Archive for April 2013

14 Minutes   Leave a comment

Lawn

This is most of our front yard.

That’s all it took. 14 minutes.

That’s certainly not how it used to be. It used to take much, much longer.

I remember mowing lawns as taking, uh, hours. It killed Saturday mornings … and I had a riding lawn mower, to boot. Of course, that was when I was mowing 2 yards on the farm … and the size of the yards was probably best measured in hundreds of yards, not tens of feet. Today, my lawn isn’t big enough to turn around on a riding mower.

Today, for the first time in about 30 years, I mowed my own lawn. In 14 minutes.

Lawn Mower

The Mowry Mower

So the mower works. But what to do with it?

The big problem, of course, is that the Mowry Mower doesn’t fit in my 2-car garage workshop. Space is at a premium in SoCal … no one has space to spare. My workshop had a sudden incursion last June when Little Girl came home from college … and it took me months to recover and find new storage for all of the things that have to be stored until she moves out.

Again.

It took me far too long, but eventually I found storage for all of Little Girl’s stuff … just in time to re-fill the workshop with the sheet stock and lumber required to build the shed.

The shed is now just about finished. It got doors today … it’s functional. Another day for final trim pieces, paint and touch-up, and it’ll be all done. Meanwhile, here are a couple of shots of our new shed.

I enjoy designing and building projects from the ground up. This is our first outdoor shed, and we will enjoy it.

More

Why Do I Even HAVE A Lawn?

Any Lawn Care Advice, Auntie?

Another Aunt, Another Bad Lawn

Posted April 30, 2013 by henrymowry in Living Life

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Little John   2 comments

Callistemon citrinus, ‘Little John’, AKA Dwarf Bottlebrush

Little John

Chromatic Adaptation   1 comment

Tom Cruise's fortune was made in "Risky Business" and his oh so retro Ray-Bans.

Tom Cruise’s fortune was made in “Risky Business” with his oh so retro Ray-Bans.

When have you been painting white boards in the direct sunlight too long?

When your eyes no longer see color properly.

It’s called Chromatic Adaptation, and what it means is I over-stressed the brightness and blue color receptors in my eyes … so when I walked into the darker, flourescent-lit garage workshop, I couldn’t see brightness or blue colors … which is particularly bad in a blue-light flourescent environment. So everything looked dark brown. And I mean everything looked that way until my eyes recovered several seconds later.

So it was time to quit painting!

Here’s a link to a site so you can see what happens when you over-saturate certain colors in your eyes: PlanetPerplex.com.

Ever wonder why Hollywood stars always wear sunglasses? It’s not just to look cool. Or mask their identity. In fact, if they’ve spent too much time in bright lights, then their eyes eventually adapt so that they don’t see well in transitions between light and dark … they teach their eyes to adapt slowly, because they are always in the bright lights.

So they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes.

It also protects their eyes from all of the camera flashes. And if they are, uh, self-medicating, then it can help protect over-dilated eyes.

And it’s cool.

Sunglasses were just as important in Cruise's Top Gun.

Sunglasses were just as important in Cruise’s Top Gun.

Posted April 28, 2013 by henrymowry in Living Life

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The Cool Kids Were Right   1 comment

iPod 1All the cool kids were doing it. I resisted. I was wrong.

Hear that, Velda? I was wrong. I freely admit that.

For years and years, I resisted the idea that lower quality electronic copies of songs was the way to go. We bought iPods for the kids … but I bought CDs. Finally, last Christmas, I embraced change and asked Santa for an iPod.

And I have now ripped 72 gallons of CDs. I know it’s 72 gallons, because that’s the storage capacity needed to keep all of the CDs & jewel cases. And yes, the idea that I’m keeping the CDs is probably evidence that I haven’t fully embraced the digital age … oh well.

I decided to buy library software to store CD-quality audio on my hard drive; I am using JRiver Media Center 18. It allows me to drag and drop playlists, design smart playlists with rules that I write, and play songs by genre and by artist (to name but a few of my options).

13,619 songs are now at my fingertips, wherever I go. There are 17 different playlists, each of my specific design.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Ipod 2

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Music To My Ears

Sobbing On An Airplane

JRiver Media Center Software

 

Solar Energy: Unfair To The Poor   Leave a comment

Solar 03 - IvanpahI’m loving this whole solar thing.

Driving to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I drove by Ivanpah, which is a tri-headed solar farm that will be coming online this summer. Click on the picture at right to get a better look at how one of the steam-driven solar collectors works. You really don’t get a sense of the scale of this project driving by … you just know it’s large.

It’s not. It’s massive.

It’s a 3,500 acre installation … that’s almost 5-1/2 square miles! No wonder desert lovers are up in arms about this project … it’s truly destroying a very large swath of pristine desert, all in the hopes of creating some “green” energy. It’s been 5 years in the making, and will generate an additional 3,500 megawatts when it comes online. The project is costing $2.2 billion. And it’s not even working yet.

BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar plant, shown in these images, took more than five years to permit, finance, and build. The technology features thousands of mirrors that direct sunlight at a central tower to produce steam and power a turbine. Utilities in California are looking seriously at the technology because they must deliver a third of their power to consumers from renewables by 2020.

BrightSource’s Ivanpah solar plant, shown in these images, took more than five years to permit, finance, and build. The technology features thousands of mirrors that direct sunlight at a central tower to produce steam and power a turbine. Utilities in California are looking seriously at the technology because they must deliver a third of their power to consumers from renewables by 2020.

In 2012, California became the first state to install more than 1,000 megawatts of solar collection capacity (that’s over 1 gigawatt). That’s going to be shattered in 2013 … and we’re not done. Another huge project is coming online in Riverside County, east of LA County, and that two-headed project is costing $2.6 billion and has a capacity of 500 megawatts.

While the utilities are investing b-b-b-b-billions in solar, consumers are also getting on the bandwagon, and putting solar panels up on their roofs. That isn’t a very efficient way to lower their energy bills (see link below), but it is having a direct affect on how much they pay to the electrical utilities each month.

Lancaster, California, became the first city in the country to require solar panels on all new housing construction. Given how solar is one of the least important things to lower power bills … good planning, Lancaster!

The irony that’s now becoming public is that California’s commitment to solar energy is actually going to hurt the poor. Here’s why:

“Low-income customers can’t put on solar panels — let’s be blunt,” said David K. Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents utilities. “So why should a low-income customer have their rates go up for the benefit of someone who puts on a solar panel and wants to be credited the retail rate?”

It’s not just a California problem:

Other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Virginia, have also been reviewing their programs, which are transforming the fundamental relationship between customers and their utilities.

California schools have jumped on the band wagon … there’s a white paper, link below, on how school districts have embraced solar. Our local high school district, the William S. Hart Union High School District, has signed a 20-year agreement with a utility for “discounted” electrical rates, and in return they’ve “received” solar panel installations in a carport style over all of their parking lots. The good news for me as a tax payer, if you want to call it that, is that the School District signed this contract and since it’s zero cost, it’s “off book” – meaning there’s no direct budget impact. But there’s a 20-year commitment to buy electricity from the company that provided their solar panels for no charge.

I loved finding out that they installed the collectors at Valencia High School facing the wrong way.

That’s been fixed; here’s what their parking lot looks like now:

Valencia High School's solar panels also provide shade to their parking lot.

Valencia High School’s solar panels also provide shade to their parking lot.

Where is it all going? No clue. But our state is committed to creating more solar energy. Here’s hoping it all works out for the best.

More

How Green Do You Want Your Energy?

Mojave Desert Blog

Sacramento Business Journal: California’s First In Solar

Geek.com: Lancaster, CA

MIT Technology Review: Ivanpah

New York Times: The Fairness Debate

LA Times: Schools Install Solar

KCET.org: California School White Paper

LA Times photography: Ivanpah

The President and the Boy Scouts   Leave a comment

Gerald R Ford, Eagle Scout, 1929

Gerald R Ford, Eagle Scout, 1929

Every President since its 1910 founding has served as the honorary chairman of the Boy Scouts of America.

Teddy Roosevelt, newly ex-President in 1910 was given the unique title of “Chief Scout Citizen.”

5 Presidents, or half of the Presidents that could have been Scouts, were actually Scouts:

John F Kennedy, Star Scout, 1930

John F Kennedy, Star Scout, 1930

John F Kennedy, the first President born in the 20th Century, was the first who was a Boy Scout as a youth. He rose to the rank of Star.

Gerald Ford was the first and only Eagle Scout to become President.

Bill Clinton and George W Bush were both Cub Scouts.

Barack Obama was a member of the Indonesian Scout Association; he was the equivalent of a Cub Scout.

The link below chronicles the support of Scouting rendered by all Presidents, from Teddy Roosevelt forward.

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Scouting.org: Presidents Fact Sheet

Meet Danusia Francis   Leave a comment

This UCLA freshman created a huge buzz with her no-hands sideways-facing forward flip done on the balance beam at the NCAA Gymnastics finals last Sunday.

No one else is performing this stunt in competitions right now. WOW!

She landed this epic flip perfectly … but then fell later in her routine. But for that slip, she just might have won a national championship.  And she’s just a freshman!

Kudos to 25.media.tumblr.com, who posted the gif.

Taking Pictures   Leave a comment

Taking Pictures

Posted April 24, 2013 by henrymowry in Photography

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Do You Trust Strangers?   Leave a comment

Yelp logo84% of purchasers say their decisions are influenced by online reviews.

84% of purchasers don’t know who they’re listening to.

Yelp is the big company in crowd sourcing … they collect reviews from many, many consumers: the crowd. Most people (84%, apparently) trust that crowd to tell them what restaurants are good, what dentists are friendly, and what retailers deserve their business.

In its best case, having the crowd recommend good restaurants in a strange city is a wonderful thing. Velda introduced me to Yelp in Maui, and it was great. We were in Lihue for the first time, and by listening to the crowd, we were pointed towards some wonderful restaurants, markets, and shows.

However, the crowd is not perfect. As some have observed, Yelp is great for “normal” restaurants, but if your tastes are more esoteric, then you shouldn’t listen to the crowd. Ethnic foods, or spicy foods, have a much more unusual flavor profile … which may not be as easy for the crowd to evaluate.

On the other hand, some people are idiots. Perhaps you’ve noticed? Some members of the great unwashed public have unrealistic views of what service should be … and what they deserve in the marketplace. There have even been cases documented where people have demanded  blackmail from retailers … or they will give them bad reviews. One bad customer – one irresponsible consumer – can mess up a review profile for a small business.

So what’s a retailer to do?

Buy good reviews, of course!  There are companies that guarantee that they will submit positive reviews to Yelp (note that they don’t guarantee that the reviews will actually be posted on the website). Yelp is aware of this … and so they threaten retailers that if they buy reviews, then they will get this warning on their website:

Yelp Alert

That’s a pretty stiff punishment for anyone trying to build their business based on a crowd-sourced review site like Yelp. Who would go to a business that’s known to be a cheater?

But what if Yelp is gaming the system, too? There are stories about the sellers of Yelp advertising telling retailers they can “fix” bad reviews that come up. The other thing that’s known is that the Yelp software accepts some reviews … and ignores others. If it thinks that you might be a fake reviewer, then your review will never see the light of day. But what if you’re really, really a supporter of your local restaurant, and you wrote a 5-star review because you really believe?

If the Yelp algorithm doesn’t like you, then you’re not going to help your favorite retailer. There’s an LA Times article, link below, about this exact problem.

The bottom line is that crowd sourcing is a great thing when it works. When it doesn’t work … it’s not worth much at all.

And THAT is why we sometimes need people other than the crowd to tell us what’s what. Sometimes, an impartial writer is necessary for the rest of us to know what’s true, or what we can trust. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about real, professional journalists. They have a place … and occasionally helping guide their readers is why they get paid the big bucks to write their opinions.

Right, big bucks. Did you see the article about the most hated professions in 2013?  Newspaper journalists came in dead last, at # 200. That would be below lumberjacks.

I’m no journalist, and I’m no lumberjack. I do love Yelp, however. I’m a fan. I write the occasional review.

But I also subscribe to two actual newspapers, and a third electronic edition of a real newspaper, and I read the writing of actual journalists. They have names. They even have bylines and email addresses that I can write to when I choose. That’s good, because there are times that I remember what my Momma told me:

Don’t trust strangers.

And sometimes, anonymous reviews on the internet are very strange, indeed. Don’t you think?

More

LA Times: When Yelp Rejects Your Reviews

Managing Your Small Business Reputation

BuyYelpReviews.com

Huffington Post Interview With Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman

The Worst Jobs of 2013

Quora: How Reliable Are Yelp Reviews?

Mob Sourcing

Posted April 24, 2013 by henrymowry in Media

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Portraits: John F Kennedy   1 comment

Elaine de Kooning, known for her contemporary, gestural portraits, was chosen in 1962 to create a portrait of President Kennedy for the Truman Library because she worked quickly. She had seven informal sessions in Palm Beach, Florida, with Kennedy at the end of December and early January of 1963. De Kooning was so moved by Kennedy that over the next ten months she created hundreds of drawings and twenty-three paintings of him. After his assassination, she didn't paint for a year.

Elaine de Kooning, known for her contemporary, gestural portraits, was chosen in 1962 to create a portrait of President Kennedy for the Truman Library because she worked quickly. She had seven informal sessions in Palm Beach, Florida, with Kennedy at the end of December and early January of 1963. De Kooning was so moved by Kennedy that over the next ten months she created hundreds of drawings and twenty-three paintings of him. After his assassination, she didn’t paint for a year.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963)

The 35th President of the United States, 1961 – 1963

AKA: JFK, Jack

From: Massachusetts

College: London School of Economics, Princeton, Harvard

Married to: Jacqueline Bouvier

Children: Arabella, Caroline B., John F., Jr., Patrick B.

Party: Democratic

Previous Jobs: US Navy Lieutenant, US Representative, US Senator

In His Words: “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis”. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

“If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.””

“If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all — except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.”

“I believe in an America where the rights that I have described are enjoyed by all, regardless of their race or their creed or their national origin – where every citizen is free to think and speak as he pleases and write and worship as he pleases – and where every citizen is free to vote as he pleases, without instructions from anyone, his employer, the union leader or his clergyman.”

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American’s capacity. The human mind is our fundamental resource.”

“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

“Terror is not a new weapon. Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example. But inevitably they fail, either because men are not afraid to die for a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats, and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know, be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities.”

JFK, FlagNot true: Kennedy debated his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, in the first Presidential debates ever televised. Radio listeners felt that Nixon either won or tied the debates. However, Kennedy trounced Nixon on television. Kennedy allowed make-up to be applied to his face, and he looked cool and calm during the debate. Nixon, however, had a “5 o’clock shadow” and perspired throughout the event.

True: “Jack” Kennedy was the first President who had been a Boy Scout in his youth.

Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for bravery in WWII after his ship, PT109, was sunk by a Japanese destroyer and JFK saved his men.

His 1955 Profiles in Courage won the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected President. He was the first President born in the 20th century.

He was the first Roman Catholic President (and this was controversial during the campaign, with some fearing the Pope could order him to implement specific policies).

Kennedy was the first President to have a live televised press conference.Motorcade

After a failed meeting with Khrushchev, Kennedy believed the country must prepare for nuclear war … and that there was a one in five chance that war would happen.

Kennedy ordered the Bay of Pigs invasion in an attempt to overthrow Castro. It was a total failure.

JFK was the 4th President to be assassinated (after Lincoln, Garfield & McKinley).

The Official Portrait:  Aaron Shikler was selected in 1970 by Jacqueline Kennedy to paint a posthumous portrait of John F Kennedy; it became his official White House Portrait.

John F Kennedy, Official White House Presidential Portrait

Kennedy,-John,-FINAL

More

Being A Scout Is Expensive

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library And Museum

Biography: John F. Kennedy

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