you would immediately recognize his name and would probably agree that he was the Livingston of the South American continent. He was one of the last of the great Victorian adventurers.

The Lost City of Z chronicles the life of Colonel Fawcett as he referred to himself later in life though only achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel but focuses on the author's search for what became of the explorer. In April 1925, Fawcett, his son Jack and a friend of Jack set off into the Amazon jungle in search of Z and were never heard from again. Until I read this book, I had always put Fawcett in the same group as Amelia Earhart, Joshua Slocum, Glen and Bessie Hyde, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe, Glen Miller, D. B. Cooper, Jimmy Hoffa and Johnny Gosch, people who were never seen again. However, though Fawcett's remains have never been found, Grann lays a pretty convincing argument for what actually happened to him which somewhat separates him from the list above and in the end, find's the Lost City of Z.

Z is a name given by Fawcett to describe an ancient civilization that built a complex society within the Amazon which most scientists of the time regarded similar to the Sahara desert as far as it's capability to sustain life. Although most of the reviewers of this book equate Z to El Dorado or the City of Gold that so many were looking for, they obviously skimmed through this book as it was made clear several times that Fawcett had no illusions that Z was full of gold and gems. He was looking to prove that a complex society could be built and thrive in the Amazon, period.

After Fawcett's disappearance, his story captivated the public for several decades and it is estimated that over 100 people have lost their lives searching for him. He was reported to have died at the hands of the natives, held captive by the natives producing several "white" (albino) Indians who were paraded around the world to having found Z and remained there in his utopian paradise. Grann lays out that most likely he was killed by a particularly fierce group of natives that has kidnapped Europeans as late as 1996. The sad part was that Fawcett most likely walked right over the top of his Lost City of Z and never even realized it.

Z as it turns out did exist and was wiped out as so many cultures were by the introduction of diseases brought by early European explorers. Evidence through modern technology of great moats, roads and raised building sites have been found though to Fawcett's untrained eye, surely went unnoticed to him. Had he succeeded, his name would probably be a household word up their with the likes of Neil Armstrong.

This book is well written, quite gripping and a real page turner. I happened to hear an interview that David Grann gave on NPR about this book and added it to my wish list for the next time I had to order something from my internet supplier to get free shipping. It was well worth the price.

Percy Fawcett

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doll House Update

What started out as a Christmas gift though even back then I said it would never be done in time, has continued to drag into another year. With my wife working in the urban jungle to finish her residency and my taking care of the everyday household and child rearing chores, there isn't much free time, especially now with spring. However, with a spate of rainy days recently, we were able to put a second and third coat of yellow paint on the exterior siding of the doll house. I still have some purple paint, chosen by Little Abbey, for some interior rooms but that is a project for another day.

I initially thought I would build windows and doors for the house along with furniture for the inside but have since changed my tune. Grandparents have generously given doll house furniture to outfit it from top to bottom and before we put it up here to paint it, she had it all arranged. I may still build doors and windows some day in the future but I'm guessing that will be after the purple paint and that is still a ways in the future. I just hope that if I get to someday live out my dream of building my own home, I don't drag it out as long as this one.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Past, Present and Future... Perhaps

The picture above was taken near the spot where I pontificated the origins of the oil filter on the fence post that I blogged about a earlier this week. In this picture, if you look carefully, you can see a group of taller trees on the right side perhaps a mile away as the crow flies where I grew up in an old farmhouse that has long ago returned to the earth from which it came. On the left side, you can see a group of buildings about two miles as the crow flies where I spent the latter part of my childhood and where my parents still live. This is the southern edge of a narrow plateau between two river drainage systems and some of the flatter ground in the area.

As a youth, I would walk from my house where the large tree on the right side are located, past this spot where this picture was taken to the draw you see in the photo below. This is one of the spots I hunted for mushrooms, where I found the deer in the previous post and for some reason, always seemed like a good place to build a house someday. It is not terribly scenic as far as locations but it is terribly peaceful there. You are over a half mile from the nearest road which is gravel and towards the north and a mile from the nearest paved road which is east. The nearest road to the west is another couple miles and now all farmed by my parents and to the south, I'm not sure where the nearest road is but it is a long ways and in another state for sure.

The only way this would be a practical site would be if I were rich or had an off the grid house because I'm a long way from utilities. I would need to gravel three quarters of a mile to create a road that I could drive on and then in the winter, there would be no guarantee that I could get out if needed. I'm a long way from anything, (30+ miles to the nearest town with a small grocery store or hospital) and would be even further from any potential employer which would mean that it would probably only be practical as a place of retirement. Yet when you retire, you are on the downward slide of health and perhaps such a remote area would not be the ideal place.

But this place has always called to me and if I had a means to support myself, I would like to build a house there. It would be down closer to the trees where I would not be able to see another man made structure in sight and where I could literally step out my back door to pick a few morels in season. If I were to die unexpectedly with no one around, well I guess it would be as good as place as any to let the scavengers pick my carcass clean and return me to the earth from which I came.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer

Back when I was hunting for morels earlier this year, I stumbled upon this grisly scene. You would think as thick as deer are in this area, (thicker than flies on a pile of manure on a hot day), that I would see more of these remains but this is probably only the second time in my life I have found a full set of deer bones. Most of the time, I see dead deer with their hides still covering their bones and before it turns to dust or just a few bones, the rest scattered far and wide by scavengers.

I find it remarkable that although different, all skeletal remains are remarkable similar. There are spines, skulls, ribs and four appendages, a head up front and a butt in back and yet we are totally different species. We can evolve and yet our evolution still has constraints. Anyway, I'm guessing there will be nothing here to see by the time mushroom madness begins next year.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Fence Art

On the way back to one of my mushroom haunts, I came across this old oil filter set on top of an old fence post, a post that I know well. For almost twenty years ago, I spent a long summer helping my family put in this fence. Our neighbor at the time on the side of the fence I was standing on when I took this picture informed my father that he wished to raise cattle on his side. The law that is standard says that when two people with adjoining property put in an fence, you own or are responsible for the fence that is located to the right of the center point of the joining line between property from the perspective of you standing on your land looking towards your neighbor. In this case, our share amounted to almost a half mile.

We dug the holes as far as could be dug with a three-point-hitch-mounted post hole digger and then dug out the remainder by hand with jobbers. They are a scissor like tool that can grab dirt and pinch it between two blades and made specifically to dig fence post holes. Being fairly young at the time, my job was to string out the fence posts, carrying each one from a pile on a hay rack to the newly dug hole and then after the adults set the post, fill in the remainder of the hole while tamping it in with a heavy tamping rod. It was a lot of work even if it were spread out over a summer.

We strung it with shiny new barbed wire, stretched it tight and despite the crooked nature of hedge tree fence posts, had a really sharp looking fence. But here is the rub. The neighbor never did install his half of the fence and never raised cows on his property. In fact, almost twenty years after we built our half of the fence, he sold the land to my parents and so they own both sides of the fence. Being good stewards of the land and not wanting to hold the wildlife back, they unstrung all the wire last year and will probably remove the posts this year.

Back to the oil filter on top of the fence post, I thought I would remember having put the filter on top of the post after having installed every single one of them along that half mile stretch. In fact, I was amazed that I hadn't noticed it before since I had been hunting mushrooms in some timber down around the "missing" half of the fence for longer than the fence and have walked along that stretch for over twenty years. When I touched the can and saw that although heavy from moisture and dirt, it wasn't attached to the post, I was even more amazed that it hadn't blown off after all these years.

That amazement lasted until I was waiting on my brother to get back from hunting mushrooms, I saw him walk up with a sack of them in one hand and the oil filter in the other. He had been behind me on our walk back to the draw where we had found our mushrooms and had evidently found the can on the ground in the freshly turned earth on our former neighbor's side and set it on the fence post to pick up on the way back. It was actually an ordinary story after all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Right To Vote

The right to vote is one of the most important rights guaranteed in our constitution. I have come to this conclusion since it is addressed not once but six times in the amendments section and inheritantly a time or two in the main body.

15th Amendment: Right to vote regardless of race or color.
17th Amendment: Right to vote for Senators
19th Amendment: Right to vote regardless of gender
23rd Amendment: Right to vote for presidential electors if a resident of Washington, D.C.
24th Amendment: Right to vote even if a poll tax or any other tax is unpaid.
26th Amendment: Right to vote guaranteed for any person at least 18 years old.

I take my right to vote seriously and make it my duty to stay informed on subjects or persons being voted upon and then follow up by voting. However not everyone does this, especially at the local level for local issues which brought up the discussion recently on one of the blogs I read about compelling people, possibly those that receive some sort of government entitlement, to vote in an election in order to retain their entitlement. I think this is a terrible idea.

First, our constitution guarantees us the right to vote and thus inheritantly, the right not to vote. We are lucky that we can go to the polls and not fear reprisals for voting, for whom we are voting or for not voting at all. By mandating that people vote, we have put the latter in jeopardy and it is a slippery slope and one short step before we are doing the first two.

Secondly, when I see the phrase, "of the people, by the people, for the people," spoken by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg or read the opening line of our constitution which states that, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union," I envision a people who cared enough about their country that they did something about it. These weren't people who had no opinion as to whether or not slavery should be allowed. These were not people who felt that it didn't matter if they could practice their religion freely or not. These were not people who thought that watching the next episode of their favorite sitcom on television was more important than going to the polls to vote. These were people who believed in their cause so much that they felt compelled to do something about it, sometimes giving their lives for it. Voting should be the same way. Do we really value the opinion of someone who can't make time to vote in person or by absentee ballot weeks in advance? Our country should be run by those who passionately believe in their country and their beliefs, not those who were just too busy to care about those who govern for them.

Finally, on a personal level, I would much rather be ruled by someone who is passionate about their beliefs but opposed to mine than by someone who is uninformed about the issue at hand or are basing their vote on a thirty second television ad, one commentary from some radio or television personality or one slick flier that came in that day's mail. Why? I figure that the person who has researched their decision to the point that they have become passionate about their choice, is probably the same person who is passionate about our country's future and would stand shoulder to shoulder with me to defend it if necessary. If someone can't be counted on to stay informed on local issues or candidates for office, or can't be troubled to spend the few seconds it takes to fill out an absentee ballot, I'm not sure they are the people I would want defending my country and my constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

In my rural town, I recently was on the losing side of a vote in which our city government has just purchased a private entity that couldn't make enough money to make their mortgage payments. I feel that if they can't make their own mortgage payment now, they will only be a drain on our tax base in the future when our city owns them. I was in the 33% minority of those who voted which in total constituted only 25% of the eligible voting population. But I feel closer to those people who voted against me and cared enough to come out and say, "hey, I care about which way our city goes on this issue," than those 75% of the population who either couldn't find the time to even request an absentee ballot or didn't care what happened.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Saving the Planet One Plastic Piece at a Time

Per a suggestion from Bone, can you figure out what this is? A hint: we bought if for a couple dollars at a garage sale a week and a half ago and all but the last picture were taken by Little Abbey who still shows an eye for macro photography.

If you haven't guessed, it is a beauty salon play station made out of loads of plastic that will someday end up in a landfill where it will remain for the next million years. I rescued it from going to the landfill and when Little Abbey is bored with it, I hope someone else will save it from the same fate. Little Abbey calls it a kitchen since it has a sink, faucet and sprayer on the other side but in time when she figures out the world of beauty products, I hope not anytime soon, she will understand it for what it really is.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Living and driving in town is just an accident waiting to happen, regardless how well your driving skills are. Too many people, too many things going on in their own little worlds and too little attention being focused on the world around them. So it was with little surprise that as I sat at the stop sign on a T-intersection waiting for a car to pass by before I pulled out, I could do more and watch the ass end of an ancient Ford Aerostar back out of the driveway across the street and right into my vehicle, the newest one I own none-the-less.

Being I was alone, I may have said a swear word or two which explains why after I pulled back into the driveway of the offending person, that he raised his hand and said immediately that he was at fault. Having never been in an accident before, I was unsure of what I should do but when the guy mentioned something about if I was interested in settling this creatively, I called the cops and had them come out to write a report.

The local cult here in town are if anything, definitely one of the most creative people when it comes to money. They are the masters of getting grants, weaseling out of debts, etc and since this guy was obviously loosely affiliated with the cult, I wanted none of it. We were going through the proper channels.

The man in the Aerostar took my pad and pen from my hand while I was on the phone with the police and started to write down his insurance information. While we were waiting for the police to show up, I told them that if he didn't mind, I wished to write down his insurance information myself which kind of pissed him off but I'm glad I did. After I got home later and was getting the information ready to call my insurance people, I noticed that he gave his address as a post office box instead of a street address, had written down his phone number different than the one he gave me later and also looks like he deliberately tried to make his policy number hard to read by scratching it out in a couple places, appending above it and breaking it into multiple lines as he tried to cram it at the end of a line with half a sheet of blank paper still to write on. Predictable they most certainly are.

The worst part about this whole incident is that vehicle wise, my world has gone to pouring instead of just raining. My wife's car needs some work (both some that I am planning on doing and blogging about later and other that I can't do) and is already scheduled to get it this coming week and was going to take the van back with her to the urban jungle. I'm no sooner going to get hers fixed when I have to take that one in for repair. Fortunately I have my thirteen year old trusty civic as backup which will come in handy over the next few weeks.