Saturday, March 31, 2012

Out Like a Wet Little Lamb...

...A soaked and soggy little lamb, though with pretty pink petals. Not so cold and windy, but rain, rain, and more rain. (Nice for these trees, not so nice for my garden wall, about which, more, later.)

A Woman's Voice

Friday, March 30, 2012

Fiction Friday: March 30, 2012: Zodiac

Everyone knows a Zodiac is a rather small inflatable rubber boat with a lot of power.

Everyone knows that large corporations are getting away with environmental damages that are beyond calculating and that threaten our children's future.

Everyone knows that lobsters in Boston Harbor are being contaminated by chemical pollutants that get passed along to humans who eat them. 

Everyone has heard about so-called eco-terrorist groups who are trying to bring the polluters to justice. There's even a movie out now, "Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist."

But Neal Stephenson was writing this novel long before the movie came out---"Zodiac" was published in 1988---and it puts together all those elements, and more, to make an exciting, politically and scientifically astute, and funny book that Madame L recommends to all of Aunt Louise's readers.

Warning: Some of the words in this book may offend some of Aunt Louise's readers. If you can ignore those, though, you'll find this a fun and educational read. And, unlike the book Madame L reviewed last Friday ("Fragment"), this one won't make you feel like you've been duped by a time-wasting character-and-plot-manipulated-boilerplate-boiler.

You can buy "Zodiac" new from for about $11.00, but Madame L found her copy at a remainders table in a local bookstore for about half that. 

Note: The 2007 movie "Zodiac" is NOT based on this book. But if you want to see a movie about eco-terrorists, here's the trailer for the "Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist" movie:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sydney, Day Four

On this day I took another walk, this time on the Terry's Creek Walk, which is also part of the Lane Cove National Park. Saving thousands of words:

Up close---so you might think it's not really that big.

But, in context, you can see that it really is huge (and so is its web!).

Terry's Creek Waterfall

Eastern Bearded Dragon

Gum Tree Survivor

And a kookaburra in a gum tree (actually, an adult and an adolescent)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sydney, Day Three

The big event of this day was seeing R receive an award at his school assembly.You can see that not every moment of the assembly was enthralling for him. What was especially amusing was his surprise (and the surprise of his friends) when he received the award, which was for "Most Improved in Writing" or something like that.

He thought he was just going to be one of the students displaying art work, and here he is with some of the other children showing their art work:

I'd like to upload a video of all the children singing "And the Green Grass Grew All Around, All Around," but Blogger isn't letting me do that right now, I suppose because it's such a huge file size. I'll try to make that a separate post.

After school, we all went for a family outing and on the way saw some cockatoos flying around and resting in a tree right next to the major street we were on. This is so common that only a visitor like myself would think it worthy of a photo, but I did, and here's the photo:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sydney, Day Two

Australian Black Duck

Australian Brush Turkey
Walking on the Great North Walk to the Macquarie University campus:

I saw many more beautiful birds that I couldn't take even these blurry, far-away and pixellated photos of, and even more that I couldn't identify because they were even farther away and/or better at hiding.
Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo

Then, so pleased with myself for seeing and identifying this lone Australian black duck near Browns Water Hole, I told Lisa all about it.

She said, "You could have seen tons of those right on campus."

Then, while we ate lunch, we saw two Australian white ibises fly directly over us. She said they're called the "Sacred McDonald's Bird" by students there, and I see from a Google search that they're also called the "Big Mac Bird" and “Bic Macus Scabicus.” These unfortunate names fit because the ibises hang around garbage cans and particularly love McDonald's dumpsters.

These can also be seen at the pond where I could have seen more Australian black ducks, but I didn't get a chance to go there. Do a Google Image search to see how beautiful they are. (And you can also see photos of them with McDonald's bags in their mouths.)
Just a Pretty Purple Flower
Rainbow Lorikeet

Someone else has posted on YouTube this video of Browns Water Hole and the area around it. You can see how beautiful it is. It's part of the Lane Cove National Park. Someday I'd like to take this trail all the way from Sydney to Newcastle.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sydney, Day One

At school:

Uniforms (including hats) are required even for the public schools.
After school: Newport Beach:

White-Bellied Sea Eagle (that speck on the right)

Sea Shell With New Inhabitant

Afternoon Sun On Surf


Tide Coming In, Boys Running Out
Tree In Motion

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This Little Light of Mine

Odetta sings starting around the 2:15 mark. (But her remarks before that are great, too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fiction Friday: March 23, 2012: Fragment

"Think Jurassic Park but scarier," says one blurb, and that's a pretty good description of "Fragment," by Warren Fahy.

You could read it on the plane, at the beach, during a particularly boring lecture, while you're waiting in a long line for something, or any other place or situation where you want some distraction.

"Fragment" kept Madame L distracted for several hours while she was going through airline purgatory.

It's not great literature, though; but why? It's very well written, the science is mostly plausible, the characters are engaging and well drawn, and the plot grabs you by the collar and hurls you at breakneck speed through some breathtaking events. If you can suspend your disbelief and let yourself be hooked for a few hours, you'll enjoy the book.

(If you can believe in four-winged, long-tailed, feathered dinosaurs, why not believe in the creatures in this book?

Science News, 08 March 2012

Science News, 08 March 2012

But why isn't it "great" literature? Madame L still hasn't figured out what makes one book great and another not so great, but in this case she thinks it's because the plot points are too predictable and the characters too hackneyed.

Madame L heartily recommends "Fragment": It's a fun read, there's no gratuitous sex or violence or cursing, and it gives you a chance to think about some new ideas; as long as you don't kid yourself that you're making any new discoveries about the human condition or learning any real science.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

UA 863 (New! Updated! Tina Turner! Photos!)

It wasn't the worst flight ever, though it seemed so at the time. We got about two hours out from SFO toward Sydney but had to turn back because the weather radar was "broken."

(Video courtesy of someone from a different "flight" in a different time and place...)

Twenty-four hours later, in the same aircraft with supposedly "fixed" radar, we flew two hours out again. Again, just as everyone had started to go to sleep, we had to turn back because the weather radar was "broken" again.

This time, prompted by the righteous indignation of every passenger on board, the airline tried something different: They put us on a different aircraft, 12 hours later, with a new flight number (UA1761), and this plane had just successfully made it across the Pacific Ocean.

So, 60 hours later, we landed at SYD.

But before that, we did what we could: Some passengers posted video of the rest of us standing in line after line after line for hour after hour after hour. Some started a Facebook page (UA863) and Twitter account (#ua863) (though I haven't been able to access either of these yet). Someone found the e-mail address of United's CEO, Jeff Smisek, and many of us wrote messages to him.

Here's mine:

Dear Mr Smisek:
We all hope you're enjoying your Sunday morning.
We are in SFO again and not enjoying it that much.
Your aging fleet and ill-trained staff make flying United a losing deal for us.
What are you going to do to make up for the aircraft's repeated mechanical failures and service reps' abysmal treatment of customers? 
Seriously, I expect a substantive reply.

Now I hear some other United passengers had, if this is possible, an even harder time:  United Flight 857 from SFO to Shanghai on Sunday had to stop in Alaska because of "broken" toilets, and the replacement aircraft was also grounded, so a third plane was sent to take the passengers to China.

For me, Flight 863 wasn't as bad as it was for the families with children; and United let me change my return plans without its usual onerous penalties (the least they could do, right?); so I've still had my time with my family. And meanwhile I got very well acquainted with half of the SFO airport, including a great bookstore, an incredible sushi place, and a deli where I could use my United "food vouchers" for goodies for the family in Sydney.

Did Mr. Smisek ever reply to my message? No, of course not. But the airline did try to make amends. One wonders, though, how this huge airline expects to retain customers, as these kinds of incidents are extremely common.

Angry Birds in Space

NASA has just "launched" --- get it, launched, ha ha ha --- a new game: Angry Birds in Space.

Monday, March 19, 2012

HBO Palin Vs. Real Palin

Even as I was enjoying the HBO movie "Game Change," I wondered how closely the HBO version of Sarah Palin, played by Julianne Moore, compares with the "real" version of Sarah Palin from news clips.

Now someone has thoughtfully provided a scene-by-scene comparison:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fiction Friday: March 16, 2012: Serenity

Madame L doesn't remember if she has reviewed "Serenity" before; so, just in case she hasn't, she wants to mention it to all of Aunt Louise's readers because it's so funny and profound; and, just in case she has, this will be a very short movie review.

This 2005 movie, by the great Joss Whedon, stars Nathan Fillion, who is currently also starring in the TV series "Castle." (And, by the way, the writers of the "Castle" scripts occasionally insert references to "Serenity," which are fun to look for and which bring nerds like Madame L occasional hope that the "Firefly" series will be restored or a sequel to "Serenity" will appear.) Here's the trailer for "Serenity":

Here's the official product blurb: "A passenger with a deadly secret. Six rebels on the run. An assassin in pursuit. When the renegade crew of Serenity agrees to hide a fugitive on their ship, they find themselves in an action-packed battle between the relentless military might of a totalitarian regime who will destroy anything - or anyone - to get the girl back and the bloodthirsty creatures who roam the uncharted areas of space. But, the greatest danger of all may be on their ship."

The DVD is available right now from for $5.49, which is an amazing deal. It's rated PG-13, for adult content and some violence, but please note that it's NOT rated R. Madame L has watched this movie several times because it tickles her funny bone. (And here you didn't even suspect that Madame L had a funny bone, did you!)

BONUS! Here's the rehearsal for the bar fight scene with the "passenger with a deadly secret" played by a stunt woman who is amazing. Now, with this rehearsal in mind, Madame L is going to have to re-view the bar scene in the movie.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day!

Thanks to Ezra Klein, subbing for Rachel Maddow on tonight's show, for reminding me and everyone else that today is Pi Day: 3.14.

And thanks to him also for these pie charts, which I got from

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Most Astounding Fact About the Universe

Here's a good one from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the astronomer who can also explain stuff to the rest of us.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

Invisible Children and the LRA

I'm glad to know someone is doing something huge about this. I've met some people who bring tools and equipment to the people affected by Joseph Kony and his so-called "Lord's Resistance Army"---the families massacred, young girls turned into prostitutes, and young boys turned into assassins.

I don't know about the funding or other motives of the group "Invisble Children," but I agree that the best way to rid Uganda of this monster is to get the whole world involved. Here's the trailer for the movie. (Apparently there are so many hits on the YouTube site for the whole movie that it's not available right now.)

No Aurora, But...

...We did see something cool: a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter; then, later, we saw Mars near the Moon.
(Well, not really near the Moon in actual space, but from our point of view from Earth.)

We drove up north and east of our home into a rural area where the light pollution wasn't as bad as it is around Vancouver and Portland. But we didn't see anything except the usual sky glow. When we got home, we could see just as much from our back porch, which we'll remember Thursday, when the aurora may again be visible.

So the next night (Thursday) we looked from our back porch and did not see the aurora, again. And did see the conjunction, again. You're supposed to be able to see Mercury, too, but we "only" saw Venus and Jupiter.

These should still be visible tonight (Friday, March 9).

Fiction Friday: March 9, 2012: Snow in Summer

"Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All" is another version of the Snow White tale, from another re-inventor of fairy tales, Jane Yolen. Ms. Yolen writes on her blog that she first wrote it as a short story for an anthology, but even then saw how it could become a full-length book. And it works as a book.

What's different about this version from the original tale of the Grimm Brothers is that it's set set in a land not so far away in space (West Virginia) and time (the 1930s). 

The stepmother is a modern-day witch who attends a snake-handling cult instead of the local Catholic or Baptist church, both of which Summer attends at times with various family members, and the witch gets a callow youth named Hunter to agree to kill Snow in Summer. 

There are also some dwarf brothers and their caretaker and a prince and a plausible explanation for the father's neglect of his daughter in favor of the wicked stepmother....but Madame L doesn't want to spoil the fun for you, Dear Aunt Louise and Other Readers.

"Snow in Summer" was just published in November 2011 so is still available from only as a hardbound book for $11.55.  Madame L found the book quite by accident, as she was sitting one day in the children's section of her local library because all the tables were taken in the adult sections. Madame L recommends getting on the wait list for it at your local library...because you'll probably have to wait. Her librarian told her the only reason she could check it out that day was a very short lull in requests.

If you still enjoy these classic tales, and enjoy books by the likes of Ms. Yolen and Robin McKinley, you'll enjoy this one.

Happy Reading,

Madame L

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Solar Storm and Aurora Viewing

I just saw on the our local TV news that we might be able to see the aurora borealis tonight, so I'm hoping to drive north, away from the city light pollution, to see it.

If I do see anything, I'll attempt to take a timed photo that may show it, to post here.

NOAA confirms that a huge solar storm may cause the aurora to be visible much farther south than usual and may cause disturbances to GPS units, communications problems, and even re-routings or cancellations of some airline flights.

According to NOAA scientist Joe Kunches, "For North America, the good part of a solar storm — the one that creates more noticeable auroras or Northern Lights — will peak Thursday evening. Auroras could dip as far south as the Great Lakes states or lower, Kunches said, but a full moon will make them harder to see."

He also explained: "Solar storms have three ways they can disrupt technology on Earth: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions. This is an unusual situation, when all three types of solar storm disruptions are likely to be strong... That makes it the strongest overall since December 2006."

The Caterpillar Project

Hi Laura,

Since I haven't figured out how to make any of my comments actually appear on your blog, I'm going to write some comments here about your caterpillar project.

First, too cool that you're doing it! I'm really excited to see your results.

Second, great photos!

Third, can you get more of the caterpillars? Try feeding them different kinds of leaves? Did you choose which leaves to put in with them from the leaves near where you found them?  I've found lots of websites with information about how to care for caterpillars. This is one of them. Childish, I know, but easy to understand and follow their directions.

Fourth, did you mention in one post that you were thinking they weren't going to turn out to be giant leopard moths after all?  I was thinking that, too, since when I was looking up more information about them, those giant leopard moths are supposedly in the southeastern U.S.

Now, when/if I find some caterpillars around here, I'm going to try to raise them, too. (I'm not worried about caterpillars that you can find in the middle of a residential area becoming endangered by our doing this!)


Hi Pricklypear!

Thanks for the comment. Last night I made your super chocolate cookies. Yummy. Good thing I was able to give some of the dough to Megan, or I would have eaten way way way too many. (As it was, I ate only way too many.)

About the pollywogs: I didn't know the answer to your question, but I found out on this website, "Season of Spring," which says the words "pollywogs" and "tadpoles" can refer to the larval stages of all those amphibians. (And I guess you can also call them taddypoles, as Soleil does.)

What would really be interesting would be to take those pollywogs home and raise them to adulthood so you could find out what they would turn into...but of course you know better than to do that, as they need to grow up and develop into adults in the place where they started out as eggs. And you know of course that many amphibians are endangered because of loss of habitat, pollution, and other changes to their environment.

If you go back to that area, maybe you can take photos of the pollywogs, too. I'd love to post them on the Clark Amphibian Project website, where people may be able to identify them for you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday to Oreos

We used to live in a place where you couldn't buy Oreos because they were made with ingredients that might include something forbidden. Boy, does absence make the heart grow fonder!

Here's the current list of ingredients:


So now I guess you can buy Oreos in that magical kingdom. And here are the "nutrition facts":

Serving Size: 34g
Servings per Container: About 15  
Amount Per Serving 
Calories: 160
Calories From Fat: 60
Total fat: 7 g (11% daily value)
Saturated Fat: 2 g (10% daily value) 
Trans Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 g
Sodium: 170 mg (7% daily value)
Total Carbohydrate: 25 g (8% daily value)
Dietary Fiber: 1 g (4% daily value)
Sugars: 14 g 
Protein: 1 g

Monday, March 5, 2012

Titan and Dione

Also from the NASA website. I just can't get enough of this stuff!

Titan and Dione, Moons of Saturn (NASA)

Information from NASA about this photo: "Saturn's third-largest moon Dione can be seen through the haze of its largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings from NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

"The north polar hood can be seen on Titan appearing as a detached layer at the top of the moon here."

Then you can follow the links from this page to more NASA web pages to learn more about how the photos were taken and processed, but, even more importantly, to learn more about these and the other moons of Saturn and the mission of the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dione Has an Atmosphere!

NASA photo of Dione

Too cool: NASA has just announced that its space probe Cassini has detected the barest hint of an atmosphere around another moon of Saturn, Dione.

From NASA's article about the discovery:

"Several solid solar system bodies – including Earth, Venus, Mars and Saturn's largest moon Titan – have atmospheres. But they tend to be typically much denser than what has been found around Dione. However, Cassini scientists did detect a thin exosphere around Saturn's moon Rhea in 2010, very similar to Dione. The density of oxygen at the surfaces of Dione and Rhea is around 5 trillion times less dense than that at Earth's surface." Also:

"We now know that Dione, in addition to Saturn's rings and the moon Rhea, is a source of oxygen molecules," said Robert Tokar, a Cassini team member based at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., and the lead author of the paper. "This shows that molecular oxygen is actually common in the Saturn system and reinforces that it can come from a process that doesn't involve life." 

Saturday, March 3, 2012


From my daughter in Iowa:

And, as Jason pointed out, when we were in school, we didn't have typewriters at our desks, either---except in typing class, which by the way was not called "keyboarding" class .

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lola Is Beauty

You know how you read one blog and then you still have some time to kill (Blam! Bash! Bang! --- or, as Lewis Carroll's Alice did it, beating time as she practiced the piano (Plink! Plunk!) --- or, as we do nowadays, Click!) so you hit the "Next Blog" button.

So I finished reading Laura's blog entry and hit that button and came to this one: Lola Is Beauty.

Do you ever wonder how "they" decide what blog you'll go to next when you hit the "Next Blog" button? I do. I've tried going back to the blog where I started and hitting the "Next Blog" button again, and most of the times I go to a completely different blog.

I mean, sometimes I see a pattern, but not always.

I guess it's because Laura posts some really cool photos on her blog, because I'm guessing it's NOT because she's the world's biggest fan of DV, as Lola calls her (Diana Vreeland). No, she couldn't be, because Lola appears to be the world's biggest fan of DV.

Oh, I get it, it's because they both love cats?

Anyway, I digress. As usual. Here's what I wanted to show from that blog: photos of two extraordinary works of art (not fashion, though of course fashion designers also create works of art).

Lola writes that she's going to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Tate in London, and I see that will last through June 5. I can't go, and most of the people who read this can't go, so maybe these pictures will do.  Are they incredibly gorgeous, or what?

Fiction Friday: March 2, 2012: Act of Valor

Madame L here, thanks to Aunt Louise's usual Friday invitation, to give a rave review of a new movie, "Act of Valor":

A CIA agent is killed and another kidnapped, and the evidence they've uncovered indicates a conspiracy between terrorists on several continents that the terrorists are planning a rash of suicide bombings that will make Sept. 11 look like nothing much at all, and will destroy the economy of the U.S. and all the nations of the West. 

So who goes in to save the day? The Navy SEALS, of course. This movie portrays in a mostly realistic way their real work and some of the reasons we need these warriors.

The photography is amazing and the action is very believable, even though the plot has the tried-and-true Hollywood shortcuts and conventions (the young guy who has to leave his pregnant wife to fulfill his duty, the bad guys who are mostly darker-skinned and speak foreign languages, for instance).

It's rated R, which we didn't realize until the movie had started. The rating is well deserved for the blood and gore and occasional vulgar language. If you can stomach that, you'll love the movie.

Some have criticized the movie as thinly-disguised American propaganda. To that, Madame L would say, "What do you mean, thinly disguised?" But Madame L doesn't care because the movie is so good and she happens to be a big fan of America and its freedoms.

If any of Madame L's and Aunt Louise's Dear and Gentle readers see the movie, please write a comment to share your thoughts about it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In Like A Lion

March 1, 2012, just reminding us that Spring is not really here yet: