One of my readers found my post from 2014 about low-flush toilets. It does not get a lot of attention and readership, unfortunately, even though I think it is worth it.

However, that reader “hunted me down” through my work and sent a link to an article about how to fix leaking faucets. Since she went through all this trouble, I figured it deserved its own post under the Environmental Protection category.

Go here for Fixing a Leaking Faucet by Brittney Pino.

Here is a hiker’s map of Daley Ranch.

[as always, you can click on the image to enlarge]

In the upper left corner there is the Engleman Oak circle trail basically around Burnt Mountain. You can walk or bike there from the main entrance by Dixon Lake, but it’s a longish hike. But you can you also access it from the Cougar Pass trailhead. Here is a more detailed section of the same map:

The red arrow points to the trailhead. When you use Goggle Map directions, even coming from the south in Escondido, it directs you to the Hidden Valley Road exit off I-15, which is out of the way. The easiest way to get there is to just go north on Broadway in Escondido. After a while it becomes rural. About five miles out of town, there is a turnoff labeled Cougar Pass Road. This is a dirt road with some washboard damage that snakes up the hills, but it’s totally safe for a regular vehicle. I might note that the Google Maps-recommended way also includes several miles of dirt road driving. There is a good parking lot at the trailhead and there is always enough space, since it is fairly remote and not well-known.

The Cougar Ridge trail ascends sharply from about 1,200 feet at the trailhead to about 1,900 feet where it joins the Engleman Oak trail. The last section is a steep fire road, with direct southern exposure to the sun all day long. I have to pace myself there to keep the heartrate reasonable. Once you turn left on Engleman Oak, it becomes mostly flat. The trail is dotted with boulders on both sides, and partly shaded by a lot of old oaks.

I marked the peak of Burnt Mountain with the blue arrow. This is a rounded, rocky peak with no published trail to it. But on previous hikes about at the spot marked by the green arrow, I noticed a faint foot trail into the brush.

If you look carefully, you can see the faint trail in the foreground on the left side. The peak is not directly visible behind the high point in this photograph. It’s all boulders and brush. But the foot trail looked promising. Every time before, when I was there, I was alone and I didn’t think it would be smart to hike there by myself. It’s mountain lion country. But more importantly, if I were to injure myself through a fall, nobody would come by to save me. Nobody would find me. Not a smart thing.

So last week, my son Devin was in town. Devin is a wilderness first responder and very experienced hiker and climber. The right guy to take along when you’re scared of going on a sketchy, unknown hike by yourself. So we headed up.

Here is Devin taking a selfie of us at a rest stop along Cougar Ridge trail.

After twenty minutes of scrambling through steep tiny trails, under bushes and through brambles, we got to the top. There were a few places that required some bouldering, using hands to pull up between large rocks, but nothing too scary. We both wore long pants in anticipation, something I would strongly recommend. I got my arm scratched bloody somewhere. Here is one of the views from the very top.

Here you can see the elevation of 2,222 feet at the peak, which is about 300 feet above the plateau where the foot trail started.

Here is another shot from the top, pointing east. On the bottom you see the Engleman Oak trail from the plateau where we started. The green arrow points to Cuyamaca Mountain some 50 miles away. At over 6,000 feet, it is one of the highest peaks in San Diego county. The red arrow points to the top of Stanley Peak, which I have hiked and described here.

And of course there is always a victory photo when there is a partner to take my picture.

Here is a shot of Devin on the way down on the barely discernible trail.

Here is the profile map of our hike. The green arrow points to the start of the foot trail. On the way back, we turned left on the Burnt Mountain trail rather than completing the Engleman Oak trail, which is a fire road, versus Burnt Mountain trail being a nice trail. The same thing on the way back, we took the Bobcat trail back to the other side, rather than continuing down straight the Engleman Oak road, which is very steep, rocky and not all that inspiring.

The whole trip, including the peak and back, took three hours and was 5.40 miles long. We took plenty of rest on the top, so it can certainly be done faster if need be.

Movie Review: Mudbound

There is mud everywhere in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. The Jackson family is black and works the land. Their oldest son, Ronsel, is called into the service when America joins World War II. The McAllan family is white and they also farm the same land as the Jacksons. Pappy McAllan, the patriarch, is a racist through and through. The younger son of the McAllans, Jamie, is also called into the war. He is a pilot in Europe, while Ronsel is a sergeant and tank commander. While the two families struggle at home in Mississippi and try to survive in abject poverty, the two sons fight the demons of war in Europe.

Eventually, in 1945, they both return home to a place that does not understand them anymore. While they can’t connect to life at home, the two men form an unlikely friendship, bridging the vast gap of race and culture, while they sink into the self-sabotage of alcoholism. But in Mississippi, the people are not ready for human relations across the races, and especially not Pappy McAllan. While the two young men are trying to put the horrors of war behind them, they are not prepared for the horrible fate that confronts them right at home.

Mudbound came out in 2017, and watching it in 2021 when racism in America is as alive as ever, and white supremacy is once again celebrated in too many corners of the country, it reminds me that not much has changed in America in the last 50 years. We have had a black president, but the intrinsic hatred in the people appears to have been buried only in a shallow grave in the last few decades, and new fires have been lit.

Pappy McAllan is played expertly by Jonathan Banks, who we all know as Mike in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Pappy is pure evil, hateful to the core, and proud of it. He is a frightening caricature of the American racist and he inflicts endless damage on his fellow men by outright hurting them, as well as on his family by corrupting their ability to grow up and think for themselves.

The plight of black people in America is in the forefront of this movie. We understand why so many black soldiers returned to Europe after the war, where they were treated as equals and were allowed to have normal lives.

Watching Mudbound made me afraid it might take centuries for America to overcome its bloody and oppressive history. Watching Mudbound will leave you depressed and hopeless, but watch it you must nonetheless.


I find it a relief to wake up in the morning without the urge to check the news for any bad shit that went down since the last time I checked. We had a weather disaster in Texas, and I followed the news. I donated some money to relief efforts for suffering Texans. President Biden declared an emergency for Texas and other southern states which freed up federal funding. The affected states were all states that didn’t vote for him in the electoral college. But Biden just did his job as president. He didn’t trash the states, he didn’t blame their governors or politicians, he didn’t hold up funding until they made statements to praise or support him. He didn’t tell Texas to fix their energy grid or they wouldn’t receive funds. He didn’t second-guess their efforts or motives.

He just did what the job requires. He didn’t use it to attract attention to himself. He just went back to work on the next thing.

Politics is boring again, and I sleep better because of it.

When you read some of the responses below this tweet by AOC soliciting donations for Texas, there are some cynical and outright insulting comments by – of all people – Texans who are discrediting her motives and her efforts, including telling her to keep her money in her own district in New York.

She has, to date, raised more than $4 million for Texas and that’s getting a lot of attention.

I for one do not care about her motives. Her name is a brand, and she is using it for the benefit of suffering Americans. I personally donated $50 of my money to the effort. Without her call and publicity, there is no way this Southern Californian suburbanite (me) would have ever thought of making an effort to send cash to Texas. But I did, and I did it because of AOC’s call.

Somebody in Texas benefited from my modest contribution – and it would not have happened otherwise.

Duke (Morgan Freeman) is the manager of the Villa Capri, an upscale resort community for senior citizens in Palm Springs. He loves to be the king of the castle. He is freewheeling, his staff loves and supports him, the women residents adore him, and he is surrounded by a court of friends. Things are good in Duke’s kingdom as he prepares for Christmas with live camels in the nativity scene.

When Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) moves into unit 71, things change quickly. The women call him “new food on the buffet” and Duke finds out quickly that Leo is a better poker player and golfer. When his ladies start fawning over Leo, Duke realizes he’ll be trouble.

Then Suzie (Rene Russo) shows up in town and both mean are smitten. As it turns out, though, she is from the corporate office of the Villa Capri, essentially Duke’s boss, and sent to clean house – starting with firing him.

Before long, everyone is after Duke. Leo steals the show, Suzie is getting him fired, and somebody else is apparently trying to kill him.

Just Getting Started is a light comedy that makes us all laugh. It’s a silly little story with some unexpected twists, but is is carried by the star power of a  strong cast of veteran actors. And that makes it an enjoyable movie to watch and get away for a little while.

Texas Mayor

Here is a post by Tim Boyd, the now former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, population 3,920 as of 2019. You can click on the image and enlarge it for better reading.

Before I get too far I should mention that the mayor resigned yesterday as a result of this post.

I put red boxes around obvious spelling or grammar errors. We all make spelling and grammar mistakes. I do too from time to time. But to have six of them in one post either means the mayor is not very educated, or he does not pay much attention to detail. The first can be excused. The second not. The mayor is addressing, or rather – assailing – his constituents, but he does not care enough to read his post one more time before hitting the Publish button.

It appears to me that the mayor fundamentally does not understand the role and responsibilities of a municipal government. He was elected to a position that has as its primary function and purpose providing for the safety, health and welfare of the citizens. That’s all we have municipal government for, that’s why it exists.

That’s why we pay taxes.

The mayor insults his constituents. He acts like we live in an agrarian society where we live off the land. In a municipal neighborhood, we do not have goats and cows in the backyard to supply milk, chickens for eggs, a well for water, and a rack of firewood. We do not have wood stoves to heat the house and boil water.

Instead, we have a contract with the water company to supply water, and another with the power company to get electricity, so we can leave our houses safe for our families while we go to work. We pay our electricity and water bills with the expectation that we continue to receive reliable services.

Getting services we contract for by ordering them from the power company is not “looking for a handout” as the mayor calls it. The power company only exists because there are enough citizens that sign up to buy power on a subscription service. When the power company all of a sudden stops delivering, it’s breaking its contract, it’s not fulfilling its responsibility. Asking the power company to live up to what it signed up for is not socialism, and it’s definitely not asking for a handout.

Calling citizens lazy when they are upset about the broken promises of the vendors and the government is an insult on top of injury.

The mayor actually says:

I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!


So the mayor decides that some able-bodied citizens somehow magically go to the power company and turn the heat back on? The mayor decides who is elderly and can’t help themselves? He calls for people to stop being part of the problem, as if the people brought on the bitter cold in Texas. He calls for people to start taking care of their own families, without any practical suggestions as to how to do that.

Finally, he claims that the whole issue sadly is a product of a socialist government.

I just wonder what government he is talking about. Obviously, he has been the leader of that government in Colorado City for some time. And the Republican governor of Texas has been in power for several years. And the Republican president just finished his four years in office. So as far as I am concerned, Republicans have been in charge in Texas for a long time. What socialist government is the mayor referring to?

This is not 1880 in a Texas homestead. This is 2021 in a modern society where we rely on critical infrastructure to work.

What exactly is the mayor’s job then, if it’s not representing the community, and keeping people safe, healthy and protected?

Well, the mayor has resigned, and hopefully the people of Colorado City get a chance to elect somebody who at least has a rudimentary understanding of the responsibilities and duties of municipal government.

I wish them luck, and I hope that the cold breaks soon and they get relief.

[This post was updated March 8, 2021 with current information]

The FBI is looking for the Capitol Rioters. Here is an article in HuffPost with many pictures of wanted criminals.

The man in the picture above gained notoriety as the eye gouger. Here is a picture of him trying to gouge out the eye of a capitol police officer. In the first version of this post, I had stated that this officer only had one eye left for the rest of his life. A helpful reader has since corrected me and stated that the gouger was unsuccessful, and the officer has since fully recovered. 

I am a martial artist. In my training, many years ago, I have learned a lot of gruesome techniques of self defense, and I believe if I were trapped in a threatening situation I would have a lot of “weapons” at my disposal that could do serious damage to an attacker. In my entire life, I have never been in a situation where I needed to draw on those skills. That’s because I always make choices that do not put me in such a situation in the first place. I have to say, however, that it has helped me greatly in my confidence walking down the street in a sketchy area from time to time.

One move at anyone’s disposal is eye gouging. You can do it with one hand and one eye, like in the picture shown, or you could use a double-eye technique. I am not going to go into the details, but it’s definitely an effective self defense for anyone being attacked by someone of superior strength in very close quarters. One example would be a woman being raped.

Having this knowledge and training, and knowing such techniques is one thing. It’s another thing to use them frivolously. As a martial artist, the most important “skill” you learn is to respect others and never, ever purposely hurt them or attack them. As a matter of fact, even when using techniques for self defense, a martial artist will think about the appropriate response before counter-attacking. For instance, say you are a female, and your brother-in-law is drunk and tries to sexually assault you. You have choice to make. Do you want to kill him? Do you want to maim him for life? Do you want him to be hospitalized for a while? Or do you just want him off you so you can run away, and he can sleep off his drunken stupor and you can deal with the situation the next day without violence? These are four very distinct choices you have to make before you decide to counter-attack in a given situation.

I cannot imagine in what universe the man shown in the picture above lives, where he thought he had the right to attack a police officer and try to gouge out his eye, thus maiming him permanently, just because the police officer did his job and tried to interfere with the man’s attempt to invade the Capitol. The Gouger did this not because he was threatened or attacked.

He planned a trip to Washington. He went on an airplane. He traveled to a hotel and stayed the night. Then, on January 6, 2021, he went to a political rally and proceeded to do this deed. What else did he do that day? Who else did he severely injure before the day was over? He did this not protect his family, or himself, against some aggression.

He did it because he didn’t agree with the politics of the opposing political party.

In what world, in a civilized country, is it ok to gouge out another person’s eye because of political beliefs or ideological or religious convictions? The only world I can imagine is the same world where it was acceptable fly an airliner into a building and kill 3,000 innocent people. It’s terrorism, pure and simple.

The Gouger got away. He went back to the airport, flew home, and now sits at the kitchen table with his wife and children.

The FBI is looking for him. I hope somebody recognizes him and reports him. Somebody works with this man. He is somebody’s neighbor, or brother, or uncle. I hope he gets his day in court, where he can explain how it came about that he felt he had the right to try to gouge out the eye of a police officer at a “political rally.”

I wonder how he will explain this to his children.

I had to google to figure out why the movie was called Bullet Head. It turns out a Bullet Head is a name for the dog breed Presa Canario. Here is a picture of one:

A few thugs, after a heist, crash their getaway car near an abandoned warehouse or factory. The driver dies, and the other three hapless robbers get out of the car and hide out in the warehouse. When I say “abandoned” I mean long abandoned, completely dilapidated, with broken roofs and jagged concrete.

The trio of of robbers are Stacy (Adrien Brody), Walker (John Malkovich) and Gage (Rory Culkin). What they don’t know when they enter the facility to hide out is that it’s also being used by a gang to stage dogfights. While Gage scours a locker room to service his heroin addiction, he makes a gruesome discovery. There is an injured dog on the loose. And that’s all I have to say about the story.

The movie is gruesome, gory, and due to the horrible environment and the despicable characters, extremely depressing. There is nothing good about this story, just bad luck becoming worse luck by the minute.

Of course, John Makovich does a phenomenal job as a crook, as one might expect, not to be upstaged by his two partners in crime, except for Bullet Head. The dog scenes are amazing, frightening and disturbing. It must have been a very difficult job for the director to get the dogs to do what they needed to do. There is no question, the hero, the protagonist of this movie is the dog named DeNiro.

The movie made me think about the cruelty and insanity of dog fighting, and I have a hard time imagining what kind of man it takes to be a participant in such an activity.

In the credit it states:

A portion of the proceeds of this movie will go toward eliminating dog fighting, rehabilitating its canine victims, and promoting awareness and education about the humane treatment of man’s best friend.

Thank goodness.

This was difficult to watch.



The Old Bank Vault

Today I went to the local locksmith shop to get a copy of a key. I saw this sitting in the middle of the shop:

I didn’t have a banana with me for scale, but the white paper on top is a normal sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper. The top of it reached about to the level of my belt.

We are looking at a bank vault from circa 1853. To put it in perspective, this was before Abraham Lincoln was president. The vault is made of solid manganese and weighs over 4,500 pounds. The design of the vault was to direct the shock of a dynamite blast away from the vault, thus ensuring anything inside would be protected. The inside of the vault is only about 12 by 12 inches, about enough room for a basketball.

Those cowboy bank robbers of the west must have had a hard time with a vault that weighed 4,500 pounds and couldn’t be blasted open with dynamite. Try to put that on the back of a horse!

Most of my reviews start with a brief overview of the book, perhaps a few sections of quotes, while making sure I don’t include any spoilers. Then I talk about how I felt about the book and why I rated it a certain way. If I can relate it to similar books I have read and reviewed, I might draw the parallels and provide cross references.

I can’t do that with The Three-Body Problem. It is too different from anything I have read before. I have to attack this one from an “out of the box” viewpoint. It is definitely the first time I ever read a book by a Chinese author. It is fairly well translated by Ken Liu, and he even has a section in the book at the end where he talks about his efforts translating it. I have a lot of experience with how language changes your thinking, even the person that you are, from studying multiple languages, English being my third one. I also have several years of Japanese, both writing, reading and speaking under my belt. Although my Japanese is very, very rusty, I have experienced how an eastern language results in very different thinking from that of the Romance and Germanic languages.

I know nothing of Chinese, but reading this book has me inspired to pick up Chinese 101 and see where it leads me.

The Three-Body Problem starts in the early 1960s in the midst of the Chinese cultural revolution, when scientists and other educated people were vilified, persecuted and often publicly executed. It follows a young female scientist who witnesses the brutal killing of her father and is subsequently hauled off into a remote research station where she would presumably spend the rest of her life. Alas, the cultural revolution changed faster than people could age, and quickly modern China arose all within the lifetimes of young people born in the 1940s and 1950s. The book gives an in-depth insight into the Chinese soul, their views on class status and particularly education and science.

But it is a science fiction book. The three-body problem is a mathematical problem that arises from trying to predict the orbital motions of three bodies – three stars. Our sun is a single star, and our eight planets have circled the star now more or less stably for over four billion years. We have a stable solar system. But not all star systems are single stars. Many star systems are binary systems, and there may be planets orbiting one of the stars, or perhaps both, and the second star can have severely destabilizing gravitational influences on the planet. We don’t actually know enough about planets in binary star systems, but we have pretty good mathematical models that can predict what happens.

But things change entirely when you add a third star. The fate of any planets in such a system is what one might call chaotic. And yet, the nearest star system to our own is that of Alpha Centauri, which consists of Alpha Centauri A and B, a binary system, and Proxima Centauri, a third star a bit further away from the other two. As unlikely as it may seem, the premise of The Three-Body Problem is that an intelligent civilization far advanced technologically from our own has developed in the Alpha Centauri system, and humans have made contact.

As that, The Three-Body Problem is a first contact novel.

The book was in my reading library, and I had started working on it some years ago, but abandoned it, finding it hard to read. Then recently a colleague recommended it to me out of the blue, and that motivated me to pick it up again and work through it. It takes some time to get used to the Chinese way of thinking. I found many differences, but I also found many surprising commonalities. Modern Chinese do not appear all that different from modern Americans. The story is complex, there are many side plots, not all of them necessary. That made some of the sections seem bloated and unnecessary to me. There is also no end, it just finishes abruptly, setting up for the sequel.

Overall, The Three-Body Problem is a science-heavy science fiction work, which speculates much about physics at the particle level, and what a vastly advanced scientific society could do to humankind, should it want to do it harm.

Yes, first contact is not pleasant or rewarding with the denizens of Alpha Centauri.

Al Hart (Chevy Chase) is a retired talent manager who doesn’t know what to do with his life. His granddaughter talks him into moving into a retirement home. There he meets his old friend and very first client from 50 years ago, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss). The two are not happy, and they convince each other to “go on tour.” Al books comedy gigs for Buddy on a road trip from Los Angeles to New York, where Buddy wants to perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Along the way in Kansas, at a poetry reading, they pick up Doris Lovejoy (Andy MacDowell), an artist and ex hippie who joins them along the way.

Being a San Diegan, I couldn’t help but notice that on their way from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico, they showed a freeway sign for San Diego via I-5 North. Obviously, they would be going on I-5 South to Tijuana. Also, the scenery on the way to Tucson, Arizona was very much reminiscent of the red rocks of Sedona, which would be many hours out of the way when going to Tucson on I-8. Not that these minor goofs matter, I just know my Southwestern geography and can’t help but notice.

The Last Laugh is a predictable movie of the bucket list theme, of which we have seen too many. It’s reminiscent of the classic Grumpy Old Men with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, cute enough, but sufficiently uninspired to get us to laugh here and there. It deals with illness, aging and the realities of life in a typical Hollywood fashion – superficially with stale humor.

Europeans generally do a better job with this kind of movie, and watching The Last Laugh, I realized I haven’t seen enough of those in a while.

To raise funds for a local cancer hospital, a few enterprising ladies within a Woman’s Institute in an English town decide to pose nude for a calendar. Since all the ladies are over 50, it takes some convincing for some of them. The club, their husbands, the town, all have their own doubts, and the young local man they choose to be the photographer has a particular challenge in front of them: Photograph 12 village ladies naked, make them look good, and make the calendar a work of art. But in the end, all is good, and the calendar is a worldwide hit.

This 2003 movie is based on a true story that took place in a tiny town in Yorkshire, England. Along with the challenges the making of the calendar poses, the story also tells some subplots of the lives of some of the women and the conflicts they endure.

Calendar Girls is a comedy, without any great lessons, and I didn’t actually plan on watching it. I just couldn’t make myself walk away as the story unfolded. Uncomplicated, lighthearted and cheery, I just kept watching and enjoying it until the credits rolled.

This was an English movie. Hollywood would not make one like this, and that alone is a reason why you’d want to watch it.



Here is a good article that characterizes modern creationism as a conspiracy theory.

Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory (theconversation.com)

It’s stuff like this that shapes my attitude that for all the good that religious people claim it does, for the most part, religion substracts from the well-being of humanity as a whole. I used to say that mankind would have developed space travel and reached the moon by the year 1000 if it hadn’t been for the Christian religion and all the oppression it practiced through the centuries.

Somewhere in the countryside in Texas, far away from civilization where you need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, there is a mysterious cave. Professor Hopper, an archeologist, is on the trail of his parents who disappeared decades ago, and he ends up finding their hippie van outside a cave. He looks inside, and behind a shimmering, liquid-looking wall, he sees a cowboy, seemingly frozen in mid-step. He ventures beyond the shimmering barrier and the cowboy comes to life and walks away from him into the cave. Hopper freaks out, and quickly backs away out of the cave. He walks back to his vehicle and finds it overgrown with shrubs, covered with dust, and the battery completely dead. He was in the cave for only a few seconds, but it looks like years have passed for his vehicle outside. It takes him a while to figure out that time passes very slowly inside the cave. Then he goes back in.

Meanwhile, a few of his students know where he went and they come after him to help him when he is reported missing. They find his vehicle and the rope he used to lower himself into the cave. But the rope was cut. Since they brought their own climbing gear, they decided to go in after him. Of course, they quickly find out that something is very wrong with the cave.

This is an interesting time-dilation story and it has a few good plot twists and special effects. But it unravels quickly, and with every minute it goes on, the plot becomes weirder and less credible, until the film is just a special effects calamity at the end. The dialog is mostly inane, and the acting stilted and not fitting the situation. This story has a lot of potential, but it was not realized and I feel that the film was, in the end, pretty much a waste of time. You don’t need to bother with this one at all.


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