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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Herding Cats

If you regularly watch any kind of nature television programs then you should be familiar with the herding of caribou or other similar animals.  They run for long distances at high speed and the photographer is in a plane or helicopter filming from above looking down upon the herd.  The animals bunch together when they pass through a narrow point in their travels to the point that they are shoulder to shoulder.  Have you got the picture firmly planted in your mind?

Now imagine that the herd scene is taken from your walking height and the herd that you are watching consists of just cats.  OK, now reduce the numbers of the herd until you end up with three cats being herded in front of you.  They run ahead of you seemingly with some urgent purpose in mind, some desired destination.  And what is the destination?  The bathroom.  Yes, the bathroom.

I spend a lot of time at my computer, surfing the web, filling out job applications, playing games, etc.  I sit in an old worn out computer station swivel chair.  The kind with five foot rests with wheels sticking out from a central post.  It has a handle to adjust the height if you lift up while you pull up on the handle the seat raises a little bit.  If you apply a little of your weight to the seat while you lift the handle you can make it go down slowly until you reach the height that you prefer.  The seat swivels around and has an adjustable backrest that goes back/forward or up/down (no fancy stuff like leaning back, or adjustable arms).  The backrest swivels so that maximum surface meets your back as you lean back onto it.  The hydraulic lifter has some sort of spring on top so that when you get up the seat springs up a few inches until it reaches a mechanical stop.  With the seat higher and when you sit down it lowers back to the normal position with some resistance.  I'm not sure what function it does, maybe is is to boost you in getting up and to cushion your sitting when you "Plop" onto the chair.  The seat cushion is fastened to a plastic shell which in turn is mounted onto a metal plate welded to the top of the hydraulic lifter piston.  Only the plastic shell is broken on one the left side and I sit on a slightly left-leaning seat.  I am no longer getting the cushion support so after long periods of sitting it feels like I am sitting directly on the left side of the mounting plate. The rivets that held the backrest to the swivel mount broke a long time ago so I replaced them with a piece of bent coat-hanger sticking through the mount like an axle.  By now you should be asking yourself; "What does this have to do with Herding Cats?"

While I am at my computer I usually have the company of three of our four cats.  "The Girls" hang out with me. If all three are not on the bed right behind me, then Miney (Mine-ee) is sleeping under my chair between the legs, Baby and Missy are somewhere close.  Being in the condition that it is, my chair makes a bit of noise when I get up.  The backrest rattles, the seat pops up and thumps against the stop, and the hydraulic lift makes a whooshing sound.  This seems to be a signal for all three cats to stop what they are doing and run ahead of me to the bathroom.  It does not matter why I am going to the bathroom, I get the company of all three cats.  Baby, being the most nimble, jumps up onto the window sill and sits.  Missy usually jumps up onto the sink counter where the food is kept.  And Miney stays on the floor (she seems to have a problem in jumping up onto things).  When I turn to go out the door, all three cats again run ahead and usually end up on the bed.

I'm not sure why the "Three Girls" act this way.  Perhaps they are trying to protect me, or maybe it is a "Pride Movement" when I get up from my chair.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wildlife rebuilds after fire

As I was walking through the burned area from 3 weeks ago, I noticed this line in the ash/sand.  At first I thought it was from someone drawing with a stick.
But someone drawing with a stick would not have gone across another stick in the ground making a mark like this.  So I looked closer.
And much closer I could see that it was an ant trail that had been cleaned out by the ants.  I noticed the husks of some seeds laying beside the trail.  Perhaps when we get some rain in a month or so, the seeds will sprout and the area will turn green again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is this my friend's house?

The city has finally removed the road blocks from the area of my neighborhood that was burned by the fire on September 5, 2011.  I walked down the street to see how well a friend's house did in the fire.  I think this picture is the house.  It used to be a beautiful two story home and now it is a pile of brick and charcoal.
I wonder if they are going to put a "car for sale" sign on their car.. it is fairly new as I remember it, low mileage.  It could use a paint job (who is it... Earl Shibe? $299 paint special) but it should sell good.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My morning walk has turned to ash

On most mornings I take a walk around the neighborhood, chat with morning joggers, take a few pictures, do a little bit of exercising.  Often I would walk a trail through an area that is mostly covered in cedar trees/bushes, live oak trees, and weeds to look at some of the local wildlife.  We have birds, squirrels, deer, rabbits, cats, and others that I don't see.

Yesterday I walked through the area that used to have the trees.  Since it burned on August 15 things are just not the same as it used to be prior to that.  The ash on the ground remains mostly undisturbed except by the tire tracks of vehicles that were used in checking for hot spots after the fire and footprints of the people who searched and dug out the hot spots.  There are a few other footprints now, dogs, deer, and mine.  It smells like smoke and ash.  The ash lays on the ground like a thin layer of snow or frost. The charred wood and grass heats quickly in the Texas sun and the smell of charcoal is in the air all day and night.  There has been no rain to water the ash into the ground even if it could soak into the baked earth.  No new green grass shoots coming up to reclaim the sun from the now dead trees.  The only green in the burned area is the top of a broken glass bottle lying near the base of a burned tree.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hard Disk Free Space

I spent some time today burning files from my computer Hard Disk onto DvD for storage off of the computer.  I made double copies and put one away for backup and then I have one for use when I need the files. Then I delete the files off of my computer drive unless they are files that are often used.  I make a directory of each DvD by doing a DOS prompt command similar to this: DIR I: > PictureDvD207.txt

I have directory files like this on my computer and I regularly burn those files onto a backup DvD along with other files.  Only difference is that I do not delete these listings off of my computer and I use them to search for specific pictures so that I can easily grab the desired DvD.  These files are also backed up on another HDD in my computer so that if one drive crashes I still have them.

Anyway, I do this quite often; burn files to DvD, erase files from HDD.  And yet, toay I still have very little free space on my Hard Disk!  LOOK!
Here is a capture of my drive's stats as captured with Yahoo!Widgets/Screen Shooter program.  You can easily see that my data drive (Drive D:) has less than 10% free space!  I don't think 10% free space is enough to do a disk cleanup.. is it?  Might be JUST enough, but I don't have it so I can't do a disk cleanup on that drive.  I can do a cleanup on the drive that holds my operating system and a few programs and utilities. I've updated one drive to 320 Gb and filled it up, guess it is time to move up to a larger drive.  I do have other drives that are external, used for backing up data, programs,  downloads, pictures that I use a LOT, programs that I have written, etc.  If my boot drive crashes then I have about 6 hours of lost time in rebuilding it (when you figure in all the Windows Updates that have to be done too) but I don't lose any data or software that I have downloaded and installed.  I think that I have a full image (iso file) of my main drive saved off onto one of my external drives (main drive is only 160 Gb) which are 320 Gb, 500 Gb, or 2 Tb in size.  I also make some backups of other people's files if they get onto my computer for some reason (such as someone wanting me to burn a DvD or CD of their files).

Before I post this and go out taking pictures, I would like to mention that I think my FIRST Hard Disk Drive held a whopping 40 Mb.  I never filled that drive up even halfway.  Today, I have single files much larger than that on my computer!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Old Pictures

I've been searching through some old photos and making them of a decent file size to upload to this blog.  Here is what I found this morning:

We used to spend a lot of time at the mine

OK, it is all fake, the photo was taken at Disneyland.

Below are some pictures of my garden when it was in my front yard (about 2001 to 2008).  You can see that I did not do a lot of weeding and some places had mulch while others did not.  The 32 gallon trash barrels in the background are for collecting rainwater off of the roof.  I put 5 feeder goldfish (cost about 10 for a dollar) in each barrel to control mosquito larvae.  I figured the dropping from the fish would help fertilize anything I watered.
 Somewhere hidden in the weeds are my crops. The bushy plant on the left edge of the cattle fencing is a habenaro (sp?) pepper plant that just came up on it's own. The tiny peppers are REALLY HOT, but good for making salsa.  I gave most of them away to neighbors because I only used 1 or 2 each time I made salsa.

 Something looks strange in this picture.. OH! I must have weeded! My favorite tomatoes, Sweet 100's!  Produce a LOT of cherry tomatoes that go well in salads, salsa, or just eating as I walk out the front door.
And of course I have to grow jalepeno peppers and yellow sandwich peppers.

My Garden, not big, more of an experiment

I plant a raised bed garden each year in my small yard.  I used to plant three small beds in my front yard so I would remember to water it and weed it (basically just take care of it).  I had grapes in my back yard (removed them to build a large shed for storage) and one grape vine in front.

This is what my front yard used to look like a few years ago. A doorway through grape vines and behind it a garden on left and right as you approached the front door.

  Here are some pictures of my gardens in the past and this year.
 This was my garden bed last year, it was moved from my front yard to the side of my house.  The normal soil in my yard is about 4 inches deep before you hit some kind of hard material that does not let water soak through it. For that reason, I added some building stones around an area and fill it with more dirt making a total of about a foot deep (maybe a bit less).  I figure with proper watering and fertilizer I can grow a few tomatoes and peppers, maybe even some green beans or cucumbers.  I did not get much of a crop out of it last year because I planted much too late in the season (or at least that is what I thought at the time) and I modified it this year with a cage to keep out birds and also added a watering system.
First I plant my seeds in seed starter kits

Then I transplant them into seed cups which I cover with cutoff 3 liter soda bottles to keep them moist.

When the weather improved, I move my seeding trays and bottles outside to harden the plants in the shade.  After a few days I transplant my seedlings into the raised bed (which is filled with a mix of topsoil and purchased garden soil since my ground soil is horribly poor for growing a garden otherwise).  This year I added a cage and I installed micro drip watering on a timer to keep them watered twice a day ( I have no clue how often or how much to water them in this Texas heat and with shallow soil).
Eventually my plants started to grow inside the cage that I had built to protect the cherry tomatoes from birds.

But the plants I had in a secondary bed grew better.  The first bed doesn't get as much sunlight as the second.  Tomato plants in the first bed don't flower, while those in the second bed flower and produce fruit.  You can see how tall the tomato plants have grown and the lower green plants are lemon and lime basil.  Also in the same bed are Zinnia plants, oregeno, and yellow peppers (well, the yellow peppers have not produced any peppers yet.. I don't think they get enough sun).
I had started a LOT of tomato plants this year, so to keep from wasting them I added three 32 gallon trash bins behind my house to plant the rest of my tomato and basil plants.  The tomatoes grew tall before getting enough sun to produce flowers and fruit.  So far the only problem with pests I've had is with a couple of horn worms. The problem with horn worms is they can eat most of a tomato plant down to the stems before you see them the next day. I was lucky my plants were only half eaten and recovered after the worm removal. I learned a lot about growing a garden in containers and what amount of sunshine tomatoes take before they produce fruit. I also learned that Basil is very easy to grow, and it tastes sooooo good fresh! Oregeno does not grow so easily but it is also great fresh flavor!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Notes on my Reading of Other Bloggs

I was reading some of the Blogs of Note, came across some really interesting ones.  I like computers, electronics, mathematics, art, cats (maybe cats before art?), drawing, photography, food (OK, now I know this list is not in order), gardens, plants, bug zappers, ... OK.. there are a LOT more, but I'll stop.  So, what is my point? None.

I liked a video featured on Kitty Stampede ( :

which seemed a lot like a picture I have from years ago of my cat Mouse:

Mouse used to run around with his back hunched up and tail fluffed out, looking like a Halloween cat just like the white cat in the video.

My tomatoes keep splitting!

For some reason, a LOT of my small tomatoes split like the picture.  My plants are on an automatic timer, watered every day.  Do I need to water more often?  Water longer?  Add some fertilizer?  Any good ideas?

<Edit> I forgot to mention that the temps around here have been over 100 degrees for a couple of months (except one day) and up to as high as 110 degrees.  Also, I found many places that say to water evenly, water about every week, etc.. and most of them also say that Mulch should be placed around the plants... I will add mulch to see if it cures my problem.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fire In Leander!

I walk around the neighborhood nearly every day or 2 or 3 and take pictures.  On August 15, 2011 there was a fire near my home in Leander, TX. The fire destroyed several homes, including that of a good friend. Below are some pictures I took before, during, and after the fire.
The picture above was taken a couple days before the fire at the end of Topaz Lane facing into the area where the fire seems to have started.
It looked like the fire was coming under control
and then the wind picked up a little, you could feel the heat from a block away.
When all was done, several homes were completely destroyed.
The fire had raced up their back yard to the home

Other Aftermath Pictures 
Ashes look almost like snow

Some trees burned facing the fire and may survive

Not so lucky one-hundred year old tree, gone to ash

Still smoking embers the next day

The edge of destruction


Catbomb. That is the name I give to occurances like the one pictured here. Turn around from my computer and there are 3 cats on the bed (used to be with all 4 but Stinker is no longer allowed upstairs in the bedroom). Normally they are all spread out, but for some reason they all gathered in on me to pester me until I pet them. Left to right, Missy, Miney, Baby.. the 3 girls. This is not a rare occasion, normally all 3 are upstairs with me while I am at the computer. Missy is the one that might be missing at any time, due to her leaving to eat some of Stinker's food downstairs. Stinker eats, leaves a few nuggets for Missy. Missy comes in and eats them and licks the bowl clean. I keep food and water out for these 3 cats on the counter upstairs where Stinker cannot get to it. Even with Stinker being fed so little, and then Missy taking some of his food, he is still not losing any weight. I cannot bring myself to feed him less, so I guess as long as he is happy with his situation then we will cope with it too.
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Missy helps me remodel

Missy likes to be around people, even if they are making a lot of noise (except vacuum cleaner). Here I was remodeling. I had removed a fireplace (cheap insert type) and the surrounding framework. She came to help me by holding down the carpet padding that I was using to pad my knees as I worked down low. She seemed comfortable so I took a break for the day.
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Cat #4 - Snidely (Stinker)

This is Snidely (but I call him Stinker because he used to unexpectedly climb my leg when he was a tiny kitten). He is one of Baby's last litter in 2005. He weighs in at around 27 pounds. He is not a tiny cat. He is not graceful nor too overly aware of his surroundings. He is special. He is very friendly (especially to missionaries or strangers that come to visit). He is strong but not aware that he is strong. His sister Miney, at about 1/3 his weight picks on him every time she gets a chance then runs away before he can grab her. If Stinker is in your lap and decides to leave, you should not try to hold him back, he has very good traction with his claws dug into your leg.. though he does not intentionally hurt anyone. I'm not sure why, but he just LOVED this issue of Reader's Digest. If you are saying to yourself that we should put him on a diet, well, he gets 1/4 cup of dry catfood about 10 am, and another 1/4 cup at about 10 pm. He is probably not as active as he could be if we would play with him more often.
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Cat #3 - Miney

This is Miney (or Minie? Not sure how my wife intends it to be spelled). She was 3rd in Baby's first litter of Eeney, Meaney, Miney, and Moe. She is a feisty cat, denser in build than her mother or aunt. She is not as friendly as the other cats but she is still a good cat, with short soft fur. If I ignore her for long enough while at the computer, she will head-butt me to get my attention. If that does not work, she will poke me with her claws like her mother does only a bit more forceful. I picked this picture of her because it makes her look mean, but she is really yawning not making any kind of threat. She has one objective in life, torture her younger brother whenever she gets the chance.
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Cat #2 - Missy

This is Missy, sister of Baby and she is an automatic paper-weight. Actually, all of our cats are automatic paper-weights. You look around and see no cats, lay a paper or book on the bed or floor, look away for a couple of seconds, look back and there is a cat holding your item securely in place. I think they take turns watching me to see when I lay something on the bed behind me as I sit at the computer. I think Missy has the softest fur of the group. She likes to be around someone all the time.. anyone.
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Cat #1 - Baby

This is Baby, Cat #1. She is the sister of Missy and the mother of Miney and Snidely (more about Snidely in another posting). She weighs in at a tiny 4 or 5 pounds. She is probably the most adventurous of our cats, likes to go outside (we don't let her out anymore) and as soon as she gets out.. she RUNS to the neighbor's small tree and scratches on it. I've been unable to break her of this even though for most other purposes I've been able to keep our cats in a small area of our yard most of the time. It would not be a factor any more since the neighbor has removed that tree and landscaped with a variety of nice plants. I'm afraid Baby might try to scratch on some of them and ruin them.
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This is Mouse, my first cat that I got as a kitten. He could sleep in the palm of my hand when I first got him. Black, Blue eyes, funny, full of mischief, playful, loving, friendly. He got his name one day (I'd had him more than a month before I named him) when I dropped a piece of cheese and he hissed at me as I reached for it. I asked him if he was a cat or a mouse.. he grabbed the cheese and ran.. so he was Mouse.
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Other Cats I have loved

Just so you know that living cats are not the focus of my life, I'm putting this picture in to show you my first "Tonka" toy.. only it was made by 'Cat'epillar. I think this one adopted me when I was very young and I can still remember the smell of the hydrolic fluid, oil, diesel fuel, and dirt on her as I played. We often picked dirt clods off for "dirtclod fights" with neighborhood kids. I often helped my dad as he repaired the many machines that were stored at our home. My long, skinny arms would be able to reach a dropped wrench, washer, nut, or bolt much easier than his. Then I started driving this D6 (or was it D9?) when I was about 9 yrs old along with a front-end loader (I could not drive the trucks because I was too small to see out of the windshield). My dad would fix them, perhaps welding on new teeth or a broken track. Sometimes he would move them out to a place for testing, and I would run them through some tests to make sure his repairs would hold up during use on the job. I think some of the tools my dad used to fix these machines weighed as much as I did at the time. During summers, I often went to work with my dad when he was fixing something out in the job site. They had a Bulldozer, Front-end loader, Crane, Dump Truck, Rock Crusher, Earth Mover, and a trailer for moving these machines. They probably had more, and probably some accessories that went with these machines, but I'm not sure. Sutton Escavating, I think, was the name of the company. Mr. Sutton retired and sold all of the equipment so my dad went to work in a factory as a maintenance man.
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