Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hodgepodge 306/365 - Old Age / Balloons

At dinner this evening (canneloni and my favorite artichoke-fontina ravioli with truffle cream sauce, swoon), David remarked that he is going to be 64 in a couple of weeks. "When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now," I sang. I then confessed that I am very aware lately of getting older—though I'm not yet losing my hair, thank goodness. It's not even going too gray. Yet.

With every celebrity death, I monitor the age: David Bowie was only 69; John Abercrombie, 72; Dick Gregory, 84. That gives me, respectively, seven, ten, and twenty-two more years, perhaps. If I live to my mother's age of 93, thirty-one. It's a ticking-off thing I do, automatically, an accounting of possibility. In any case, I recognize that (a) my days are numbered (though I'm still very much in denial about actually dying) and (b) there's no telling how many days that will amount to.

The lesson, of course, is to take each day as it comes and appreciate it. Simply that.

So no, I don't wallow in dread. At the moment, I am fully and gloriously alive. I'll take it.

But I do fear the end days ("fear" is not too strong a word). I fear that I will be ancient and alone (David, in my worst dreams, having already died), with no one to talk to, no one to take care of me, no one to, simply, care. I'll languish there in my Depends, toothless, staring unseeingly at my roommate's TV. (Though with any luck, I'll be deaf as a post, so the loud volume won't matter.)

At dinner, David reminded me of "our plan" (which is actually his plan, but I humor him): to jump out of an airplane with no parachutes on our seventy-fifth anniversary. That would be when we are 101 and 102.

I have long since ceased reminding him that there's a maximum age for skydiving—ostensibly with a parachute—which varies from 55 to 70. There's one company in England, Hinton (making a note) that states "no maximum age for tandem," but that hardly helps our cause. They're not going to tandem us up.

Then he had a brainstorm: what about a hot air balloon? Just get it aloft and jump out of the basket? I mimed him, at 102, inching up onto the side of the basket, bit by creaky bit (after all, they must securely lock the gate), and having the balloonist twig to what he was up to and pulling him back in. Foiled!

But then we realized, why couldn't we just buy a balloon? Surely there are videos on YouTube demonstrating exactly how to fire up and launch a hot air balloon. If we were only going to use it once, we wouldn't have to worry about a license. Especially if we took it somewhere unpopulated—who would know? We'd jump; it would crash—and maybe one day, a small plane flying overhead would notice a patch of bright fabric, and call it in. But they'd never find us.

When I was in elementary school, we made hot air balloons, maybe three feet in diameter, out of tissue paper and sent them aloft, I do not remember how. Surely not with fire. Mine was yellow and purple, which have ever since been my favorite sentimental combination of colors. (Now, unsentimentally, I go for red and gray or dark green.) David's favorite combo is green and purple. So I guess our end-time balloon will have to be yellow, green, and purple.

One day, I'd love to go to Albuquerque and watch the balloon festival. Who knows, maybe we'll do a little shopping.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hodgepodge 305/365 - Scotland

Twelve years ago yesterday, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. David and I were hiking the West Highland Way, out of Glasgow north to Fort Arthur, at the time. I remember sitting cozy in a wood-paneled pub somewhere along the way, no doubt sipping at a pint, watching the TV in the corner as devastating images flashed by. It was all rather surreal.

These last few days, I've been more groundedly at home, but nevertheless watching in dismay as more devastating images cycle through my feed. This time, Harvey and Houston. It hits a little closer to home because I've become a Red Cross volunteer, and the possibility of deploying to help those poor folks tickles my mind. But . . . I have steady work in through October, so it probably won't happen. There are also fires in Oregon needing volunteer shelter workers. No shortage of natural disasters. And they'll only be getting worse, no doubt. I'll get my opportunity.

But I didn't want to write here about the disasters. When someone mentioned today that it's the twelfth anniversary of Katrina, I was immediately transported back to the cozy pub. And so today I thought I'd post some photos from that trip; they are slide scans, and a very scant selection of all the photos I know I must have taken on that trip. But they'll do for today. (I can't believe I was only fifty then. Just saying.)

Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io)
Loch Lomond monument, Rowardennan (WWH)
Near Kinlochewe, on the West Highland Way
Rainbow over Cromarty Firth
Edinburgh Castle chapel
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh
Isle of Skye

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 304/365 - Poetry (Gary Snyder)


by Gary Snyder

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.
    placed solid, by hands
In choice of place, set
Before the body of the mind
    in space and time:
Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall
    riprap of things:
Cobble of milky way.
    straying planets,
These poems, people,
    lost ponies with
Dragging saddles—
    and rocky sure-foot trails.
The worlds like an endless
Game of Go.
    ants and pebbles
In the thin loam, each rock a word
    a creek-washed stone
Granite: ingrained
    with torment of fire and weight
Crystal and sediment linked hot
    all change, in thoughts,
As well as things.


Kyoto: March

A few light flakes of snow
Fall in the feeble sun;
Birds sing in the cold,
A warbler by the wall. The plum
Buds tight and chill soon bloom.
The moon begins first
Fourth, a faint slice west
At nightfall. Jupiter half-way
High at the end of night—
Meditation. The dove cry
Twangs like a bow.
At dawn Mt. Hiei dusted white
On top; in the clear air
Folds of all the gullied green
Hills around the town are sharp,
Of frosty houses
Lovers part, from tangle warm
Of gentle bodies under quilt
And crack the icy water to the face
And wake and feed the children
And grandchildren that they love.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Hodgepodge 303/365 - Book Report (The Hate U Give)

Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (2017) (8/28/17)

The Hate U Give is a timely and powerful YA book, delving into inner-city life, racism, wrongful deaths, the fight for justice, the complicated existence of African Americans in this society.

The hero of the story is Starr, who is sixteen, well loved by her extended family, smart and savvy. Her father is a grocery store owner, though in his younger days he got mixed up with a gang and served time in prison (which allowed him to leave the gang); her mother is a nurse. They live in the black part of town. Her uncle is a police officer, and her aunt, a surgeon, who live in a nearby upper-middle-class mostly white neighborhood. These people are all intelligent and ambitious, working hard for a better, good life.

Starr's parents decided early on to send Starr and her two brothers (on scholarships) to an exclusive private school, also mostly white. This complicates the story in a useful way, for it lets Starr show her readers a range of stances—what she calls code-changing—that help her to fit in wherever she is. Her boyfriend is white, which allows for some interesting observations and altercations, and her girlfriends—who show themselves by the end to be variously "true"—are black, white, and Asian.

The plot gets going with a party in Starr's "hood"—which her parents would not approve of her attending, if they knew. She bumps into an old friend, Khalil, who ends up driving her home. On the way, they are stopped by a police officer. Khalil is shot and killed—a car door is opened, a hairbrush mistaken for a gun—with Starr the only witness.

"When I was twelve," Starr relates as the cop pulls them over,
my parents had two talks with me.
  One was the usual birds and bees. Well, I didn't really get the usual version. My mom, Lisa, is a registered nurse, and she told me what went where, and what didn't need to go here, there, or any damn where till I'm grown. . . .
  The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.
  Momma fussed and told Daddy I was too young for that. He argued that I wasn't too young to get arrested or shot.
  "Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."
  I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.
  I hope somebody had the talk with Khalil.
Rival gangs and drugs muddy the waters: these people are no strangers to the violence of their own community. Or the oppression (a different sort) by police.

Starr ultimately realizes that she must speak up and out—that her voice is her most powerful weapon. Telling the truth about what happened, and what continues to happen, is what matters most. Not that that's necessarily easy. As her mother tells her, "Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right."

The book's title is from Tupac Shakur's "Thug Life" (a code of conduct—something he created in 1992 while negotiating a truce between the Crips and the Bloods in East L.A.—as well as the name of his band): short for The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody, meaning—as Khalil puts it—"what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out."

Here's a video of Tupac speaking about all this:

And here's a summary of the Thug Life code, which resonates strongly with the overall message of Thomas's book:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hodgepodge 302/365 - Big Brother and the Holding Company

This weekend was the annual West End Celebration of the Peninsula's smallest municipality, Sand City (pop. 383). It's a great assortment of crafts for sale, food trucks, civic education booths, and music. Today's afternoon concert featured Big Brother and the Holding Company—yes, they still exist, though they've had a few personnel changes (and not a little controversy) over the years. The original band, together with Janis Joplin, played fifty years ago at the Monterey Pops Festival.

They sounded great today, and did perform many of the old classic tunes as well as several "new" ones (as they said, that could mean they're as old as thirty-five years). The singer was Darby Gould, formerly with Jefferson Starship. She was good—no Janis (there will never be another Janis), but very good. Big sassy voice.

In commemoration of the original band, here's a 1968 TV show performance of "Summertime" and "I Need a Man to Love," both of which they played today. The picture quality is mediocre, but the sound is decent.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hodgepodge 301/365 - Thai

This evening we went to one of our many excellent local Thai restaurants, Zab Zab. This one you can count on for spice: three peppers (out of four) is plenty hot for us. The word zab loosely translates to delicious, flavorful, and spicy: tasty = spicy in Thailand.

The spice reminded me of the hottest meal I've ever had: it was in Enschede, the Netherlands, where I spent the summer of 1978 working/ interning at ITC (founded in 1950 as the International Training Centre for Aerial Survey, now the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation of the University of Twente). There were lots of foreign students there, and I became friends with one Chainivat Phongslaungtham, who lived in the dorm with many fellow Thai students. They cooked communally, and one evening Chai invited me to join them for dinner.

I dug in hungrily, but after just one bite my eyes started watering, tears started flowing, and I'm sure my face turned bright red. Man! I thought I was accustomed to hot! Chai took one look at me and stammered, "Oh, no! I'm sorry: it's too spicy." I managed to choke out, "No, no, it's really good!" Not that I could really taste anything through the burning.

I don't remember what happened after that—whether I grew accustomed to the burn, whether they brought me something less challenging, or what. But I will always remember the look of utter dismay and horror on Chai's face when he noticed my distress.

He was an artist and created little drawings for me, elaborate designs on blank postcards. I still have a couple of them. If I run across them, I'll scan them and post them here. He was a sweet friend, but of course we didn't stay in touch.

I wonder what happened to him, and whether he became an earth scientist back in Thailand. Or maybe he became an artist. Whatever he went on to do, I hope he's been happy.

P.S. I toyed with the idea of ending this thing at an even 300. But no: there's that pesky 365 in the title. Every damn day. So onward! Only two months to go . . .

Friday, August 25, 2017

Hodgepodge 300/365 - Tel Aviv

I've got nothing to say in words today, so I thought I'd post some photos I took in March in Tel Aviv. It's a really interesting city, very lively, with a beachfront that reminded me of my own hometown of Santa Monica.

This is the view that reminds me of Santa Monica
(except that's Jaffa, not Palos Verdes, in the distance).
Fruit is on sale at kiosks like these all over town.
Interesting architecture
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, would do
exercises or yoga either in front of his house or a few blocks away
on the beach. In 1957, the photographer Paul Goldman captured him
doing a headstand, and it became an iconic image of the great man—
and ultimately a statue at the spot where he did his exercises.
Tel Aviv: Nonstop City
View from Independence Park looking north
Asa and Jehoshaphat, a sculpture by Boaz Vaadia in Independence Park
Ha'apala Monument. I went there to find a geocache
(unsuccessfully, but never mind). The monument is
in the shape of a ship. Here's the write-up for the cache:
After the Nazis rose to power in 1933, the persecution of Jews
in Europe intensified. Jewish immigration out of Europe
escaping the Nazis became critical. Alas, the British authorities
who ruled Palestine (as this area was known before the establishment
of the State of Israel) severely restricted Jewish immigration.
The effort to bring Jews in despite the British restrictions
in the years 1934–1948 was called "Aliyah Bet" (
עלייה ב)
and later "Ha'apala" (
ההעפלה), meaning "ascension."
Resodding Sderot Rothschild, a pleasant
pedestrian walkway
HaBima Theater and public art
Rehov ha-Carmel Market (this and next two),
where you can buy pretty much anything and everything

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hodgepodge 299/365 - Real-Time Maps

I'm doing an on-line Red Cross Disaster Assessment class, and I've just reached a section on weather—how to find out what's coming, how severe, etc. They point to the National Weather Service's active alerts map, which reveals further information and forecasts by clicking on specific counties):

That's Hurricane Harvey down there at the bottom. And frost advisories up in northern Wisconsin.

Complementing the weather alerts map are the maps of the national River Forecast Centers, which right now are quiet, thankfully. Here's one region's map, showing a bit of activity this afternoon:

Clicking on individual circles brings up additional information. Here is the yellow spot sitting on the word Minneapolis, which corresponds to a gauge on the South Fork of the Crow River at Delano, Minnesota. I don't think they have to worry. Not today, anyway.

That made me wonder about other real-time maps out there. I've found a few (click on the links for what's going on right NOW). Like, earthquakes!

Lightning strikes! ("a community project," i.e., I wouldn't call it scientific—but it's entertaining!) 

Wildfires . . . (overlaid on the NWS map above)

Wind! (this one is animated: it's soothing to watch)

Another all-purpose animated real-time weather site, showing not just wind but also temperature, cloud cover, waves, and pressure, is at Windy. Here's Harvey's wind as it approaches Texas.

Salmon sharks! (travel over the last 30 days)

Amtrak delays! (Okay, a few of these—at least one that I saw, the Southwest Chief out of L.A., headed into Naperville, Illinois, as I type—are actually on time.)

And here, to wrap up, are 25+ Digital Wildlife and Nature Maps (not all real-time) as of March 2014, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation.

And now, I'd better get back to Damage Assessment.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hodgepodge 298/365 - Death (and Music)

I subscribe to the notion that deaths come in threes: it amuses me to do so, and it makes me pay attention. Both to the souls that are passing from the earth and to trying to understand my influences, what makes me who I am.

This past week, we lost "comedian, civil rights activist, social critic, writer, entrepreneur, conspiracy theorist, and occasional actor"—also health food advocate—Dick Gregory (August 19, age 84); then "comedian, actor, singer, producer, director, screenwriter, and humanitarian" Jerry Lewis (August 20, age 91); and yesterday, jazz guitarist, composer, and band leader John Abercrombie (age 72).

I did not follow Gregory or Lewis. Gregory was well outside my particular bell jar of reality. As for Lewis, I wasn't (and am not) a fan of his slapstick brand of humor, and my family was not the sort to watch his muscular dystrophy telethon (or any such star-studded extravaganza). 

But John Abercrombie: I am trying to remember if I ever saw him live. I believe so; I believe he performed along with Ralph Towner at a show we went to at a little jazz club in Paris, back in the 1980s. We certainly owned a few albums that feature him.

Here's a quiet tune that Abercrombie and Towner recorded together, from their 1976 ECM release Sargasso Sea. It's called "Fable."

RIP. All three of you. And the other million or so people who died this week. You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hodgepodge 297/365 - Poetry (William Stafford)

You Reading This, Be Ready

William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hodgepodge 296/365 - Eclipse

And today was the day so many of us have been waiting for, and planning for, and traveling for—and fearing the worst for re crowds and traffic and exhausted gas supplies and all manner of disasters that the media (fake news truly, in this case) have been pitching at us for weeks now.

David and I had originally planned to camp on the east side of the Cascades in Oregon, but then we realized we have a friend, Spencer, in Corvallis, and when we also realized that conditions in the Willamette Valley would most likely be primo, we invited ourselves up. Fortunately, he was more than happy to host us for a couple of days and experience the eclipse with us. He and, as it turned out, his mom and dad, Page and Steve, and granddad, Charles, visiting from Sacramento. And a couple of friends from Pacific Grove, Thelma and Charlie. Eight of us all together: a merry band.

This morning we set ourselves up in a virtually empty middle school sports field. (No crowds, no traffic.) And watched as the moon slid over the sun, and felt the cool wind, and sought out crescents in the leaf shadows, and watched as the colors changed and the light dimmed, and some of us even saw the shadow bands. Me, I was too intent looking through binoculars at the Baily's beads at that point. Can't see it all!

Photo courtesy of Dewitt Jones, via NASA

And then, totality! As pretty much always, I wept. I never can believe my eyes! Not ever! That black black hole in the sky surrounded by that pale, shimmering corona! The pink prominences! Venus, high in the sky! Mercury (I'm pretty sure), down near the horizon, winking at the fir trees at the edge of the field. And then oh man, it's always over too quick, but then, the diamond ring! (I missed the first one. But I saw the Baily's beads, dammit.)

Photo of some PINK PROMINENCES! by moshen

It was fun with this one to have texting and FB messaging and WhatsApp and to keep getting messages from friends who were similarly experiencing this magical phenomenon. And simply to know that people all over this country for once had put down their swords and were enjoying something miraculous all together, in peace. Experiencing awe. 

This was my fifth total eclipse (I wrote about the others here). It made me want to chase a few more. I know there's one coming up over this continent again in 2024, but what else might I dream about? Here are a few:

July 2, 2019, mostly in the south Pacific but extending onto southern South America (Chile, Argentina), maximum duration 4m33s
December 14, 2020, middle of eclipse is also over southern South America, max duration 2m10s
April 8, 2024, Mexico up through Texas, eastern U.S., and into eastern Canada, max duration 4m28s (see map)
August 12, 2026, Greenland, Iceland, Spain, max duration 2m18s
August 2, 2027, Morocco, Spain, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, max duration 6m23s
July 22, 2028, Australia, New Zealand, max duration 5m10s
November 25, 2030, Botswana, South Africa, Australia, max duration 3m44s

I'm delighted that so many people I love got to experience the eclipse today, either full (yay!!!!) or partial. For me, my first eclipse—for which, thanks to my friends Rose and Andy, who today were out in eastern Oregon, and who are now considering a trip with us to Morocco in 2027!—was life changing. I hope everyone who experienced totality today was at least a little tweaked. Will life ever be quite the same?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hodgepodge 295/365 - Puzzled

Corvallis, perhaps because it's a college town, is full of smarties. It also seems to have a healthy population of geocachers. Who like to create puzzle caches. We started solving some that are in the area of town where we're staying. So far, we've found half a dozen of them.

Today I decided to take on a new one. It turned out to be not so much diabolical (4.5 stars difficulty out of 5), as tedious. But once I get started on a puzzle—especially if it merely involves brute force, and not so much intelligence—I need to follow through.

This one involved assembling a jigsaw puzzle—on my computer screen. I used the trackpad for this. The trackpad! Yep, tedious.

But finally I got the solution:

and fortunately David suggested that it might be ASCII—which I would never have arrived at on my own, believe me.

But that worked, and led to . . . another jigsaw puzzle! This one was fully assembled.

With this one, somehow I stumbled on a jigsaw puzzle cipher that I could, perhaps, use to translate each piece into a letter. Who knew such a thing existed? And yet when I tried solving the first line, I ended up with gibberish: ABEGUSBEGL. Hmmmm.

Rather than trying to figure it out further, I sent a desperate note to the cache owner, beseeching him for help. I used the trump card that I'm leaving town tomorrow. And I'd just spent hours solving the original jigsaw. And . . . I was tired of the whole puzzle-solving thing (though I didn't tell him that). But still, I wanted to get the darn cache, after that much time invested. So I hoped the CO would be sympathetic. Which he was, and he suggested what ABEGUSBEGL might translate to.

Which led to another hour-plus-long bout of solving. Toward the end I was impatient and rushing. And when I checked the answer: it didn't work. I tried again, just in case I'd typed it wrong. Still: nope.

David came along just then. (Just before I threw my laptop against the wall, fortunately.) And he studied the puzzle, from the bottom up. And saw that I'd missed a line—and a crucial word.

This time, the solution checked out. Yippee! In case you're interested, it's N 44 35.107 W 123 15.499. Yes indeed.

And now I am done with puzzles for a while. Short of actually going to pick up this cache in the morning (after the eclipse). I didn't realize when I started that this puzzle would be such a time sink.

But I think I'll just count it as brain exercise. Can't get too much of that, right?

Postscript 8/21: When we went to locate the final cache, it wasn't there! At least, we're pretty sure it wasn't there, and not just that we failed to find it. It's a good size; there's a detailed picture pointing to "HERE" in an ivy-covered tree; but it hadn't been found since June of 2016, and who knows what's happened since then? I posted a DNF (did not find), and the CO wrote and said that once he gets around to checking on it, if indeed it's missing, we can still claim credit. Because he knows that puzzle is a bear and a half!

Sigh. I hate DNF's.