Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sniffle snuffle, toil and trouble

With one of the world's largest in-head collections of allergies, I stay stuffy more often than not. I look forward to trying these relief tools- when no one is around to see it:

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Gardener's Diary

Another day, another coupla inches of rain.

My in-progress dry stream bed is now a respectable stream. Any bigger, I'll have to name it.

My Christmas cactus is reacting to the early holiday ads on the nearby TV ad starting to set flowers.

Dickinson was right. November truly is the Norway of the year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Small school snapper makes good

Let me pause for a moment to brag about a college classmate, Billy Howard, and his wife.

Billy was photographer for our college paper when I was editor. Happily, he has overcome that potential career-killing episode.

Monday, November 2, 2015

6 pm and it looks like midnight.

Gawker has everything but a black border on this story:

Jesus Christ. The sun went down at 4:51 today in New York. Oh my God. It might as well have never come up. That’s so bad—and get this: it’s not going to set after 5 p.m. until January 22nd. You’re in for a long, bad time. This is awful.

That’s three months of misery. God. It’s going to be so dark in the mornings, too. It’s not even cold yet! By January we’ll be blanketed in perpetual darkness and also freezing. How do we do this every year? I’m amazed any of us are alive, literally any of us. Do those seasonal depression lights do anything? Are those based on any sort of science? Is there any hope? How am I even going to get home. Please help.
The sunset in Baghdad is later than New York tonight. Plus it’s a lot warmer. Worth it? I’m going to say this much: maybe. The point is, you think you’re unhappy now—and that’s true. But you’re going to feel so, so much worse, for months. Man. Will any of us make it until January 22nd, 2016? Good luck—you’re on your own. Man.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Earworms: my life's mix tape

Why You Can’t Get That Song Out of Your Head

A Goldsmiths study published in the journal Memory and Cognition this year showed that the singing we hear in our heads tends to be true to actual recordings. Researchers had 17 volunteers tap to the beat of any earworm they heard during a four-day period while a wrist-worn device recorded their movements. The tapping tempos were within 10% of the tempos of the original recordings. 
Another Goldsmiths study, published this year in Consciousness and Cognition, found that people who report hearing earworms often and find them most intrusive have slightly different brain structures, with more gray matter in areas associated with emotional processing. 
Studies also show that the internal jukebox often starts playing during times of “low cognitive load,” such as while showering, getting dressed, walking or doing chores. Dr. Stewart likens earworms to “sonic screen savers” that keep the mind entertained while it’s otherwise idling.
Of course, as soon as I read the headline, I started hearing this:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to be scared, c. 1896

On a trip to Paris in 1997, every day was a negotiation with my partner to find the right balance of shopping (his) and museums (mine). Happily, we agreed on the half day at Pere Lachaise, where we paid our respects to Gertrude and Alice, Oscar and Robbie, Isadora, Moliere and- my hero of hero filmmaker, George Melies.

Just in time for Halloween, Open Culture has added Melies' 1896 film, The Devil's Castle- which, the site claims, is the first horror movie- to its archive.

Enjoy three minutes with the Master (who also plays Mephistofeles):

Monday, October 26, 2015

Best-thing since Dilbert Random Corporate Buzzword Generator

Other than for the piles of money it can make, a Peanuts movie seemed entirely pointless to me.

Until I discovered The Wah-Wah Machine.

Next, eventually: Atomic-Poweredhenge

There'll always be an England:

Putting the clocks back at Stonehenge this morning. English Heritage repositioning the stones for the end of British Summer Time

How did this all begin? Eddie Izzard explains it all to you:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: Closing up for the season

The light wanes; even on sunny days there is less warmth.

It's time to start closing up the garden for the season.

Last night the TV weather critters were raving about frost, so I brought in all the peppers and scallions and potted herbs. I put them back out around lunchtime, but may well gather them in again. I hope to keep the herbs growing indoors for a while; I do love them in my omelets for breakfast.

I mowed my neighbor's lawn the other day, and got eight mulch bags out of the deal, to add to the six from my yard last week. The Great Wall of Compost, which keeps another neighbor (who thinks the area of my yard behind his garden shed is where he can dump junk and, because it is out of sight, has vanished) from piling more junk in my yard, is back up to is usual three and a half feet in height, and I extended it two feet to reinforce the point.

The brick marks the property corner; I found a cool app and was able to step off the corners with the legal description to my lot to within a foot or two. 

I'm able to look over fifteen months' work on the yard and see a lot of improvement. The lawn is much restored from what seemed like endless raking last fall to get out 35 years' worth of thatch. It really looks grand on a sunny day:

Same view last February 17, when it seemed winter would never end:

When I started clearing the encroachments of the wooded lot next door last summer, I found a number of eight to ten foot tall hollies I had not been able to see, just ten feet from the then-edge of the lot. Among the other discoveries was this nandina:

Here is is now, after a year of sunlight:

Out of a weed pile I dug an old flower bed, which included two remarkably hardy, if long-neglected, rosemary bushes. This one probably goes back to the 1980s:

After some pruning and tending, it's a much hardier camper now:

The back yard, as a whole, is the pride of my year's work. It was a right mess, being out of sight in the long years the house sat empty. This is last fall. Just to the right of the oak in the center is the Mother Compost pile- the first one I started; to its right is a twiggery I started with all the limbs I cleared and broke up, and to far right is the start of The Great Wall of Compost:

 The twiggery got moved around to the woodyard laid into a side yard spot as it was reclaimed, making it all closer to the fireplace on cold nights:

On the left is the execution of an idea I saw on Facebook: take two cinder blocks and four longish pieces of wood, and you can stack a lot of of kindling! The lot drops off behind the woodpile, so you can't see the relocated backyard twiggery or several stacks of scrap lumber from the summer deck rebuilding project.

So here's the backyard now, with some of the storm windfall I haven't gotten to yet; the unfinished deck, the repainted and restored garden shed, and- much reduced in size, Mother Computer to the right of the center oak:

This was that first compost pile in February:

Mother Compost turned, in just eleven months into this loamy pile today:

I moved it today, around behind the shed, next to the potting table I've built. Six wheelbarrow loads!

The next two months will be mulching, as we have six great oaks on the lot:

Downton: The Hallucination

Oh, alright, so it's not Christmas. Yet.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The month has literally flown by!

-I’m going to destroy ISIL. I’m literally going to destroy them if I’m the president of the United States.

Lindsey Graham, Hugh Hewitt Show, 9.11.15

-The likeable 32-year-old [Roberta Vinci], unseeded and ranked 43rd in the world, played a semifinal match that Serena called "the best tennis of her career," saying Vinci performed "literally out of her mind."  


-He literally physically assaulted me by punching me in the face," Yob wrote in a Facebook post early Friday morning (proxy bar fight between GOP POTUS candidate staffers)

Politico, 9.18.15

-On Liberty Counsel's "Faith and Freedom" radio program today, Matt Barber declared that the vitriol aimed at Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis for prohibiting her office from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples is reminiscent of the days of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Inquisition, as LGBT activists insist that everyone "come on board with our pagan sexuality or we will literally kill you."

Sept. 24 2015

-New York Magazine on the X Files reboot’s opening credits:

Literally nothing's changed—and that is exactly how it should be.


-At a campaign stop in rural Iowa on Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told ThinkProgress that activists with the Black Lives Matter movement — people who have been peacefully protesting the murder of black men and women by law enforcement — are “literally suggesting and embracing and celebrating the murder of police officers.”

Senator Ted Cruz, radio interview 10.13.15

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A passing thought for a rainy Saturday morning

From Seth Godin's Blog:

More of a realist

When did being called a 'realist' start to mean that one is a pessimist?

Sometimes, people with small goals call themselves realists, and dismiss those around them as merely dreamers. I think this is backwards.

"I guess I'm more of a realist than you," actually means, "I guess I've discovered that a positive attitude, a generous posture and a bit of persistence makes things better than most people expect."

Hope isn't a strategy, but it is an awfully good tactic.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

There's always a season somewhere

Worldwide convertible auto sales are way down, a casualty of Chinese air pollution.

But Rolls-Royce is betting there's a market for a $335,000 ragtop (the Halloween theme is fortuitous):

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A pitch-perfect messenger for troubled times

I don't know much about the man John Pavlovitz except that he is a minister somewhere in the United States; he has a blog; and I find everything he writes on it makes the day I read it better.

Today he remembers his father, who died two years ago. In the course of those recollections, he makes a larger, and useful point:
I share all this, because I want you to know that someone understands that you too have famous people who you’ve lost; legendary, monumental, household names whose passing changedyour personal history irrevocably. For you their death has been more earth-shattering and path-altering than any celebrated singer or politician or humanitarian or athlete. They were the peerless superstars of your story and I know how hard it is to be without them, how much it hurts to grieve them, how much you wish the world knew of their greatness and goodness.  
But I also share this to hopefully remind you of your worth too; to remind you that you are that important to those who you live life alongside. Regardless of whether you have acclaim or notoriety or celebrity or whether or not you even realize it, your life is invaluable  and irreplaceable. You may rightly feel quite insignificant in the grand scheme of things but even if you are, you needn’t worry—you don’t really exist there in the most meaningful ways. You truly exist in the small and intimate and quiet sacred spaces where your life rubs up against people who know you well and who you know well, and for them you are as important a figure as has ever walked the planet. You already are a household name.  
Never doubt for a moment how much you matter and never underestimate the massive, beautifully original space you occupy in the lives of those who love you. 
My father doesn’t matter to you but that’s OK, he doesn’t need to. He never did need that while he was alive. He was already famous. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

As Max Beerbohm said, "I was a modest, good-natured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable."

35 years ago August 2, I was one of the bright young things in The Sheldonian Theater, in another iteration of these photos: a new-minted MA in the Honours School of Philosophy, Politics & Economics.

It was the end of a glorious summer my parents granted me after I sat my exams in June. I had two months in Oxford with absolutely nothing to do but enjoy myself. The weather was English picture perfect; the days long.

I made the rounds of museums I'd put off visiting; spent lazy afternoons punting on the Cherwell with friends and evenings with them at The Turf Tavern or the Oxford Union bar; shipped home what my parents thought an obscene number of books; and ran up a respectable overdraft with my bank.

Then I chanced into a brief, altogether agreeable end of summer affair, whose end we celebrated- my time was up, I had to fly home- with a very Brideshead Revisited picnic on the grounds of Blenheim Palace. Wordsworth was spot-on:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Civic pride, the Oregon way

Portland, Oregon has a grand new pedestrian/light rail bridge. Its unveiling came last night, to John Adams' raucous Grand Pianola Music:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Overthinking summer's end

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went. And I’ll probably still be evading the same truth I’m evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose. And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity.

Immigration became an issue after pols learned the Great Kudzu Wall didn't work

From a revisionist history of the South's most famous invasive species:
Introduced from Asia in the late 19th century as a garden novelty, but not widely planted until the 1930s, kudzu is now America’s most infamous weed. In a few decades, a conspicuously Japanese name has come to sound like something straight from the mouth of the South, a natural complement to inscrutable words like Yazoo, gumbo and bayou. 
Like most Southern children, I accepted, almost as a matter of faith, that kudzu grew a mile a minute and that its spread was unstoppable. I had no reason to doubt declarations that kudzu covered millions of acres, or that its rampant growth could consume a large American city each year. I believed, as many still do, that kudzu had eaten much of the South and would soon sink its teeth into the rest of the nation...

Friday, August 28, 2015

It's how 60-somethings rationalize having missed out all those years...

From a live chat at Product Hunt with economic Tyler Cowen:

Ben Casnocha
How do you think your career and life would have been different if blogging, twitter, and digital media had be ubiquitous in your teens and 20's? Would you have still pursued an academic path or would you have become a full-time columnist/commentator/speaker earlier on? I seem to recall you saying at one point that you're glad the internet didn't exist early on in your life as it gave you the time to read the classics and develop a substantive base of knowledge.
tylercowen— Professor, George Mason University
@bencasnocha I am glad I was forced to live in "book culture" and "meat space' for my first forty years. Or maybe thirty-five years would have been enough. People these days have lost the sense of information being scarce, and counterintuitively that makes it harder for them to develop profound thoughts. It's like practicing chess by asking the computer right away, all the time, what the right move it. If I were starting today, probably I would not be an academic. The seductions of the on-line world would be too great, I am pretty sure.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Today's PSA. Waldo cares.

Keep those feet busy while the sun shines!

If you've lived in the Pacific Northwest, this is the time of year when you start fretting that summer can't last much longer. "f I go hiking this weekend," it will surely rain, and once it starts..."

Happily, summer usually has a later sell-by date in the Carolinas.

So there's time to get in some hikes. Here's an article that recommends some good trails, rural and urban.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

If you're trying to get Windows 10 to work, you will understand this doubly

Economist Tyler Cowen explains the drive to colonize another planet:


…Let’s imagine the Earth is a hard drive, and each species on Earth, including our own, is a Microsoft Excel document on the hard drive filled with trillions of rows of data. Using our shortened timescale, where 50 million years = one month, here’s what we know:

  • Right now, it’s August of 2015
  • The hard drive (i.e. the Earth) came into existence 7.5 years ago, in early 2008
  • A year ago, in August of 2014, the hard drive was loaded up with Excel documents (i.e. the origin of animals). Since then, new Excel docs have been continually created and others have developed an error message and stopped opening (i.e gone extinct).
  • Since August 2014, the hard drive has crashed five times—i.e. extinction events—in November 2014, in December 2014, in March 2015, April 2015, and July 2015. Each time the hard drive crashed, it rebooted a few hours later, but after rebooting, about 70% of the Excel docs were no longer there. Except the March 2015 crash, which erased 95% of the documents.
  • Now it’s mid-August 2015, and the homo sapiens Excel doc was created about two hours ago.

Now—if you owned a hard drive with an extraordinarily important Excel doc on it, and you knew that the hard drive pretty reliably tended to crash every month or two, with the last crash happening five weeks ago—what’s the very obvious thing you’d do?

You’d copy the document onto a second hard drive.

That’s why Elon Musk wants to put a million people on Mars.

- See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/#sthash.XUwNvoXS.dpuf

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Or, as Stephen Colbert would say, "mirthiless."

Mark Twain in 1883. Even in the age of long exposure times, some people still cut up.

Were the Victorians really as stuffy as their chairs? 
That severity is everywhere in Victorian photographs. Charles Darwin, by all accounts a warm character and a loving, playful parent, looks frozen in glumness in photographs. In Julia Margaret Cameron’s great 1867 portrait of the astronomer John Frederick William Herschel, his deep melancholy introspection and wild hair kissed by the light give him the air of a tragic King Lear. Why did our ancestors, from unknown sitters for family portraits to the great and famous, become so mirthless in front of the lens?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: No beating the heat.

In her book, A Southern Garden, Elizabeth Lawrence declares
Most Southerners need an introduction to their gardens in summer. I think they would be pleased with them if they could break with the tradition of abandoning the borders to weeds when the flare of spring has passed. To me summer is a season for taking delight in a garden, for there is no time when it is more inviting than in the early freshness that precedes the heat of the day, or the cool twilight and fragrant darkness that follow it. We can have bloom in summer if we want it, but we must plan for it and work for it. Some of the loveliest shrubs bloom then, and some of the rare bulbs, and some of the gayest annuals and perennials. But we must discover the summer flowers that flourish through heat, drought and humidity.
Right she is, but considering we only have five days in July when the temperature was under 90- and then, only just- I found myself content to stay indoors as much as possible, and stay as cool as overhead and box fans make possible.

Over the last week, though, I have ventured out a little. Partly I had to: cabin fever strikes even in summer. Partly, we had some nice days when it was hot but not so perishing humid. This week we had three days so moist all you wanted to do was take naps. None of Nick dropping by to see Daisy and Jordan in that gauzy sitting room, with cold drinks whose ice never melted. I have had to get out the ice trays to help the ice maker keep supply in sight of demand.

Mostly I have been transferring outside things I started- and have written about earlier- inside. My experiments with celery heads have been mixed. Both sprouted new growth while sitting in water indoors, per predictions. Outside, one did well for a week before perishing in a heat wave day.

Cilantro never got past the starting gate. Place in cups of water to root, they just turned to mush. I aim to try again with a late crop. I like cilantro, chopped, in an omelet, or in some ramen noodles for a light lunch with a bit of color and bite to it.

Scallions start to get mushy after I harvest their second growth in water, so I moved them to pots, six per, and they have settled in nicely. Basil sprigs from the grocery are sulky when started in a glass of water but they get over themselves and sprout lots of roots in a couple of weeks. Planted, they are a bit feeble in such hot weather; I have had to water them twice a day and place them in the shade. That done, they take well to being potted. I look forward to some pesto by summer's end.

The peter peppers are thriving in their posts. The bigger the pot you plant them in, I learn, the bigger the plants get. All, from the biggest posts down, are setting peppers. None have begun to show off their dominant, if Rabelaisian, feature.

I had two pots of peace lilies outside from June; when Housemate brought one pot home, it was severely root bound and in want to pruning. So I split it up and put them both outside in the sun.

Both did very poorly. They'd sprout a leaf or two, which would then blacken and die. When it comes to gardening,I can be like a man who won't ask for directions on the road: I am sure I remember, however partially or incorrectly, what to do with a plant, even when I am dead wrong.

Finally, the spavined and reproachful pair shamed me into looking up their growth and care. The dislike over watering, and they really dislike direct sunlight, much less the Saharan bake off we've been experiencing.

I brought them both inside. Within a couple of days, both had new, green, leaves coming out. I share some ice cubes with them every other day.

My potato experiment- clear some grass off a sunny spot, stick 'em in the ground, and wait- has produced mixed results. The above-ground greenery is sparse, indicating the unimproved red clay is proving inhospitable. Three of the five starts have given up the ghost in the heat. I plan to expand that bed, come fall, and work in the proceeds of my first compost pile, started last September. It was dong very well until a fortnight ago, when the afternoon thundershowers stopped. Now it is dry as a bone and I am not inclined to run the kind of city water volume needed to keep it decaying at speed. I used half my 100 gallons of stored rainwater in July, just on the potted plants and the potatoes.

Of the 18 nandinas I transplanted into the always shady side of the yard in June, six failed from heat and lack of moisture. One of my neighbors has a patch of them, scores, all crammed together so I can afford to  take the root hog, or die approach. Them as don't thrive, gets replaced.

Several big patches of liriope I liberated clearing out undergrowth from the empty lot next door last summer and fall; they will thrive in the most difficult of situations. I found the original door to the storage shed on the ground next to it, overgrown by ivy; under the door I found a judge glass dining table top, and under it, two big spreads of liriope, barely hanging on. It took them several months to consider their options, but- like the other patches freed from choking weeds and smothering vines, they have filled out nicely and are in bloom. Once we get a little more I plan to divide a lot of them and replant them in the eternally shaded south end of the yard, where erosion is an issue when we get heavy rain. I have the liriope spicata- Miss Lawrence calls it the creeping lilyturf, preferring the non-spreading liriope muscari, which resembles the grape hyacinth. I have some of those I need to dig up and replant along the front sidewalk. They came up in one densely populated clump, with a few strays, this year, and only one bloomed.

All that I will get to after I root out the blighted boxwood- the baby bear of the three along the front entry. For the time being I have let a mimosa- a giant segment of root, half above ground, like a sand worm in Dune- put out tall limbs, to give some color and balance to that end of the walkway. The whole stretch between front sidewalk and the house needs rethinking. Stuff was just put places. Between two of the three boxwoods- which had grown together and nearly killed it- is a pink dogwood. Liberated, it did well this spring but the lack of light, and surrounding box, make its future problematic. I would love to just pull everything out and start over, but you haven't lived until you try to remove the root ball of a boxwood.

The other day, I finally solved a plant mystery. Two of my neighbors have a flowering bush that grows with such profligacy that I figured it must be a weed. But it has the most striking flowers: a circular crown of tiny white blooms with yellow throats, surrounded by a ring of pink ones.

I put in some serious Internet time trying to identify the thing, with no luck. I lack the technical vocabulary to set up a proper search query for most plants. So I pestered my neighbors, and Mildred's son, down for his weekly visit, identified it as a lantana. A little work, with that lead, identified my locals as the cultivar "Christine," and, not surprisingly, plant sites where I have looked warn of its tropical invasiveness.

In the Piedmont, however, the state extension service advises that the "Miss Huff" cultivar can overwinter. My neighbor Mr. Doug's is proof of that: it withered away to a strikingly ugly pile that looked like the last bits of blackened street snow in a gutter before rising into a conical bush five feet wide and three or so high. Clearly the Christine cultivar is Miss Huff's equal in our winters. But that sharp winter dieback clearly limits the plant's tendency to profligacy in summer.

Weed or not, lantana appeals because it is bright in bloom and will keep at it until the first frost. Its flowers are havens for butterflies, of which we see many these days: solid white ones, others, all yellow. A large one, with black wings running to a lacy, iridescent blue, dropped in for a rest stop on the sill a few days ago. One of these times I will sort out what sort it was. The state parks butterfly guide says we have 177 species in North Carolina. That will take a while to sort out.

I can hear birds outside my desk window, but almost never see any, anywhere, in the yard. One mockingbird, curiously quiet, drops in and out of the back yard, but the Robins, Friends & Relations Clan is nowhere to be seen, nor are the Cardinal couple. A strikingly red oriole dropped in outside my window two days ago, and then was gone. I hardly even see the Carolina wrens who live near my woodpile.

The common skinks and salamanders are out, skittish as ever; the eastern chipmunk couple ventures out of the edge of the woods daily, looking rather fraught as well. In July we had had rabbits: both the eastern cottontail and some marsh rabbits, the latter a good bit west of where you'd expect to find them in the Carolinas. Now I do not see them in the evening. Is it time for a new litter, or have the larger predators had their fill? I do not know.

Excuse me for now. I have to go make another pot of iced tea.

-and that was that.

It's hard to imagine, but 47 years ago, it was a big deal whether or not black people should appear in comic strips that, except on Sundays, were "black and white."

A housewife proposed the idea to a number of cartoonists after the death of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The responses were sympathetic, but wary; what would readers think? If enough didn't like it, the strips might lose their syndication deals.

Even Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, was uncertain. The housewife, Harriet Glickman, got some black friends of hers to write Schulz with ideas. He bit, and after the first appearance by Franklin, a black kid, he got requests from Southern papers not to have the boy reappear. Like everything else, it was just too much for their readers.

Schulz rose to the occasion, and when his syndicator asked if he wanted to do this thing for real, Schulz replied that if they didn't want to go along, he would quiet them.

The syndicate went along.

And the world didn't end. Harriet Glickman, now 88, thinks of Franklin as one of her children.