Sunday, March 30, 2008

Blind horse running!

Er... actually, this is rolling. This is running:
Back the other way:Notice I'm on the OTHER SIDE of the fence from Twister the One-Eyed Wonder Horse. Not that I don't trust him, but he weighs about 1200 lbs and IS almost completely blind. He knows exactly where the fences are, but I tend to be a random variable in the paddock. A loud random variable when he starts doing this while I'm in there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with his ears.

Back the other way again:

And then I asked him to rear for me, which he obediently did. Anybody watching would have thought he'd been trained to do it. Beautiful, isn't he?You can see why I have trouble keeping the bandages on. He's a little hard on them.

All done. More than enough exercise for an old blind horse for one day. He looks a little motheaten because he's losing his winter coat.

Gimme a treat! It was getting dark, so his pupil was dilating, and you can see the cataract in his one remaining eye pretty well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dense isn't only for cake

My brother was recently paying cash for groceries when he noticed the cashier inspecting his money, paying particularly close attention to the one dollar bills.

He asked her why she was doing this.

She said, “Because someone has been taking ones and converting them to tens and twenties.”

“Then why are you looking at the ones?” he asked.

“Because someone has been taking ones and converting them to tens and twenties.”

“Yes, but why are you looking at the ones?”

Slightly aggravated, she said, “Because someone has been taking ones and converting them to tens and twenties.”

My brother, always a glutton for punishment, tried again. “Yes, I understand that, but why are you looking at the ones?”

She looked over at the bagboy and rolled her eyes as if to say, “Got a real stupid one here!” The bagboy looked back with raised eyebrows and shrugged — “Sure do.”

She said, “Because… someone… has… been… taking… the… ones… and… converting… them… to… tens… and… twen… tees.”

My brother just gave up and left.

I had taken off my shoes at work the other day. I do this occasionally just because any sign of Bohemianism makes the enginerds slightly uncomfortable. That, and I was hot. I was walking through the maze of cubicles to the microwave to make a cup of tea, and one of the secretaries came around the corner, looked at my feet and said, “We have mice, you know.”

I looked at her quizzically. “And?”

She repeated, "We have mice."

When I still looked at a loss, she scowled and said, “You're barefoot and we have MICE!” And walked off.

Oooookaaaaaaay. Can someone tell me if these two things are related somehow? Is my being barefoot causing us to have mice? Was I supposed to squeal and jump up on a chair in case a mouse ran out and viciously attacked my feet? Does she think I’m secretly keeping mice in my shoes? What?

When I relayed the story to my brother, he said I should have told her to check her ones because people were changing them into tens and twenties.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Once a band geek always a band geek

I know you'll find it hard to believe, but I was a band geek in high school. Some things never change. I currently play the bassoon in a local community band.

"What is a bassoon?," you may ask. I know you may ask this because I am asked it fairly regularly. Bassoons are a double reed low woodwind instrument. Here is my bassoon:It is a Fox 220, made in South Whitley, Indiana.

Not only do I play in the band...somehow I became chairman of the board of directors, and have been for three years now. I am "termed out" next September, thank goodness.

I started out on the alto saxophone in intermediate school, and when I got to high school, my band director, Mr. Williams, said, "We have plenty of alto saxes. How would you like to play the bassoon?"

"What's a bassoon?" I asked.

He brought out a case and opened it, and it was love at first sight.

My bassoon. The frog was given to me by the Queen of the Fairies when I played in the pit for a local production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe
He gave me a fingering chart and threw me in the deep end. I played the sax during marching season and bassoon during concert season. Since the school only owned one bassoon, I was the only bassoonist all four years.

I also played sax in the high school Jazz Band. I loved that enough to get up and go to school an hour early for four years. We played everything from Big Band, to Mainstream to Earth, Wind and Fire.

I used to walk a mile home up the steepest hill in Benicia, California with a huge backpack full of books, and a bassoon and alto sax balancing each other on each side. I'm pretty sure it's why I have bad knees now. Did I ever practice them, though? Of course not.

I met my first husband, David, in that band. Well, actually it was in Mrs. Hutchinson's biology class, but I really got to know him over the years in band. He played the French horn. My brother, three years behind me in school, was also in the band and Jazz Band. He played the oboe. And trombone. And flute. He always has to one-up me. Oh, wait. I have two more degrees than he it's the other way around.

After high school I played for a short while at the University of California at Davis, and then David and I played for a while in the now defunct Yolo County Concert Band, but then I stopped playing altogether for about five years.

About ten years ago, David's partner Pete needed a bassoonist for a wind ensemble at UC Davis he was putting together. After about a year of pestering, he finally lured me in with promises of playing the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. I owe him big time, even though I eventually ended up buying a VERY expensive instrument. I would have a hard time giving it up again.

The band I'm in now is a "Pops" band. We play everything I liked from both bands in high school. Big Band; John Phillip Sousa marches; Broadway Musical numbers; Rock and Roll medleys (The Beatles, Queen, The Village People, etc.); the best of Frank Sinatra; with a bit of classical and ragtime thrown in occasionally. I love it! So do our audiences.Note that my red fuzzy blanket serves multiple purposes. Isis is also sitting on it in the "herding cats" photo.
Concert band vs. Orchestra tutorial

An orchestra has a few wind instruments and percussion and a lot of stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos, etc.). A band is made up of mostly wind instruments and percussion with maybe a couple of stringed ones. We have a string bass and a harp at the moment, although we have had a few band members complain that a harp does not belong in a band.

Wind instruments are made up of woodwinds - flutes, clarinets, saxes, oboes, English horns, and bassoons, and brass - French horns, trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and tubas.

And remember: a bassoon is NOT an oboe. People are always getting them mixed up. Bassoon BIG. Oboe small. Oboe sticks out like a sore thumb. Bassoon virtually inaudible in a band (darn brass instruments and saxes drown us out).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Heilan Coos

My brother has a new herd of these near him in Virginia.
Highland Cattle
He says either they're Highland cows or someone has taken some giant brown sheepdogs and glued horns on their heads.

When we were in SCOTLAND last October, I kept my eye out, but never saw ANY Heilan coos. I thought I saw a herd way in the distance once, but then I thought I saw one in Devon, too, which isn't really known for Highland cattle. South Devon and Devon cattle, yes, which are brown, but not shaggy and much bigger. Of course, the farthest we got into the Scottish Highlands was Stirling, which could have been part of the problem. And I was concentrating on driving. Normally I don't concentrate quite that hard when I'm driving (aren't you glad you don't live near me?), but driving on the other side of the road takes a lot of concentration.

Interestingly, this isn't the only herd of Highland cattle near him.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Catholic school

Considering some of the topics of this blog, you may be surprised that my son went to a Catholic high school. The local public school, Sacramento High School, is the second oldest high school west of the Mississippi River, but it had gone downhill since 1859. It certainly was not considered a “good” school, and my son’s dads and I were not happy about sending him there, but it had just been taken over by the St. Hope Public Charter Schools, so we thought we’d give it a try. He had been there for three whole weeks, when I got two messages on my voicemail at work.

The first one was, “This is Sac High. Your son has been in a fight. Come and pick him up.”

The next one was, “We sent your son to the hospital. Go and get him there.”

Bill drove the slightly panicky me to the hospital, while I contacted my son’s dads. When we got there, my son was nearly unrecognizable. His eyes were swollen almost shut, his nose was swollen and mashed to one side, he was drenched in blood, and he was having trouble talking. The hospital wouldn’t give him pain killers until I got there, so he was also in pretty major pain. Once they gave him drugs, he was much happier, and fairly comfortably stoned by the time David and Pete arrived a few minutes later. He was happily wheeled off for a CT scan, and later we were all impressed when a woman from CSI, Sacramento showed up to interview him and take photos.

What actually happened:

My son (as well as many other kids) skateboarded to school. Bikes and walking are apparently passé. Skateboards don’t fit into the school lockers, so the kids carried them around all day. My son was outdoors, but in P.E. class. The freshman kids were waiting for the teacher to show up. The skateboards were all lined up against the fence. An older (and bigger) kid came by, took one of the skateboards and started skating around on it. A teacher came out of a nearby classroom and confiscated the skateboard – that didn’t belong to this kid.

Unconcerned, the kid just sauntered over and picked up another one - my son’s - and started skating around on it. My son, not wanting to have his skateboard confiscated, and apparently more stupid than not as intimidated as the other kids, went over and said, “Hey, a$$hole. Give me back my skateboard” and started reaching for the board. As he bent down, the kid punched up, and my son’s nose got the full brunt of both actions. He was completely focused on the board and never saw it coming.
Now, I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound like a "fight" to me.

The doctor said she had never seen a nose broken so badly from just one punch. She said it was broken into too many pieces to count. His eye socket was also cracked.This happened on a Friday, and David, Pete and I went in to meet with the school principal and school police officer on Monday. Yes, I said school police officer. The principal started out the conversation with, "So which one is this?"

We were confused.

"We have a lot of fights here," he said added helpfully.

"Yeah, I've been arresting a kid a day here," the police officer chimed in.

It turned out that parents were sending all the problem kids who had been in trouble at other area schools to the new St. Hope. The principal explained that they were being "weeded out," and it should get better soon. Unfortunately, for each kid "weeded out" there was a "victim." Phone-camera self portrait taken a few days later when the swelling had started to go down.

We weren't willing to wait it out. We immediately drove to the nearby Christian Brother's High School where my son's best friend was going. They couldn't let him start so late in the semester, so we home schooled him for a while, and he started there the next January. For various reasons, it turned out to be a very good experience for him.

The kid that attacked him was caught by the campus cop when he showed up again a few days later, ended up in court, and was placed in a juvenile detention facility. Unfortunately for him, there was an entire class full of witnesses. After he testified, my son said he just felt sorry for the guy.

David and I both have rather large nasal structures. My son didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of having a small nose. Until the reconstructive surgeries. The plastic surgeon gave him the opportunity to have whatever nose he wanted. He chose the one closest to what the surgeon thought he would have had before. It didn't turn out too badly!If someone says, “I’m gonna rearrange yer face,” I recommend taking them seriously. They can do it.

Is that a small furry animal attacking his chin? Yikes!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not the biggest...

but the prettiest.It's a Carrikeri harlequin frog, and it has just been rediscovered after 14 years. The rest of the National Geographic article is more depressing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss

Bill and I drove all the way to Stanford University yesterday to hear Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss give a talk entitled Against Ignorance: Science Education in the 21st Century. The picture looks fuzzy because I was too far away, but my glasses came apart just as I sat down, so this is how it looked to me, anyway. I squinted through one lens for most of the talk.

It is hard to explain how much of an impact Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene, had on me when I first read it back in about 1985. I wasn't raised in a particularly religious family. We never went to church. My father is an atheist, although I don't remember ever actually talking to him about it when I was younger. I have never really believed in a god. When I was a child, I think I sort of believed in god the same way I believed in Santa Claus. Santa Claus was probably much more real to me, and I don't really remember believing in him. I remember when I was about seven, our cat Tufty died. I said something to someone - I don't even remember who - about Tufty being up in heaven and playing with our two gerbils, Ghengis and Kublai, who had died (one or both possibly at the claws of Tufty). I was told that animals don't go to heaven, only humans do. I remember thinking, "Well that's just silly. Why should animals be any different?"

By the time we moved to south Texas when I was nine, I was definitely an atheist, although I may not even have known the word. We moved there as I started 4th grade. One of the other girls asked me what church we went to. I said that we didn't go to church. She looked astounded. She then asked me if I believed in God. I said no. She was completely incredulous. Word spread like wildfire. By that afternoon, I was being asked by what seemed to me to be every other kid that walked by if I believed in god. I finally just started saying, "I don't know."

I was just confused. Why was it such a big deal? I was also painfully shy, had just moved away from all the friends I had ever known, and didn't want the attention. After a day or so, but what seemed to me to be weeks, they got tired of asking. Luckily, I just wasn't that interesting.

But later on I remember being asked that if God didn't create everything, how do you explain life? I hadn't ever really thought about it. I answered, "Evolution." But even though I had an absolutely fantastic high school science teacher (in California, not Texas), I realized I still didn't really understand how it worked or how life might have begun.

At the University of California, Davis, I just got caught up in trying to keep up, so that question was actually WAY at the back of my mind when I took a course on evolutionary biology. One of the required texts was The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. I read it and was just blown away. He explained how life might possibly have started, but mainly how and why things evolved after life started. He linked together everything I had learned and was learning in bits and pieces and showed what a simple and elegant process evolution actually is.

Fairly soon after I took that class, Professor Dawkins came and gave a talk at UC Davis. For me, it was like seeing a rock star up close. I sat in the front row about ten feet away from him and was acutely embarrassed that the lecture hall was only about a third full. That didn't happen this time. It was standing room only in the Stanford Memorial Auditorium - tickets were sold out several weeks ago (I'm sure Professor Krauss had something to do with that, too).

The talk was very interesting, although they were "preaching to choir." The room was full of biologists and physicists. The main difference of opinion they had was in how to go about educating people. Professor Dawkins is far more antagonistic, while Professor Krauss advocates a less belligerent attitude when dealing with irrational or ignorant people. The general public (at least here in the U.S.) seems to be under the misapprehension that there is a major division among scientists about whether or not evolution actually happens. They don't understand that what scientists argue about is not whether it happens, but the details of how it happens. The moderator mentioned that The God Delusion has provoked over 20 rebuttal books.

I somehow managed to be first in line for the book signing afterward. He signed four of my books. Unfortunately, we didn't have any books by Lawrence Krauss - that's him sitting right next to Professor Dawkins.
In the last two weeks I've seen Billy Joel and Richard Dawkins. It's all downhill from here.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Lyric Meme

Mr Farty recently posted a Movie Meme (a word coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins, by the way. Not Movie. Meme) that I really enjoyed.

1. Pick 10 of your favorite movies.
2. Go to IMDB and find a quote from each movie.
3. Post them here for everyone to guess.
4. Strike it out when someone guesses correctly, and put who guessed it and the movie.
5. GUESSERS: NO GOOGLING/using IMDb search functions. I mean, you can cheat if you want, but is it really that important?
6. One movie guess per commenter.

I am modifying it to be lyrics from my favourite Musical songs. Guess the name of the song, AND the name of the musical. If you guess one or both right and I mark it thusly, feel free to guess on another one (why do I feel as though I'm plagiarising? Oh, wait. Probably because I am). So here are my musical quotes.

1.David. Somewhere that's Green, Little Shop of Horrors.
I cook like Betty Crocker,
And I look like Donna Reed.

2.Pete. I'm in Love With a Wonderful Guy, South Pacific (NOT Oklahoma).
I'm as corny as Kansas in August,
I'm as normal as blueberry pie

3.David. Pore Jud is Daid, Oklahoma.
He looks like he's asleep.
It's a shame that he won't keep,
But it's summer and we're runnin' out of ice.

4. William and Kia tied. Time Warp, Rocky Horror Show.
It's just a jump to the left.
And then a step to the right.

5.Pete. Agony, Into the Woods.
Cinderella Prince: Always ten steps behind--
Rapunzel Prince: Always ten feet below--
Both: and she's just out of reach.
Agony, that can cut like a knife!
I must have her to wife.

6.Mr Farty. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Mary Poppins.
So when the cat has got your tongue, there's no need for dismay!
Just summon up this word and then you've got a lot to say!
But better use it carefully
Or it may change your life
(for example) One night I said it to me girl
And now me girl's me wife!
(bonus points for spelling it correctly)

7.Pete. Send in the Clowns, A Little Night Music.
Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.

8.Pete. Memories, Cats.
If you touch me
You'll understand what happiness is

9.Pete. It's actually called My Gallant Crew, Good Morning, H.M.S Pinafore.
I am never known to quail
At the furry of a gale,
And I'm never, never sick at sea!
ALL: What, never?
CAPT: No, never!
ALL: What, never?
CAPT: Hardly ever!
ALL: He's hardly ever sick at sea!

10.Artificialhabitat. Summer Nights, Grease.
Tell me more, tell me more,
Was it love at first sight?
Tell me more, tell me more,
Did she put up a fight?

11. (bonus)Pete. (How do you solve a problem like) Maria, Sound of Music.
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Hints: Two that star Julie Andrews, two that have "Horror" in the title, and two are Rogers and Hammerstein. There are also coincidentally two that mention clowns. I hate clowns.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Udvar-Hazy Center

Christmas 2006, my husband, son, and I went to visit my brother in the Washington, D.C. area. We did as many touristy things as we could squeeze into 10 days, but one of the most enjoyable was going to the new Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Located right next to Dulles Airport, it was built to display many of the aircraft that could not be displayed in the original building on Capitol Mall. It is an ENORMOUS 10 story high airplane hangar with hundreds of planes displayed at all different levels.

This is the first view after you go in and walk up a long ramp. I was really excited! An SR-71 Blackbird! I've only ever seen one of these once before! Hey! What's that in the backgr....??? Oops, I got distracted by THIS! A B-29 Superfortress! And not just any old B-29 Superfortress. It's the Enola Gay. The plane that helped end World War II. It's so big, I couldn't get far enough away to get it all in.
Then I looked over my shoulder. Is that a Concorde in the distance? Yep. And in the foreground is the famous Boeing Dash 80, the 1954 prototype for the KC-135 and the 707.
And the gondola of the Double Eagle II, which in 1978 became the first balloon to cross the Atlantic.
One of their most recent acquisitions - The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer...The record breaking plane in which Steve Fossett flew around the world in 2005 AND 2006.Unfortunately, Steve Fossett was declared legally dead on February 15 after going missing while flying a small plane last September.

I was disappointed that I couldn't get a good photograph of the Gossamer Albatross - in 1979 it was the first human powered aircraft to cross the English Channel.

We finally got around to the room behind the SR-71 that caught my attention when we first came in...(cue Also Sprach Zarathustra)

The Space Shuttle Enterprise. Those shuttles always looked so much smaller on Star Trek.Can you spot Bill trying to look nonchalant?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

This explains a lot

Moses was high on psychedelic drugs.
What more needs to be said? Really?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Did Jesus even exist?

I had an argument with my friend David the other day. I seem to be having a lot of arguments lately. I think I'm just getting obstreperous in my old age. We were at a party, and our son (David is my ex-husband AND a very good friend) had just had a minor altercation with David's born-again Christian sister. After we had both given our son the high five (neither of us would have dared get into an argument regarding Christianity with her), and David's sister was out of earshot, I mentioned that Jesus probably hadn't even existed.

David said, "Yes he did."

I said, "No, I don't think so."

He said,"Yes he did."

I said, "No, there isn't any evidence that he did."

He said, "Yes, there is."

I said, "No, there isn't."

It went on like this for a while.

His point was that although he believed that Jesus more than likely was not the son of God, he believed he was a "minor" historical figure and that he had probably been a rabbi (in the sense of a Hebrew title of respect for a Jewish scholar or teacher). He also pointed out that Jesus is considered a minor prophet in both Islam and Judaism.

Honestly, I had always thought that Jesus was a real person until I started reading a little about it. I mean, we live in 2008 Anno Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, right? I certainly never believed that he was supernatural in any way, but I assumed he had existed.

The trouble is, there is no evidence that he existed at all. He supposedly lived for thirty some-odd years and did some pretty amazing things, but there are no contemporary (to his time) writings that even mention him. The first writings about him - The Gospel of Mark - has been dated to 30 to 80 years after he died. Granted, it was 2000 years ago, but there are many surviving writings about and by many people who DID live at that time. If he did exist, he certainly didn't do anything extraordinarily noteworthy.

As for the assertion that Jesus was a minor prophet of Judaism; some people believe that the Yeshu mentioned in the Talmud is actually Jesus. According to Judaism 101 website, the Talmud (oral Torah), was not written down until about the 2nd century C.E. In addition, Jesus is considered a minor prophet of Islam, but Islam didn't even exist until well over 600 years after Christianity. As Jim Walker says in his article Did a Historical Jesus Exist?, "after-the-event writings [cannot be used] as evidence for the event itself."

Many people believe that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are eyewitness accounts. Jim Walker and Earl Doherty do a very good job of explaining why these are not reliable sources.

I don't think it is possible to know for sure whether he existed or not, but 2000 years ago, if you wanted to make up a superhuman figure who would awe superstitious, gullible people, setting the story 50 years B.P. makes sure you are not likely to have anybody alive to contradict you. Nobody will stand up and say, "Hey! I knew Jesus, and I don't remember him walking on water, turning water into wine, etc." Or, "I lived in that town and I don't remember this Jesus guy." Your assertions are pretty safe. The stories only get better and more amazing over time.