Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Somethng to Smile About

I love this story!  Over 100 volunteers in a small town decided to knit all the buildings and landmarks of the city of Bristol in England.  Among other things, the city is known for its suspension bridge, which opened in 1864 and was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  The knitters and crocheters incorporated churches, ships, cranes, traffic jams and even a crocodile which was reported to be on the loose in the city earlier this year.  

It's such a colourful, clever and interesting piece of art - or is it a sculpture?  I would imagine that if your hobby is knitting, this would have been a really fun thing to do.  

You can find more of the story here.   I'm sure there are people out there asking why?  Surely the only answer is why not?.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How Low Can You Go?

People's depravity never ceases to amaze me.  You hear of some terrible act of violence or senseless destruction and just when you think mankind (admittedly it's only a few) can't sink any lower, we hear of things such as the kidnapping of hundreds of young girls in Nigeria by a group who disagree with girls being educated but obviously are okay with keeping them as sex slaves.   Or the White Supremacist couple in the US who "wished we could have killed more" people who's lifestyle they disagreed with.  Yes, one of the people murdered was a sex offender, but there's something drastically wrong in the couple's thinking.

One example of senseless destruction that always makes me furious is harming or defacing something that other people have worked hard on or come to see.  I know it's not in any way in the same category as the events listed above, but there is a mural on the side of a building near us that looks like it was painted by schoolchildren, and someone has tagged and obscured it with some illiterate gibberish or another.  Why?  Was that destruction such a turn on .... for about 30 seconds?  It's like the people who delight in putting a scratch on the toe of new shoes on the shelf in a store.  Yeah, that makes you real tough.

What got me thinking about all this was a story I read in the UKs Daily Mail newspaper online.  It's about the last old growth redwood trees on the west coast, and how they're being severely damaged by people - drug addicts - who are cutting the burls out of the trees to sell for their next fix.

Photo from the AP

We're told that a redwood tree can survive the practice, but the legacy of the organism that could be 1,000 years old is threatened, because the burl is where it sprouts a clone before dying. Sprouting from burls is the prevalent method of redwood propagation, and the source of the Latin name for coast redwood, Sequoia semper vierens, or forever living.

You can find more of the story here - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2622071/Drug-addicted-poachers-hacking-hunks-ancient-California-redwoods-sell-valuable-wood.html

One thing I enjoy about online newspapers is that you get the chance to comment on the story - it certainly gives you a sense of how the general public are feeling about things.  I particularly liked the comment  "Hack parts off those who decimated the trees."  I agree.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thor's Day Off.

So I was rummaging through my handbag, discovering lost change and an errant almond, and sorting through the various receipts that end up in the bottom of my bag, and I found a receipt for a purchase made last week at Goodwill.  Meh.  Nothing special. 

Until a closer inspection revealed ...

Man, I never even noticed!  I guess now we know what Norse Gods do when they're feeling extra generous ... put in a few hours at Goodwill.  Thanks, Thor.  Much appreciated.

PS.  If you'd been wearing the red cape and fancy helmet, we earthlings may have paid more attention.  Maybe on your next shift?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Where Have All The Colours Gone?

They say that Summer's coming ... though it's still raining here, and it's colder today, so I'm back in my polar fleece.  I thought I'd look on the internet for a new duvet cover to brighten our bedroom, so went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and Amazon, as well as O.co, to see what was out there.

Well, if I wanted to buy new bed linens, the term "brighten" really doesn't come to mind when you see what's available.  As the post header says - where have all the colours gone?  Just a quick glance at a page full of choices, and you can see that white, silver and taupe seem to be what is mostly available.  Yes, there are some more interesting patterns and colors, but they're few and far between.  Just glance at a sample from Bed, Bath and Beyond:

... and Amazon:

Blah!  Now, I'm not criticizing those two stores, as this is basically what I found everywhere else on the Web, but I'm just not a beige or white kind of gal.  Okay, so the walls in my living room are ... well ... beige (Gobi Desert, to be precise!) but that's a long - and very boring - story.

I remember reading somewhere recently that most of the car colours these days are white, silver and black.  Look around, and you'll see the boring colors.  I have a friend who has a silver Honda Civic and it's a real pain to find it in the parking lot, or to keep an eye out for her if she's picking me up.  Thanks goodness my car is red.  And the next one will be too.  I'd love to have one of those apple green Fords, but I'm not sure I want a Fiesta.  My favourite car was a turquoise Renault 5 ... that was easy to spot in a parking lot, at the time.  Moving on.

Back to the bed linens - I'm not sure if sheet sets or comforters are sold in brighter shades and more interesting patterns, because we have a king size duvet, and there isn't quite so much choice out there for duvet covers.  What makes it a little more complicated is that we have a queen size bed and use a king size duvet, so it makes it harder to buy a set.  Not harder, but certainly more expensive, as you have to buy the sheets and duvet cover separately.

Maybe I'll stick with what we have.

There was one interesting spark in this search for linen.  When I went to the Amazon site,  I typed in "duvet cover" in the search box, and this came up:

I guess it was the "cover" part that got caught up in my search because I don't think those are duvets!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


It's a verb, a noun, a ship, a space shuttle, a detective ... a beautiful word.  The synonyms are strive, seek, attempt, undertake, aspire, and aim.  To me, those words are just as important as words like succeed and win.  When you read biographies and stories of scientific or medical discoveries and such, it seems that it is often a case of getting it right that time, rather than getting it wrong ten times before that.  

Captain James Cook's ship was called The Endeavour.  Cook was an explorer, a navigator, cartographer and Captain in the Royal Navy.  In three voyages - the first on HMS Endeavour - he sailed across largely uncharted seas, and mapped lands from New Zealand and Australia to Hawaii, adding islands and coastlines to European maps for the first time.   Originally, in 1766 the Royal Society engaged Cook to travel to the Pacific Ocean to observe and record the transit of Venus across the Sun.  This reading enabled astronomers to find the distance of the Sun from the Earth, which then could be used as a unit of measurement in calculating the parameters of the universe.

The photo above shows the replica that the Australian Government and the Australian National Maritime Museum built of the bark Endeavour - http://www.anmm.gov.au    Add this to your bucket list!

The Space Shuttle Endeavour was named after Captain Cook's ship.  For the first time, an orbiter was named through a national competition involving students in elementary and secondary schools.  They were asked to select a name based upon an exploratory or research sea vessel.  NASA's website tells us that the Space Shuttle Endeavour's adventure began with a flawless liftoff in May 1992, beginning a journey filled with many firsts.  A primary assignment was to capture an orbiting, but not functioning, communications satellite and replace its rocket motor.  Unfortunately the Shuttle wasn't designed to retrieve the satellite, which created many challenges - an unprecedented three-person spacewalk took place.  In all, it was the first time four spacewalks were conducted on a mission and one of them was the longest in space history, lasting more than eight hours.


Endeavour is also the first name of Detective Morse - the TV series that actually makes you have to think about the clues as they're unravelled.  A good story, and set against a background of the beautiful city of Oxford - the City of Dreaming Spires.  Whether it's the new series, set in the 1960s, or the old series which was made in 1987-2000,  I really enjoy everything about it.  The locations, the story, the college background, the famous red jaguar, the interaction between the characters.  I'm also a big fan of the Inspector Lewis series, a spin off from the original Morse.   I get very homesick when I see the characters taking some time out for a pint in a local country pub, often sitting outside on a Summer evening, and just talking about the day  - or in this instance, the case.

I was going to add the story of Ernest Shackleton's voyage to the South Pole, but realized that his ship was called HMS Endurance.  Another great word, but one for another time.



Something we all should be doing.

A favourite word.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Birds ... Update

So, after my musing about how much memory birds have, I put out some bird food.  Just one of those squares of seeds and grains melded together with fat of some kind.  It's been good to see the birds coming back and bouncing around the deck, balancing on the little metal basket, and then  ....

It's a pretty terrible photo as it was taken through the kitchen window, but I think you get the general idea about the kind of birds the food was attracting!  After shooing the "bird" away a couple of times, I moved the curved hook thingy around so that he couldn't sit on the railing and take the food.  He came back and it was so funny to see him try to reach out for the seeds - he balanced carefully on the edge of the top rail, leaning as far as he could, but just couldn't reach.  He hopped down to the flowerpot that I'd put the metal hook into, but he couldn't climb the thin piece of metal.  He tried jumping, then was back to the top rail again but, after much tail flicking and general annoyance, he gave up.

Sorry, Mr S, better luck next time.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's For The Birds

We had some snow here a couple of days ago and I noticed some bird tracks on the deck, outside the kitchen window.  Looking over the deck, I also saw several little birds scratching around in the dead leaves outside.  I used to put out various kinds of food for the birds in Winter and Spring, but haven't done so for ... well, it must be three or four years, now.  That's what surprised me - do the birds remember which gardens have bird feeders?

I know they say that elephants never forget, but maybe birds have long memories too.  I'm sure it's true that the same birds turn up at places along their route where people regularly have bird feeders, but I was surprised to have them turn up here after so long.  As soon as I did put bird food out yesterday, all the little birds (and thankfully not the huge crows) came a peckin'.

No, it's not Spring yet - don't hate us East Coast!  This is the green I'm yearning for right now, as the trees and grass are that dull brown/black of winter.  We don't get a huge variety of birds around here, but occasionally there's a blue jay or red crested woodpecker.  I'm still hoping to see a bald eagle balancing on the little square of bird food that I leave out there.  Could happen - there are some around here, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Here's a fascinating bird fact - there's a german word, Zugunruhe, which describes the restlessness found in birds before the migration south.  This is from a 2006 story in the New York Times -

Barbara Helm of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Andechs, Germany, and the late Eberhard Gwinner in PLoS Biology,  studied African stonechats. Stonechats are in the thrush family, and many breed in Europe and fly south in winter. The birds that the researchers studied were residents in Africa, and were thought not to have a genetic predisposition to migrate. What the researchers were looking for was evidence of zugunruhe in the resident stonechats, which they raised in the lab at the Max Planck Institute, under a variety of circumstances.
The scientists did not expect to find it in the resident birds. But they did. The stay-at-home stonechats exhibited the same sort of nocturnal restlessness as their migrating relatives. The conclusion: some level of zugunruhe may be common even in birds that don't migrate.

I believe there have also been experiments involving putting ink on the feet of birds in a cage and putting paper at the bottom of the cage.  In the morning, it seems to show that the birds spend a lot of the night in the southern quadrant of the cage, feeling - I presume - a little bit Zugunruhe.    

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Green Eggs and Freckles

A few day's ago, my husband was doing some work for a woman who had some land outside Poulsbo, and she kept - among other things - chickens.  Very free-range chickens.  She gave him a half dozen eggs and I've only just gotten around to using them.  Opening the cardboard container, I saw that we had four brown and two green eggs.  The green ones were beautiful, a very pale, almost translucent mint green.  I hadn't actually seen one before but, hey, I'm pretty much a city girl ... I've seen other coloured eggs in magazines but never the real thing.  It seemed a shame to use it.

(Dang, that pine branch would have looked so effective if I could figure out how to get rid of the bottom shadow on the uploaded image.)

I remembered that I'd taken a photo of some spectacularly freckled eggs way back in the Summer.  I don't know anything about what comes out of the south end of a north bound chicken - do different coloured eggs come from different breeds of chickens?  Does it depend on what they eat?  The weather?  I have no idea.

Another thought - I seem to be getting a "thing" for egg photos.  How many of something do you have to have to be technically called a collection, or an accumulation or an amassment?  A digest? (burp) ( 'scuse me)  Why yes, I did just check the Thesaurus.  Do three items count as a kit or a caboodle?  While I ponder this question, here's egg photo number three...

This one I love!  It was in the window of the butcher's shop in Frinton-on-Sea in the UK, where my Mum lives.  Now, every time I see the phrase "Free Range" I always, mentally, finish with "from Happy Chickens".  Makes me smile every time.

And just to end on an eye-rolling note, here's a golden oldie from the 1970s ...

Why did the punk rocker cross the road?
Because he was stapled to the chicken!

Thank you, and good night.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Love the Sunshine ... I Hate the Sunshine ...

We're having my favourite winter weather - brilliant blue skies and cold temperatures.  I much prefer this to the grey, drizzly days we're known for in the Pacific North West.

There's just one trouble with all that sunshine.  It shows up all the dust and smeared windows in the house.  I'm not the best at housekeeping - my theory is that if it's tidy, it looks clean.  I'm not sure how guests view that theory but it works for me!  Don't get me wrong, our house is clean, just not really clean, if you know what I mean.  I keep saying that we need to have overnight guests about once every three months, just so the house gets the full and proper cleaning it deserves.

Ahhh, the sun.  Sunshine, sunrise, sunsets, sunburn ... good memories and bad!  That darn sunshine is showing up the fact that I apparently can't wash windows very well (nice smears on the front windows, right by the front door), and of course it's letting me know that it's been a while since I dug out the dusters and vacuum cleaner. Yes, I DO know where they are.

Now I can't wait for Spring and the bright green leaves to appear on the trees.  While the rest of the country is having horrendous weather, here on the west coat we're having a very mild winter, with slightly above average temperatures, and not enough rain.  I don't think the ski business is very happy with the lack of snow - it looks spectacular on the Olympic and Cascade mountains, but apparently there's not enough to really enjoy it.

What I don't think people here realize is that the weather moves further on from the East Coast and is hitting Ireland and the United Kingdom with high winds and torrential rain.  Seaside towns are being battered, rail lines buckled by landslides, and the fields across the country are under water.  There are towns in Somerset that are actually cut off from the rest of the world by flooding.  These photos from the UK's online Daily Mail newspaper give you an idea of what's happening - and has happened over the past few weeks.  Yikes.

Photo Courtesy Tony Carney/Apex/Daily Mail

Photo Courtesy Apex/Daily Mail

I'm not sure how we got from sunshine to cleaning to flooding, but I know there's a tenuous link there somewhere!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's a Wonderful World ...

As a famous American once said (I think it was MacGyver) "A good map will always get you where you want to go."

Photo courtesy UrtheCast

I love maps.  It doesn't matter if they are 400 year old representations of the known world, or the satellite images from the internet mapping sites.  Man-made borders change, natural disasters leave their mark, but you still rarely get the chance to see the beauty of the earth.  I've always loved seeing the world from an airplane and have been lucky enough to fly over some incredible sights - the Hudson Bay when the ice was just starting to break up, glaciers and icy coastlines in Greenland, the Sydney Opera House, the Grand Canyon - all from a height that shows you the detail of silt running from the mouths of rivers into the ocean, of reefs and islands, cities and farmland.  The circular fields, seen from above, certainly take you by surprise.

I could go on, but this post is about a new way to see the world.  In the news this week were details about a spacewalk by two Russian cosmonauts who placed (or should I say replaced) cameras on the International Space Station that will be permanently pointed below, and there will be a live feed on the website www.urthecast.com.

This is the story from www.businessweek.com -

Scott Larson just survived a particularly stressful month during which the equipment he sent to the International Space Station sat in limbo.  His startup, the Canada-based UrtheCast, created special still and video cameras able to withstand space radiation and extreme temperatures in order to record earth from space in high resolution.  The cameras arrived at the space station last fall, and after an eight-hour spacewalk on Dec 27, they were installed.  Only they didn't appear to work right, Larson says.

Photo courtesy UrtheCast

So the cameras were taken down.  A station-related issue was fixed over several days, and the equipment was finally mounted during a six-hour spacewalk on Tuesday.  "There have been a lot of tense moments" says Larson, whose company raised $68 million for the project.  "It's space, and stuff happens in space, and you never quite know.  There are always technical issues in any kind of engineering project.  But because there are people out there, they can fix them.  That's been a huge asset."

From here on, UrtheCast hopes for smooth travels as the space station orbits the earth 16 times every day.  The nearly 70-employee company will spend several weeks calibrating the cameras, which will send their first image back to earth in February.  "We hope it's spectacular, we don't know what it's going to be," Larson says.

Once initial tests are wrapped up, UrtheCast expects to start selling space imagery to clients in farming, urban planning, media, and other industries at the end of the second quarter.  The company has already signed distribution agreements for $21 million annually, according to Larson, and will also begin streaming images onto the Web in the third quarter - in effect challenging Google Earth with a free video-imaging service.

A 4.5 foot long camera will record 90-second videos 150 times a day as the station circles the planet, Larson says, while a second camera will continuously snap still photos.  Together, the stills will cover a 47.3 kilometer wide swatch of the planet and generate 2.5 terabytes of data a day, the equivalent of about 270 full length movies.  UrtheCast's engineers will condense and post the visuals to the company's website within a few hours.

"I think everyone in the world will want to come to the website at least once," Larson says.


I'll certainly be one of the "everyone in the world ..." who regularly visits the website.  I can't wait.
I wish UrtheCast.com all the good luck in ... well ... the world, with their new venture, and I hope it's a very successful business both for them, the farmers and urban planners, and just plain Joe (or Jo) Public who will get the chance to see the beauty around them.

Note:  I wish I knew where the top photo was taken as it's an amazing image from the website.  It's a coastline that probably looks completely different when you're on the ground.