Archive for August, 2012

Bucharest II

August 31, 2012

Friday, 31 August 2012

Over the course of the week, Jacky explored Bucharest and I joined her during the evenings to find good, dark beer (Ursus Black, for example) and various eating options in the old town. None of the restaurants were exceptionally good, but none were exceptionally bad, either. The inescapable cigarette smoke was the most unpleasant aspect.

We saw the ruins of Vlad’s castle, with a bust of Vlad himself. In response to a question, I told someone that I (we) were a few years beyond the stage of being interested in the Dracula legends. As for Vlad himself, he was disgusting enough that he ought to be consigned to the dustbin, not turned into a tourist attraction.

As things wound down on Thursday, I joined Jacky for a walk to the large park north of the central city. It’s perhaps a walk of 3 or 4 km, much of it through cool and treed boulevards past the embassies of any number of countries.

The park itself contains a historic village, a collection of buildings relocated here from around the country, and effectively a large museum. Jacky had already visited it, so we didn’t go there again. We just wandered the park, eventually coming down to the lakeshore and walking some distance around the lake before getting hungry and turning back.

I don’t know who this guy is, but he looks pretty distinguished.

The aviator’s monument is said to be in recognition of the allied pilots from world war II.

Well, but where are the small animals? I was reduced to taking a picture of a grasshopper!

But we finally found about a zillion red and black beetles, some of them apparently larval. Ok, that’s more like it.

And we found one beautiful bug that made the whole trip worth it, halfway around the world and all.

Jacky had seen a restaurant called Thalia on her wanderings, and thought it would be a good place to try. They told us all the outdoor seating was reserved, wanted to seat us inside. But when we started to leave, they discovered that one of their reserved tables wouldn’t be needed for an hour and a half. We can work with that.

Again, good, but not outstanding.

Lufthansa will be on strike tomorrow, so we are paying attention to flight itineraries and cancellations. As of now (Bucharest airport), Frankfurt is a problem, but it appears that we will be okay as we go to Munich today and spend the night with Friedrich and Petra.


August 27, 2012

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Broadband Forum met in Bucharest this time. Jacky and I arrived in Bucharest at 5PM, after 18 hours in airplanes and airports. Foof! That gets to be a long time.

It was hot — 35 degrees — and sticky, but we went out as soon as we had sorted out our room at the Radisson Blu hotel. Looked at the map, guesstimated which direction was the old town, walked that way.

There is a lot of interest here, but much of it is not maintained very well.

The old town is chock full of sidewalk cafes, and as the sun went down and the day cooled off, all of them were occupied. We wandered back and forth until we found a place — 1812 Vecchio — whose sidewalk area wasn’t clogged with smokers. That is to say, it was at the edge of the old town, and mostly deserted. The food was fine, although we didn’t fall in love with the local beer.

Someone had told Jacky that Romania was nice, but not Bucharest. Our expectations were fairly low after hearing that, but this is all right. Not bad at all.

This is one of a dozen figures on a whimsical statuary group. There was some kind of rally, maybe a protest, under way nearby, and massive numbers of police not far away on side streets, but we don’t know what the issue was, and at least while we were there, everything was peaceful enough.

Back to the hotel and into the sack. A very long day!

Monday, 27 August

Meetings didn’t start until 10, so we went out first thing — in the coolth — to explore a little. There’s a good-sized park half a dozen blocks from the hotel, where we found some interesting trees.

A lot of people here working, gardeners and sweepers. Well, I suppose they call it working. We were reminded of their presumed communist past, in which they pretended to work, while the state pretended to pay them. A few were actually doing something, but most looked as if this was a form of outdoors leisure while they drew welfare payments.

As well as these unusually coloured peafowl, they had some albinos. There were also half a dozen black swans.

I went to meetings while Jacky explored. She reported later that the city’s riverbanks were bike paths, but there was really nothing there for the promenader.

Achilles surgery — the end

August 19, 2012

Wednesday was a physical therapy day. I also tried an experimental run for the first time: very slow, only about a mile. Sore ankle.


Last weekend, I hiked 20 miles with 4000 vertical feet, but in two days. This weekend, my goal is to do a real hike, not a killer, but one that I might do on an ordinary weekend day, and not spread over two days. Mission Peak to Sunol, for instance (16 miles, 4000 vertical feet).

On my way into Sunol headquarters, after having crossed Calaveras road, I met six or eight hikers going the other way, up toward Mission Peak. I suppose I should describe the impression they made as immature — the word clueless comes to mind, but that’s not charitable. The leader was carrying a staff topped with a feather.

I stopped at the Sunol visitor center, talked with a very nice young woman about tarantulas (I had seen the first tarantula wasp of the season just a few minutes before), snakes, horned lizards (she told me they are water-lovers: no wonder I have only ever seen one!).

After soaking up some calories and refilling the water bottle — there is no running water, but they bring jug water, and much appreciated it is! — I started back.

Clueless is perhaps the better description. Where the trail crosses Calaveras road, both gates were wide open! Just up from the road crossing, food wrappers on the trail. Half an hour further along, someone’s baseball cap, and then further, a pair of shower shoes. Clueless, indeed.

In distinct contrast, I was overtaken by a guy who had started at the Ohlone colleage trailhead, run not only to Sunol headquarters, but up Flag Hill (twice) and on several of the other trails uphill from the headquarters. Impressive; good for him!

At the top of the climb is a more-or-less horizontal fire road that runs below Mission Peak on the east side. Two guys there, lying in the shade. Part of the Clueless gang? Another four or five over at the campground, whose appearance from a distance definitely suggested Clueless.

I didn’t go that way, turned toward the north shoulder. Where the trail breaks off to go to the top, two guys were standing, waiting, one of them striking a pose with his feathertopped stick, wondering where their loyal followers were. I answered their questions as briefly as possible, and was not in fact very helpful.

As I started down, I was asked by another guy whether that was the right trail to the parking lot. I told him there were two parking areas, but it sounded like he wanted the Stanford avenue descent. Down he went, much faster than I.

I am not wasting time, but I am also in no hurry. Today’s goal is just to do the hike. … At the bottom, my friend was waiting for the rest of his party; he confirmed that it was in fact the correct parking area.

You meet all kinds.


My ankle feels okay, so I went out for a little bike ride. 35 miles, 1700 vertical feet, nothing fancy. Only real adventure was seeing emergency medical vehicles at one of the Portola Valley churches. I wonder if they ask their god for a time-out when something like this happens? I wonder if their god grants it…. Sorry, I shouldn’t be frivolous about medical emergencies. The gods are not really involved in such things.

After going down Foothill expressway and Grant road to join the Stevens creek rec trail, I came back via the new bike bridge across 101, which mostly caters to Google. I picked it up at Amphitheatre parkway and went south along Permanente creek. Where it crosses Charleston road, there is a raised median, and you are advised to ride half a block out of your way to an official crossing. I’m disappointed: Googlers are usually pretty savvy about these things; maybe they couldn’t talk the Mountain View project managers into good sense (I have my own experiences along those lines).

In any event, a new experience.

I noticed yesterday that the laces in my hiking boots are fraying, so I stopped at REI for a new pair, then home. After soaking my feet in a bucket of ice water for a while, I walked to the library to exchange a couple of books.

I think my continuing soreness is the result of the exercises and stretches prescribed by Dave, my physical therapist. That’s fine, as long as I understand what’s going on.

So I promise that this will be the last of the medically-oriented posts.

Grant ranch: Mountain lion!

August 11, 2012

No, this is not a mountain lion.

As a continuing part of recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, I had it in mind to try Grant Ranch this weekend, try to get in more than ten miles and more than two thousand feet of gain. It has been hot, so I started early. Parked at Grant lake, hit the trail about 7:20. Glad I didn’t wait until later; it was hot enough!

There was enough pain in my ankle that I considered whether to turn back, but decided to keep going. Pain is not the problem, as long as I’m not damaging myself. Even so, I decided to skip the line shack, which I had first imagined as my destination. When I reached the ridge at the top of Halls Valley trail, I turned south rather than north. There are additional trails leading back down into the valley if I need them.

Stopped for calories along the ridge, and spotted a coyote out foraging for its own calorie fix. They are usually quick to dart away, but I remained quiet and moved slowly, and was able to shoot a few pictures.

My ankle was not complaining too much, so I went on to the road crossing at Twin Gates. Here I decided that discretion would be the better part of valour, so I descended on Cañada de Pala trail. As I came around a fairly sharp bend, I heard a deep grunt of some kind, and saw motion in a bush off the trail not too far ahead.

As I saw an animal break into a run, my first thought was bobcat. Definitely a cat, but it was too big for a bobcat. And then I saw the long tail, short fur, dark reddish brown, like one of these elegant plush bell pulls you might find in an English manor, or at least in a play that was set in an English manor. My first mountian lion ever! I had no time to even reach for the camera before it was gone.

Cool! I have lived in the Bay area since 1980, spent many tens of thousands of hours outdoors, and this is the first mountain lion I have ever seen.

Well, did I achieve my stated objective? No: 9.2 miles, 1700 vertical feet. More than last Saturday, but not as much improvement as I would have hoped for. I can’t complain, though: got in a certain amount of exercise, and saw one of the local wildlife rarities.

Sunday update

My ankle felt okay this morning, so I went up Skyline and hiked Purisima Redwoods open space preserve. This is the one where you start by hiking downhill, and once you get to the bottom, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices but to go back up. Allison can tell you about that.

Cooler than yesterday, once I got a few hundred feet down from the ridge. Beautiful day. And although I’m not pushing it too hard, I did clock my heart rate at 144 on the final grunt back up to the parking lot.

Bottom line: 19.4 miles for the weekend, 4200 feet of vertical gain. Not bad.


August 9, 2012

When we lived in Germany, I liked to eat the locally-available Müsli for breakfast. When we returned to the US, we couldn’t find the same thing, and I began to make my own. Over the years, this has evolved into a ritual that occurs every four or five weeks: the superhero MuesliMan appears, wearing his cape (well, that’s the way Jacky describes it), mixes up a pile of tasty ingredients and we’re set for another month.

I include the recipe below, for anyone who cares. Suffice it to say that I need grain flakes. Time was, the bulk bins department at the local Whole Foods market stocked wheat flakes, rye flakes, barley flakes, triticale flakes, kamut flakes, and well, of course, oat flakes. That worked well, and thank you, Whole Foods. But these are not exactly products that fly off the shelf, and Whole Foods stopped carrying them a couple years ago. Moomph!

I checked the other nearby Whole Foods store; I checked the funky counter-culture grocery stores here and in the area; I even checked the animal feed store in Half Moon Bay. No luck. I talked to Whole Foods; they could do special orders, but only in 25- or 50-pound quantities, depending on the grain. Could I buy whole grainberries and flake them myself? Wheat, barley, yes. Rye? Not at Whole Foods, not at any of the other places I could find.

Eventually I ended up at the web site of Pleasant Hill Grain, from my old Nebraska days. They sell buckets of grain; they sell flaker mills. That’s what I want. I ordered a 20 kg bucket of rye berries and a hand-cranked flaker mill. The grain appeared in a large plastic bucket, sealed against air and insects, and with an interior liner for further protection. Good.

The flaker mill turns out to be a good way to get a little upper-body exercise! If I were doing this every day, I would buy the motor drive.

The results were a bit unsatisfactory at first; the seeds had a tendency to crack and shatter, rather than to roll out into flat flakes. Then I discovered that, a day before flaking them, I could add a bit of water to the mix of seeds, and they would become softer and more pliable. Much better.

I have been working through my bucket of ryeberries for a while now, and have used about half of it. Now I discover that Whole Foods is once again stocking rye flakes (but not triticale or barley or kamut). Right now, that doesn’t help. It would be an ultimate irony if, by the time I finish using up my bucket of grain, Whole Foods concludes that there is no market for rye flakes and stops carrying it.

The recipe? Oh, yes, the recipe. I have a large plastic container that’s marked 5.2 litres.

  • 1 cup oat bran
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds (aka pepitas, Kurbiskerne)
  • 1 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 4 cups oat flakes
  • 4 cups barley flakes
  • 5 cups wheat flakes (extra proportion because wheat has more flavour than the others)
  • 6 cups rye flakes (extra proportion, ditto — lots of people think rye tastes like pumpernickel (caraway): wrong!)
  • Kamut, triticale, etc, flakes if available, or top off with more of the other types

At breakfast time, mix in the bowl with something like bran flakes to loosen up what can otherwise become a soggy mass.

You can tell that my life isn’t very exciting when a recipe is the biggest adventure of the day….

Achilles surgery + 4 weeks

August 5, 2012

My ambition this weekend is to hike from the flatlands to Skyline, probably the short loop at Windy Hill: up Spring Ridge trail, down Hamm’s Gulch trail. I’ll do the hike Saturday; if it goes really well, I will also try a modest bike ride on Sunday.

The hike: only 7.2 miles, but 1500 vertical feet. From the parking lot at the bottom to the parking lot at the top is usually just a bit more than an hour, a bit less if I push it (but without running). This time it was about 1:15. Taking it easy, not risking injury.

Cold and windy up there; fog blowing hard across the ridgetop. If I had had a jacket, I would have worn it. No jacket, no problem. The downhill goes through the forest, and the trail was wetter than I would have expected for August. I guess the fog and the consequent condensation has been a fact of life up here this summer.

Stopped at Sausal pond, just before the parking lot on the way down. Nine people out of eight would probably have said there was nothing interesting here, certainly no animals around. Dave, of course, pokes around to see what might be lurking just out of sight.

Even the vegetable matter is not completely devoid of interest.

As to small animals, we first discover the empty husk of a dragonfly nymph.

But the real story here today is the proliferation of small frogs. They’re about 2 cm long, and shy. Dozens of them within three or four meters of my vantage point in the reeds at the shore.

And if reptiles aren’t enough, there are even a few unusual insects around.

When I got home, I filled a bucket with water, dumped in lots of ice and plunged both feet in. Yow! Fifteen minutes of that, and I’m happy. My first impression is that it went very well today. Will I change my tune when I wake up tomorrow morning?

Sunday morning: a little pain, but not bad. Let’s see whether I can do a bike ride.

The Portola Valley loop is less than 20 miles, less than 1000 feet of climb, and I can extend it if I feel good. If I take the physical therapist’s advice, I need to change many years of habit, and the way to do that is to put in the time, reminding myself constantly to adjust my pedaling stroke and riding position.

Felt good; I extended the ride to 35 miles, 1300 vertical feet, down Foothill expressway and back through the Baylands. Another fifteen minutes of ice water when I got home, just as a precaution, but I am very optimistic about progress. I don’t think I”m yet up for 20 mile hikes with 5000 feet of gain, but maybe it won’t be all that long.

Hatching spiders

August 2, 2012

I documented the start of a new spider generation earlier this spring, but there is always more to see, and when I discovered not one, but two, additional mommy long-legs with egg balls up in the corner of the garage, I was definitely interested. Late in the season to be starting a family, but it’s not like there will be a disastrous winter inside the garage.

One of the interesting things we discover only by inspecting the photo (not in the garage itself) is the liberal festooning of shed skins of prior generations of spiders. All spiders grow by shedding their skins.

The empty husks are of all sizes. This one is pretty big.

Before we really get into it, here’s one of mommy’s legs. No matter how small things are, there’s always an infinitude of even smaller detail.

Here is mommy, holding an egg ball between her pedipalps. I believe the spirals visible on the eggs are the wrapped-around legs of the hatchlings, visible through the transparent skin of the egg.

I had rather assumed that the egg balls were held together by some kind of bio-glue. But we can see the webbing wrapping around the ball in this photo, and it only makes sense that an orb weaver would, well… weave an orb. Of course.

The other thing to observe in these photos is that the eggs are no longer round. Their skins are being pushed out of shape by the growing spider inside. It won’t be long, now. Notice (below) the eyes peering back at us from inside several of the eggs.

When I first noticed my little friends, the eggs were not really translucent, so I waited a week or so. This last weekend (the end of July) I checked every hour or so — what I would really like is to actually see the babies hatch out. And I did.

Still photos are fine, but this also looked like an opportunity for a movie (9 minutes, 73 MB download!). I have never shot movies with this camera before, so it was a learning experience; that, and finding a freeware video editor for the production process (VideoPad, and thank you very much!). Despite its undoubted amateurish qualities, I think the video is pretty interesting and worth the download.

I spent much of the evening shooting stills and movies. The movie shoot required me to hold the camera and the light motionless, as much as possible, while standing on tiptoe on a ladder. Hard work!

By the end of the evening, the ball was starting to loosen up.

The second spider was a few hours behind the first, and her babies weren’t as lively. But by the next morning, her eggs had all hatched, and she was holding a ball of babies.

And then, by afternoon, the babies had started to disperse, and mommy was looking proudly on. They will stay around for yet a few days, and mommy will defend them to the death from predators, the predators being, likely as not, other daddy long-legs spiders.