Walnuts and engagement

3 October 2009

One of the things I really like about Corvallis is that so many different trees flourish here; there are at least two different kinds of walnut within a block of our house. We’ve harvested some already for eating, but there is a slightly menacing corollary of that bounty manifesting itself about this time of year. As if the hazards of being hit by a falling walnut or having your feet roll out from underneath you on a carpet of them wasn’t bad enough, when shedding fruit in great quantities, these trees draw crows in flocks large enough to qualify as Hitchcockian.

In attempting to devour the crop, crows can be seen trying to crack walnuts by attempting to pin them between their feet to peck at, or drop them from lamp posts, or wedge them in the manhole cover, or (my personal favorite) hurl them at human interlopers. Displaying an amazing variety of tactics, and using elements of the natural environment to their advantage, as well as (superficially, at least) learning from past mistakes presents something very close to empiricism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Happy September equinox, everyone.

One of the cool things about this day is that it has a fairly high profile on the common, demi-Gregorian calendar, the equinoxes perhaps figuring even larger than solstices in my casual surveys. Another one is that it is only the autumnal equinox if you live north of the equator: otherwise, it is the vernal kind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Generally speaking, it is unusual for ‘economic stimulus jobs’ and ‘underwater robots’ to appear in the same sentence. For a month this summer, though, those two concepts went hand-in-claw at a camp organized by Linn-Benton Community College staff and students. As a part of the Oregon Underwater Volcanic Exploration Team, high school students from all over the state received training in job skills like electrical circuit design, budget-keeping, and geographic information systems as they built and operated research submersibles called ROVs. The high schoolers were nominated by teachers and counselors in their home towns, and spent six days camping on Paulina Lake inside Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of LaPine. Each student designed and built their own ROV, which they got to take home at the end of the week. Money for the project came from a grant by The Oregon Consortium and the Oregon Workforce Alliance, by way of legislative money for job training in Oregon, where high-tech job growth requires constant workforce training.

Read the rest of this entry »

Both the elliptical title of this post and the long distance from its antecedent have the same toothmarks: I’ve been reading so much, I haven’t wanted to write anything. I’ve enjoyed being both the style and the substance of The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, and read it interspersed with revisiting some Terry Pratchett and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Also slowly, slowly working my way through Borges Ficciones, wherein the most pertinent quote might be from The Library of Babel: “You, reader, are you sure you understand my language?”

I’m not sure I do, but it is wonderfully toilsome to try.

At any rate, the weather here has been early summer over the weekend–sunny and 70 degrees. The Sun is now transiting the meridian pretty high in the sky, and the skylights in our house are providing lots of light. As the Moon waxes these days, it picks up where the Sun leaves off, and it, too, illuminates our kitchen from above. We planted some roses in the backyard yesterday, and right now a delicate golden kinglet seems to be taking advantage of the legions of buds on the red maple right outside the kitchen window, making a hurried morning meal. For my own hurried morning meal, I cracked open a jar of apple butter received from one of Elle’s comrades at the university. I’m trying to use more glass jars so I can use fewer disposable containers; I’m also trying to buy as much food as possible in reusable containers.

Coffee has been a problem there, although since I buy bulk beans, I usually just end up with the strangely useless paper bags provided at the store. I also usually don’t buy expensive coffee, on the argument that if Kona estate peaberry isn’t laying around, I won’t know the difference. All of this is by way of saying that I was highly amused that Dunkin’ Donuts is marketing their coffee in grocery stores here, where I don’t think there’s an actual Dunkin’ Donuts storefront for a thousand miles: I prefer Dunkin’ Donuts to that Krispy Kreme, which we at least have in Portland. I am amused to no end that I stepped outside habit to buy a name brand product which is then not the product that gives the name. But it is pretty good coffee.

Front-page editors of various newspapers I saw yesterday seem to feel bound to report on the North Korean missle launch, and perhaps in honor of tradition to do it in the same way such things were reported during the cold war. Although I haven’t seen anybody labelled ‘Reds,’ yet. Perhaps they are referring to the limited historical and belligerent importance when they use smaller type for that headline than for budget stuff. Or perhaps they have taken notice, as Jeffrey Lewis has, that for as much as North Korea wants to impress the world by being a scary nuclear power, they are actually 0 for 3 with these kinds of things.

Sure, they did prove to their own citizens that they are still defiant, but that doesn’t seem too important right now. The NORK government is also still trying to tell everybody that they got a satellite into orbit, but people seem to be paying more attention to the statement by Obama, encouraging renewed consideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

That’s an unintended success.

Well, if I can say something without jinxing it, it appears as though our two weeks of winter may be over. Not but what it won’t be grey and rainy for a while yet, but the incipient buds are swelling more greenly on their socially networked branches. The leaves cluttering the sidewalks are from the sweetgums, and most of them only just fell within the last month. We’ve had some sunny warmth here and there, and while I haven’t seen any hummingbirds yet, the Steller’s Jays have been joined by squads of robins.

But the thing that really brought a sense of seasonal change for me was at the end of the cold snap we had in December. Hardly seems fair of me to use that term, when Fairbanks has been pretty chilly by comparison, but people take notice when we get a weeks worth of heavy frosts in Corvallis. At any rate, on about 29 December, I woke to find cirrus clouds covering most of the sky, and causing a strong, beautiful 22 1/2 degree halo around the Sun. I’ve long since given up any pretensions to being able to photograph such phenomena, so I contented myself with staring upward for several blocks on the way to work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Once again, I find that when I settle in to my life, finding few things worth blogging about, I am unsuited to change pace when I do bump into something blogworthy. Also, since I haven’t had an iPhone implanted directly into my brain yet, I still need to be near a computer with internet access for long enough to type a post. Tricky.

Anyway, on Wednesday I got to see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific in a single day. While transcontinental flights are now so common that almost no one bothers to call them transcontinental anymore, I still think it is pretty cool. At the end of our trip to New York we took off from JFK which, like most other infrastructure in New York City, seems to be much too big, old, and held together by a combination of rust and duct tape to actually survive the traffic it handles. The flight landed at Long Beach, CA, and its airport provided a stark contrast in that regard.

Read the rest of this entry »

Less is more. Literally.

3 October 2008

I’m very excited to have started reading The Social Life of Information, a book which simultaneously supports many of the same conclusions about information theories I’ve read in other works I’ve liked, and blows my hair back with new stuff.

The concept in the introduction of that work that could perhaps be approximated by the old adage that only ten percent of communication is carried by the words spoken in a conversation, with the other ninety left to tone, body language, eye contact, et cetera, is remarkably similar to a conversation I had yesterday at work. Speaking to a gentleman who turned out to be an electronics engineer and music buff, we had a fairly intense conversation about what equipment produces the best quality of sound. While he has more specific knowledge than I, our consensus was that older equipment sounds better for all its messiness of being analog, vinyl, or whatever, than the truncated, cleaned up electronic equipment now so common.

Read the rest of this entry »