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(Being me, I couldn’t resist a Hobbit reference, but this post is about migratory birds in general. No Goblins allowed!)

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We’ve still got two feet of snow on the lawn but the signs of Spring are everywhere. Melting ice, the smell of skunk in the night, and Canadian teenagers in shorts and T-shirts (it is above freezing, after all). And soon, the birds will be back. Last evening I heard a flock of Canada geese heading for the river, and they aren’t the only avian adventurers heading our way.

If you are interested in the when and where of bird migrations, you’re in luck. From now through the end of May you can track migration forecasts, get location-based alerts, and learn more about what’s happening in Birdlandia. 

BirdCast – Bird migration forecasts in real-time

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And as for those eagles, and other birds of prey? Check out this story about a suffragist and bird lover who established Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in 1934. It’s an incredible place, and is why I am lucky enough to know what it’s like to watch from the edge of a stone outcropping while hawks ride the thermals mere feet away.

Breathtaking.

How Mrs. Edge Saved the Birds | Smithsonian Magazine

The abundance of raptors at North Lookout owes a great deal to topography and wind currents, both of which funnel birds toward the ridgeline. But it owes even more to an extraordinary activist named Rosalie Edge, a wealthy Manhattan suffragist who founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in 1934. Hawk Mountain, believed to be the world’s first refuge for birds of prey, is a testament to Edge’s passion for birds—and to her enthusiasm for challenging the conservation establishment. Bold and impossible to ignore, she was described by a close colleague as “the only honest, unselfish, indomitable hellcat in the history of conservation.”

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A story from that trip, with recipe:

Mrs. Shaw’s Chakchouka

(adapted from The New York Times Large Type Cookbook)

Notes from my father: Here’s the best story I have about this recipe; this happened at Hawk Mountain. We were there to see the raptor migrations in October. We were camping at a nearby state park and it was freezing, in fact it snowed. We were cooking chakchouka for 4 in a big pan over a Coleman stove. Right near the end of the cooking we picked up the pan to serve everyone and it tipped and spilled a large part of dinner into the dirt. You two were off running around in the woods somewhere, so we both looked at each other and then at dinner in the dirt, looked back at each other, then brushed the dirt off and put it all back in the pan. It was actually still pretty good. You know in statistics “robustness” means that you can violate the rules a lot and the results still hold, so you could say that this is a very robust recipe.

  • 3 links Italian sweet sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  1. Sauté sausage pieces in a large skillet until browned.
  2. Add olive oil, onions and garlic and cook 3 minutes.
  3. Add green pepper, tomato and potatoes and cook 2 minutes longer.
  4. Add water and allow mixture to simmer, uncovered until potato is tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Stir in eggs and continue to cook, stirring, until eggs are done, about 2 minutes. Garnish as desired.

Serves 4.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

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I came across this sentence a while back: 

“Please bear in mind that Somaliland has no Postal Service” 

Think about that.

Forget complaints about the cost of stamps rising by however many cents, or the extra day it took for your first class letter to reach Hawai’i. There are places on Earth with no postal service at all.

Want to mail a letter? Too bad. Want to send in your rent or mail tax forms or vote? Sorry. And if you want to do something crazy like send in a patent application or submit to Fantasy & Science Fiction, you are out of luck.

“Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not.”

— Harvard, Stanford, and MIT Researchers Study 1 Million Inventors To Find Secret To Success, And It’s Not Talent
Photo by Elizabeth Kay on Unsplash

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I’ve mentioned my love of the mail system and other vital public infrastructure before. 

Adventure, Past and Future | J.R. Johnson

Even beyond the immediate usefulness, I find the concept of a system that ties us all together inspiring. Sure, the internet is obviously taking up a lot of that space (in ways both good and bad) but I also believe that there is also real value in its physical equivalent. 

I mean, Owl Post is great and all, but consider the Muggles.

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My little brother just got his first shot. I can’t tell you how happy I am that he and his wife are one step closer to full protection.

As discussed in many venues in recent months,* the path to the Covid-19 vaccines has been convoluted. And not only does our health and safety rest on the shoulders of scientists who spent most of their careers in under-rewarded obscurity** but the history of vaccines is even more complicated than it may at first seem.

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The past year has been a nightmare, but I am incredibly grateful that we haven’t had to deal with a disease like, say, smallpox. Wildly contagious with a fatality rate of about thirty percent, for most of human history this disease was unstoppable. It spread within communities and also, devastatingly, between locations (like 17th century Europe and North America).

Thanks to a concerted international effort and global vaccination campaign, by 1980 smallpox was eventually eradicated. Thank you, science! And now we’re tackling our own pandemic with the power of vaccination. How did we get here?

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The history of vaccination usually starts something like this:

One of the first methods for controlling smallpox was variolation, a process named after the virus that causes smallpox (variola virus)… The basis for vaccination began in 1796 when the English doctor Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who had gotten cowpox were protected from smallpox. Jenner also knew about variolation and guessed that exposure to cowpox could be used to protect against smallpox.

— History of Smallpox | CDC

What caught my eye about this bit in particular was “variolation.” Who, I wondered, was behind the initial work? I’m always interested in the beginnings of things. Who worked out how to eat a poisonous plant like cassava, for example? In this case, where did the idea of inoculation come from? What of the giants on whose shoulders we stand?

Practitioners in Asia worked out the method, and by the 1700s it had spread to Africa, India and the Ottoman Empire. Next stop, North America, by way of the slave trade.*** Here’s a version of that story in graphic form:

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At the same time, a smallpox epidemic devastated England. An English Lady (yep, capital L), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, brought information about inoculation back with her from the Ottoman Empire, where female medical professionals practiced a variation of the technique:

An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

Unfortunately, “European doctors were aware of what the Ottomans and others were doing but they refused to believe it worked. At the time, “Europe was pretty isolated and it was fairly xenophobic”…”

Lady Mary’s efforts came up against (stop me if you’ve heard this one) prejudice, xenophobia, and the perverse financial incentives of the medical profession.

“I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England.” But in the next breath, she expressed contempt for British doctors, who she believed were too preoccupied with making money: “I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue, for the good of mankind.”

— Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Even so, she had a positive impact, not least on one particular individual:

…the technique she’d borrowed from Ottoman women did take hold in England. Many thousands were inoculated, including a young boy named Edward Jenner. He went on to develop the first vaccine, also against smallpox.

— An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

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So here’s to the unsung heroes who took the first steps into the unknown, the practitioners lost to history, and those who passed their knowledge down in the hopes that we would use it to build something better, like the slave who shared what he knew and the aristocrat who used her status for good. 

“One takeaway for everyone, whether it be scientists or nonscientists, is that we’re not nearly as smart as we think we are,” he says. “We have much we can learn from others.”

— An Old Effort To Stop The Smallpox Virus Has Lessons For COVID-19 Today

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* Here are a couple of articles if you’re interested in the background: How mRNA went from a scientific backwater to a pandemic crusher and How mRNA Technology Gave Us the First COVID-19 Vaccines.

** That really should change, and I hope the Nobel Prize Committee agrees with me. Katalin Karikó, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci in particular come to mind.

*** No, I’m not happy about this either, but I am very grateful that Onesimus was willing to share.

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vials of Covid-19 vaccine
Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash

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There are a lot of ways to write, and a lot of types of writing. Fiction alone comes in novels, of course, but also novellas, novelettes, short stories, screenplays, etc. I happen to have a soft spot for the drabble.

drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly 100 words long, excluding title. Explore the history of it at that link if you like, but for me the important part is the constraint.

One hundred words, no more, no less. 

It’s an easy number of words to produce, of course, but there’s something I find so satisfying about trying to build a story within the confines of such a concrete target. The limits inspire creativity, make finishing feel not only possible but inevitable, and provide a sandbox to play in, if you will.

It’s also a terrific way to dip your toes in the rapids of fiction. My first two publications were drabbles (thanks, Luna Station Quarterly!):

Ray of Light.”
The Witch.”

Go ahead, try it for yourself. And have fun!

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This is my latest drabble, “Adoption Papers.”

I was sixteen when I found the receipt. My receipt.

“What the hell, Dad?”

The paper was old and faded, one tattered corner poking from a manila folder marked “Family Records.” There were maybe ten lines on the page, with a stamp at the top that read “Beta: Final Sale.”

Dad shrugged, like it was no big deal.

“Are you pissed that you’re a bot, or that you didn’t cost more?”

I hadn’t even noticed the total. 

“Twelve and a half bucks? Seriously?”

He smiled. “We always said you were special.”

“Not on special!” 

I blinked. 

“Wait, I’m a what?”

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Photo by Alex Knight on Pexels.com

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It’s been a good Saturday morning, even with all the usual laundry and smoothie and house stuff on the menu. I’m getting things done but still had the feeling at the back of my mind that I should be doing more, making better use of my time by… something. My mind was a maelstrom of possibility, alive with whatever idea caught my attention in that moment. 

Would I be a better me, I wondered, if I were more focused?

It’s a version of what’s called “time anxiety,” the feeling that there’s never enough time, or that you aren’t making the most of the time you have.

“Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?”

— Time anxiety: is it too late? – Ness Labs

No pressure, right?

This clock is definitely judging me.
Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

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But between “Getting started with Arduino” and finding the date for the announcement of the Nebula Award finalists (March 15th fyi), I came across a Nancy Kress short story that spoke directly to the moment. 

End Game – Lightspeed Magazine

It’s a great story, full of concrete science with well-structured ideas that still have heart. It’s also something of a cautionary tale, but I often like those because they are like signposts from the future, showing us what to be aware of, and what not to do. (Such stories are also safe, because you leave the bad things behind when you finish the story. I like that part too.)

If I had to summarize the core theme of this story in just a few words? Nature abhors a cheat code.* 

So you know what? I’m going to take a breath, step back, and enjoy the weekend. Learn, read, build, bake, clean, think, and otherwise do. Here’s to making the most best of the day.

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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

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* Technically, it might be more precise to say that “no cheat code goes unpunished” or “be careful what you wish for,” but I liked the image of Nature in the background shaking her head as she pressed the “fine, you asked for it” button;)

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Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

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Crazy but Good

Today was crazy in many ways, but! We finally got to spend a little time with a close friend we haven’t seen in ages (outside, safe and socially distanced, of course) and that was great. 

Stay strong, people, we’re so close now. Better days are coming!

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Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

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Resounding Positives

Society has been making progress, but some days it can still seem as though bad news outweighs the good. And then you see a story like this and remember that for all the negatives out there, humanity continues to answer with resounding positives.

‘Shoot me instead’

And there go the heart strings. 

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Photo by Yelena Odintsova on Pexels.com

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Saturday mornings always remind me of cartoons and classical music.

We didn’t have a television when I was growing up (or junk food like sugary cereals), which was great for reading and not quite so great for social integration. (This was before there was a smartphone in every pocket, terabytes of entertainment at every turn, and the splintering of society. But I digress.) 

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I did manage to absorb a decent amount of after-school programming and advertising jingles at friends’ houses, and Saturday morning cartoons when we visited our grandparents.

They had a cute little house in Chicago, with a TV room in the back. That’s where I slept when we visited, and I loved it because it meant I could wake up early and start the day with a deliciously sweet diet of cartoons. My brother would join me soon after, and we’d watch until the rest of the house was up. 

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Most Saturdays, though, we’d wake up at home. What those experiences had in common was classical music. Cartoons have used classical scores for decades. My father is a big fan, and likes to start the day with classical music, played loud. Especially on Saturdays. One of the first albums he bought us as kids was Peter and the Wolf.

To this day, I can’t hear that Prokofiev tune without smiling.

I wasn’t the only one indoctrinated by the classical/cartoon connection, of course. Many of you were right there with me. Click through for a fun thread that identifies a number of the more recognizable pieces.

Or perhaps you are looking for a 2+ hour collection of cartoon music? Then this is your lucky day!

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Since I’m thinking of my father and music, here’s a link I think he might enjoy:

I have no idea what most of these shows were (United States Steel Hour?), but I hope that he does, and that some of this music brings a smile to his face, too.

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Happy Saturday!

Photo by Any Lane on Pexels.com

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Somehow this day has completely gotten away from me. I’m still cranking away on day job stuff, so I will leave you with this magic wand. Which I will need to finish off all the items still on my list:)

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One wand, maple. The magic is up to you.

Have fun getting things done!

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Chilling, Apparently

Apparently, we are chilling today. 

Do not disturb the Neko Monster!

Mostly, anyway. I’ve accomplished a few things and had planned to plan my next month of writing work, but I’m really just having fun reading.

What else? In keeping with the chilling theme, I may design a few icebergs, because what better art project on a snowy day?

Iceberger

Later, I’ll give Mr. Man a haircut (while appreciating the talents of his regular barber, who does the job roughly 4 million times faster than I do). And then I may do a little design work. Or learn about household economics in early nineteenth-century England. Or shovel some snow. Or find my second-favorite biscuit recipe. Or pack and freeze a 25-pound bag of flour.

Or maybe not. I’ve got a book to finish.

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.”

— Napoleon Hill

Happy Sunday!

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