Sparkling Sylvia

People who pass away too young often possess that extra zest for living. They seem more adventurous, creative, passionate, and successful. Maybe some part of them knows they should squeeze the most of out their time here, as we all should. One of these was born to a modest family in Birmingham, England and lived her adult life all around the world. Sylvia Billinge, later Sylvia Reynolds and my mother, made her first stop in New York City working as a secretary in the Empire State Building. She there met an Air Force officer, Patrick Reynolds, with whom she and her new family made homes in Bangkok, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and bases across the continental United States.

To see a small example of her spirit, take a look at an interview she gave to Newsweek in 1964. British secretaries were in vogue. Some felt this limited the opportunity of American women seeking work, so an embargo was considered. It’s the type of immigration debate that continues even today. From the July issue of that year:

“For their part, English girls already beached in New York viewed the ban as, as best, a trifle lowbrow. Said blue-eyed, sparkling Sylvia Billinge, a 24-year-old stenographer now making about $100 in a Madison Avenue firm: “As there are plenty of vacancies, it does seem a pity. I know lots of girls at home who would like to spread their wings in America. I’m having a whale of a time.”

Thanks for reminding me to keep having a whale of a time, mom!

My Mac Apps

I’ve occasionally been asked about and benefited from summaries of preferred Mac / OSX applications. Here are mine:

  • VLC Media player
  • KeyRemap4MacBook lets you remap keys (and get your delete key back! =)
  • Mac the Ripper DVD Ripping
  • VMWare Fusion for running Windows, Linux, OSX clients on your Mac
  • Handbrake DVD encoding
  • Adium IM Client
  • TweetDeck Twitter client and search engine
  • Psst Stops or lowers volume of the loud bong chime from firing at startup.
  • Cyberduck Secure file transfer client
  • DivX Player 
  • Chicken of the VNC Remote desktop client.
  • TextMate Text editor / IDE ~$52
  • 1Password $40 handles all your password management
  • Text Expander Autotyping manager.
  • Transmission Bittorent client
  • Omnigraffle $99 diagraming application
  • Graphic Editing.  For lightweight work, OSX’s native Preview app is great.  For medium, Photoshop Elements, For heavy duty Photoshop CSS.

A Hybrid Fence

We wanted to see down into the greenbelt valley behind our home. So I took down the decrepit fence at the rear of our propery. Great! We can see the deer, rock squirrels, falcons, etc. But it’s also somewhat of a security hole, since the home is now more accessible from that side and with less visibility than from the front.

So, how about putting up a property line fence that does not block the view? The standard solutions for this either chain link which looks cheap or wrought iron which for 100+ feet came in at about $5,000. This is about $5,000 more than I was looking to spend considering our back yard is classified as zero maintenance, rarely entered and not much to look at.

I decided on treated 2×2s attached to the existing 4×4s already mounted in concrete for the current fence. These will act as crossbeams and when cut in half at a 45 degree angle, the pickets. The architecture is structurally sound but not as completely sturdy as if I’d used 2×4s for the crossbeams. A strong person could tear at the fence and break sections apart, but then again, I can pull off pieces of the old fence and the neighbor’s fence with one hand. And the other neighbor has no fence. So this option, complete with sharp, upward facing spires will provide an obstacle that is not scalable and would force a probably loud demolition to break through.

Maybe I’ll stain it, maybe reinforce the crossbeams with 2×4s, maybe not. But the yard is fenced again and now we can see down into the valley!

Please Pull For Service

The next puzzle is a variation on the original: You see some food dangling out of reach. Can you get it?

To avoid the need for stacking furniture and yet keep the food out reach, I added elastic to hang the corn. Kite string is still from the corn to the ground so the food can be easily pulled within reach. I figured once the squirrels had the corn, they could eat it there or store in their cheeks, similar to the original puzzle. But the main goal of the squirrels is to take the prize with them, so another battle and some interesting videos ensued.

Since the elastic connects the corn to the hanger, it feels like like the whole cob can be taken away. It took a couple tries for the rock squirrel in the video above to learn to dine in, rather than take it to go. The tree squirrel of course never even tries to eat the corn on the spot. In classic form, he immediately begins to chew the elastic until it breaks. In one case, in the movie below left, it breaks but gets tangled as he tries to abscond. I added a length of wire above the corn and the squirrels both figured out quickly to pull the cob down and strip it clean in a few minutes, without taking it with them. (bottom right video)

Puzzle Battles

I decided to try a challenge where the squirrels must extract the prize from inside something. I took a spare piece of PVC pipe and ran a shoe string through it. A steel washer is tied to the center of the string and the ends are secured on each side. There is loose corn and sunflower seeds inside. Pulling the string in either direction spills out some food, but it only works once. For a second helping, the string needs to be pulled in the opposite direction.

The problems with the puzzle are 1) the tree squirrel prefers to eat through anything directly vs. figuring out a puzzle and 2) the rock squirrel does not like getting up on things so much. So this ended up being a being a can-you-eat-through-the-puzzle challenge. (and he could) He is a rodent after all, so the teeth never stop growing and it didn’t take long for this to degrade into a big mess.