Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Shades of Star Wars

I was beginning to think I had imagined this.

In the 1960's I saw a brief article about a 'Walker Truck' being developed by the army for use on rough terrain. The article went on to say the beastie could be mastered after "A few hours training" and was doing well in field trials.

I think I must have been the only person in the Texas Panhandle who read that article. No one else knew what I was talking about and I couldn't find the article again. Tonight on a whim I googled Prototype US Army Walking Truck and there it was!

The beastie was built by GE. The good news is that the engineers got it to work after fashion. The bad news is the description of training and handling was a bit exaggerated.

The driver controlled the front legs with their hands, and the rear legs with their feet. The speed was estimated at five miles an hour, but the operation was exhausting. The designer said about fifteen minutes was the usual limit.

Stability also left something to be desired. When being texted indoors it was hooked up to an overhead crane to make sure it stayed upright. Outdoors it had 'outriggers' to keep it from falling.

Cargo was a quarter ton, give or take. The beast also burned about fifty gallons and hour. All told, it was more trouble than it was worth.

One of the articles I read made an interesting point. 'Driving the walking truck was so taxing becase in the 1960's everything was manual. Today computers could correct a lot of the problems that made the walking truck such a bear.

So could computers make a walking truck managable? Consider the 'Big Dog' cargo robot. Would the walking truck be viable if the control problems were tamed?

I don't think so.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears...in Ohio!

A few days ago James at hellinahandbasket had a post that awakened memories and nightmares.

When I was a kid Walt Disney made a movie called A TIGER WALKS. It was about a circus tiger that escapes from its transport truck enroute to the next show. In the process the tiger killed its abusive handler, but truth be told every kid in the audience was cheering for the tiger. Problem is now there was a tiger loose in the woods of Middle America.

The hero of the movie was the local Sheriff, played by Brian Keith. The Governor complicates matters by sending in the National Guard. While seeking the tiger in a heavy fog one of the soldiers accidently shots a civilian, wounding him thank goodness. The Governor is persuaded to call off the National Guard and give Keith a crack at bringing down the tiger with a tranquilizer gun.
The plan didn’t come off without a hitch. There is a delay between hitting the tiger with the tranquilizer gun and the tiger going to sleep. Keith was raked on one arm before the tiger ran out of steam, but it was ‘just a flesh wound Ma’am.’ There have been dozens of such movies, but this one was my first.

Sadly, things go a lot smother in the movies than in real life.
A couple of days ago an Ohio man named Terry Thompson set in motion a nightmare scenario the wildest Hollywood director would never have dreamed of. For reasons best known to himself Thompson released his considerable collection of exotic animals into the woods around his ranch near Zanesville, Ohio before he took his own life. The net is overflowing with theories as to why. I never knew Mr. Thompson and will not pretend to be qualified to understand his motives.

Hats off to the Ohio authorities who sprang into action as soon as they were alerted to the dangerous situation. School was canceled and folks who were home in the danger area were advised to stay inside. If you were away from home, don’t hurry back! The animals were tracked down and dealt with by the safest and most efficient means. You must remember that Thompson’s collection was not tame pets. They were wild animals that spent their lives in cages. That makes them more dangerous than their counterparts in the wild – they had no fear of humans. So what did Thompson release and what was their fate? The numbers and sprcies of the animals vary from source to source. What follows is my best information at this writing. Read on;
There was one Baboon in the collection. It was killed. Why you might ask? Take a good look at this picture.
There were also three monkeys but I haven’t found a listing of species. Two were captured and one may have been killed, or is still at large. It looks like one of the cats may have gotten that one.

The collection had also included at least two wolves. Both were taken down by hunters.

I have had the privilege of seeing Grizzly Bears in the wild and have always been delighted there were no wild ones running free in Texas. The thought of a Grizzly running loose even in the countryside of Ohio is horrifying. Thompson released two!I was glad to learn one of them was captured unharmed. The second was not so fortunate.
There were three Cougars in the collection. All of them had to be put down. Before any of you express outrage, remember the jogger in California a few
years ago. Being a child of the 50’s I grew up with stories of hunters tracking man-eaters. Leopards figured prominently in these tales. I was stunned that three of them had been released, and pleasantly surprised to learn all three had been re-captured. Of all the animals released I didn’t expect a happy end for these. A Tiger Walks dealt with the panic and mayhem of one escaped tiger. Thompson released EIGHTEEN of them. This could have been a disaster. For the tigers it was, none of them survived.
There were six Black Bears in the mass release. Unlike the Grizzlies, all were put down by authorities.
Last but not least were the African Lions. Again I get different numbers, but I think there were nine males, and eight lionesses. As near as I can tell they were all destroyed. I know a lot of you are saying "with tranquilizer guns these creatures could have been saved."

Part of the problem is time and place. If a dangerious animal is spotted it has to be dealt with then. I don't know about where you live, but the Police and Sheriff's Department in Falls County, Texas don't have tranquilizer guns in their cars. By the time someone gets to your location with a dart gun the Lion or Black Bear you've spotted could be long gone - doing God knows what.

The other problem is darts are not universal. A dart that will work on a Tiger for example will kill a Wolf, but only make a Grizzly Bear very angery. Even if you have the right dose, the drugs are not instantious. It can take as much as twenty minutes for an animal to pass out. A lot of that will be spent in a killing rage.

Tranquilizer guns are a practical solution in zoos where you prepair for each animal, but less than perfect in the field.

I have referred to 'A Tiger Walks' several times in this piece. In one case real life was better than the movie. Other than Terry Thompson, no people were killed or injured.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mixed Thoughts on 'Harry's Law'

Helene and I missed 'Harry's Law' this week, but caught the rebroadcast Saturday night. The story was about cyber bullying / suicide. Harry, to be fair, did not defend the actions of the teenage bloger, but got her acquitted. I don't think she came down on the right side of this one. That being said isn't my biggest problem with the series. One of my guilty pleasures last year was Harry's Law. It features a sixtyish patent lawyer who is fired by her firm and ends up hanging her shingle on an abandoned shoe store. She was followed by her old secretary, the shoe mad Jenna and her associate is Adam, the young lawyer who hit her with his car. It sounds crazy, but they made it work.

Harry is a delightful character. She is rude, ill tempered and abrasive. No one is safe you would think, until she shows her human side. When her people are attacked she lashes out with a razor sharp tongue. When the local 'protection racket' showed up Harry cooled his jets with a Smith & Wesson Model 27. She pays no money but trades legal fees for protection. It's not the last time we see the .357 though. I love crazy old ladies with guns. Anyone who thinks Jenna is just the token blonde has missed the point. She provides humor to be sure, but in many ways was the heart of the show first season. Jenna both cared about and took care of the people around her. Helpless fluff? In a way Jenna is like the toy poodle that doesn't realize how big the great dane is. She has backed down some scarie people in that office. On more than one occasions she sticks up for herself against Harry no less. Adam is seen as a kid early on, but very soon is also standing his ground and doing well in court. He also has his battles with Harry, and with Harry's image. On more than one occasion he deals with clients who want "the old lady" instead of him. He changes their mind.
One of their first clients is Malcolm, an inner city kid facing trial, I believe a drug charge. Not only do Harry and Adam get him off, but he became a law clerk in their firm.
Tommy Jefferson is the lawyer made to hate. He starts out as an opponent, and before you know it he's also on the team. Watching him and Adam go after each other gives you new respect for the younger, more grown up associate.

All told Helene and I were looking forward to the next season. Well, it's here.

The premier was worth the wait, a three part murder mystery with a vicious twist ending I never saw coming. I was disappointed in other ways.

The first scene opens on the new law office. They have taken over the second floor, leaving Jenna and the shoes downstairs. There is lots of new personal. Tommy Jefferson now has his office there. By the end of the three part murder trial the guy who fired Harry from her old firm has moved in as well. Somewhere in between the first and second season the store-front office law office and shoe store died.
Malcolm has been 'off to school' this season. Understandable, but he could have gone to school locally. Jenna has had walk on's the last few weeks, almost as an after thought. Tonight she finally got some lines. She announced she had been offered a new job, and was shuffled off the series.

There are lots of lawyer / law firm TV shows. Now Harry's law is another one of them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

That's it for Water Melon

We have had a hard summer this year at HomePlace. I've lost track of the number of days we've had over one hundred degrees. Over the last few months we have put thousands of gallons of water our gardens. This has been met with mixed results.

Okra seems to like the heat. Cherry tomatoes are OK with it. Swiss Chard, not so much. Big tomatoes don't seem to like it. Both have been stunted this year.

My personal disappointment has been the water melons. I love water melons and have since I was a little kid. We planted several 'hills' and Helene calls them and added bunny pooh and water.

The vines came pretty quick and spread. There is a thrill to spotting your first water melon, don't' let anyone tell you different. The problem is they grew slowly. There were other problems as well.

Like me, critters love water melon. I'm not sure if it's the drought or love of water melon, but it seems like we discover another melon messed up every day or so. The result is, of the melons that have ripened this summer, we got two. The rest were damaged or got end rot and were fed to the rabbits and chickens.

So today we collected the melons, pulled up the vines, and carted it all to the feeding area.

Better luck next year.