Middle School Version
Foreword: The goal of this video is to encourage kids in grades 6-8 to enter the training and education pipeline for the jobs of tomorrow that will help us prevent, prepare for and mitigate the kind of fire that just hit Paradise, CA.
Your comments and criticisms are always welcome but please be aware that the dialog is designed for the good ol boys on the County Fish & Game Commission who have the power to fund this project.
Documentary Version of Cannonball Express C2018
(for students in grades 6-8)
The Porch Sitting Scene - Scene I
(Narrator) In the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire, which screeched to a halt just yards from this typical American school here in Magalia, let's check the state of environmental literacy and civic responsibility, by talking to these two typical American youngsters, chosen at random. (We talked to their parents earlier today and they're watching a live feed on the TV.)
(Interviewer) Excuse me young lady. I'm Steve Kennedy with Cannonball Express TV.
We tell it like it is. Is this gentleman your younger brother?
(Ingrid) Yeah, I'm two years older. His name is Carl. (Takes a sip from a bottle of orange soda.)
(Interviewer) Ingrid, do you remember how hot and smoky it was last November... after the fires?
(Ingrid) (dryly) Like I was expecting an oxygen mask to drop from the ceiling....
(Carl) (cutting in) I heard that the monks at the Zen Center smelled the smoke and quicker than Dog-Doo, set up pumps, laid out hoses, and cleared brush.
(Interviewer) (coughs twice.... struggling to keep a straight face) And so?
(Carl) They saved their temple and out buildings. I want to be a fire monk when I grow up. (with determination). It won't be as much fun as building and launching model rockets but at least I'll get to sleep in.
(Carl) (Channeling the Zen Center spokesman). "Fire will not be a stranger to me.... I will meet the fire, let it come to me, make friends with it and tame it as it reaches our boundaries.” Did you know that Governor Brown was in a Jesuit Seminary in the late 1950’s, studying to be a fire monk?
(Ingrid) (Clearly unimpressed with her brother's career goals.) You’ve been reading that fake news on the web again, haven’t you? And I'd like to be a spotter plane pilot for CalFire, so I can direct the 747 air tanker drops and spit out the window better than dad does. Hochtooui! (Spitting in the gutter) that will be $60,000 for that bright orange loogey by the way.
(Snap cutaway to parents laughing in front of the TV)
(Carl) (laughs) I'll pay you on Tuesday... Because when I'm a fire monk, the plants of the hills will talk to me...for free.... (Eloquently) not in human speech but in smells and taste and touch... Then I’ll run for Governor.
(Ingrid) You're so full of it. Gavin will kick your butt at the polls.
(Interviewer) (visibly aghast at this uninhibited, rapid fire dialog)
(Ingrid) Listen, last October, all I could smell and taste was smoke from the fires...
(Interviewer) (authoritatively) Now about that smoke, Ingrid...
(Carl) (interrupting) I didn't inhale. You always do.
(Interviewer) (turning to the cameraman and silently mouthing the words "Cut Cut! while drawing his finger across his throat) (Cameraman ignores his desperate pleas)
(Ingrid continues) yeah Bill, Right! (Seriously) My teacher, Mr Ramos told us, "All that smoke and gas from the fires...oak leaves, 12,000 burning houses, synthetic carpets and garage shelves full of paint, pesticide and fertilizer... that only represented about one half of one percent of the 470 million tons of California's 2017 CO2 contribution to global catastrophe."
(softly) Some of that dirt is from Mom and Dad's commute to work.
(Carl) Oh my God...yeah
(Ingrid) Ramos told us that the atmosphere of this planet... Is thinner than the skin of an apple.
(Carl) I don't believe it.
(Interviewer) Carl, is that an indictment of the state of American education?
(Ingrid) (interrupting) You'll have Mr Ramos next year. Then you'll understand.
(Carl). Are they gonna help with the bio blitz count again?
I'd like to count bears.
I'll just nail some sardine cans to tree trunks 6 feet off the ground and set up motion cams. Black bears will walk for miles into the wind for a sardine snack... sniffing the air the whole way. They'll leave the sardine can on the ground like a wrinkled candy wrapper... with tooth marks on it. They say it's only a matter of time before homeowners in this part of Butte County need to buy bear proof garbage cans. Those bears are drifting South from Lassen County.
(Ingrid) I think so too. I'll put your bear pictures up on your FaceBook page. I'll bet most of them will be young males... Doing their walkabout..... Cruising around, covering maybe 75 miles a day, looking for a primo piece of territory that isn't already claimed by some big male. Trying really hard to avoid getting jumped. The young females are smarter... They'll stay in touch with Mom, forming a territory that overlaps with their Mom's, like links on a chain.
(Carl) Oh yeah? ! When I do my walk about, it's gonna be on a Harley and I'm gonna cover 500 miles a day and see Graceland and Vegas.
(Narrator) Well, thank you Carl and Ingrid
(Ingrid) (Ignoring the interviewer) You ain't nothing but a hound dog.
(Carl) Sis. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
(Ingrid) Wear your helmet... Idiot.
(Carl) Yours too.
(the conversation pauses)
(Interviewer) (attempting to wrap up the interview) And there you have it.... The last word on environmental literacy.
(Ingrid) (Rolling right along) I've never seen so much excitement as the night of the big fire. I wasn't quite awake but I could have walked out by myself.
(Carl) I didn't even have time to grab my iPad before Mom hauled me out of the house.
(Ingrid) Thank God it was still there when we came back.
(Carl) For sure. I had my homework in there.
(Ingrid) I meant the house, knucklehead. It makes me feel guilty sometimes....there were homes newer than ours and built with more modern building codes and 80% of those homes went up in smoke anyway. One McMansion over there in Concow was brand spanking new..... and it threw flying embers for over an hour.... Creating a domino effect down the hill.
(Carl) Just dumb luck if you ask me.
(Ingrid) And some water from our neighbor’s hose when it started snowing big fat glowing embers from all those burning McMansions.
(Carl) well, those rain gutters are clean now... Dad cleaned them.
(Ingrid) Close the barn doors now that the horses are gone.
(Carl) Well, the Big Barn went up in smoke didn't it....?
Were the horses gone by then?
(Ingrid) I dunno. I think those horses have been gone for years.
(Interviewer) Ingrid, does it worry you that this kind of weather might be the new normal and more fires might be in store for Northern California?
(Ingrid) Worry? You want worry? I'll give you worry!
Do you see that fan palm tree that needs trimming?
That will go up like that old horse barn. That leaf covered wood shake roof over there? How did it survive? That weedy front yard? That spells trouble.
(Ingrid) I think we can earn some pocket money doing that work.
(Sound FX) a freight train rolls by sounding its horn
(Ingrid) (annoyed by the train whistle) I gotta make some money this Summer.
I'm gonna rent out Dad's retired research sheep, "Dolly" t o the neighbors who need their yards' grass grazed down to reduce the fire danger. We'll save money on feed and it will prevent wind blown weeds seeds from landing in their raised bed vegetable gardens. And then I'm gonna buy an electric scooter.
(Carl) Ok. And I'm gonna borrow Dad's loppers, hand saw, wheelbarrow and ladder and make some money, cleaning out rain gutters, raking pine needles and trimming trees.
(Interviewer) And there you have it from the streets of Magalia.
(Kids get up from the front steps)
(Ingrid) We'll be back in a couple minutes. Stay tuned.
(Interviewer) hmm. that was my line. And we'll be back with an undercover investigation into child labor in America.
The Cold Call Scene -Scene II
(Sound FX) a door bell rings twice... After a few seconds, the door opens.
(Ingrid) Good afternoon Mr Trevor.
(Trevor) Well hello Miss Ingrid. Nice ahhhh, camera crew and ahh....er... sheep you got there.
(Ingrid) (jerking her thumb in his direction) This is Steve from Cannonball Express TV
(Interviewer) I'm Steve and this is Bob.
(Trevor) hi Steve hi Bob.
(Ingrid) and this is Dolly. It might be just a co-ink-a-dink but she's hungry and you've got a yard full of nutritious and flammable grass.
(Trevor) Well, you're right about that. (Mildly suspiciously) What have you got in mind?
(Ingrid) Dolly will graze down your grass and tomorrow is brush chipping day. You and Carl can stack your tree branches and stuff by the curb and tomorrow they'll chip it and haul it away.
(Trevor) I'd almost forgotten about that. Good idea.
(Steve) Here's a model release form to sign.... (Hands clip board with firm and pen to Trevor)
(Ingrid) Carl, Dolly and I will make your house more fire safe. You pay us what it's worth and we'll split it.
(Carl) yeah, Fifty Fifty.
(Trevor) ok. Let me turn off the TV and get my shoes on. I'll be out in a minute.
(Interviewer) Ingrid. just how much tax free money do you think you'll earn here?
(Ingrid) Enough to keep Carl out of my piggy bank.
(Trevor exits the front door)
(Interviewer) As you can see here, Carl and Trevor are hard at work.
No "New hire packet". No social security cards. No immigrants threatening to take their jobs. Cold hard cash.
So..., Carl hauled the branches to the curb that Trevor had cut, swept and bagged up the twigs and pine needles that Trevor grabbed out of the rain gutter and handed up pieces of pre-cut, quarter inch screen, brads and the hammer, to Trevor, on the ladder, to keep the wind blown leaves and burning embers out of the attic.
Meanwhile, Ingrid unleashed her million dollar research sheep, "Dolly" on the front yard.
(Ingrid) (to the interviewer) This cloned miracle of biomedical engineering and former bold leader in diabetes research is out standing in her field AND now protecting our homeland from terrorist weed invaders. Go figure.
(Botany factoid #1)
(Trevor) Ok, that's enough for one day. I had the professionals take out a dead live oak in the back yard last year and it cost me an arm and a leg. The sudden oak death syndrome killed it and I wanted it removed before the branches came down on my head. I think a lot of trees and plants in this neighborhood are living with the pathogen. It is just making the whole urban forest a little more crispy. These trees are going to have to evolve to live with that bug because it is everywhere and in everything, especially the bay laurel trees. They're like the Typhoid Mary of the forest. They carry the disease and spread it but don't die from it themselves.
"Dry winter curtails fatal disease in oak trees"
Article by Guy Kovner. Published 10/15/2018 )
(Plant pathology and Botany factoids # 1 & 2)
(Ingrid) Is that why the Camp Fire burned so hot?
(Trevor) Some foresters think so. My tree cutters wouldn't even haul away the oak wood they cut here, because of the pathogen. They didn't want to spread it to other oaks. So I had them machine split and hand stack it well away from the house and I tarped the whole cord for the winter.
(Botany factoids #3 & 4)
(Carl) did you put up all those deer antlers on the garage there?
(Trevor) No. The previous owner did that so I just kept them up there.
The oldest ones are near the door where he did his butchering. Do you see how the oldest ones have the widest spread? The most recent ones are from brush bucks with antlers that helped them move through thick brush. The deer evolved to survive their environment. The ones that got their antlers stuck in the brush got eaten by the cougars.
(Carl) And now with the big fires, their horns will start to widen out so they can fight better
(Trevor). I suppose so. Carl, don't forget any of your tools. Ingrid... If anyone asks for a reference you can put me down.. I'll tell 'em you did good work. And you might try asking Carson, next door, if he'd like his ground mounted solar panels cleaned. That would give him an extra 10% yield.
(Career factoid #2) (Renewable Energy factoid #1)
(Ingrid) thanks Trevor.
(Trevor) Here's some cash. Don't spend it all on college savings bonds.
(Child psychology factoid #1)
(Ingrid and Carl) Thanks! We won't.
(Ingrid to Carl) see ya later Alligator.
(Carl to Ingrid) In a while crocodile.
The Kitchen Scene - Scene III
(Trevor's wife Muriel appears on the front step)
(Muriel) Ingrid, would you like to come in for a glass of lemon iced tea?
I'll get some for the camera crew here in a minute.
(Ingrid) Well, yeah, I'm kinda thirsty.... Can I leave Dolly here to chew her cud?
(Animal husbandry factoid #1)
(Muriel) that's fine.
(Interior scene - kitchen - Ingrid sits down at table... Muriel delivers drinks to camera crew)
(Muriel).....that's a nice sheep you have there....
(Ingrid) yeah.... That’s Dolly... She put in her 4 years at my dad's biotech company and when they learned all they could from her, she was put out to pasture at our place.
We put a chicken wire roof over her pen when someone reported seeing a mountain lion a few blocks away. We didn't want to lose her to a predator.
(Wildlife Biology factoid #3
(Muriel) Good idea.... because the mountain lions are evolving to live in suburbia...what field of research is your dad in?
(Ingrid) diabetes research. They're working with investors on a new approach trying to jump start the human pancreas with stem cells.
(Bioscience factoid #1)
(Muriel) that sounds promising.... My doctor has told me that I'm at risk for adult onset diabetes.
(Medical factoid # 1)
(Ingrid) Well, their drug is somewhere in the FDA drug approval pipeline.
(Bioscience factoid #2)
(Muriel) A lot of things are in our family's pipeline.... I asked Trevor to get an old suitcase down from the loft in the garage so I can grab it and go, in the event of a wildfire emergency.
I'll put a new tooth brush in it, some medications, a change of clothes and a copy of our fire insurance policy.... Plus some pictures of each room in the house so we can itemize our losses after the house goes up in smoke.
(Ingrid) What happens if you can't itemize everything?
(Muriel) then you only may get 75% of the value of the policy.... and that doesn't take into account, a realistic figure per square foot, of what it will take to rebuild a house of similar size, from the ground up. Most people never upgrade their insurance policies to take that into account and there is no law that says the insurance companies have to make those sales calls.
(Ingrid) So you get nothing for pain and suffering?
(Muriel) Not a dime. And it hurts when you have to place a value on irreplaceable things like a wedding dress or your old high school year books.
(Ingrid) So where would you go with your suitcase?
(Muriel) We might camp out in the parking lot at the shopping center. Every hotel room for miles around would be booked solid if our whole neighborhood burned. There's emergency money available but it takes months and months to get the insurance companies to cough up a settlement check. So there'd be a real cash flow problem there for a while and a lot of hard decisions to make.
(Ingrid) Wow! I never thought about this.
(Muriel) Well, if the fire is coming, be the first on your block to evacuate and avoid all the crazies driving down the wrong side of the street, getting in accidents, brandishing guns and causing gridlock.
(Ingrid) musing.... zombies on the loose.... Where would you go to?
(Muriel) A coffee shop with wi-fi, I guess. As long as it's out of the path of the fire.
Trevor and I would probably be couch surfing for a couple days.... With friends and family..... Then we'd probably be trailer trash for a while. But if you escape with your life, that's the most important thing.... I can't fit into that old wedding dress anyway.
(Ingrid) but you'd rebuild on your lot here, wouldn't you?
(Muriel) I'd like to.... (Heavy Sigh) I'd like to put solar panels on the new house and put in a sun room..... Rebuild with the most fire resistant techniques....you'd probably be up and gone by that time. Young people can bounce back after a financial fall, better than us old folks.... You can find a new place to live, a new job, a new partner... I'm resilient
(Ingrid) but not bullet proof.
(Ingrid) would you like to walk Dolly home with me and get some exercise?
We can stop by the creek and Dolly can get a drink of water and eat some watercress.
(Muriel) Sure let me grab my house keys and say goodbye to Trevor....
(Muriel) Do you see how high the creek got last winter? Look at the driftwood tangled around that tree trunk.
(Ingrid) All that land burned (gesturing) up there last October.
(Muriel) It's coming back nicely with the help of the FBI.
(Muriel) Fungi, Bacteria and Invertebrates. The riparian zone around this creek was a natural fire break but the fire spotted across it anyway. That probably wouldn't have happened if the settlers around here had learned to use fire as masterfully as the Indians.... The overly dense forests and heavy fuel loads just wouldn't have been there.
(Ingrid) I noticed that the eucalyptus are coming back.
(Muriel) That's what they're designed to do....come right back after a fire.
They've evolved to spread fire and thrive from the disturbance in the forest.
When a wildfire is fueled by a eucalyptus grove, it won't slow down until it gets tired.
Add a little bit of climate change and a fire can really take off.
(Ingrid) (struggling with Dolly's leash) something else
won't slow down until it gets tired.... like this stupid sheep.
(Muriel) you shouldn't curse an animal that has given us so much.
(Ingrid) like wool socks, lamb chop?
(Sound FX) a sheep bleating
(Muriel) like this country. The Indians had no domesticated animals... Like cows, sheep, goats and chickens. And never caught their diseases....
(Ingrid) Like what?
(Muriel) Mumps, measles, chicken pox, small pox, tuberculosis .... The passing of the Indian way of life in the early 1800's had more to do with germs and lack of resistance to disease, than guns and steel.
(History factoid #5) (medical factoid #6)
(Ingrid) I never thought of it that way.
(Muriel) The Indians didn't have honey to eat until John Sutter brought up Italian queens and hives from Mexico. The Indians called them, "the white man's flies".
The native pollinators are still here but it's hard to beat a hardworking European honey bee.
(Ingrid) And now the worker honeybees are sick and getting lost far from the hive.
(Muriel) Sickness is part of life. Sometimes an illness jumps from one species to another... some scientists think that the first cases of STD came from sheep.
(Ingrid) eu www
(Muriel) you know how men are...
(Ingrid) My brother is a pig.
(Muriel) So was Trevor until I tamed him a little.
(Ingrid) he was a rascal?
(Muriel) oh yeah. We went to Vegas for our honeymoon and...
(Ingrid) (interrupting) And what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
(Muriel) exactly. So don't give up on men. Some men are like Indians. They have no cultural resistance to alcohol. Alcohol has killed as many Indians as settler's bullets. Fire water they called it.
(Muriel) The bottom line is that people have to drink..... If there are pigs rolling in creek mud and cows pooping in it then the creek water won't be safe to drink for anybody.
Wells were often contaminated with sewage from outhouses too close by. And not everybody can drink milk past childhood. Some people are lactose intolerant. They can't even eat pizza because the cheese makes them sick. The human gene that has spread the fastest is the gene that gives adults the ability to digest milk. And the Indians didn't have it and the white man kept hitting them over the head with blocks of cheese. No wonder they turned to drink. They had traumatic brain injuries.
(Ingrid) Well, I like pizza but I don't want to make a career out of it. I don't know what I want.... a career, a house, a husband and kids.
(Muriel) Life is competitive around here and houses are expensive.... if you're lucky and you work hard, you might have two of those.
The question is....which two do you want?
(Ingrid) I dunno. (Thoughtfully) Your career can go up in smoke just like a house. Your husband can cheat on you.
(Muriel) then pay attention. Don’t forget to get married.
Don't forget the maintenance on yourself.
(Ingrid) (changing the subject) I'm gonna get contacts so I don't need glasses.
(Muriel) and I'm going to lose these love handles.
(Ingrid) well good luck.
(Muriel) you too kiddo. And take good care of Dolly.
(Narrator) Ingrid said her goodbyes to Muriel, put Dolly back in her pen, checked her bank balance on her cell phone and walked to the nearest fire plug to sit down. With the world's fastest thumbs, Ingrid soon ordered a drone, on-line, with free drone delivery. Soon, a brown cardboard box was sitting next to the fireplug with Ingrid's new drone inside. Almost without realizing it, Ingrid had just made one of the first great dramatic decisions of her life.
The Wizard’s Scene - Scene IV
(Narrator) Carl took his share of the pay from Ingrid and made a beeline for Merlin's work shop where he bought a wizard's wand (placing cash on the wine barrel head) from Merlin, the tinker and wood carving artist, down the street.
(Note: the magic wand is a "McGuffin".... like Bogart's statuette in the Maltese Falcon, that moves the story along.)
(Sound FX) knocking on the door of the shed
(Carl) Are you home Merlin?
(Merlin) oh it's you, Carl. Come on in and leave the door propped open. How ya doing?
(Carl) pretty good. I've been working hard....(showing off a handful of ones and fives) I want to buy a wand. Like Harry Potter uses. (Slaps down cash on the lid of a wine barrel). Did you see the last Harry Potter movie?
(Merlin) no. I think I missed it when it came out. The wand? I think we can do that. (Taking the ones and handing back a five) Why don't you pull up a chair? Would you like a soda?
(Carl) Sure...thanks. (Snaps it open)
(Merlin) I was just working on this chain saw....
(Carl) Giving it an oil change?
(Merlin) Nah... It's a two stroke engine.... It is designed to run right side up or upside down so it can never drown in its own crankcase oil. The rebuilds are more frequent but it's a simple engine with less overhead.
I'm just sharpening the chain and cleaning out the bugs, sawdust and leaves from the air filter...
(Carl) That's neat.
(Merlin). These bugs.... Have been removed from the gene pool....
(Merlin- rummaging through a barrel of sticks and rods) I think this dowel will do the job.
(Narrator) Working at a leisurely pace among the detritus of a career spent in mechanical engineering, home computers, car repairs and antiques collecting, Merlin set up the lathe and talked to Carl about his antique Wheatstone bridge, demonstrated his log rolling peavey tool and hinted about the ghosts that might still roam the fields at night. He painted a vivid and colorful picture of intrepid Spanish explorers (Merlin strikes a bold pose with his walking stick) traumatized Indians....(wiping a tear), brave soldiers...(pointing the dowel like a gun)
(Merlin) (interrupting his own story with tongue in cheek) My grand daddy killed every last Indian in the West... An fur whad?
....and pious Padres (Merlin lifts his eyes skyward and holds his hands in fervent prayer), cimmaron mustangs and wild hogs, proud gauchos with lariats and braided sombreros, fierce grizzly bears, screaming mountain lions, huge flocks of ducks and geese, great herds of noble elk and longhorn cattle that roamed the whole county.
(Merlin) (snapping back to reality) Did I ever tell you my La Honda story?
(Carl) I don't think so. Where's La Honda?
(Merlin) Over the hill from Redwood City, out towards San Gregorio, in the coastal hills out in the redwood forest. They call it, "The Guild", but it's a homeowner association with about 250 houses. It will probably burn some day what with climate change, drought and longer fire seasons. (Sighs)
(Carl) Can't they do anything about it?
(Merlin) The land around La Honda hasn't burned in a hundred years.... You look at the photographs taken in the 1930's and wow, the grasslands in the backgrounds have just disappeared. The forest is a lot denser than it used to be..... and who wants to pay for thinning public land? There's plenty of people in the "Tea" Party who think they're "taxed enough already". Wildfire used to give the native grasses the upper hand in its million year battle against brush. Now, the fire department has handed the land to brush and too late, realizes their mistake.
(Carl) So what would you do if you lived in La Honda?
(Merlin) I dunno. I'd probably rake up the oak leaves into a big haystack of a pile and compost them. And I'd probably pay to have some guy with a leaf blower do the hilly portions. I'd work with my neighbors to trim off the lower branches of the trees. (And we'd probably pay some guy to haul them away or run them through a brush chipper.) And I'd tell the County Fire Safe Council to tie in a network of low fuel zones to the highway and the power line right of ways.... just so that the volunteer fire department would have options in the event of a major fire coming up the valley or coming down from the ridge. (And they'd probably find a way to make the Guild pay for it, so my dues would go up.) You know, some people actually choose to live in the past because it's cheaper there.
(Merlin) Anyway, in the past, which is lost and gone forever, my older brother Dave, God rest his soul, had a friend named Andy Koval. Now Andy's dad worked construction and they built a small pond with concrete in their back yard. It had a stream and waterfall feature, which we thought was pretty cool for a brand new subdivision built at the bottom of a huge quarry, without any surviving trees, much less wildlife.
So Andy's dad would take Andy to La Honda to get critters for the pond; crayfish, polliwogs, toads and minnows, using dip nets and buckets. And sometimes Dave would go along for the ride. Dave told me about it and so I always thought of La Honda as this deep, dark, mysterious place in the redwoods.
(Merlin) Now as I got older, I was through La Honda a thousand times. Going to summer camp. Going to the beach with family. On my Harley. And then one day, a friend invited me to church and I met this beautiful blond from La Honda. And by and by she invited me to come see her at her house in La Honda. And so, I got a block and a half off the main drag and there it was; Reflection Pond.
(Merlin) Now, I'd lived in San Mateo County my whole life and ya know, it only took me 45 years to figure out where Andy and Dave had been going, all those years ago. (Sternly) Don't call me slow, Carl.
(Carl) (giggles) don't worry. I won't.
(Merlin) I was kind of a speed demon on motorcycles when I was young. Do you see those burned out pistons there? I cast them myself until I found just the right alloys of exotic metals. My pistons evolved as I got better with the metallurgy.
How Engine Pistons Are Made 5:00 minutes
How It's Made, Engine Pistons 5:00 minutes
(Merlin continues) They're sacrifices to the Gods of Speed. Anyway, I learned about drive chains, clutches and cables from fixing my bike and found work as an electronics technician for $8 an hour fixing drive chains, clutches and cables on office photocopy machines. The work I could handle, it was the customers that drove me nuts. I met some cute girls at the biker bar in La Honda but I didn't meet my sweet wife until I went to church. Like, this guy had done some skilled work for me and I couldn't really say "no". And then, when I retired from my job in Silicon Valley, we found this place, sold our house in Sunnyvale to DINKS....
(Merlin) Dual Income No Kids. Money up the ying yang. They crunched my beautiful
house and rebuilt almost from a bare lot, I couldn't believe my own eyes... and we moved in here. You were just a toddler then. My wife liked the raised bed garden and I liked the workshop and...thank God the fire didn't get us. Losing one house was bad enough... Even though we knew it was coming.
A couple of these barn boards in the walls still have the logging company stamp on them. They were dumped off the wagons into the bay at the Port of Redwood City, mixed with planks from a couple of different logging outfits and rafted North with the tide to the San Francisco waterfront.
Eventually they were sorted out by company, stacked in a lot to dry out and sold. I guess they became part of a warehouse or something.... And when it was dismantled, the wood was in such good condition....they saved the planks and beams, shipped them to Butte County and reassembled some of it here. That soak in the salty bay water really helped preserve the wood.
No self respecting termite will touch it. That's why the Stradivarius violins from Cremona, Italy produced such fine music... It was the saltwater bath. Hmmm. Let me put a mike on this wand, I want to get the feng shui just right. It should be balanced in your hand like a Colt Peacemaker.
(Carl) what's that?
(Merlin) They called the 1862 model six shooter, "the gun that won the West".
(American History factoid #2)
Except that a lot of buckaroos put a rolled up dollar bill in the top chamber so it wouldn't go off when they got butterfingers and dropped it. (Channeling Dirty Harry) "Well punkaroo, have I fired five shots or six? So the question you should be asking yourself is; "Do I feel lucky today? Well do ya punk?"
(Carl) I always feel lucky. (Changing the subject) So what's a punkaroo?
(Merlin) The Yankee cowboys couldn't say "vaquero"... From "vaca" for cow. And so it became "buckaroo".
(linguistics factoid #1)
You've been through Vacaville on 80?
(Carl) yeah, lots of times.
(Merlin) Vacaville was the original one horse, jerk water, cow town, where the engineer on the steam locomotive would yank on a rope to pull the water chute down from the water tower, to refill the tank. And it would really get filled fast. Did you ever see one of those old black and white Harold Lloyd movies where the guy gets doused from the chute? It clean knocked him down. That guy was lucky he didn't break his own neck. Anyway, out in the Central Valley.... Coaling station "A" became Coalinga because coal was a better fuel than cord wood.... which disappeared fast from the riparian groves alongside the rivers. There was a coal mine on the slopes of Mt Diablo many years ago but it wasn't the rock hard, high quality, Kentucky mined, anthracite coal that was good for smelting iron. And they pulled a lot of sand out of there too, for making cement.
(Geology factoid #1) (Metallurgy factoid #1) (history factoid #6)
Maybe they used that soft brown coal for the trains. I dunno. There's a museum there now and a pioneer cemetery full of kids that died really young. Poor things. They never knew what hit them. I think they'll take you a short distance into the mine on tours now, to look at the sand galleries.
(Merlin) You know, when we wanted to put solar PV panels on the roof, the solar company said we had to reroof this old house. So they pulled off 5 layers of shingles, about an inch and a half thick, weighing about a ton.... It filled a whole dumpster. ...figure a new roof every 25 years or so, one layer on top of the next....and the oldest layer was attached to the rafters with hand forged, square headed nails.
(History factoid #3)
I got a whole coffee can of them. Here, you can have one.
(Carl) This is like.... old... (Looking at it closely and placing it in his shirt pocket)
(Merlin) Those hails are a lot older than I am. Sometimes you have a clean slate when you work on stuff. And some times there are legacy issues. PG&E has a lot of legacy issues to deal with like uninsulated high voltage wires and natural gas pipes starting to rust out.
(Engineering and infrastructure factoid #1)
The QWERTY phenomena with typewriter keyboards is a legacy issue. That one is famous. Old natural gas pipelines blowing up in San Bruno, when you ramp up the pressure. Hydro dams designed to catch snow melt, not rain water, in a warming world. A grid designed for a single power station, not a power station on every roof. Legacy problems. A real headache, or a ”design consideration", depending on your attitude.
(Merlin) Speaking about headaches. Do you see that motherboard and CPU hanging up there? It's another sacrifice to the Gods of speed. I over clocked the CPU and accidentally got the dip switch settings wrong on the motherboard. Toast! It's an Intel Pentium II CPU and I used the settings for an AMD chip. Duh!
(Carl) Was it fast?
(Merlin) You never heard of the Pentium II ? (Suppressing a smile) It’s the chip that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs. It didn’t look like much, but it had it where it counted.
(Carl) What's a parsec?
(Merlin) forget it kid, I'm rolling!
And when it fried...there was this smell of burned money that just hung in the air. It was horrible. Even the traces on the motherboard cooked. It smelled almost as bad as the aftermath of the Tubbs Fire.
(Carl) And that was bad.
(Merlin) Anyway, don't worry about trying to understand today's CPU's or the grid. They are now far beyond the complexity of a single human mind.
(Neural science factoid #1)
Kid ! Remember.... Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
Just don't let the Russians hack into the grid or you'll be sitting in the dark with everybody else waiting for the wildfires to start. Hacking has been weaponized...
(Political science factoid #1) (computer factoid #1)
(Merlin) We've got knob and tube electrical wiring here in the shed. Do you see it there behind the drywall? See the bone white ceramic insulator? We put Romex in the house when we remodeled because it's safer. Contractors went to plastic coated copper wire in the late 50's. Knob and tube is a legacy system and there's still lots of it out there in older houses and outbuildings that electricians have to deal with.
(Career factoid #1)
I've still got my old glass electrical meter so PG&E can't hit me with Time of Use rates. So I can do laundry anytime I want. They offered me a Smart Meter and I declined it. I told 'em that I'd have to make myself a tin foil hat if they did that. They can send out a meter reader guy every month, until the day I'm dead and gone. Anyway, the City neglected their legacy of wildfires, forgot the story of the last fire which burned up to the city limits and rebuilt in the same footprint in a big way.
(History factoid #5) And then the same area burned again in 2018, killing a hundred people. History may not always repeat itself but it does rhyme. I think ALL those people at City Hall should be wearing tin foil hats.
(Narrator) Taking off his reading glasses and satisfied with the measurements on the micrometer, Merlin then resumed weaving colorful stories around Yankee loggers from the forests of Maine, (astounded at the height of the foothill Douglas firs and scratching their heads at the challenge), daring rum runners during prohibition (Hauling booze in freight wagons on the backroads), the Merry Pranksters in La Honda learning to grow powerful weed (groovy) and modern wine pioneers building a new world around fine wines, good music and food (another glass of this fine Chardonnay for you?)
(History factoids #'s 6-12)
(Merlin) did you ever hear about somebody having Lou Gehrig's disease?
(Carl) yeah, some Lady at church had it. She called it ALS.
(Merlin) well, Lou Gehrig was a great baseball player in the 1930's who played over 3,000 games without missing a single one. They called him "The Iron Horse" and you didn't want to be a minor league player in the Yankee farm system coming up behind Lou Gehrig, because you'd never have a chance to go to the show. The doctors X-rayed his hands at the end of his career and revealed that he broken all of his fingers several times, playing the infield and catching smoking fast line drives with a crummy leather glove. But he never complained and never missed a game. He batted near 300 for most of his career. And he had his bats custom made. So one day he complains to the bat maker that they don't feel right in his hands. So they miked 'em. The handles were too big by 5 thousands of an inch and so they did another batch of bats for him on the lathe, more carefully. Do you know that a lathe is the only machine that can reproduce itself?
That won't be true for much longer though, the way that things are going.
(Merlin makes a fine adjustment on the lathe)
Anyway, medicine was pretty primitive in those days and they couldn't help Lou Gehrig. It was a genetic problem. Neurological. And they really didn't understand it, much less have a treatment for it. They just knew what it was gonna do to his body in the end. And they had to tell him the truth. So the best doctors in the world treated him the best they could and they named the disease after him when he died.
(Medical factoid #3)
People used to die from really simple things. You could die from a broken leg or a toothache. So a great athlete lost his ability to hit, throw and run, halfway through the season. It was a sad day when he retired and spoke to the crowd at Yankee Stadium and called himself the luckiest guy in the world. (Sadly) I'm on all kinds of pills. Don't do drugs. Floss your teeth. Take care of your health, kid. Like this wand, some things are one per customer.
(Narrator) And you know, when Merlin finished turning that plain wooden dowel on a jerry rigged lathe it became more than a beautifully carved magic wand (in reality, only a delicate souvenir of a magical moment between a curious young boy and a lucky old man.)
(Merlin) Wave it once to see what once was... Wave it twice to see what could be, but beware the power of the wand..... not all things you wish will come to pass. And if you wish for something loud and fast, be sure it doesn't go any faster than your angels can fly.
(Narrator) With that, Merlin took the wand out of the toaster oven....
(Merlin) Hot, hot, hot off the press... The point should be fire hardened like the tip of an Indian spear... because the wand is mightier than the sword.
(Narrator) So he torched the tip with a cigarette lighter, blew out the flame, quenched it in a tall beer can, wiped it down with a rag and, with a flourish, Merlin presented the new wand to Carl,
(Merlin) Carl... This is Excaliber ....direct from the Lady of the Lathe.
When you hear the sea breeze whispering softly in the pine trees, that's when your wand will be working its strongest magic.
(Carl) Thanks Merlin. I'll be careful with it. Bye Merlin.
(Merlin) see you later Carl.
The Closing Scene - Scene V
(Narrator) Carl and Ingrid met up after dinner to eat ice cream outside the corner store.
Camera pans to Carl's wand soaking in a water bottle surrounded by torn open and crumpled salt packets. Ingrid's shiny new drone and joystick controller rests on the table.
(Narrator) Carl and Ingrid did a few other homes in the neighborhood, that summer and the next, keeping the fire marshal and the insurance inspectors more or less satisfied.
They cleaned ground mounted solar panels arrays every chance they had.
Carl used his wand to wish for an electric scooter but didn't get one until Ingrid upgraded her ride to a well maintained and lightning quick, bright red, 1976 Honda CB 750, with velocity stacks on the carburetor and a Kerker header. That bike screamed.... and royally impressed her college boyfriend, Steve.
Carl was used to hand me down clothes and toys from his sister so it didn't bother him. He just put a few new stickers on it from the skate board shop and rode it all over.
Carl and Ingrid lived happily together, until Ingrid, soon heartbreakingly beautiful and wearing contacts, went off to college and found freedom from her annoying little brother.... although they still talk on the phone from time to time, as only siblings can.
___________________(end of synopsis/script___________________________
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