Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Not in any dreambook

Nobody wants to hear about the dreams of others, but I want to remember this one for myself. Last night, I dreamed that in my hand was one of those pocket-sized rigger's handbooks. Was that because of our visit to the escombros of the derrumbado Intel building? Maybe I should expect tonight the dreams will be of diagramming block-and-tackle set-ups and pounds of force. At least I never dream that I'm being chased.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Demesne doings

Today there's a haze or suggestion of color along the branches; tomorrow there will be open flowers on the ornamental pear tree and on at least one redbud. New nasturtiums had germinated overnight. They'll begihn to replace the ones frozen earlier, both in pots and in the ground. Nearly all the blue hyacinths have made an appearance and now the pinks ones are opening, the lighter ones, not the more intense pinks. We have one St. Brigid anemone, those great red ones with a white circle. There are more blue and some fuchsia anemones de Caen. This morning the first allium was open. Late these afternoons there are still sulphur butterflies in various sizes and in several degrees of color-intensity. We've been seeing lots of gulf fritillaries again, but no larvae yet.As we've done for over a year, we keep plant coasters of various sizes filled with fresh water. They were used all winter long as a source of drinking-water by various birds and creatures with four legs (good perching and scrambling places right there for those who might be prey) and these last couple of days they've been bathed and spalashed in a lot. With warm weather like this, our flowers won't last very long outdoors and it's a shame to cut them and bring them in when they look so pretty scattered all over the dormant lawns.

Monday, February 26, 2007

FTP panic

I always go out to DOS and the C-prompt to upload files and do directory work. Nothing was happening. The server connection was closing with the report that nothing had been transferred. I even tried using the browser to upload, with the same result. What had changed? Finally, I thought of the anti-virus update that included a completely changed and much more confusing interface. Could that be the problem? A changed firewall setting? It was. Somewhere nested down in the stupid menus there's a way to briefly turn off the firewall. I'm going to try to find if there's something that permits certain sorts of access through certain ports. If I don't, it appears that I'm going to have to memorize how to get to the deep menu item that allows temporary turn-off of the firewall. Why would the anti-virus program mess with my FTP? What an annoyance! Who has time for this stuff?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Handbasket department

The wire coathanger was invented here in the US of A, building on a process that manufactured improved bailing wire. It must all be in the twist. The inventor went on to manufacture fly-swatters and toasting forks as well. The most recent issue of Fortune (March 7) talks of one of the last remaining manufacturers of hangers and the fact that all the equipment on the floor will be shipped to China. The illustration of the plant is very beautiful, with belts and pulleys. There's a photo of a stack of just-made "caped" hangers, the ones with the paper wrapping that used to be often imprinted with name of the dry-cleaning business. The on-line version does show these photographs of the Laidlaw plant, although in greatly reduced form. Our cleaner gladly accepts returned hangers, so we never have a bad accumulation. Hangers can be recycled and are themselves made from recycled steel, mostly from used appliances.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Quality from a surprising source

How long has it been since Kmart was around here? I just looked at the label in one of my favorite non-Bean tee-shirts and found that it was by Route 66 and that Route 66 is a Kmart house brand. The short sleeves are not too short, the neck has never stretched, and, despite being worn in the sun and washed hundreds of times, it shows no wear and has never faded but is still black. An on-line search linked the brand with Kmart but unfortunately crew-neck shirts are not shown.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ex libris

All the books that had Antioch bookplates are gone; the only books with bookplates now are books that once belonged to others and a few with the tie-rod star end-ornament from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Antioch Bookplate business is now Bookplate Ink and still offers many of the same designs, along with custom printing, and now all are self-adhesive. I enjoyed the article in today's WSJ, especially the passing mention of Signature Books, which were almost always much better than the Landmark and World Landmark ones. Most Signature Books had more text and less whitespace. I still think that the black-and-white bookplates are better than the colored ones. It would cost a pretty penny to put one in every book in the database and the records aren't even current.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What belongs in this series?

Who now alive remembers the fuss over Sputnik or has heard the recording called Telstar? We were laughing about plant-variety names from the Jet Age and the Space Age. We haven't seen any flowers from Jetfire yet, although it does return faithfully every year and has done so now for a couple of decades. I think that, back when we used to grow more than cherry tomatoes, some of the tomato varieties also had skyward-looking, modern-age names. Were two of them Jet Star and Supersonic? We have some April Tears or Hawera blooming now. We hope to see Baby Moon, Minnow, and Jack Snipe one of these times. Our very first poet's narcissus opened today, along with a second blue anemone. Late this afternoon there were gulf fritillaries to be seen. The eastside robins were not calling, perhaps because they were so busy scuffling for food.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Open to delight

Our favorite violas, purple top and yellow bottom, with a good face, are opening now. These are in pots that neighbored the original pot last season, so they must come from seed. English peas are still heavy with big white flowers, not bothered at all by any of the cold. There are more blue hyacinths this morning, and more pink ones. There are a couple of Ice Follies, but more Carlton flowers. We always forget about these, even though they return faithfully and even do a bit of multiplying. They were never bought individually, but came as part of a mix long ago, probably from Park but maybe from White Flower Farm. We still have Montopolis ("seven sisters") from Bastrop going crazy, along with Grand Primo and Avalanche. The flowers of the pink cyclamen in pots outdoors have not liked the cold-weather nights, but the leaves didn't mind it at all and are just as pretty as the flowers, which are beginning to return. Thunbergia went during the second period of cold, but it will probably spring up again from seed. Geraniums in pots did well under sheets and towels; though some flowers were damaged, more are on the way. This morning for the first time we spotted leaves up from the old Dutch tulips.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Seven couplets

Oliver Reynolds is a poet who has caught my attention for the first time. I was catching up on newly unearthed back issues of LRB and TLS and found in one of them a work entitled "This Poem has Won No Prizes." I especially enjoyed the third couplet:
This poem may contain traces of nuts.
It will not save your life.
Another favorite is:
Please leave this poem
as you would wish to find it.
This one's in the October 13 TLS. Now, I'll watch especially for his work, just as I do for that of Alice Fulton.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tardy flowers

The Ice Follies daffodils, usually open and ready to be stolen on Valentine's Day, are still not open. There are more and more buds, but not one open flower to be seen. The first anemones are one wild blue anemone blanda and one blue anemone de Caen. There've still been no more hyacinths after that very early blue one, but there are buds galore. It looks as though pink ones will be seen next. We did see a fruit tree in bloom on the east side yesterday.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


The marathon probably had a detrimental effect on all the places that we customarily visit on our weekend rounds. We kept it all south of the river and east of IH-35. We almost did not go to see Eklavya but are very glad indeed that we did go. To judge from the previews, there are plenty of tempting Hindi movies on the way. The marathon-related amplified noise stopped fairly soon. It would have been a courtesy to let everybody know about the fireworks. How many people were rudely awakened by them on what's customarily the only reasonably quiet and peaceful day of the week? How many pets jumped the fence?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Whirlwind of waxwings

They're in a flock, a wild fluttering cloud. They don't seem ever to be still in the aggregate. But they are, briefly, as they gobble down the berries from the waxleaf ligustrum. A few birds observe calmly from a nearby wire or limb as the cloud sweeps back and forth. Whoever they are--older? wiser? weaker?--they are the ones who swoop down at last to consume those berries that dropped to the ground from amidst the frenzy up above. Cedar waxwings have been seen and heard in the skies for the past couple of weeks, but this is the first time I've seen any up close this season. They are handsome on an overcast day and they are just as handsome on a sunny day like this one.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Worth the subscription

Metropolis (February) has an essay by Andres Duany about housing in New Orleans that applies in great part to housing in Austin, I think, and so do others who've had a look at it. Fortunately, this complete piece is available on line; a relevant portion follows.

The lost housing of New Orleans is quite special. Entering the damaged and abandoned houses, you can still see what they were like before the hurricane. They were exceedingly inexpensive to live in, built by people’s parents and grandparents or by small builders paid in cash or by barter. Most of these simple, pleasant houses were paid off. They had to be because they do not meet any sort of code and are therefore not mortgageable by current standards.

It was possible to sustain the unique culture of New Orleans because housing costs were minimal, liberating people from debt. One did not have to work a great deal to get by. There was the possibility of leisure. There was time to create the fabulously complex Creole dishes that simmer forever; there was time to practice music, to play it live rather than from recordings, and to listen to it. There was time to make costumes and to parade; there was time to party and to tell stories; there was time to spend all day marking the passing of friends. One way to leisure time is to have a low financial carry. With a little work, a little help from the government, and a little help from family and friends, life could be good! This is a typically Caribbean social contract: not one to be understood as laziness or poverty—but as a way of life.

This ease, which has been so misunderstood in the national scrutiny following the hurricane, is the Caribbean way. It is a lifestyle choice, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. In fact, it is the envy of some of us who work all our lives to attain the condition of leisure only after retirement. It is this way of living that will disappear. Even with the federal funds for housing, there is little chance that new or renovated houses will be owned without debt. It is too expensive to build now. The higher standards of the new International Building Code are superb but also very expensive. There must be an alternative or there will be very few “paid-off” houses. Everyone will have a mortgage that will need to be sustained by hard work—and this will undermine the culture of New Orleans.

What can be done? Somehow the building culture that created the original New Orleans must be reinstated. The hurdle of drawings, permitting, contractors, inspections—the professionalism of it all—eliminates self-building. Somehow there must be a process whereupon people can build simple, functional houses for themselves, either by themselves or by barter with professionals. There must be free house designs that can be built in small stages and that do not require an architect, complicated permits, or inspections; there must be common-sense technical standards. Without this there will be the pall of debt for everyone. And debt in the Caribbean doesn’t mean just owing money—it is the elimination of the culture that arises from leisure.

To start I would recommend an experimental “opt-out zone”: areas where one “contracts out” of the current American system, which consists of the nanny state raising standards to the point where it is so costly and complicated to build that only the state can provide affordable housing—solving a problem that it created in the first place.

However it may sound, this proposal is not so odd. Until recently this was the way that built America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. For three centuries Americans built for themselves. They built well enough, so long as it was theirs. Individual responsibility could be trusted. We must return to this as an option. Of course, this is not for everybody. There are plenty of people in New Orleans who follow the conventional American eight-hour workday. But the culture of this city does not flow from them; they may provide the backbone of New Orleans but not its heart.
This is an issue of affordable housing. So often, when a householder attempts to bring one part of a dwelling up to code, the building code is invoked in every aspect, requiring updating of everything at once if lawful occupancy is to be maintained. Many parts of Austin were built when there were no such code. Duany's remarks about housing staying within a family and not passing by mortgage-financed purchase also apply to large parts of Austin, particularly east of IH-35. Duany doesn't mention the problem of clouded title when properties pass informally in such a manner, but he does discuss so-called "mortgageability." His remarks on the importance of minimal housing costs as a factor freeing people to engage in creating various kinds of art rather than becoming wage-slaves also seem to apply. When Austin was considered to have perhaps the lowest cost of living in the nation, it was in large part true because rental (and other) housing was so cheap. Austin music, theater, and visual arts flourished when that was the case.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Goldfish and coins

These are my favorite motifs for lunar new year's cards, followed closely by peaches. My little problem with accumulating wrapping paper and stationery including notepaper and greeting cards has kept me from buying new ones, but there's still a good stock here. I'm trying not to hoard my favorites forever so I'm using goldfish first this year.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nobody's valentine

For the first time in a long time there were no Ice Follies open or even very close to open available for somebody to take to his or her Valentine. We have fat buds in the front, back, and side yards, but not a one is open for the taking. Little Avalanche and Grand Primo do not tempt the larcenous passer-by.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When good mailing lists go bad

How did these reach our mailbox? One is for, for employment paying $100K and up. The "free" page that asks for registration has, as its sole FAQ, "what if I make less than $75K?" and there are other unintentionally comical features of this site, including The Seven Deadly Sins of Interviewing, to which visitors are encouraged to contribute. I don't feel sorry about this mailing, but I do about the one selling a full line of clamping tools, exerting pressure ranging from 20 to a thousand pounds. It directs me to the clampfinder page, which is, in fact, very interesting. I want to relearn the very basic carpentry I knew as a kid and then go beyond it to the cabinet-making and joinery that I merely observed. I dislike the smell of metal (and anyone who says it doesn't smell doesn't have a good smeller, because the different ones do, and distinguish themselves from one another in that way among others) but I love the smell of wood, which also varies in scent as it does in appearance. I think that compilers of mailing lists become confused by the odd assortment of periodicals received by subscription.

Monday, February 12, 2007


I don't know what the song is; I heard just this bit, by Charley Pride: "If heaven were to hear my heart's confession, loving you would be my only sin." This isn't one I ever heard before, or at least not that I remember. So many Charley Pride records were "borrowed" and never came back, so long ago, that it's possible that it was on an album less often played than, say, Charley Pride in Person, recorded at Panther Hall in Forth Worth. I love all versions of Six Days on the Road, including one recorded by Taj Mahal, but the one on this album may be the favorite. There are still occasions where the proper remark is, "It's good to be back here at Panther Hall. I'm like a buckin' horse right out of the stall." The song first quoted turns out to be "(I'm So) Afraid of Losing You Again"), credited to Dallas Frazier - Arthur Leo Owens. Sometimes I think that the main reason we listen to KVET on Saturday mornings if we think of it is the hope of hearing CP sing Crystal Chandeliers or any one of a number of others by him. Waylon Jennings singing Wurlitzer Prize or Lookin' for a Feeling is up there as well. Radio makes them real.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


When M. was visiting, he reminded us of the three days in a row when the thermometer stood at fifty below zero outdoors, so that indoors it felt warm enough to take off the outer garb and be frisking around in the under-layers, probably a wool shirt or two. Indoors was at about zero. That felt toasty, at least at first!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blue yarden

Up from nowhere since yesterday, we have some blue in hyacinth form on the oak motte. They flower stalks are good and full. Only the squirrel-planted narcissi from Bastrop are blooming yet and they are in full flower between the English pea blossoms and the scarlet geraniums; those in Mack's flower bed are about to open. Soon there will be Avalanche and Grand Primo out front. Others to open soon will be Ice Follies dotted around the lawn in a crescent between the fig tree and the gate to Mack's yard.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Only some envelopes

These are the last remaining vestiges of my old favorite Eaton Calais Ripple stationery that used to be sold everywhere as open stock in several colors, including pure white, an off-white, and a blue; and there may have been other colors. These envelopes surface every year because they're kept in a box of cheap valentines that were bought without envelopes. This paper was light in weight, with a beautiful texture and had a small-dimension diagonal laid pattern on it. The edges were deckled. This was wonderful paper for using with a fountain pen. The handsome Eaton laid paper is still sold as resume paper, with envelopes, but only but as 8.5 x 11 inches. Calais Ripple surfaces only as an occasional vintage item on eBay.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Begging to differ

In the current NYRB (February 15) is a review by Janet Malcolm of Allen Shawn's book. I've so far read no further than the very first paragraph, in which this statement is to be found: "Those who have been lied to are especially prone to compulsive truth-telling." I couldn't disagree more. Those who have not been lied to are the most trusting and therefore more candid in general and open about their opinions and aspects of their lives; those who have been lied to or otherwise deceived tend to be wary and reserved.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Strange visitor from another planet

Thank you, Austin public library, for the Superman shows. We started with the first series, in black and white. Of course, we didn't finish before the return date came and we haven't seen it on the shelf again, but those half-hour shows make wonderful viewing for tired people. Subsequently we found seasons three and four, in very cheesy color, new to us. We didn't get very far with these, either, but we certainly hope to find them again. Sterling Holloway is a recurring character, as an eccentric tinkerer or scientist, a sort of Gyro Gearloose. The Superman scripts vary wildly as to topic and treatment. There's an episode guide here (but beware of pop-ups).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Coyote fence

I think about this style of fencing whenever I see the Austin example on I forget which street, very tall and made from local "cedar." The March issue of New Mexico magazine has a good little piece, one that illustrates fairly well how the lashing is done. This blog, Unofficial Taos, shows some pictures. There are handsome fences in Austin that use bamboo stalks as the latillas. Some have lasted for a very long time now. A Google image search brought up a few. I like ocotillo fencing, too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A send-off to remember

What could be greater than having Marcia Ball play you out? And with Great Balls of Fire? It was quite a shock to see that some notices displayed maps locating First Methodist and Scholz's, two places within walking distance of the Capitol. That says a lot about the Austin of today. Goodness, gracious!

Sunday, February 04, 2007


This is a rundown on recent most popular pages or search terms bringing people here: boys in dresses, boys still in dresses, nineteenth-century family, Pine Brothers cough drops, Throat Discs, bullfrog on the bank, Breton chocolate pound cake, blues mandolin, Eddie Cantor and You'd be Surprised, Aunt Charlotte Bible stories, the Studebakers, keemo kimo, Bruce's pies, and the Pershing expedition. Every week the most popular searches are different. "At your earliest convenience" is usually up there. I think people studying business English as a second language are looking for that. And it seems that there are plenty of people who'd love to find a reissue of the King Cole Trio with Nat Cole singing Keemo Kimo. I'd buy one if I could find it. It's right up there in early songs with "Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, every single day" and "Ice skating is nice skating but here's some advice about ice skating; never go where the ice is thin, 'cause if you do you will fall right in." The first verse and perhaps even the title of the first song quoted was Take a Bath, and the first verse probably "Take a bath, take a bath, every single day; keep your body healthy, at home, at school, at play."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

To be missed

Albertsons was not where we bought certain items, but it was important for some things: light-bulb selection, stationery selection, Wiffle balls, a certain kind of broiler pan, a great deal on real maple syrup, certain house-brand sundries, a brand of canned tomato juice better than Campbell's, housewares, sewing notions, party supplies, somebody in produce who cared about zucchini, an important ingredient in our house blend of coffee beans, items of the sort long squeezed from the H-E-B shelves for those who bake, and various other items not stocked by its rivals. The employees have always been helpful and pleasant. We'll keep shopping there for those things so long as they're on the shelves and the store's open. But there are quests to begin.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Exercise in futility

I skipped the dining-out portion of the evening's entertainment so that I could ferry some plants in and also cover up others left outdoors. I know it's probably not going to be all that bad, but it would be a shame if their predictions were to be more accurate than mine. Anyhow that's why I don't smell of garlic from (probably) the lentil soup at the Eastside Cafe.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why these soaps?

This is week three of annoyance with Ahora Si! and I'm even thinking of writing a letter or making a call. The first week I could find no telenovela summaries. Last week there were just four and they're not the most popular ones. This week is the same. Where are Mundo de Fieras and La Fea Mas Bella? Since editorship changed, I've been liking the new interview feature, but that, also, has changed for the worse. The people photographed and interviewed are no longer identified by their occupation, only place of origin and age. (Mundo de Fieras is waiting in the wings until La Fea finishes; the rule is one telenovela at a time.)