25 June 15


UC Davis held a retirement celebration last night for anyone who had retired since June 30, 2014. I’ve “retired” in that I draw a check from the university every month that is a “retirement” check, but Listen-ink is moving along. I love this new work I’ve chosen to do and it’s a great fit. (I just volunteered, perhaps rashly, to record a session in Spanish at the IFVP Conference in Austin in three weeks. The speaker will be speaking in English, I’ll be recording in Spanish. Translation and translation on the fly. Wish me luck!)

Here’s a list of Things I Know Now. I am so behind with blogging it seems like the only way to give the space to Numenius, who has been gently pressuring me.

  • If you wind a warp on a loom unevenly, threads will pop. This is really annoying.
  • Hens stop laying eggs reliably when they’re over 18 months old, and much less in winter. The rest of the time you have stroppy pets that make a mess and try and escape at any opportunity. I maybe should have let the hawk keep one of them instead of chasing it off.
  • Daily Life for Working Americans consists of a lot of rushing about. It’s been very nice to turn down that spigot.
  • If you stop rushing about (to get to work on your bike, say), it’s really easy to pack on the pounds. Forget the Freshman Fifteen; this is more like the Retirement Eighteen.
  • Obviously, more exercise and less food is a way to address this. Obviously. Hmm.
  • The U.S. confectionery lobby has succeeded in banning Cadbury’s chocolate from retail outlets here on the dodgy loophole that it doesn’t quite count as chocolate. It can still be found, however, in a drugstore in Davis (not telling which one). Obviously, this is not helping with the Retirement Eighteen thing.
  • I really hate housework (except mopping floors). It was easy to find excuses when I was working. Rushing about. Now I just have to fess right up here and say I’m a slob, I live with someone who doesn’t see the mess, and though I don’t like it, I’ll tolerate it because I don’t like housework more.
  • There is lots of suffering in the world and it can get overwhelming.
  • A lot of suffering in the world, and particularly here in the U.S., is inflicted by people of my skin color.
  • One small thing I can do is speak up about it. Speak up against even very veiled racism. And start talking to other white people about it. People of color are so exhausted by the futility of trying to educate us, plus it’s not safe for them. We can work to get to a place where we educate ourselves. It’s really important right now
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12 October 14


It’s interesting how small changes in one’s information systems can lead to successful outcomes. Last May, Pica reported on adopting the Bullet Journal. We both tried it, and by now I can report it’s working brilliantly for me. The system is a favorable combination of organic notetaking with enough structure to keep track of information in sequence. No need to rigidly fit things into narrow calendar boxes, no struggles with cranky software, and plenty of room to annotate special projects.

Last month, realizing it was finally time to get a handle on household finances, we started using the software You Need A Budget. Two themes to this software are 1) defining an explicit monthly budget and being able to track expenses against subcategories in the budget as they occur. 2) being able to sync transactions instantly across multiple devices, both desktop and mobile. We haven’t accumulated as much history with YNAB as with the Bullet Journal, but so far it is working really well for us.

The latest innovation I brought back home from my office, where it was merely accumulating dust. This is a wooden four-slot stacked filing device. We are now using it to sort incoming mail, keeping it off the kitchen counter. The simplest of devices, but need here.

Organization. What a concept.

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11 August 14

Brum Meetup

Yesterday we traveled to San Francisco, to the Off the Grid food truck Sunday event, to meet up with other alumni of Birmingham University who happen to live in Northern California. I’ve been invited to several of these before but since I’ve never felt much of a connection to the university, haven’t made it a priority to attend (I’ve hardly kept in touch with any of my classmates, I who keep in touch with everyone). However, this time we thought we’d go.

Sketch of Birmingham alumni meetup I was pleasantly surprised by the event. I found myself in the middle of three distinct cohorts representing three brain drains to the U.S.: graduates from the 50s, 70s, and 00’s. Most of the folks were people in tech or engineering fields, which of course weren’t my own (language graduate here), and since I’ve come home to Northern California which is where I was born, I don’t consider myself quite typical of the group. They didn’t seem to mind, though.

We ate excellent food. Numenius sketched. I held a cricket bat for the first time in 35 years. And I got a prize sunburn through the San Francisco fog…

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6 April 14

Volvos Return To Davis

Volvo 122S On the way home from a meeting at Mishka’s Cafe in town today, we stumbled across the annual Volvo meetup at Central Park, always on a Sunday in the spring. This seems to be the largest Volvo meetup on the West Coast; why they have settled on Davis as their location is not clear. But I’m always happy to see these cars return — I grew up with Volvos in my family and have quite a soft spot for the older ones. Here are photos of the 1800 sports car and the 122S station wagon, both of which we had, the station wagon arriving in 1966. Volvo 1800

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21 October 13

A County Flu Drill

On Saturday I volunteered at the Yolo County Flu Clinic. This is a service provided by the Health Department and flu immunization is free to all residents. I was alerted to the volunteer opportunity through Yolo ARES, Amateur Radio Emergency Service, but in the event they requested my translation skills rather than radio (no radios were needed in this exercise, which doubles as an emergency drill).

The day was pretty slow. This might be explained by the fact that it was a perfect day: no wind, warm but not hot. A perfect day for a century bike ride, in fact, which coincidentally it was – Foxy Fall Century didn’t have me as SAG 10 this year. During the long, slow morning, I got to talking to a Cambodian volunteer. When we discovered we had French in common an interesting conversation ensued where she explained to me how she had worked in Cambodia in some field of public health. Her switching between French and English was entirely natural, fluid, and I don’t think she knew she was doing it. (I’m sure there were also a few Khmer words thrown in there I didn’t catch.) Anyway, I was strongly reminded of the hybrid English-Spanish patois of the Gibraltarians, which they call Llanito and which also contains words of Arabic and even Maltese origin.

Cambodia to Esparto: what a change of scene for this woman. Different health problems—no obesity in Cambodia – but not so different, either: diabetes is a growing emergency among the Cambodian poor, just as it is in upper Yolo County.

My time with OCD epidemiologists at the Wildlife Health Center showed in my horror at seeing a volunteer who was registering patients shake hands with each of them. No hand sanitizer at the ready, either… In an epidemic, that would have been stamped on pretty quickly.

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5 April 13

8,403 Miles by Train - and 211 Sketches

Modern parenting with iPhone We got in after midnight, the train that had carried my mother and me from Chicago and lost both engines limping off toward Emeryville in the dark. This last leg was the longest of my trip — two nights by train, even without the nine-hour delay. The ground felt oddly solid beneath my feet.

I set out on this journey for many reasons, some of which I’m still discovering, but mainly to clear my head from the past few months leading toward a layoff. It’s hard to know what to do when you are older but seem to have moved on from your chosen career path; it’s disorienting and holds the potential for huge anxiety and depression. My body is at a transition time also, and the anticipation of major change was almost too hard to take at times. When it came, though, and the final date was set, it was a huge relief — and felt like cause for celebration. I discovered what I’d do next, almost by chance (but actually because I was ready to; I’ll be talking more about it later). I needed a big, long break.

A continent-long break, it turns out. Davis – Los Angeles – Albuquerque – Chicago – Tyrone, PA – Philadelphia – Boston – Brunswick, Maine – Boston – Chicago – Davis. In the middle there I took a fantastic side trip by car to see some dear friends in Montreal, managed a little time with my cousin in Maine and my uncle in Boston. Managed to catch up, too, with Lorianne and Leslee in Cambridge, a merging of many conversations.

Mum's feet from the top bunk As I’ve said elsewhere, the most unexpected delight, serially, was all the fantastically interesting people I met (pretty much everyone). People who take long train journeys are almost uniformly interesting. (The people who felt as though they’d been duped into taking theirs were the very rare exceptions.)

Maine I brought too much to do, hoping to stave off boredom, but nothing was boring. I did very little knitting and almost no reading. What I did was lots and lots of sketching, dozens of tiny pen-and-wash drawings with a purple Pilot G-Tec-C4 and a set of Schmincke watercolors—having spent some time with these I can say I love the saturation but need to tweak, in a major way, the reds. The blues are good though I’d perhaps add cerulean to the mix; I need to find a good color to use for flesh tones of winter Caucasian midwesterners, because what was in my box certainly didn’t provide that.

Waiting for the fieldfare

Kestrel I brought along my good (read heavy) binoculars and was glad of them for the day spent looking in vain for the fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts, but more especially for the two life rosy-finches in the Sandia Mountains above Albuquerque. They proved almost useless on the train if it was moving—I should have brought a much lighter pair. I will compile a bird list, separating out birds seen from the train and not (a real treat was the woodcock near my sister’s in Maine that was flushed by her dog, especially since the one I’d hoped to see at Dave’s in Plummer’s Hollow was taking a break during a big snowfall). I don’t know what it means other than that I’m still, deep down, a lister, even if not a very serious one.

Waiting in the sagebrush The return leg of the trip was taken with my mother. We’re going to go and see my brother in Juneau and she was up for the train ride across the country. We worked out some surreptitious signals in order to avoid killing each other, but actually didn’t need to avail ourselves of them; we are good travel companions, even through nine-hour delays in the Utah desert (it might have been better if there had been a bird — any bird — but we still had a good time; after five hours of looking at the same five acres of sagebrush I did pick up the knitting, it must be said). A sense of humor goes a long, long way in mishaps beyond your control.

Colorado, west slope Still feeling the clickety-clack swaying of the train in my bones. I can see how a person could get hooked on this…

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29 March 13

Aerospace Museum

MiG 17 We had the day off today so I took the opportunity to play tourist in my own backyard, and headed to the Aerospace Museum of California, which is in the north Sacramento area next to the former McClellan Air Force Base airfield. I had never been there before. Titan IV first stage engines Their collection is strong in U.S. AIr Force planes but they have some other noteworthy planes as well. I sketched three of the planes and one pair of rocket engines. The plane at left is a MiG-17: according to the plaque how the Air Force acquired this particular plane is still classified. At lower right is the pair of rocket engines from the first stage of the Titan IV rocket. This rocket was used mainly to launch large military satellites into orbit but was also used to launch the Cassini space probe which is still orbiting Saturn collecting data.

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27 March 13

Feathers of Hope Turns Ten

Beth and Alison, pen and wash in 2003, not long after we had started out on Feathers of Hope, I came across a blog by an interesting woman in Vermont. Beth of the Cassandra Pages quickly became one of my go-to places, and through her, I discovered lots of other like-minded bloggers. We started the Ecotone Wiki for bloggers about place, which sadly succumbed to hackers and is no more. But I have kept in close touch with a lot of blogging friends from those days.

On this incredible train journey across the continent, I’ve even seen some of them. I type this in an Arabic restaurant above the rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal, across from Beth. Ten years after we first met in Vermont. I’ve spent time in Plummer’s Hollow with Dave of Via Negativa, I’ve seen Leslee of 3rd House Journal Lorianne of Hoarded Ordinaries, partners on this journey.

Our posting on the blog has slowed way down. Sometimes I wonder whether its time is over. But the blog serves a different function than every other type of social media I can think of. I think a blog is an ideal venue for sketches, for instance.

Thank you to Numenius for joining me on this journey. Wish you were here. Thanks for holding down the fort while I peregrinate.

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14 December 12

A Mathematical Dabbling Duck

This has been a good week for me in terms of learning a bit of math. At work I’ve been posed with a question that turns out to be an instance of the set covering problem, and this has taken me on a whirlwind tour through a bit of graph theory, computational complexity, and integer linear programming. (Of the latter, for months now we’ve traveled past a sign on campus announcing a workshop on mixed integer programming, not knowing that it would be my fate to learn enough of the stuff to contemplate setting up the formulation of such problems on a computer.)

I’m not great at math, but I do enjoy mathematical thinking. I do a lot better when I am able to see a problem in visual terms, and tend to stumble when faced with an onslaught of lots of notation. It is nice that we’re in an era where there are lots of excellent books at all levels about math being written that are aimed at non-mathematicians. Right now I’m slowly reading through Cristopher Moore and Stephen Mertens’ massive but highly-touted tome The Nature of Computation. The study of computational complexity is profound and deep stuff, and even if I don’t follow most of the details there’s a lot I can get out of the book.

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7 December 12

Twitter After Two Days

Last Saturday there was a thread on MetaFilter comparing Twitter and Facebook, linking back to among other things a piece by MetaFilter founder Matt Haughey on why he loves Twitter but barely tolerates Facebook. I am not now on and am not likely to sign up for Facebook in the foreseeable future, but the arguments in the piece for why Twitter can be a lot of fun made sense, so I’ve decided to give it a whirl. Several observations after a couple of days:

  • The Internet is in the constant habit of repackaging old wine in new bottles. The Wikipedia page for microblogging under “related concepts” says that “in the Finger protocol, the .project and .plan files are sometimes usedmaking for status updates similar to microblogging.” Change the verb there to were used and you might have something there — that particular protocol was used in a far more innocent age of internetworking. Much more recently, we have RSS. A lot of the niche Twitter fills (rapid aggregation of news) is also carried out by RSS, but Twitter seems to have displaced RSS for a lot of users.
  • If everybody and their grandmother literally is on Facebook, the proportion of active Twitter users still seems pretty low. Many organizations that one would expect to have a Twitter feed have yet to adopt the platform.
  • That said, at least in my fields of interest, enough experts are actively posting links to new content via Twitter that it is clear that the platform is quite valuable in keeping track of professional developments.
  • I really like the fact it’s not much effort for me to play too. I see a blog post I like, I tweet it, and make a pithy comment.
  • It may be rare to find, but 140 characters or less of text can express the sublime.
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