Friday, November 23, 2007

International No Shopping Day

Apparently today is International No Shopping Day. Perhaps I will go downtown to see if there are any people not shopping.

I might actually do my shopping today. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be shopping at Heifer International. This would seem appropriate to go along with the alternative theme of No Shopping Day, which is What Would Jesus Buy?

Well, Jesus believed it was the end of the world and probably wouldn't even have bought sheep for the poor, but if pressed by a culture of consumption, I think he'd err on the side of sheep over HDTVs or other such crap.

Anyway, it's a lovely day. My stomach still hurts a little from our eating spree last night. We had a surprise invitation for dinner with our neighbors. They had the full Thanksgiving spread. It was delicious. How fortunate we were! We weren't even going to have a turkey of our own. I was going to make tuna steaks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Keyword: Persistent

Persistent. That's a nice way to describe the gloomiest fog ever.

Persistent marine layer expected to burn off in the afternoon. That's a nice way to say it burns off at 5:30PM and rolls back in at 6:00PM.

Persistence sucks.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Say no to X-mas materialism

It's that time of year again. The nightly news trumpets how much money stores are making (or not making) with holiday shopping as if we are supposed to cheer the capitalists on. And then there is the inevitable story on the rush to buy the latest toy or gadget (do they even have one this year?) with images of people stampeding some stupid e-waste or toxic plastic toy store. The materialism and waste just disgusts me.

The last 2 years I have said no to Christmas materialism and have done my holiday shopping at The Most Important Catalog in the World, the Heifer International catalog.

I found this catalog when one day it just came in the mail. Whenever you give to any kind of progressive cause you get put on a sucker list and you get all kinds of requests for money. But this one I was interested in because I had heard after the 9-11 attacks that some poor cattle herders from the Masai tribe or something like that had wanted to give us Americans some cattle to help us through our crisis. That just touched me greatly that people with so little would want to give us materialistic Americans something that we have more than enough of. The average American probably has at least 12 big macs just sitting there around their waists filing out those size 42 pants.

It reminded me of one of the Christmas stories my mom used to read to us about two little poor children who bring a gift to the altar of a church with special church bells that will ring only when the most valuable gift is given, and despite all the gold and jewels that others have brought, it's their modest gift that causes the bells to ring because they gave the only thing of value that they had.

And that's kind of like the story of Snippen my mom used to tell about the elf who can walk under tables and hates living with the poor family he lives with and envies the other elves that live on Hofstetter's farm with the bowls of cream left every night when he gets nothing. And then he overhears the girl child of the family praying on her mother's grave and Snippen has a change of heart about how lucky he really is because he's helping that little girl take care of her family.

Anyway, after growing up with stories like this it is kind of astonishing that my Republican capitalist family would be surprised to have raised someone like me who grates at excessive American consumption, and chafes at the idea that we're all cheering on these huge corporations making tons of money by convincing us we need more crap, but it really is all their fault.

It brought tears to my mother's eyes the first year I gave llamas, bees and goats in her honor to poor people in a poor country somewhere. I intend to do it again for the third year in a row. And maybe, despite not making more money this year than last year, I'll shell out even more and give a little to the Algalita Research Vessel so they can spread the word about plastic trash in the environment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Buried in a sea of spam

I like blogger. I like my blog. But I feel like it's drowning in a sea of spam.

I used to enjoy the nextblog button. But all you get is spam and dirty pictures and blogs in foreign languages which for all I know are also spam.

I'm not spam. I'm a real person. Maybe the only real person on blogger. :(

Swinging on a Gate

I started a tune last night: Swinging on a Gate.

I had been practicing it all week. And then, like a miracle, I heard someone mention that tune during the evening. I knew they were wanting to play it. It was going to be my lucky night.

So, at some point there was a lull. There were a lot of lulls during the night, but during this particular one it occurred to me that now was the time to start the tune.

And they played along. One fellow even rushed to get his guitar out but was too slow so we played another round. It was hard to start the tune with a guitar backer already going, but I managed.

Overall it was a fun night. I seem to be getting better at picking up tunes I don't even know. Or maybe they just had some that were easy to pick up. And as usual, many of the ones I've been working on were impossible to play. But at least I did relatively OK with my dumbed-down version of Dinky's reel.

Anyway, back to another 2 or 3 weeks of practicing until the next session.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ariel the Umbrella Cockatoo Helps Herself to Avocados

It is said just about everywhere that parrots should not eat avocados. I've always been suspicious of this because I believe much of the fear of avocados out there in regards to who should or should not eat it comes more from people's own fear of avocados than from actual studies.

The reason I mention this is because recently, Ariel, our umbrella cockatoo, has decided to eat avocados. We have a basket of them on the kitchen counter and she keeps hopping over and taking a bite. Once she sets her mind on something it's rather difficult to get her to stop.

I never allow our birds to eat avocados because it is better to be safe than sorry. I have never seen wild birds, like crows, eat them. But so far Ariel has taken a couple of bites and hasn't dropped dead, despite eating the skin and the dark green flesh.

So I decided to look up on the Interwebs any information about this. I found this excerpt from The Caique Site:

Avocado. There are studies showing avocado (Persia Americana) is harmful when fed to cockatiels (37, 85) . There are a number of cultivars, and toxicity may be cultivar specific. Clipsham has written about the possible toxicity of avocado in birds (24) noting its toxicity in ostriches (18) . However, Smith noted that feral flocks of parrots in Florida partake of them on a regular basis and a Florida aviculturalist who kept his birds in an old avocado orchard where his birds had access to them never experienced any difficulty (88) . Toxicity may be related to bird size or typical diet with cockatiels and budgerigars being more sensitive because they are smaller and seed eaters (106) . To be safe, though, it is porbably best to avoid feeding your parrot avocado, especially their peel, seeds and branches.

I tried to look up her footnote 88, Smith, G. A. 2000. Dogma. Magazine of the Parrot Society 34:25-26., but didn't find it.

In any case, I'm not going to start feeding her avocados, and I'm not going to allow her to help herself if at all possible, but I"m not going to lose too much sleep over it. I have to admit, my 20 year old birds have eaten all kinds of bad things, so a tiny little bit of avocado probably isn't enough to kill them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fluting in the park

Today was a lovely day so I walked to the park for lunch like I always do. I sat under a tree and practiced my flute. There were a lot more people out than usual. I try to ignore them otherwise I get flummoxed and make too many mistakes. I forgot my sunglasses so I closed my eyes.

I could hear people going by on the bike path a few times. Once I detected someone going very slowly. When I opened my eyes it was an old man and a younger man walking. Fortunately they weren't staring at me.

On my way back to the office I saw the old man on his return trip on the bike path and he mentioned hearing me play my flute. I was embarrassed, but at least he liked it. It's nice that people hear so little live music and even less live flute music that they think I'm any good. Of course he could have just been polite.

The session is tomorrow. I always look forward to it, but I end up not playing as much during the session as I would at home. I will bring my big boxwood flute, but lately I feel that my Folk Flute is playing better. It's got such a lovely bottom end.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Plastic sucks

I hate plastic. It's a menace to the planet.

Yesterday I took an urban hike down town. There is plastic trash everywhere. Plastic bags, plastic candy wrappers, plastic cups, polystyrene foam take-out containers. It's absolutely everywhere. People are pigs and they've been handed a tool to ensure their trash persists into eternity.

I see it everywhere. When I ride my bike it's all over the sides of the road. When I drive my car it's all over the sides of the highway. When I take a walk it's on the sidewalk and in the creeks. It's choking the ocean. I'm pretty sure plastic waste will kill us off more certainly than global warming.

I carry a canvas shopping bag wherever I go. Then if I need to buy something I refuse the plastic bag and put my purchase in my canvas bag. It is handy for something to sit on when I eat my lunch at the park, too.

Recently I decided to switch to Dove soap bars instead of the plastic bottles of body wash. I wish I could do that with all my personal care products, but there's nothing available to replace plastic shampoo bottles and plastic underarm deoderant containers. I think you could probably put deoderant in a wax-coated cardboard container. When I worked in the floral industry a lot of flowers came shipped that way. I think it would work for deoderant.

Perhaps shampoo could come in a recyclable aluminum can like soda pop does.

Supposedly there is compostable plastic. We put some in our compost pile. I don't think it has dissolved yet. Dissolved into what I wonder?

Something needs to change about this.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Every new tune is like a new trail to explore

I'm learning to play the Irish flute. Unlike my reputation as a hiker, I'm not very good at it. The Irish flute is not easy to play. I'm not very fast or skilled at it. I don't have a very good tone yet. I can barely play most tunes.

But I love it anyway. It makes me happy. I could play all day long and sometimes I do when I can't think of something else to do.

There are so many tunes to learn in the Irish Traditional Music genre. And each one is like finding a new trail to explore.

I can explore a new tune and then share it with others, just like I do with new trails I find. I love the way people's excitement stirs when they learn a new trail. It's the same when they learn a new tune, even when someone as inexperienced and unskilled as I am is the one to show it to them.

Why the flute? I think the flute is the prettiest-sounding instrument. An Irish flute is not the silver kind you play in an orchestra. It is made of wood and sometimes has silver keys on some of the holes, but the main holes never have keys, and some flutes, like mine, have no keys at all. It plays only a major D or G scale if you cross-finger the C-natural. If you need other notes outside these two scales, you have to half-hole or cross-finger. They are not built in.

It would seem this is a limitation, making the instrument frustrating, but it is not. Irish music is usually written in these two key signatures, employing what are called modes, which means that there are minor scales and other hauntingly beautiful scales that fit inside the D and G key signatures. There's more than enough variety and complexity and excitement in these tunes to fit into a lifetime. Having only six holes to open and close is not limiting at all.

People on online Irish music forums sometimes get mad at me because I have the gall to attend Irish sessions as a beginner to the music and to the instrument. But I have been welcomed and told to keep coming back so I do.

Sometimes people get mad at me on online forums because I read sheet music instead of doing all my learning by ear. The people at my session also read sheet music. Only the ones who have been playing forever are capable of picking up new tunes by ear after hearing them only one or two times. Some of the others at the session can pick up a new tune after maybe 10 times. The rest of us use a combination of sheet music and ear-learning. There are even a few tunes I've found myself playing at the session that I don't know, having picked it up by ear.

The whole experience, from hearing the music, to selecting and purchasing the flute, to learning to play, to learning the tunes, to struggling with my embouchure, to meeting new people is another experience that adds to my personal wealth. Studies have shown that the pursuit of money and posessions do not bring happiness. It is the memory of experiences had and the mastery of skills that bring happiness.

Are you following a trail to happiness?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I used an HTML table today for decoration, I feel so naughty!

Today, building a couple of pages for a demo I'm scheduled to give next week, I used an HTML table for pure decoration. Not even for layout. It was purely for a checkboard effect to give the page some color.

The standardistas must be rolling over in their, uh, well they aren't dead, nor do I want them to be. And I'm sure they don't care one way or the other.

I feel so dirty. I have to admit that sometimes non-semantic HTML can be fun. Am I the only one?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Parrots like cheese

Why do birds like cheese? Right now all the birds are happily eating pieces of cheddar cheese. One of them is eating a piece almost as big as her head. When in nature would birds ever get cheese? Why do they all like it so much?

They are just like children. Or dogs. They love food that is bad for them. They snub the food that is good for them. If you don't know what parrots should eat, it is not solely bird seed. In the wild they eat natural things that grow on trees. They'll eat whatever is in season at that time. Some tree is in bloom so they'll eat all the flowers. Some tree is in fruit and they'll eat all the fruit. If they are ground feeders, they'll eat grasses, insects or grubs, or even seeds. Very few birds have seeds as their sole diet.

One thing I like to do is watch the crows throughout the year. When I see them feeding on some tree I look to see what it is they are after. Then I collect it as a special treat for my parrots. I've found pecan trees growing in town this way. Macadamias, too, although the crows don't eat them because you can't get them open without a hammer. One thing they like are the little red seeds inside the magnolia blossoms as they go to seed and fall off the tree. I have to wait for the crows to get tired of them before I can find the "cones" full of seeds. Ariel, our cockatoo, loves them.

It's important to watch what the wild birds do. There are some trees nearby that have these giant seed pods that fall into the street. I've never seen a crow eating these. So I don't even attempt to give them to the birds. We have avocado trees. Mammals eat the avocados but birds never do. It's important not to just give birds whatever looks like food. Make sure real birds eat it first.

I feed my parrots an artful bowl of food each morning. There is a mix that contains cooked noodles and whole grains with peas and carrots (Parrot Pilaf from Menagerie), some fruit, maybe some raw corn, possibly a cut up carrot with the greens, a special cookie (Coconutty Cookies from Menagerie), a nut (either a walnut, an almond or a pecan), a half-teaspoon of safflower seeds, a Nutriberry if we have them, a small quantity of extruded pellet food made for birds (I found some that doesn't have corn as the main ingredient) and whatever else might look good. The food is always good enough for me to eat, with the exception of the Nutriberries and extruded pellets.

Then there is the begging. Squeaky must have pieces of bagel and almond butter or flakes of cereal if that's what we're having for breakfast. Tony picks roses from the garden and when they fade, Squeaky eats them (we don't spray or use chemicals in the garden). Fergie like to beg for dinner. She'll eat nearly anything she can hold in her foot. Ariel doesn't like "people food". I guess she doesn't realize people eat passion fruits, apples and corn, too. These silly birds will drink wine if you let them. I'll let them have a sip but not too much.

My birds are 20 years old, 15, and 12, so I think I'm doing something right. Life with birds is always interesting. After all these years, I scarcely remember life without them.

Another use for remote access

I have available to me one of the remote access software products. It allows me to work from home by logging into my work PC from home. The only trouble is, I never work from home. I always go in to the office.

I kind of have a problem with the whole work from home idea anyway. A couple of problems actually.

One is that I like going in to the office. I prefer being able to interact with other people in person and I just like getting out of the house and away from my birds.

The other problem is that when I work from home I feel trapped in my home, and it starts to feel like my home becomes an extension of my office, as if my home belongs to the company I work for. It's like that because Tony works from home all the time. I have to tip-toe around my own house because when he's working, our house belongs to his office and not to us anymore.

So, for these reasons, I hardly ever get a chance to use the remote access software for what it is meant for. But I have found it very handy for web design.

I have a Mac at home. I do my best to guess at the potential CSS bugs that Internet Explorer will have, but without a Windows computer at my disposal, it can be difficult. With the remote access software I can actually upload my changes to the server with my Mac and then view the results instantly on my PC through the remote access software. I think this is easier than browser cams, running back and forth down the hall to the PC in the back room, running a dual boot system, or (horrors!) buying another laptop. In fact, I didn't have to install or do anything to my Mac at all.

So, with this nice tool, I was able to fix my web site (not this blogger site) and get it working on both Mac and PC from the comfort of my Mac.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Blog Spam

I hate spam. If I could have a dream Tech job, it would be to put on a superman suit each morning and go out and kill spammers with my supreme technical abilities. If only I were that smart.

I have used Blogger for a long time, but I haven't actually used it in a while. I decided I would start using it again so that I may have a more anonymous forum for my thoughts and opionions.

Blogger blogs display an iframe at the top with a next blog button. It can be fun to just browse the blogs with the next blog button. You never know what you're going to get. I've found some really good blogs that way.

So yesterday I thought I'd go for a good "nextblog" walkabout, and what did I find? Spam blogs. Splogs. The ratio of splogs to real blogs was about 10 to 1. It made for a very impoverished treasure hunt.

What I don't get is how do they make any money? Who on Earth happens upon one of these splogs and thinks it would be a good idea to click on an ad? If I saw an ad on one of these sites I would not think the company doing the advertising was reputable at all. So who on Earth is stupid enough to buy from the advertiser? It's crazy, but then I simply don't understand capitalism sometimes. Why does everybody want to shop so much? What a waste of time.

Apparently there is a greasemonkey script out there that will restore the blogger navbar so that when you go to one of these sites you can report the blog. But that's too little too late. What I would like is for the nextblog button to be disabled, and that upon hovering over the nextblog link, it would automatically search the next site to determine if the content meets certain coniditions that constitute spam or objectionable content, and if so, forces nextblog to keep searching until a real blog is available. Then, without ever showing me the blogs, it could turn the button on, and thus let me know it's safe to click.

How's that, Blogger? Might be a slow and painful user experience, but nothing is slower or more painful then clicking nextblog, getting a spam site with no navbar, clicking the back button, clicking nextblog, getting another spam site with no navbar, clicking the back button, clicking nextblog, getting some teenager blog with embarrassing music blaring at me, clicking the back button, clicking nextblog, getting 10 more spam sites....

Monday, November 05, 2007

Ode to Jeepin' Jelly

Searching in my pantry
I spied a tiny jar
the label said "Jeepin' jelly"
the jar had traveled far

I pried off the top
the purple goodness gleamed
the toaster went pop
the warm bagel steamed

Upon my bagel halves
I spread the jelly thick
This tiny little jar
would probably be eaten quick

I bit into the toast
the flavor hit my mouth
sweet and tart berries
had traveled way far south

To enhance my boring breakfast
with wildness and bears
and memories of Mom's vacation
in Alaska without cares.

Later I learned that my mother did not get the berries from Alaska. They came from the Feather River valley in California. But there were bears there!