Author Archives: Tippy Gnu

Cranky Pants Battling Autoimmune Disease

I know a Canadian lady with autoimmune disease. Her name is Cranky Pants. She’s cranky, because she’s in constant pain and discomfort from this disabling and difficult disease. And she wears pants. And even her dog has autoimmune disease. And her dog is also cranky.

Cranky has started her own YouTube channel, where she talks about this disease, and invites discussion. If you have autoimmune disease, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, IBD, or any of the others (heck there’s about 80 of them), or if you suspect you may have this health condition, I think you’ll find Cranky’s YouTube channel informative.

Cranky is nice, fun, and helpful, in spite of the name she’s given herself. You can check out her channel and see for yourself, by watching her latest video, below:

The Winchester Mystery House

Sarah Pardee was born in 1841, to middle-class parents, in New Haven, Connecticut. Just 40 years later she became one of the richest women in the world.

In 1862, she married William Wirt Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester. Oliver Winchester owned the New Haven Arms Company, and was getting rich selling the Henry rifle.

In 1866, Oliver renamed his business the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and the first Winchester repeating rifles began production. The Winchester quickly gained popularity, especially with pioneers, and eventually became known as the gun that won the West.

Oliver earned a fast fortune running this company. And when he died in December, 1880, Sarah’s husband, William, inherited much of it. Then, just three months later, William died of tuberculosis.

This left Sarah with an inheritance of $20 million dollars, which was the equivalent to over $500 million, today. She was also left with a near 50% holding in the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which allowed her to rake in $1,000 per day in dividend income. That’s the equivalent to over $25,000 per day, or more than $9 million per year, in today’s money.

You may envy her, but the widow Winchester was no stranger to tragedy. In 1866 her only child, Annie Pardee Winchester, died just 40 days after birth. And of course her husband, a man whom she truly loved, died 15 years later. No amount of money could dissolve her lifelong grief over these losses.

Much of Sarah’s life, after her great inheritance, remains a mystery. But it’s commonly believed that she was an occultist, who held seances and tried to communicate with the dead, including her late-husband and daughter.

It’s believed she once visited a famous Boston medium named Adam Coons. And it’s said that Coons warned her that she was cursed by the Winchester fortune, due to the many people who’d been slain by the Winchester rifle.

Coons allegedly relayed instructions from angry spirits, telling Sarah to move to California and build a great house for all the ghosts of those who had been gunned down. And he told her to never stop building, as the sound of all the construction noise would confuse the spirits and keep them from harming her.

And so, in 1884, Sarah Winchester purchased an unfinished farmhouse south of San Francisco Bay, in what is now San Jose, California. And she commenced a never-ending job of finishing it.

She hired a crew of contractors and paid them three times the going wage. They remained very loyal to Sarah, and set to work, continuously building room after room, addition after addition, round-the-clock, for the next 38 years.

By the time she died in 1922, her farmhouse had expanded to 161 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 2 ballrooms, 47 fireplaces, 10,000 panes of glass, 17 chimneys, two basements, and three elevators. And this was after part of the house had been destroyed by the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

It had many toilets, but only one was functioning. The other restrooms were built as decoys to confuse the spirits. In fact, much of the construction was intended to confuse these victims of the Winchester rifle. Every pillar, inside and outside, was installed upside-down. Hallways led to dead ends. A staircase led to a ceiling. Doors opened to steep drop-offs, or to bare walls. A skylight was installed in a floor. Other skylights were covered by roofs.

The front of the Winchester Mystery House. Or is it a side? There are so many entrances, it’s hard for a ghost to know. Notice the upside-down porch pillars?

She decorated the house with beautiful Tiffany stained glass and crystal windows. And many windows were designed with the number 13 in mind, as this was Sarah’s favorite number. So some windows had 13 panes, or a design would repeat 13 times within a window.

Her will, in fact, contained 13 parts, and was signed 13 times.

Another outdoor photo of the Winchester Mystery House. A sign near the entrance warned that photography was forbidden inside the house. I hate snooty policies like that. So after snapping a number of outdoor photos, I returned my camera to the car. But when the tour began, our guide told us that photography really WAS allowed inside, just not flash photography. I could have kicked myself. Or the guide. Someone needs to change that sign.

She died in her sleep at age 81, from heart failure. Or who knows, perhaps one of the spirits finally managed to exact revenge upon this Winchester gun heiress.

When her workers heard of her death they immediately halted construction, leaving nails half driven into walls. They knew the end had come for their fat paychecks.

Sarah was the architect of all the additions and remodelings. And she left no blueprints. She employed a gingerbread architectural style, which is fairly common to Victorian-era buildings in the United States.

Sarah bequeathed all of her possessions, except her sprawling mansion, to her niece and personal secretary. She made no mention of her mansion, in the will. So her niece emptied the house, trucking most of Sarah’s possessions to an auction. And it supposedly took six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks, to remove all the furniture from the home.

The Foreman’s house, which is one of several outbuildings behind the Winchester mansion. The guy who lived here must have kept very busy.

Appraisers were confounded, and considered the mansion worthless. Nonetheless, it sold at auction for $135,000. The investor leased, then sold the mansion to John and Mayme Brown, who opened it to the public as a tourist attraction, just five months after Sarah’s death.

The horse stable, which is connected to the house. It was designed so that Mrs. Winchester’s carriage could be driven indoors, thus alleviating her from being soiled by raindrops, blowing dust, or other weather-borne unpleasantries.

Today it’s dubbed the Winchester Mystery House, and for an adult ticket price of $39, you can visit and explore many of the rooms of this odd mansion. The house is reputed to be haunted, and occasionally tourists and tour guides report strange happenings, such as swinging chandeliers, apparitions, and ghostly voices.

So it’s quite popular with tourists around October 31st.

Click here to learn more about the Winchester Mystery House.

This weather vane is one of the few remaining parts of the original farmhouse, that are identifiable. The farmhouse was renovated and added onto so extensively, that most of its original structure belies location and identification.

Stolen Quote: My Last Theft

We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own “to do” list. ~ Michelle Obama, First Lady


This will be my last theft of a quote. I’m walking the strait and narrow from here out, and leaving alone the pearls of wisdom uttered by others.

My life has become a blivet bag. I’ve been trying to stuff 10 pounds of life into a 5 pound bag, and something has to give. And so I’ve decided to give up on the daily Stolen Quote.

It’s time I get my priorities straight, and put myself higher on my “to do” list, as Michelle Obama advises.

This blog will continue, but I won’t be posting on a daily basis anymore. I love sharing the unicorns that I catch, and I enjoy reading and responding to your comments. But the thing is, I need more time for the chase. Spending too much time on my Catching Unicorns blog can ironically keep me from catching unicorns.

This blog has also been remodeled. I do that from time to time in an effort to keep things unique and interesting. Unicorns love change, and hate constantly familiar surroundings. It’s hard to keep them captive in the same old, overgrazed pastures.

I hope you like the changes. If you have any suggestions for additional changes, please put them in the suggestion box. It’s located about one-inch past the right edge of your monitor.

Okay, okay, you can leave them in a comment.

My light-fingered ways can’t resist stealing just one more quote, so I’ll finish with this purloined gem, from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

The Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now by counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! Throw all these thunderheads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

Leaving on a Road Trip

The Winchester House in San Jose, California, was one of our first stops. This 161 room mansion was the home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester gun fortune. With all those rooms, she could have expanded to a hotel chain.

It’s 4:00 am, and we’re up and moving, looking forward to our next road trip and a cure for cabin fever. I pull the car up close to the front door and start loading luggage.

If a man knows what’s best for him, he will put the woman’s luggage in the car first, before he tries to find room for his own.

The Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco behind it.

My wife belts out an order: “Take the black bag!”

She means the multi-colored bag with the black handle. I don’t know this, so I stand in front of it looking stupid, trying to find the black bag. “Oh, I’ll get it myself!” she huffs impatiently, and snatches the bag and puts it by the front door for me to carry the rest of the way.

Five of the 21 California missions are in the San Francisco bay area. We pilgrimed to all five. Poppies bloom beside the northernmost mission, in Sonoma.

Our pack of dogs follows her every movement, as she frantically darts about the house looking for this and that to take on the trip. She screeches, “Move you fucking dummies or I will kill you!” She doesn’t mean a word of it, and the dogs know that. They continue to mosey and mill about her feet.

Sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, in San Francisco. Their playful ways reminded us of our dogs at home.

The dogs are aware that something is up. They’ve watched our madcap routine before. They know we’re abandoning them. They’re casting forlorn looks at us. We avoid their eye contact.

A meat market in Chinatown, San Francisco. For some reason, this too reminded us of our dogs at home.

I was hoping we could leave by 4:45. But no, she hasn’t poured her coffee yet. Coffee. That poisonous impedimenta that slows us down like leg irons, everywhere we go.

Time to leave the motel? No, wait, not until she walks to the lobby, pours one last cup of joe, and admixes the precise blend of cream and sugar to make it just right. Time to leave the restaurant? Nope. Not until she gets a cup of coffee to go, again carefully mixing in the perfect blend of condiments. Time to get out of the car and walk to the tourist attraction? Uh-uh. Not until she grabs her styrofoam tumbler of java, locates the ice chest, and creates a cup of iced coffee.

Lombard Street, in San Francisco. This is putatively the crookedest street in the world. So I guess a lot of politicians live here.

Ice. Coffee. And tea, also. Banes of my existence. I don’t use ice in my drinks, and I don’t drink coffee or tea. But she does. And it throws quicksand in our path to vacationland.

The north fork of the American River, near Auburn, California. Gold was first discovered on the south fork, sparking the 49er gold rush. It would have been discovered on the north fork first, but the prospector there had to brew a cup of coffee, and missed his chance.

At 4:55 am we finally drive off, feeling electric with excitement. Her electricity supercharges her mouth, and she starts yacking and yacking and yacking, while my ears sink lower and lower and lower, until they drop off my skull. But that’s okay, after just 300 miles of this she finally tires and nods off.

We ventured over the Sierras between snowstorms, and caught this wintry view of Lake Tahoe.

We see many sights on this trip, some of which I’ll be blogging about. And we make just as many memories. We laugh, we grouse, and we’re awestruck by all the new, unique things we encounter.

Mono Lake, and the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. Los Angeles has a 350 mile-long straw, which it uses to suck up the snowmelt that would normally flow into this lake. It’s caused ecological catastrophe, and has been a source of controversy since 1941.

Finally, after a long, circuitous route through northern and southern California, and a few bits and pieces of Nevada, we drive home. We’re looking forward to familiar territory, our cabin fever cured. The dogs yap at the door, and paw us with happy feet as we step over the threshold.

13,754 foot Mt. Morgan, in the Sierra Nevada, overlooking Bishop, California.

This was how my last vacation went, and basically how they all go. It isn’t easy traveling with someone whose habits are different from mine. But I adjust to her, and she adjusts to me. And this makes it a whole lot better than traveling alone.

Because it wouldn’t be a vacation without her.

We spiced things up a bit, by going from 40 degree temperatures one day, to the 80’s the next, with this side trip through Death Valley.

A Nice Place to Visit

I couldn’t blog last week. They don’t let you blog inside a correctional institution. And besides, you can’t get an internet connection in prison.

What prisoners saw, shortly before docking at their new home. The large building at dock level is the barracks that housed the guards. There was one guard for every three prisoners at this supermax facility. The cellhouse is at the top of the hill, with the warden’s house to the left, near the lighthouse.

My wife and I went to San Francisco, and toured the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. This prison was closed in 1963, by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. It was taken over by the National Park Service in 1972 and reopened, this time for tourism. Today, about 5,600 tourists visit Alcatraz Island every day, making it the most popular landmark in the United States, and the seventh-most popular landmark in the world. It just beats out the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

We inmates, er, tourists, stood out on the dock in a cold, San Francisco wind, to be briefed by the warden, er, park ranger, on how to conduct ourselves during our stay.

Alcatraz has a lot of history. It began as a military prison in the 1850’s, then was converted to civilian inmates in 1933. It has housed the baddest of the bad, including Al Capone, Whitey Bulger, and Clint Eastwood. Clint Eastwood escaped from Alcatraz in 1962, which embarrassed the hell out of RFK, and so that’s why he shut it down. Or so I think I learned from a movie, way back when.

Here, we all had to strip down and take a shower, after receiving the one-fingered wave.

But in my view the most famous inmate was #1259. These days he’s referred to as William G. Baker, and he’s one of the only two former inmates of Alcatraz still alive. Baker wrote a fantastic book about his time there, as a guest of the federal government, which I recently had the pleasure to peruse. Maybe I’ll write a review, after I get caught up on all the crap I came home to after getting out of the hoosegow.

Typical 9’ X 5’ cells. Alcatraz inmates never had cellmates, so they got to enjoy their palatial 45 square feet all to themselves.

We opted for the Early Bird Special tour, through Alcatraz Cruises, which is the only tour company that takes tourists to the island. The cost was a little less than $50 each for my wife and me. The Early Bird Special has the first tour boat of the day to reach the island, and it departs at 8:45 am.

The idea behind leaving this early was to beat all the crowds. Well, the boat was jam-packed with sardines, er, inmates, er, tourists, who debouched and populated the island in such massive, invasive numbers that the idea of “beating the crowd” was laughable. We should have known, though. I mean, there have been many campaigns that have addressed this issue, but so far no one has been able to solve the problem of prison overcrowding.

The upper two tiers of several cell blocks.

A long, sloped, switchback walkway takes you from the dock, up 13 stories, to the cellhouse on the hill. My wife couldn’t handle such an incline, due to her arthritis acting up in the cold, damp, San Francisco weather, so we rode a free tram that’s provided for weaklings such as us.

The prison yard. Prisoners were allowed outside to use this yard on weekends and holidays only. Unless it rained, which occurs fairly often in San Francisco.

The tour is an audio tour. Intake occurs at the cellhouse, where each new inmate, er, tourist, is processed. You are fitted with a control box on a loop that they hang around your neck. Until dead. But if you survive this, you put on headphones that are attached to the control box. Then you hit the play button on the box and hear the voice of someone who I guess is the warden. He orders you about, telling you where to walk, where to stop and stand, what to look at, and all the while filling you in on the history of this joint.

My wife and I failed to hit our play buttons simultaneously. So she and I were out of sync for awhile, she going in one direction, and me going in another, while occasionally bumping into each other. Fortunately there’s a pause button, where you can shut the warden up for a little bit. And this enabled us to synchronize.

The Golden Gate Bridge, through barbed wire leading to the prison yard. The top rows of bleachers in the prison yard allowed inmates to view the Golden Gate and the San Francisco skyline. It was a popular spot for artistic inmates, who painted “freedom”, as William Baker noted in his book.

Now and then my wife would nudge me and say, “Ooh, take a picture of this.” Whereupon I would have to disentangle my camera, which was hanging from my neck, from my camera bag, which was also hanging from my neck, and from the control box and headphones, which, too, were hanging from my neck. I was like a leashed dog that gets wrapped tighter and tighter around a pole.

Finally I dropped a few F-bombs, to the astonishment of some fellow inmates, er, tourists, nearby. I smacked the warden in the pause button, and got out of sync with my better half. Then I methodically removed all the impedimenta from my neck, untangled the cords and straps, then returned them in an orderly fashion.

The warden’s house, now in ruins. Alcatraz Island was occupied by Native Americans from 1969 to 1971, who were protesting federal policies toward American Indians. During the occupation several structures were destroyed by fire, although nobody admitted who, exactly, set those fires.

But the tour was very informative and fun, in spite of all the formidable logistics with cords and cameras and pause and play buttons. We learned about famous Alcatraz prisoners, such as The Birdman, George “Machine Gun Kelly”, and Clint Eastwood. We learned about the Battle of Alcatraz, which was a blaze of glory escape attempt in 1946, that cost the lives of three prisoners and two guards. And we saw the very cells, with the selfsame holes, dug by Clint Eastwood and his gang, when they escaped from Alcatraz in 1962.

Clint Eastwood played Frank Morris, in the 1979 thriller, Escape From Alcatraz. Morris, and brothers Clarence Anglin and John Anglin, fashioned lifelike images of their heads, which fooled the guards and gave them time to escape. They passed through vent holes they had widened, climbed up pipes to the roof, made it to shore, then floated away to who-knows-where, in a makeshift raft. Several military prisoners had successfully escaped this prison, but this is the only known possibly successful escape by civilians.

Imagine if Clint had been unsuccessful. We’d still have old Rawhide reruns, but we wouldn’t have such great flicks as, Fistful of Dollars, Dirty Harry, and yes, Escape From Alcatraz.

Boats depart the island about every half hour. You can stay in prison all day, if you want, and catch the evening transit back to the mainland. But my wife and I got stir crazy. Immediately after the tour, we applied for parole. We rode the tram back down to the dock and grabbed the first departing vessel.

Alcatraz is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

The Alcatraz water tower, with a welcoming message left over from the Native American occupation.

Naturebook

Naturebook offers an unlimited choice of wallpapers, including this one from Zion National Park.

There are all kinds of social media, such as WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook. But have you ever heard of Naturebook? It’s my favorite social media site. Naturebook allows you to socialize with non-humans. To access this site, just put on your hiking boots, grab a daypack, then trek off into the worldwide web of wilderness.

It’s very interactive. Your input is simply your boot print and physical presence. But nature replies in a much more varied manner. Naturebook offers input for all the senses.

You’ll feel the sweep of wind across your skin. You’ll catch the aroma of sage and pine, and dust up your nostrils. And you can chaw on stuff, and taste the bitter green blood of grass, the gooey sweetness of manzanita berries, or the shocking tingle of Mormon Tea. And nothing is filtered or censored. With Naturebook, anything goes.

The landscape is like 3-D wallpaper, with undulating mountains, thick forests, and broad brushlands. And the cloud is not some place where you store data. Rather, it is a constantly changing formation made of tiny water droplets, sometimes wispy, sometimes towering, and sometimes a gentle, foggy blanket.

For the spiritual sense, there’s the call of soaring raptors. They serve as security reminders, forewarning small creatures of the ground to frequently glance upward.

An uncommon silence can lure you deeper into the wild. Here, Naturebook offers its users much more privacy than Facebook. For the deeper you plunge into this site, the more solitude and privacy you’ll enjoy. And if you honor this site and treat it with respect, then when you finally leave, your browsing history will vanish without a trace. It will be as if you were never there.

Except in your memory, where it can never be deleted.

Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing

Imagine you’re buried beneath an avalanche of pork and ham, mixed together in a gelatinous conglomeration of pink, stinky goo. You know, spam. But maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe it’s already happened to you.

Spam buries email users every day.

This may not be your problem if you live in Canada or Europe. Those havens have strong anti-spam laws that require your consent before you can be buried in that meaty mess.

But in the U.S.A. it’s a little different. We’re constantly wiping this goopy filth off of us, every time we check our email. America is a spammer’s heaven, and an email user’s hell. It’s the age of Spamalot on this side of the pond.

But the good new is, we have rights. And these rights can help us greatly reduce our spam intake. In 2003, the CAN-SPAM act was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Bush. CAN-SPAM stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.

Many critics call it the YOU-CAN-SPAM Act, because it doesn’t stop those sick bastard spammers from spamming us. It only gives us rights to limit the spamming. You see, in Canada and Europe you have to opt-in to receive spam. But in America, you must opt-out.

Check out the bottom of any advertising email you receive. The CAN-SPAM Act requires every such email to have an “unsubscribe” link, or equivalent. Click on that link, and it should take you to a website that allows you to unsubscribe from receiving any more email from that particular spammer. Just follow the instructions for unsubscribing.

But be careful. Sometimes the instructions get tricky, and could even deceive you into subscribing for more spam. So read the instructions with a cynical eye for detail.

After you unsubscribe, the spammers have 10 days to take you off their mailing list. And they can’t sell your email address anymore, to other spammers.

I filter my spam, but sometimes a legitimate email gets caught in that filter. Trying to locate it can be like looking for a needle in a stack of sticky, gooey meat-mix. So I decided enough was enough, and I rolled up my sleeves and got tough on spam.

I spent about a half-hour groping through all the spam I had received over the course of one day. The pink, slimy substance was getting all over my fingers, arms, and pants. But I persevered, and unsubscribed from just about every damned gobbet of mystery meat in my bulging spam box.

The next day, much to my surprise, a lot of spam had disappeared. Rather than 40 or 50 spams, I only had about 10 or 15. It appears most spammers are good at taking you off their lists immediately. But some seem to take full advantage of the 10-day grace period.

Now the spam has slowed to a tiny trickle of dripping ooze. The CAN-SPAM Act does seem to work, but only if we, the spammed, do our work and take the time to unsubscribe.

So if you want to dig out from under a giant, suffocating pile of spam, look for the link to unsubscribe, near the bottom of your emails, and go on an anti-spamming tear.

But when you’re finished, be sure to take a shower. That shit is nasty stuff.

Here’s a typical unsubscribe link at the bottom of a spam message from Consumer Reports. Yes even Consumer Reports, an organization dedicated to protecting consumers, spams consumers!

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