Monday, October 31, 2011

My Garden Wall


A week before I left for my recent trip, I finished my little garden wall at the back of the house.


I'd mostly evened out and covered with bark mulch a path next to the wall, and I wanted a little space where I could sit and enjoy the back yard.


Note those dark conglomerate stones? They're asphalt chunks from a development where they'd taken out some street or driveway. I asked for permission, and the workers there were delighted that I wanted to haul away some of the pieces.



I still need to add lots more dirt and other filler material behind the wall to make the ground even, then cover with plastic topped with bark mulch, like the rest of the path. This project probably won't be finished in time for me to enjoy it this year, but I know I'll enjoy it next spring.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

It's not even my favorite holiday, but tonight at 6:30 I remembered what I do love about this evening, as a tiny three-year-old dressed in a dinosaur costume came to the door with his or her daddy.

Daddy: Say "Trick or treat."

Mini-Dinosaur, in mini-voice: Trick or treat.

Me: Would you like some of these candies? (holding out a bowl full of all kinds of candy)

Mini-Dinosaur, with big eyes: Yes, please.

Daddy: Just one, please. (I put one candy in the child's bag.)

Daddy: What do you say?

Mini-Dinosaur (very sure of the correct answer): You're welcome.

Me: Thank you!

Mommy, from the driveway: (snapping photos like crazy)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bai-Na-Na With Sensei Angela & Grasshopper Louise

Ancient fruity martial art demonstrated---and YOU are the first to see it!

Now the student learns the technique:


Friday, October 28, 2011

Fiction Friday, October 28, 2011: Doctor Who and "A Christmas Carol"

Having written about Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" on her own blog, and about "Doctor Who" on these virtual pages, as well as complaining about Christmas in October, Madame L hopes her Dear Readers won't get too tired of her mixing them all up again.

Madame L loved the "Doctor Who" version of "A Christmas Carol" that first appeared in 2010 and was recently shown in re-run (and, Madame L hopes, will be shown again close to Christmas of 2011).

Here's the trailer for the episode. Don't you love the eleventh Doctor Who, Matt Smith? And don't you love the fact that he now has not one but TWO companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her boyfriend Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill)? Madame L does! And she just loves all the plot twists that have Amy giving birth to a baby girl, Melody or River Song (Alex Kingston), who ....

SPOILER ALERT: ....marries Doctor Who, meaning that Amy is now Doctor Who's mother-in-law.

[END SPOILER ALERT]

Mostly Madame L loves in this series the way that Doctor Who realizes he's been an egotistical and selfish time traveler, so after saying farewell to the Earthlings he's met, he makes plans for his demise, and then....

[SPOILER ALERT] ... appears again, but in a different form.

[END SPOILER ALERT]

Madame L also loves how this series has set up some clues for episodes to follow.

But Madame L digresses. The "Doctor Who" version of "A Christmas Carol" is a magnificent, space-and-time-traveling version of the classic story. Watch it!


This is Abigail's Song from that episode, which the people at BBC promise will be released as an audio CD in February 2012.

Here are the cast and crew talking about filming the episode:

You can get the DVD from Amazon.com for $11.99 or watch it online for $1.99.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fiction Friday, October 21, 2011: The Fisher King

Madame L remembers the first time she saw this movie, in a theater, in 1991, with her husband. Her poor husband, who firmly believes that real life is intense and scary enough and there's no reason to see intense dramas in a theater, kept wanting to walk out. But Madame L grabbed his elbow and said, "Sit down, I know it's going to be worth it!" And it was, of course.

Here's the waltz scene, an impressive feat of film-making, and so incredibly beautiful:


Here's director Terry Gilliam discussing that scene:



Madame L was so impressed by this tale of redemption and the power of love that she took all her children to see it. She thought at the time that even if they didn't love the movie, they would be impressed by its powerful story (and would eventually forgive her---which they have done).

Madame L is writing about this movie now, 20 years after its original release, because she has just read the screenplay.

Reading this screenplay along with background material about Gilliam reminded Madame L that he also directed "The Adventure of the Baron of Munchausen":


And "Brazil":


And "Time Bandits":

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let Us Now Mention Famous (Dead) Men

1. Steve Jobs: I kept wanting to write about Steve Jobs when I heard of his death, but I realized I didn't have anything to say about him that others who knew and respected him or loved his products weren't already saying much better than I could.

I'm not a big Apple fan. My experiences with Apple products have been limited: Jeff bought me some kind of ipod once but I gave it to him when I realized I wasn't enjoying it. And, years ago in Venezuela, when I was teaching computer programming to middle-school kids using defunct Apple IIc computers, I was not impressed.

But every day I do something that was influenced by Steve Jobs, from my computer and its operating system to my smart phone. So I'm glad for what he contributed.

But I'm not going to "live like Steve" or donate any body parts to "honor" him. Are you kidding me? And I'm also not going to support any laws trying to force people to donate their organs, which Jobs pushed for while he was waiting for a liver transplant. In fact, I tend to agree with this column by William Saletan, who thinks Jobs "owes somebody a liver."...

....especially since Jobs rejected early surgery which could have saved him from dying of pancreatic cancer. He regretted that, later.

2. Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, whom Ronald Reagan gave the aptest label to ("The madman of the Middle East"), was killed today. Not many will miss him. I read that he asked one of his captors, "What have I done to you?"

I'm thinking about these two men: What right did Jobs have to jump ahead of the many people waiting for a liver transplant while refusing life-saving surgery? What right did Qaddafi have to live after killing so many people, and if he had not personally harmed his captors up to today, was his question valid? Was it murder to kill him when he was severely wounded, instead of ensuring that he would be brought to trial?

My own answers to those questions, so far, are that Jobs did not deserve that liver any more than any other person who was waiting, and probably less; that Qaddafi was a monster and that the person who killed Qaddafi was not guilty of murder because the country was in war, was in fact a battlefield.

And now, to lighten the mood, I hope you'll watch this wonderful clip of "I've Got a Little List," from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado, performed by the D'oyly Carte Opera.

Neither Jobs nor Qaddafi were ever on any list of mine. If I had a list, it would include people I know personally (whose names I can't mention here; but, rest assured, family and friends, your names are not on the list).

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Whooping Cranes

First, a great little movie:



Whooping cranes are still endangered. USGS scientists in Patuxent, Maryland, are raising them carefully so they can be re-introduced into swamplands where they used to live in great numbers. This movie shows some of the process.


But someone in Louisiana has been shooting them. This article from the N.Y. Times made me want to cry. If you follow that link, you'll find another movie about the way the cranes are raised and introduced into their natural habitat and a photo of one of the chicks who was shot. Here's a bit of the article:

"Whooping crane chicks have definite personalities; chick L10 was shy but blossomed into a rascal, and chick L8 had an early tendency toward being a bit of a bully, but eventually learned to get along with his peers.

"Both of these gangly, adolescent whooping cranes were shot and killed in Louisiana on Monday, and though two alleged shooters have been identified, the world of whooping crane scientists, managers, caretakers, volunteers and birders is in mourning – once again.

"Tragically, these are the sixth and seventh shooting deaths of reintroduced endangered U.S. whooping cranes in 2011."


If you'd like to help this project, you can find more information at the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fiction Friday, October 14, 2011: Dragon Keepers (Library and Volcano)

Madame L here, pleased to report that she has read the first four of the "Dragon Keepers" books now, and still thinks they're cute and clever as can be.

Emmy the very special dragon has gone from being small enough to live in a sock drawer to living in the garage and putting on the appearance of a large sheep-dog whenever she goes out during the day. 

In "The Dragon in the Library," Emmy and her keepers, cousins Daisy and Jesse, find the hidden library beneath the regular public library in their town and Emmy finally meets her mother, who exists in a kind of dragon heaven there as a huge, beautiful, red-bound book.

In "The Dragon in the Volcano," Emmy has outgrown her sleeping crate in the garage and doesn't like the smell there, anyway, so she disappears, leaving a trail of socks for Daisy and Jesse to follow. They track her to the extinct volcano, with the help of their magical neighbor and a magical farm horse. There they meet Emmy's new friends and enemies, and help protect the dragons who live under the volcano from the evil St. George and his witch friend Sadra.

Both books are fun, charming, full of adventure, and perfect for fourth- to sixth-graders, as well as adults who read with them.

Author Kate Klimo has a fifth book coming out next May, which you can pre-order at Amazon.com for $10.87, a 32% savings: "The Dragon in the Sea."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Christmas in October

The Christmas decorations have been up in the stores for weeks now, and I've already received more than 20 catalogs with Christmas "gift ideas" and enticing photos of happy families enjoying Christmas fun together while spending thousands of dollars on new clothes, toys, and gadgets.

I heard of someone once making a stack of all the Christmas catalogs she got, starting in July and going through the end of the holiday season, but in my opinion life is too short to do that. I already know everything I want to know about them: There are too many of them, they're useless, and they are wasting paper.

I take that back. I learned something new from the latest spate of catalogs: One of the catalog companies appears to have obtained my name and address from one of my favorite stores, a store where I have a discount card, which is annoying at least.

No, I was wrong about that, and I'm glad. I've just gone online to find the privacy policy of that company, and it says, "We do not sell, trade or rent our customers' personal information to outside companies or marketing firms, except in connection with the sale of a pharmacy, in connection with [company name's] loss prevention efforts, or as described in this privacy policy."

So I guess that catalog company got my name from some other catalog company. 

Which means that I'll have to increase my use of Birdley and Mada's names when I order from catalogs or websites. That'll be fun.

Which reminds me...No, I'll save that rant for another occasion. Maybe after Christmas.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fiction Friday, Oct. 7, 2011: Doctor Who

Madame L just got around last night to watching the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who, and she was slightly disappointed.

SPOILER ALERT! --- If you're a fan, and you haven't seen the season's final episode, stop reading right now!  Scroll down to "END SPOILER ALERT" for some news.

Madame L had been wondering how The Doctor would get out of his latest fix, which required him to go back in time to April 22, 2011, to be killed. He was supposed to have been killed on that day, but the person (his wife-to-be) who was supposed to do him in refused to do it, so all of time has been holding still at 5:02 p.m. on that day. Not only does time stay right at that moment, but past events get mixed up into it, so London is full of flying machines and pterodactyls, strange towers and bridges, a prime minister who is living as Caesar, and so on.

It was no surprise to Madame L (or anyone else) that Doctor Who gets around it, and Madame L thought it was very nice to see him and River Song get married, and funny to see Amelia realize that she is now Doctor Who's mother-in-law.

Madame L has had a lot of fun all season admiring the clever writing and ingenious plotting skills of writer-producer Steven Moffat and and especially in this final episode seeing all his plot lines unravel and then come together so well.

But if the proof is in the pudding, then this pudding needs a few less raisins. Still, Madame L gives the whole season ten hearty thumbs up (because she's all thumbs, get it?).

END SPOILER ALERT --- Doctor Who will be back to his regular travels through space and time, always mixing with humans and fixing their problems for them, in December. But before that, on Oct. 31, in fact, in plenty of time for celebrating Guy Fawkes Day, fans will be able to play a new game, "The Gunpowder Plot," starring Doctor Who's most recent companion, Amy Pond, and, Madame L hopes, her faithful husband, Rory Williams.

Here's the publicity blurb from the official website: 

"Hear ye! Hear ye! The new Adventure Game is released on October 31st, 2011! It's by far the biggest and most epic Adventure Game to date. The incredible cast includes Ralf Little (The Royle Family), Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia, EastEnders), Dan Starkey (A Good Man Goes to War) and CBBC's Chris Johnson... as well as one of the UK's best-known actresses, whose identity we'll reveal shortly!

"Doctor Who: The Gunpowder Plot is set in 1605. Guy Fawkes and his gang are hell bent on blowing up the Houses of Parliament and the Doctor becomes embroiled in their scheme when it emerges he's not the only alien in town... Old monsters return and new threats must be faced... By you, playing as one of the TARDIS time travellers!"

And, in case you're interested, BBC has put together a scrapbook celebrating all the Doctor Whos through  the past 50 years.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Helping Kids Who Are Bullied

I have such bad memories of school, from kindergarten through high school. I was teased and harassed and bullied frequently, and not just by the kids. I had a few good teachers, of course, and a few bad ones, unfortunately.

I know everyone has had those teachers. Who didn't have that horrible PE teacher, for instance? Or that home economics teacher, or chemistry teacher, or biology teacher? Who didn't at least at times dread going to school? So I'm not writing about this because I think I had a harder experience than anyone else and certainly not to get sympathy from anyone, since we were all in the same boat. I'm writing to share this clip.


Here's an explanation of the dilemma of the bullied child, especially the child who has some disability, using the analogy of a poker game, in which the child has only a very few chips but has to play against people (children and adults) who have many more and who can take away the few the child already has. Though the clip doesn't give specific answers for what to do, it does suggest some solutions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Amanda Knox Cleared!

I just read the news from AP:

Amanda Knox has been cleared by the Italian appeals court of the murder of Meredith Kercher.

Ms. Knox has lost 4 years of her life in a jail in Perugia, and it broke my heart to hear about the way she was treated.

Now if only all those accused unjustly throughout the world could be freed...

Free A-I Class at Stanford

Some Stanford professors are making their artificial intelligence class available online, free of charge. You don't get official credit at Stanford (for that, you have to be wealthy), but you get some kind of certificate of completion.


Here's the info for Stanford students who are taking the class in person on the campus.

The online class starts next week. Here's the class schedule.

Here's the news article where I first read about it.

I'm going to sign up for the "basic track." And I'm going to see if I can find the textbook (recommended: Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach --- and this link also provides links to other helpful A-I resources) for less than it costs right now on Amazon.com. (Nope: I've just ordered it from Amazon, where it's $116.49; it's $165 at Powells.com and $146 directly from the publisher.)

Apparently tens of thousands of people around the world have already signed up. Check it out, in case you're interested, too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

She said that?

Good for her! Elizabeth Warren's comments on becoming wealthy in America and our social responsibility toward those who have less money than we have:

She's running to represent Massachusetts in the Senate. 

Here she is explaining why markets need to be regulated: