Sunday, July 31, 2016


Stollen ... is a German bread made with candied or dried fruit, traditionally around Christmas-time.  My mom often made Stollen for the Christmas season, and I could never get enough of the stuff.  I asked her once why she made a traditional German bread, and she said “In my Scotch family, this was our tradition!  The Germans must have stolen it from us!”  My mother would never have stooped to a pun, so I'm sure that one was unintentional.  The name “stollen” is itself German, so I'm not sure how my mom could believe it was actually of Scotch origin :)  In any case, here's her recipe for her delicious stollen:

1/4 c warm water
2 pkg yeast
pinch ground ginger
1 3/4 c milk
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1 c butter
1 box raisins
1 c walnuts chopped
grated rind 1 lemon
candied orange rind
candied lemon rind
candied pineapple
candied cherries chopped
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 t lemon zest
about 7 - 8 c flour

Mix yeast with warm water and tiny amount ginger and tiny amount sugar let stand until dissolved.

Scald milk and pour over butter into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt and cool until just warm. Mix in dissolved yeast, add eggs and beat well. Add other ingredients and enough flour (at slow speed on mixer) to make a medium firm dough.

Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down and let rise again. Form into 3 long loaves - press rolling pin length wise and fold over narrow side to middle, making a kind of pocket.

Set on greased cookie sheets. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Bake at 350% oven for 45 min to 1 hour. Remove and put on racks to cool. While still warm, put lemon juice and confectioner sugar icing on top and garnish with whole candied cherries.

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday morning was busy as heck with various and sundry things. 

A shipping company truck arrived to pick up the dinged desktop originally intended for Debbie's office.  It's headed back to North Carolina to be planed off, refinished, and shipped back.  It will ship along with Debbie's new, shorter desk – and I'll reassemble the repaired desktop with the rest of it's parts, and install it in my office. 

Abby S. came over for a computer programming lesson.  She's running into the first stuff that comes hard for her: the details of loops.  I've got her writing a function to determine whether a number is a prime, and then optimizing it.  We'll extend that over the next couple of weeks to list all the primes between 1 and n, and then to do it recursively.  It will be interesting to see how her young brain absorbs recursion :)

In the afternoon Debbie and I decided to go out for dinner.  We went to the Black Pearl in North Logan.  I'd picked up takeout food there before, but we'd never been in to eat a sit down meal.  We loved the takeout food, and yet we were surprised by how good the food there was.  They have an avocado egg roll that sounded good, so we ordered one as an experiment – it was awesomely good.  I had a California roll and sweet-and-sour pork, both excellent.  I particularly appreciated the fact that the sweet-and-sour sauce was served on the side (without my asking!), which allowed me to use it sparingly (my preference).  Debbie got Singapore rice noodles with shrimp, and she ate an impressive amount of it – so it must have been good :)  We'll be adding this place to our list of good places to eat in the area, for sure!

This morning Debbie and I took our usual wildlife drive, up Blacksmith Fork Canyon and partway to Ant Flats, turning around at Miller's Ranch.  We left this time well before sunrise; we didn't see any direct sun until nearly our turnaround point.  We saw plenty of wildlife, but the highlight was spotting three moose (at right) just east of the dammed pond, about 1/3 of the way toward Hardware Ranch from Hyrum.  The moose appeared to be a family group: an older bull, a cow, and a young bull.  We saw several deer, including a doe with twin fawns (just barely still spotted).  Debbie spotted a rabbit, to our memory only the second one we've ever seen in Cache Valley.  Near Miller's Ranch we saw lots of birds.  As we drove up, there were approximately 12 bazillion swallows perched in bushes and on fence strands right near the road.  When the sun finally popped up, they joyously took off, wheeling and swooping for bugs.  In the distance to our west, we spotted a pair of Sandhill Cranes, presumably the same pair we've been seeing nearly every time we come out here.  This time, though, their chick was nowhere in sight.  We're afraid something may have killed it.  Debbie spotted a blue heron hunting alongside a holding pond, and in the same pond I spotted a large duck.  A little while later, Debbie spotted six ducklings huddled between two uprights on a dock in that pond.  Nice!  We caught a glimpse of a kingfisher, but no cedar waxwings or dippers today...

Saturday, July 30, 2016

For the past couple of days...

For the past couple of days ... the air quality in Cache Valley has been terrible.  There's also been a smoky smell in the air.  We're too far from the big California fires for them to be the source, but this morning I read that the source of our bad air was wildfires in Idaho, and possibly some other nearby states.

The current fire map (hi res) shows several candidates, one NE of Boise and two in the NW corner of Wyoming...

Friday, July 29, 2016

If you know me at all...

If you know me at all ... you've probably heard me say something like “I’m not religious at all.”  I don't believe in the existence of a god (or gods), but I don't like to describe myself as an atheist – there's way too much baggage that comes along with that term, especially the Dawkins-style belligerence, arrogance, and evangelism.  This fellow sounds a lot like me, but he explains it mo' better...

Trimming and cooking...

Trimming and cooking...  Irreproducible scientific study results are becoming more and more of a problem, especially when combined with a largely credulous population supplying the funds for these studies (through their taxes)...

Morning conjunction...

Morning conjunction...  I was up before dawn this morning, and outside with the dogs.  The moon was fairly high in the sky to the southeast, and very close to it (0.3° according to an astronomical events page) was a bright star: Aldebaran. It's startling to see the two bright objects in such close proximity.

The dogs didn't notice :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  There's some progress on our construction to report.  The excavated soil has been removed from around our new foundations, and some good topsoil has been brought in to fill in some low spots.  This morning, a truck drove in and dropped off the lumber for the sub-floors, I think enough for both the sun room and the mud room.  Some photos below.

The joists are interesting for how they're made (see ends in the first photo below).  In the bad old days, we'd have used solid fir 2x10s or maybe 2x12s (for a long enough span).  Not any more.  The joist of choice these days is 100% engineered wood.  The web (the long vertically-oriented bit of each joist in the first photo) is OSB (Oriented Strand Board) with the chips deliberately randomly oriented.  This provides a nearly ideal web, with equal strength in either tension or compression in all directions.  A solid board, with its grain oriented along the length of the board, must be thicker to achieve the same strength.  The flanges are made of 10-ply plywood, roughly an inch and a quarter thick.  These plies are all oriented linearly, and they are all clear (free of knots).  Taken together, they have the strength of a piece of perfectly clear solid wood, even though they're much longer than one would normally be able to buy clear wood.  They're perfectly straight, and not prone to warping.  They're also much cheaper than clear wood, as they can be made from short sections butt-jointed together (with only one layer jointed at any particular location).  It's really quite ingenious how these engineered wood joists simultaneously improve quality and strength while lowering cost.

Healthcare insurance, part 75,992...

Healthcare insurance, part 75,992...  Just finished processing a small pile of EOBs (explanations of benefits), medical bills, and statements, and I feel the need to vent.

The document tally at the moment for Debbie's injury in May stands at 57.  All of these arrived in the mail; not one provider can do it electronically.  Once again I found the three things (EOBs, bills, and invoices) utterly impossible to reconcile with each other.  That means, of course, that I have no idea which ones are right.  I have absolutely no way of telling what I should be paying.  Everyone I've asked at the hospital commiserates – but can't really help either.

On the two occasions when I thought there might actually be an error (these were both with previous incidents, not Debbie's most recent injury), upon digging into them with the help of the hospital business staff we discovered items that weren't disclosed on any of the documents I received.  No matter how skilled I was at dissecting EOBs, bills, and statements, I'd never have been able to figure those out on my own.  What a mess!  It's as though you go to the grocery store and nothing is marked with a price, plus the store just added on random charges that they didn't bother telling you about – but expected you to pay nonetheless.

This situation isn't entirely Obamacare's fault, though the reporting requirements it added certainly contributed.  This all started, I think, with the standardization of insurance billing process – something that sounds good in theory, but in the end created an entire industry of “coding” (see ICD-10 codes), a nightmare mess of separate billing, and absolutely zero ability for the consumer (the patient) to select a provider based, even in part, on price.  The separate billing is like something out of a bad Hollywood script – except it's reality!  The last time Debbie visited her surgeon for a post-surgery followup, we received the following bills (and an allegedly matching EOB for each): the surgeon, the surgeon's office, the X-ray technician, the radiologist, the lab (for blood work), and a charge I have yet to figure out.  That's twelve bills and EOBs, for a 30 minute followup visit.  I have to believe there was more effort expended on the billing than on the actual visit!

What really rankles at the moment is this: because of Obamacare, I have no way to opt out of this craziness.  We must participate, or be penalized (and it's  a big damned penalty, too!).  That doesn't feel like America to me.  The government is dictating how we get our healthcare, and if I don't like it (and I don't!), I can't do anything about it.  That's a system that belongs in some place like China or North Korea, not here...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A young friend of ours...

A young friend of ours ... just got back from a trip with his wife that included a swing through Croatia (specifically, Zagreb and Zadar).  As we talked about it, I discovered that he had no idea that there had been a recent war in the area, and that not far from the cities he visited, NATO (primarily American) forces bombed Serb forces.  He and his wife found the people there friendly and welcoming, which I was very glad to hear.

But it got me to pondering...

I wonder if my perception is accurate – that on average, younger Americans today have much less historical context than I did at their age.  It surely seems that way to me, but I have little way to gauge that.  My friend's joking excuse is that he wasn't really sentient at the time, which is really a way of saying that he never saw it on the news, so for him it didn't actually happen.  That is so different than my own historical context, which was acquired nearly entirely by reading. 

Makes me wonder if it's just that I'm weird (something that I'm well aware of :), or has something in our culture changed – to make it even harder for us to learn from history.  After all, if you never even heard about events like the Bosnian War, how can you learn from them?

And then inevitably my pondering leads down a path that leads to me despairing about low information American voters...

I'm so glad we escaped California...

I'm so glad we escaped California ... before this blew up!  I have to admit, though, that part of me is very curious what magic the progressives will attempt to invoke to make this problem go away ... and I'm a bit afraid that they'll succeed in making it a national problem, thereby opening up the opportunity to pick my pocket to help pay for their fecklessness...

A formula for instant tears...

A formula for instant tears...  For me, at least.  Chris Muir's dad died yesterday, and he posted this strip:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This just may be...

This just may be ... the single worst set of assembly instructions I've ever encountered.  For a couple of hours this morning, I assembled a 48" diameter round table that we recently purchased to go on the new deck we're building.  This one-page instructions were the only help packed in the box.  There were 10 metal castings (only 4 of which are on the diagram), 16 bolts, 16 flat washers, 16 lock washers, and 16 nuts – and this one sheet.

It wasn't all that hard to figure out where each part went, but the fact that they needed to be assembled in a particular order wasn't so obvious.  I made several false starts before I finally figured it out.  I've been spoiled these last few years with “kits” that were easy to assemble and came with assembly excellent instructions.  This kit was neither.  I had to modify several of the parts before they'd assemble correctly: one needed to be slightly bent, and two needed holes drilled out slightly before the bolts would fit in them.

On the other hand, the finished table is very nice.  The castings are all of solid aluminum, strong and relatively lightweight.  The entire thing is beautifully finished.  I'm happy with the end result, but not so thrilled with how I got there :)

Sunrise in Paradise...

Sunrise in Paradise...  It was beautiful this morning...

Puppy update...

Puppy update...  A couple of milestones in the past few days.

First, while Mako and Cabo still largely behave like puppies, they look like little dogs.  So we're changing their category to "doglet".

Second, Cabo - that fierce little doglet - tracked, attacked, killed, and tried to eat her first vole.  We got it away from her before she swallowed it, and fulsomely rewarded her.  Good doglet!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Yesterday morning Debbie and I made an early morning trip out to Hardware Ranch, looking for wildlife.  In order to leave early, I went out before sunrise, when it was just light enough to see (and I have great night vision), to move hand lines (irrigation pipes).  These three strings of hand lines belong to my friend and neighbor Tim D., who asked me to move them for him while he was on a trip to Montana with his son.  The three strings have a total of 18 pipes in them, mostly 40' long with a few shorter ones.  In all three strings, the job was the same: one at a time unhook and pick up the pipes, move them 30' to the next location, put them down and hook them up.  There are always a bunch of small challenges – pipes that are jammed such that they're hard to unhook, pipes that are bent and hard to hook up, getting the pipes in exactly the right place, and so on.  There's nothing really hard about the job, either physically or mentally, but still it requires one's full attention – you can't do that work well while daydreaming about something else.  You can, however, take a few moments here and there to look around you at the beautiful early morning scenery, which I did.  I particularly love the play of the early morning light on the mountaintops to our west, which occurs long before the sun rises from behind the mountains to light the valley floor.

After I finished moving the hand lines, around 7 am, Debbie and I took off.  It was a lovely morning, clear and crisp, and we were nearly the only ones on the road.  That meant we could easily dawdle wherever we felt like dawdling, to gawk at whatever was gawkable.  We made generous use of this opportunity :)

We saw several deer, but mainly we saw birds.  Lots of birds!  The ones I recall include a male Bullock's Oriole feeding a juvenile, lots of Cedar Waxwings (especially up at Hardware Ranch itself), four juvenile Robins taking a bath in the stream, a single Lazuli Bunting (photo at right, not mine), a juvenile swallow sitting on a fence post just a few feet from us, a Sandhill Crane pair with a juvenile, and a warbler that was a bright yellow-green.  That's quite a lot of sightings for one little trip where we never even left the car!

Yesterday was Pioneer Day, a Utah state holiday, though today is when it's generally observed.  The Boy Scouts came early this morning to plant a flag by our driveway, and all the local roads are now festooned with flags just like it in nearly every driveway.  The Boy Scouts charge a nominal fee for this service, but if you multiply that by how many households participate, you'll see that they're raising a substantial fund.  This patriotic spirit is so different than what we saw in San Diego, and I'm sure it's the same in every big city in the land.  You'd feel odd there if you were to put up a flag on the patriotic holidays.  It's basically the complete opposite here, where you'd feel odd if you didn't.

Today the Federal Express man delivered a big box with a pair of chairs destined for our sun room.  Debbie's been busy collecting furnishings while we wait for the room to be built :)   They're made of cast aluminum, so they're strong and lightweight (and also weatherproof, though that doesn't really matter in the sun room).  Naturally they were a kit :)  I spent an hour or so barking my knuckles while wielding a pair of open end wrenches to bolt it all together.  The chairs look nicely made, and strong.  The swivel and rocker mechanisms work great.  The seats are nice and wide, and the cushions are comfortable.  About my only complaint is that the chairs are an inch or so lower to the ground than I'd prefer (and I have short, stubby little legs!).  Right now the chairs are on our second floor, awaiting completion of their new home...

BLTs, again...

BLTs, again...  Those BLTs we had the other day were so good that we decided on a repeat performance.  Everything was the same except for how I cooked the bacon – I tried a technique I'd heard about: baking the bacon in the oven.  Bottom line: I don't think we'll ever cook bacon any other way again!  I used a aluminum cookie sheet, lined it with aluminum foil, and baked the bacon in a 400° oven.  The bacon was thick-cut, and I cooked it for 14 minutes until my eyeballs said it was done.  All the strips were identically cooked, which was already much better than stove-top.  I didn't have to turn over the bacon, and the cleanup was a breeze.  No more stove-top bacon for us!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A pleasant surprise...

A pleasant surprise...  A few days ago I ordered an automatic door closer for my office door.  The main goal was to make sure the door always remained shut on the air conditioned space (the rest of the shed's second floor is a veritable blast furnace in the summer).  A secondary goal was to ensure that the door never slammed shut too hard, as the acoustic panels mounted to my ceiling with magnets can be jostled loose if the building shakes too much.

So I chose a well-reviewed model (photo at right) and looked over the reviews.  A surprising number of them mentioned challenges in installing the unit – nothing that reflected on the quality of the unit itself, just that it was tricky and time-consuming (one to two hours).  I really didn't see any reason that it would be, but I steeled myself for the challenge UPS was going to deliver.

I received it yesterday, and installed it this afternoon.  The instructions were crystal clear.  It comes with a paper template that was easy to use, and was spot on.  I drilled six pilot holes, spun in six screws, mounted the arm, adjusted it, and voila! ... I had a door closer.  Total elapsed time: 12 minutes.  Challenge level (1-10 scale): 1.5.  Which leads to a ponder: who the heck are those people who wrote the reviews that had me a bit concerned about how hard this would be? 

One lesson here: when I read in Amazon reviews that installation or assembly was “challenging”, I'm going to be a bit more skeptical of that than I have been :)

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, the extra dirt didn't all get cleaned up, as I suspected :)  To be fair, though, most of it is cleaned up – and I'm promised final cleanup on Monday.

I've been trying for nearly a year now to get a contractor (who shall remain unnamed) to install sprinklers in our yard.  We're also potentially interested in “fixing” our lawn, which in the areas immediately around the house is quite a mess.  There are lots of holes, it's far from flat, and in some places there are more weeds than grass – and where there's more grass, most if it is fast-growing native grass that looks more like a hay field than a lawn.  This unnamed contractor keeps promising to get going on our project, but at this point I've given up.  So I got a reference to another contractor, and he will be here on Monday to scope out the job.  If that doesn't scare him away, maybe we'll have some action this year (which is my goal).

Someday we'll probably have a straightforward project around our place, but ... the sprinkler system we need is not that project.  One complication is that a nice, paved driveway separates our lawn into two sections, and we don't want to dig up the driveway.  We have a solution for that, though: the 8" diameter Paradise water feed goes under the driveway now, and we will no longer need it after this project is finished – so we can use that as a tunnel to get the sprinkler water and wires through.  Another complication is our need to deal with highly variable pressure from the Paradise water feed.  The flow rate is generally fine, but the pressure often dips too low to reliably run sprinklers.  The new contractor instantly recommended a holding tank and pump solution: a standard and reliable way to handle the problem.  Finally, because Paradise water is full of all sorts of junk including weed seeds, we need a filter system to keep all that off the lawn.  The new contractor has a favorite solution for this, using water filters from an Israeli firm.  They're easy to clean, he tells me, which is music to my ears.  So I have hope :)

Yesterday I made lunch for Debbie and I: a BLT for her and a turkey sandwich for my own.  She pronounced the BLT “best BLT evah!”, so today she sent me out to buy the necessary ingredients for a repeat performance.  My turkey sandwich, using turkey ends from Lower's, was outstanding.  Today we're going to make an outing to the Maddox drive-in, as a treat for both of us.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  The construction effort is progressing, albeit more slowly than we would like.  The current work involves removing about 10 cubic yards of soil that was dug out for the foundations of our mud room and our sun room.  They're planning to be done with that today, but I suspect they will not.  Jim J. (our contractor) came over today to talk doors: he had some details from the factory on just what doors we could possibly have made, and this required a bit of compromise (nothing we really object to) for two of our doors.  Naturally those were the two we asked for really odd things on :)  Jim also told me to expect some lumber to show up soon, as they're just about ready to build the floors.

Yesterday evening the low sun angle made a pretty scene in the trees next to our shed.  My brother Scott tells me they're some kind of cherry, with this bright red foliage.  Some photos:

This morning, bright and early, we drove up to the Logan Regional hospital for Debbie to take her first hydrotherapy session.  The pool there is very much like the one shown at right.  The floor of the pool is a treadmill, and the floor can be arbitrarily raised (right up to even with the pool's edges) or lowered (to 7' deep).  The walls of the pool are festooned with cameras which can be selected for viewing on a big monitor.  This lets both the patient and the therapist see exactly what's happening.  Getting Debbie into the pool could hardly be any easier: the therapist raised the floor all the way up, we wheeled her onto the (now dry) pool floor, she stood up (holding onto those rails) and the therapist lowered her down into the water.  By adjusting her depth, he could precisely control how much weight she was actually putting on her surgical leg – and she got to practice walking while only putting a small fraction of her total weight onto that leg.  The session went well, especially in that she increased her range of motion by 5°!  A few more sessions like that and she'll have full range of motion back!

It's really hard to beat...

It's really hard to beat ... meeting up with old friends, which is what we did for part of yesterday.  Despite our sketchy appearance, the folks at Jack's Wood Fired Pizza let us in for lunch (trade was slow, admittedly).  For those of who don't know us, that's Debbie and I in the lower row.  Left-to-right in the upper row is Doug W. (whom I've known for over 25 years – he and I worked together at Stac Electronics), his sister Marilyn (who lives fairly close to us, in Ogden), and Doug's wife Dee.  As always, their visit was too short for us – but it was really nice to see them again.  Doug gets up here to northern Utah a couple times a year, mainly for church-related activities, and Dee often comes with him for activities of her own.  We have some hope of seeing them once in a while :)

Yesterday was also a big day for Debbie: this was her first time out to a restaurant since her injury in late May.  Jack's was a great selection for that outing, with their delicious soups and pizzas, and this time complete with great company!

If you're wondering who took the photo, it was our waiter.  He told me that he took two photos, in case one didn't turn out.  In fact he took four, all just a fraction of a second apart.  I suspect he's not an iPhone expert :)

Quote of the day...

Quote of the day...  From Ace:
People are so horrifically stupid that I cannot wait until the aliens come and kill us all. I'll actually be on their side. When they show up, I'm going to sneak towards their space armada and offer my services as a behind-the-lines saboteur and quisling.
I know exactly how he feels...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I don't need no steenking recipes!

I don't need no steenking recipes!  Quite a few years ago I started asking my mom for recipes for the dishes I liked so much.  Many – perhaps most – of the recipes I asked for elicited the same answer: “I don’t have a recipe for that!”  For example, I love the doughy dinner rolls she made, and that's what she said when I asked for that recipe.

Finally, after many entreaties, she finally agreed to write down a recipe for those dinner rolls.  This was in the mid-'80s.  When I got the recipe, it was a list of ingredients – without amounts – and some very vague directions like “bake at medium until done”.  I didn't even bother trying with that recipe :)

But the next time she came out to California to visit us, I figured I had a foolproof scheme: I'd ask her to make the rolls while I watched and recorded what she did.  How could that fail?

It did, though, and fairly spectacularly.  The first problem was that she didn't measure anything, literally – she took out a mixing bowl and threw in flour and the other ingredients until it “looked right”.  I had no clue how much of anything she'd put in.  Then while she was mixing and kneading, she added more random quantities.  Even that wasn't the end, though: when she put it in the oven, she checked it periodically and changed the temperature while it was baking.  Again, those adjustments were based on how it looked.  At that point, I simply gave up.

Years later, she started writing down some actual recipes and passing them along, including those dinner rolls.  I tried making some of those recipes, with results that were dubious at best.  I like to think of myself as a reasonably competent cook, but there's no way I could make something like dinner rolls without a recipe – and no way I could tell by how the dough looked that it needed, say, a touch more salt.

In the '90s, on another of her visits to us, I talked with mom about that seat-of-the-pants cooking style.  She told me that she was taught to cook that way.  She had recipes, but considered them just guidelines and starting points – that “obviously” you'd have to adjust them on the fly to make them work right.  I think she pitied me for my inability to understand directions like “until it looks right” :)

I now have a pile of recipes from her.  But I have little hope of ever recreating the dishes as she made them...

Jupiter, from “below”...

Jupiter, from “below” ... where “below” means looking straight at Jupiter's south pole.  It's an old photo, made when Cassini passed by Jupiter on it's way to Saturn in 2008.  Old, but beautiful!

Debbie update...

Debbie update...  She's now into her 7th week of recovery, and on her 6 week followup the surgeon declared her bone growth “as expected”.  That means, most likely, that the combination of vitamin D3 and calcium supplements she's taking are fixing the symptom of whatever the underlying cause of her osteoporosis is.

Yesterday she had a doctor's appointment (with our GP) to review the latest (third) round of blood test results.  It was all good.  To review, her initial blood tests (with blood drawn while she was still in the hospital) came back with abnormalities in vitamin D, parathyroid activity, liver function, and a couple of other less important (or relevant) issues.  The second round, three weeks ago, came back with everything good except some liver function concerns.  This latest round, with blood drawn this past Friday, came back completely normal.

In addition, the doctor told us that all indications are that the really bad possibilities are not present.  Primarily these are multiple myeloma, osteomalacia, and Paget disease.  In addition, a relatively easily remedied cause is also not present: hyperparathyroidism.  These all have been ruled out by a combination of X-rays and blood work.  She (our GP) is going to have a radiologist review the X-rays to double-check, and they drew more blood yesterday for some more sensitive tests to double-check on the negative results here.  We should know all these results by Friday, but we're expecting them to verify the initial findings.

That means the endocrinologist will be the key to finding out what the underlying cause of her osteoporosis is.  There are many potential causes, some reversible, others not.  In all cases, some combination of calcium supplements, vitamin D3 supplements, exercise, and drugs can improve her bone density.  Exactly how much improvement is uncertain at this point – to some extent it depends on the underlying cause, and to a large extent it depends on her diligence in following the regimen prescribed.  Those calcium supplements are no fun to take, and of course the exercise will be a lot of work.  Until her bone density improves, the doctor has forbidden any high-impact activity (including running), and any activity that carries with it a risk of falling.

You may be wondering, as we have been, why her osteoporosis wasn't detected earlier.  There are two fundamental possibilities here.  The first possibility is that its onset was so fast that it occurred since her most recent injury.  The second is that all of the surgeons (three surgeons on multiple occasions each) she's seen in the past three and a half years just plain missed it, while the current surgeon picked up on it from the initial X-rays.  Debbie last had a bone density test done in 2012, and that came back well into the normal range.  The test she had done a couple weeks ago came back with “moderately severe” osteoporosis.  Some of the underlying causes can be fast acting, so it's possible that no diagnosis was missed anywhere – but it seems more likely to us that one or more of the surgeons missed the call.  If that's the case, Debbie's latest injury might have been avoided...

In addition, yesterday Debbie had a physical therapy evaluation appointment.  She had two main goals for that appointment: getting advice on improving her range of motion in both knees, and getting cleared for hydrotherapy.  I had an additional goal: to get her some element of independence.  Up until yesterday she has been completely dependent on me for even the most basic things (like getting into or out of bed).  I know this has been frustrating for her, and it's also very different than the recovery for her past injuries, where she was fairly independent quite quickly.

The physical therapist did an outstanding job on all of our goals, and most especially on the one of achieving some independence.  When we got home, Debbie was immediately able to do several things she formerly needed my help on completely on her own.  I stood by to make sure she was safe, and I'll continue to do that until she's confident – but I have no doubt that in a day or two she'll be doing it all on her own easily.  Hooray!

Monday, July 18, 2016

It's a real mystery for me...

It's a real mystery for me...  First, a little background.

NASA has been in operation for almost 60 years (charitably not counting it's predecessor organizations).  It's an 18,000 employee lumbering, procedures-bound, sclerotic behemoth of an organization that has spent roughly $978 billion of taxpayer money.  Its spending is highly politicized.  The vast majority of that money was (in my view) completely wasted on pointless manned missions, or outright wasted on canceled or failed projects (often politically motivated).  Only a tiny fraction was spent on spectacularly successful robotic explorations.  The rate of progress since the race to the moon would compare unfavorably to molasses running uphill in February, in Nome, Alaska.

Compare that with the exploits of SpaceX.  Yesterday they launched 25 tons of supplies into low Earth orbit, then landed (for the fifth time!) the first stage – which now may be reused, dramatically lowering the cost of launch.  That reusable booster uses precisely the same engineering concepts that NASA has been telling Congress were impossible since 1970.  SpaceX has spent just over $2 billion, all privately raised or revenues from contracts, in its entire 14-year history.  It has less than 5,000 employees, and is a private for-profit company.

Here's the mystery to me: how can anyone, of any political persuasion, look at the difference in the performance of these two organizations, and argue that NASA should exist?  I try to imagine what might have been accomplished with NASA's $978 billion dollars if it has been used instead to fund $2B contracts from 500 companies to do hard, practical things like SpaceX is doing – instead of whatever the hell stupid thing that NASA is doing with our tax dollars now.  I can't get past a dozen or so...

Something scary ... and from an unexpected direction, too...

Something scary ... and from an unexpected direction, too...  An excerpt:
This week, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners won a two-thirds majority in the legislature’s upper house, to go along with their two-thirds majority in the lower house. A two-thirds majority is required in each house to begin the process of amending Japan’s constitution. And amending the constitution is one of the central planks in the LDP’s platform. 
The constitution was imposed on Japan by the United States after the Second World War; it has never been amended. Why should it be amended now? As Bloomberg reports, the LDP has pointed out that “several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed.” 
What has the LDP got against the “Western European theory of natural human rights”? you might ask. Well, dozens of LDP legislators and ministers — including Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe — are members of a radical nationalist organization called Nippon Kaigi, which believes (according to one of its members, Hakubun Shimomura, who until recently was Japan’s education minister) that Japan should abandon a “masochistic view of history” wherein it accepts that it committed crimes during the Second World War. In fact, in Nippon Kaigi’s view, Japan was the wronged party in the war.
A simple majority vote would be all that's required to pass the amendment (more details in the whole article).  I have no read on the Japanese citizenry's mood, so I have to wonder if it might pass.  If it does, what's next?  Hard to say, and the article doesn't say much about it either.  The major tensions in the region at the moment are with China and North Korea, so one naturally worries about that first.

Read the whole thing...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How could they?

How could they?  Our friends and neighbors Tim and Jeannie D. have two new kittens, one male and one female.  They named them Donald and Hillary.

Should we turn them in for cruelty to animals?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How do you make a nerd smile?

How do you make a nerd smile?  You play something on the floppotron, of course!

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  This morning I finished setting up our fuel tanks (shown at right), one for diesel and the other for gasoline.  These are 500 gallon tanks on 8' high stands that I bought used from a local company that bought a bunch of them from North Dakota fracking sites.  They're in great shape, and the price was certainly right: the two of them with stands cost about half what a single new tank would cost, without a stand.

The fellows who delivered the tanks set up the first one (on the right in the photo), but the second one they didn't.  I had to put together the stand (easy, just bolts), and then put the tank on top of it.  That second part took a little ingenuity to do by myself :)  I used the fork on my tractor to put the tank on the ground.  I rolled it so the bottom was exactly perpendicular on the right, then laid the stand down sideways on the ground.  I used ropes to lash the tank to the stand, so I effectively had one unit – and then I hoisted that single unit up with my tractor's fork.  None of that required much muscle.  Tractors are handy!

The tanks are only the beginning of a fueling system, though :)  From each tank, there's (in order) a shut-off valve, a water/sediment filter, 30' or so of underground pipe, an 8' high riser, a pair of elbows and nipples to get the pipe headed down (like an upside-down "U"), a swivel, a safety breakaway, 12' of hose, and an automatic shutoff nozzle.  The underground pipe has to be black iron pipe coated with plastic, and joints have to be waterproofed (this is to stave off corrosion).  All those other parts are on order and should be here next week, and I have a contractor lined up to do the black iron pipe work (that needs cutting and threading that I lack the tools for).

At the end of all this, roughly a month from now, we should have diesel (untaxed, because it's just for my tractor!) and regular unleaded gasoline on tap.  The gasoline, purchased a few hundred gallons at a time, will save us about 15% on fuel prices.  The diesel is more like 30% cheaper because we won't pay highway taxes on it.  Then, of course, there's the convenience – hard to beat having fuel alongside your driveway!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, yesterday certainly didn't turn out as I expected!  Just a few minutes after I started working on the paperwork I've been trying to get done for days now, Jim J. (my contractor) showed up with the local sales rep for the door company he favors (Therma-Tru).  This construction project requires four new doors for our house, two entry and two interior (we thought).  It turns out that for three of the four doors, we need unusual configurations that will require custom construction.

I never thought too much about doors before this project, but I sure have learned a lot recently!  The only “normal” door we're putting in is the new entry door into the mud room we're building.  That's going to be a door straight out of the catalog, with sidelights and a “transom” (an arched glass panel above the door).  The sales rep looked very relieved when we got to this door, as we weren't asking for anything odd :)

The new door between the mud room and our existing entryway you might think would be a normal door.  It's interior, and there will be tiled floor on both sides of it.  All we'd need is a pre-hung door and a T-strip as a transition between the two kinds of tile, right?  Of course not!  Why?  Because we picked a door with glass in it – and that door is only available in an entry door model.  Pre-hung entry doors have jambs along the bottom – not what you want in an interior door at all!  After considerable discussion of the options, the sales rep figured out a way to do what we want.  We'll end up with a pre-hung entry door – but the jamb will be left off altogether (which is fine!), there will be no kerf for weather-stripping, and the bottom of the door will have a sweep.  Great!  But that took considerable discussion to arrange.

Between our kitchen and the new deck we wanted a double French door that opens out onto the deck, and vented side-lights that opened in.  This is an entry door, but there will be a roof over the deck so the door isn't really exposed to the elements at all.  The deck will be exactly the same height as our kitchen floor, so we really didn't want a jamb there – we want a transition between tile and deck that's (ideally) level with them both.  Furthermore, the standard build for such a door has the doors opening in the same direction as the side-lights – whereas we want them opening in opposite directions.  Once again, that took a bunch of discussion between the sales rep, Jim, and myself to get it all right.  But we did!  We're going to end up with exactly what we want there.

The last door we need is to go between our bedroom and the new sun room.  This is, technically, and interior door (the sun room's interior is completely weatherproof).  However, once again we wanted features that's only available on entry doors: internal blinds inside the double-pane windows, and vented side-lights.  The sun room's floor will be slightly below the level of the bedroom floor, so an entry door jamb is just fine there.  We made the sales rep happy when we told him that we wanted both the vents and the door to open in.  But ... we didn't have exact dimensions for the rough door opening – but it appeared to be non-standard and small.  Jim ripped off some of the siding next to the door so he could see and measure it – and he discovered that the rough opening is 60" wide.  That's about 4" less than what you'd expect for a standard door size – and it means we're likely going to end up with a 32" door (instead of the 36" we'd prefer), and 10" side-lights.  It's even possible that we'll have to go with a 30" door.  The sales rep is checking with the factory to see what they can fit in that hole.

When the Therma-Tru sales rep left, the concrete crew was getting ready for the two loads of concrete to arrive.  In a few minutes the trucks showed up, and things got really busy! The long chutes on the concrete trucks could reach everywhere they needed to place concrete for the mud room and the sun room foundations, so those two went very quickly.  The deck foundation and air conditioner compressor pad in the back yard were another story, though.  There's no way for a concrete truck to get back there, and the small amount of concrete needed (around a cubic yard) made a concrete pump impractical.  Jim's initial thought was to wheelbarrow the concrete back, loading up the wheelbarrow from the concrete truck on our driveway.  Then he had a better idea: use the big loader they used for all the digging.  It's bucket holds about a half yard of concrete, so they'd only need a couple of loads.  That worked great, with a couple of young, strong lads shoveling the concrete out of the bucket.

In the last three photos below you can see the result, after they stripped the forms off this morning.  We has foundations!  The concrete needs to cure for a few days, then the crew will be backfilling, leveling, etc.  Our yard should look a bit less like a war zone once that's done :)

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Weeding...  If you've ever pulled weeds in a planting or garden, I'll bet your feelings about it are similar to mine: it's hard work, hot in the summer (when there are the most weeds!), and satisfying only in the sense of having it over with.

That was not my mom's feeling about weeding.  She loved it!  Weeding wasn't a chore for her at all.  Rather, it was an activity she thought of as a treat – on many days, the absolute highlight of her day.  Further, she took enormous satisfaction in completely clearing the weeds from a planting.

I have many memories of her bent over, executing weeds with glee.  This, despite the fact that bending over was always hard and painful for her (as the cartilage of one of her hip joints was almost completely gone).  One memory in particular: her raucous whoop of victory as she pulled the last weed out of a bed of scratchy junipers for sale in our nursery while I was watering an adjacent bed.  Julius, our handyman on the nursery, came running to find out what was wrong – and left shaking his head at the crazy woman who found joy and fulfillment in weeding...

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, I didn't get done with my bookkeeping yesterday – stuff happened!  Mainly the concrete guys.  They didn't finish putting up the forms, but we're expecting them today to finish the job.  Concrete should be poured later in the day.  We hope...

I also got surprised by a large John Deere mower starting to work in the field north of our house (part mine, part belonging to Tim D.).  The alfalfa was beautiful in that field, but six inches or so short of when it would ordinarily be mowed.  I texted Tim to make sure it wasn't an error – but it wasn't.  He's going to be gone for a few days (he's one of the adults supervising a boy's camp), and he figured this was a perfect window of time to get the hay down, dried, and baled.  By the time he comes back, it will all just be sitting in the field waiting for him to store it away.  It sure is pretty on the field right now, and it smells great!  I suspect Scott N. will mow our south field in about a week, after it's reached maturity.

Last fall, Debbie and I upgraded our iPads from our four-year-old model 4s.  That means we've had two used model 4s just lying about while we tried to figure out something useful to do with them.  Purely by serendipity, Michelle H., our friend and house cleaner, mentioned a few days ago that she was probably going to have to buy a new computer so that her youngest kids could do their homework.  She was looking for some advice on a reasonable computer at the lowest cost possible, and had no idea that we had these iPads doing nothing useful.  Problem solved!  She bought a couple of Otterbox cases to preserve the iPads from the depredations of her children, had her son-in-law set them up, and now her kids are happily doing their homework on tablets.  I saw A.J. (her youngest) this morning whizzing about the iPad user interface with no problem at all, having a great time.  It feels good to have found such a great use for those two things...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Construction progress...

Construction progress...  The concrete guys showed up, a bit later than we expected, but they're here and hard at work.  They're building forms for the sun room and the mud room, plus a small pad to put our air conditioner compressor on.  Debbie called me a little while ago to tell me that an enormous truck had arrived – I think she was afraid I'd purchased something truly ginormous :)  The big truck is a crane truck carrying enough forms for 10 projects the size of ours.  I think they just drove it over from some nearby job.  Some photos:

That crane looks like it would be fun to play with.  I don't think they'd let me, though :)

The current plan is to pour concrete tomorrow, for all three sub-projects.  That should be exciting!

Burgers for lunch today...

Burgers for lunch today...  Debbie's burger is at right.  I'm not sure how you could beat these burgers.  The meat is lean ground sirloin, the buns are fresh-baked cheese and onion rolls, the tomatoes, lettuce, and onions are all local and scrumptious, the cheese is a great extra sharp cheddar, the mayonnaise is Duke's, and the ketchup is Western Family, which we like better than any of the national brands (more tomatoey and less sweet).  All of this except the Duke's is from Macey's, our favorite local supermarket.  Duke's mayonnaise is now being carried nationwide by Walmart – no matter where you live, now you can get it.

 She looks quite satisfied with her monster burger, wouldn't you say?  Neither of us had any problem finishing the whole thing :)

Jo, our Polish visitor...

Jo, our Polish visitor ... took a bunch of photos while she was here.  With her permission, I've reproduced some of them here.  It's fascinating to see what catches a visitor's eye when they see our area for the first time!