Archive for the ‘My life’ Category

Variability: juncos

July 3, 2020

Recent episodes in the fauna report from my house in Palo Alto.

I remind you my entire engagement with the outside world is through my little walled-in front patio, where I grow plants in containers and try to attract birds to entertain me; mostly I watch all this from the inside, through the big windows by my worktable.

The most recent development has been the reappearance of a pair of LBBs (little brown birds) / LBJs (little brown jobs / jobbies), who’d been absent since February (when they took dust baths in the shallow garden strip). This time, there was birdseed sprinkled on the ground outside my window, so they came close enough for me to study them as they fluttered about, and they were clearly juncos.


(#1) A male slate-colored junco (from Wikipedia); my juncos have dark heads, but then each junco subspecies is immensely variable

Then I learned that JuncoWorld is a marvel of variability, so I should just settle for junco as the identifying label, and be satisfied that my birds are not rare Guadelupe juncos, though slate-colored juncos (or something not far off) wouldn’t be a bad guess.

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Meet the Jays

June 27, 2020

A follow-up to my 6/9/20 posting “The June flora and fauna report”.

The apricot cymbidium orchid I’ve called Cuppy (in #4 in that posting), aways the last to bloom, finally came to an end on 6/24, extraordinarily late. The orchids will now put their energy into their root systems and into shoots that will spring up when the rainy (and cool) season begins in late November.

Then there was the bird feeder (#3 in that posting), which on 6/9 had not attracted any birds, nor had the birdseed spread out as a lure, on the ground near it and on the fence tops. But as the days wore on, I came to be adopted by a pair of California scrub jays — big, often noisy (though not for me), territorial, seriously clever, and amenable to human company (they are corvids, like crows and ravens). They are also crazy fond of peanuts (which my birdseed provides) and acorns (which they can get from the California live oaks that are all over the place here, and in which they are probably nesting).

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David Stampe

June 26, 2020

A preliminary death notice for David Stampe, an old friend and hugely influential colleague in my work in linguistics. A first pass, deficient in many of the customary details about academic careers, reproducing the death notice on Facebook from David’s son John (with some amendments in square brackets):

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For Alan Turing

June 23, 2020

On the occasion of Alan Turing’s birthday today, this release from NPL:

1912 – 1954:  Alan Turing’s work was instrumental in placing NPL at the forefront of computer technology.

Turing had already achieved a great deal before he started work at NPL. While at King’s College, Cambridge, he earned a scholarship, Maths Tripos Part II Distinction, fellowship and Smith’s Prize, as well as writing his paper on Computable Numbers. He then moved on to Princeton University and earned his PhD in 1938, before moving back to Cambridge and starting work at the Government Code and Cryptography School in 1939, where he was an essential part of the work to break the German Enigma code.

After the war he moved to NPL in 1945, and produced his plans for the ACE computer in 1946. He worked at NPL on the ACE until he left (after being on leave to Cambridge) in 1948, not long after writing his Intelligent Machinery paper.

Two things here: the identity of NPL; and more on celebrations of Alan Turing.

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Raw, firm, and tasty

June 22, 2020

Back in the early days of the lockdown, there were bizarre runs on things in grocery stores — fabled shortages of toilet paper, paper towels, bleach — all more or less explicable — but also in certain stores at certain times, eggs, all the chicken, bean thread, all the pasta, and one memorable friday, at the local Safeway (where Kim Darnell shops for me once a week), all the cheese, of any kind (plain commercial cheese but fancy cheeses as well), except for some commercial smoked cheese in blocks, which apparently is not highly favored locally.

For complex reasons you really don’t want to hear about, I’m on a high-cheese diet — a while ago I had some mid-morning sharp cheddar and Stone Ground Wheat Crackers — and luckily I’m happy with chunks of smoked gouda, but not as my only cheese, day in, day out. I complained on Facebook, and my cry was heard. Astonishingly, by my old friend the excellent linguist Stephen R. Anderson, who wrote with brotherly concern (from Asheville NC, where he and his wife Janine have retired):

No Swiss person should have to survive on smoked cheese from the Safeway

Steve then conspired with his cheese specialist at the Asheville Whole Foods to send me an emergency cheese relief package, of five raw milk cheeses, all firm to hard in texture, four from Switzerland, one a Swiss-style cheese from France.

They arrived on April 22nd. There would have been volleys of  sounding trumpets, but, well, we were in lockdown.

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Wayfaring musicians

June 12, 2020

From many months ago, a pointer to an  astonishing performance of the American folk/gospel song Wayfaring Stranger by Rhiannon Giddens, with Francesco Turrisi, from their album there is no Other:


(#1) You can listen to the track here (#2)

Giddens first, then the song, which has considerable personal meaning for me.

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The June flora and fauna report

June 9, 2020

Continuing a long series of postings about things I happen to come across in my immediate neighborhood. Particularly plants, sometimes with notes about their taxonomy and their names. And particularly plants I can see out my window, and the various creatures that afflict them. My most recent posting in this series seems to have been from 1/21/20: “A squirrel in the hand” (excerpted below).

Now the 2020 report.

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Pride faces

June 7, 2020

(This posting is light-hearted, to entertain in terrible times, but there’s no denying that it’s substantially about men’s bodies and mansex in very plain language, plus images that are right up against the line, so it’s not for kids or the sexually modest.)

We’re into Pride Month, so everybody who sells things for lgbtq people has stuff on sale. Especially the gay porn studios, flogging videos. That presents an occasion for reflecting on (among other things) how gay personas are projected in this material, how emotional and sexual relationships between men are presented, and how gay men communicate via facial expressions during mansex and in cruising for it.

Exhibit 1: this Pride Month ad for Next Door Studios, a nicely posed composition featuring Justin Matthews (proprietary top) and Nic Sahara (enthusiastically receptive bottom), flashing two different sorts of buddy smiles (using both their mouths and their eyes):

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The Age of Anxiety

May 22, 2020

That was January and February and it was unpleasant. Then things got really bad (last day out of the house on 3/8, then two brushes with death, but that’s not my topic here).

So: the Auden poem; FPNs (faggot persecution nightmares), one set off by Torch Song Trilogy; and the astonishing devastation of Beethoven’s “Rage Over a Lost Penny”.

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The things they touched

May 18, 2020

The centerpiece of this posting is a poem by Conrad Aiken, “Music I Heard”, about the loss of someone much loved, and about the way the things that they touched and used can continue to resonate with you after they are gone. I was reminded of this poem by Mark Seiden (in Facebook), who heard echoes of it in my recent Facebook postings about the things that were touched and used by my two dead partners (Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), gone in 1985; Jacques Henry Transue, gone in 2003), especially their clothing, especially through the scents of their bodies as carried by this clothing.

Mark’s FB note pointed not just to the Aiken poem, but to an especially moving setting of it by the composer Henry Cowell. The Cowell was new to me, though I was familiar with a (characteristically operatic) setting by Leonard Bernstein.

So, yes, this looks all high-artsy, with serious poetry and music all over it, but it’s also pretty much as deeply carnal as you can get, about bodies and their smells and tastes. Both of these things are important.

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