Halloween 2013

For the number of trick-or-treaters we get some might argue that the spooky yard we create is not worth the several initial hours of extraction from the basement and set-up and wiring for light and spooky sounds, followed by several more hours over the days leading up to Halloween night spent tinkering and fine-tuning (and in the case of this year filing a police report for a theft of one of the ornaments). Lastly there are the hours on the Big Day spent getting all the electronics ready, carving the pumpkins, and also in the case of this year, subbing in 10 pounds of dry ice for the way-pat-its-prime fog machine that finally crapped out.

The trick is: I don’t do all that for the 70 or so kids who come tromping up the front steps seeking candy. I do it for the inner child in me and my love of my favorite night of the year.

But because I’m a firm believer in Halloween being over when it’s over, come the morning of November 1, I waste little time dismantling the entire thing back into the basement and returning our yard to normalcy as if nothing had happened… leaving only the above photograph (click it for the bigger picture) as proof, and these that I uploaded to Flickr.


fordHaving to take our 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid (with a whoppingly low 12,600 miles on the odometer) into the dealership for service this week, I’d been meaning to write about the odd temporary malfunction that prompted the visit and what was determined (more like “best guessed”) to be its strange cause — essentially a street-level variation on the principle as to why you’re not supposed to use your cellphone during flight.

So we were coming back from our Eastern Sierra vacation two Saturdays ago, southbound on the 14 Freeway in the HOV lane in Santa Clarita a few miles from the 5, when I went to accelerate into the lane to the right to get out from in front of a tailgater and encountered no response. I pressed on the pedal a little more and more until it was all the way to the floorboard, but nothing. All systems were operating: the engine was running, the A/C was blowing, but when I’d give the vehicle gas it wouldn’t respond. Noticing a “What the hell does that mean!?” wrench icon light was now illuminated on the dash, I let Susan know we had a problem and began carefully transitioning to the far outside lane in case everything suddenly quit. But since we were on a good downhill portion of the freeway we were able to continue with the flow of traffic. It was when we started to go up a slight incline and the car quickly its momentum that I knew we had to get off the freeway.

Exiting at Sand Canyon with the vehicle idling uncharacteristically high but the accelerator now a bit more responsive at low speeds, I crawled us into a service station and stopped. After a few moments of the engine still revving in park I decided to turn it off and let it rest for a spell. Starting it back up, she revved high again for about 10-20 interminable seconds before the electric motor kicked in and all ran silently. The wrench icon on the dash was now no longer lighted. Hmmmm.

Susan took Ranger for a leg-stretch down Soledad Canyon while I popped the hood just to make sure nothing looked wrong/broken/disconnected. And in fact other than making the surprise WTF discovery of  accumulations of old-ish looking rat poop in the wells where the front suspension/shocks bolt to the vehicle — proof that our garage rats had taken to nesting/resting there (perhaps moreso during the colder months) — everything else looked fine.

Not confident about getting back on the freeway, the decision was to plot a surface-street course home via “Gladys” (that’s what I call the GPS), cross our fingers and see if we can get there. At worst if the car quits, at least it’s in a safer, slower environment where we can pull over, call AAA, and get towed.

The good news is that it worked and we arrived home without further incident (and in the process I was happy to discover the long unknown street route between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Clarita (you know, in case I ever want to bike between the two places). The bad news is that we knew we had to get this curious incident examined.

So fast forward to this last Wednesday when I take the Ford to Sunrise Ford in North Hollywood, where I explained the above to the service manager, and in response he was curious of either my wife or myself have iPhones. I told him we both do, that my wifes iPhone5 is paired with the car via bluetooth and that at one extended point about 120 miles before the incident she was also using her iPad to surf the internet. He explained somewhat sheepishly that there’s apparently a conflict between the Apple devices and Ford Hybrids that can produce interference resulting in similar situations.


He explained that he’s personally seen cases involving the city of Burbank’s hybrids fail to start as a result of their operators packing iPhones. He added that Ford’s aware of the problem but so far there’s been no solution.


In my looooong history with a variety of motorized vehicles, this was my first time hearing a powertrain problem caused by a possible “programming glitch.”

Brave new world.

Of course, he took the vehicle and put it through a panel of diagnostic tests, wherein he said he failed to recreate the loss of acceleration. The best he could do was recommend a series of software upgrades that may or may not eliminate future incidents and of course was not covered by any warranty. Oh, and by the way, I also needed a new A/C filter. Total estimate: $180. Sigh… sold.

I asked: Does the new software include a “pre-flight” warning to turn off all Apple devices prior to departure?

He chuckled.

I didn’t. And now basically all we can do is cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen again. That’s tolerable for short city trips. But you can bet during our next longer drive there’ll be some pins and needles in the driver’s seat I’ll be sitting on throughout the journey. NOT the way I like to roll.

This behavior is not something Ranger ever learned, nor was she taught it. It was discovered quite by accident after the kids next door hit a soccer ball over the fence into our yard. When I found the ball, for whatever reason, I arc’d it over in Ranger’s general direction and holy wowzers she proceeded to use her muzzle to line drive it directly back to me.


One time… two times… could happen to any dog, right? Well, we all know Ranger isn’t any dog. As if to prove it, she tossed it back to me practically every time I tossed it to her. We’ve had streaks of 20 or more, from as far as 10 feet between us.

Now, “toss” isn’t really what she’s doing. She isn’t even doing what trained seals do and bouncing it back off her nose soccer-style. What she’s trying to do is catch the ball in her mouth, but since it’s too big to fit in her jaws what happens instead is an uncannily precise return to sender.

The trick is, it’s all on me. Pretty much her rebound shot is entirely dependent upon how nice a lob I send her way. If it’s near perfect, the ball will most often come back through the air either directly to me or at least within my reach. And by the time I catch it, Ranger’s already poised and ready for me to send the next one here way.

The following link takes you to a snippet of crappy video from a lousy camera, but you get the idea — and you can bet I’ll be setting up a better cam to capture it next time we: Play Ball!

While getting some video of Buster our Russian Tortoise enjoying today’s breakfast featuring her first nomtastic hibiscus bloom of the spring, into the frame fluttered by a local butterfly to say hi (click it for the bigger picture):


Or here’s a slo-mo looping file I created of the entire moment:


At 6AM during our dog walk, while proceeding northbound on Parkman toward Marathon, from the east side of the street we observed the first of two coyotes heading southbound across the street coming up behind an unaware woman walking her small pug on-leash.

I intercepted the coyote before any contact occurred and ran after it to Marathon where it stopped in the middle of the street midway up the hill to the east between Parkman and Occidental:


The second animal, identified as the previously seen “special needs” coyote by its noticeable head tilt and awkward gait, was then found by Susan and Ranger in the yard of a residence on the east side of Parkman between where the first coyote was encountered and Marathon. After flushing it from the foliage it observed us momentarily before proceeding southbound on Parkman toward Bellevue:


Concurrently, the first coyote came westbound on Marathon, crossed Parkman and then Silver Lake Boulevard and was last seen on Marathon heading up the hill west of Vendome.

Sure, it’s that first day of the fourth month of the year, but I guarantee you the below image, captured by my motion-triggered  front steps cam this morning, is no April Fools Day prank (click it for the bigger picture):


It just happens to coincide with the time of year when the coyotes are increasingly out and about and at their most brazenly nonchalant in dropping by and looking for something to eat.

We saw this fellow again walking down  in the middle of the street as if he owned it just as Susan was heading out for work a few minutes after 8 a.m. It looked up at us and just kept on going without so much as a twitch or a start.

It’s a coyote’s world, we just encroach upon it.

You might recall last week that I got on my trusty singlespeeder “El Naranja” and undertook my first road ride of 2013 by pedaling to the DMV in Glendale and back to purchase a copy of the California Vehicle Code required for my present public safety training module. What I forgot to relate was the negative contact I had with a grumpy-assed old cyclist almost immediately on my way back home.

No sooner had I left the DMV when this guy passed me on Glenoaks and I made a right and fell in behind him heading east in the bike lane at a nice plus-10mph clip. Everything was totally peachy for the first block or so and I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one at that moment making use of the relatively new Class II addition to the boulevard, right up until he suddenly came to quick and full put-your-foot-down stop in the lane, as shown below, despite there being plenty of room to ease off to the right like most aware and considerate people would do.


Fortunately I was able make a semi-evasive move that allowed me not to pile all up into his lower intestine and instead move to the left out of the bike lane into the No. 3 traffic lane and safely pass him. In doing so (and while coincidentally aware due to the aforementioned training that it is a violation of CVC Section 21211[a] “to stop, stand, sit, or loiter upon any bike lane, path or trail if the stopping, standing, sitting or loitering impedes or blocks other cyclists”), I offered the suggestion that he really shouldn’t make a habit of doing what he’d just done and then pedaled on up to the intersection of Glenoaks and Sonora where I soon learned that he was none to happy with the advice I’d offered.

I offer this next photo up primarily to showcase the bike sensor I found embedded at the front of the signaled left turn lane on Glenoaks and Sonora as indicative of how totally awesome Glendale has become in regards to including bikes on its streets:


I also include it to to show where I stopped while the cyclist I’d encountered caught up to me. Though he also needed to make a left and go south on Sonora, he opted to execute his turn the old-fashioned 90-degree long way, by crossing Sonora to the opposite corner and then waiting for the green to continue southbound.

I personally like to utilize left turn lanes whenever possible for no other reason than to get whatever motorists in my vicinity who don’t know better to perhaps replace their “What the hell is that cyclist doing there breaking yet another law instead of being on the sidewalk where he belongs!?” with a realization that it is the perfectly proper and legal way for a cyclist to make such a turn. And I didn’t begrudge this guy his decision not to follow my lead, at least not until he crossed Sonora, pointed his bike south on that far corner, and started jawing at me angrily accompanied by a series of gesticulations that were concluded with the clear pointing of a middle finger in my direction.

Without going into a lengthy “folks that know me” explanation of how I might’ve badly  handled such an affront in the past, suffice it to say that in a previous far more demonstrative don’t-give-a-damn life I would’ve personalized it and gone to great and histrionic lengths to directly educate the gentleman as to how little tolerance I have for such bullshit. Today, being kinder, gentler and infinitely more aware of what a complete waste of time it is to get mad at such jerks, I just laughed him off and blew him a kiss, which caused him to flip me off a second time and jaw even louder until the green light was finally his and he proceeded across the intersection wth the second part of his gradeschooler’s left turn, as seen below (I had to use an arrow to indicate the little guy’s location as he angrily pedaled across in unintended imitation of Dorothy’s dog-hating spinster schoolmarm Miss Gulch):


Of course, you’re way ahead of me. You’ve already figured out that with both of us heading south on the same street, I’d eventually get my green arrow and his headstart down Sonora would quickly evaporate as I reeled him in until we’d once again be in close enough proximity to each other.

You’re gooooood! That happened at the next light at San Fernando Boulevard, when I pulled up behind him and cleared my throat loudly enough for him to peek around and know I was now readily available if he wished to continue the conversation.


Funny what a difference distance and cross traffic makes to one’s bravado. Maybe age and size, too — with me being a head taller and at least 10 years his junior. From across the buffered safety of a busy intersection this guy couldn’t insult me and flip me off enough. But when I get close enough to count the overburdened stitches in the buttcrack seam of his dark blue Dickies, suddenly he’s got absolutely nothing to say.

And it stayed that way for the rest of this red light and for the time it took me to pull alongside him as we approached the railroad crossing, wherein I looked him square in the gritty stare he gave back to and before putting him behind me for good, said:


“Have a nice day.”

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