An Unwelcome Visitor

About a month ago I was down in the woods cleaning up some brush and downed branches/trees while waiting for the weather to break so I can finish up my bridge work.  At one point something caught my eye swimming in the stream.  Rarely is there anything actually living in the water beyond minnows and tadpoles so it somewhat startled me.  I slowly crept up on it so I could get a better view of this creature.  Based on the fact it was still cold out (so definitely accustomed to the water and not just taking a dip), somewhat brownish fur and flattened facial features I figured it was a beaver.  For the next 15 minutes I watched the critter playing in the water and thinking to myself how cool this was since I had never seen a beaver in the wild (there is your opening, cue the classic beaver jokes!).  It would swim out to the middle, do some back strokes, dive under the ice and pretty much entertain himself (or herself I guess) the entire time.  Disappointed, I did not have my camera with me I eventually went in for a closer look.  It spotted me and dove under the ice not to be seen again.  After patience ran out, I gathered my stuff and headed back to the house thinking how cool that was but with a slight nagging feeling that something didn’t seem right.  As the critter dove under the ice its tail flipped out of the water and it seemed long and thin as opposed to the mexpected paddle.   After some mental gyrations, I decided it was probably due to being a juvenile and the tail comes in later or it was an otter which would make it an even a cooler experience.

The fact there was no picture of the sighting eventually bothered me so much I put my mud clothes on again and headed out with the camera.  As luck would have it, it was out playing again.

So, what does it look like to you?  … Beaver?  … Otter?  If you look close you can see the thinner than expected tail extending out to the bank.  It also seemed a little too furry for an Otter, but it has been a cold winter and wasn’t sure if they fluffed up for the winter.

Any guesses yet, or have you figured it out yet (in which case you were able to come to conclusion significantly faster than I did).  How about another view.

I’ll break the suspense and tell you it is a Muskrat.  Thanks to a colleague at work that is familiar with these creatures and was able to quickly discern what it was based on my brief description.  Turns out he traps these because they are BAD NEWS for rivers/streams.  Apparently, they dig deep into the banks to make their dwellings.  This results in destruction to the bank and causes serious damage especially when it comes to dams and dikes (assuming those jokes are still flashing through your conscious).  I can tell you for a fact I a) did not know what this animal was and b) never seen one before.  This prompted an immediate surf to Wikipedia.  Sure enough, the picture there perfectly matched my specimen.  Interesting enough, they are a rodent, but not part of the Rat genus.

hit the jump to see some other pictures I took

Continue reading An Unwelcome Visitor

An Entry, an Experiment and a Find All for a Penny

So, how is everyone doing out there in L.A.S.  I’m basically fed up with it and will be doing my part come election day to make sure those responsible hear me loud and clear.  Today’s post is actually the result of a single penny.  No, I am not talking about the NOPE initiative.  I actually got a lot of mileage out of this penny as I was able to a) get a blog entry, b) experiment with our new Nikon Macro glass and c) discovered something I did not know before preparing for this post.  Not a bad price if you ask me.

I’ll start with the heart of the blog post, that being the event that started it all.  Last Monday I was coming back from my required Prohibited Harassment training (before you jump to conclusions, it is a required course for all employees whose company gets government contracts).  This is one of those courses where it is best to simply attend and learn while keeping your mouth shut until the event is over.  Why people try to argue this stuff is beyond me, but I’ll spare you that annoying detail.  After keeping my mouth closed that long, I decided to head over to Burger King and catch a bite to eat with some coworkers.  As a general quest I try to keep my lunch  meals around 3 dollars because that is about what it would cost if I bothered to actually bring a lunch.  The success of this personal quest varies significantly from establishment to establishment, but the advent of Value Menus has made this a little easier.  This was the case on Monday, where I ordered a Whopper Jr., 4 chicken nuggets and a drink for a dollar each.  With our crappy fast food tax, that came out to $3.24.  This is a good time to point out something about Arby’s value meal menu.  I snapped a picture for a future post, but in bold letters they have $1 Menu and then about 6 food/drink items under it.  Not thinking I ordered three of those items on a previous visit.  The cashier then proceeds to say the cost which was over the expected $3.24.  Caught off guard, my eyes moved back up to the value meal sign to see what the catch was.  Sure enough, there was little “starting at” lettering before the bold $1 Menu sign.  With both Congress and Arby’s screwing me these days I won’t be able to sit for the next month.  Sorry for digressing, but that peeved me for the rest of the day and figured it would be worth taking the time to warn others.    Back to Burger King.  As the cashier was about to take my $5 bill I remembered I had a quarter in my pocket and decided to fish it out.  Another peeve of mine is change.  Unlike my brother’s friend (who has now passed away) who believed that forcing yourself to break bills will  save money, I try to use up change every chance I get in order to save bills … and keep my pants from rattling all day.  The cashier (who was actually the on duty manager) reaches in the cashier, pulls out $2 and hands me the bills and closes his drawer.  I thought to myself that something was amiss, but the class had left me a little numb.  After a few seconds the mind fogged over the fact that change had been provided causing a false realization that the clerk had given me back too much money and should have only received a dollar and some change.  Trying to be kind and remembering my days when I cashiered at Jewel and having to worry about the till balance I informed the manager that he did not give me the right change back and reached out with the two bills.  The assumption was he would take one of the bills, and replace it with 76 cents.  However, his response was “No I gave you the right change back”.  Like a window defroster, the fog cleared and the memory of digging in my pocket came through.  While waiting for the food, I went to fill my drink with a nagging feeling that something was not right about the change.  Good thing the class was not before a work budget deliverable or there would be some triple checking that day.  I figured out the nagging issue was centered around my missing penny.  Clearly a penny is of little concern to me (the value meal is just a personal quest and not a financial issue) and having cleared up the internal dilemma turned back to the counter to wait for my order.   In mid turn, the manager reaches into his drawer, takes out a penny, shows it to me and proceeds to say “You were right, I didn’t give you the correct change” and places it on my receipt.  Out of curiosity, how would this make you feel?  It felt cheap as hell and somewhat demeaning from my perspective.  Again, the only intent of mentioning it was that I thought he gave me TOO MUCH money back and wanted to pay my fair share.  The trigger for all this was not getting the penny back because that would have immediately told me a quarter was involved.  The food arrived and he called out my name to pick it up while placing the receipt and penny on my tray.  I informed him that it was not about the penny, and that I had forgotten about the extra quarter while putting the penny back on the counter (skipping the step of holding it up for everyone in the restaurant to see) and walked away.  Anybody have any comments on this?  I just hate leaving a place feeling little when the intent was to help someone – not to mention the fact that I was correct in the assessment the change was wrong.

Hit the jump to see the other benefits from the penny incident:

Continue reading An Entry, an Experiment and a Find All for a Penny

A Plea for NO Help

Sorry everyone, you are going to have to wait at least another post for birds.  I know you are all upset, but I wanted to get this observation out before I forgot it.  This one happened a few weeks back while driving home late one night.  For some reason I can’t remember exactly why Linda and I were out that particular night, but since this occurred on I474 near Bartonville, I am guessing it was ..wait.. wait..brain making gyrations… binary tree search through long memory initiated… preempted with an aggressively pruned quicksort and now for a reverse recursive validation loop… Ding – oh yeah, we were heading back from a Dog Show just outside of Forsyth.  We were in our big Toyota cruising down the highway in an unstoppable deathtrap.  At the mercy of the car gods we could make it home without the evil carbot taking over control and sending us on a horrifying journey straight into the nearest wall… although I guess I could just pop it in neutral and coast to the side of the road but that won’t get the journalist to come a running now will it!

Oops, back to the post.  On  our way up the Bartonville hill towards Peoria I was passed by a dark blue (or black, it was night) Toyota Prius.  Chuckling to myself on how tired his legs must be from peddling that hard, I watched the car drift by and merge back into my lane.  As I usually do while on the road or walking through a parking lot, I took note of the license plate to see what clever saying or number they care to display to the world.  If you are curious, the next thing I look for is a Jesus Fish because I find them absolutely annoying and like to point this fact out to my wife – although not nearly as annoying as the little family silhouettes that are so vogue these days – TRUST ME, NO ONE CARES how big your family is or whether you have a dog or a cat.  Then I look for the Obama sticker and thank the driver for putting the US in double digit unemployment and unrecoverable debt.  Unfortunately, I did not get to these secondary items because I was fascinated by the license plate.  On the plate were the letters SUE EM 2.  So apparently this particular driver wants the world to know they have an affinity to take people to court or I guess a slight chance they are named after a chocolate covered peanut candy (get that? hehehe).  After much brain things inside my head, I decided it was the former and pondered on why anyone would want this particular plate.  All I could think of were downsides.  For example, if this person were to have trouble on the road, would you be willing to pull over and try to help them?  Would a service vehicle be willing to provide assistance… or is the thought of being sued by the owner if it doesn’t happen to turn out completely in the car owner’s favor too big of a risk to even bother?  As much as I hate people who abuse the legal system – think Lindsay L’s lawsuit against E-Trade just because they used her name and she thinks she is the only one in world that has rights to it (if she wins this, every Lindsay in the will have a defamation suit against her for ruining it in the tabloids) – I am likely to at a minimum hesitate before providing any immediate assistance.  Couple that with the potential for their Prius carbot to awaken and they have definitely put themselves in a risky situation.  Imagine what the cop would think as he was yelling in his bullhorn to put the car in neutral?

Oh well, I thought it was odd and figured I would share.  I bet the next time you see a Jesus Fish or a family sticker in a car you will think of this post 8^)

All Are Equal, But Some Are More Equal Than Others

It has been awhile since I actually had a social setting observation, so today’s topic is just that.  Admittedly, this a bit of a rant, but it still calls into question whether there is any such thing as altruism when it comes to the shopping experience.  Having just completed listening to the Super Freakonomics I am now curious to see if this “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” is really a human trait and more to the point, whether I can actually witness this trait in action.  By the way, I did enjoy this book (although, maybe not as much as their first one) and would recommend it for those who have similar interests in understanding how micro economics impacts our day to day lives.

One thing is for sure, this trait was not evident the last time I went to WalMart to pick up some quick snacks for a ping pong party I was having that night.  I was running late at work and needed to get to the store and all the way back home before the designated start time of the party.   Figuring WalMart was close I ducked in there to pick up some needed items.  With about 5 items in my hands I made my way up to the registers.  To my surprise, all the checkouts were busy (well, at least the ones that were open, but that is a story for another time).  An internal assessment was initiated based on years of line analysis – cashier age (especially if you have alcohol to buy), clerk gabbiness (less talk, more scanning), product count (estimations based on cart quantities, container sizes etc.) along with a host of other key indicators that are continually tuned to give the best chance of getting out of there as fast as possible.  After a few seconds, the choice was made and the line position taken.  One of the attributes of this line was that it was the express line and MOST of the people seemed to be in an express frame of mind.  I say most, but about two customers from the checkout (I was 6th) was a mobile cart with a basket full of merchandise.  I quickly confirmed the express limit, which was an unusually high 20 item count, and decided to amp up the observation.  One guy was actually sitting in the mobile cart and another lady was standing in front of it.  Thinking this could work in my favor in the sense it would really make me 5th and possibly allow me to add a critical new criteria to the selection process.  When they approached, the lady began pulling the items out of the mobile cart and I spent the next 7 minutes counting items.  This was definitely hampered by having to wait for the cashier to scan items in order to make room for the new ones.  46 items later they had scanned all the items in the cart.  By my quick math this is over the stated express limit … and not by a few.  My selection process was hampered by not seeing the full size of the cart basket in front of the mobile cart.  They finally paid for their purchases and the cashier turned to attend the next in line.  Still focused on the same two customers, I was completely surprised when the guy in the mobile cart quickly rose from the seat, grabbed up all 7 of their bags and started walking to the door with no apparent hardships.  I let my impression stay at the surprised level because it did not fit my original expectations – rarely do I spend any additional time reviewing those particular situations since medical conditions can be tricky.  What did catch my eye and warrant further observation was the lady informed the guy she had forgotten something and was going back for it while he proceeded out the store.

She ended up going a few aisles away and eventually I lost sight of her.  In the meantime, the line progressed quite well to the point where I was putting my items on the counter waiting for the customer ahead of me to pay.  As the cashier reached for my first item, I noticed the lady coming back from the aisle, but not at the expected angle for the line had actually grown to about  7 people behind me.  Sure enough, she walked directly up to the individual behind me who, by the way, was also in a mobile cart but definitely under the 20 item limit.  She threw her item in his cart and said hello.  That guy was somewhat surprised and actually said “I haven’t seen you in a long time, what have you been doing”.  Meanwhile the cashier had finished my order so I drew my attention away in order to complete the transaction.  Okay, now I am officially intrigued enough to stand back out of the way and watch this come to conclusion.  The lady grabs her item out of the cart and puts it on the register and takes out her billfold.  Yes folks, she simply paid for that item said goodbye to the guy behind her and headed out towards the door.  That, in my opinion, takes some balls.  Not only did she inconvenience the line with her original order, she has the nerve to simply jump in front of everybody else.  I am pretty sure if I was standing behind the second mobile cart guy I would have had to say something.  In contrast, the guy that was in that position said nothing (but did look outwardly annoyed).

Needless to say, this was not one of those times that proved altruism is a true human trait.  In fact, it seems the aggressive are bound to dominate the meek (at least when it comes to groceries).  So the next time you see that WalMart greeter – you know, the one with the “How may I help you?” on the back of his blue vest, tell him you would like him to patrol the express lanes so you will not get screwed on your way out by inconsiderate customers… and then show your altruism when he stares at you blankly by smiling and telling him to have a nice day.

By the way, Happy Pie Day!

Operation: On Snap, Block to the Wright

This will be a tough trying to keep my focus on this post while I’m all giddy with excitement due to the Oscars coming on.  In fact, I am so into this star studded affair I’m watching the red carpet shows just to take in the stellar atmosphere.  You know, Seacrest giving me stimulating insights into how such and such mega start became emotionally entwined with her character or some fabulous dude giving me a thorough analysis (yes, even with prompter arrows) on how a particular dress flows with her natural curves and highlights a recent cosmetic surgery… and you? … no… okay, I’m joking, I really don’t give a shit about actor/actresses in general, but I do watch it so I don’t feel bad when I watch one of their downloaded movies.  Do they realize this hurts their “your stealing from the mouths of my shoeless children so stop stealing my movie” mantra when they have awards shows like this?

Oh well, on to something FAR more interesting to me.  This post focuses on a Christmas present my wife got me this year.  Turns out that LEGO  is now producing an Architect line and it turns out they have a Fallingwater set.  We are both big Frank Lloyd Wright fans and had the opportunity to visit a number of his creations throughout the years.  Fallingwater out in Mill Run, Pennsylvania was one of those places.

For starters, the packaging of this kit is quite impressive with a mixture of modern day LEGO construction and Wright featured architecture prints.  I thought the 16+ age recommendation was a little high.  I understand the threat of choking, but clearly any teenager should be smart enough to chew before swallowing and based on the weak cellophane texture of the bagging, those posed no threats to suffocation.

One thing that really stood out was the manual (pictured at the top of the box).   Here is a closer shot.

It consists of a number of pages providing architecture design details of the actual building and related history.  These pictures do not show the crispness of these pages with their gloss black backgrounds.  Clearly there was some graphic artists consulted in the packaging of this product.

Hit the jump to see more details on this project…

Continue reading Operation: On Snap, Block to the Wright

Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face

I hardy hello to all my readers out there!  It’s a new month and time to get going on my posts wouldn’t ya say?  I was planning to get some pre-work done on a future post today while at our dog’s Agility Trial.  Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I ended up taking pictures all day instead.  The good news is I already had another bird set ready to go.  Actually multiple water fowl earned the post spot today.  I’m going to start with one that apparently got the short straw when it came to appearance draws.  I’m talking about the American White Pelican.

I  spotted this one contently paddling along a small river while on our Yellowstone trip.  The growth on his beak signifies this is a breeding male.  Luckily the chicks apparently dig this blemish and is used in their courtship (no, I don’t want to know how) as well as ritualized combat.  While looking through the lens at this guy, all I could think of was one of my favorite scenes from Uncle Buck when John Candy (rest in peace) lit into the grade school teacher because his niece was characterized as a sillyheart.  Maybe he meant a MUSKRAT (dundun dun dun… blog teaser…).

I was actually disappointed I did not get to see him fish.  At a later time on that trip, I came upon a couple of them out in a marshy lake.

Apparently this is their preferred setting.  It is actually a pretty nice picture with the deep color in the trees contrasted against the bright white of the pelicans.  I had to shrink it down significantly which resulted in losing some of its visual.  Let me bring it in a little for you.

As you can tell (even with the zoom fuzz residuals) that it is another breeding male with likely his trophy wife.  Once again I was unable to witness any fishing activity which sounds pretty interesting.  In one of the descriptions in the bird guide, they described the technique.  They work in groups to herd prey into shallow water or they ease into a school of feeding fish gulping ones that stray close to the surface.  This description did not align with the settings I took these shots based on the most I found together was TWO.

Hit the jump to see two more birds being featured today, the Goldeneye and the Canadian Goose

Continue reading Go Downtown and Have a Rat Gnaw that Thing Off Your Face