The Parrots Are Back

I’ve been hunting these guys with various cameras for years. More than 15 months ago, I got a shot of several of these birds on a power wire, but that wasn’t exactly the nice nature picture I always had in mind.

“Birdsong” is not a word that comes to mind when a flock of parrots begins an animated conversation. I heard a loud parrot gossip session begin just as I was sitting down to work. I took three steps out of my office and looked up. Half a dozen of these fine birds were in the neighbor’s tree.  I took this shot by leaning back and pointing the camera up.

It’s nice to see this blog leaning away from reptiles and focusing more attention on birds.

Today’s Hummingbird

Most of us have seen video of hummingbirds flying in slow motion. In real life it’s amazing how fast they are. I’ve been hunting these guys with various cameras for years, and this is the first picture I’ve managed to get that’s vaguely worth sharing.

We think of these tiny birds as being little and cute, but in fact they are mean. Their call is a distinct clicking sound, and they aren’t shy about buzzing people, dogs, or much larger birds who get too close to a place the micro bird is defending. This year there are several active hummingbird nests within 15 yards of the sliding glass door to the back patio.

Dragonfly!

Yet another amazing creature showed up to pose for pictures early this afternoon.

It feels good to be getting back to taking pictures of dragonflies; maybe it means lizards are done following me for now. I’ve been hunting dragonflies with a camera for years, with some great results! Check out these dragonfly centerfolds from July 2007, July 2008, and September 2010.

Danger Is My Business

“Old ex-competitive swimmers are a menace. The ones who pretend that their muscles haven’t atrophied are worse than the ones who are out of shape, and ex-pool lifeguards are the worst of all – those losers weren’t strong enough to be ocean lifeguards in the first place. They should be required to wear life vests when they hit 45.”

That was part of the training I received as a pool lifeguard, way back in the distant past when swimming pools still had diving boards.

Riptide at Kapaau

Here’s a recent picture of me taken at Kapaau, close to the northern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, during my recent audition for the Darwin Awards. This black sand beach is one of the most beautiful places on the planet for somebody to drown. You’ll notice that I am the only swimmer in the picture, despite the fact that it’s a glorious beach day. Why do you think that is? The National Weather Service has a nice explanation of what rip currents are, how they form, and why you shouldn’t go swimming in them.

Even an untrained eye can see that the waves are choppy and that they’re breaking in different directions at the same time, but who cares? I’ve been swimming for almost 50 years! (This is the kind of thinking the trainer had in mind – Notice how the ex-pool lifeguard turns his greatest liability into some kind of asset? Anybody who has been doing anything for almost half a century shouldn’t get his ankles wet when the surf is this dangerous!)

It’s a good thing that my Guardian Angel hasn’t reached the mandatory retirement age.

The Secret of Juggling

In times of economic uncertainty, it’s important to sharpen all of one’s skills. After all, you never know when you might have to change jobs or even take on a whole new career. More and more people are finding this out the hard way. Personally, I believe that work is overrated. Clowning around always has meant a lot to me. I don’t mind being called a ‘clown.’ Clowns have more status in our society than lawyers, and rightly so.

Many of us feel that our lives are spent juggling contradictory roles and complicated tasks. Why not take the logical next step and learn how to juggle physical objects? It’s fun, and I imagine I have made more money from juggling at parties than most young lawyers make during their first couple of years out of law school.

What is the secret of juggling? Well, you have to have a photographer capture your act during one of the rare moments when you look like you know what you’re doing! Thank you, Jeffrey Gothard, for pushing the button at just the right instant!

Sceloporus Graciosus

Western Fence Lizards are among the most common small spiny lizards in southern California.

Years ago when I started this blog, I did not expect that I would be spending so much time photographing and writing about lizards. Life is like that sometimes. It’s like I always say: “When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have to break some eggs.” I think it goes like that. Anyway, as far as I can tell, I have written about Elgaria Multicarinata here and here, and I have published a magnificent picture of what I think is a nice representative of Sceleoporus Magister Uniformis (the yellow backed spiny lizard).

No, I never did intend for this to be a Lizards of Southern California website, but sometimes you’ve got to go where life takes you. Probably you can relate to the sentiment – after all, I don’t suppose you started your day imagining how great it would be to read the observations of some guy who thinks lizards are following him.

I guess it’s about time for all those science classes I took at the USC Law School to pay off a little bit. It was a long time ago…but I do remember spending a lot of time at law school studying reptiles, although none of those issues turned up on the California Bar Examination.

It’s a Rough Life

San Diego is a nice place in January, warm and mild compared to most places, but nobody would argue that it is a tropical paradise. For example, this Gold Dust Day Gecko is not native to America’s Finest City. The picture was taken in the Kohala region of the Big Island of Hawaii.

It turns out that the gecko is no more native to Hawaii than I am. Here’s a nice action shot of me taken in a gentle undertow just a few days ago off the Kona coast. Somebody has to do it.

Swats from Coach Hills

Robert Hills, one of my only coaches who was not a swimming or diving man, died recently. He’s the guy on the far right of the photo, which is from the 1972-1973 yearbook. (The others are coaches Bratschie, Lamb and Flynn.) I wish his family the courage and strength required to do without him. Coach Hills touched many lives during his years at Joseph LeConte Junior High School, including mine, as this story explains:

Hot beads of sticky sweat were trickling down my forehead and dripping off my eyelashes. I stood silently, listening for the naked teenage boys who were hunting me in the boys’ locker room at LeConte Junior High School. The aerosol can of Right Guard was in my left hand. My bare back was against the cold lockers. I was determined to make it to the shower without being ambushed. The deodorant was my only weapon – and the only weapon of my pursuers.

I became aware of somebody just around the corner, beyond the edge of the bank of lockers I was cornered behind. Rather than submit I decided to go on the offensive, to lash out against those who might try to humiliate me. What other option is there for a naked 13 year-old boy?

I jumped out from my hiding place and fired the deodorant at the kid who was about to do the same, scoring a direct hit in the belly! “That’s right,” I thought, “Nobody is going to bully me and get away with it without a fight!”

Coach Robert Hills was the head Boys PE teacher at LeConte Junior High. He was a crew-cut disciplinarian, and like most of the men of his age and experience in 1972, Coach Hills did not like scruffy-haired boys. I thought Mr. Hills was fair and honest, though, and eager to recognize a good effort or an improved performance from any of his students. I had concluded a long time ago that the safe thing to do was to obey him to the letter (except about getting a haircut) and otherwise stay out of his way.

I knew I had made a serious mistake when I observed that the target of my aerosol assault was fully dressed. Looking up, I became aware of just how dreadful a mistake it really was. I saw the angry eyes of Coach Hills looking down at me, shiny and black, like the openings of a double-barreled shotgun pointed at my face.

The coach’s reaction was instant and automatic. He grabbed my long hair with his right hand and used it as a leash with which to guide me to the coaches’ office. Coach Lamb, the eldest coach on the staff, looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“That boy needs a shower and a haircut, Coach.”

“He needs some swats first. He just fired on me with deodorant. I’ve got enough troubles. I don’t need f***ing naked longhair punks jumping around shooting me with s*** they oughta be using on themselves.”

Coach Hills pulled a couple of possible weapons out of a drawer, selecting what looked like a ping pong paddle with a long handle and holes in the paddle. He looked at it and swished it through the air a couple of times, with a tiny smile on his face, then he looked me in the eye.

“Son, do you understand it’s wrong to spray your coach with deodorant?”

I looked back into his eyes. They didn’t look all black anymore.

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, I understand…”

I could tell that I was getting in more trouble but I wasn’t sure why. Coach Hills repeated his question, with a little more anger and contempt. Coach Lamb offered a quiet suggestion.

“Yes, sir…”

Sometimes I need a helpful stage manager to feed me my lines, especially when I’m naked and about to “get swats” from the coach I just doused with deodorant. Again I looked up into Coach Hills’ eyes.

“Yes, sir, I understand it’s wrong to spray my coach with deodorant.”

The coach gently tapped the edge of the paddle on the counter, no doubt to get a better grip and to remind me of the swatting I had in store. He looked into my eyes and asked,

“Do you understand that it’s wrong to run around naked in the locker room, that it’s against the rules to run in there when you’re dressed?”

“Yes, sir, I understand.”

“Good. To make sure you remember, put your hands on the counter.”

I obeyed. The first swat came about three seconds later, preceded by a fairly loud swoosh sound. Two other swats followed, separated by about five seconds each. I was impressed by how loud they were. They hurt, too, a lot. A few seconds after the third swat, the coach said,

“OK, turn around.” I looked up into his eyes. “Take a shower. I’ll see you tomorrow – you guys are running a mile and we’re gonna time you.”

“Yes, sir.”

I walked back into the locker room in high spirits. Sure, I had an acutely sore and completely naked butt, yet I figured I was going to be received like a hero. After all, hadn’t I just taken three swats that easily could have gone to just about anybody? Didn’t I just spray deodorant on Coach Hills, a wildly brave and impressive act of resistance? I figured they’d probably treat me as if I’d just hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth. At least I’d be getting a wild round of applause.

Instead, it was quiet like a funeral home after closing hours. A few guys looked at me as I came in, but in silence. Everybody knew that when the coaches were dispensing swats it was a good idea to keep still, so as not to tempt fate. I was one of the last ones to the showers. I got washed off and dried in time for my next class, but I had to borrow some deodorant. I’d left mine in the coaches office and I didn’t think it was wise to go back.

Nobody – including me – felt that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. We might not all have thought it “wrong” to spray Coach Hills, but we unanimously agreed it was highly unwise and dangerous, definitely something an intelligent lad wouldn’t do. I didn’t tell my parents because I was ashamed of what I’d done – and because I figured they’d agree with me that I’d basically got what I had coming. The swats did no real damage, and the fact that the coaches judged that I “took my punishment like a man” seemed to raise my status in their esteem.

This incident happened in the spring of 1972, when I was in 8th grade. Here’s a picture from May ’72. You might think that a public junior high school in Hollywood, California in 1972 would be a bastion of hard-core leftist politics, or at least some real adolescent rebellion – and you’d be wrong.

At the start of every day of classes, first thing in the morning, the school PA system would play a bugle call! Everybody had to stand at attention, in silence, while the melody played. This was before the Pledge of Allegience. At the end of the school day, another bugle call played, and again everybody was supposed to stand at silent attentnion throughout the melody.

Why do you think we were subjected to this kind of treatment? These rituals probably did quite a bit to inhibit most kids from even thinking about joining me and some of my very young friends who opposed the war in Vietnam, both in school and in the streets. I can say for sure that being forced to behave like a military cadet helped teach me that most authority is arbitrary and stupid. In that case, maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

A lot has changed since 1972. Coaches and other teachers aren’t supposed to hit students anymore. That’s fine. I don’t want the kids I’m helping raise to be beaten by their teachers. I have never struck any of them myself (although I did bite one of them once, and trust me, she had it coming). And yet, sometimes I think we’ve made a lot of things in life more complicated than they need to be. Back in the spring of ’72, I ambushed one of my coaches with a can of Right Guard. He gave me a spanking. The whole incident couldn’t have taken more than five minutes. What do you think might happen if the same chain of events unfolded today?

Unscrewed

Are you a good screw or a bad screw? This is a question everybody ought to ask out loud before each step of any serious laptop repair or upgrade work.

The image to your left is an example of the former. This is a fine screw indeed, for one simple reason: it goes out as well as in. Let me explain. If you’d like to learn a couple of lessons about the value of persistence and stubborn devotion to duty from a guy with the sort of keen intellect and clever “outside the box” thinking of smart men like Shemp Howard, this story is for you.

Since the mid-1990’s, my life has been a series of Fujitsu laptops. Not surprisingly, the first one I owned ran Windows 95. The computer at the heart of today’s little parable is a C Series Lifebook, running Windows XP. I like it and it has a lot of expensive programs installed. Sadly, the 40 GB hard drive that came with the unit was showing signs of getting ready to give up the ghost, things like being 42% fragmented at the end of running all the defrag and disc maintenance programs on hand.

No problem. I’ve been sliding new hard drives into laptops since before a lot of you were born. I went out and bought a nice 650 GB drive and came home to enjoy the smooth and easy transition that has been my standard experience in these matters. I attached the new drive externally and ran a cloning program with no problem. After that the first screw securing the hard drive caddy – the one depicted with such loving and sharp clarity in the photo – came out with no problem. Sadly, the second one stripped and remained in place, mocking me, a part worth a fraction of a penny telling me my computer soon would be worthless and that I likely was powerless to do anything about it.

I presented this situation to my beloved wife, who cares about my wellbeing and happiness, and who doesn’t enjoy life so much when I am lying on the floor, biting the carpet with frustration and misery over some computer mishap.

“How old is that laptop?”

“Four and a half years.”

“You know, I think probably Santa would get you a new laptop for Christmas if you were a good boy.”

“That’s nice, but I’m not going to need it because I’m not going to be getting screwed by this screw. I’m going to sort this out and this new hard drive over here is going to be in that laptop over there, working fine, really soon.”

Over the subsequent couple of weeks, I learned about screw extractors at the local hardware store and I watched how-to videos. I checked out the family power drill, which I brought into the house and started to examine. I tried to use the screw extractor. I didn’t get the screw out. On the other hand, I did not damage the laptop further. My wife appeared to be relieved that this setback left me undaunted but I could tell she was worried it all would end in tears.

I slept on the problem, and decided to escalate the level of violence. I  waited until nobody but the family dog Rainbow was in the house with me.  The laptop found itself face down on a pillow on the dining room table, its battery out and its AC cord unplugged. I put the smallest bit into the drill and brandished the power drill at the prone laptop.

“You’re not mocking me anymore, are you? You’re gonna give up that screw right now and like it, or it’s gonna hurt you a lot more than it’ll hurt me. If you continue to defy me, I’ll bring Lana and Em’s brother Jason in here with his hockey mask and power saw. You’ll look back and wish you’d surrendered that screw a long time ago.”

It’s important that you show the laptop who’s boss. That’s something they don’t tell you in the computer user manuals, at least not in the ones put out by Fujitsu.

I got to the business of cutting a little doughnut in the plastic around the bad screw. I figured if I could cut away a bit of the plastic I’d be able to use tweezers or needle nose pliers to remove the screw. As I was completing the task, the drill bit touched the side of the screw and turned it. I was able to remove it with my fingers. The hard drive caddy slid out without further delay. My delight was tangible. I sent Alexis a text, telling her about what a tech-savvy spouse she’s married to.

The first three of the four screws that attached the old hard drive to the caddy came out with no problem. The fourth did not. It instantly stripped and remained in place. The last thing that could have gone wrong went as wrong as it could go wrong! Somebody explain the justice of that! Something inside me started to snap. Slowly, deliberately, I walked up a few of the stairs toward the bedroom and I got down on all fours to start chewing at my favorite spot in the carpet, when I noticed Rainbow at my side.

“Don’t do it. Your teeth are in no shape for that kind of work, and you know I’m going to get blamed for it anyway. That’s not fair. Go back and finish.”

Sometimes you have to take your dog’s advice. I went back to the table and looked at the hard drive caddy, with three screws lined up neatly to one side and one screw keeping the old hard drive held fast. I decided to do what any experienced, mature grownup would do: I grabbed that damned hard drive and began twisting it furiously until I was able to break the old hard drive off the caddy entirely. Ha! That’ll teach the #$%@& thing to mess with me for sure! I threw the old hard drive to the table with contempt and with a sense of triumph. Then I noticed the hard drive caddy in my other hand and looked at the twisted, broken piece of metal that once housed the fourth screw. That part was going to require further careful, delicate surgery. I got out a pair of pliers and flattened out the shredded piece of aluminum as well as I could.

To my delight, the new hard drive slid in with no problem and the three remaining screws mounted it straight and solid. It went into the computer and the surviving external screw, the one pictured in all its glory at the top of this post, smoothly went back into place. I plugged in the laptop, hit the ‘on’ button, and the computer booted up perfectly and has been working like a champ ever since.

Perseverance Furthers.

Magnificent Dragonfly!

Magnificent Dragonfly

This spectacular creature showed up and posed for pictures. One of the earliest posts on this website featured another fantastic dragonfly.

I like to take and to publish these pictures for the sake of art, but this one has a little story behind it. These days, I am working hard on revising my bar exam essay writing video program. I really want to be finished. Today I worked all morning at my Ocean Beach office, and this afternoon my sister-in-law Eden, her husband Gil, and their young son Sam came for a delightful afternoon of socializing, swimming and eating. This beautiful dragonfly showed up a few minutes after Eden and her family had left. I was on my hands and knees on the floor of my home office, hooking up some equipment. Alexis and Elana called to me from the patio. How come nobody around here respects my work? Don’t I ever get to take care of my own business?

Fortunately for me, I have a wife and daughter who appreciate that you don’t get that many chances to snag a taste of natural beauty like this one. No doubt you’ll all be pleased to know that somehow I did manage to get my gadgets to cooperate, and that soon a needy public is going to get in on the latest secrets to writing passing essays on the bar exam (for a modest fee).

World’s Tallest Barber Pole

Going back in time can be a tricky business. When one stands on the same spot 30 years later, it’s hard not to get a little dizzy. Few people appreciate Forest Grove, Oregon, the Garden Spot of the Pacific Northwest. Pacific University is here, and in May of 1980 I graduated from that institution.

Barber Pole SignGraduate and Barber PoleWorld's Tallest Barber Pole

30 years and three months later, I returned to the site of the World’s Tallest Barber Pole. It pleased me to see the school so obviously prospering. It was nice to take pictures on a day when Mt. St. Helens was not exploding, too. That was the key feature of my college graduation day – the mountain blew up and a massive ash-fall was occurring while I was collecting my diploma. My parents came up for the ceremony but hurried off without staying for dinner.

Come to think of it, I should have gone out for lobster, to make up for the fancy meal I missed back in 1980! Oh well, maybe in another 30 years.

Bird of the Day

2010_0616_bird

Here is the latest example of why it’s fun to have a camera handy when you’re outdoors. This bird –  a bushtit, according to George, was one of a big swarm of a couple dozen that zipped off to the next group of trees to the south a second or two after I took this picture. Wait! Maybe the title of this blog entry should have been, “One in the Bush,” or maybe “Bushtit in the Bush!” Oh well, maybe next time.