Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Great Redwood City Pigeon Massacre of 2000

Redwood City is home to the Sequoia Station shopping center, with a Safeway grocery store, a bagel shop, 2 or 3 Starbucks, hair cuttery, etc. For some reason, pigeons REALLY like to hang out there. Every once in a while, this leads to news coverage. Take Elock Poon, for example. In 2003 he decided to run over a bunch of pigeons, successfully exterminating 14 of them. For this shameless act of avicide, he faced the possibility of animal cruelty charges.

But my favorite Redwood City pigeon tale is the Great Redwood City Pigeon Massacre of 2000. The pigeons had become such a nuisance that somebody decided something must be done about the 8 metric tons of guano deposited on the roof every year. So, they hired someone to disperse the birds.

The theory is that if you feed a pigeon something that makes it sick, and better yet makes it dance around telling other pigeons "Danger!", it won't return to wherever it was it found the food. So, a contractor was called to dispense some pigeon-nauseating substance, probably Avitrol.

Apparently whenever you use this stuff, some of the birds are going to die. If you wish, I suppose you could use it in such a way that most or all of the birds die. The goal, I suspect, is to either kill the birds where they are or to not kill very many at all.

So up on the roof of the shopping center go the baskets of tasty grain, tempting the birds to come and eat for a week or two. And then, treachery. The grain is replaced with a mixture of regular grain and poisoned grain, and the pigeons eat heartily.

As the first few pigeons start to feel the effects, the others are startled. Soon, many pigeons are freaking out, and the ones who still feel OK decide to get the heck out of there.

Now from Sequoia Station, it's just a short pigeon-hop directly into the downtown area. So it was around mid morning when the workers on the main street in Redwood City started noticing thudding sounds on their roofs. When they heard the sounds of astonishment from passersby on the street, they ventured to the windows to take a look.

Imagine how surprised you would be if it started raining pigeons. Many of the pigeons were dead or dying, but even if they were just sick, an impact with the street from their normal cruising altitude would usually prove fatal. As Less Nessman might say, "My God! The pigeons are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement!"

Now the only evidence I can find of this great tragedy are the following chunks of webstranea - a mention of the desire to establish "a policy regarding Avitrol use" in the October 16, 2000 City Council Minutes, and this brief FAQlet from the Avitrol website:
Since there will always be mortality, arrange to pick up dead and dying birds promptly and dispose of them in accordance with local regulations. Failure to do this is the most common cause of public complaint.
Oh, and if you can possibly manage it, convince the birds to fly over the nearby poor Hispanic neighborhood rather than the more upscale downtown. In general, the wealthier the annoyed taxpayer, the more noise the City Council will make.


Monday, November 14, 2005

Sabina and the Loolapede

Fall's early sunsets and relatively mild weather gives us a chance for exploring after dark with the kids. Load up the flashlights and head out to see what you can find.

Tonights first miracle of nature, a millipede! I managed to get the millipede crawling on my hands, and transferred it to Sabina's hands. She was enthralled. "She's my best friend. I love her lots! She's so gentle." I had no idea that she would stay interested for so long, but she kept this thing crawling on her hands for about 20 minutes.

Until, the horror began. "Awww, she's so cute. Ahhh! It's crawling up my arm!! HELP!" Apparently, the millipede was only her best friend as long as it crawled in the Designated Petting Area between her wrists and fingertips. She dropped the millipede once, then picked it up again, and finally dropped it again after another sleeve excursion.

This gave us a dilemma. Apparently she really wanted to keep the millipede, but was too freaked out/tired/annoyed to hold it herself. I was not interested in holding the millipede, so I tried to explain.

"She's going home, I think maybe she has some babies to feed."
"But I don't want her to go home. I don't like her anymore. I want to squish on her!"
"Let's not squish her. Let her go."
"I don't like loolapedes. She's being mean to me."

Finally, the millipede had nearly escaped to the edge of the road, and Sabina lost enough interest that I thought we were home free. Unfortunately, the relationship ended as all vertebrate-invertebrate friendships must - with a shattered, oozing exoskeleton. Surprisingly, the death blow was not dealt on purpose by Sabina, but by a bumbling Calvin, intent on shining his light on a fern or some such.

"Did Calvin step on the loolapede?!?!?!?"
"I don't know, I think maybe she's gone home to her babies." Little white lies, Daddy. Little white lies.

In hindsight, I think our nap was a little short today.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Screw You, California Air Resources Board

These jerks have imposed upon California some of the most idiotic ideas in the long, sad history of idiotic ideas. Remember MTBE? That was their brainchild. "Ooo! I have an idea! Let's put a water soluble toxin in gasoline! Sure, there's no evidence that it will reduce pollution, but doing something is always preferable to doing nothing!"

Today finds me without power once again. Life in the mountains makes a backup generator a necessity. Out I go into the rain to fuel the generator, my heart growing heavier with each step - for soon, I will face the C.A.R.B. spill-proof nozzle on my gas can. This amazing invention has the following features which make it the ideal nozzle for your favorite container of flammable hydrocarbons.

First, there is a valve you have to open in order to get fuel to come out. Actuating the valve requires that you have as many arms as Vishnu. The opening on the nozzle is on the sides, not on the end. This means that if you have the nozzle only a little way into the neck of the tank you are filling so you can see what you are doing, and you open the valve, half the fuel comes spraying out all over that generator you intend to start in 30 seconds.

It's only logical then, that you would put the nozzle all the way into the neck of the tank you are filling. Heck, perhaps you can even actuate the valve by pressing the nozzle against the gas tank opening! Except, what if the valve is smaller than the diameter of the gas tank you are filling? Well, now you've got a partially opened valve stuck in the tank, and you have to wrestle a 35 pound gas can to get it out. Or, if you are lucky and the valve does actuate on the opening of the tank, well, now you can't see how much gas is in the tank. This means that when the tank fills up the gas will come shooting out all over that generator again.

Are you following this? This lovely invention guarantees that you will spill at least half a gallon of gas anytime you attempt to fill any kind of fuel tank. Hence the name "spill-proof". I have proof that you will spill.

Of course, the motivation behind the invention of this craptacular device was to reduce air pollution by avoiding gasoline spills. What the geniuses on the California Air Resources Board don't seem to understand is that while the old way of filling tanks made it possible to spill, with care you could easily avoid spilling. Their new way makes it inevitable that spillage will occur.

If I ever meet one of these guys I'm going to have a hard time resisting the urge to cram one of these nozzles up his backside.