Monday, August 31, 2009

Los Angeles Forest Fire - La Canada/Flintridge August 30, 2009

On a bridge near La Canada/Flintridge

Today, the smoke was much worse. When I woke up, the sky was grey. You could definitely smell the smoke in the air and after being outside for a short while your eyes would start hurting.

There were people out today but less because the conditions have become increasingly uncomfortable. I can't imagine what the firefighters are going through. They also had to rescue two people who decided not to evacuate. Instead, they stayed home and sat in their hot tub as they felt the cold water in the hot tub would protect them from the fire. They both had to be helicoptered out and one of them is still in the hospital. I am sorry, but how stupid can you be to think sitting in a hot tub would protect you from a forest fire of this magnitude?

Here is a DC 10 releasing some fire retardant. Apparently, they can drop 35,000 gallons. What they would do is circle around doing reconnaissance then drop their load. The fact there was not wind was a plus and minus. A plus because it didn't fuel the fire but bad because visibility was so poor for the pilots.

After the drop, the red retardant drifts really slowly almost lazily onto the mountain ridge. You can see the ridge turn slightly red afterwards but it's hard to notice for long as the fire gives everything a reddish glow.

There are three planes I could identify. The DC10 was the most spectacular. It was usually preceded by a little white plane that dropped something you couldn't see. And lastly there are helicopters, which obviously technically aren't planes, that had a red hose with a bucket type thing hanging from them that would drop something as well.

I took a few pictures of the people watching today.

Look how rapt and in awe there people are of the fire.

These women were pointing at the DC10.

I didn't take too many pictures at night as nothing was really turning out. It just would be black with red blurry dots. But just before sundown, as they were calling off the planes, I took this particularly ominous photo.

Los Angeles Forest Fire August 29, 2008

These were taken the second day of the fire when it was beginning to gain momentum and reach epic proportions. I took them as I drove home from the gym (and except for this picture while we were at a light, I did pull to the side in case you are wondering.) It's hard to believe it started from a scrub fire.

You could definitely smell the smoke yesterday but it wasn't overbearing.

Later that afternoone, Fox and I drove up the 210 freeway and pulled off into some of the communities closer to the fire and there were ashes falling, like snow. I know it's horrible to watch, but there is something about fire and the ocean that is so mesmerizing and fascinating. What a picture doesn't show is how dynamic the fire is, nor how it seems to have such a frightening, powerful life force of it's own. A lot of people were out watching. Some with lawn chairs and beers. It was very surreal.

The smoke looks so ominous and evil from this angle as it rolls over the mountain top. It doesn't seem real - more like something you might see in a summer block buster apocalyptic movie.

The cloud you see on the left is called a pyrocumulus cloud, that is, it is actually a cumlus (fluffy) cloud that is formed by the fire. Isn't that weird? I just heard it on the radio.

We stayed at the Hotel Jasmine Fiore was Murdered In

Last week we stayed at the L'Auberge Del Mar which is really a gorgeous hotel. Everything about it, from the minute you drive up is sheer perfection. The entry road is paved in stone, you are greeted with friendly staff, there is an perpetual indoor/outdoor fireplace, at night the driveway is lit with candles. When you walk in, you have a stunning view of the ocean and often that salty breeze as well. Everything from the light fixtures, to the cutlery to the graphic design on the menus is so well done - and it's not really even my taste.

That is, except for the fact it is likely Jasmine Fiore either died or was dead in one of the rooms before she got stuffed into her own suitcase.

When we first checked in, we got a ground room which we didn't want. It had a really stunning outdoor patio that overlooked the deck, however we felt that it would be too noisy and got a room on the second floor. However, while we were waiting for our new keys, we did notice the patio had heavy, white, canvas, privacy curtains. One on each side to block out your neighbor and one in the front to make it a completely private cabana.

The next morning we had breakfast on the deck which is featured on the site. It overlooks the ocean and in the morning is cool and shady. While we were eating we noticed a ground room patio had all it's curtains drawn.

Later, during my husband's meeting, one of my husband's colleagues mentioned he thought Jasmine Fiore was murdered at the hotel.

This made us check the papers more carefully. Sure enough, Jasmine Fiore was last seen alive at the L'Auberge. Apparently Ryan Jenkins (her husband) and Jasmine checked in, then left at 2am for a Poker Tournament. Ryan returned alone at 4:30 am and then captured on security cameras carrying arm loads of clothing into his car. The police believe he was emptying the suitcase he was going to put Jasmine into. They are not sure how he got her back in the room, they think a back door was used and they believe at that time she was either dead or dying. My guess, is after he got her back in the room, he put her in the suit case on the patio ad hair and blood was found there. Then at 9am he left. What was he doing? Sleeping? Resting? How can you sleep or rest after you murder someone?

If that were not enough, the last thing in the article was they stayed in a ground floor room. I think that's the room we noticed with the curtains drawn at breakfast!

I understand this is an horrible tragedy. You have someone who had so much life ahead of her as well as the loss her family and friends have to endure. And you have her husband, someone who seemingly on the surface would look like he had a charmed life who ended up taking his own life. All that said, I am freaked out that I unknowingly stayed somewhere where something so violent happened.

Fresh flower display at the L'Auberge.

PS If I am right about the room and you want to avoid it, it is a ground floor room, third from the main part of the hotel and located on the right side of the deck when you're facing the ocean.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Mega Millions Lottery Ticket

What is important to note here is that not a single number on my lottery ticket matches the winning numbers: 1 17 31 37 54 31 (August 28 drawing for $333 million jackpot).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Knocked Up Doves

Oops they did it again.

Last night I went to feed the doves. The dish that they are generally fed in is the dish you see above. Yes, the one with the dove inside of it. When I went to move the dove to fill the dish here is what I found. Two eggs.

Notice the feather in the dish. This is what a dove considers nest building. For a dove a feather is actually quite elaborate.

Now, two eggs by themselves generally doesn't cause me any alarm except I knew what was underneath the other mom dove.

Here is the other mom dove on the left. Despite the humble look on her dove face, she is actually quite prolific, the Octomom of doves so to speak but, without her own reality show. And that is the issue. Underneath her feathery breast is four eggs. Four. That makes an unnerving total of six dove eggs.

The good news is that despite her regular laying of a clutch of two eggs, (doves always lay two eggs) none of hatched since the Christmas population explosion. One can only hope these four also do not hatch.

Two of the eggs have been in there for a while so I think they may be getting dried out. It typically takes about 14 days for a dove egg to hatch. I've read all sorts of information on how to tell if the egg is fertile or not, but the doves seem to be able to figure out although it takes time. When they are dried out and brittle, the eggs get dents and when they get dents, they are tossed out unceremoniously onto the bottom of the cage and pecked by the other doves until they become something not unlike a dove egg omelet except you probably wouldn't want to eat it even with some salt and sour cream.

OctoDove is prolific but, not a good housekeeper. Look at her nursery.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What is it with Bears?

It's been a long hot summer and an assortment of animals are now coming down to our small town of Monrovia. Deer sampling our rose bushes, dropping off ticks and lyme disease and some of the usual suspects - raccoons, skunks, grey foxes and the poor misunderstood and reviled possum. Now bears.

Bears post a bigger problem for obvious reasons. There is a famous Monrovia Bear, Samson the Hot Tub bear, an older, apparently toothless (how did they find that out?) that used to be a frequent uninvited guest at the Potter (no relation to Harry Potter) family pool and and hot tub. All was going well for Samson until one day he imbibed to much. Somehow he ingested a black garbage bag which went in a lot better than it ended up going out.

Mr Potter found him one day with a black garbage bag poking out of his butt groaning, clutching his stomach and rolling around the yard and he called animal services. Poor Samson. Luckily for him, because he was so old and because of public outcry, he was walled up in a concrete cage in a zoo to live out his natural life instead of being euthanized. And, to make his stay a little more comfortable, the good people of Monrovia and Arcadia raised enough money so he could have his very own, built to order, bear hot tub. Once it was unveiled, the first thing Samson did was go sit in it. Very cute. In honor of Samson, every Christmas, cut out Samson bears decorate one street close to where we live.

The bear motherlode, the Chocolate Dilemma from Trader Joes.

However, as cute of a story Samson is, bears in neighborhoods are generally not good news. About a month ago, a bear walked down our street, and turned over every trash can for about a block. He stopped at our yard I theorize because he hit the motherlode - a complete, albeit frost bitten, Trader Joe's Cheesecake sampler was in our bin. We're not sure what happened exactly, but given the evidence we're guessing he opened the trash can and instead of dining in situ on the driveway, dragged the bag onto the lawn, tore it open and had a proper midnight picnic. Now of course goodies such as this languish in our fridge until garbage day.

The city has not yet issued us bear resistant garbage cans but it might be a good idea. One resident closer to the mountains tried to make his own bear resistant trash can. He used that industrial strength webbing - criss-crossed all over the trash can but, the bear made mince meat of it - tearing the webbing off and leaving it scattered as if it were paper ribbon on a Christmas day. Now their trash can is permanently in their garage until garbage day. He says it smells awful but it's better than coming home with a bear in your yard.

A few weeks ago, the bear issue escalated. Some bears who were eating dog/cat food that was either left out for someone's cats and dogs or for them, went bad and started breaking into houses and trashing them in their search for food. Shortly after the blazen act of of bear vandalism, we got a warning call from the city.

Then, yesterday, a bear was found lounging on someone's yard about a block from our house, drinking from the sprinkler like it was a water fountain. He attracted not only a lot of neighbors (I missed him) but the Monrovia police too. I heard he was non-plussed about all the humans which was not good for him. I don't know what happened to him.

I really hope no one is feeding the bears here. I understand they have a cuteness to them - but when they get to used to our great garbage they start equating food with us. It's like when the Chicken Hawk on Looney Tunes used to see Foghorn Leghorn, like a baked chicken on the plate. The bear sees us the same way, except the plate is bigger and we're not baked. There's no good end for the bear either. The poor animals are euthanized when they get too used to humans. The worst of it, is that it is really not their fault.

Nevertheless, despite the information highway, information like proper respect for large, wild animals, there are plenty of humans still proving out Darwinian Evolution. Remember the Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadmill? Eaten. Both him and his girlfriend after trying to hang with bears after a low berry season. Recently there was an elderly woman in Ouray, Colorado who was also eaten. She kept feeding the bears despite repeated requests from the Colorado Division of Wildlife to stop. She actually had a screen built around her porch to protect herself - which clearly didn't work. Her downfall was that she decided to settle a dispute between two bears, a small one and a big one. The big one already had beaten the crap out of the little one and knocked out some of his teeth but this didn't deter the woman. She obviously still felt she could teach the big bear a lesson. What happened next is really no surprise. The big ornery bear got pissed off at her meddling, killed her, dragged her through the screen and ate part of her. When she was found, the authorities ended up killing two bears. The first one's tummy was relatively empty but the second bear had part of her and her shirt in his tummy.

Obviously it is a tragedy for all involved. You have people who obviously have a great love for animals but their energy is so misdirected. But what I don't get is what does it take for people to understand - a bear is not your friend!?

Open Source Nightmare

Guess what these letters stand for and note, they are case sensitive.
My guess was 2COR7BJ. If that was your guess then you would have been wrong too.

I am currently working on updating my cat website, and used a very powerful, open source software called Joomla that has a shopping module called VirtueMart. The promise of course is a site that would normally cost thousands for pennies on the dollar. What we all need now - right? Especially that the Cash for Clunkers program is over.

The main purpose of this was primarily make the site more SEO friendly, and my Aunt Lin says it is always good to try and be friendly even if you have to pretend.

Well, after the developer was finished, I of course wanted to test my skills in making a small but what I felt significant change to the Category section that basically was adding a thumbnail image. The word thumbnail makes it sound light and fun - right? Wrong. I have spent now almost 48 hours trying to figure this out. Part of this time I was sleeping but still.

Surprisingly, most of the changes are actually self-evident and logical but when it comes to saving it, it doesn't publish, that is, none of my changes show up on my site. Interestingly if I log out and log back in, all my changes were saved. They are all there and the way I want, silently mocking me by refusing to publish.

My next idea was to search the Joomla Discussion Forum. I first search and find my exact problem! Success! However, when I follow the steps, the site gives me an error message that I don't have permission to make the change. I didn't think I needed permission on my own site! Part of me feels this is ridiculous. Nevertheless, I search how I can get permission and the post tells me to the Components section and then to the Attribute section. However, there is no Attribute section in the Components section. Searching Attibutes gave me no relief. They software calls other services Attributes, which makes me ask the question - who comes up with these names anyway? And there's something suspicious on how difficult this is - it's almost like government. Perhaps it is a conspiracy of some sort.

Finally, I decided to join the Discussion Forum and post my specific question. Part of the sign in process is that to prove you are human, you have to type in some letters and numbers that are all scrambled up. Well, all I can say is there is a point when it is too scrambled as in this case. I got one after the other that just were unrecognizable and then the site locked me out. At that point, I felt like tearing my hair out but took it out on my cat instead which was very satisfying. He's missing part of his tail, but honestly, his tail was a little too long to start.

That was my day yesterday. Fruitless. Today has been much the same although I was finally able to decipher the code and post my question on the board.

Why couldn't they all be this easy?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dovecote Drama Part II

New dove cage with all five dove inhabitants.

It may surprise you that there might be ongoing drama with an avian that has a brain the size of a chickpea - but yet, there is ongoing drama.

Although the final wiring of the cage and the removal of the ladder had gone smoothly, when I went to transfer the doves, one of the doves flew away. Far away. All the way to the top of our shedding pepper tree.

On one hand there was something poetic about the dove busting his dove joint and leaving us with an even number of doves. However, on the other hand, if you were the one to clean up the dove William our cat eviscerated, you would realize that freedom comes with a harsh price in these parts: cats, hawks, raccoons, foxes and the occasional owl to name a few. There really was nothing I could do though and I didn't give the dove much of a chance in surviving the night and hoped he enjoyed his short-lived freedom.

I was therefore shocked when late afternoon the next day he was back. He was keeping bad company with some wild doves and they had formed an impromptu gang of three. They flew around the dove cage cooing and mocking the caged birds and then left as dusk fell to do whatever bad doves do at night.

The next day, lo and behold, he returned but without the doves from the day before. I guess three's a crowd even with doves. He sat on our neighbor's garage roof and I was able to get a fuzzy picture of him. It's hard to say as I couldn't get that close to him, and his head is small, but honestly he looked like he had a retrospective look on his dove face. I put the old cage next to the new cage with the door open and food inside but he wasn't falling for that one.

On day three, he decided he wanted back in the new digs, in the worst way. He kept trying to "fly" into the cage. After many futile attempts, he sat on the old, bird cage but showed no interest in going inside. Worried he was hungry and weak, my husband Fox, not to confused with the grey foxes in the neighborhood, scattered some dove seed on the ground and acted as a personal bodyguard as he ate. He let us get within a foot of him but our attempts to catch him were futile.

On day four, the humans had a plan. We took three doves from the new cage and put them back in the old cage. We then put the old cage back into the guest-house, where they have been spending the night for the last year and left the guest-house doors open. To make this even more tempting, we put a dish of dove seed next to the cage. Then, the trap set, we went to see GI Joe. (The movie is only OK. District 9 is far superior.) At any rate, when we returned, he was sitting on the food dish in the guest-house. We tiptoed up and closed the doors on him. Then, with him trapped in the guest house, I went into the room and easily caught him, and transferred all the doves into the new cage.

Genghis Khan whaling on Henri Charriere.

Homecoming was bittersweet. The minute the birds were all in the cage, our tyrant dove, GK (Genghis Khan) proceeded to beat the crap out of poor Henri Charriere. This was done in Martial Dove Art Style, which consists of pecking, making a strange hoo sound and beating your opponent with your wings. Henri in his weakened state was no match for GK so thankfully GK was able to quickly re-established his sole right to the top of the hanging swing and peace in the dove condo was restored.

Genghis Khan aka GK on the top of the bird swing where only he and his girlfriend at the moment is allowed to sit. He is a well established bully and a tyrant be-decked as a feathery symbol of peace.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dovecote Drama

The new cage in the backyard. Notice tray and swing in the foreground it's not really important but you may as well notice it.

A few years ago my husband Fox and I went to an antique shop on the way back from Santa Barbara. In the shop they had a cage full of ring necked doves which had just had babies. The owner asked us if we wanted a pair. At the same time I said yes and my husband said no. Needless to say, we went home with the two doves, Tristan and Isolde.

I love birds but I have bad allergies so my idea at the time was to have an outdoor cage with the doves. I purchased a sturdy, heavy gauge bird cage for the doves. This worked for a few weeks.

Then one night there was a lot of commotion and when we ran downstairs at 3am, Isolde was gone. A raccoon or a gray fox face was probably the last two faces she saw.

The last two faces Isolde probably saw. The fox that visits us has the same nice tail as the one in picture. When I saw his tail in person for the first time, I finally understood why people want to make him into a coat.

We fortified the cage the night after Isolde was killed but a few weeks later Tristan was missing a leg. We then started taking Tristan inside at night and outside each morning. This has been an amazing amount of work because the cage is large and awkward. Plus when they are inside at night they leave behind a surprising amount of dove feathers, dove feather dust and scattered bird seed detritus. And, the amount they leave behind is not linear to the amount of doves, it is exponential. I am thankful though that unlike my zebra finches, doves seem to be unable to projectile poop. Finches on the other hand, can poop at least a foot away from their cage sometimes a longer distance if they have the right angle.

Moving forward a few years. Tristan passed away however he was able to father more doves. Doves interestingly always lay two eggs! One Christmas we woke up to four doves. Then, two weeks later we alarmingly had six doves. They still lay eggs, a pair at a time which makes me nervous but thankfully none of hatched since then as I don't have the heart to poke holes in them or remove them.

After the dove population explosion, I have been desperately trying to give away the doves. It is really impeding my ability to breathe, but no one wants them. Before I get to asking, the answer I get from anyone is no, even when I bribe their kids behind their backs. Frankly, I am not sure why pet stores can even sell doves because I have never met a person that would take them even with a nice cage and a year's worth of food. The only explanation I have is that while doves are very nice, gentle, can learn to sit on your finger they're not very smart. Sometimes I take the cage out and they are facing the wall and when I come back at night they're still facing the wall.

William the cat. He's cute, but don't let that furry face fool you, he is a savage.

Recently, William my cat (on the left) ate one of the doves. This changed the delicate social balance of the doves. Once the sixth one was killed, the other four doves turned on fifth dove, now a widower who we named Sir Hartley. To protect Sir Hartley, the other doves were pecking off all his feathers, we had to get him his own cage. So now we have two cages to carry back and forth each night.

Poor Sir Hartley coos all day because he has unrequited love for one of the doves in the other cage that spurned him. The reason I know it's a he is he is because male doves "coo coo coo" and female doves make the sound "ah ha ha ha, ah ha ha ha".

Sir Hartley, the spurned dove.

When you look at Sir Hartley you can see there is nothing wrong with him. I think he's just too needy and the other doves sense that and therefore avoid him, but you can't help but feel for him. It's not like he has a dove psychiatrist to help him work out his dove issues.

The birds that have ostracized him are in the picture below. Notice how they are not losing any time or sleep worrying about how Sir Hartley feels. We all should learn that lesson from them.

The peaceful dove community sans Sir Hartley.

Fearful of another dove explosion, I have been scouring Craig's List for a big, really robust cage and found one this weekend. You can see it at top. It's listing to the side at a jaunty angle but we're going to level it.

According to Patricia who sold us the cage, a monkey was the last inhabitant of the cage. His story is really sad. He was taken illegally from Costa Rica and at customs, he was so still and quiet, the customs officer didn't see him. He lived happily in the cage for many years but when his owners got old, they sold their house and moved into an apartment. Downsizing. It looms in front of the best of us. Next it's Botox and plastic surgery, but I digress. Fearing the monkey needed more space, they gave the monkey to a relative with more room, but the monkey was sad he died of a broken heart. I am hoping that because I am going to put Sir Hartley in with his unrequited love that it will break that cycle.

Before the doves can move in though, I have to wild animal kingdom proof the cage. We bought some wire mesh (they call it hardware cloth) from Home Depot and I have been lining the inside of the cage. The wire mesh has very small openings - 3/8". Wire-meshing the inside of the cage is not good for your manicure if you have one which I don't. And, if I had one I wouldn't have it anymore.

My theory is that the old cage (the one partly shown with the four doves) is only a 16" deep (full measurements: 16" deep x 24" wide x 31" tall) so the raccoon can ostensibly reach his hand fairly far into the cage and when he scares the doves and makes them fly all over the place, he can easily run to the other sides or get on top and grab them or a part of them. With the bigger cage he has a greater distance to run and the doves have more room to avoid him (the cage is 2 feet deep by 3 ft wide by 6 ft tall). At any rate, that's my theory at the moment.

When I started wire-meshing the cage, the concept was to do just the 3 sides, leaving the front and top open. I've done the left side and back, but have to wait until a ladder, which I think is a parrot ladder, even though a monkey used it to do the third side. I am also going to add a multiple family dove nesting condo with a roof so it will protect the doves from the elements or a paw from reaching in. Now I am thinking maybe I need to do all 4 sides and the top so I can be sure no one ends up being dinner at night.

The interior wire mesh retrofit detail.

We have a plumber coming on Thursday to cut out the ladder with an acetylene torch. Then it's wire-meshing, wire-meshing, wire-meshing.

Hopefully the doves will have a new home by this weekend. I will be really happy if we don't have to cart the doves inside and out anymore. Really, really happy.