Thursday, May 31, 2007

Displacement activity

The bigger the project being postponed, the more work of other sorts is accomplished, and efficiently, too. I can't even decide what writing implement and what color ink to use for the documents sitting around waiting, waiting, waiting for attention.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Just as each H-E-B differs from all the others, so does each branch of the Austin Public Library system. The library branches stock differing proportions of various kinds of books. Some are more literary than others. The Howson branch is for readers. Others seem to be Internet cafes more than libraries. At Cepeda and Terrazas, there are always people studying, working in pairs from textbooks. Some branches welcome magazine exchanges; some have no magazine exchanges; some try to regulate them (and those are the ones where one suspects that the employees cull the best for themselves). At some branches the clerks try to make you turn in your old library card that is temperamental about being scanned; at others, the clerks cheerfully enter the card number manually without remarking on it. Some branches are full of children. We visit every branch in the course of a year. These days, one of our quests is for movies from the Mexican golden age. I like the rural ones; K. enjoys the urban ones more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On rare occasions only

When one is forced as a child to ingest too much of these too often, seldom does one ingest them as an adult and more seldom yet does one cook them: turnips, parsnips, and yams. Beets are great, though, even though youthful over-consumption of those was rampant. Although baby beets attached to the young greens, a true spring treat, are hardly ever to be found, the most tasty locally grown beets are available throughout most winters from the South Austin Farmers' Market in the El Gallo parking lot on Saturdays. No matter how large, they are never woody and are always flavorful and sweet in a deliciously complex way. These are the best beets to be found anywhere in the world!

Monday, May 28, 2007


In a New Yorker article about Richard Branson (May 15), it's reported that the average American home has 45 (incandescent?) light bulbs. Here's a tally for us: living room, 11 (5 in original ceiling fixture, 1 a reflector); dining room, 4 (3 in original ceiling fixture, one halogen); pantry, 1 (bare, in original fixture); fan room, 8 (1 bare in Zelco Eddie lamp, 5 in twisty-armed pole lamp, 1 halogen, 1 in ceiling fan); fan-room closet, 1 (bare, in original fixture); kitchen, 2 (1 is a compact flourescent and it's dim and unlikeable, but we hope it lasts a long time, because it's tough to get up that high); sleeping porch, 1 (original ceiling fixture); pink study, 2 (in original ceiling fixture); interior hallway, 1 (in original ceiling fixture); bathroom, 2 (1 tube flourescent, 1 globe); boys' room, 2 (in original ceiling fixture); stair-hall, 1 (bare, in original ceiling fixture); upstairs, 3 (1 in ceiling fan, 1 halogen, 1 bare and in original wall fixture); side porch, 1 (a globe); and, finally, in outdoor fixtures, 4, very seldom used. This should have been done in columnar form, but I make the total out to be 44 (or, if halogen and flourescents are subtracted, there are fewer). Every time I try this tally, the result is different, but this household seems to be about average. The house is more windows than walls. So long as there's daylight, one room or another is excellent for reading. I very much dislike flourescent light and my workspaces, when indoors, have always enjoyed natural light (and nearly always real windows that admit fresh air). I'm one of those conscious of the spectrum, the on-and-off flickering, the noise, and whatever it is that makes flourescent lighting tough on the eyes. Rather than use them, should incandescent bulbs ever be outlawed, I'd gladly return to the friendly yellow light emitted by lamps using kerosene.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fresh from the yarden

Today was our first harvest of heirloom yellow crookneck squash. This, with its showy giant flowers, has been an ornamental feature among the various other flowers in Mack's yard, and now it comes to the table for the first time this season. Tasty! We have hopes for much more, but we don't know which creatures are eyeing it. This is one of the things that we just plant among the flowers atop the ancient St. Augustine lawn in Mack's yard. The grass isn't dug up; just some soil and compost are dropped onto the lawn and then the seeds are pressed in. When the flowers and vegetables are done and the leaves of the flowers (including bulbs) are no longer carrying out photosynthesis, we just remove the brown and spent vegetal material and the grass grows through the dirt and compost. We do this in curving drifts, from the edges of the yard. Lettuce and English peas are done, so this squash represents the third crop from Mack's yard. There may or may not eventually be cucumbers, and we enjoy chiles of various sorts all the year 'round, from plants in pots.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Flying in formation

The first two hummingbirds sighted this season went zooming right by my ear, one in hot pursuit of the other. All I can report and no more is that they were darker green on top, lighter green beneath.

Friday, May 25, 2007


The current Fortune carries an article about the business aspects of Marvel superheroes and the movies. Thor is ridiculed and Daredevil isn't even mentioned. And who really cares about the Silver Surfer? Or Captain America? At least Steve Ditko was not overlooked. I'll be returning to Marvel universe.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Yellow butterflies and the tomb of the unknown

Whether the search term includes Memorial Day or Decoration Day or unknown soldier accompanying yellow butterflies or merely yellow butterflies by itself, it's at this time of year that some combination of these terms brings people to my site. Here are links to yellow butterflies one, yellow butterflies two, and yellow butterflies three. I always think of this story along about now, too, and I can still hear the voice of the radio announcer who used to read it (or perhaps recite it from memory; it seems to have been a long declamation piece). It always sounded as though he made it to the end of the story with great difficulty. It certainly does stick in the memory. This text is available for download in several formats, courtesy of the Internet Archive (Yellow Butterflies, by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One-person band

At the new FiestaMart south today, I had an interesting conversation with Ramon Torres (who, by the way, along with an extensive, eclectic repertory, has an excellent voice and phrases beautifully). He's in the process of switching from a PC to a Mac. I forget what software he's been using, but he said he's moving to Cubase. I didn't get a chance to ask him more about his arrangements and other stuff because he was drawing quite a little crowd, but I would've liked to.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Roger Angell's book mentions ads for Ipana and for Sal Hepatica, but seems vague about what Sal Hepatica may have been intended to do. The name means "liver salt," more or less; and it was the foundation of success for Bristol-Myers, apparently. Brioschi was a rival in a blue glass jar. Its granules looked a lot like starch curds. Some version of this is still on the market; I'm not sure about Sal Hepatica. In our house we had neither. If ginger cookies or baking soda or Milk of Magnesia couldn't take care of it, the person suffered until the episode was over.

Monday, May 21, 2007

It had pictures

American Heritage magazine is ending its run. We didn't have all that much in the house that was illustrated (steel engravings in Aunt Charlotte's Bible stories and in Aesop's Fables and, for some reason, a Salome with Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations were some of the few), but those issues had wonderful picture researchers. Every article was accompanied by wonderful things to see. We read American Heritage from the beginning. It was always acquired at the bookstore; we never had a subscription. It was always a suitable present for REH. The contents of what may be the last issue are on line. The on-line archives appear to be text only (here are some I looked up: Chang and Eng, Angelus Temple, Cardiff Giant) and the illustrations are what often remain memorable. I recently read a review of two books about Aimee Semple McPherson, and I could immediately visualize the appearance of the Angelus Temple, and I think it was because of a photograph seen in AH long ago. AH had hard covers, with a color print glued on the front.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shalako was bitter cold

At the Snake Dance it was hot and dusty. I still remember everything. I was reminded of both, reading about Roger Angell's visits to the Southwest when he was young. This book has good sections for reading aloud and has sparked a lot of lively conversation. I read Will James, too, when I was a kid.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Close call

Since my second home desktop computer died, I've been using an obsolescent hand-me-down laptop (or, as the vendors like to say these days, "notebook"). I hate laptops because they're so ergonomically bad. I don't rely much on a mouse, but I use a real one, sometimes in a stationary way (to scroll, and then use the touchpad for moving the cursor and for clicking by tapping). I've seen people with some sort of rack for holding the screen at a better height, but I haven't troubled myself to find one. I use a real keyboard and it's at a proper height for prevention of repetitive stress injuries. Although I dislike this laptop, I don't want it to fail, either, so great was my dismay to find this morning that it wouldn't boot up. A little troubleshooting led me to believe that it had stopped drawing power, had then gone to battery without my noticing, and had run the battery down. The problem was traced to the brick (power adapter). When I looked into what a new one would cost, I found that, because of the age of the outfit, probably only a reconditioned item would be available, and not at a good price. I'd already tried the unplugging everything and then reconnecting, with no signs of life. Finally, I put the power cord into a different receptacle in the surge supressor. There was life! I'd been already to take everything to PC Guru, thinking that the people there are more likely to have good access to parts, even reconditioned ones. Had I done that, though, they would have found nothing wrong at all. For over a month, people have been experiencing flickerings, outages of a minute or more, brownouts, and other electrical phenomena. Most are more aware than we are, because we have nothing that needs any sort of resetting if it goes out. We did once have a video recorder for time-shifting our telenovela; during one of these outages, however, something was fried so that the setting for antenna (not cable) won't hold, and we no longer are able to record anything but static, because the setting reverts to the default cable (and we don't have cable service). Maybe there was a damaging surge during one of these episodes. Some blame these events on all the digging and demolition and construction; others think it's something that the electric utility itself is doing. At any rate, I'm thankful that all is more or less well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"That ain't hay"

That, along with "hunky dory," was all that was needed to find the ubiquitous play money of days gone by. We always acquire play money when we see it in stores, usually amidst the birthday candles and party favors. Monopoly money stayed with the game; it was the old, small, narrow currency of the original edition, not the later, larger stuff. Another search term that could be used along with the above would be "great seal." Whitman play money had an eagle on it and may have cost more than "that ain't hay."

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Providing brightness are many poppies, a few stalks of Drummond phlox, what are probably the last anemones, geraniums in pots, and our very first Turk's cap (another of Drummond's discoveries).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Even the cricket scenes

The big screen would have been much, much better, but, even so, Lagaan had to be watched in its entirety. Thank you, Austin Public Library. Of course, we recognized Aamir Khan from Fanaa.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Work pants

The preferred work clothes were Sweet-Orr, no longer made. They had to be starched (Linit) and ironed. That was for summer. Greenies were for winter and were so heavy that it took really strong suspenders to bear their weight. Greenies are still made, by the Johnson Woolen Mills in Vermont. The company's 158 years old, and the trousers have been made for over a century. Long-johns and hunting socks are two other proper accompaniments. Roger Angell mentions Sweet-Orr in recent book (Let Me Finish).

Monday, May 14, 2007

New gutter tool

Because I went up on the roof by myself, I didn't try to use the plumber's auger, which works better with two people taking turns, because it's so heavy and tiring to use. The cook's tongs didn't pick enough out of the bend in the elbow of the downspout. Then I was inspired. I tried something labeled "hair catching & sink overflow cleaning brush." It's thin and flexible and has been useful around the house in a number of ways. Three attempts and the horrible clog was dislodged and all the mosquito-breeding water was gone. This is a product that bears a made in U.S.A. label. It's manufactured in Plattsburgh, New York, by Brushtech. All Brushtech products appear to be similar and merely cut in different lengths, paired with various handles, and labeled for a variety of purposes. I'd like to have one of those that's 31 inches long and has a spiral wire at the end so that in action it can work even more like an auger. This handy brush came from Home Trends, a long-time favorite.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Blossoms and wings

The bush beans have burst forth between sunset and sunrise. We also find that verbascum has shot up a stalk of flowers. There's only one anemone left, but poppies of many kinds are still coming, as are delphiniums, bachelor buttons, nasturtiums of all colors, black-eyed Susans, sweet peas, firewheels, yellow squash, and corn tassels. There are clouds of butterflies of all sorts and sizes, drawn particularly to lantana. Passion vine is covered with larvae of the gulf fritillary.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Folklore and mythology

We're told that the person who originally surveyed and platted large portions of a certain part of town believed that he was not paid in the manner and to the extent promised by the developer so that perhaps the work was not as meticulous as it might have been or at least was completed in haste. We're also told that, the farther along one goes in a certain direction, the more discrepancies are to be found. Nevertheless, settled law is that older surveys are better evidence than newer ones. So we're told.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Beauties of all kinds have appeared: pipevine, black, tiger (giant yellow with black bars), and the dark brown ones swallowtails with yellow markings. Vandals are moving in and destroying some of the ponds and water features around here, but an old one has been restored and now we're seeing dragonflies of all sorts again.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

White with crimson centers and pink with crimson centers

Roses of Sharon are beginning to have buds. Two kinds have opened so far.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The problem

Whenever I open a can of mixed nuts I think about algebra mixture problems and wonder what were the commodity prices of various types of nuts when the package was filled. Will there be any pecans to speak of? How much were almonds at the time? And then there are problems of time, rate, and distance. Thank goodness they don't come to mind when the new can of nuts is opened.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Streetlight sense

The ugly cobra-head luminaires blighting Austin streets don't need to be what they are. It used to be possible for people to have the sides painted or even a shield put in place so that the lights didn't shine where they shouldn't, but that was a long time ago. I love the idea of lunar-resonant streetlights. Others do, too, since this idea has won a design award. The Metropolis article doesn't seem to be on line yet. Best is the natural light or lack of it between sunset and sunrise, but this is an improvement.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Indulging some but not others

Why did the City waive thousands and thousands of dollars for SxSW, which caters these days to people NFH (not from here), but not waive the far more modest fees for the Cinco de Mayo event at Fiesta Gardens, which are attended by Austinites, including many, many children, and the profits of which go to benefit the Greater East Austin Youth League? Just wondering.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

On the sign

Stacked to the right of a large "NO" as tall as the four prohibitions were "open toe shoes," "loose shoelaces," "food or drink," and, I think, "running," although it could have been standing. These were painted on the jigsawed outline of a boy wearing a gimme cap with a "42" badge to stand next to for measuring the permitted height for riding some of the rides. "You must be as tall as me or with a big adult." At many amusement-ride setups, there's merely a bar set at the height.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Little out there

We were talking about the long-ago indebtedness of DGM and RLK to the Longines Symphonette Society, which reminded us of Reader's Digest records and Book-of-the-Month-Club records. These were all on vinyl, of course, and were subscription items as we recall, perhaps with a negative option. These labels licensed obscure performances, just as Vox probably did with performances of baroque music by provincial orchestras. I see that the indefatigable collector and track-lister Wirz has discovered that Dave Van Ronk (whom I heard perform so many times in person and several of whose albums are still around here) has a track or tracks on a five-LP Longines compilation called "The 50 Greatest Folk Singers: Legendary Folk Songs." Was this licensed from Vanguard? I learn for the first time that Carolyn Hester was Richard Farina's first wife. I once was given her first Columbia album as a present.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Whistle talk

We've always communicated with whistles here. If one person's indoors and another outdoors or if one person's upstairs and another downstairs, it's far more efficient than shouting. Patients communicate with their dentists via mmmm-mmmm talk (rhythm and just a hint of vowel sounds, all hindered by apparatus in the mouth) and dentists usually understand it. With the tidal wave of property flips, sales caused by high property taxes, demolitions, additions, and general repair and remodeling, there's a proportionate increase in the number of surveyors working, from quite early in the morning until last light in the evening. Many of them seem to communicate via whistling (rising tones, falling tones, and more). They always appear to be in a rush or otherwise too busy to quiz, but I'd like to know the secret. Is this customary? If so, do crews follow a communication system in use beyond their working group? Or does each crew develop its own? All the people I could go straight to and ask have left this earthly plane of existence and either I'm using the wrong search terms or there's not much out there to be found in WWW-world. I'd really like to know. Some people train their dogs to respond to various whistles when arm signals are of no use because dog and person are too far apart or otherwise cannot be seen by one another. Some of the Austin solid-waste teams have a whistle system. Truck-drivers and assistants sometimes communicate via whistle when backing up or negotiating a tight spot. I know that the old rail steam whistles were used as a communications system, and I've found at least one military use. Of course, all these systems require whistlers who produce loud and clear sounds.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Return of the pillbugs: the sequel

There's a roly-poly to be seen anywhere the eye falls; it must be all this rain. The grasshoppers are consuming the leaves of morning glories and moonflowers. We continue to have more and more Drummond phlox, still a few anemones (red St. Brigid and blue de Caen), and ever more sweet peas and nasturtiums. Poppies of all sorts, though not spectacularly prolific, are certainly spectacularly showy. The blossoms of the yellow summer squash are highly ornamental among the other flowers, including bachelor buttons and delphiniums. They're being pollinated properly, too, and we can see the tiny squashes forming behind the spent female flowers.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pecan pervasiveness

Nowhere do I find a description of the scent of pecan blossoms. They're mostly green now, but the very first few pollinated ones, now turned brown, are beginning to drop to the ground. I think that in part the scent resembles that of sassafras, but it's very complex. I learned that April is National Pecan Month. There's quite a bit written about the scent of sassafras, which is said to resemble that of root beer. All parts of sassafras are said to be aromatic; I've always that that's true of the pecan, or at least of the blossoms, the new leaves, and newer twigs and branches. Even the fallen leaves perfume the yard. In addition to the olfactory resemblance to sassafras, I think there's at least a bit of ginger root scent as well, plus something medicinal along the lines of disinfectant or even turpentine.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not trampled yet

Joining all the firewheels are rudbeckia and a couple of poppies. It's encouraging that nobody's let a dog march through and that everybody's been careful when stapling signs to the pole. In Mack's yard, the rain took the petals on the open California poppies, but maybe there'll be more.