Archive for the ‘applied science’ Category

I feel a small rant coming on, and a household tip for you

November 7, 2007

I absolutely loathe, detest, and despise modern packaging.

I’m old enough to remember when there were real hardware stores with big bins of nuts and bolts. You went in to the store, selected what you needed, and paid for it. Now you have a choice of packages of pre-counted amounts of things, all carefully sealed in unbreakable plastic wrap with a handsome cardboard outer with description, price, and so on.

These packages are the reason I find it necessary to have heavy duty kitchen shears in at least three rooms of my house.

But I also resent having to buy five screws when I need three. What do I do with the other two? They go in my tool box in the mixed screw section. But I’ll never remember they are there.

I’m a great believer in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I can’t often do much about the “reduce” part. You buy the things you need, and you’re more or less at the mercy of the manufacturer. Although I will say this: For many years we ate only Jif peanut butter. We all liked it. Then Jif switched from glass jars, which I reused like crazy, to plastic. I refused to buy it. I wrote them a letter explaining why. I got no answer.

But the good news is that I then discovered Adams peanut butter, which is a far superior product that’s actually virtually all peanuts and always comes in glass jars. Ben rebelled at having to stir his peanut butter, but I kept buying it. Then Adams came out with a “no-stir” variety that had only minor amounts of adulteration. We’ve all been happy since. I buy no other brand, even though the crunchy style that we prefer is sometimes hard to find.

The “recycle” part is easy. We do huge amounts of that.

But then we get to “reuse.” This is the other part of modern packaging that makes me nuts.

This time of year, lots of things–nuts, chocolates–come in rather large plastic containers. I’m pretty much opposed to plastic on principle, but if I can reuse the container for an extended period of time, my anxiety level goes down. I much prefer glass, but the larger plastic containers can be used to keep tea bags fresh, store bread crumbs, and otherwise make a repository for things that do better if they’re in an air-tight environment. But–

The people who market these things seem to feel obliged to put on their labels with an adhesive with some of the qualities of that ghastly black mastic adhesive that was used for so many years to secure phony paneling or tile to plaster board. It’s almost impossible to remove, rendering the container somewhat less than useful. At least it was. Tonight I made a great discovery.

I had one of these containers that I was trying to remove the glue from. I first of all tried some hand lotion that I won’t use because it’s too greasy. Hopeless. After that, I added some detergent to a scrubber sponge and tried that. No dice.

Then I remembered a tip that I read somewhere about how to get pitch or bubblegum out of your hair. My hair is about 30 inches long, so it’s important to know these things. But the tip was this: Rub peanut butter on it, and it will dissolve.

So I rubbed a little (and it really was only a VERY little) Adams on my recalcitrant jar and–voila! The glue washed right off.

But what a waste of good peanut butter.

Wildlife, and getting wilder

October 8, 2007

I went to Salem yesterday to sort through some things with family, and so I missed all the excitement.

Ben was working in his office and looked out the window (early afternoon) to see a mountain lion strolling across the meadow about 50 yards from the house. !!!

We know they’re around here. We’ve heard them mating, and I’ve seen two cubs in the last three months while on the road. This one, Ben estimated, was probably about a year old, bigger than the cubs I’ve seen but smaller than a mature lion. To have it close to the house in broad daylight was a little scary. Ben’s right, I need to dust off my .38 special.

Our wildlife here is generally pretty reserved and people-contact-averse. I prefer it that way, I must admit. We don’t keep animals, but several of our neighbors do. The deer have been a little sparse this year (very scarce now that hunting season is on us–I’m not sure how they know, but they seem to), so I suspect the lion was looking for something to eat. The neighbors are now officially alerted.

My DSL has been down for two days. I hate working by dial-up, but at least I can still get online. The DSLAN is down for the whole valley, so I can’t even take it personally.

Birds of the Big Elk; DIY adventures

May 11, 2007

I am taking an enforced break from my assorted projects today because all of the batteries I need at the moment are dead. So I’ve started the generator and will give them at least a partial charge. I’ll tell you about the project, then about some rather amazing birds from the last few days.

I’m trying to hang some closet-pole-type hangers from the back porch supports for my hanging baskets. I’ve got the holes drilled, but the only suitable screws I could find are square drive. I have a square driver, even one of the right size, but it has to go into a screwdriver body. I don’t have a square driver that has its own handle.

I have a very good Ryobi drill/driver and I stole a battery from one of the Ryobi flashlights. But the body is too fat to fit in where it needs to go. So I got out my little Makita with the tilt head. It fits just fine, but I haven’t used it in over a year, so of course the battery is deader than a doornail (what does that mean, anyhow?). So, when the Makita battery is ready, I’ll go finish the job that’s 80% complete. Technology has stopped me once again.

We’ve got a ton of birds this year, and I’m really enjoying most of them, the exception being the wild pigeons that are trying to steal our small cherries and plums. We’ve discovered that pigeons apparently have an attention span of 28 minutes. That’s how long after you scare them away that it takes them to return. And they are very smart, but that’s really long story I’ll have to save for another time.

Yesterday in the garden I saw a young bald eagle. He was so new his feathers hadn’t changed color yet. He was trying to fly with the turkey vultures, but they flew so much more gracefully and effortlessly than he did that I think he became embarassed. At any rate, he soon flew away.

Ben and I saw a pair of golden eagles up above the ridge. I think they were getting ready to mate, but they flew off up the valley so we didn’t get to watch. I’m not a voyeur, but I’ve wanted to see that ever since discovering Walt Whitman’s fabulous poem “The Dalliance of Eagles.”

The hummers are at war around the feeder. There are two ruby-throated females. They are the most territorial and aggressive of the lot, and I think they spend more energy duking it out than they get from the feeder. They’ve been beak to beak several times just today.

There are also two of the little green ones. They are much smarter. They fly into the nearby trees and just wait quietly until the two red ones get so mad at each other they fly away with one chasing the other. Then the little green one hops on the feeder and eats her fill.

Today Ben and I were sitting on the deck watching the hummer wars when a male Western tanager flew up and lit on a branch about 6 feet from our heads. He just sat and watched us for awhile. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one, but they have bright yellow bellies and neon red heads. They are very lovely. He also did us the favor of calling, so now we know for sure what at least one of their calls is like. Finally he ambled off.

Of course there are also robins and juncos everywhere. There’s also a bird that I haven’t identified yet, but I will. I need a better bird book. The Audobon guide has too many with too little detail and variation in the pictures, and my Pacific NW Audobon field guide doesn’t have enough.

I’ll bet you’re tired of my complaining, so I’m going to go check the barbeque. The bird stuff got interrupted by Ben, who came up to the house to see why I was running the generator during the day. When I gave him my long song and dance story, he said, “Oh for Pete’s sake! Where do you want them?” “Where the holes are drilled, I’ll show you.” In five minutes he had them both up and I had my baskets hung. I was actually sort of hoping for that. He’s a foot taller than I am and had a much easier time of it.

I’ll take a picture in the next couple of days, but right now I’ve got so many half-finished projects going on in the back that it looks like Ma Kettle lived here, and I’d be embarassed to show you that.

Suddenly everyone I know is famous

February 27, 2007

This morning I finally got around to opening up the Sunday Oregonian that I bought on my trip home from Fishtrap yesterday. I always go first to the “O” section. It has the crossword puzzle and the advice columns.

When I whipped it out of the 5-pound paper, what greeted me but a terrific photo of my friend and compadre Josh Bancroft. Josh and I worked together peripherally at Intel. He’s the one who got me started blogging. There are days I curse him (he must have known I have an addictive personality, and the fourth time I told him something and he said “Great! Have you blogged about it?” I started developing another obsession), but most of the time I bless him for his generosity in sharing his technical expertise and encouragement.

Josh is a terrific guy, and if he is representative of the near future, I am suddenly more optimistic.

Then I turned a page or two, and here is my friend Oz Koglin with her wonderful poetry featured in honor of Black History Month. If you haven’t run across Oz but you bought the paper, take a few minutes and read her work. She is an amazing poet.

Then I turn another page and find a review of Fishtrap’s Mary Schlick. Mary will be featured as one of the “Found at Fishtrap” authors at the 20th anniversary extravaganza this summer. She has two books now about her experience living on Indian reservations.

I’d love to put in electronic links to these various pieces, but I am finding The Oregonian Live a totally hopeless Web site. So I can only offer you Josh’s article, which he was kind enough to post a link to. Here is the link to the article about Josh.

One of the remaining great mysteries

February 10, 2007

I am interrupting my weekly reading of The New Yorker to bring you a bulletin. There’s a great profile in this week’s (2/12) issue of two scientist/philosophers, a married couple–Pat and Paul Churchland, professors at UCSD. It’s a really interesting piece that calls out many of the issues associated with one of the great remaining mysteries: what constitutes consciousness?

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I disagree with many of their firmly held beliefs. They are monists; I am firmly in the dualist camp. I don’t deny that many of the elements of what we call “mind” are firmly grounded in the chemistry and biology of the brain. But I’m holding out for something else, something that’s not “physical” as we know it (more about that in a minute), something that for want of a better term I’ll call the “soul.”

My belief is firmly rooted in experience as well. I’ve had at least one out-of-body experience, and on several occasions found myself sharply aware that something in “me” was really not attached to my body. (And, no, I’ve never been diagnosed with any kind of “mental illness” and have somehow managed to function for a remarkable number of decades.)

The Churchlands also don’t believe that non-human animals have language. I have seen much evidence out here in the middle of nowhere that they do. I think it’s easier to see here because I can be more closely attentive. There are fewer distractions. If you’re looking at animals, you’re looking at animals, and that’s it. There have also been quite a number of scientific studies devoted to this topic, and I believe most of them have demonstrated some degree of language in even what we would consider “the lower animals.” (And how humanly arrogant is that?)

George Lakoff did his best to reduce all human thought to biology, but he never managed to convince me. I enjoyed his books, found his work on metaphor (More Than Cool Reason) immensely useful as a poet, but think he really was all wet in  Philosophy in the Flesh.

One of the things that caught my eye in this profile was Paul Churchland’s reference to a book I have loved since I was very young, Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky. Most of my generation is at least minimally familiar with Heinlein because of Stranger in a Strange Land. This was a sort of rallying-cry book in the 1960s.

But Orphans is a totally different animal, a reflection of how little we know and how impossible it is to know it all. I rank it right up there with John Wynham’s novella “Rebirth” for an understanding of the great mysteries and the ability of humans to resist ideas that challenge their current knowledge.

There are other great mysteries, of course, besides consciousness. I keep returning to the questions of dark energy and dark matter. With all of our “vast” knowledge, how can we not identify and understand the composition of more than 75% of the mass and a huge portion of the energy in our universe?

Perhaps lame thought for the morning: What if dark matter is really consciousness afloat in the universe, some sort of mass/energy that infuses biologically living beings and returns to the universe after the biological death? What do you think?

Now it can be revealed: My greatest fears, part 1

February 3, 2007

The copy editor in me never shuts up. I will probably dither as I write this about whether the “m” in “My” should be capitalized in this post title. The realist in me asks, “Who cares?” But it’s like so many of those little things–someone must.

I go to great lengths to keep this blog non-political. My reasons are many. First among them is that I think there are enough things that connect us that it is worth while to avoid the things that tend to spark acrimony. I like exploring the connections rather than the divisions. But perhaps more important is the fact that I have a very low opinion of things political. My friends are all over the map ideologically. I like this. It sparks some spirited debates from time to time.

I think we have reached a very dangerous point in our society–I’m talking about the U.S. here, but I suspect that this applies on a wider world stage as well. Our leaders are now more concerned with the “politics” of the situation than with the exigencies of the moment. (Aside: Have you discovered “The Free Dictionary“? This is one of my favorite sites. The home page has wonderful puzzles and feature articles; the dictionary and thesaurus are always interesting.)

I am fortunate to have lived for more than a quarter of a century with Ben. We agree less and less on things as time goes by, but our shared experiences seem to have engendered a certain respect that lets us have some of those question-asking discussions without rancor or emnity. The most recent was last evening.

We sat and watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had seen it before; Ben had not. It was “the director’s cut” edition, and it included some scenes that I don’t remember from the earlier version. Afterward, we engaged in a rather spirited discussion. Ben was right in observing that one rather oddball gratuitous scene contributed nothing to the movie and in fact weakened it. But then he said that Spielberg seemed to have “a rather Berkeley frame of reference.” I knew that he wasn’t referring to the Englilsh philosopher but rather to what those of us who lived in the Bay Area as semi-normal people called “the Berkeley effect.” He was talking about a particular attitude toward government and the role of government.

Ben thought the film portrayed government and particularly the military as inept. He was offended by this. I agreed with his perceptions, but I felt compelled to add that I thought the portrayal was accurate. The discussion continued for some time. Perhaps as a result, Ben dreamed of Vietnam again last night for the first time in a long time. So our discussion continued even longer as we talked about his dreams and memories with a full moon shining through our bedroom picture window.

Lord, this has gone far afield from what I intended to write about. . .But maybe there’s a reason.

My irritation with politics is that I think it gets in the way of people living sane lives. Our founding fathers never envisioned a world in which our leaders would be more concerned with self-image and personal aggrandizement than they are with the question of what is best for the country, the society. But that is the peculiar circumstance in which we find ourselves.

My previous post about loving the landscape generated a large amount of interest, including some thoughtful comments from Heath and Phil about things that really bug them. Those things bug me, too.

But I’m convinced that these issues will never be resolved while we are raising generations of children who think that milk, eggs, meat, and produce come from grocery stores, that the figures in a cartoon or video game series are more compelling than the children across the street (or across the world, for that matter), and that instant gratification of a perceived desire is the highest form of pleasure known to humans.

One of the things that I’m enjoying the most in my current lifestyle is the reality of it all. I burned the beejasus out of one of my fingers this morning on the living room stove. I suspect it’s a third-degree burn nearly to the bone. I’d post a picture here, but for me to display my would properly would look like an obscene gesture, which doesn’t seem appropriate to my audience. So you can imagine for yourself.

But I am having to relearn about heat and cold, want and satiety, how important a particular need is: Is it worth a half-day on the road, three gallons of gasoline, etc., etc., etc.?

Now I must abandon this rambling to go fix dinner, food that my great-grandmother would have recognized. I’m going to do my best not to add a cut finger to my burn.

Blackberries, bread, the joy of science, and other randomata

February 1, 2007

This post will probably make my friend Phil unhappy again, but I hope he’ll forgive me.

It’s been a busy two days. Yesterday I spent all day going down to Waldport for my writers’ group meeting. That was fun. Tuesday is my day for me. The weather was gorgeous, the beaches lovely, and all in all it left me feeling rested and refreshed. Today was a different matter.

I started bread mid-morning, and things didn’t go right from the start. I know where I fouled it up. I proofed the yeast in water that was just too warm. When I looked at it, I knew that, but I used it anyway. And it worked, sort of, but it’s not up to the standard I’m used to. I’m sitting here waiting for the timer bell to see how dreadful it really is. If it’s too bad, I’ll go bonk moles on the head with it.

But while the bread was rising (or in this case not rising very well) I went out and worked on the area behind the house that’s been so neglected. That’s where the blackberries come in, and the part that will probably upset Phil.

As I may have mentioned, we have three separate and distinct forms of blackberries here: mountain berries, Himalayas, and ground berries. I love the taste of blackberries. I buy blackberry yogurt, blackberry scones, make blackberry pies and cobblers, and so on.

But I think how you feel about blackberry bushes is really dependent on where you live. I live on a hundred acres of subtropical rain forest. We had just an inch shy of 100 inches of rain last year. I have seen blackberry bushes put on as much as 6 feet of new growth on a single runner in a day. Keeping them under control is a major problem. If you don’t keep them under control, they quickly take over and suffocate everything else.

A friend of mine who lives in eastern Oregon (where they get about one-tenth the rain we do) once wrote me proudly that he had trellised the blackberries in his yard. After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing so hard, I wrote him back a sort of smart-aleck note that I suspect insulted him. But the truth of the matter is that here the only way you can really pick berries in quantity is to throw a piece of plywood across the front of the mound of bushes and walk up on it to get to where the really good berries are. The blackberry bushes suffer from this for at least an hour and half. Then they grow another six feet.

But the worst are the ground berries. They crawl along the ground taking root every few inches, or send a runner root snaking out 4-5 feet with a bud every few inches that will grow into a new plant. So I spent most of the afternoon pulling these plants and roots out of the duff in my little garden area behind the house. I killed a lot of blackberries today, or at least I will have if we actually get them hauled away before the root at the edge of the golf course/meadow.

I sat up late last night to hear the last of my “Joy of Science” lectures and discovered another reason that SETI research my not succeed that’s sort of related to the one Brent pointed out. Any intelligent life able to communicate would quickly become bored with radio technology and switch to something more advanced. So there might be a very narrow window in time for all of those radio signals to succeed.

I don’t know if you’ve ever even heard of The Teaching Company, but they’re willing to teach you something on almost any topic you want to know about. These are individual courses offered on CD or DVD or both, depending on the importance of visuals to the course. The courses rang in length from 12 half-hour lectures to 84 half-hour lectures. I’ve done several of their courses, the latest being the 60-lecture “Joy of Science.” I think what I like best is that they help me put a lot of the miscellaneous information I’ve accumulated in a lifetime into a greater context.

Ben just interrupted me to come hear a tape of him playing the guitar and singing a little more than 38 years ago. It was about the time I met him. He’s had these reel-to-reel tapes all this time and no way to play them. But that’s story for another time. Remind me to tell you about music and Guild guitars if I forget.

Now, my dinger just went off and I need to go see how bad the damage really is.