Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Measuring rain

After a long dry spell, drops started falling on Sunday, finally giving me a chance to test my new electronic rain gauge (see previous blog entry).

It rained and rained, but the electronic gizmo showed no indication that there was any precipitation. I went into a deep funk as I contemplated how I would disassemble everything and return it to Cabellas. I gave up on the device and went back to work.

Several hours later I looked at it and it had, indeed, registered some rainfull. Apparently it doesn't just willy nilly update the monitor. Maybe it needs to fill up a certain amount before the rain is measured?

So far, my readings are in the ballpark. On Sunday, I measured .91 inches. That was identical to the National Weather Service measurement in Eureka. On Monday I measured 1.85 inches. That was slightly more than Eureka, which had 1.76 inches. That's reasonable because there are variations between the towns.

I'll continue this for a week or so and make comparisons. Then, if everything appears accurate, I can start printing rainfall measurements in the paper.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Neighborhoods, trails and work

I recently had a discussion about what makes a neighborhood a nice place to live.

My first thought was that the favorite places where I’ve lived all had something in common – they were near trails, or had places where I could walk.

In San Mateo I could walk out the front door and, within minutes, be on a lengthy trail right on the bay.

When I lived in Willits I could walk out my door and go to a nearby park, or watch the Skunk Train arrive at the depot.

My current home in McKinleyville is close to the Hammond Trail, the School Road Trail and various pathways near the river.

I walk down to the river several times a week with Big Brown Dog, and life is good.

Life was good in all the places I’ve lived where I could walk somewhere.

The places where I didn’t enjoy living were places where, if I wanted to do something, I had to get in my car and drive somewhere. Those places sucked.

But then I was reminded of another obvious factor that makes up a good neighborhood – neighbors.

Good neighbors always have a common factor – they either work, are retired after years of work, or have hobbies or various tasks which keep them busy and, basically, working.

My bad neighbors always had something in common – they didn’t work. They sat around snorting meth and sometimes sold drugs. The men beat up the women, the women beat up the men, and the kids were left wandering the neighborhood in dirty diapers. It was ugly.

I once lived near some extreme tweakers in McKinleyville. They snorted meth day and night. They were as dysfunctional as one could imagine.

But there was a short period of time when their lives were almost normal. It was when the husband got a job. He went to work in the morning and came home in the evening. The drug usage continued, but it seemed as if they were consuming less. The kids seemed happier and behaved themselves. Ozzie and Harriet they were not, but for a short time they resembled something close to a family. They had some sense of humanity.

Then, things spiraled out of control, the husband lost his job and things went from bad to worse. Eventually, their water and electricity was turned off. I assume they’re now dead.

I know other people who don’t work and they seem to have problems of their own. Of course, there are exceptions. But as a general rule, a healthy neighborhood is one where most of the residents work, are retired after years work, or engage in activities that resemble work.

Although there’s no question that a decent wages are important for a society, in my experience wage is not an issue when it comes to good neighbors.

I’ve lived near folks that made minimum wage, but they were good neighbors – they worked. I’ve lived near migrant workers. They were low-paid, but good neighbors – they worked.

I assume this is why ghettos are bad neighborhoods. It’s not just that people are poor – it’s because they don’t work.

You can give people food stamps and welfare, which are often needed, but the neighborhood will be a bad place to live unless you give them work.

So the key to improving a bad neighborhood is to give people jobs, even if those jobs are subsidized. Given the turbulent nature of capitalism, a safety net is necessary. Welfare is often necessary. But for the sake of neighborhoods, there must be work.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Recent epiphany

Bad people try to make you feel bad for doing what's right.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

More rambling...

• Today I finally figured out how to record my voice in GarageBand, a music program on my computer. No, I’m not going to give up my career and become a rapper, a la “Hustle & Flow.” (Hey baby, I need a new microphone and I need your help....) I simply want to record my weekly radio report so I can email it to the station instead of recording it early in the morning over the phone. I still have some things to figure out. Of course, while working on this, we decided to make a rap complete with hip-hop beats and horn jabs. CP even chimed in with some background vocals. After listening to the song, I wondered whether we might be guilty of crimes against humanity. Still, it’s kind of neat what you can do with multiple tracks and filters. If Ashley Simpson can have a music career, there’s hope for the rest of us.
• Still no rain. I finally get an electronic rain gauge (something I’ve wanted for a couple years) and the rains stop. Go figure.
• Last night we watched “Amistad.” It’s a fascinating story about a mutiny aboard a slave ship which then ends up in the United States, circa the 1830s (?). The slaves then become part of a legal battle as different parties try to claim them as property. It was interesting and I enjoyed the legal arguments. But it made me realize something – I don’t like Steven Spielberg’s directing style. It reminds me of that old housebreaking technique for dogs where you hold the pup’s nose down into the urine and repeat “Bad! Bad!” We all understand that slavery was horrific, and there were plenty of well-done scenes in “Amistad” to demonstrate this. But that wasn’t enough. Spielberg included speech after speech. And repetitive scenes. And then there’s Anthony Hopkins. He’s one of my all-time favorite actors, but in Amistad he’s horrible. Blame it on the material and the long speeches. There was a scene in which Hopkins discusses the separation of powers, while tending to a plant in his greenhouse. And the plant had... three branches! PUHLEASE! “Amistad” was an interesting movie, but it could have been a great movie with some serious editing.
• I finally harvested the final vegetables planted last year that were growing in my garden – five white carrots. Yes, carrots come in different colors and aren’t all orange. I’m not a big fan of raw carrots, but I like them as a hot side dish. They’re simple to prepare. Just clean them up, toss them in a foil packet, add some wine, butter and salt, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until they’re soft. Good stuff.
• This sunny weather has me thinking about the garden. This year, it will be expanded. There will be tomatoes and all the ingredients necessary for a full-blown salad – different varieties of lettuce, radishes, carrots, scallions and beets. There will be snap peas and onions.
New this year will be an herb garden. There’s a reason for this. I often cook recipes which call for small quantities of fresh herbs. Then CP goes to the store, buys the herbs and I only use a tiny portion as called for in the recipe. The rest goes to waste. That bothers me. So this year there will be fresh herbs. I will pick them as necessary. Basil, mint, chives and...?
I’m also going to have some room for corn and squash. I don’t know if they will grow well so close to the coast, but we’ll find out.
• This is a lot of useless rambling, and anyone who has read this far should probably consider getting a hobby, but I have one more thing to add. I’ve noticed that the actor below is in a zillion movies. If you turn on the cable TV and bet that he’s on that evening, there’s a good chance you’ll be right. Who is he? David Paymer.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


My only advice for Olympic ice dancers: More jazz hands!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Advice You Didn't Ask For

If I was an old sage, cloaked in white robes and doling out advice while sitting in the lotus position under a Bodhi tree, here are some of the things I would say:

• When purchasing a vehicle, strip yourself of all emotion. Buy something small, fuel efficient and reliable. Don’t buy a new car. Purchase a gently used vehicle, preferably a brand with a proven track record, like a Honda or Toyota.

• If possible, purchase a home of your own. You don’t need a castle, just something modest. Be mindful of current and future developments and avoid high traffic areas and homes located adjacent to rivers, oceans and steep slopes.

• DO NOT purchase white carpets or white furniture if you want them to stay that color.

• With the exception of cherry tomatoes, DO NOT purchase tomatoes from the produce section of a supermarket. They taste terrible about 99 percent of the time. If you need large tomatoes, grow your own or purchase them at a farmer’s market. If you’re cooking with tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes are unavailable, purchase canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are good. Do not be deceived by the metal container.

• When you have numerous items you need to carry from Point A to Point B, considering making two trips instead of one. (This advice came from one of my columnists and not me. But, after she gave this advice, I’ve followed it often.)

• Mow your lawn often. Delaying this task will result in doubling, tripling or quadrupling the work involved in maintaining a respectable lawn. (Note: I wish I would have followed this advice. Today I mowed the lawn. It took three times as long as it should have due to the height of the grass.)

• If you live in a cold place, make sure you wear a warm hat and have shoes to maintain warm, dry feet. If your head is warm and your feet are warm, all the clothing in between is almost unnecessary.

• When following the previous advice, do NOT misinterpret it to mean you can walk around naked. Always wear pants, be they short or long. This is even more important if you work around machinery.

• Women should NOT wear those low-riding hip-hugger pants unless they have unusually trim and shapely lower torsos and hips which resemble those of Super Models. Those pants are designed for a tiny fragment of the population. They look bad on most women, even very attractive ones. Even Paris Hilton looks like a plumber in those pants.

• Men should NEVER wear baseball caps backwards, unless they’re catchers. The brim points forward – not backwards, not sideways. If the brim gets in your way, you can bend it up like Huntz Hall in the Bowery Boys. No exceptions.

• NEVER act like an asshole or be overly fussy with a waiter or waitress BEFORE you get your food. If you act like a jerk (even if your position is justified) before you get your food, there’s a high likelihood that a low-wage earner will be polite but extract his or her revenge by either depositing a large, flem-laden luggie in your food or will rub your bread sticks on their private parts. You may feel big and important, but they have the upper hand, even when you think you got your way.

• This advice is free, and worth it too.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

• A Coast Guard helicopter crashed this afternoon while attempting to rescue some people from a capsized boat this afternoon near Samoa. My heart sunk when I heard this on the police scanner. I have a lot of respect for the Coasties and, exactly a week ago, I watched them rescue someone who got caught in the surf in McKinleyville. They’re strangers to me, but I have some emotional attachment to them – at least more than I do for the average stranger. The good news is that the Coasties are fine. The bad news is that two people who fell out of the boat died. That raises a fundamental question – were they wearing lifejackets?
• We graveled the road today. (Is gravel a verb? If not, I just made it one.) That may not qualify as interesting news, but tell that to those of us who have to drive on Anderson Ave. everday.
• I would kill to skate on the Olympic speed skating rink. If I was Larry Elison, that’s what I would spend my money on.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Aerial photo

Visit the link below for a nice aerial photo of my neighborhood. I live near the freeway.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

This and That

• The technical glitch with my rain gauge has been solved. It's now up and running.

• Now that I can finally measure the rain, Mother Nature is dishing out lots of sunshine. But nobody's complaining.

• The neighbors purchased a fancy greenhouse and are planning to grow lots of tomatoes and peppers. I went inside the greenhouse today at noon and it felt like a sauna. That reminded me that my own garden could use some TLC. There's still some lettuce growing along with some carrots and beets. If I find the time, I may expand the garden this spring and try to grow a larger quantity and selection of crops.

Mad River update

For what it’s worth...

Today I spoke to a woman who lives on the banks of the Mad River close to where I witnessed the incoming wave. (See previous post “Mad River weirdness.”)

I told her about what I had seen and asked if it was unusual, or just a regular incoming tide.

She said that what is unusual is the size of the incoming waves. As the tide rises, it’s common to have waves enter the river and move upstream. But they’re usually small, measuring about six inches or less.

The recent waves are large and, she said, something she hasn’t seen before.

By the way, if you want to view aerial photos of river erosion, visit:


Saturday, February 04, 2006


When making a list of the greatest movies of all time, one must not forget "Airplane." Comedies don't often make these lists, but they should.

Mad River weirdness

Today I went down to the banks of the Mad River to photograph a breach – a place where the river has broken through the sand spit and entered the ocean. The breach is located about half a mile south (upstream) of the river's mouth.

The breach is big enough that some small waves were washing across it and entering the river. This is of concern because there's a growing erosion problem which is threatening homes and property. A direct assault by ocean waves will only make matters worse.

I was taking photos and shooting some low-quality video when something strange happened. The river was flowing steadily north (downstream), as would be expected, when suddenly it reversed direction and a wave carried a torrent of water upriver! The Mad River was flowing upstream, at least at my location in the lower estuary.

It sounds crazy, but I've got the video the prove it. It could have been caused by a variety of factors. First, there are huge river flows due to the non-stop rain. Second, the tide was on the rise. Third, there's a heavy ocean surf.

Most importantly, though, is the possibility that the river dynamics are changing and a new mouth is being formed. If this is true, it's important to note that I was standing upstream from the current mouth and slightly downstream from the recent breach.

This is just a theory, but maybe the river was flowing backwards because it's in a state of flux. There are forces pushing the river out at its old mouth, but other forces pushing the river to exit upstream at the breach. The result is that the river flows are moving back and forth along this particular stretch. Maybe ocean waves slammed into the mouth, and rather than being met with resistance, the river responded by saying "No problem. I'll just backup and release my energy upstream at the breach, where there's much less resistance."

The river mouth has migrated before, so this is not without precedent.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Weather Station Update

At left is a photo from Oregon Scientific of my wireless rain gauge/thermometer. It's all set up. Apparently the monitor is able to communicate with the outside devices even when I place it on my desk, located on the other side of the house. The monitor indicates that a "connection" has been made. That's good news. However, when I placed several drops of water in the rain gauge, the monitor read zero. Then I filled the rain gauge. Still zero. I went outside with the monitor and did the same thing. No luck. So there's still a kink to be worked out.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Weather Station

For Christmas I asked Santa for a wireless rain gauge/thermometer, which I received yesterday. Now I’m in the process of setting it up.

This mini weather station will hopefully serve two purposes. First, it will allow me to put local (very local!) rainfall and temperature data in the newspaper. Second, it will provide me with some nerdy entertainment.

The device contains three elements. There’s an electronic rain bucket with a little antenna on it. The bucket measures rainfall and self empties. It transmits the data to a wireless monitor located inside the house. The monitor stores nine days worth of information. There’s also an outdoor temperature gauge which also transmits to the indoor monitor.

The first step was finding the right location for the bucket and temperature sensor, which had to be within line-of-sight of a window. I live in a breadbox, so my options are limited.

I found a nice spot in the backyard within eyesight of the kitchen window. The inside monitor will be located on a tiny shelf I’ll build a couple feet above the kitchen sink and near the window.

Today’s project involved installing a 4” x 4” fence post. I borrowed my neighbor’s manual fence post digger, which is the only good way to go when digging such a hole. I hate digging with a passion, but with a fence post digger, it’s a pleasure. After three leisurely scoops, I had a nice, round 8”-inch deep hole. The soil I pulled up was normal – slightly damp, but not soggy. It was exactly what you’d expect from a yard in the winter.

But a few inches later I found something surprising. The ground water level was only about 12” down! I kid you not. That means that if I needed to dig a well right now, I’d only need to go down a mere foot before a hit water. The total depth of the hole I dug was about four feet, which took about 7 minutes. It was like ladling clam chowder.

I live in an area that is generally well drained. But with the non-stop rainfall, the water levels are ridiculously high. I’m glad I don’t have too many tall trees around the house. How could they stay up when they’re virtually floating in water? Go figure.

I put the 10-ft. fence post in and used a large sledge hammer to pound gravel into the surrounding hole. Then I built a small platform on which to place the bucket and a small box for the weather sensor and screwed it on top of the post. By the time I finished, it was dark.

Installation of the electronic gizmos may take place tomorrow unless the entire house floats away.

Once it’s up and running, I plan to take measurements and compare them to National Weather Service data for at least a couple weeks. I want to make sure that, at the very least, I’m in the ballpark before publishing this data. I’ll make sure there’s a disclaimer so readers know that this information is coming from me and not some brainiac NASA scientist. I also plan on using some low-tech thermometers and information from other amateur weather watchers to double check my measurements.

Stay tuned.

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