Friday, July 20, 2018

Melanerpes carolinus

This is a first: I’ve had plenty of downy woodpeckers, but none of their larger cousins. Until a couple of days ago, when this red-bellied guy showed up.

I’m not sure that he actually got to eat anything—he’s definitely big enough to have tripped the mechanism that closes off access to the seed. But he certainly looks like he’s trying.

And he’s as good a way as any to end this week.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Birds in their little nests...

I do get a kick out of watching the birds. I have my issues with them—mostly the bigger ones with a well-earned title of “bully birds”. (Yeah, I did not make that one up. I just refer to them as greedy buggers.)

But the rest of them are just fascinating.

One of the things that cracks me up is how long the juveniles harbor the expectation that mom and dad are going to go on literally shoveling food into their little beaks. I’ve seen it with the starlings, but also with finches and goldfinches.

This behavior isn’t just on the East Coast; I noticed it in The Valley They Call Silicon, too. But here’s some video from yesterday:

I wanted to yell, “Little dudes—you’re on the feeder! You’re standing in the seed. Just start eating it!”

But, no, they’ve got to flap and squawk until someone sticks something in their beak.

Kind of like human teens.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Slinging again

You may or may not recall my wonder at finding “Bob’s Best” cow manure at the Cupertino Whole Foods store a few years ago. You can refresh your recollection here, because I certainly had a good time with it.

Now, this is my third summer in the District They Call Columbia, but I came across something at the local WF indicating that the East Coast will not be outdone by the West when it comes to froofy animal excrement for your garden:

Yes, folks: that’s lobster poop. 

(And yes, it's compost. But amongst the various lobster parts, I'm betting there's poop.)

I did not examine closely to determine the fair tradecomponent, but it’s obviously organic although not vegan. I mean—I’m assuming that if organic matter has passed through a crustacean’s alimentary tract it doesn’t count as vegan, even if it started out that way, right? I’m presuming free range, but if the lobsters are farmed, that would kibosh that one. I guess?

There was also the lobster-adjacent “premium potting soil”. No poop, but “very old dark bark…enriched with…seaweed”.

Too rich for my budget, but y’all feel free.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Southern woman

I confess that I spent a good deal of yesterday avoiding news of the Kleptocrat and his KGB handler. What I couldn’t escape was bad enough. Hadn’t thought he could perform much worse than at NATO and in the UK, but he managed.

Here’s someone who might be happy with his treason:

Being educated and all.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Gratitude Monday: mid-day wisdom

When I’m home, I try to take my walks in the morning, because summer. I mean—I like to get out before the midges and mosquitos are up for the day, and before the temperatures and humidity hit the 90s, because once they’re up there, they’ don’t go down until tomorrow morning.

But the other day, I’d had my walk, sat through a conference call, had the flooring contractor walk through to assess the water damage (and discover that flooring contractors don’t do anything to remediate the mold under the floor; that’s Someone Else, “with a fan”), spent a couple of hours wrestling spreadsheets and joined a weekly Twitter careers chat. And I just decided to go out again.

I needed new runners, because the ones I bought two years ago have worn through to the plastic core at the Achilles tendon area. I do not fancy developing bone spurs. And there’s a poncy running shop over to the faux urban center in the People’s Republic about half a mile away.

So around 1300 I suited up and headed out.

As I was turning onto the W&OD Trail, I passed an old fellow who—from the looks of his tan—spends a good amount of time in the sun. I smiled, nodded and said, “Good morning,” because I’m accustomed to being out and about before noon. Then I caught myself and amended it, “I mean afternoon.”

And his reply has kept me wondering all weekend. In a not terribly noticeable Slavic accent he brushed my correction aside with his hand and said, “You are a happy one. Russian wisdom says that the ones who are happy are not bothered by time.”

Well, I have never numbered myself among those who have the gift of happiness. (When I was taking part in a drug trial in the last century and being asked every week by one of the principal investigators “Where are you on a scale of one to ten with ten being extremely happy?”, my answer never rose above a four. One day he put down his Cross pen and asked, “On your best day ever, what were you?” After careful consideration, I replied, “A seven.” In the years since, there has been once—well, maybe three times—when I hit a nine, but my life is generally a grey sludge and the advent of our current political situation has driven me back below the five mark.) Plus, it was friggin’ hot and I’d already started to sweat and I still had almost the full half-mile to go. But Russian wisdom guy thought I was “one of the happy ones.”


I pondered this all the way to the poncy running shop, where they had no Mizunos in subtle colors. (In fairness: Mizuno doesn’t really do subtle.) As I stared at the electric blue pair, I pondered whether to have them order in a pair of trainers in grey with aqua accents (or whether to go online and see if I could find them for $5 less than in the shop). Then I though about Russian wisdom and said, “Maybe it’s time for me to bust out.”

So I bought them and walked home, reveling in how nice it is to have shoes that provide some cushioning again.

I’m still thinking about Russian wisdom. I’m not convinced that he parsed me correctly, but I’m willing to play with the notion. And I’m grateful that I chose to go out at that precise time, so I could have that prompt from the universe.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Vive la révolution!

Today is Bastille Day. The French and the French-at-heart will be celebrating the awakening of democracy on the European continent that was represented by an insurrection in Paris on this day in 1789.

Yes, it’s taken the French a while to work things out—a bunch of republics, a couple of empires and one or two half-hearted attempts at restoring the Bourbon kings. (Is there a band called the Bourbon Kings? There should be. And they should play Zydeco.) Plus a Commune and some années noires.

But nobody’s perfect. And I really like the French.

I particularly love how anyone can celebrate their national holiday. For example—the traditional French waiters’ champagne race—le course des garçons de cafe (like this one in New Orleans)—held all around the world:

Well, to mark the holiday from here in the District They Call Columbia, I’m going to give you a bit of Hollywoodized French chauvinism, because I don’t believe it’s ever been captured better than in the iconic scene at Rick’s Café Américain.

You know, where Major Strasser and his boys, full of caviar and Veuve Cliquot ’26, have commandeered Sam’s piano and are belting out “Die Wacht am Rhein”, and Victor Laszlo demands that the house band play the French national anthem. For a few moments, there’s this amazing quodlibet going on between the master race and the conquered, but you know who prevails.


Vive la France! Vive la République!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Future, delivered

I’ve loved meal delivery services since the 90s, when TakeOut Taxi brought yummies from a variety of restaurants in the environs of the District They Call Columbia. It expanded on the pizza or Chinese delivery from individual eateries, and it was a boon for everything from coming home from work to an empty refrigerator to being able to call for a full dinner as you started cleaning up from a day of home improvement. By the time you got out of the shower and opened the wine, your wonderful dinner was at the door.

TakeOut Taxi went to hell in this century. I don’t know why. Their fees rose at the same time as their service just crapped out. It must have taken 10-15 years for the Uber Eats model to revive the notion of getting whatever you fancy delivered in accordance with some central SLA. The added benefit is using an app, so you don’t have to deal with cash or credit cards.

(Although, c’mon—don’t be a dick. Tip the driver.)

Well, since all these appy things are deemed the purview of Millennials, it’s no surprise that someone (UBS) has done a study, reported in Forbes, that announces that the young’uns are ordering in at a rate of knots. It goes on to posit that if this sort of thing continues, it could mean the Death of Kitchens (and Kitchen Remodelers), Supermarkets, Packaged Food Manufacturers and Life As We Know It.

The implication is clear: Millennials are ruining things again. Which certainly speaks to the clickbait strategy of Forbes.

I found out about this on Twitter (as per usual), from this tweet:

My response to it is that I’m not a Millennial, but as someone who works full days with hourlong commutes tacked on to the beginning and ending of each day, if I could afford to order delivered meals (or even takeout, although I have to say that delivery beats having to drive, park, pick up and schlep home), I’d do it each work night. From a different restaurant every night.

But I can’t. I take my breakfasts and lunches to work because even getting the cheapest possible thing at local “fast-casual” places or food trucks means $10/day, and $50/week is not in my budget. (I take in ground coffee and use a refillable K-cup at the employee-donated Keurig machine; my employer does not provide coffee or tea, and a small coffee at Peet’s, Cosi or any of the other options is still $3.)

So, I pointed out that these kinds of stories are pure rubbish. And if Millennials are feeling murderous, perhaps they could start by taking out Forbes.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Not much of a celebration

I do not say this very often, and even less frequently in public, but Jesus Bloody Christ. Trying to book a hotel room for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing yesterday was the most excruciating thing imaginable.

Their conference-management site was supposed to go live at 1200 EDT, at the same time as the toll-free phone number. The link didn’t work, and I got nothing but busy signal on the phone until 1207. While I was on hold (when I finally “got through”), I tried booking online. But the site threw an error right at the point I gave it my CC details.

And in that 20 seconds, all the rooms blocked out for the “GHC rate” disappeared.

When I finally got an Orchid (conference mis-management company) person at the other end of the line (at 1237), all he could do was shrug and say, yep—all gone. He sent me to a third-party aggregator, where the rate for my hotel was 2x what the conference rate was, and which did not tell me that they weren’t using my credit card details to hold the room (at $460/night), they were charging my credit card.

It wasn’t until I scrounged around for a phone number for this site—and waited on hold for more than an hour before I got a human—that I discovered that I’ve got nearly $3000 on my card, and it’s non-bloodyrefundable.

GHC is expected to have 20,000 attendees this year (up from 18,000 last year). Whyever on earth did they do such a rubbish job of managing accommodations for those attendees? Last year it was their conference registration site that crapped out. This year they sold out general registrations in 20 minutes, and hotels in about the same period. How the actual fuck could anyone be online trying to snag a GHC registration while also trying to ditto a hotel room? It’s madness.

I had such a good experience at GHC last year. But already I’m hating this one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

75 years on...

As thinking people around the world gird our loins against the Kleptocrat’s reunion with his KGB handler, Vladimir Putin, here’s something I collected back when Germany still had hopes in the World Cup.

The joke operates on at least three fields: sports, climate and history. It’s great on each one.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Possessive case

One of my favorite TV shows in the early days of this century was an ensemble piece called Third Watch. It was about first responders—cops, firefighters and EMTs—set and shot in Manhattan. The stories were for the most part well-written, and you know what a sucker I am for a good police procedural.

But mostly it was the mix of characters, with all their flaws, playing off one another, and growing. Almost like, you know, humans.

I was reminded of one exchange from the show recently. The setup is basically that the older EMT, Doc, and the young legend-in-his-own-mind, Carlos, are discussing an attractive new doctor in the local ER, in whom both are interested. (Even though, truth be told, she is more car than Carlos can handle.) Neither has as yet made a move, but already there is tension between the partners.

Carlos says, “I told you I was interested,” and Doc replies, “What, now we’re in the eighth grade and you called dibs?”

Carlos: “’Dibs?’ What the hell is dibs?”

So I’m wondering how many of my readers will get this reference: