S’mores and Bedouin Tea

It doesn’t get any better than this.

First, the campground.  For $14, I got a hot shower, a tent spot overlooking a lake, and a stone fireplace pit suitable for cooking. This is Clarksburg State Park in the north west corner of Massachusetts.  Here is the view from my tent door at dusk, with the light  reflecting off the lake.

Clarksburg State Park Massachusetts

Then, in the morning, breakfast in the open air. Teapot with black tea rests on three charcoal brickettes.  The mint is in a small flowerpot in the lower right corner.  I’m roasting a marshmallow on a stick for s’mores.
smores and bedouin tea smore

Corb in Boston

Le Corbusier designed one building in North America: the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. Having been rained out of my original Plan A to hike the Appalachian Trail, I decided to see some Boston museums for Plan B. The Carpenter Center just happens to be across the street from Harvard’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art.

I was expecting maybe something interesting but dated, like seeing a house built in the 50’s without enough closet space or without enough electrical outlets necessary for today’s kitchen gadgets, but I was pleasantly surprised by Corbu’s building. As you can see, I went a bit ape, photographing the thing from every possible angle. The building is so engaging to look at, it almost photographs itself. I started on the Quincy Street side, then walked up the ramp, frolicked though the building and out the other side and down a ramp, then across the street and back uphill to check out the bicycle parking area.

And I show you photos of one thing I’m sure the Harvard powers-that-be aren’t going to put on their website–the ladies room. It’s the yellow one (on the outside) but on the inside it’s just another rest room. As you can see, Corb could have used a little help with this–maybe from those imaginative Norwegian cruise lines. (All are clickable for larger size.)

New Toy–MSI Wind Netbook

IMG_3825By now anyone who has been reading this has seen pictures of my new toy, an MSI Wind Netbook.  When I dropped into OfficeMax to look at their netbooks, the guy there told me he would never buy a netbook becuase there is no drive for CD’s.  What if you want to take your Microsoft Office disk and install Word on your Netbook, he said.  Then you would have to buy a removable disk drive (about a hundred bucks).  Maybe so.  But I thought the netbooks were sexy, and I wanted one.

I ordered it from Target, with an upgrade of a 6 cell battery and 2GB of memory. Target did send me an email notice that the package had been sent, but no tracking info like Newegg and Dell provide.  Still, the package showed up after one or two days via UPS, uneventfully, in spite of my consternation.

The machine has a 10-inch screen and an internal hard drive, unlike many netbooks with 8 inch screens.

Here is how the netbook works with my other toys:

YouTube–no problem, plays videos just fine.

Microsoft Office 2007–installed on system with a trial offer. If you like it, you can buy it. Whether this resolves to Office 2003 if you don’t buy it (like my Toshiba that blew up) has yet to be seem.

Language support.  Arabic–Huge problem.  On every other system I have had, you can merely enable any language you want.  This machine wanted Service Pack 3. The only upload I could find said it was only for advanced programmers.  Finally I found a writeup that said you could just use it anyhow.  So I downloaded the Service Pack #3 and then it wanted the installation disk.  Great. Will I have to buy a $100 external disk just to enable Arabic on this system?  This problem I will have to call support for–I do hope it is solvable.

IMG_3826Keyboard–everyone remarks on this for all the netbooks.  I am always hitting keys I don’t want–caps lock above the left shift key, page up by the right shift key.   And the quotation mark is really hard to use, the way it’s positioned in relation to the shift key.  I’m always getting knocked out of some program or blog because of this.

It would be nice to have a user manual with this too.

Logitech Z5 USB speakers. The speakers that are in the machine are silly sounding little rinky dink things; the Logitech speakers sound great, but the volume is not very high.  This might not work very well with a large class.  I first just plugged in the speakers and nothing happened, but after closing and reopening the music program I was playing, got it to switch to the USB speakers.  But when I was done playing the music, the program hung and I had to CTNL ALT DEL then kill the program manually.  I have now downloaded the proper driver from Logitech–very easy–and we shall see if that helps.  UPDATE: With the proper speaker drivers downloaded, the program does not hang or crash like it does with the generic speaker driver.  I do love these Logitech speakers.

Canon digital camera.  Canon is known for being very stingy with its camera software.   So, what if you bought the camera but want to use it with your new netbook? The netbook does have a camera utility that does work, but not like the Canon zoombrowser.  Unfortunately Canon only provides the updates on their website, not the zoombrowser itself–some proprietary issues?  After much aggravation I was able to find another source for downloading the zoombrowser that worked all right.  I never did get Photostitch to work, but I don’t know what I would ever use that for.

Laser Mouse–Microsoft mouse worked perfectly once the battery was fully charged.

External hard drives and USB flash drives. No problem.

All in all I’m pretty satisfied with the netbook–except for the problem with enabling Arabic. If you want a computer notebook that zooms, the Intel atom processor  isn’t it. If you get the identical memory–2GB–with core 2 duo technology, THAT will zoom, with either VISTA or Windows XP. This netbook machine is just extremely portable and extremely cute.


UPDATE: This machine started acting up within the warranty period and was returned to the local Target store with no hassles. Its successor was an Asus Eee PC which have had for over a year now, the most reliable laptop I have ever had, and one that frequently gets thrown in my purse on my way out the door.

Posted in Technology. Comments Off on New Toy–MSI Wind Netbook

Bonus photos: A grain elevator, some wind mills, and a salt marsh

This stately derelict grain elevator is near Lackawanna, New York.



Windmills south of Buffalo, New York (Buffalo is in the distance on the left).


A salt marsh just south of the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border a few blocks from the ocean:


Posted in Curiosities. Comments Off on Bonus photos: A grain elevator, some wind mills, and a salt marsh

Building gardens in the sand

I’ve always wanted to be a landscape architect. Here is my latest project at a friend’s house two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. There is a salt marsh across the street.

What I already know how to do is grow midwestern plants in black dirt. Now I am going to try to grow perennials like hosta, iris, and daylily in something like sand.  The plan is to add enough organic material to the soil so perennials will grow.

future  garden sandy soil

Now my shovel has hit something hard at the corner of the building–it’s a huge concrete disk. Usually I would just remove something this size since the plants’ roots can’t get through it, but is this something structural? It looks like it should be under the square cinderblock behind it that the porch rests on, but it’s just loose. Maybe it’s supposed to keep the cinderblock from moving forward? I suppose the thing to do is just leave it covered up the same way as I found it and plant something with shallow roots above it, but it would be nice to know its function. (Click to enlarge)
corner of porch concrete disk by cinderblock holding up porch
Also I am told that the topsoil here just blows away. Not sure how accurate this is. So I guess I have two questions–how to keep the porch from falling down and how to keep the dirt from blowing away.

UPDATE: Here is a “during” and “after” picture. I added about an inch of sphagnum moss and a few bags of topsoil to the top and worked it in with a shovel, then used the rest under the plant roots mixed about 50-50 with the sandy soil already there.

NY and Massachusetts 020 IMG_3818

Another update:

Here is another view of the piece of mystery concrete under the corner of the porch. I’ve changed it to grayscale to try to make it more visible.  The porch itself rests on a square block.  The block looks like it should rest on the round thing, but the round thing is completely loose, although the edge of it is under the block by about an inch.
porch block

Tent Blogging

Last night pulling into the campground there were so many twists and turns of the road that I lost my sense of direction. The Big Dipper appeared to point to the pole star in the west. And this morning the sun looked like it was coming up in the north.Picture 012

I’m still getting used to my new netbook, but so far it is perfect for a tent, especially the 6-cell battery that’s supposed to last 4 hours. No WiFi connection in the forest though, so all I can do for now is coax the character map out of its cave and onto the desktop.

Picture 015

A short walk through a stand of huge oak and maple trees brought me to this uninspiring view of Lake Erie:
Picture 020

This last photo is looking north across the lake towards Canada–really, I swear it’s north.

Confluence hunters

jordan-confluence-points1This is amazing.  The Degree Confluence Project has the goal of  “an organized sampling of the world”.

The goal of the project is to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location. The pictures, and stories about the visits, will then be posted here.

The project was started by Alex Jarrett.  He says, “…I liked the idea of visiting a location represented by a round number such as 43°00’00″N 72°00’00″W. What would be there? Would other people have recognized this as a unique spot? Another reason was that my friend managed to convince me to buy a GPS and I had to come up with something to do with it. I also hoped to encourage people to get outside, tromp around in places they normally would never go, and take pictures of it.  I visited several confluences of my own and posted them to my personal web site. Before long others found the site and visited confluences of their own, and it just snowballed from there.”

Your mission, should you choose to accept it:

There is a confluence within 49 miles (79 km) of you if you’re on the surface of Earth. We’ve discounted confluences in the oceans and some near the poles, but there are still 10,699 to be found.

You’re invited to help by photographing any one of these places.

The degree confluence view of a country can yield some completely unexpected views. You can browse the photos by country from the home page or go to their interactive map to browse a particular region.  One of my favorite countries is, of course, Jordan.  I have been almost everywhere in Jordan, everywhere habitable that is, but the views from the crossing of lattitude and longitude lines gives a more pure view of the land use of the country.

Here’s the Jordan entry.  There’s a small map of Jordan showing where the longitude and latitude lines cross and the visits that have been posted by confluence hunters. If you click on a picture, you will get a diary entry for the trip, along with the photos they have posted of the area and the GPS.  Jordan has a lot of variety form one end to the other, but for some reason all the Jordan photos look pretty much the same.  Blue sky, tan sand, and an endless horizon. Here is a trip that was slightly different: you can see a sand storm on the horizon (and inside they have a nice sunset too).  That’s the kind of weather that signals lots of grittiness in the house and the need for an extra bucket of water dumped on the floor and squeegeed across and off the edge of the balcony when cleaning day comes.

It’s an interesting view of Jordan, but not one I would care to make myself if I had limited time in the country.  After all, the most interesting part of the country is the people themselves with their incredible hospitality–and curiosity.  Still, it is, as Jarrett says, a great excuse for people to just “tromp around in places they normally would never go”

Posted in Jordan. 1 Comment »

Politics is still local

If you think school finance meetings are boring, take a look at this one.  This is what democracy looks like.

First, everybody onto the bus.

bus-with-sign busses-waiting1

At the meeting, each school gets two minutes if they want to speak to the finance committee.  Seven or eight schools have already made their presentations. This school’s needs are explained by a Chicago alderman. At the end of the alderman’s presentation, everyone supporting the school is asked to stand and there is prolonged spontaneous cheering, probably not part of the original two-minute deal.

Then the state rep tries to speak, and is drowned out by boos.   Finally they let him speak, sort of, but he is again interrupted by the same group that booed him initially.  The woman standing up is yelling, “They didn’t tell us we had to bring our state representative.”

Their part in the meeting finished, everyone gets back on the bus, and the buses drive off into the sunset.

back-to-the-bus busses-leave

Of course this represents a lot more than just a finance meeting.  What is at stake is competition for scarce resources. The backdrop for the competition is the desertion of the city centers by the tax base in the 60’s followed by the deterioration of the infrastructure of the city and now the first-tier suburbs. Somewhere in the mix is racial and ethnic politics.  There is as yet no comfortable language for speaking about this publicly, although you might see something if you look hard enough in the endnotes of 300-page municipal reports. What does speak volumes is the possibility of not being re-elected; even school administrators are at risk if they do nothing.

Posted in Education, Government. Comments Off on Politics is still local

Antipodal prayer

Everyone knows Moslems face Mecca when they pray. Every mosque has a niche to indicate the direction of the Kaaba, so they will know what direction to face. But what happens in the antipodes? According to this WikiMapia note, when you are at the spot that is exactly the opposite of the Kaaba اٍكتشاف/ اٍبراهيم أحمد علي المصري on the globe (a spot in the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Hawaii and Australia) you can face any direction at all:

Black Stone of Kaaba, Makkah (Mecca) Anitpodes Point
the coordinator of this point is
Lat: 21°25’21.02″S
Long: 140°10’25.42″W

which is Antipodes (oppisit) coordination of blackstone of Kaaba, Makka

Lat: 21°25’21.02″N
Long: 39°49’34.58″E


Hmm. I don’t think I would want to face in the direction of Mururoa, southeast of that spot, where the French conducted nuclear testing.

Much better I think is the Bizarre Atoll to the southwest, with its oddly symmetrical rows of palm trees.
french-nuclear-testing-area antipodes-bizarre-atoll1

Pumasphere 2.5

nijma-star-icon1-d986d8acd985Some time ago Riverdaughter (riverdaughter.wordpress.com) wrote about the breakup of the liberal blogosphere prior to the election. Many of the bloggers who now write for Puma blogs started writing on liberal blogs. When some blogs decided to support Obama, the writers who were undecided or supported another candidate got unceremoniously kicked off the blog on some pretense or another. Now another breakup is happening. I almost didn’t see it because it was disguised as a personality conflict but really now, does that type of thing really happen on political blogs? What I’m talking about is what is known as the P/I issue. As in “Palestine Israel”.

Maybe this is time for a little disclaimer about who I am. I am Christian, of the non-literalist variety, but I take spiritual vitamins from other traditions. I believe in dinosaurs. I believe in the Two State Solution. I believe peace in the Middle East will happen in my lifetime. I believe my actions in the blogosphere can help make that happen. I believe the biggest threat to peace today (and the long-term security of Israel) is the right wing Israel lobby. If someone else does not believe this, please do explain it to me.

So back to the Palestine/Israel Pumasphere breakup. The first breakup was at the Confluence a few weeks ago when there was a discussion about the anti-semitism on the Cannonfire blog. Cannonfire was removed from the blogroll, but nonetheless, several Jewish Pumas left the Confluence. They’re blogging at Widdershins, but I so far I haven ‘t seen any hard hitting middle Eastern commentary that would justify their migration. (Cannonfire, who sets off all my internal anti-tolerance alarms, is now back on the Confluence sidebar.)

Meanwhile, over at PumaPAC (pumapac.org), two commenters, BrianH and sue66, had kept up a storm of right wing Israeli settler propaganda of the most offensive sort. It took the form of massive numbers of links to right-wing Israeli hate publications and videos. It was also about this time I recieved this hate mail (NSFW), using a Swiss-based  anonoymous email service. Then, suddenly they were told they could no longer post the links. They immediately disappeared. It looked like PumaPAC was making a play towards the center and more respectability. Now, suddenly, inexplicably, out of the clear blue sky, two new commenters have appeared, with the same old tired anti-Islamic schtick. No video links this time–they’re linking to racist hatebaiting standards like Sweetness and Light and Religion of Peace. They’re not sneaking in the back door late at night, either. They’re right out there in broad daylight and PumaPAC appears to have embraced them.

If there was any doubt at all left, it evaporated in the 4-7-09 blog talk radio/free us now broadcast. The guests were none other than Marcia Pappas and Dr. Phyllis Chesler, talking not about the recent legal changes in Afghan law but about Buffalo beheading of Aasiya Z. Hassan by her husband way back in February. Then, halfway into the talk, I started hearing little buzzwords like dhimmi and sharia, words that show up on right-wing Israeli propaganda websites. So who are these guys anyhow?

From Dr. Phyllis Chesler’s website: “Some of you might be most interested in my recent work about Islamic gender and religious apartheid, the psycho-analytic roots of Islamist terrorism, or in my work about anti-Semitism and Israel.” Hmmm. Her biography also notes that she is “an affiliated Professor with Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities” (in Israel) and has been profiled in Jewish Women in America.

So let me get this straight. PumaPAC wants to influence Moslem thinking by quoting someone who is Jewish? This is just insane on so many levels. Unless of course, the real agenda isn’t about the women at all.

I’m not against anyone Jewish having a role in Puma, not at all. For instance, jenniforhillary has done a noteworthy job in the past with explaining voter fraud. It’s just that I don’t believe someone from outside any religious tradition can really explain it adequately, especially to someone inside the tradition.

And who is the other one, this Marcia Pappas? She’s the director of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women. When she started talking about beheadings back in February, the Muslimnista posted this open letter:

…your comments that Ms. Hassan’s murder is a “terroristic version of honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men” and that “too many Muslim men are using their religious beliefs to justify violence against women” are a disservice to our community, to people of diverse cultures and faiths, and to our daily work as advocates for survivors of domestic violence from South Asian and Muslim communities.

In this particular scenario, Ms. Hassan had an order of protection, law enforcement officials confirmed a history of domestic violence, and the crime occurred after she filed for divorce. Would you call a Christian woman in this same scenario murdered by gun violence a victim of an honor killing? Femicide is femicide and this tragedy is one more disturbing face of domestic violence.

Your comments eclipse domestic violence for what it is. As we know from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in this country every day, on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends and in 2000, 1,247 women were killed by an intimate partner. We should, together as women’s rights advocates, be able to name domestic violence when we see it. When we do not, it reinforces the silence around domestic violence and stigmatizes minority communities by condoning “cultural” excuses for violent behavior.

Your comment dangerously re-casts focus on culture, religion, and particularly American stereotypes of Islam. As multi-faith advocates, we reject the idea that any faith condones violence. In fact, we have been working for years to change the language around “honor killing” for we reject the notion that there is any honor in killing – and many of our community members agree. We would hope that an organization as esteemed as NOW would not reinforce stereotypes in the media – especially when this is how many of our fellow Americans shape their understandings of our communities as well as domestic violence.

Well said, Fatemeh. Violence against women is not an Islamic problem; it is a world problem.  Moslem women may be even more reluctant to come forward with reports of abuse if they fear it maybe used as a political tool against their ethnic group.

I suppose I should post that on PumaPAC, but it looks like they’re having a little technical difficulty:


Invalid username, huh. Well, I hope they get it straightened out. Do you suppose one of PumaPAC’s political enemies hacked into it? They’re always bragging about “separating one from the herd” and all the provocative comments they have posted at PumaPAC with fake aliases.

Well, back to Islam.

Suppose you read the words “I have declared war on homosexuals.” Would that work for you? What about “I have declared war on Jews”? Or what about “I have declared war on blacks”? Or women?  Murphy over at PumaPAC says,

i AM fighting (my own tiny personal little) war against islam.

War against Islam? I’m not gonna touch that one.

I have been blogging for a while now, but I have never invoked Godwin’s law. It’s time. Neimoller, where are you?

First they came for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up.

They just came for the Moslems.


Posted in Middle East, Palestine. Tags: , . Comments Off on Pumasphere 2.5