Bird Brains

We’ve all seen parks where someone with a sandwich is subject to immediate attacks by flocks of pigeons, geese, ducks, crows, starlings, and just about every other kind of avian critter nearby. And that’s not to mention the squirrels and the raccoons.

However, all of those creatures have been taught over time to overcome their fear of humans. They’ve been conditioned to respond to the presence of humans and food in a completely different manner than would be natural for them.

Yesterday while eating pizza for dinner, I went outside and sat on the steps in the back yard. There were a couple of birds hopping around on the grass, pecking at seeds or bugs or whatever it is that blackbirds eat from our lawn. As I got to the crust on my piece of pizza, for reasons that I still can’t explain, I tore off a pea-sized piece and tossed it toward the birds.

It was a pathetic throw. I badly misjudged the wind loading on that tiny ball of bread and was only able to get it about three feet from me, barely out of kicking range. The birds were probably twenty feet away.

Prior to the toss my fleeting assumption would have been that the birds would fly away, startled, if I were able to get the bread near them. As I made a pure-de-suck throw, my assumption was that they wouldn’t even know it existed since it wasn’t anywhere near them. And if somehow they did notice the offering, there was no way on earth they would ever come that close to me.

I was wrong!

Immediately the two birds came hopping across the lawn, onto the concrete patio just a couple of feet from me. They pecked at the bit of crust and split it, then flew off into the bushes where I know they have their nest.

I had pizza crust remaining – it was time to test what was happening. I made a handful of additional crust ball bird treats and tossed them out onto the concrete. Over the next couple of minutes, the birds came back for all of them one by one. Even the ones that were just inches from my feet. Then they were back to ask for more. When I wasn’t quick enough to toss out more, they were at my feet, squawking at me in protest.

Cool. I fed the birds.

But where did they learn that behavior? I’ve never, EVER fed them before. I don’t see anyone else in the neighborhood ever feeding them. I don’t know of any bird feeders or other feeding methods in any neighbor yards.

Given all of that, how do we explain this behavior?

I’ve got nothing!

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Filed under Castle Willett, Critters

Another WE Build Lesson

My exercise/smart watch (a Garmin, not an Apple Watch) is very good at bugging me if I’m getting sedentary or not reaching my current daily walking/exercise goals. (Currently at about 8,000 steps per day.) It also is very good at handing out cheap rewards if I hit that goal. It vibrates to get my attention, then shows a brief fireworks show in celebration.

From yesterday’s WE Build, I learned new things about that Garmin.

  1. When you hit that goal about 08:30, you know it’s going to be a long, long day.
  2. When you hit that goal a second time in any given day (i.e., something like 16,000 steps) it goes off with fireworks again.
  3. Ditto for the third time…
  4. When you hit 4x your daily goal, it should tell you, “Jesus, are you trying to kill yourself? Sit down! Chill!!”

It doesn’t, but it should. My brain filled in the correct dialogue.

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Filed under Habitat For Humanity, Health, Paul

WE Build 2017

Last year about this time (not a coincidence) I shared pictures of our annual Habitat for Humanity WE (Women’s Empowerment) Build. This year we once again had something like 300 women out on our Santa Clarita construction site, working to put low-income veterans into homes.

There were a couple of groups pouring concrete, including this group putting in a stretch of sidewalk. Other groups poured curbs and V-ditches (for drainage).

One group was putting stucco on retaining walls.

The group I was working with all day was putting up fencing. Here’s a picture from VERY early at the beginning of the day…

…when all that was up were the posts and cross braces which had been installed earlier in the week.

We had teams of four women, each responsible for building about 40′ of fencing.

We used screws for the assembly, with the power drills being both easier to use, cheaper, and much safer than nail guns.

As with much of the work done at a WE Build, women who had rarely (if ever) done this sort of construction work were pros as it within a couple of hours.

Keep it level with the plumb lines at the top, keep the spacing consistent, keep it squared up and level.

While it may have taken a half hour or more to place the first two or three planks, by lunch time the teams had turned into lean, mean fencing machines.

By the end of the day, hundreds of linear feet of fencing were done and we had all actually moved beyond the initial goals and were well into the “bonus” section of fencing – and coming damn close to finishing it as well!

Between all of the different work teams, not only did the donations for the event add up to many tens of thousands of dollars, but the work done was worth almost $100,000 that we would have otherwise had to pay to a subcontractor!

A good time was had by all! And I might have picked up enough sun to leave me still re-radiating in the infrared as bright as a quasar.

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Autographed Celebrity Photos

Los Angeles being what it is (and THERE’s a loaded statement for you!) you can’t go anywhere without seeing an autographed celebrity photo behind the counter of your neighborhood restaurant, liquor store, doctor’s office, fast food joint, or dry cleaner.


In this town, if you don’t have at least a couple black & white head shots with something illegible scrawled in glittery Sharpie across the front, you must either have only been open a week or you have a psychotic fear of autographed black & white head shots. “To the best pizza place west of Valley Circle! Love, Mitch!” “Thanks, doc! What would I do without you?” from that guy who’s the part time recurring character from the third season of that show you can almost remember seeing once or twice.

It makes me wonder how they get there. I was in an office the other day and saw pictures of Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Michael Dorn, Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, a couple of astronauts… Okay, so it was the office of an FAA flight surgeon, but still it got me to thinking about the logistics of the whole thing.

Does Mister Cruise wander around with an envelope full of head shots? You know, so just in case he runs into some shop and is recognized he can whip out a photo to scrawl on.

Do they have an assistant who follows them everywhere and keeps notes on where to send photos? Or do they wait to get recognized and have someone ask for a photo, at which point an executive assistant intern will sign one for you and send it back to the restaurant/office/bar/pizza place?

So many questions! (So little sleep…)

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On this little shelf next to my desk I have a video picture frame that flips through a few hundred favorite pictures of family, friends, vacations, and so on. I also have a very special bobble head. At some point the shelf got crowded and the bottle head doll got moved behind the video picture frame.

He doesn’t seem pleased. Today I noticed that he’s just staring. And staring. And staring.

It’s pretty creepy once you notice it.

Yet strangely appropriate.

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Filed under Paul, Photography

No Context For You – May 10th

Do blurry things look they’re going really fast because that’s how we see things that are going really fast, or do things going really fast look ¬†blurry because that’s what we expect them to look like? Is it a chicken thing or an egg thing? The egg’s going to look blurry no matter what since it’s smooth, but if the chicken is going fast enough to be blurry it must have gotten shot out of one of those chicken cannons.

Speaking of “blurry,” how ’bout that brain of mine? On a scale of 1 to 10, where does my exhausted incoherence rate tonight? About a fuchsia porcupine?

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Handles Like A Pig In A Crosswind!

Lookie what showed up on the CAF SoCal ramp in Camarillo last weekend!

It’s a Convair 240!

Well, at least it’s a big chunk of a Convair 240.

Some key pieces are missing – like the wings…

…the engines…

…the tail…

…the landing gear, and then a whole bunch of fiddly bits.

That’s gotta make it tough to control under the best of circumstances!

What’s that aerodynamic term I was looking for? Oh, yeah! “Ballistic.”

Not that this particular fuselage doesn’t have more than a bit of history. It was owned back in the 1960’s by a big movie studio. They paid the bills, but it was there for the use at will of one of the studio’s biggest stars of the day.

See that “CG” in the registration number? Let’s just say that if you were “Notorious” for wanting to go “North by Northwest” “To Catch A Thief” on “Operation Petticoat,” this would be your plane to be “Indiscreet” in while trying to avoid being “Father Goose.” And that’s no “Charade!”

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Filed under CAF, Photography