Friday, August 31, 2012

High Performance ... Or Not

A peek under the hood of the iconic Cobra sports car.
 
I woke up yesterday morning and did not know what day it was. In my mind, or what is left of it, I backtracked to Sunday and kept coming up with Wednesday. I finally asked busylizzy and she said with such assurance, "Thursday", that I wanted to believe her. It took me several minutes to convince myself that she was right. But then I had to realign the activities for the rest of the week in my mind and with one less day.
 
The above photo is one of a very high performance engine. It is responsive, highly tuned, and powerful. When called for, there is an abundance of instant power. Just like what my mind used to be. Well, sort of. Of late, it is running like a Ford Pinto Engine with 500,000 K on the odometer.
 
My excuse? .....I'm thinking. Oh, yes. The autumn rush of work has come on a few weeks early this year, and I am trying to juggle a lot of things regarding work as well as some other issues in my life. I used to be able to take care of a lot of these things while on auto-pilot, but lately, I need full concentration for the smallest of tasks. I could give examples but I am not in the mood to burst into tears right now.
 
There once was boundless energy for 10 or 12 hour days, and more activity in the evenings. Today, if I can get through an 8 hour day, I am doing something I thought I could not do just that very morning at 10 am. I used to routinely work 6 days a week. Now, by Monday 5 pm, I am longing for a long weekend, and in the middle of the week.
 
When I look at my calendar and see all the work I committed us to, I am overcome with a great wave of fatigue. I cut back to part time earlier this year and it was very enjoyable, and very doable. Why the change? I need to take one last kick at the cat ( sorry cat lovers, but that is just an expression) before I completely lose my mind and my body.(No disease, just ordinary aging) I may be able to write about it one day, but for now, look out, cat!   
 
 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Seals in Action

 
Having just read the amazing book by Marcus Latrell, "Lone Survivor", I was anxious to see the Navy Seals in action in a recently made movie, "Act of Valor". This movie has no actors, only Navy Seals, doing what Navy Seals do. It is not a documentary but apparently a composite of several real Navy Seal missions put together to form a very credible story line. No stunt doubles here, just real action. These guys are good at what they do and in this story they are assigned to rescue an operative in the Philippines who is being held captive and being tortured to extract information about her mission. The story then moves to Somalia and then promptly to the Mexican/USA border. Lots of action here and it is apparent that only highly trained and courageous men could do what these men do.
I especially enjoyed it because I had the background knowledge I picked up in the Latrell story. Had I not had that, I may have found it lacking. I'm not sure. The acting is not bad and not good either, but these guys are soldiers, not Hollywood types so that is to be expected. It gives the movie more credibility and knowing these guys are the real deal makes it even more intriguing.
 
It did not get great revues from the press, so I will give it a boost by giving it a 4 star rating. Like my opinion is going to make difference.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More Wool

 
After reading the first 5 books in the "Wool" series, how could I not read the latest volume, "First Shift - Legacy"?  Before even realizing that there was another book out, I was hoping that it would be a prequel. It is, and it explains how and why the silos came into being.
 
Although many of my questions are now answered in that regard, I must say that I did not enjoy the book as much as its predecessors. It moves very slowly and is full of detail and words that seem to be there only for page fillers. Some of this detail is relevant and useful information as the story comes together, bit by bit, while some of it is just trivia. There is no doubt that one must not read this novel as a stand alone book. It would not make much sense. Reading the 5 previous installments allows the reader to connect the dots and make sense of much omitted detail in the previous chapters of the saga.
 
Having now read all six, I am anxious for more to come as there is much more to this story yet to be told. There are loose ends and characters that have been left hanging. I am sure that Hugh Howey will milk this story for a while yet. I like his skill in letting us slowly figure things out, almost as if we know more than he does because he does not state the obvious after we have discovered it. We wonder if we surmise correctly, and then he gives us confirmation by the way the story next unfolds. It is intelligent writing.
According to his website, he is working on # 9 already.
 I can only give this one a 3 1/2 star rating, but, overall, I think this series is great.   
 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nostalgia

 
Old buildings at Nighthawk Wa.
 
Black and white photos are nostalgic. Barn(old) photos are nostalgic. Black and white photos of old barns are particularly nostalgic. It got me to thinking about some of the big changes I have seen in my lifetime. Of course, they are too many to list in a format such as this, but one thing that has struck me lately is the advent of consumerism, and now, perhaps, the decline of consumerism.
We take for granted that growth and expansion is good, natural, and necessary to maintain and also to enhance our standard of living. We hear economists and politicians clamouring for more economic growth continually. Spend more money. Buy more stuff. Buy bigger stuff. Bigger cars. Bigger houses. Bigger vacations. It all stimulates the economy and produces jobs and fills government coffers. Hence, the forced and artificially low interest rates, so consumers will spend money they do not have. But debt is spending tomorrow's money today. What do we do tomorrow? 
 
Years ago, everyone was happy with no raise in pay, old furniture, a ten year old car, and a vacation to grandma's farm house in the country. Life was simple then. Expectations were minimal, and there was time for family and friends and fishing. 
 
We may have no choice but to go back to the 'good old days'. Expansion is not happening like it used to. Many folks are finding that their standard of living is quite stagnant these days, and maybe even in decline because of inflation. If we truly are in a Japanese type of stagnation, as some economists are saying we are, we may have the next twenty years to get used to it. 
 
But that is not necessarily a bad thing. That might just be enough time to straighten out our prioroties, and start living with a bit less stress.  "Be happy, don't worry." has become "Don't happy, be worry."   

Monday, August 27, 2012

Wool for Window Cleaning

 
I honestly cannot remember the last time I read Science Fiction. Probably when I was a kid and dreamed of worlds beyond our own. (Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov etc.) So, I was reading eBook reviews in the Kindle bookstore and this  one caught my eye because of the massive number of reviews it received, the average of which was 4.5 stars.
 
This volume, "Omnibus" is a compilation of the first five installments of the "Wool" series of novels. I believe one more is written and a few more are on their way. Good!
 
The premise is intriguing. There is an underground city, built vertically, like a silo. It goes down about 148 levels into the bowels of the earth, and it is self sustaining, and apparently has been there for a long time. How it got there is a mystery. The top floor is ground level and what is seen out of the 'windows' is a desolate and toxic scene, the surface of the earth that is uninhabitable. The whole place is sealed and the outside is only visible via sensors that are rigged to wide screen TVs in the cafeteria on the top floor. The sensors get smudged with dirt and toxins and need to be cleaned every so often. This is done by criminals who are sentenced to death. They are given a suit that withstands the earth's toxins just long enough for them to wipe the sensors clean with wool cloths. Most who are sent out for a "cleaning" say they will refuse to do the bidding of those who sentenced them to death, and yet, every single one of the "cleaners", once they get outside, do the job enthusiastically, and then turn to the hills and walk away to certain death. And that is the mystery and that is the story that slowly develops into a most intriguing and suspenseful novel. 
 
But I have given enough away. I will say the author knows his craft. He develops his characters slowly and carefully. The plot moves ahead inexorably, and then suddenly takes a giant leap forward. The pieces do come together, but there are still many unanswered questions.  The book is most difficult to put down. The story plays on age old themes of hope, freedom, fear of the unknown, and courage. As the mystery of the silo unfolds you will totally understand how the author could write sequels forever and then write a dozen prequels. This is good stuff! I just hope it is not our future.
 
4 1/2 stars  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Snack Time in Nana's Garden

 
Just up from a nice afternoon nap, Liam discovered that his Nana had just baked some buns. It is a warm afternoon and what is better than to dangle your feet in the cool water and munch away at a fresh home-made bun with strawberry jam. The only thing missing from this photo is a fishing pole.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Can He Win Again?

 
The political rhetoric is heating up and the pundits are trying to predict the unpredictable (who will win the American Presidential race). I have my own prediction, as many of you have, but the usual indicators are not reliable this time. Obama, after promising that Big Government stimulus would create jobs, finds that his promise is nothing but straw, and for good reason. The unemployment is officially at 8.3%, but others say it is realistically at 15%. A sitting president has never been re-elected with unemployment above 7.2%.  
 
Another predictor is the stock markets. They are on positive ground of late, and that bodes well for an incumbent President. How they got that way is another matter. The interest rates are being kept unreasonably low and that always favour the markets. Also, the vast bulk of government stimulus has favoured large corporations, in particular banks, and that drives their value up, hence the stock market is up. This does nothing for the economy of the average working person, who of late is becoming more and more dependent on handouts of one sort or another. And these people vote.
 
Then throw into the mix that a Republican says something stupid like a rape victim can be blessed by God with a pregnancy, and you have another nail in their coffin.
 
The coming election is a tough one to call. I will make my firm prediction as we near election day. At the present moment I am tentatively saying that Obama is out.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

War is Hard on Horses


One of my favourite movies is about a horse, Secretariat, so don't anybody get on my case for not liking horses or horse movies.

Steven Spielberg was behind this one, "War Horse", and it shows. From the opening scenes, which by the way, are stunningly beautiful, you know you are in for a money infused movie. Every scene tries to be a cinematic masterpiece, but not all succeed, in fact, by the end of the movie, when we have to endure a lingering reunion in the sunset, which was obviously shot on two separate days with two different sunsets, we are getting tired of a movie that is riding on the coat tails of eye candy instead of substance. There is a fine line between fantastic lighting in photography, and just plain poor light. This movie straddles that line many times.

The story itself is too contrived to be believable. We are rooting for the horse, and his young owner, and it is satisfying when they at last find each other, but their adventures are a little 'over the top'. But, it is fiction, so we will give them that.

I have a problem with animal movies that give animals too many human characteristics. I know they are intelligent and have personalities, but really, some of these horse antics are absurd. Like one horse telling another, with the nod of his head, to take the pulling harness, it's OK, it will save your life. Animal rights people thrive on this kind of stuff as it gives them fuel for their contention that animals should be on par with humans.

If you have seen his movie, tell me what you think.  

I give it 3 stars  


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Another 'Garbage Post'


'Loose Strife', soon to go in the garden waste bin, as it has run its course.

A regular reader of this blog sent me a short video clip, wondering if the guy in the video was the same one who refused to dump my bin because of the stray branch. (yesterday's post)
video


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Overstuffed


Every other week we have yard refuse pick-up along with our garbage pick-up. We pay for it with our property taxes. The pick-up man drives a rather large truck and gets paid a rather large salary. It seems like, at times, that the more money one earns on their job, the more reluctant they are to actually earn it. This little can of garden clippings did not get picked up a few days ago because, as the label says, it is "overstuffed". Really? The can weighed no more than 15 lbs. and had a small, green, flexible branch sticking out of the top, something that could have been pushed down easily if it was a huge bother to the collector. Or, he could have taken the offending branch out and thrown it in the truck on its own. But, no. He took time out of his busy route schedule to write a note and stick on the offending branch and then leave it at the curb so we could bring it back to our house and let it sit for another two weeks. 

I want a small refund on my property taxes.    

Monday, August 20, 2012

Extreme Courage


This is a remarkable book on several levels. Written in the first person, this is the story of Marcus Luttrell, Navy
SEAL, and the Afghanistan mission that should have killed him.

Navy SEALS have a reputation of being the toughest, best trained, and most fearsome of fighting men anywhere in the world. This book explains how that reputation comes about, and how it is exemplified. It is a true, first person account of both the training and the mission that Marcus endured and how the aftermath effected him. In all aspects it is both fascinating and at times almost unbelievable.
The book is also a strong indictment of the liberal press in America and how they drive a harmful agenda that puts American soldiers at risk in any battle anywhere. There is a very strong Texas fighting spirit portrayed within the pages of this book, a mindset that is foreign to most of us, yet is the backbone of American patriotism. No matter where you stand on the US involvement in foreign wars, you will be rooting for Marcus and be astounded at the miraculous way in which he survived.
*Mature content (violence and rough language)

5 stars 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

While We Were Gone


First, a note about yesterday's blog post, the book review of "The Loom". My blog spot decided to self edit and the post was published incomplete. It has been corrected and you do not want to miss the fascinating conclusion. Haha.

It has been a wonderful year for our rose garden. We made arrangements for a neighbour to come and water some critical areas while we were away last week. She did a marvelous job and everything was in great shape when we got back. A good neighbourhood is not so much the area or the style of house, but the people who live there. She told us she enjoyed sitting in our garden, enjoying the shade, the flowers, and the birds. In the process, she was also guarding and watching over our home. We do the same for her. How sad that many people are surrounded by others but have no community.

Here is a rose for those who make an effort to befriend their neighbours.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Idea of Freedom


This is the story of a young black slave in the southern USA in the 1800's. The genre is 'Literary Fiction' and is historically accurate, but the characters and scenarios are fiction. The girl was born to two mulattoes and ended up with rather light skin which helped her to gain her freedom, or so she thought. Her entire existence is dedicated to being free and she has scars to prove that she has attempted escape a few times. An unexpected opportunity arises when she is mistaken as a white 'Lady' and thus, she embarks on a sham that turns out to be bit nasty in the end. In the meanwhile she marries her true love, a very black field worker. Oh what a tangled web we weave!

The story is interesting and written in an artsy style that sometimes leaves the reader wondering what he or she has just read. The author needs to polish her style a bit in this regard. The other characters in the story, and there are many of them, are interesting.

In the epilogue, the author states that her own great grandmother escaped her owners and lived in the northern USA the rest of her life, as a white person, which demonstrates that her premise is not without precedent. Slavery is a fascinating chapter in North American history, as is its aftermath. Books like 'The Loom' help us to understand those history changing times. 

3 1/2 stars  


Friday, August 17, 2012

Ethanol


Speaking of engines ......

I was filling my gas tank in the USA and noticed that the fuel there contains at least 10% ethanol, the source of which, is food. I had just heard, minutes ago, that the severe droughts in the USA were devastating the corn crops and in many areas the crops were a complete write off. This year will experience the lowest corn yields since 1995 and the highest prices, ever!

"Corn is the single most important commodity for retail food," Richard Volpe, an economist for the USDA told the Los Angeles Times. "Corn is either directly or indirectly in about three-quarters of all food consumers buy."

The last time corn prices spiked, there were price driven food riots over many parts of the world. Why then is 40% of all corn grown used for fuel? Ethanol is a sticky substance that destabilizes when sitting in a gas tank, thus making engines, especially small engines difficult to start after remaining idle for a while. It also gunks up engines that run on it for any length of time, thus a myriad of fuel additives and engine cleaners have evolved to solve the problem. The trucking industry refuses to use ethanol fuels because they run "dry" causing the engines to break down early in their career. Boaters and aviators will not use ethanol based fuels because of the potential problems.
This whole ethanol business was mandated by the government in 2005 based on the assumption that traditional fuel, petroleum, was unsustainable and therefore had to be supplemented. There was also the whole carbon issue which was a farce because the carbon produced to create one litre of ethanol exceeds the carbon saved when burning it. But that is government thinking at its best. Tinker with the market in order to save the world. As it turns out, the world is discovering unprecedented oil reserves, while the precious corn crops that can feed the world are being converted into ethanol.

If you think that you can avoid food price increases by not buying corn, think again. Animal feed with corn in it is more expensive and that cost trickles down to chicken, beef, eggs, dairy, and the vast amounts of food containing high fructose corn syrup.

Once a government program is in place, it is almost always there in perpetuity. Maybe this time a famine and a good dose of food riots will change that reality.



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Throwing Christians to the Lions


Have you ever read a book when you did not know if the author was male or female? I have, and when I discovered that the author's name actually belonged to a female, I was surprised.

"A Voice in the Wind" feels like parts of it were written by a man, but most of it was written by Francine, obviously a woman. It is historical romance, not my usual genre, but my daughter highly recommended it because she had heard that I was so taken with Conn Iggulden's Emperor series on the life of Julius Caesar. The books are the same time frame, but written in very different ways and from very different perspectives.

I found "Voice" to very contrived and predictable and only really enjoyed the bits about the gladiators. It is the story about a girl rescued after the fall of Jerusalem and sold into slavery. She is unrealistically devoted to one of the most self-centered and narcissistic characters in literature, the daughter of a wealthy Roman citizen. Almost every scenario in the story somehow parallels a modern day moral issue and takes on soap opera dimensions early on. (gossip, shopaholics, bling, abortion, drugs,violence, overeating, premarital sex, rebellion to parental authority, lust, murder, coveting, and lying)
Its redeeming quality is the example of the little slave girl and how she exemplifies love and dedication under the most difficult of circumstances. She is totally selfless, and as suspected, ends up in the hungry jaws of a lion.
If I read the sequels, it will be because I am a bit desperate for reading material. Without being sexist, I will say that I can understand why a woman would enjoy this book. It is about women, mostly, and from a woman's perspective. I have never read a Harlequin Romance, but it might fit that category except for its Christian bent.  

3 stars  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In The Desert Garden


Hollyhocks grow well in hot dry conditions and they seem to self-perpetuate. They are a stunning contrast to the browns and greys of the desert. These line the south edge of our property where the veggie garden used to be.


This sweet garden child is seen and not heard.


There is not too much growing beside the hot deck but I did find one little gem.


The Columbines have also re-seeded themselves and this second generation is stunted, but still beautiful.


It appears that the petals are wearing thin.




Our neighbours to the north built a new deck since I was last here. It has extended their living area on a difficult lot. I really like what they have done.


Everything needs water and lots of it. The heat and dry wind will suck the life out of our big trees if we do not soak them several times a week. Our irrigation system does not quite cover all the edges of the property, and yet that is where the most valuable assets, our trees, live.


A parting shot of the Hollyhocks. These flowers remind me of my dearly departed mom. She had these flowers ring our house in Saskatchewan. The climate in summer there was also hot and dry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hot Summer Nights


Our warmest day was Monday, with a high of 37 C. The dry rocky terrain soaks up the heat all day and then slowly releases it at night. The evenings do not cool down much. At 11 pm it is still 28C and at 7 am it is already 25 C. So, one either becomes acclimatized or one melts or one sits in front of the air conditioner.


This thunder head in the east was the only cloud in the sky picking up the sunset. Later that night we saw lightening flashes behind that ridge.


We went for a two mile walk on one of those hot evenings and were treated to a great sunset. As we walked through the countryside, we were surprised at the hot and cool pockets of air trapped in the low spots.  


This scene really reminded me of our time in the Arizona desert a few years ago.


We spent many a hot night out on the deck where the bugs were not so bad and we had a ringside seat to the rising moon and its glorious reflection. When we got home on Saturday evening, we were surprised that it was just as hot here, but the cool night air gave us the best night's sleep we had all week.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Transformation


Going to Oroville at different times each year affords us a chance to sample a variety of fruit. Early August is Apricot season and this year's crop was bumper.


We have four or five of these trees in our own orchard and each one is a different variety with a different flavour. Four of the trees were so ripe we felt obligated to clean them right off and either eat or process all of them. You can see in the above photo that there is a bit of shrivelling happening from the extreme heat.


No, this is not a mooning contest at a baby convention. The fruit was really hanging that heavy. This was the 'greenest' tree and we only picked a few ripe ones from it, saving the rest for next week's guests.


busylizzy got busy and canned four cases of quart jars full of Apricot mash, mostly for her dad who eats it on his porridge in the morning. He no longer comes here so he appreciated it greatly. We also had some that she sweetened and we had it in abundance on waffles and toast.


This is a typical Oroville breakfast in Apricot season.... toasted squirrely bread and coffee. This comes either before or after the waffles, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Did I mention that I gained some weight?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Warm


Let the heavens declare ...... that it is one hot day! I think we will postpone that Mexico trip until next January.

Right now we are from the frying pan into the fire ....  but the lake beckons.

A blog break is in order.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Genesis Re-enactment

Forbidden!

Oh ya?

We have this wooden snake, a trinket we brought back from Mexico one year, in our apple tree. No real reason, but thought it cute and maybe appropriate. Every time I walk past the tree and catch a glimpse of this snake out of the corner of my eye, I instinctively react, or maybe a better word would be recoil. I hate snakes.
But each time that happens, I am reminded of the Adam and Eve incident. Eve obviously did not recoil. The snake may have been a highly esteemed creature in the early days and Eve was attracted to its beauty and charm. I could never understand the attraction to snakes that many today have. They are pets and even fashion accessories. But, I am not the only one who finds them loathsome and repulsive.
When we spend a week in Oroville soon, I will, as usual, have an eye out for them. They have been know to come within a few feet of our house there, but normally stay up on the mountain where it is hot and dry. I have seen several varieties of snakes there, but Bull snakes and Rattlers are the most common.
As I am in the orchard, picking the tree ripened Apricots in a few days, I will be very wary of snakes. There are no fake snakes in Oroville.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rules and regulations


After only a few days of Olympic events, controversy, as usual, is detracting from the games. It used to be all about the doping, or before that, questioning a female athlete's true gender. But now it is about politically incorrect tweeting, faulty timing devices(fencing competition), suspected doping (Chinese swimmer), and not trying hard enough (badminton). I suppose it is part of the package, but more importantly, it justifies the existence of a huge Olympic bureaucracy that has arisen over the years. It makes one wonder what all these people would do if they were required to have a real job.
Otherwise, kudos to London for a great games so far. The venues are great, the optics are wonderful, and the host country let Canada beat them in the men's rowing competition on Wednesday. Now that is hospitality!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bicycle Crash


I witnessed a bike crash yesterday. I was stopped at a red light and looked to my left for an opening so I could turn right. About 100 ft. down the road there was fellow on a bicycle, driving on the sidewalk, with no helmet. He tried to cross in front of a rather large pick-up truck that was pulling onto the street from a parking lot. The driver of the truck obviously did not see the cyclist as he ran right over him. The  truck stopped, the cyclist crawled out from under the truck, and banged on the fender of the truck motioning for the driver to back up so he could get his bicycle out from under the wheel. As I made my right turn, I caught a glimpse of the mangled, bent, and broken bike. The rider was on his feet and acting quite normally, so must have been unhurt.

When the days are sunny and dry, there are more cyclists out there, and we have to watch for them. Most of them have no clue about the rules of the road and maybe 10% of them wear the mandatory helmets. About the only place you will never see bikes is in the bike lanes, but, unfortunately, we are not allowed to drive our cars in them. It would be safer.