Archive for April, 2013

SLO and Morro Bay

April 27, 2013

Saturday, 27 April, 2013

Today, we thought we’d go to Morro Bay and see whatever there might be to see. But there was a red light on the highway to Morro Bay, and it just happened to be at the turnoff to the botanical garden. Well, why not?


Interesting plants, and with a bit of careful observation, a few interesting small animals as well.




There is a park here, too, with probably several hundred people already here and coming later for picnics. There is a short trail up through the forest and to a lookout point at Eagle rock. Of the hundreds in the park, we were the only ones to take the trail.


A small animal along the trail. I would label it a cicada, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

We drove on to Morro Bay, where they will be having a classic car week next week. Already some wonderful old machines are in town, for example this Studebaker.


The breeze was chilly, and we didn’t last long down by the water, but we noticed kites over across the way.


Stopped at a Thai restaurant for a bit of lunch, then drove over closer to the kites, added a layer of clothing, and prepared to walk out to see them. But first, we stumbled upon the Avalon, called a DSRV. I immediately translated the acronym to deep-sea research vessel, but the formal name is R for rescue.


Today was the annual kite festival, and the kites were truly wonderful.



Everyone was having a terrific time, including ourselves.



With so many big and spectacular kites, I didn’t notice this one until I got the day’s photos up on the big screen. Fun!

We stayed around and enjoyed for quite a while. What a great thing to see and do.


Catamarans are often considered sporty and luxurious. Here’s one that works for a living!


Finally, as we walked past the eucalyptus forest in front of the power station, we noticed that the wading birds are busy nesting. We saw a handful of egrets, but most of the population appeared to be black-crested night herons.

Back to SLO, where we found a couple of brews, mellowed out, got something to eat. Nice day.

Uvas canyon county park, SLO

April 26, 2013

Friday, 26 April 2013

I took a vacation day and we made a long weekend of it. We made good time as far south as Morgan Hill, where we turned off onto the side roads and wended our way to Uvas canyon county park, on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz mountains north of Mt Madonna. I have been here before, but it was years ago.

Its claim to fame is several waterfalls, and though it was a dry winter, we’re hopeful of seeing some water and maybe a few small animals.


The first small animal was not really all that small: a deer at the parking area. But there were thousands of smaller animals, mostly insects. This one was dining; it was in the minority. Most of them were interested in sex. Well, I can understand that.


And not twosome sex, but threesome!


We saw half a dozen waterfalls, and didn’t get around to all of them. Nice.


Not large falls, not lots of water, but pretty anyway.


The one above is called basin fall, for obvious reasons.


And not only threesomes but three couples! Orgies! Pretty shocking!



Looks like fun.

By early afternoon, we had seen enough for today, got back in the car and drove to San Luis Obispo, a nice little town that we visit every year or two, just to get away. We stayed at the Garden Street Inn.


After dropping off our things, we went out in search of brews — Anchor porter — and calories — unCornish pasties. Pretty good! Then a wander around the town, checking out a used book shop, and back to the hotel for naps and showers, and good night.

Big country, small animals

April 14, 2013

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The round trip from the Montebello parking area to Saratoga gap is a hike of 20 miles, 3600 feet of gain. A sunny, chilly day. The larger of the small animals on display included ten deer and two wild turkeys.


As to the smaller of the small animals….


 I’m not sure what this one (above) is. A centipede would have longer legs and more of them. Millipedes are slow, and this little guy was scurrying around at a pretty good pace. And both of those myriapods are pretty much uniform throughout their lengths, rather than having noticeably different body sections. It’s a mystery.


Centipedes operate under the principle that, if they can’t see you, you can’t see them.


The wildflowers are out, but most of them are tiny, visible only from very close up.


Back at home…


I found this lump on the side of the house. Had I not seen legs sticking out of it, I would have taken it as just a bit of tree fluff.


After photographing the lump, I nudged it to see if it was alive. Alive, indeed! And what a strange dish-shaped abdomen! It’s amazing how many different species there are.

Computer history museum

April 13, 2013

I took a day of vacation yesterday, and Jacky, Friedrich, Petra and I went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, where we spent many hours being impressed.


One of the most impressive things is the 2000 year old Antikythera astronomical computer, gears and wheels and amazingly well constructed, considering the technology of the time. There is no actual device here — the actual device is in the national archaeological museum in Athens —  just videos (which are also on the web site) and the picture above, but it’s still fascinating. I imagine 99.9% of visitors walk past without noticing it.


There is far too much to see, and I took far too many pictures, to include them all — besides, it would be redundant with the museum’s own site. Some of the machines look like abstract art.



A Google street-view bicycle. I think there is an ambition to have street views of bicycle trails, maybe even mountain bike trails, but not with this size and weight.

Of course, the highlight of the entire museum is the Babbage difference engine, and its live demo.


Babbage wanted to compute mathematical tables. The difference engine is good for computing sequential values, but only sequential values. Okay for tables, but not a general purpose computing engine.

His collaborator, Ada lady Lovelace, was arguably aware of the more general purposes that could be served by a more general machine. It was not clear from the docent demo whether the Babbage analytical engine, which has never been built, could have been used as a general purpose computer or not.

We are told that the drawings for the analytical engine are under study to see whether it would be feasible to build one. Unfortunately, the design is incomplete, so gaps need to be filled in, by a committee of antiquarian expert engineers who ask, “What would Babbage have done?”


I have read that electromagnetic relays had been developed by 1830 to the point that Babbage actually could have designed an electrical computer, had he been more into electrical devices than mechanical. History might have been quite different if the electronic computer had been implied by the existence of electrical computers 150 years earlier than actually happened.

Babbage’s interest in computing mathematical tables began when he noticed that the tables of his day were full of errors. Even in the early 19th century, errors in the numbers could cause disasters in buildings, bridges, machines. Many of the errors were in transcription of the results, so this difference engine includes a printer that could impress one line at a time into soft plaster. The finished page could then be used to cast type for printing.


The printer is at the opposite end of the machine from the poor sod turning the crank, so there is a linkage from the printer that stops the machine when the page is full and needs a new tray of soft plaster.

And speaking of poor sods, the original Babbage design envisioned P. Sod turning the crank once per machine cycle, but did not understand how much force would be required. The committee of experts added a 4:1 reduction gear to the hand crank, meaning that P. Sod turns the crank four times per machine cycle. This is an example of the kind of thing that Babbage would very likely have done had he built the machine himself.

Arthropodae in the back yard

April 13, 2013

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Sitting in the back yard, I heard little clicks from the nearby vegetation. I never found the live source of the clicks, but I think I know what they are. Locusts!  I have found the occasional cicada around the bay area over the years, but we may be in for an invasion this year.


This empty shell is fairly small as such things go. Upon careful inspection, I find there are complete insects, hundreds more, thousands more, very tiny. I think the little bright specks drifting through the sunlight may be these things. The one in the lower left is also an empty husk, which suggests that they molt repeatedly as they grow. Not surprising, I guess, but I didn’t really know that.


Does this happen every year, and I just never really noticed before? Or is this an exceptional year? I have no idea how many will mature, but it should be an interesting season. Watch this space.


Of course, while poking around the house and yard with my camera, I came upon a wolf spider, this one busy enjoying lunch.


As best I can tell, lunch is not a cicada. Too bad.


And another tiny spider, this one with wonderful giant mandibles and bulgy eyes.



April 13, 2013

Our friends Friedrich and Petra arrived from Munich. Their departure was delayed by a problem with the lavatory smoke detection system. The maintenance crew apparently found nothing wrong, but couldn’t clear the red light… so they did what we all would have done: they re-booted the entire aircraft!

Upon which, everything tested fine and they deaprted without further ado.

The alligator is back

April 7, 2013

Sunday, 7 April, 2013

I went out on the bike for 40 miles, 2400 vertical feet. Everyone in the world was out enjoying the day. Nice.

Normally, the back deck is full of tiny spiders, busy going about their business. When an alligator lizard took up residence under the deck, a year or two ago, the spider population plummeted! Then I didn’t see the lizard for quite a while, and the spiders began to recover.

Over the last week or three, I see fewer spiders than I would expect, and today, I see why.


Not only is there one alligator lizard, but there are at least two. I saw what I think was a third, same colour as the one above, but much shorter tail. Raising a family, are they! Too bad about the spiders.



I conjectured that the lizards had taken up summer residence from their haunt in the firewood pile. So I went over to the firewood, which is busy, busy, busy, with hundreds of wolf spiders, many of them carrying egg pouches.



It will be interesting to watch the balance of forces here.



Rose Peak, the granddaddy of killer hikes

April 6, 2013

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Rose peak is the loop that first prompted me to use the term killer hike. 19 miles, 4900 feet of climb. My most recent visit was last fall, when I discovered the Sunol gate was locked until the official opening hour of 8 AM. In winter, that creates a problem with daylight hours; although it ought to be okay, there’s not as much margin for error as I like.

So today I planned my arrival for 8. Had time to say good morning to the wild turkey crossing the road in front of me. Had time to enjoy the plenitude of woodpeckers poking through last year’s acorn fall for overlooked goodies. Rolled through the gate right at 8; it was already open, the parking lot was well-nigh full, and great clusters of people were getting ready to go hiking.

I hope they’re not all going to Rose peak.

A chilly, cloudy day with the forecast possibility of rain showers, clearing up later on. There is no such thing as bad weather, merely inadequate clothing, but I am not disadvantaged with inadequate clothing today. Rain showers are okay if they happen, and okay if they don’t.

This open, dry grassland does not host lots of newts, nothing like the damp forests of the peninsula, but I did see one. That’s unusual. And I found a banana slug, also adapted to the requirements of local coloration. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in this particular shade.



Lots of people out on this trail. I like having the world to myself, but I have to admit that it’s good to see people willing and able to take on this level of challenge. On the downside, I saw food wrappers, tissue, water bottle caps and such along the trail, people who just can’t seem to get the idea.

Before I reached the top, the clouds turned into mist and fog. I put on my rain shell, knowing that I would sweat even more on the uphill, but it would be welcome when I started down. And so it was.


Here’s how it looked near the top.


The weather deteriorated as I started down. The light mist turned into heavy mist, then into occasional light rain. Not a problem, but it created wonderful opportunities to photograph the wildflowers.











By the time I had descended a thousand or fifteen hundred feet, the rain had pretty much stopped, and I took off the jacket. I could see nice weather blowing in from the west, but it took a while to arrive.



I believe this one is called goat rock, and Rose peak is somewhere on or behind the ridge to the left. On the way up, I saw a hiker heading over to explore it. Something I have always been tempted to do myself, but the rules say that we’re supposed to stay on the trails. One of these days…


Although it’s still early spring, this butterfly has been around long enough to get its wings tattered.


This view was pretty unusual. There are lots of wildflowers out, but the yellow ones dominate the visual scene. Only when you get close up do you see the intertwingled little pink and purple flowers. In this particular scene, there isn’t much of a mix at all. Very pretty.



Jacky says this would make a great jigsaw puzzle, but very difficult.


It was just after 4 when I got back to the car, on what had turned out to be a pretty nice day after all.

As I drove back to the main road, I passed three wild turkeys off to the side; the male’s fantail was fully splayed out in the glory of optimism. The females were of course studiously ignoring him, while of course staying right nearby so they wouldn’t miss any of the show.