All posts by XingfuMama

Amateur photographer seeking beauty in both the memorable and the mundane. Sharing pictures, stories and meditations from here and there.

Good advice

A quote from this morning’s newspaper:

Arkansas authorities also issued guidelines that they hoped would prevent the spread of the disease, urging people traveling back to the state from countries with Zika outbreaks to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes for 10 days after their return.

The article is CDC confirms dozen cases of Zika virus in U.S. While the article is serious two things made me chuckle:

  1. “Avoid being bitten by a mosquito for 10 days”, as if people wouldn’t try to avoid being bitten. There is also an implied “After 10 days you can go back to your usual carefree mosquito feeding ways.”
  2. While I understand that they are concerned about disease transmission, the following quote might make one think that the risk was to the mosquitoes: “Mosquitoes here in Arkansas can become infected with the virus if they bite someone who has Zika.”

No doubt the quotes are out of context in the article. A wise Arkansas health official probably gave a well researched speech explaining everything well and a reporter grabbed a few quotes from it to make the article fit neatly around the Macy’s ad.

Why do I think that? Among other things they are at the end of the article. We live in a world where we aren’t expected to read entire articles, and perhaps the editors don’t either.

Or maybe I am a little warped…or desperate to find something at least a little humorous when the front page stories included “Five shot at homeless camp” and “Oregon standoff leader arrested amid fatal gunfire”.

Quote Me

Scrubbing bubbles?

What’s the 11th item on your bucket list?

I don’t use buckets all that much. Mostly for cleaning and sometimes for gardening. So my “bucket list” is cleaning supplies, pruners, trowels….

I don’t have the kind of bucket list where you decide you want to do thus and so before you die. I plan to live until I die. That means dealing with regular stuff and taking opportunities that come along. My best life experiences have been things I wouldn’t have thought to do, so I would rather just go along enjoying life as best I can and taking things as they come, but not fearing to try something new now and again.

A cleaning bucket seems most appropriate right now: Cleaning, clearing and tidying have been a big part of my 2016 so far and it looks like that will continue as we have some major work done in the kitchen this spring and summer.

It started with mice deciding to use my car engine as a warming hut.

KSM-20160124-ScrubbingBubbles-01-720pxKSM-20160124-ScrubbingBubbles-02-720pxThen the tree pruning company I use was booked out through the end of March so, in addition to cleaning up the back yard to discourage rodents, I had to prune the trees myself (they can’t wait till the end of March and they have been neglected way too long). I hurt for over a week after I finished, but the real bummer about this is that the tree company chips and removes all of the branches and debris. Unlike my spouse, who said he will trickle it into our regular yard waste pick up…

I go out and rattle the piles hoping to discourage mice, but I am still parking on the street.

Now comes trying to get all of the things we had moved out of the way first for the electrical rework, then for the drywall repair and painting back. Since we had to completely evacuate my son’s room (his ceiling material was so old it disintegrated when they cut through it to rewire requiring us to have the entire ceiling replaced instead of patched). He is coming home for a visit on February 1 so getting that room back into functional shape is a priority. But everything is all mangled up together, we used his room as a kind of catch all since he left for China over two years ago.

It is always nicer to read about things like cleaning and organizing than it is to do them, so, in a moment of weakness, I picked up a copy of the best-selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.   I am not saying the author is wrong, I am sure she has some insight (although she looks pretty young and doesn’t seem to have a family). But I think it is naive to believe that you can deal with all of your stuff at once, once and for all. Who really has the time and space to pull everything out, sort it and put it back?

Not me. So I plod along, exactly what the book says not to do. Is one to do nothing because one cannot do it all?
Kick It

What next?

The weekly photo prompt is Alphabet and the picture I took as a header for the daily prompt about Learning Style (yes, a day late) seems to fit. While my thoughts are a bit off the assigned topic, which was how I learn. The prompt seemed relevant since yesterday,  instead of writing, I was reading a couple of articles that, to me, relate to learning. Specifically about how computers learn.

How will a computer learning change things? Supposedly, Windows 10 is heading in that direction so the future is near, or for those more quick to adopt, here. My computer already creeps me out sometimes, when it pops up ads, the same ones on every web site, like they are stalking me.

Sometimes it can be amusing: One time I was stalked for weeks by adds for a hotel for which I had reservations, made through a real live travel agent. A woman I value most highly, although I rarely use her services. I am glad there are still living travel agents for those times when things are new to me and the inter-web, as my son calls it has SO much information that it overwhelms.

I suppose it is comforting that Big Data, while it knew what I was searching for, didn’t know when I would be where. It would have been even more creepy if I suddenly was getting pop-up ads for restaurants and stores beside the hotel with coupons for those specific dates.

I was looking at area rugs on-line a couple of weeks ago. We bought one at a brick and mortar store and I am still being stalked by e-rugs or somesuch (FYI: I don’t recall the name of the site, and there may actually be an “e-rugs” site, but my use of the term is supposed to be generic and is not either an endorsement or criticism of such a business, if it does exist.)

One article, “The End of Internet Advertising as We’ve Known It” by Doc Searls, was about how many people, like me, are getting tired of being pestered by ads that are tailored based on our search history and are learning to turn the ads off. I haven’t learned to do that yet but will be working on it after I finish this post.

Now that massive amounts of long term data is available, they have realized that very few people click on those tailored ads and even fewer actually make purchases.BTW:  I have a suspicion that a significant number of “clicks” are inadvertent, and wonder how many people get annoyed and turned off by the business. How many times have you accidentally clicked on a pop-up add and been sent somewhere you didn’t want to be?

One idea that they are working on is a way to tell the inter-web (again this is intended to be a generic term) that one is shopping for such and such when you want to see the ads and have them off by default, so that a simple search for information on a topic is not construed as a desire to buy something. This would be better for advertisers than having everyone turn the ads off for good. The article calls the idea “intentcasting”. I like this idea, being able to shop, and get information about products when I need something and not be pestered when I don’t need that sort of information.

Some time ago I wrote a post about how it used to be more fun to search the internet. I wonder if some of that fun would come back if it wasn’t so very important for the top results of any and every search to be advertisements.

The second article, “Kindergarten for Computers” by Will Knight was about artificial intelligence; specifically whether and how they could try to make a computer emulate how a child learns. It sounds good in theory…if you want computers that can think for themselves. Before we head too far down that road I wonder if we should consider a different question: do we want to create machines that think for themselves? for us? The article does seem to be based on the idea that we do.

Never-the-less the article, which is very much about learning is interesting.

On a personal level I learn in a myriad of ways. Sometimes one way and sometimes another, but I learn best when I am interested in something. That results in my seeking information about the topic from many different sources: written, videos, lectures, for broader topics I like to take classes where the material is structured and I can interact with other people interested in the topic. If I am interested I take the time to interact with the material, taking notes, experimenting and finding ways to apply the learning day-to-day. I wonder: will computers will ever be able to do that?

Since we use computers so much in so many ways I would encourage you to take a look at the articles. The more we know the more we will be able to learn how to use our tools and the more we can, maybe, shape how our tools use us.

Take back the words

This post, while inspired by the Daily Post prompt: Morphing. Is a bit off topic with regard to the actual prompt.

Last Sunday’s paper had an article about the words that are being removed from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) commonly used as part of college entrance criteria here in the USA. I knew every one of the words they were removing, and was saddened that we are letting some of the richness, and nuance of our communications go.

It is probably a sign of our times. When I was taught to compose many, many years ago, we were encouraged to use a variety of words, it was considered bad form to repeat the same ones over and over again. Say it once and say it right. Add more, different words to deepen meaning and make the message more accurate. In the age of the internet and search engine optimization we are encouraged to try and use key words as often as possible to raise the ranking.

It matters more how many times a computer search engine plunks your content down in front of searchers than whether they get an accurate idea of what you are trying to say. Ironically, at the same time, we are using media that limits the number of words and  characters we have available to communicate (e.g, twitter).

To use a minimum of words to get maximum meaning we need to know a wide variety of nuanced words. Instead we seem to be letting them go.

A couple of examples from the past few decades: “gay” and “tea party”.

Why let go of feeling gay (happy, joyous) in order to have a euphemism for homosexuality? If homosexuality is okay then it is okay to say “homosexual”; why do we need a euphemism? I think the euphemism “gay” makes homosexuals sound a bit shallow, which is not my experience.

We have a Christmas “Tea” at our church because some folks  didn’t want to use the phrase “tea party” since it had political  implications (the Taxed Enough Already political party was in the headlines). My thought (obviously I am a rebel) was that there is nothing wrong with having a Christmas Tea Party, and we shouldn’t surrender an accurate description of our event (which is a party with music, decorations and other celebratory  features that take it beyond the British tea as a meal definition) to a bunch of political yahoos. We use more words on our advertising, we have to say “fun and festive” since we can’t just say “party”. The political upstarts should be the ones who have to come up with a different description (refraining here from judgmental suggestions). Obviously I lost the debate…discussion…argument.

I think people should go to college. We should all learn more, but reducing our vocabulary and the richness of our language isn’t necessarily the approach we should use to opening those doors wider.

Language does change, but maybe we should fight it a bit. Maybe we need to up our vocabulary game instead of dumbing* it down.

*Dumbing is not approved of by my spell checker, even though the phrase “dumbed down” is fairly common. Hmmm….

 

Luxury. What is a luxury?

Today’s prompt:

Keeping up with the Jones’s: Tell us about the one luxury item you wish you could afford, in as much detail as you can. Paint a picture for us.

This really got me thinking. The Google defines luxury thus:

lux·u·ry
ˈləkSH(ə)rē,ˈləɡZH(ə)rē/
noun
1.the state of great comfort and extravagant living. “he lived a life of luxury.

Here is a facebook post I made a few years ago:

A flush toilet, hot shower and clean hair are my favorite luxuries but they do not make up for the sorrow of saying goodbye to friends. We are back in Nairobi now, clean and fresh, but a little sad.

 

KSM-20120226-Luxuries-01-720pxThis sums up my view of luxury. I do like to be clean and have comfort, but people matter to me more. The toilet and “shower” available in the village  was this:
These were, in fact, luxurious compared to what most people who lived there had, and I was darned happy to have them.
Today the back of my legs are hurting because of yard work I am doing to make our yard less hospitable to mice (see Mouse Droppings). It would be a luxury to not feel my legs, and yet it is a luxury to have a yard and garden…and a car. It is even a luxury to have legs that work, and they are sore because my life is really pretty easy.
I am not sure what the Jones’s have…or don’t have, but I am pretty happy with what I have and don’t feel like there is anything I really want, although less achy legs would be nice.

 
Keeping up with the Jones’
 

Sink or swim…or walk on water?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay it was just Boston, but when I left Seattle to go to college the farthest east I had ever been was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was a college student who needed a summer job, badly, something decent that could both pay the rent and allow me to save something toward the next year’s expenses, and, as a bonus, would be a good stepping stone to life in the real world.

A friend helped me with my resume and its distribution. She called the shots about what got put down, I am an insecure nerd and felt like, after two years of engineering school, I knew nothing (studying engineering can have that affect on you, even if you get good grades).

So I got a job in a summer internship program with the government. I was thrilled and a little nervous until I got to work that first day…then I was absolutely terrified.

I was to work writing computer programs in Pascal. I took a class in Pascal my first semester in college and got an A-. So why the fear? The minus was because I had never successfully run a program on a computer. I was, probably more so thirty plus years ago, good at logic and got every point possible in that class where no computer skills were needed. I totally understood the theory…and totally could not control a computer.

On paper I looked qualified, actually more qualified than the others since they had learned other programming languages (FORTRAN was the heavy hitter in those days for engineering disciplines). I needed the job desperately, so with a combination of shear desperation and a little luck I taught myself how to control a computer in about three days.

Fortunately the schools from which the other members of the intern team were coming, MIT and Tufts, were a little later getting out than mine (Boston U) and I was able to get the manuals for the Apple III and had sole access to the computer we were to share for a few days. Between that and the project taking shape a little slowly I was able to get up to a speed where no one ever knew. They even thought I was pretty sharp!

While I managed to learn to control a computer and the experience left me with a rather stubborn attitude that I can and will make computers do what I want them to. I never did actually get to liking, or completely trusting, computers.

The problem I had with that first, and only, programming class was that the delimiter on my account was set to a semi-colon. In Pascal all commands are separated by semi-colons, nothing can work if there are no semi-colons. I would type in a program, it was letter perfect and copied from the text book and the computer would remove all of the semi-colons! The problem baffled many people and was eventually figured out by an upper-classman who really needed me to get done so he could use the computer (this was before the PC and long before it was ubiquitous for college students to have computers…we were expected to have typewriters).

So I swam, but it felt an awful lot like I was walking on water, even though I worked pretty hard to get the result. I gained a lot of self-confidence in my ability to figure things out, with a lot of hard work. I am also a lot less shy about asking for help. I wonder if I could have gotten an A + in that class if I took it today.
Sink or Swim

 

Mouse Droppings

Ah, the magic of the New Year, time to hit the restart button on a healthy life style after the decadence of the holiday season. This year I have scoped down my hopes for the future: I don’t care how much I weigh or how I look. I just want to be able to drive without stinky air being blown at me. It is a resolution about health, but not in the usual way.

The Monday before New Year’s we were headed over to my dad’s to pick up the remnants of the Christmas festivities. I started to back out of the drive way when…what was that noxious smell?

Mice had decided to hole up in my car engine, specifically the ventilation system to get out of the cold weather. Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. (One “yuck” is inadequate.)

My husband dismantled the glove compartment, vacuumed and cleaned at the cabin air filter (dislodging some of the droppings onto the blower in the process) and washed at various other spots he thought might be helpful. The earliest we could get it into the dealership to have the vent system cleaned out was yesterday. I spent the week driving around, in pretty cold weather, with the glove box on the floor of the passenger seat and my windows open.

I don’t need a luxurious lifestyle, but this really isn’t adequate.

I tend to take a live and let live approach to wildlife…until they cross a line. Believe me they are across it. I won’t say I have no mercy, but darned little. My New Year’s resolution is short term: get the back yard cleaned up so our little friends will migrate elsewhere and I can park in my driveway again. I sure hope it can be achieved.

Resolved

I Fear Another Year has Passed

Fearless Fantasies
If I had no fear it wouldn’t change things much. I am scared of lots of things, but have long since learned to suck it up and soldier on. Fatigue and lack of inspiration are much more limiting to me. This year’s holiday season is a good example of that.

This year I felt “blah humbug” . I like many things about the Christmas season…and I kept trying to get my jingle on.

I got poinsettias and decorated the hearth.

KSM-20151229-Hearth-01-720px

I went to the Gingerbread Village. It was about Star Wars. Felt a bit commercial…and, while clever, many things were a little creepy and violent. Sort of like current events.

I decorated with evergreens.We even got the tree a week earlier than usual.

I baked. The smell was helpful. The inevitable mess less so.

KSM-20151223-Cookies-01-720px

In search of holiday spirit I put together one of my Ravensburger Christmas jigsaw puzzles and read Christmas stories out loud…to the cat.

Everything was jolly but there was something missing. Maybe it was the sad, sad events related to terrorism. Or the feeling I often have that they should rename the holiday “consumer-fest”. The perpetual bombardment of advertising makes me numb…and got me feeling a bit rebellious. I didn’t want to buy anything.

On the plus side we had nice family gatherings, it is nice to see folks, even if it is only once a year.

The holidays are winding down. The ham bones from Christmas Eve’s feast are gently simmering, on their way to becoming New Year’s Eve’s split pea soup.

As always, I seem to think that the week between Christmas and New Year’s is going to be longer than a normal week and expect to get more done (my husband has that week off). Alas, it is just as short as any of them. A few chores done, a few things put away and…poof it’s gone. Just like 2015.

Happy New Year!

Apology to a Suitcase

Detail of the Seattle gingerbread village: underground Seattle complete with stuck tunnel machine and money going into the tunnel. 204 holiday Season, Seattle.
Gingerbread view of Big Bertha-Money going down the drain.

After reading the paper this morning I was filled with remorse. On my last trip to China I called you Big Bertha, after the boring machine (tunnel boring not tedious boring). The paper had an article about Big Bertha. They think it will finally start work again after 2 years of repairs. It was wrong to call you after that machine.

You have never stopped working. You have traveled tens of thousands of miles loaded to the max and all your wheels still roll (one does stick a bit and have to be adjusted now and then). In spite of being dragged around and dropped in some fairly dusty and dirty circumstances you look great, a few wet wipes and vacuuming and you look just like you did when you came out of the box back in 2008. To compare you with an expensive machine that traveled only a thousand feet before needing extensive, and expensive, repairs is wrong.

My excuse is that I like to travel light and you weigh eleven pounds empty. I have never taken a trip with you where you were not pushing up against the airlines’ weight limit of 50 lb. As much as I can lift, and probably more than I should lift, in the awkward ways one lifts suitcases in and out of buses and trains, bending and twisting at funny angles.

Your heavy weight was because you were full of things for people. Books for an elementary school library in rural Kenya, gifts for friends and family. I rarely take you when I travel, only when I have lots to take, yet you have been to New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Kenya (3 times) and China (2 times). You always got where you were going and held up in situations where a lesser, lighter, piece of luggage might have buckled under the load or lost a wheel. Heck, between trips you worked as storage for off season clothing.

Now you sit in my son’s room in China, acting as a wardrobe, probably soon to be reloaded for a return trip to the states. Full of souvenirs and gifts for family and friends…and the love they symbolize. But what should I call you now?

Bixi at Dai Miao in Tai'an.
Bixi at Dai Miao in Tai’an.

Maybe “bixi” (pronounced “bee shee”, give or take, as the “sh” isn’t quite equal to ours) after the stone tortoises that carry the heavy steles on their backs. The steles commemorate important events.

Side note: since the spell checker didn’t like Stele I double checked it and, in addition to being correct, learned that it is the source of the word stellar.

Ripped from the Headlines!