email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Thursday, February 15, 2018


I'm pissed.  Another massacre at another school.  "Breaking News"...  It is becoming "not news".  Same old, same old.

The same helicopter pictures of surviving students running out of the school with their hands raised.  The same kind of angry young person killing others with the same kind of gun.  The same condemnations of the violence, the same regrets by the school leaders and the politicians.

I understand the news channels focussing on it.  It is what they have to do.  It's their job.  They report events.

I understand the school and local leaders decrying the event.  They really didn't think it would happen "HERE" in their good town.

I understand politicians speaking sadly of the event.  They really didn't think THEY would ever have to say the sad words about a school massacre.

I understand the shocked parents of the dead, wounded, and living struggling to get their children back home into the safety of their arms. 


What pisses me off is that I can hear extremists dusting off their prepared and often read speeches in favor of their positions about guns. 

Some will argue on today's talk shows that everyone should have a gun for protection, as if we want our children carrying guns.  That some teachers with guns in their desks would have stopped a deranged person from firing down a crowded hallway after the fire alarm was set off.  Yeah, just what you want; untrained people dedicated to calm education firing shots all around try to hit one student who looks like all the rest.  That it is "too soon" to talk about this newest tragedy...

Some will argue that all guns should be confiscated just to prevent this sort of thing.  As if we can find and destroy 300 million guns in the US.  That better security in schools would prevent this sort of thing.  That teachers need more anti-violence training.

I'm not sure what the solution is. 

A few things I do know.  This happens too often.  And as one commenter pointed out, there are also 90 gun deaths in the US on a typical day.  A politician pointed out than after gun laws of various sorts in Connecticut were tightened, gun deaths went down 40%.

I know that most of the guns used by students or former students in school massacres is often an AR-15 and they get them from home or friends.  Why does anyone need one in their home?

I know that more people are killed with their own guns then are ever used to successfully drive off an intruder.  That's a negative sum game.

I know that I'm comfortable around guns.  I was taught their purpose, their lethality, and how to use them.  I have hunted animals and killed them (and you eat what you kill). 

I know that you don't need an AR-15 or an AK-47 or any weapon like that to kill a deer.


We can have guns for legitimate reasons.  I don't want to hunt deer with my Roman Gladius or a spear.  But you don't need an assault rifle for that either.  A single shot 12 gauge works just fine. 

And we don't need assault rifles to protect us from the Government.  If some dictator takes control, either the army will follow him or they won't and if they do, you can have your AK-47 and it won't do you any good!  They are trained to kill you.

Not that I expect they would, but you get my meaning.  They are trained and organized, you aren't.  If you and you and some para-military wannabees try to fight the army, you are all dead all to 0.

So lets discuss guns.  They work as designed.  A projectile comes out the front and it either hits something or not.  Most gun deaths seem to be self-inflicted.  You don't need an AK-47 for that.  I have no particular objection to suicide, but a 22 pistol will work just fine.  What are you going to do in a suicide?  Shoot yourself 30 times?

If you want to kill yourself, drink a quart of vodka real fast, wrap a plastic bag around your head and lay in the bathtub.  It's less messy.

So why do we have so many guns, and to what purpose?  Surely not for us to have some teenager take it and go shoot everyone (most of whom they don't even know). 

To protect ourselves from intruders?  Very few homes are intruded, and usually the intruder is not trying to kill you.  Waving a kitchen knife around is probably as good as a gun.  Faced with a gun, an intruder may shoot more for fear of his own life.  They can back away from a knife.  I had a college roommate who subdued 2 burglers with a baseball bat and THEY had pistols.

We need to rethink our gun-ownership.  Have a hunting gun is JUST fine!  Go shoot a deer.  We have too many of them as it is.  But these crazy military semi and truly automatic killing weapons have to go away. 

Start with making them illegal for private ownership.  Then offer half the value for ones turned in, no questions asked.  As the number goes down, fewer angry young students will have access.

Fewer angry young students, fewer school massacres. 

I could type all night.  As Arlo Guthrie said "I'm not tired...  or proud".  But I've said enough.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Oh Bother!

I was innocently eating dinner last night, and suddenly detected a lump in my mouth.  I won't go into details, but I found a tooth crown that had come loose.  I'm glad my tongue found it before my teeth did! 

I washed it off carefully, then put it in a shotglass of mouthwash to keep it overnight.  My dentist had an opening at 3 pm today, so off I went.  I was admitted promptly at 3 pm (be still my beating heart).   First thing they did was sterilize it of course (mouthwash or not - they were kind about that and admired my intent).  Then they examined the tooth for damage and it looking OK, they tried a test re-fit.

It fit so well, they actually had trouble getting it back off.  So they took it away and drilled off the old epoxy.  The dentist Himself came in and showed it to me.  The gold crown was so old it actually had a hole worn through the top.  Well, I had several crowns 40 years ago, so it lasted pretty well.

And I learned something about crowns.  I always thought gold crowns lasted the longest, but was wrong.  Porcelain lasts longest, followed by silver, followed by gold.  And the gold content is low.  But gold wears at about the same rate as tooth enamel, so the bite stays the same.  Silver is close and can easily be ground down to match the bite. 

Porcelain doesn't wear down.  You would think that would be perfect, but it means that the crown top becomes a high spot over decades and makes your jaw adjust and some annoying stuff like that.  It is mostly for cosmetic reasons.  Well, I seriously doubt anyone other than a dentist will ever see that back molar.

The old crown was replaced, but it is temporary (like a year or 3).  It still has that tiny hole in the top, and that will lead to caries someday.  But "tis enough, will serve"...

But it also meant he looked at my other teeth.  I knew there were 2 other teeth that had sharp tops, which meant damage.  I'd been avoiding it. 

But you have to get such things fixed eventually.  As the dentist said, "you can have them fixed now while I can still put a crown on them, or you can wait until they have to be removed entirely".  So I have an appointment in 2 weeks to start getting those 2 teeth crowned, and then the old (now temporary) one from today replaced over a series of visits. 

I hate dental visits.  Well, no one likes them, but mine are worse than average.  I have a small jaw (apparently genetic) and can't open it as far as most people can.  My cats can open theirs more than I can!  A kitten probably can...  I have the jaw of a 12 year old!  In general, I have great genes - other than my teeth.  I seem to owe that to Dad.  At my age, he had almost no tooth unfilled, uncrowned, and 2 partial bridges.  At least I'm not at that point yet.  Hurray for fluoridation and novocaine (and nitrous oxide on occasion during a root canal).

My jaw is so small, my wisdom teeth never even emerged, and even then my teeth are too crowded.  In my 20s, a dentist said I should have 4 teeth extracted; a left upper and lower; a right upper and lower, make proper room for the rest.  At the time, that seemed horrible!  He said it would be painful afterwards for days.  But now I wish I had had that done.  Nothing like hindsight...

As it turned out, I had to have 2 teeth extracted 4 years ago.  One planned because it had simply fallen apart, and one unplanned because the roots were entangled  in the first.  Fortunately, it didn't bother me.  But the thing that amazed me was that the procedure wasn't the least bit painful (as the old dentist suggested it would be).  It was however utterly boring (no pun intended).  Drilling, spitting, holding my head to resist pulls, etc.  Never hurt in the least during or after!

On the other hand, I have a limited number of teeth, so I would like to keep them as long as possible.  Anything good for 20 years is probably OK.

So I'm going on a journey of dental work, which should last until flu season is over.  Then to a doctor to start getting regular exams and a series of physical and virtual exams that my insurance rep says is covered these days as "preventative medicine".  I plan to get every "virtual" test they will allow, and possible some not covered. 

On sad fact is that I've never been to any one doctor for more than a few years, so my medical history is almost non-existent.  But I went through my age-old medical file today and discovered some valuable information. 

Things like a 1988 letter from Mom (in response to my questions) detailing some family and personal history, some old doctor visit bills - a few of which mentioned some blood test results - etc.  I'll make copies to bring to my new doctor (I chose a geriatric internist over a GP).

But the important thing is that I'm getting back on track for regular medical care after decades of assuming I was immortal.  I've treated my cats and maintained my car better than I have myself.

Time to get myself into the maintenance loop...

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Seed Vial Tray

Some years ago, I built a quick little tray to hold vials of seeds in the basement refrigerator.  The seeds last a lot longer in the fridge, and the vials keep them from getting dried out or damp. Te vials are specimen containers I once found real cheap online!  I'm good at looking at things functionally, rather than just by intended purpose, LOL!

But the original had holes that were both tight and a bit too close together.  So I decided to make a new one.

I made the new one with holes 1/4" farther apart.  That may not seem like much, but it made a lot of difference.  And I knew because I drilled a couple of holes in scrap wood to check. 

I decided this one should have looser holes.  But since the vials wouldn't stand upright in loose holes, I made both a top and bottom.  To make sure the holes on each matched, and to save time, I screwed the top and bottom together, drew a grid on the top, and drilled right through both pieces at once.

I LOVE my drill-press!
The pencil line on the board in back allowed me to line that up the grid lines on the pieces without having to "eyeball them each time.  The drill bit you see there is called a "forstner bit".  They drill large holes with flat bottoms.   My set goes from 1/4" to 2 1/2".  The thing you see stuck in the drill where the bit goes is the  "chuck key" that tightens the bit .  I keep it clamped lightly in there so I can't lose it.
Here is the fully drilled top and bottom.  The solid piece of plywood behind them is the real bottom.  That piece is so the vials don't fall through the drilled holes.
I spread wood glue between the holes of the drilled bottom and the solid piece.  You can never have too many clamps.  If you need a gift for a woodworker, clamps are usually a safe bet!  
All those drilled holes created a lot of sawdust shavings.  I dump that stuff in the woods.  I don't compost it because of all the chemicals in plywood.  The trees don't mind a bit...
Then I needed to support the top 1 1/2" over the bottom.  I had cut sides from leftover plywood.  But I was going crazy because the kept coming out slightly tapered!  I kept checking the fence and the blade and they were perfectly square.  But I had actually cut them first, and didn't remember that, before that, I had changed the miter gauge a degree off "0" for another project and neglected to set it back to ).  Argh!  But I fixed that and the sides came out perfect. 

I glued the sides to the bottom upside down deliberately so that the glue squeeze-out didn't attach the pieces to the assembly stand.  Don't laugh.  Better woodworkers than me have done that...

I used scrap wood and shims to raise the bottom to even with the sides, then glued and clamped it.
Then I turned the whole thing over and repeated that to attach the top.  There was a slight difference in height in the center of the sides.  It made no functional difference, and no one would ever see it but me.  But I would, so I used a block plane to shave it down and a finishing sander to smooth it.  Putting it on my utterly flat table saw showed not the slightest wobbly in any direction.

Here is the finished try next to the old one.  A nice difference.
You can't really see it, but all of the vials are numbered.  I keep a list of the vial numbers and contents.  In fact, for safety, I keep 3.  One is with the seed tray, one is with the box of index cards listing the planting dates, planting depths, and growing notes, and one is in a permanent notebook.  Losing track of which seeds are in which vials would be a DISASTER!!!

And I got it done just in time.  Planting indoors starts next week...

So now I'm ready to build wood frames for the 2 bathroom mirrors. 

And I need to buy a trailer-load of compost for the garden beds.  My trash barrel of starter soil from last year is all used up.  Fortunately, the weather is going to be decent Saturday. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


I'm pissed!  Last week, before the stock market crashed, I was thinking I should get out and ride on the gains.  I looked at my stocks and decided to move them to safe money market accounts and CDs

But I wasn't sure how that would hit me taxwise, so I tried to find out out.  I don't know enough about that.  so I researched how exchanging my index funds would work.  The stock index fund I invest in was not clear about it, so I went internet researching.  I wasn't sure.

I was 2 days away from getting out before the recent crunch.  Cost me about $40,000.

Yeah, it will probably recover slowly over the next year.  But I wanted to just get out anyway.   Not timing the market, just wanted to leave entirely into safe investments for my old age.

2 days too late is 2 days too late.  I guess I'll hold.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Medical Insurance

You all know what it is like talking to you medical insurance company right?  Bad.

Wrong.  I just spent 90 minutes talking to mine and it was WONDERFUL.  Sharaya explained everything to me, told me about the things they covered and how to get fancy virtual tests covered and all that. 

I now have a primary care doctor (and I can change that easily if I want after a visit).  I can get a back specialist directly after one visit to my new primary care doctor and she says I can get virtual tests done with a simple co-pay in the network (and apparently all such specialists are covered) and my primary doctor will actually pay attention to those. 

She said that is the way their coverage is going; high-tech...  United health Care.

I haven't tested it yet, but she was so positive I nearly fell off my chair.  I will call one of the doctors she emailed me today about my back and a annual physical.

But she was so great I had to post this first...

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bad Back

Mom used to say (in her last 10 years - 74 to 84 years) that "growing old isn't for sissies".  She had to stop playing golf at 75,  couldn't write letters at 76 or so, couldn't type letters after 78, and sufferred from Parkinson's Disease after that.

Dad felt the same way, but he was healthy to 90 and faded quickly over 2 years.  I like his pattern better...

OK, I'm "only" 67, but I'm beginning to understand what she meant.  It isn't so much that you are going to die someday (we all will), but the accumulation of small and large problems is hard to accept and get used to.  And the minor problems of middle age just get worse.

I've always been "annoyingly healthy" (no colds, no flu, no broken bones, no migraines, etc).  But as a single person determined to tackle hard work alone, strained muscles are a routine of my life.  Sometimes, I push my body a bit too far.  I usually get over it in a day or two, but sometimes not.  I threw a rock at a squirrel 30 years ago and strained my right rotator cuff.  Couldn't lift my arm above my head for months.  But it healed.

I stepped on a rock wrong once and limped for a week.  It healed.  Whenever I strain a mucle, it heals.  I'm just used to that happening.  I do something, it heals.  I don't bruise.  Cuts heal in a day.  You get used to that happening.

I think partly that it is because I age slower than most people.  I matured  slowly in high school behind the other guys.  Some of the athletic types were shaving at 14.  I didn't have to until college.  When they looked 30 in college, I looked 16.  I resented it then, but I like it now.

But time is catching up to me.  I first noticed that, when I twisted around doing work, I would sometimes get a muscle cramp in my side.  Then both.   I have always had a slight back problem, but it got worse over the decades.  I get muscle cramps in my legs while laying in bed.

The males of my paternal side live to old age in relative health (85+).  The males on the maternal side do not (65+).  I suppose I will average that.

My point is that I think I've hit the point where things start to go downhill.  Monday, I woke up after doing no particularly heavy work the day before, and I COULD NOT STAND UPRIGHT.  That was a shock.  I expected that I had just slept in a bad position all night.  But even after a hot shower, it didn't go away, and I limped around all day.  The pain was slightly behind the left hip.  Not the joint, the muscle.

I took a double dose of Ibuprofen, which helped.  Standing erect (once I stretched enough) was sort of OK,   Bending over was troublesome; bending back up was harder.  I discovered doing leg squats was the easiest.

I have Ibuprofen because I had one attack of gout in the 90s and aspirin was contra-indicated for that.  The Ibuprofen instructions say 1 pill per 4-6 hours, but the doctor then said 2 were just fine (unless there are problems) and I follow that.  I'm drug-resistant, so I need stronger doses.

And interestingly, the "bad" knee I've had for 10 years has been just fine lately.  When one problem arrives, another one goes away.  And I haven't had leg muscle cramps in weeks.  Maybe that's because I've been eating a banana each day or because I just haven't been able to work hard in the yard.

So here is the situation.  My back is not getting better.  But I'm NOT going to the doctor office while the flu is widespread.  Maybe I've never caught the flu, and I got the annual shot (started doing that only when Dad came to live with me, but decided not to stop), but it seems the current flu shot has only a 30% effectiveness and if I catch a bad case, there isn't anyone here to help.  So I will wait to heal the back.

At least I've learned to adjust to it somewhat.  If I stand erect most of the day, it lessens.  I even did some woodworking today.

So I'm expecting it to just heal naturally and not notice it suddenly in a few more days.

Meanwhile, it is annoying.  The birdfeeder and suet basket were empty this morning.  I dragged out the 8'ladder to refill it.  It sure didn't feel great!  But I managed it.  Life doesn't stop just because my back hurts.  The birds need the food.

I expect that, in a few days, I will feel back to normal.   But not today, and not tomorrow.

When I'm 77, this may be more of a problem.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Upstairs PLant Rack

The plants on the upstairs plant rack are doing well.  The ivy are growing all around the single light and thriving with the southern sunlight.
This spider plant was just one little surviving baby when I pinned it into the soil about this time last year.  It sure liked the fresh soil.  And I water my plants with aquarium water, so they get some mild natural fertilizer each time.  
I have some vague plan to attach an iron rod to the ceiling studs and hang plants from it where the sun will hit them.  I'll need to make or find a water catch tray below them though.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Light Stand

I have to have the light stand ready for seedlings in 3 weeks, so why not do it now?

I took everything off, organized stuff into piles. And kept everything not "plant-starting" or "plant-growing" off.  Most of the plants there were cuttings I rooted in December.  Waxy Hoyas,...

Some failed to root, but most did.  I took out the failed ones and combined the rooting ones into 6-packs.  That saved some space.  And I had some planters half-filled. so I planted more seeds to fill them.

When all was done, I had this...
Celery plants.  For the leaves in salads.  I love the slightly strong taste of them.  I snip a couple from each plant and they keep growing new leaves.
I discovered another new Petunia growing and flowering in a Waxy Hoya cel and separated it for transplanting.  BTW, a 1" putty knife works great for that.
I read that you can grow scallinon-like greens from the top of an onion.   So far, it is working...
I love the taste of endive lettuce.  These are floppy now, but will be sending up heartier leaves soon that I can cut and they will regrow.
The single Snake Plant I chopped up into pieces and repotted...  The pieces are all doing well.  There is some slight new growth.  The interesting question is what to do with 12 Snake Plants.  I'm thinking a row of them in a new-built wood frame on the deck rails come Summer.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Basement Cleaning

Here is a real "Before and After"!

At the end of the growing season, I've accumulated a lot of stuff "out-of-place".  Well, I get busy, you know?  So it was needing some work to get ready for the new planting season.  And amazingly, the new planting season starts in 3 weeks!

So, I had to get to work.  The clutter was bad. 
Even my light stand was clutterred!  It's the old rule of "any horizontal surface gets covered"...
After 2 days work, I had it down to this...
And to show I didn't just move stuff "out of sight", here is the other previously clutterred space...
That old refrigerator is my "root cellar".  I keep bulk veggies in it at 40-45F.  And my seeds are in the tray there too.
Next, I need to clear out and get my light stand ready to stat seedlings...

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Freshwater Aquarium

I have had one type of aquarium or another since college when I built a 2 gallon aquarium from plastic sheets I found in the trash in my college dorm (and bought plastic cement to hold it together - a serious expense at the time)

My first REAL job was in the fish department at a department store in 1971.  I had the aquarium I built and needed a few fish for it.  I visited the nearest department store, and was angry that the tanks were dirty and had dead fish in them.  I complained to the person at the cash register (in those days, each department had its own cash register).

The person was the Department Manager.  A real slob, reflecting how he maintained the fish tanks.  He offerred me a job.  I took it (minimum wage was better than no wage, and I hated asking my parents for "spending money" while they were paying college tuition and board).

In a week, I had all the dead  fish removed (and accounted for, for inventory-reporting), tanks cleaned, and asked what to do next.  The Department Manager guy didn't care, but the part-time Assistant Manager was impressed.

It was a chain operation.  Back then, discount stores were called "department" stores because each "department" was a separate business renting space in it.  I bet you never knew THAT!

So the Regional Manager came along once a month (he had dozens of "fish departments" to oversee).  The assistant manager told him what I had been doing (that the department manager had not) and the Manager was fired, the Assistant went to Manager and I got nothing...  Huh?

So I upped my game.  There was one tall display case in the storage room, and I cleaned it up, set it at the entrance to the department, and set up breeding tanks.  One month it would be cherry barbs, another, fancy guppies, another, Siamese Fighting Fish.

I even found a 2 gallon brandy-snifter in the glasswares department and snuck it away to create a self-contained live plant and guppy "tank" that required no feeding of the fish or water changes (other than adding some distilled water occasionally).

The next time the Regional Manager came by, he announced they were closing the department.  But he offerred me the Manager job at one of their better departments in Cherry Hill New Jersey.  20% above minimum wage.

A 20% wage increase would have been great.  But I was still in college and had hopes for a better future.  I declined the offer.  You never know what changes such choices make.  For all I know, my career could have gone into retail sales and store management with company stocks and wealth.  But I stayed in college.

I mention all this because I still keep fish.  Watching them swim around endlessly is soothing.  It gives me something to be responsible for (as if the cats and house and yard weren't enough).  But you know what I mean.  It adds structure to the day.  And Ayla loves watching them move around.

So When I found a algea-like slime couting the bottom of the aqurium last year, I took the whole thing apart (moved the fish to a 10 gallon aquarium temporarily).   I cleaned the plastic plants.  I scooped out all the gravel.  I scrubbed the tank with a pad and then filled it with water out on the deck and added bleach to kill anything in it. 

Then I rinsed the tank several times, stirring up the gravel as I went.  Then I set it all up again and moved the fish back in.

That lasted 3 months.  The slime returned.

I repeated the process.

In December the slime returned.  It shouldn't have, so I did so research.  I learned my problem was "blue-green" algae.  And that the name was false.  It is a "cyano-bacteria", and bacteria is not "algae".  Bleach doesn't kill it. 

I found help at Petco.  There was a woman with a dog (a customer, I assumed) talking to a woman with a Petco uniform.  The usual fish expert was not there.  So I asked uniformed woman if the expert was there.  He wasn't, but she offerred to help.

I was doubtful.  Be sure to understand it was because she wasn't the fish expert that I doubted she could help.  I know about helping customers (spent 5 years in stores doing whatever I could to help), but expertise was needed here.  She had no idea what cyanobacteria was. 

But she was willing to help.  Unfortunately, I know how THAT goes.  The helpful clerk pulls bottles off the shelf and reads them to see if they mention the problem.  I appreciate the willingness to help, but I had done that already and with more experience.

But guess what?  The "customer with the dog" was actually the Regional Manager and knew EXACTLY what I was talking about!  She handed her dog (on a leash) to the clerk, and said I needed "Chemi-Clean" and walked directly to the spot on the shelf where it was stocked.

The spot on the shelf was empty...   But she said they had just gotten the weekly shipment of supplies in.  She went to the back and returned with a container of The Right Stuff!

$20!  Well, compared to cleaning the aquarium again, that was a bargain.  It is harmless to fish and plants.  You keep the water circulating without charcoal filters at high power (extra air bubblers) for 48 hours and then replace 20% of the water.  The cyano-bacteria is supposedly dead.  And the container has 10 doses in it (endless shelf-life apparently).

A week later, the aquarium looks clean.  Without the plants in the aquarium, I see I have more fish than I realized!  Some I knew of, of course (red-tailed shark, 2 corydoris catfish, 1 algae eater), but 11 serpae tetra and 3 tiger barbs.  I thought I had only 6 tetras.  I guess they hide well.
And, in the picture above, you see a small 10 gallon tank at the bottom.  That's where the 6 new tiger barbs are staying for a week while I make sure they don't bring home a disease.  The screen and brick on the top of that tank is to make sure the cats don't get too pawy at them.

The cloudy stuff in the center are air bubbles from a long strip bubbler...
I haven't added the plastic plants back in yet, but they seem clean.  BTW, that brown block above is a piece of petrified wood. 
I'll add them back soon.  But I'm thinking I should add some live plants.  That can wait, but it is on my list...BTW, that brown block